If you travel in the kinds of amazingly awesome circles I find myself lucky enough to be a part of, the word “nerd” is tossed around exactly 2.5 million times a day. And after all, the name if this site is Nerdy Sarah. But what does it mean to be a nerd? What are we really talking about when we use that term?
First, I want to start by talking about what a nerd is not. A nerd is not necessarily a person who has an encyclopedic knowledge of all of their fandom’s minute trivial. A nerd doesn’t have to be someone who has read every single issue of a particular comic book series, or has seen every episode of a particular show multiple times. Yes, those people can absolutely be nerds. But knowing every single tiny detail about your fandom’s history isn’t what makes you a nerd. And in fact, believing that this kind of knowledge is the door to nerddom is what leads to things like the “fake geek girl” phenomenon (which I loathe with every fiber of my being). It causes some people to believe that they are the only “real” fans and that anyone who doesn’t know as much about their fandom as they do is a faker and an imposter and doesn’t deserve a voice in the community. This is an absolutely toxic way of thinking that divides a community that should be uniting around shared passions.
Case in point. I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was five years old. And in more recent years, as the J.J. Abrams movies began to bring Trek to a wider audience, I started seeing commenters online complaining about how those who became fans only after seeing the movies weren’t real Trekkies (or Trekkers, if you’re old-school). But I don’t feel that way at all. Yes, I might know more Starfleet trivia than these new fans. But that doesn’t mean I love it any more than they do. It doesn’t mean I deserve to enjoy it more.
In my mind, being a nerd means two things. First, it means you find real, human significance in your fandom, that it genuinely inspires or moves you in some way. And second, it means you’re not embarrassed to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the things you love.
If something in a show, movie, novel, or comic book truly speaks to you, it doesn’t matter if you know every single detail of that story’s history. What matters is the human component. The reason writers, artists, and filmmakers do what they do isn’t that they want their audiences to memorize obscure bits of trivia. It’s because they want to touch their audiences’ hearts and minds. They want to make us feel and think. And if Wonder Woman or Black Panther or The Avengers does that for you – and you get super stoked about it – you, my friend, are a nerd.
And I think the second criterion for being a nerd — being unashamed to show the world that you care and that you’re psyched — has to some extent been culturally drilled out of us. We’re taught to believe that getting excited about things means we’re uncool. Acting like a total fangirl or fanboy when the new season of your favorite show starts means you have no chill. Why do so many of us believe this? Because it keeps us from making ourselves vulnerable. If we earnestly show other people that we truly love something – whether it’s our favorite fandom or something completely unrelated like baking beautiful cakes or designing gorgeous jewelry – we open ourselves up to criticism. If others know how deeply we care about this thing, our fear is that they’ll tell us it’s stupid, and we’re stupid for thinking it’s important. And so we play it cool to keep from getting hurt.
But truthfully, that’s no way to live. Yes, being honest and open about what you really love and who you really are makes you vulnerable. But it also opens the possibility of connecting with others who feel the same way you do. And it leads to a much more fulfilling life. Trying to be something you’re not just to get the approval of other people never leads to anything good.
So basically, being a nerd is definitely not about memorizing trivia. It’s about opening your heart and allowing yourself to be genuinely touched by the shows, movies, books, and comics you love. And it’s about being authentic enough not to hide who you are and what you care about.