Homegeek cultureNeurodiversity in the Geek World

I’ve been a member of the geek world for quite a while now. I think it comes along with the territory of being drawn to the quirkier side of life, than more mainstream things, like celebrities and sports.

Right now, I’m part of the more accepting side of the geek community. The majority of people I interact with are open to learning about different experiences and have some sort of understanding about intersectionality.

Sometimes, I still run afoul of those who give the geeky way of life a bad name. There are racist and misogynist groups, but others are already talking about that at length. What I rarely ever see addressed is the way neurodiversity and disability are regarded.

I have experienced discrimination in the form of ableism, before. There are a surprising number of folks who still equate intelligence with an ability to spell, do math and memorize facts from favorite forms of media. When you can’t, you’re treated as inferior or, worse yet, an impostor. It’s kind of a variation of the whole “Fake Geek Girl” phenomenon.

Fake Geek Girls are female fans of comics, movies, etc, who are supposedly only there for attention from “smart” guys, not because of any distinct interest in the material. As a result, women are quizzed by these guys, and if they don’t “pass” they’re not “real fans”. On the extreme side, they’re harassed and objectified right from the start.

When any form of neurodiversity or disability enters the picture, the sexualization is taken out of it, but they’re still treated as if they’re there for attention, to serve as “inspiration porn” or to “drag everyone else down”.

Online, there are often comments in threads warning of strobe effects or excessively loud noises in a specific movie for people with SPD, autism or epilepsy. The last one I saw went along the lines of, “Movies have flashing lights and noise. Don’t go if you can’t handle it.”

That snarky dismissiveness on a well intentioned post smacks of the attitude every neurodiverse person faces from time to time. While the measures needed may have absolutely no impact on the commenter personally, they still feel the need to bring another group down.

I imagine they’d be the same type of person to scoff at the sensory friendly films hosted by various movie theaters. They don’t understand that people with sensory sensitivities deserve to enjoy an evening at the movies just as much as neurotypical people do.

They don’t understand just how painful excess noise is, how hard it is to cope with a migraine triggered in the middle of a movie theater, or how dangerous some epileptic seizures can be. Those warnings let people impacted know either not to go, to sit by an exit or at least bring ear plugs along.

I’ve personally experienced similar attitudes in relation to requesting quiet so I can read a map or something in public. I realize the world does not cater to me, but allowing me the freedom to at least move to a quieter area takes no effort on anyone’s part but my own. If you’d like to make the choice to go with me, please respect my needs.

It’s somehow worse in the geek world, because we’ve all experienced derision in some shape or form. Maybe it was because we were drawn to less understood forms of media, are fascinated with science or just don’t dress the same as everyone else, but the experience is the same.

Comics, for example, carry the common theme of outcasts struggling against the status quo.

That’s what secret identities are all about. They must wear one persona to function in the mainstream world, but are free to exercise their powers or true passions at night. The two personas can’t meet, because the person behind them would be destroyed if they did.

It happens in comics all the time, and it happens in the real world for people with invisible differences every day.

Then, there are groups like the X-Men.

I used to be a big X-Men fan in high school, because I identified so strongly with them. Growing up, I never felt as if I could truly be up front about things I couldn’t do well. I often felt powerless and alone, despite the fact I knew I had talents and features others admired.

Although I stopped trying to fit in to a degree, I still couldn’t live authentically. I never felt as if I truly belonged to any group, either. I had friends, yes, but there was always a sharp divide. The idea of meeting others like me, who face the same kinds of pain and lonely insecurity, was hugely attractive.

In the Marvel universe, the X-Men faced the same dilemmas. Most of them looked mostly normal, just as I did, but they were still fundamentally different. They hid what they couldn’t change, and sometimes denied its very existence within themselves, because they were seen as dangerous or defective.

That was exactly how I felt, but I never saw anyone else voicing the same opinion. They were held up as examples of the LGBTQA+ experience, but because they HAD powers, they couldn’t be representative of the invisible disability or neurodiversity, right?

I still hesitate to bring up my personal parallels, because so many have so fiercely protected the sexuality/gender identity alignment. Those who grow angry at any potential difference seem to believe that any other alignment is not possible, or that the media is somehow being stolen from them.

Oooh, I need to look this up!

Why can’t both perceptions be true? Because I see the themes as a reflection of my experience doesn’t mean they can’t also be a reflection of the LGBTQA+ experience, too.

I’d argue that dynamic – hiding your true self in for the sake of survival – aligns with many real life experiences. There are similar issues in the realms of religion, race, and chronic illness.

That’s the beauty of fiction. Writers may create the story, but the readers take what they need from it based on their own experiences.

Neurodiversity and invisible disabilities are still frowned upon, even by people who are painfully aware of what it’s like to be misfits.

Right now, it’s not talked about nearly enough. Mainstream culture still sees those of use born with supposed deficits as only able to fit into a small set of roles. Geek culture is often exactly the same.

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