Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away (Montana), I was kind of cool. No, I’m serious. I wasn’t popular in high school, but I wasn’t unpopular, either. I remember vaguely a friend giggling at me because she thought I bounced too much when I ran, and in elementary school, there was one unpleasant time when a boy on the bus called me “Goodyear” (get it? like the Goodyear Blimp? HAHAHAHA!), but that was really the extent of my childhood victimization. I was in drama, and on the speech and debate team (and I was good at it, so my name was in the paper a lot). I was a pretty good student, and I was fortunate enough to go to a school where geek chic was in its infancy, so my interest in politics and the New York Times was, counterintuitively, not a social liability. And even when I was outed by someone whom I’d thought was a friend, nothing happened, even though I had expected that the entire world would come crashing down around my ears. In fact, I imagine that it came as a surprise to no one in particular, and I scored myself a girlfriend once it became common knowledge.
I actually kind of liked high school. Imagine that.
That is not to say, however, that I skated on just being the fabulous, unique person that I am. Far from it. I tried my freaking ass off to have the right sort of interests. I’ve been told that bookish teenagers are always nerdy, but I was careful to be the Bukowski Man, meaning that I read stuff like Tom Robbins and, well, Bukowski, because they’re cool. It’s cool to like Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson, but it’s not particularly cool to like, say, George R. R. Martin. I avoided video games until well into my twenties because I thought they were for nerds, and I could never, never be a nerd. Nerds waste their time on nerdy things. I was Bukowski Man, so ensconced in my snobbery that I was incapable of smelling my own bullshit.
And then… something broke. I just stopped giving a shit.
You know, I kind of feel cheated. I feel like I spent so long avoiding geekdom that when I finally embraced it, I was too far behind to ever really catch up. I could never be respected as a proper nerd because my youth was spent being a reasonably popular and well-liked kid. This is called impostor syndrome, but it speaks volumes about my regret. I regret not being more myself when I was younger. I regret that it took me so long to figure out who I am and what I’m about.
I’m pretty sure I got here because of feminism.
Feminism is like a gateway drug. Once I learned that there is no wrong way to be a woman, I learned that there’s really no wrong way to be a person (unless you’re Pol Pot or something). Feminism taught me that I have no obligation to be pretty, or proper, or “girly.” I also had no obligation to reject those things. It seemed only natural from there to conclude that I had no obligation to be “cool” either. “Cool” is a construct. It’s subjective, and it’s worthless once we grow out of that adolescent tendency to arrange ourselves into a hierarchy of grooviness. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to groan over all of the things I wish I’d known then that seem so simple and intuitive now.
I may have been kind of cool, but I was really thick. It’s a personal tragedy.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see myself worthy of ascending the annals of geekdom (listen, folks – the grass is always greener), but I am so grateful that I found the strength to stop trying to be the person that I was told I had to be. It feels pretty nice to just… be.