Nobody Ever Told Me A Black Woman Wasn't Supposed to Love Sci Fi

Your stereotypical nerd is usually white, male, teenaged, disheveled and frumpy. Race and gender diversity hasn’t generally been a strong point in fandom. But that hasn't stopped me from going to "the con."
Publish date:
October 27, 2011
comics, sci fi, new york comic con

Basically, I've been a geek from the womb. I grew up watching reruns of the original "Star Trek" with my mom and dad and we saw "Star Wars" the week it came out. In 5th grade, I was Darth Vader for Halloween. I even played the original Tron video game at the local mall.

Bookshelves in our house were stocked with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Issac Asimov. l devoured Madeleine L’Engle’s "A Wrinkle In Time," Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings," Lewis’ "Chronicles of Narnia" and even Frank Herbert’s "Dune" trilogy.

But because I was kind of a, er, quirky kid in general, the fact that I was a black girl who liked all this stuff didn’t tip the identity scale. Actually, it didn’t register much at all. Looking up to and dreaming of the stars was just an inherent part of who I was.

As I grew up, I never grew out of my fandom phase, but never called any particular attention to it. I just kept on doing my sci fi thing but I never went out of my way to connect with people who shared my love of all things otherwordly. That is, until my first "con" three years ago.

Earlier this month, I hopped on the train from Brooklyn to the Jacob Javits center and the New York Comic Con (vention). On the ride down in Lower Manhattan I recognized fellow sci-fi fans by their fuzzy Yu-Gi-Oh and Naruto wigs. They probably didn't recognize me, though. I don't look like the typical fangirl.

Your stereotypical nerd is usually white, male, teenaged, disheveled and frumpy. Race and gender diversity hasn’t generally been a strong point in fandom. In the past, girls, women and people of color haven’t felt included or even comfortable at events, which isn't surprising. When you're the sidekick, the first one killed or the scantily-clad sex object, it’s hard to get motivated to participate in comic con or fandom in general.

What's ironic is that the conventions started to celebrate the minority -- fan boys and girls, who felt alone in their love for the genre, gathering together to geek out without judgement. Now the cons, especially the behemoth in San Diego, are a must-stop for mainstream Hollywood, a community not known for its fair treatment of women and minorities. Today the small, mariginalized community of quiet geeks gets tons of attention. And just like in Hollywood, the role of women at the con has become increasingly sexualized.

For instance, the most popular women’s costume at the con:"Slave Leia,"aka the gold bikini. I've got nothing against female fans expressing their sexuality and having fun ala the "sexy nurse" Halloween costume, but the overall effect of booth babes and sexy cosplay is to suggest that women function mostly as decoration in the fan community.

But this does seem to be changing! This year I saw more Doctor Whos, Daenerys Targaryens (Game of Thrones), Hermiones ("Harry Potter"), female Hulks, and Katniss Everdeens (The Hunger Games).

I've even noticed an uptick in people of color, including black and Latino fans, attending NYCC. It probably helps that more convention programming is targeted toward minority communities and the promotion of great new movies, like "Attack the Block," which feature minority leads .

And of course, there are lady geeks on both sides of the table. This year, all I wanted to do was get an autograph from one of my favorite screenwriters, Jane Espenson, who's best known for her work on the greatest show that has ever aired on television EVER, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer." I love "Buffy" for the feminism and general badassery. The show is philosophically dense, mythologically layered and features a compelling lead who's fundamentally alone. This is what fans sound like, by the way.

After navigating the insanity of "the floor" I finally found Espenson's booth. I brought my own book for Jane to sign, an edited collection of essays about the show Dollhouse. I gushed a bit more than I probably should have about how much I admire her work and then I bought a Dr. Who T-shirt just like the one Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor himself, wears.

(I also seriously considered grabbing a broomstick and joining a game of Quidditch. I know the rules because I went to the Quidditch World Cup last year but that’s a story for another time. Anyway, the line was ridiculous. At 40, I haven't outgrown sci-fi but I have outgrown the line.)

As I walked around the convention center, I thought about a recent conversation with a college friend, also a lifelong geek. He told me that all this time, but especially back then, he never knew that I was one, too. It never occurred to him that I was into aliens, dragons and Gollums when I was dancing to House music and wearing plaid flannel. I shrugged and asked where he thought I was every Saturday night when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was on? Obviously in our dorm's TV room with the rest of Trekkers. I was never actively hiding it, but maybe my gender and skin color makes my fandom harder to see.

Back on the floor at the con, as I felt the energy and connection among the packed aisles of conventioneers, I wondered if I had been missing out on being connected to this amazing community. But even if you can't tell by looking at me, I'll always be the little girl in the Darth Vader costume who loves stretching her imagination beyond the realm of possibility.