Why Are the Gays Also the Geeks? A Sociological Open Thread!

Hey! It’s Friday! And that’s real nice. We haven’t had an open thread here at Technostraddle in a while, and I bet you guys have so many ideas and things to say bottled up that you’re verging on explosivity. Right? Well if not, you probably will be soon!

In light of our recent sartorial analysis of Hipsterdom, I’d like to pose a (maybe loosely) related question. As Katrina notes, hipster subculture has become subsumed into lesbian subculture in a way that makes it hard, in some communities, to tease apart the two. Which isn’t to say that all or even most lesbians are hipsters, but that the intersecting area of our Venn Diagram is somehow suspiciously larger than it is within other subcultures. And at the risk of complicating this Pressing Sociological Issue even further, I have to ask: where does Geek come in?

There seems to be some kind of meaningful overlap between geek culture and lesbian culture. Just like many girls may be more likely to give a lady a second glance if she’s say, wearing plaid and sporting an alternative lifestyle haircut, are we more likely to question a woman’s usually assumed heterosexuality if she expresses interest in traditionally geeky endeavors? I’d say yes.

When I started writing Technostraddle, I wasn’t sure how a section of Autostraddle exclusively for geeks would be received. I assumed I’d be blogging into the void for a little bit, luring regular Auto readers with geeky “crossover” pieces about iPhones and Hot Nerd Ladies.

Not so. I was immediately swept away by an absolute tidal wave of commenting and readership that I didn’t at all anticipate! And partially that’s because you guys are really awesome, but also we obviously have a lot in common. Starting out, I had no idea you’d feel so strongly about Calvin and Hobbes or video game maps! Really, this was all a wildly successfully shot in the dark. And I thought I was alone! Or at least relatively alone. But happily, I feel like geeks are actually overrepresented in our gay lady readership. Geekiness seems to really resonate with you queer ladies.

So what’s going on here? Why is there such an overlap of “gay” and “geek”? Does one determine the other? Or is this actually about consciously subverting traditionally masculine-gendered activities, like playing video games and taking an interest in science? I wrote my thesis about this line of inquiry, but honestly I don’t really remember what it was about. Oh here we go: a quick search of my inbox informs me that it was called “Felt Gender Typicality, Sex-Typing and Adjustment” and that seems relevant. Huh.

Inarguably, gender roles in modern Western society are at a summit of flexibility — and let’s be clear from the get-go that when I say “feminine” or “masculine” I’m talking about how the dominant culture has socialized/defined these terms and not endorsing these applications/affiliations.

So is the gradual loosening of gender roles’ noose why all of us gay ladies are branching out? Or does our gayness determine that we’ll be less concerned about whether or not our interests conform to the socialized “feminine” identity?  Maybe these “masculine” interests determine our sexual identities? Maybe gay and geek naturally overlap because both are “outsider” communities, often defined by their distance from mainstream culture? Or maybe they aren’t even related at all?

(Yeah, we may get unsavory comments, like when the guy at a comics store asks what I’m “buying for my boyfriend.” And yes, as women in historically “male” fields, we are still relatively systemically oppressed. )

Assuming I’m not misguided about this whole massive GAY/GEEK Venn Diagram overlap, what if the modern breakdown of gender roles actually did something pretty simple? What if, now that women are less restricted to traditionally “feminine” pursuits, like er, sewing and makeup and shit, a good chunk of us are discovering that stuff guys are supposed to do is more fun? And maybe transgressors of heteronormative sexuality (like myself, and maybe you and probably that girl from IT that you want to bang) are also trailblazing into dude-territory. Because we’re already socially deviating, what with being gay and all, so why the hell not get to do fun “guy” stuff? Or do we just think that stuff is fun ’cause we’re gay to begin with?

So you tell me. Why were there a disproportionately large number of gay girls in my old all-female WoW guild? Why am I not the only gay lady I know who had rats for pets? (rats?! Yes, rats.) Why are you that much more likely to get into that IT girl’s pants than the girl from HR? Do you guys have any thoughts or experiences that speak to this? By all means, share them!

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Back in the day, Taylor Hatmaker was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle's tech sister site, Technostraddle, may it rest in peace. Now, Taylor writes about technology for ReadWrite.com and Entrepreneur Magazine. For Autostraddle, she writes essays, takes pictures of thing and draws comics on occasion too, if you ask real nice.

taylor has written 109 articles for us.

62 Comments

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    Maybe it has something to do with the shared ‘difference’ and in same cases ostracism from the mainstream. I noticed that my SCA group (laugh away, I kind of love it) is way more tolerant of my aberrant sexuality than mainstream groups, and I think that maybe knowing what it’s like to be ridiculed by an outside force for what you like makes you more sympathetic to other people’s issues.

    Except in gaming. I love to game, but basically gave uponline gaming because it was so harsh and homophobic.

    But in every other geeky endeavor in my life, I have found this to be true.

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    I agree with Jen.

    I’m a straight white woman, but my past as an outsider in elementary and highschool made me develop a tremendous affinity for other marginalized communities. I was a nerd from the get-go (I wanted to be Rogue, not a Disney princess!), lamented my lack of non-white friends in elementary school (I went to a Ukrainian school, and many of the kids were brought up to be very intolerant of people whose skin pigmentation didn’t match theirs, sadly), had mostly non-white friends in highschool, have always been supportive of the queer community (the fact that I’ve never been the kind to throw myself at guys made me do some questioning about my own orientation for a little while), and have always been involved somehow in the arts (where you’re hard-pressed to find straight, single men).

    So I’ve always felt a sense of otherness.

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    Well, in my case it helped that I had parents who encouraged me to do “boy” things AND “girl” things. Case in point: for my ninth birthday, I got a microscope, clothes for my American Girl doll, and a Foxtail. (Did anyone else have one of those? It’s a baseball with a long cloth tail, so you can hurl it like 50 ft in the air. AWESOME.) And my father in particular actively worked to geekify me–we used to do mental math problems at the dinner table.

    I also have a geeky big brother. I spent most of my childhood sneaking his Gameboy and his Calvin and Hobbes books out of his room and getting my ass handed to me at Mariokart.

    I think there’s definitely something to the ostracism theory. On the other hand, I only came out to myself about seven months ago, and I’ve been geeky for about 97% of my life. (there was some time there when I was learning to walk and talk.) I think it has to do with being less invested in gender norms. Most of my friends were boys until middle school, so by default I ended up doing a lot of “boy” and geek stuff.

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    well, i look at the differences between me & my roommate. she’s straight, i’m not.

    when we get back from classes, she watches the kardashians, i want to watch 30 rock on hulu.
    she subscribes to cosmo, i get giant robot.
    she likes typically popular music, i shy away from anything that i can’t find redeeming qualities in.
    she was in the fashion club for a semester, i’ve been a member of the social justice league (it’s an activism club) for two years.
    she likes to cook, i can barely figure out the microwave.
    she’s good at math & economics, i paid my friend to test me out of pre-cal in an online test. on the other hand, if it weren’t for my help, she’d never pass english or art history.
    she like cheerleading & playing soccer, i’m so uncoordinated that mario party is a sport to me.

    we’re both members of the same sorority, and we love going out clubbing & getting our nails done together. we have fun with each other, but we don’t always have much to talk about.
    we just have very different interests, because of our backgrounds, upbringings, experiences, and personalities.
    i would never read an article about men’s pleasure spots, or listen to music that mentions “hoes”. it doesn’t appeal to me, but she relates to those parts of popular culture because a lot of her friends partake in it. i hang out with people who have different interests, and if they lend me a miyazaki film to watch, i know she’d never want to watch it with me (even though she would if i asked).

    i think gays (in my college experience) gravitate towards interests that speak to their desires for equality, respect, and a desire to understand (most times). on the other hand, a lot of my straight sorority sisters are very caught up in “girly” things like obsessing over make-up & work outs. after i took an intro to women’s studies class, i can’t care about that anymore.

    but this girl attacked a pushy bouncer for me in vegas. that’s friendship :]

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    To be gay you kinda have to stop caring what other people think and be cool with the fact that you’re different than a lot of other people you know. Let’s be honest everyone is geeky, it’s just some people think they’re too cool to be allowed to show it. So when you think about once you’ve got over being a lesbian it’s hardly that big a deal to come out as a geek.

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    Another point of correlation I’ve noticed is intelligence/educational level. Gay and lesbian people tend to have a higher education level than the rest of the population, and while that doesn’t always coincide with intelligence, it often does. I doubt that being smart causes gayness or something silly like that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the ability and drive to self-examine plays a part.

    Geeks also tend to be more intelligent, so.

    I’ve also noticed that there is a much higher incidence of kink in the geek community, too. It could be the same mechanism.

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    I have many thoughts and feelings around this issue, but little time to wax geekical else I will miss my train.

    Firstly, I am constantly staggered by the awesomeness of the topics you keep coming up with here.

    I think your venn diagram would end up being pretty complicated; intersections of privilege, necessity and inclination.

    Jen and Dina hit the nail on the head about the intertwining of intelligence, geekiness and outness. They’re all a function of the circumstances you grew up in. While I believe that intrinsic geekiness goes way beyond tech stuff, there’s no doubt that to have the accoutrements of geek, you’ve got to have money.

    What I think is important though, is how geekery actually becomes a tool to enable outness. Queers appropriated the internet so quickly because it is amazing at overcoming the problems associated with traditional communities (geography, outness etc.). As such, I think many queer people that previously would not have thought of entering the geek world are doing so first out of necessity, and then finding that they actually quite like it.

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      I’m glad you made the distinction between geek accessories and being a geek, Sally, because I don’t believe having a certain level of income or belonging to a certain class (“having money”) is intrinsic to being a geek.

      I don’t think that privilege is a certainty when talking about geeks. For myself and the people I know (I work with a lot of people that fit this description – librarians) we are all of modest means, if not struggling outright. Think “teacher salaries” but without the bells on the hour or having to get up at o-dark-thirty.

      I grew up in a lower middle class family, and we struggled financially. My siblings and I went to college by virtue of academic scholarships and college loans. We fed our geeky needs by going to the public library, the local art museum, and COSI (Center of Science and Industry – anybody have those where they live? THEY’RE AWESOME! Giant science labs for kids, basically). Our family never owned a computer (I didn’t buy one until after grad school and then I scrimped and saved for it) and I only got a cell phone about 5 years ago.

      Part of my profession (librarianship) involves ensuring free access to resources (like the internet) so that the joys of geekdom are not limited only to those who can afford it. I’m proud of that. Also, this is why you should support your local libraries. Well, that and we’ll buy books for you to borrow so that you can buy groceries, you know, for dinner. :)

      That said, the internet was boon for me when I came out and didn’t really know anyone else who was out, yet. I had so many questions and feelings.

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        Great link, thank you. It sums up a lot of my recent feelings about the media. My best friend and I got really indignant about this – last week, a Scottish medical researcher and Nobel laureate died, whose research into beta-blockers has saved thousands of lives, and improved the health of millions more. A couple of days later, a well-known British boxing commentator died. Guess which one got more coverage in the UK press…

        I actually had to try three different search strings on google just to find out the name of the researcher (James Black). Three! Anything requiring more than two tries usually doesn’t even exist.

        I fully understand about the nature of populist media, feeding the audience what they think it wants in the pursuit of bigger figures and ad revenue. However, in this instance we were riled because it was the BBC, and of all the media institutions out there, they’re the ones that should be reporting the lesser-known-but-actually-very-important things because of the way they’re funded.

        The media has so much power, it could help make us all more intelligent if only it wanted to.

        Here ends the off-topic rant.

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    This make a very good point. Not all the geeks I know are gay and not all the lesbians I know are geeks but there is a MASSIVE crossover.

    On a side note, that dog is awesome. Also, why are we now Justin Beiber?

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    I agree with Alice that there is a huge crossover. That said, does the term geek here apply to english/history nerds or just the technologically inclined?

    When I was growing up, I was fully invested in building a working robot before my 9th birthday, while my other female friends were more concerned with makeup and clothes. Now I am an utter wreck when it comes to technology, but I cannot get enough of etymology and weird historical facts.

    Maybe the overlap does harken back to general intelligence, rather than to just one area.

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    I became a geek around middle school the catalyst for this was when I was a unwilling participant of a move from the NY metro area to small town in North Carolina. Science Fiction became my escape from being the ‘new’ girl getting picked on and not knowing everyone since all their parents went to school together. From there I got involved with an organization that ran a science fiction convention in NC everything just ramped up from there. Although, most of the people I met through that were/are pretty conservative and they embraced me even if I was 12 and awkward. I did come out to some of them eventually and still felt pretty weird about it. I’ve also done martial arts since I was four so that didn’t exactly steer me towards more feminine things.

    I agree with the intelligence notions above, intelligence being the number one thing I find attractive in people. The thing about nerds is that it takes a certain something to be able to, or want to, imagine a world different than ours to think of something other than the mundane right in front of you.

    I’m not sure if any of what I said makes sense. I feel like if I sat down and had a conversation about this it would come out better than typing but I tried.

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    I think the observation that I agree with most is that everyone is a little geeky, and gay people are just more inclined to express that side of themselves due to not being “normal” by societies standards.

    I can be just as shallow as I want and harness in my inner nerd. And most people that I know, even the preppiest orange-tan girls, are a little geeky. But they are too self conscious to allow their geek to show.

    Also, sometimes I act extra geeky to get a feel for how shallow people are, and to see their “acceptance level?” It’s probably not that great of a method, but I feel like if people see that I’m a geek and can deal, it brings them one step closer to accepting me as a whole. (This post is coming from a semi-butnotsuper-out person, so sometimes I need to get a vibe for how homophobic people are. Kinda sucks.)

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      that’s a really good question. i knew a lot of grown up geeks and was dragged to star trek conventions as a kid, there were always lots of women there. i do think there was more of a queer mentality there than there was in other groups… but i do feel like comic books have been a refuge for kids for years, but only recently do we have the technology to potentially look at the changes over generations.

      i’m tired and my comment probs does not make sense, will rewrite in the morning.

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    I’m pretty sure for me it went something like this:

    They say geeks wear glasses.
    Now, subconsciously:
    Girls look hot in glasses.
    I need to be a geek so I can look hot in glasses.
    And be around hot girls in glasses.

    But lately I’ve really begun to doubt my geek cred. I don’t game or know much tech stuff (though I’d like to) mostly because I’ve never had the money for fancy systems. I agree w/whoever up there mentioned non-tech geek credentials. I’m a polisci/history/geography geek, I do love scifi and I have an obsession with logic puzzles.

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      I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a little person. Used to go around collecting arrowheads. No computer/cellphone/videogame equipment in sight. I was such a babygeek.

      I think your geekrep is just fine Rachel. Just get that Ewok doggy like we talked about (mostly just ’cause it’d be cute as heck, though).

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        You have NO idea how much I want to, Missy! Unfortunately, with the moving about and living in apartments, I’m afraid I’d have to leave the pup in quarantine for 6 mo or get evicted and go homeless together (in which case we’d live in this:http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/plush/bb2e/ ).

        I wanted to be an astronomer for sometime. I got a telescope and books and played astronaut with the TV remote. If I had actually ever taken physics, who knows how things might have turned out?

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          That sleeping bag IS EPIC!

          Also, astronomy is very cool. I took that as one of my science requirements in university and got to see the rings of Saturn…with my own eyes…NOT IN A BOOK! So cool.

          Now, your lack of faith is disturbing, young RachelwasHere. You could always go by Tinkerbell’s example. (I don’t know if you can buy them from this website and this guys is a bit off, but it’s got good pics): http://www.x-entertainment.com/articles/0783/

          OMG! Did you know that they made WOKLINGS?!!! BABY EWOKS!
          Huh, and Wicket has a last name? What the heck?

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            I want a baby Ewok RIGHT NOW!

            Wicket W. Warrick?! What?? Wow. Who knew? His initials are WWW so I’m going to go ahead and assume he invented the interwebs.

            Jealous! (re: your getting to know Saturn so well) The closest I’ve come to a really quality telescope was a couple of years back when I drove a bunch of drunk physics kids out into the woods in search or a closed down (they failed to mention that before we were well on our way) observatory that they still believed had equipment inside.

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            My school had an amazing observatory (with a big ol’ telescope) that I got to look through exactly twice in four years…but I got to see the rings of Saturn and breathtaking nebula (couldn’t tell you which one, but it was definitely something to see).

            That romp in the woods with the drunk physics kids sounds like it would make a great screenplay, btw. “Schrodinger’s stupor!” Maybe the telescope is in there…MAYBE NOT!

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    oh, wow, this post is really timely. i’m a grad student in library and information science (LIS + use of timely = geeky) and i’m currently researching gays and tech. the idea struck me as i was trying to compile a list of recommended titles for 15-19 y.o. lbtq readers that were informative, supportive and not downers and i was trying to use public library and scholastic review sites and other trade-type publications to lend some cred. to my book picks. basically what happened was i could find decent articles in, the advocate, curve, bust, and, occasionally, the new york times, and, of course, on all kinds of glbtq blogs and independent review sites but it was really challenging to find titles that weren’t about glbtq kids crying and dying (and it was mostly just the g kids) in the more mainstream publications. essentially, this means that in traditional settings, from a young age, we aren’t being served. tech is super d.i.y. and i think that’s why so many of us are online now blogging, podcasting, gaming and the like. it’s a way for us to connect with one another, share information, support our community and, in a sense, it probably provides more of a sense of a greater community than most of us have experienced in our offline lives. from that standpoint to, i’d venture to guess that because there are more services catering to gay men in the offline world, gay ladies tend to be the bigger geeks. and now imma watch more, “firefly,” with my roommates.

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    I’m still in the closet. It’s taken me years to figure out and acknowledge/recognise who I really am, and I only finally came out to myself this past year.
    But I’ve always been ‘geekyish’. As a kid I tended to love things that weren’t the ‘norm’ for girls, I guess. Sure I had/liked girly things(yeah inc crush on John Taylor) but I also loved Lego, comics and always wanted a BMX and a telescope, oh and knew how to play chess! etc, etc.. Being shy and lacking confidence, I tended to generally keep quiet about the things though that made me feel ‘different’ and an outsider to my group of friends. Looking back now, they probably wouldn’t of been bothered,it was just me being way too self conscious.
    I’ve always been way too concerned with how people see me, and I think having grown up ‘hiding’ stuff, that’s part of the reason I think I’m struggling now to come out. Ok, I don’t know if this is making sense, I know what I want to say, it’s hard putiing it into words.
    So yeah, I can be found in the middle cross-over section of your Venn diagram. Hmm, why didn’t I just put that?

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    What does the geeky/hipster kids have in common with each other? Majority of them are white upper middle class children of well educated parents. In this group more gays come out of the closet than in any other so it´s no surprise to me they interlap often.

    This will change with wider acceptance of homosexuality in society.

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        I do agree that geek and hipster types are most probably from middle class backgrounds, but majority are white?! Absolutely not. Especially if you take into account Asian geeks, for a start.

        It feels strange to say that being a geek is limited in this way…I feel like the more exposure to a wide array of media and then choosing those media signifiers that are labeled “geeky” is really what it’s about.

        Then again, I am a geek from a white upper-middle class background with educated parents, so I don’t really have a leg to stand on in this argument. :P

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      This is a fairly interesting observation. I’m of the opinion that a lot more PoC would be recognisable ‘geeks’ if they were exposed to a lot of traditionally ‘geeky’ things, which are often correlated with middle- and upper-middle-class upbringings. I recall having read an academic journal article—I can’t remember the authors’ names offhand—that interpreted geek culture as a form of ‘hyperwhiteness’. I don’t know if I necessarily see it as a racial issue as much as I do a class one, but it’s pretty interesting food for thought.

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    In boarding school (before you think that must have been a sexy time, hold on) I was the only lesbian (see, sexy time over) as well as the girls’ dorm IT specialist. Mostly I just reset the wireless and found cracked versions of photoshop, and got rid of the viruses from the cracked versions of photoshop, but I was the only one who could.
    Relevancy!~

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    Which came first the homo or the geek?
    I knew boys were boring years before I realized that girls were amazing ‘that way’ . So rather than trying to get a boyfriend or talking about shifting/meeting[irish slang for kissing] 5 guys at the underage disco. I instead played lots of sport, read books and learnt about computers. I was always a bit of a tomboy but the nerd was given free rein in those years while the other girls were discovering boys.

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    Does your idea of “geek” include fandom? because god knows that when i was a 13 year old fangirl reading femslash for the first time and ALL of livejournal was a pool of big ol’ gay, that geekiness accelerated the homo like woah.

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