Sep 12, 2011 - AV Club, Physical Ed    9 Comments

+2 Size, +2 Fashion, +2 Courage

If I’m going to be perfectly honest about how I got to be a geek, I’ve got to admit right up front that the fashion hooked me as much as the action. Mock the Cinnabon hair all you want, but Princess Leia’s white dress has got it Goin’ On, and her ceremonial garb at the end is even cooler. Jennifer Connolly’s ballgown in Labyrinth makes every Disney princess ever look like a bag lady, and when the demon in Legend turns Mia Sara all evil-looking, it makes you wonder who would want a Little Black Dress when you could have a Big Awesome Black Dress.

There’s only one little problem with all of this, and it’s not even the one you find about when you watch the DVD featurettes and learn that the actress had to stand for 14 hours because it was physically impossible to sit or fit through a doorway in that gorgeous wedding-cake confection. No, it’s the problem that doesn’t occur to you when you’re a 1st-grader in your Princess Leia costume, or you’re a 10-year-old swanning around the living room in a pirated nylon nighty pretending you’re Arwen or the Virgin Mary or whomever your role model is.

It’s that fantasy fashion is made for skinny women.

Sure, the best fantasy fashion is flowy and silky, or all princess seams and gravity-defying architecture. There’s no good reason why it shouldn’t be available in every size they make, or why it wouldn’t look great on almost every woman. But it is the gods’ honest truth that there are no Buttercup costumes in size 20. Not even in a 12. Trust me — I wanted to get married in one, so I looked *hard*.

In the rare instance, there might be a practical consideration why a plus-size actress isn’t right for the role. I mean, that iconic swing across the chasm on Luke’s little grappling hook wouldn’t make such a good poster if the shoelace snapped, allowing the two of them plummet into the Death Star’s HVAC system. But otherwise, as your dress size goes up, your choice of roles goes down, until all you’re left with is the bearded dwarven battlemaiden (emphasis on the maiden).

Geeks are pretty good at recognizing and giving respect for the hard work and creativity that goes into good costume-making, but nothing draws contempt and derision at a convention faster than a female fan who has the audacity to dress for a role that doesn’t “fit.” I’ve seen women posing for the battery of cameras that come out to capture the super-size Slave Leia or a larger-than-expected Invisible Woman. I’ve wondered and worried at how many of those picture-takers know (or care) how many hours of work went into making the costume, and how many more went into working up the gumption to wear it. And I’ve wished I had the nerve they had, even as I knew I couldn’t ignore the pointing.

Girls, of course, are no better. Even geek girls can be Mean Girls; in fact, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve ever been in the position to be Mean Girls, and it’s an exercise in power they’ve never had before. Just because they should know better doesn’t mean they can resist that temptation. Even once that phase has passed, geek girls have often been taunted for being different for so long that they’re reluctant to step between the critic and his or her object, even if it would save someone else a little of that pain.

So here’s my first challenge for Speak Out with your Geek Out week. Let’s rip out the seams on this stereotype and make room for more women to live out their sci-fi/fantasy dreams. I can’t make costume companies start selling Galadriel dresses in women’s sizes, but I can encourage all the geeks I know to start stepping up and giving honest props to good costumes when they see them. If they’re on a large woman, chances are she had to make it herself, or hire an artisan to help her, in which case it’s even more worthy of your encouragement. And who knows? Maybe if more statuesque women start owning the classic fantasy roles for themselves, writers and directors will let us kick ass in the pretty dresses for a change.

5 Ways to be a Great Geek Grown-Up

Short post today, by way of pointing you to a longer post I wrote for an awesome, positive, community-building event I’m helping to admin. It’s called Speak Out with your Geek Out, and it’s an effort to counteract the recent wave of geek bashing online. The goal is to get lots of people blogging and tweeting and talking positively about their geekiness, and transform the discussion into one that makes the environment more supportive and encouraging both for and among geeks of all stripes.

My contribution to the preparatory guest-blogging at the core site is a short piece about how every geeky grown-up can be more like the adult ally that every geeky kid wishes they had, no matter whether that’s in the form of a parent, older relative, or mentor. You can find it at http://www.speakoutwithyourgeekout.com/2011/09/jessica-banks-on-5-ways-to-be-great.html . Hopefully, you’ll find it full of good ideas, whether the kid in your life wants to be the next Bill Gates or the next Joe Buck or the next Tim Gunn.

I’ll be hosting a few guest-posts here on this blog over the next week, as part of the Speak Out event, perhaps from way-cooler-than-me friends like Atlas Games creative director Michelle Nephew and bestselling romance author Shannon K. Butcher. So, if you’re coming through to read what they’ve got to say, welcome! I hope you come back for more of the homecooked weirdness in the future!

Sep 9, 2011 - Literature, Sex Ed    2 Comments

In Praise of Smut

I read a lot. Probably several people’s worth of reading, both in terms of volume and taste. I’m one of those readers with several books going at any given moment, juggling them based on location, time of day, and mood. And one of those books is always a romance novel.

This is not going to be a full-throated defense of romance. That, dear readers, will come another day. What I want to say today is that, when I read a romance, I want to read some high-quality smut.

That’s right — bring on the sexytimes. It’s certainly not the only, or even the main, thing I’m in that book for, but I expect those characters to get it on, for several pages, several times, in interesting and athletic ways, well before the last quarter of the book. Character development is all well and good, and pacing and plot make the world go round, but if I don’t hear about some rampant man-staffs and perfect pink pleasure parts, I’m out of here.

I don’t need to venture into any seedy truck stop bookstore to find what I’m looking for. I know all the tricks for finding this stuff, and I’ve known them for years. If you fan a well-read paperback open slowly, it’ll open to the naughty bits because previous readers’ hot little hands have put more stress on the binding at those points. Trade paperback romances tend to have more graphic sex scenes than mass markets for some reason, except for those “inspirational” romances, but those always have the same cover art: some gormless twit, standing in a field of grass, in clothes that make a burqa look burlesque.

And it’s not all pen names and bodice-ripping covers. The list of NYT Bestselling authors that meet my criteria is as long as my arm, and I can buy their books in Target or Barnes & Noble without the slightest bit of embarrassment. All those books with women in flowing gowns or bare-chested men in kilts you see at the grocery checkout? Full of lusty virgins and urgent thrusting. You have NO idea what’s going on in there.

Now imagine what the girl on the bus is reading  on  her   KINDLE.

And if anyone is uncomfortable over women getting their wrinkly bits tingly right there in broad daylight, let me tell you what makes me uncomfortable: it’s every person who gets a hard-on when they crack the cover on a novel that lets you put yourself on the zipline down from a Black Hawk behind enemy lines, where you land and deliver silent righteous justice to the filthy terrorist. Total porn. Worse yet, moralizing porn that warps your worldview while getting you off.

So if I want to read about exciting, multi-hour, contortionist sex with a large, strong, attentive lover who sees the hidden value in the heretofore neglected woman? Sue me. What’s the worst that happens? Maybe I decide that I’m turned on enough to ignore the backache, and to pretend the sleeping kids in the other room is “the threat of discovery,” and that sleep is for the weak, and actually get it on with my unsuspecting husband. At least my porn doesn’t encourage me to invade another country.

Default Setting: Love

This is my first blog post, and it’s by way of explaining why I felt strongly enough about the Speak Out with your Geek Out movement — all next week, anywhere and everywhere you want to talk about whatever floats your geeky little boat — that I stepped up to be an admin. I’m doing it because I’m a big geek, of course, but more importantly, I’m doing it for my kids. They’re going to be a frequent subject on my blog, and yes, I’m going to use their names.

* * *

The first thing most people notice about Connor is how *big* everything is for him. His volume is permanently set to 11; every gesture and expression is oversized and repeated two or three times in case you missed it the first (you couldn’t possibly). Then the other extremes about him begin to emerge: the speed of his speech only hints at the speed of his thoughts, and words pop up in the rapid stream that you don’t expect in a fourth-grade vocabulary. All these things might give the impression of excitement by themselves, but there’s real enthusiasm for so many subjects, and genuine delight at the prospect of sharing the coolness with someone new.

This is my kid. He’s a geek. His default setting is love.

He was doomed to geekhood well before his conception, what with two parents of impressive geek credentials. And he showed his own talent for geekhood as well. He started calling his make-believe play “movies” between ages 2 and 3, around the same time he announced he wanted a Jon Stewart 3rd birthday party. His passion for superheroes exploded onto the scene, until we started telling people who asked about potential gifts for him, “Look, if it’s ‘super,’ it’s great.”

What we didn’t know until he turned six was that Connor has Asperger’s Syndrome. The school where he attended kindergarten failed him in every respect. Teachers missed the expanding intellect and hunger for social interaction, and labeled him a discipline problem, a threat to “normal” kids. His classmates saw a child who wanted friends a little too desperately, and probably left them behind when he tried to include them in his elaborate stories. And, at that critical age, when different is dangerous, those children made his life hell. They rejected his friendship. They rejected his enthusiasm. They hurt him on the playground, to the point of stitches one cold winter morning. They threatened his life on the bus after school. Kindergartners told my son they wanted to have a party at his house; he was overjoyed. They said they would have a party at his house, and he would be the pinata, and they would beat him until he broke open and died. He had nightmares. My six-year-old said he wanted to kill himself. He knew what he was saying.

Things got better. We switched schools for first grade, and within a month, they’d identified the Asperger’s. Instead of simply conceding to the previous reigning theory on his behavior issues (i.e., “we’re crap parents”), we built strategies for home and school to address the most serious problems and deal with them constructively and consistently. Connor’s teacher gave him challenging work that kept him from making trouble when he was bored. He made friends who valued his vast cache of knowledge about Star Wars and superheroes.

Connor’s experiences made him a better person too. His fixation on superheroes had taught him the philosophical concept of justice, but now he understood what prejudice and oppression felt like, and why it was important to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. His skill as a storyteller was growing apace, but now he was sensitive to allowing his friends agency in their own stories, and supplied them with information so they could “make cool movies” too.

It’s not for nothing that jaded adults are advised to view the world through the perspective of a child, if they can. Everything is new and amazing to children, and they’re predisposed to love it, to find it literally wonder-full. I heard a parent of an autistic child in a radio interview say that people with autism are “more human than human;” natural human tendencies are amplified to extremes. Geekhood is, I believe, a natural human tendency. We get enthusiastic about things we enjoy; we want to know more, and we want to share them with others. We start with it when we’re children, when we’re geeks about the whole wide world–our default setting is love. And for some lucky people, like Connor, that setting never changes.