Carving Out Safety in Geek Spaces

The most intimate geek spaces can also house the most unspoken conflict.

So conventions are coming back and places are opening up again. Cosplay is ramping up, I’m restocking art prints, and everyone is looking forward to seeing their old friends and making new ones.

Unfortunately, this also means more potential for creepy social interactions. I’ve had some strange experiences in geek culture as part of various fandoms. Most are super positive! But there are definitely toxic people and situations that, looking back, I should have seen red flags for. So I’ve been researching why I didn’t notice those red flags, and what I can do to keep my current social spaces safe and inclusive.

Here are the fruits of my research. Hopefully this helps inform yourself and/or others about serious issues in geek groups, how to recognize them, why we often overlook them, and why calling them out in solidarity is important.

First up is a primer on social fallacies common among geek social spaces that contribute to repeated stress and frustration with inevitable breakdowns of social groups. Having been in fandoms online and in person for over 20 years now, I can guarantee that this is so applicable. I found myself cringing, remembering embarrassing moments when I encountered so many of these assumptions and just accepted it as the norm in a fan group.

“It is my opinion that many of these never-ending crises are sparked off by an assortment of pernicious social fallacies — ideas about human interaction which spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and to each other.”

Suileabhain-Wilson

Building on this is the concept of The Missing Stair, a term you’ll find yourself using frequently once you get used to the idea.

Basically the larger the group, the more likely it contains a person who makes people uncomfortable, whether through sexual harassment, racism, or any other means. Groups of people who’ve been marginalized often pride themselves on inclusivity, and therein lies the conflict: individuals often feel that to confront the person is to become the marginalizer, to cause unnecessary tension. And so there begins a whisper campaign. We all know about this missing stair, but we don’t fix it. We know to jump over it.

“People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his ‘special requirements,’ that they didn’t feel like there was an urgent problem in their community.”

The Pervocracy

But what if the group is cool with a missing stair? Maybe the stair isn’t that bad? Well, that may be driving people away too. Emma Hart builds on The Missing Stair concept by zeroing in on sexual harassment. This helps make clear how predatory people thrive in communities where the myth of the rapist as other (“that doesn’t happen in my friend, family, friend group, etc.”) is perpetuated by excusing the creeper’s behavior.

“If someone is making a bunch of your female friends deeply uncomfortable, that’s already a problem.”

Hart

Fan groups are made up of passionate people, but there are frequently a few people in any group who join for less savory reasons. Maybe they’re in a D&D group to hit on nerdy women. Maybe they like cosplay because they can get away with inappropriate behavior as long as it’s “in character.” As hard as it is, it’s important to maintain transparency in geek spaces so as to maintain a safe, supportive, and fun experience for everyone, not just the least marginalized members.

Enjoy the conventions this summer, everyone! Be safe, watch out for each other, and wash your hands.

References

Benedictova, Nika. Dice photo. Unsplash. 3 March 2021.

Hart, Emma. “The Missing Stair Part Two: The Creeper and the Excuser.” Public Address. 2 Sept. 2013. https://publicaddress.net/up-front/the-missing-stair-part-two-the-creeper-and/

Suileabhain-Wilson, Michael. “Five Geek Social Fallacies.” Plausibly Deniable . 2 Dec. 2003. https://plausiblydeniable.com/five-geek-social-fallacies/

The Pervocracy. “The Missing Stair.” 22 June 2012. https://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html

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