[Disclaimer] This article is about my personal experiences as a female in a nerd band and describes some of the highest highs and lowest lows. I am not attempting to characterize the scene as a whole. The majority of my experiences have been good, which is why I continue to participate in the scene, but problems certainly do exist.
It was the summer of 2010. I had just watched my friend’s band play their last show. He admitted he was sad to see the band die but everyone was going their separate ways and he couldn’t exactly keep it going by himself. I’d never been in a band before; the closest I’d gotten to anything like that was playing along on my cheap bass to a recording of “Zombie” by the Cranberries in my cousin’s room while she sang along.
Regardless, I decided to offer up my non-existent bass skills if he wanted them. His eyes lit up. In a few short weeks he’d gathered up the rest of the band and I found myself at the house of some dude I’d never met before with a bunch of other dudes I’d never met before for our first practice together. I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.
I guess I’m pretty lucky because I was dangerously close to being stuck with some substantially douchey guys. We almost had a band member who loudly proclaimed that women needed to be “trained” by their men and not speak unless spoken to and all that nonsense. He wasn't joking either. Sadly, he didn’t have the time to commit to our band so he never ended up joining. Instead I managed to get stuck with a group of nerds who ended up becoming my best friends. To be clear, I'm not claiming that I easily assimilated into the role of “one of the guys,” and that there wasn’t any drama near the beginning revolving around me being a girl. Those problems, however, were minor and short-lived, and I kind of can’t imagine life without them anymore. I never had any brothers growing up and suddenly I found myself with four.
I’ve been asked if it’s hard being the only girl and honestly it isn’t. I’ve been fortunate enough to end up with some awesome band mates and I never really find myself missing female company. I even have what I call my “band girlfriend” in the form of my guitarist. He grew up surrounded by women so I can have “girl talk” with him without getting a blank confused stare. He’s also my shopping buddy who can legitimately tell me if an outfit works or not instead of just shrugging and automatically saying that everything looks fine. All the guys have been pretty great about treating me as an equal.
I grew up sheltered and had no idea there was this huge nerd community until I started playing in a nerd band. I also didn’t expect that sexism would be such a prevalent issue in nerd culture. It surprised me that this blatant, unfair exclusion was being practiced in a culture that was pioneered for and by outcasts. Suddenly I found my “nerd cred” being challenged simply because I was a girl. This baffled me since video games had always been a part of my life growing up. All the girls I knew played them too, even my grandma. I didn’t know it was a boys club. I simply thought it was a normal part of everyone’s childhood.
Aside from being accused of being a “fake gamer girl,” there was also the inevitable question of my gender. My drummer had posted our first album on 4chan, and it had surprisingly received a lot of positive feedback at first. Eventually, though, there was a series of comments he was terrified to let me see. He finally showed me the little debate over whether I was actually a girl or a guy. In the end one guy confirmed that I was indeed a man: “I sucked his dick. Feels good man.” I rolled my eyes at my drummer for ever being worried that this would upset me. How could I feel anything but proud over the fact that my imaginary dick feels that good?
Of course, once I'm actually perceived as being a girl then that immediately leads to the fact that I must only be around for the sexual pleasure of my band mates. On tour, one of my band mates was approached by a guy who asked, “So the point of this band is to run trains over the bassist right?” I remember this distinctly because I had to ask what running trains meant, and you don’t forget that sort of thing.
I have been able to overlook the majority of this stuff. There’s really no point in taking such levels of immaturity too seriously. The thing that probably upsets me most is the fact that being a girl often causes professionals to disregard me. At several shows I have been ignored by the sound guys or other bands until they realize I’m actually in the band and not just a tag-along. This was particularly evident at one show when we were greeting the other band playing and they shook hands with all the guys, skipped me, then proceeded to turn their backs to me, boxing me out as they carried on conversing with the guys.
Now, aside from the fact that I think there are enough female musicians out there for it to be perfectly acceptable to assume I’m in the band too, even if I was just a girlfriend, what, you can’t acknowledge me?
It’s easy to feel out of place in this male-dominated scene. There’s always a flip-side though. Another thing I didn’t realize would happen just by being a girl on stage playing music is that I instantly became a role model to other girls, whether I wanted to or not. This hit me particularly hard after one show in Jacksonville where a teenage girl approached me and told me she had started playing bass too but had been insecure about it and was on the verge of quitting. She said that watching me inspired and motivated her to keep going. I was left speechless.
I am by no means an amazing bass player. I consider myself to be pretty mediocre, but I’m a girl in the nerd scene playing in a band and apparently that holds some weight because whether I wanted it or not, I have other girls looking up to me. Knowing that I’ve encouraged at least one person to keep their music alive is worth all the negative crap I have to deal with. There's a small handful of other girls in this scene with me and over the years I've seen the numbers slowly grow. I even know of a prominent trans artist in the scene as well, hopefully serving as an inspiration to others that relate to her.
I’m all too glad to see more role models inspiring others to grab an instrument and join in the fun regardless of their gender. It’s very uplifting to see the growth that has taken place here.
It’s been a crazy ride that has opened my eyes to issues I didn’t even know existed. My patience and sanity has definitely been tested, I’ve built some amazing relationships and had some wonderful experiences. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world and I’m excited to see what lies ahead for me -- and the nerd music scene.