Remember when being a nerd was considered bad? When “nerd” and “geek” were used as insults for socially awkward people with glasses? Luckily, we have progressed.
Once upon a time, there was a big stigma towards people who admittedly loved fantasy and sci-fi, now the world is obsessed with Game of Thrones and the Marvel films have broken all kinds of records in every country.
I remember middle school and being teased for liking books with dragons at age 13. I remember bringing books on class trips and getting eye rolls when I explained that yes, there’s magic in this one too. So after a while, I started becoming super secretive about my passions. Not that I ever denied them, but I created a different Facebook account to discuss “nerd things only.” It was the age of Facebook groups and pages.
Then one day I discovered fanfiction. I was reading theories about the upcoming Eragon book, and I stumbled upon a fanfiction site. I was completely sucked in. I’m positive that the number of hours I’ve spent reading fanfictions up to now amounts to several months, if not years. Soon I found myself writing fanfiction. I realized it was something I’d always done, in my own way: even as a child, when sometimes I didn’t like how a certain scene played out or a certain book’s ending, I would rewrite it – albeit in my childish way – and pretend my version could replace canon. I can’t say that I ever became notorious for my fics, but I had a decent following. People would email me asking for updates and send me reviews or comments.
I signed up for Twitter long before it was cool, and I was told by a peer fic writer to use my fanfiction username. I discovered fandom Twitter in its early days when it was merely a safe space for us to freely discuss without being judged before it became the problematic and toxic place it is now. Then I signed up for Tumblr. All of this undercover. Never once did I ever mention my name on these platforms, and it wasn’t because I was afraid the “creepy people from the internet” would see me; on the contrary, I lived in fear that somebody I knew IRL would find out I blogged about fantasy books at night.
As the years passed and fandoms grew on social media, I became ““popular”” (note the double quotes) and respected in several fandoms. This gave me the confidence to stop being so secretive about what I did online – it was nothing bad, after all – and I started opening up to my closest friends about it.
Popular culture also underwent a huge shift: thanks to many successful franchises in the 2000s like Harry Potter, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, etc., fantasy became more and more normalized. By 2011, when the last Harry Potter movie came out, nobody used “nerd” as an insult for fantasy-loving people anymore, because you had children, teenagers and adults alike crying in theaters about the end of an era. An entire generation wasn’t afraid to show their emotions because we all grew up with these films and books, and it was the case that the rest of pop culture kept up. In the 2010s there have been hundreds of fantasy films and television shows that were blockbusters. You didn’t have to be a nerd to like them, you simply had to go see them.
Six years ago, Game of Thrones was “that show with swords, sex, incest and dragons” to most of my friends. Now I can’t name more than five people who don’t watch it. In the same way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe normalized comics and superheroes, a genre that had always belonged to the underdogs.
Recently I came out of hiding. My Twitter and Tumblr handles are easily attainable. They’re connected to my writing profiles, thus linked to my full name, and I feel comfortable sharing every aspect of me to my friends and the world.
I completely came out of the nerd closet when I founded a Fandom Club at my university, a place for nerds to meet and discuss our favorite books, shows, films, video games, etc., and only then did I realize how many undercover nerds like me there are out there.
There is still a stigma directed at fantasy, that’s undeniable. Being obsessed with a sports team is still more socially acceptable than being a fangirl, even if the former entails staring at dudes running after a ball and the latter includes reading and analyzing pieces of literature, reviewing, theorizing, and often producing your own content. But for millennials, being a nerd is more than acceptable now. It has become cool.