Martha Thomases: Gen Con Freedom Fighters

When I first started to work in comics, even though the medium was looked down on by mainstream culture as a bunch of geeks, it was very much an old boys’ club. There were women involved, even feminist women, but we were few and far between, leftovers from the hippie and underground comix scene. The boys in the boys’ club were as terrified of being considered feminine or queer as everyone else in the world was terrified of being considered geeks.

And now, being a geek is cool.

As geek culture becomes more mainstream, the definition simultaneously becomes more vague and more specific. That is, the meaning is in the ear of the beholder.

This week we saw some evidence that geek culture has transcended homophobia. Not that there aren’t still plenty of homophobes (and misogynists) (and racists) among us, but they are no longer our loudest voices.

As my pal, Marc Fishman, noted here on Saturday, Indiana recently passed a “religious freedom” law that, according to the Associated Press, “prohibits state laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of ‘person’ includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.” For example, a bakery owned by conservative Christians (or Muslims) (or Jews) could refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

The people who support the bill don’t like the way it has been perceived by the public, because it makes them look like the bigots that they are. As this Christian news site describes it:

“Under Indiana’s religious freedom law, not one Gen Con attendee (gay, transgender, cross-dressing) could be denied a seat at a lunch counter by that mythical boogeyman – the Christian bigot burger-maker with his ‘gaydar’ fully activated. That’s not what this law does.

“Instead, it protects a private business owner (who might be gay themselves) from being coerced by the power of government to act in a manner incompatible with their deeply held religious convictions. In other words, it protects the Jewish sign maker from being forced by the state to make pro-Nazi placards for the next skinhead convention.”

Aside #1: There is a long history of printers refusing to publish work with which they disagree, whether because the content is “pornographic” or otherwise politically distasteful. These printers simply turn away work they don’t want to do, without wrapping themselves in any kind of religious trappings.

Aside #2: So far, there have been no laws protecting the religious freedom of those devoted to other proscriptions from the book of Leviticus. I eagerly anticipate the first case in which a tattooed person or a menstruating woman is denied service because such things are forbidden by the Bible.)

Gen-Con, by the way, was one of the first companies to announce that they would look for a more hospitable business environment. Yes, the game convention. Rarely have I been so proud of my geek-dom. Instead of presenting themselves as the home of the Gamergate crowd, Gen-Con chose to stand up for all the people who enjoy gaming, insisting that everyone be welcome.

In the process, they pointed out that geeks (even queer and female and trans and non-white geeks) have money to spend and we won’t be shamed into use our dollars in ways that insult our own selves.

In other nerd news this week, the tech venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers won a Pyrrhic victory over Ellen Pao. She had sued them for gender discrimination and lost, but in the process she opened the curtain on the casual misogyny of tech culture. As with Anita Hill a few decades ago, this case will have long-term effects that will last longer than the particular judgment.

And the Ellen Pao decision has the added benefit of not putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court!

It’s been a good week. Say it loud, “I’m a Geek and I’m Proud.”