Still, the sad fact remains that many - if not most - of our next generation geeks face mockery or even bullying because of the things they love.
But here's the good news:
By being ourselves, both online and off, and by proudly showing off our cosplay pics and nerdy art projects, and applauding each other's efforts, and by just unabashedly reveling in our passions instead of secreting them away, we're already helping. We're setting the example. We're helping create communities where it's possible to forget not everyone thinks geeks are cool.
Which is my long-winded way of introducing today's Exemplar: 15-year-old Paige, aka Obadoba. She's given me permission to share her story, so here it is, in her own words [edited slightly for brevity]:
"I've been considering writing to you for a looong time, but your post abut anxiety really hit it home and I knew I just had to sit down and write this all out.
"Last year, I suffered from anxiety and depression. I'd been a bit socially awkward all my life, and I don't think I'd had any close friends since I was in kindergarten.
"The public school in my town was one of the worst places I've had the misfortune of being in. If any of [my classmates] found out I cosplayed, they would've descended like vultures. If you didn't fit in perfectly, you'd be cast out in an instant. They block the halls, insult my religion, throw things at me, and a few other things I'd rather not say (which ended with them getting called down to the office for sexual harassment).
"I don't know how many times me and my few friends had to go to the office to report bullying. Nothing was ever done. That was the main factor that led me to depression and anxiety. I was distant from the few friends I had, any off comment could send me into a panic, I started to get a bit of a stutter, and I couldn't disagree with anyone else's opinion no matter what.
"One thing that helped me, my little sliver of light in the dark, was going to conventions. The first few cons I went to were cool, but I really didn't do much. And then I started to make friends. I've met amazing people through the last few months. I've talked to some amazing cosplayers, and made some pretty cool costumes myself. I learned a lot, from panels and from people.
"...Fortunately for me, we found a charter school half an hour away with a few spaces open. Switching to that school is probably one of the best decisions I will ever make. There are SO many more geeks here, and best of all, I've made wonderful friends!
"I've gone from being the freaky little introvert to the president of the anime club. I'm probably the most ostentatious person in my grade. I'm part of several cosplay groups, and I'm even planning a cosplay meetup next spring with the help of some friends."
(I don't know about you guys, but I was cheering on the inside those last few paragraphs.)
Paige ends by saying a lot of wonderful things about Epbot, and how she plans to keep on attending conventions. In fact, here she is cosplaying as Aranea from Homestuck, so you guys can say hi if you ever see her!
And in case you're like me and have no idea what Homestuck is - it's a webcomic. (Thanks, Google!) And this is Aranea:
She's wearing orange and has blue wings. Naturally, I love her.
Thank you for sharing your story, Paige, and for reminding us that while bullying is still sadly alive and well, that's not where the story ends. It might take some people a little longer to figure out, but trust me, you're the one that's cool.
Aaand relevant video of awesomeness:
[Note: contains mild language]
True story: when I went back to watch this just now, I got a virtual sucker-punch right to the feels, as Wil Wheaton would say. It suddenly went from a goofy, fun anthem to something so much more personal and real. Or maybe I just need a Midol. (NOT A WORD, JOHN. Not...a word.)