Gamers. Geeks. Nerds. Otaku. Fanboys. Genre Media Enthusiasts. Pick your euphemism, but what I have to talk about today applies to people from all of these groups, and more.
Exclusion is an experience that many, if not all, of the people in these categories have experienced. Maybe it happened in grade school, or high school, or college, or among family members at home, or at your workplace, or some combination of these settings. Maybe you were the Fat Kid, or the Hated Ethnic Minority, or you had weird clothes, but for some reason, at some point, you felt deliberately shunned and excluded by the communities around you. Human beings are social creatures, but you weren’t able to take part.
And it hurt. A lot.
I’m willing to bet that on at least some small level, it still does, and that’s what we need to talk about.
Because of this painful experience, many genrefolk (let’s just use that as our generic term here, to refer also to comic fans or Trekkies or film buffs or whatnot) become very, very aware of exclusion. They will do anything to avoid experiencing that pain again, and often develop an empathy for others who have also experienced it.
This is why fan conventions are so successful. If you’ve been treated like a dirty nerd for most of your life because you put Pikachu stickers on your schoolbag, then the experience of walking into an anime con where over a hundred other people might have the exact same stickers as you do is an intensely affirming experience, as it should be. We bond with our fellow outcasts — shared pain is lessened, and shared joy is magnified, and we feel that we have finally, finally found Our People.
All of this is perfectly fine and normal so far – but this is where it all goes wrong.
We are so desperate to avoid Exclusion that we put some really horrible blinders on. Michael Suileabhain-Wilson once wrote about the Five Geek Social Fallacies, and that’s an important starting point, but I’d like to go further with it. One of the biggest problems these fallacies address is our tendency to include people too much. Once a person has been brought into The Group, we are incredibly loathe to remove them, because we worry that we have become the Excluders, the evil bullies, just as bad as the ones who haunt your memories.
But you know what? Sometimes, you really have to cut people out of your life, or at the very least minimize your contact with them. We’re so desperate to maintain our new Inclusive Status Quo at times that we refuse to make needed changes — even if, for example, Guy X has been leering in a seriously creepy way at Girl Z for the last two months, and making Z deeply uncomfortable. There are groups that will hesitate to call Guy X out on his behavior, because “that might break up the group”, or cause some other conflict.
Bad news, people — conflict is a fact of life, and sometimes the only thing that can be done is to minimize the damage. Call Guy X out on his crap! Maybe he didn’t realize how he came across, and makes a sincere change for the better, and everyone wins. Maybe he gets pissed off and leaves in a huff, screeching how horrible you all are, causing a month of drama and awkwardness and angry phone calls… but then after he’s gone, Girl Z becomes much more animated, and suddenly Girl Q and Guy L speak up and confess that they were THIS CLOSE to quitting the group if no one had confronted the jerk. Having that confrontation can be unpleasant, but is often necessary in the long run.
Being selective about who you spend time with isn’t a crime. You’re allowed to say, “you know what, I just don’t like that person, and I don’t want to bring them into the group.” That, in and of itself, does not make you Hitler, especially if you have further reasons, like “He doesn’t bathe at all, and I don’t appreciate him making rude jokes about my ethnic group all the damn time.” You’re allowed to have a gripe. On the other hand, if your reason to exclude someone runs something like “I don’t like this new Mohammed guy. Aren’t all Muslims terrorists? I don’t want a terrorist in my game”, then you are in fact an asshole, and need to slap yourself while taking a hard look in the mirror.
Genrefolk are so paralyzed by the thought of having been excluded, possibly getting excluded in the future, and potentially being that which they hate the most if they exclude someone else, that we have consigned ourselves to being little more than walking wounded. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Think of it this way: imagine the face of That Jerk/Bitch/Etc. that tormented you. You know the one — the one who really hurt you, the one who left the scars. The one whose mere whispered name sends throbbing veins of rage pulsating down your forehead and neck. I know this isn’t pleasant, but bear with me for a moment. I promise this will help.
Got that person’s image set good in your mind? Remember how those bad times felt? Good. Hold on to that for a second. It might hurt, but this will pass.
Now realize that if your behavior *now* is still being defined by what they did to you, a reaction to how they hurt you, then you are still giving them control over you.
You don’t want that, do you? Of course not. Don’t let it happen. Know that you can relax, chill, not sweat this whole exclusion thing, and not let it control every waking moment of your social life, simply by refusing to let these past tormentors’ actions control you from afar.
Take that control back. Take back your life. Trust me, you’ll be happier.