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How Being Non-Binary Left Gaps in My Geek Nostalgia

Wonder Woman taught me how to spin. As a kid growing up in the early ’80s, I used to watch reruns of Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman and try to recreate her famous twirl transformation. But unlike Diana Prince, I was still the same when it was all over, just dizzier.

Wonder Woman first exposed me to superheroes and played a huge role in my lifelong love of superheroics. Her selfless actions, helping those who couldn’t help themselves, shaped me as a child. but one day, I stopped watching or talking about Wonder Woman with adoration. As much as I loved her, I wasn’t supposed to. She was “for girls,” and girly things weren’t part of the geek canon.

She-Ra with her winged unicorn Swift Wind

I’m non-binary, but I was assigned male at birth, and as a burgeoning geek growing up in the Midwest in the ’80s and ’90s, that meant exposure to a lot of  “boy” media and popular culture, while missing a lot of “girl” culture. It wasn’t for lack of interest. I was transfixed the first time I saw the ads for She-Ra: Princess of Power, though I was never brave enough to actually watch an episode. I was a bit too young for Tiffany’s famous mall tour, but that didn’t stop me from singing along to “I Think We’re Alone Now” when I was home by myself. But I kept that secret, knowing it would make me a target for mockery and bullying.

Instead, I avoided a lot of things I was drawn to so I could meet gendered expectations. The results, decades later, are very gendered gaps in my pop culture nostalgia, omissions which I’ve found all-too common in the male-dominated geek community. I wasn’t the only one who missed out: while our young female peers were immersing themselves with cartoons like Jem and the Holograms, live action shows like Punky Brewster or Blossom, or reading fantasy like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, boys and other AMAB kids were largely consuming different media.

But that’s a problem, since boys grew up to define and dominate geek culture. Media for young women was largely left out of the canon and has been historically ignored, relegated, or at times, outright mocked.

There’s nothing inherently geekier about Transformers than Jem—Jerrica uses her holographic computer, Synergy, to become Jem, after all—but one has a firm place in the geek canon, while the other is all-too-often treated as a joke. The things boys liked in the ’80s and ’90s are considered sacrosanct, no matter how terrible they are, while the things girls liked are dismissed. Cartoons like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and ThunderCats are revered, while shows like Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony are not. There’s little logic at play.

As a result, I often find myself in a weird place with cultural blind spots. Despite how much I wanted to watch or read media from the other side of the spectrum, I largely didn’t. So, I have ended up sharing a lot of the boy-centric pop culture nostalgia that that dominates geek culture, even as I recognize how biased and sexist it is.

The good news is that geek culture is starting to change incrementally. The last few years has brought a series of revivals of previously-ignored properties, most notably the wildly-successful Wonder Woman movie under the direction of Patty Jenkins, with a sequel coming next year. She-Ra, is coming to Netflix under the helm of Noelle Stevenson of Lumberjanes and Nimona fame. Meanwhile, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has become a major franchise, with a successful TV show, comics, and a movie released late last year. Jem, got its own live-action film in 2015, as well as a critically-acclaimed comic series originally written by rising comics star Kelly Thompson. Women creators have finally been able to create a niche to celebrate their own nostalgia.

But I still don’t feel fully part of it. I might enjoy the Jem and the Holograms comic on its own terms, but I don’t have the same connection to it that a child who grew up watching it—or who heard her mom tell her stories about it—has. I can watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with my daughter, but I can’t geek out by telling her about all of the Generation 1 ponies. I have a lot of feelings, without a lot of context, and no matter how much I spin, I still just feel dizzy.

Images: Warner Bros. Television, Filmation, Hasbro, and IDW Publishing

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