So, every time I post something about dealing with a jerk gatekeeper at a convention, I get a bunch of commentary from people that is very kind and well-intentioned and supportive, that talks about, you know, reminding people that women can know more than men about deeply nerdy things, or that cosplayers are “real” fans, or whatever.
And yes, those are important things to take away, but they also miss the point.
Maybe it’s because I personally delight in knowing more than people who act like knowing everything is so important, maybe I’m not sending the right message.
Because those things are true. There are women who know more than men about deeply nerdy things, there are cosplayers who know more that non-cosplayers about deeply nerdy things, there are women and poc and queer people who are fans and collectors and have an incredible wealth of knowledge and shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens in fandom.
But it’s not because of that knowledge.
It’s because no one deserves to be treated badly or like they aren’t good enough just because they don’t meet your standards.
It’s because there are no standards for being a fan.
There are no real fans or fake fans.
And even if you’re not really a fan? If you really do just like the tee shirt design or thought a costume was cool and decided to wear it?
There’s actually no rule against that. You are not less of a human being for not knowing a lot about a character you dressed up as. You are not less of a human being for not knowing the secret identity of the superhero on the keychain you bought because she kind of looked like you.
I mean, sure, as a huge fucking comic nerd, I would love for you to learn more about them. If you want to. You might try and find out they’re not your cuppa. You’re not required to like the story to like the merchandise.
If you’re a member of a historically marginalized group, that’s gonna happen more often than you like. You might hear about a cool black comic book superheroine and then lament having to read through a white writer’s hamfisted tokenization and creepy oversexualization. You might fall in love with a comic with a queer lead who really feels like a real queer person only for the creative team to turn over and the next writer to use the character’s “bisexuality” to erase their same-sex romance and suddenly make them only interested in people of the opposite sex and forget all the groundbreaking character development of the previous run. You are going to find a lot of characters and stories that miss their potential because of the historical truth that these were– and still are– being written largely by people who haven’t had the experiences they’re writing about. And you shouldn’t have to read them if they bother you. You can still like the idea of the character for their potential without reading the material.
But what it comes down to is this: You don’t need to know as much as anyone else. You don’t need to read everything. You definitely don’t need to read stuff you didn’t particularly like, or even suspect you won’t particularly like, whether or not any so-called experts tell you it’s a good story and you’re missing out, whether or not they suggest you don’t have the right to sit at the grown-ups table unless you read it. There is so much media in the world that no one can ingest all of it and you absolutely have a right to pick and choose. And the fact that you’ve chosen A and not B does not preclude you from enjoying the aspects of B that you do like, whether it’s the movies or the costumes or the tee shirts with cool logos or that one nifty phone case you found on sale.
And that’s the bottom line, no matter who knows the most. There are plenty of people gatekeepers assume aren’t ‘true fans,’ who can stymie the gatekeepers with trivia. But everyone, trivia or no, deserves to be there and deserves to be treated with respect.
It’s not about recalibrating our brains to accept that there are people we don’t think of as real fans who might be. It’s about recalibrating our brains to accept that “real fans” isn’t a thing.
“A Note on the Whole Fake Geek (Fill in the Blank) Thing,” ©teaberryblue, originally posted 23 August 2015