I throw the phrase “Geek Culture” around a lot because I’m usually talking about broadly shared interests but the most important thing to consider when talking about people is their identity. You’ll never know what people identify with or as until you asked them. My definition of what a trekkie is doesn’t matter. What does matter is what the girl I spoke to identified as.
I identify as a Geek and that is one of the few labels I proudly wear. I like it because it covers a lot and I don’t find it too limiting. I’m often asked if I’m a ‘gamer’ and I usually reply with “yes, I play games” and not “yes, I’m a Gamer” because I’m not sure what they mean by ‘gamer.’ When asking that type of question, people often (but not always) have a definition attached to the label. As the recipients of these questions, we also attach our own meaning to labels.
I play video and tabletop games a lot, more than the average person, probably. Does that mean I’m a gamer? Yes and no. Do I meet a definition of a gamer? Sure, for a lot of people the answer is most likely yes. Do I identify as a Gamer? … It’s complicated. It’s also somewhat uncomfortable.
We simultaneously want to belong and not be pigeonholed or labeled. Do I play games? Yes. Do I love to play games? Yes! Do I enjoy the company of other people who play games? Yes! Do I like to hang out with people who identify as Gamers? Absolutely! Am I a Gamer? Well, no. And the reason has nothing to do with my relationship with gaming, it’s mostly because I don’t want another label. I would not be offended if you called me a gamer, I just would most likely not introduce myself as one.
Identity is very important and as you can see it goes way beyond race and ethnicity but while we are on the subject… I was born in Puerto Rico but I never introduce myself as Puerto Rican. When asked if I’m Puerto Rican, I usually answer “yes, I was born in Puerto Rico.” To me being Puerto Rican means something and I’ve never related to or identified with Puerto Rico enough to call myself Puerto Rican. I can’t explain it completely but I have an idea of what Puerto Rican identity is and I don’t have it. I think of Puerto Rican-identified people as a group I do not belong to.
Everyone’s reasons for identifying or not are very personal and often complicated.
So when I called the girl a Trekkie, I said it with the best of intentions. I assumed she was a big Star Trek fan and a part of me even thought she thinks of herself as a Trekkie and would appreciate it if I recognized it and let her know I could see it. Yeah, that’s one possibility. Another is that she came with her friends and she was guilted into wearing a Starfleet uniform she hates and she felt like punching each and every person who came up to her assuming she was a Star Trek fan. There are a million possibilities. The one thing we do know is that I threw the label ‘Trekkie’ at her without any idea what it meant to her or how it made her feel.
So be careful when throwing labels at people, you never know what it will mean to them, how it will make them feel, or how they will react.