Coming late to the Geek Love

The first time I tried to read Geek Love was more than ten years ago, in grade 11 (or 12?) when my best friend raved about it.  She had introduced me to Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the hotness of gay porn, The Boys of Life, and made me mix tapes that included an abundance of Suede and The Smiths, so I trusted her recommendation.  But… I hated it.  Hated it.  Loathed it.  Could not get past the third chapter.  I don’t remember exactly what it was that I hated so much, but I think it was the physicality of it.  The deformed freaks that I desperately hoped I could not relate to.

I think when I was younger I wanted to read about pretty people.  Freaks, like me, outcasts and people on the fringes, but pretty people on the fringes.  People who didn’t threaten my notions of beauty equalling goodness.  If the freaks are at least attractive, if I am at least attractive, then that must mean I’m good even if I’m not popular, right?  Maybe it’s an ungenerous reading of my adolescent worldview, but I suspect I really was that shallow.

Physical attributes sometimes seem immutable.  I became a goth because I was tired of people making fun of things I felt I couldn’t change, and it seemed like a logical step to my 14 year old mind.  If they wouldn’t stop mocking me for my overbite and my love of books, at the very least I could gain some power over what they said about me if I was wearing a cape and black lipstick.  It was a way of controlling what felt like an uncontrollable world.  I suspect there are lots of kids in highly visible subcultures who have chosen to be there because it works as protection for them.  (Although I truly did believe that I “wore black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside.”)

The ability to choose that specific othering is a privilege.  Privilege, whether it’s white privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic or class privilege, or any other kind of privilege, can be very difficult to own.  As a teenager, I felt very oppressed.  The whole world was out to get me, and although I did go through some difficult times and there were definitely elements of yuck in my little life, I had the privilege of choosing to other myself in a way that made me feel more safe.  The idea of the Binewskis and their much more physical, much more permanent (although even that is not necessarily true, and is questioned in the novel) othering, I think, scared me.  It called attention to my privilege, and to my prejudice.  Because the fact was, I did not like those freaks.  They scared me.  They challenged me.  They seemed to threaten some of the things I held very sacred, like the idea of physical beauty.  It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I suspect it’s true.

I was no better than the people flocking to the Glass House to watch Miranda and Paulette and Denise strip and dance and wave their freakery, their attractive, sexual, and therefore acceptable freakery, around.  When Oly says that the show at the Glass House is nothing like the show her family put on, she is correct on so many levels.

I like to believe that as an older woman, no longer requiring a cape and black lipstick as armour before I can venture out into public, I’m a little less blinded by the beauty myth.  I’m a little more aware of my own privilege, and a little more sensitive to issues of prejudice (such as the ableist views that are confronted so frequently in the novel.)  Although I still felt the shock of distaste in the first few chapters of Geek Love, this time around I found it fascinating.  I loved it.  There are so many layers to the book, to each character, and they are so deliciously theoretical.  There’s so much to think about in the book, so much about bodies and power and choice and autonomy and what’s normal and what’s not.  Lots to sink your teeth into.  Lots to geek about.

~ by Gloom Fairy on May 18, 2010.

One Response to “Coming late to the Geek Love”

  1. I don’t think anyone ever manages to escape the beauty myth, vanity, or positions of privilege. I’d argue that recognizing and critiquing your own relationship with categorical systems of classification and definition proves more productive than denial or avoidance. Looking back and seeing how you’ve progressed is in itself, to use your wording, “deliciously theoretical.” I’ve often been critiqued by non-academic friends for over-thinking or over-analyzing the littlest things (the Old Spice commercial, for example, or the framed warning advertising that alcohol is bad for the fetus in every Toronto restaurant bathroom). But we live in an empire of images and words, and although to some it may seem freakish to be overly critical of the communications expressed by culture and society, to me it would be freakish to ignore them.

    High school is the ultimate freak show – which is why most television programs on “freaks and geeks” usually take place during high school. Even those perceived as “pretty” and “ideal” are using “pretty” and “ideal” as protective shields. The cheerleaders outfit is as much as disguise as the punk’s shaved head and tattoos. But what I find most interesting in your post is the focus on privilege – absolutely, how different it is when the body has the luxury to chose a space as “Other” versus being a visible “Other” without choice.

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