As the wind blows the cold air of January into our homes, I'd like to take you back to a time of the year when the weather was warm and bright: Labor Day weekend. Every year at this time, downtown Atlanta fills with an enormously diverse crowd of people gathered together to celebrate their love for a variety of different pastimes; a multi-colored, costumed swarm of faces forming from all across the United States and as far away as Germany and the United Kingdom. This is DragonCon, a convention that spans so many fan genres that the schedule for the weekend is the size of a graphic novel and the event itself spreads throughout five hotels.
With all of these different interests – interests that range from the skeptic to the metaphysical practitioner, the science nerd to the fantasy geek – thousands of people, rich and poor, young and old, all form into something unexpected: a 62,000 person family. Yes. I said family. Not a disparate group of people with marginally similar interests, not acquaintances, not even friends...but Family.
Why Family? What is it that bonds each genre's fans together so much that every person you speak to refers to this Atlanta mega-event as a giant family reunion? What is it that brings the psychics to the same table as the evangelical skeptics to play a game of cards? It isn't the costumes, though there are definitely some incredible costumes to be seen. It isn't the books, shows, games, or other interests that dominate one panel track or another – there are hundreds of other genre-specific conventions for people to go to if they want to focus on their individual favorite pastimes. No, it is the authenticity, the honesty, the transparency reflected within this community that makes its members family...and it is the acceptance of each individual's truest expression of self that is the blood tie that binds them.
Every person at DragonCon is likely to call themselves a “geek” but, really, a geek is simply someone who is unapologetically enthusiastic about the things they enjoy, someone who is genuine, true to themselves. When we talk about authenticity and the need for personal and community integrity, truth, and transparency, we have no better example to learn from than the community, the Family, which reunites each year in our own backyard at DragonCon:
Here you find multiple generations of people who grew up being discouraged of their own authenticity; people who were beaten up or made fun of for liking Sci-Fi, comic books, fantasy novels, anime, or any other number of interests that didn't conform to society's standards of what “normal” was at the time. These people, now parents and grandparents, were expected to grow out of their fandoms...but they did what we all need to do...they refused. Instead, here they are, graying hair, still celebrating with the enthusiasm they had as children. Many, raising the next generation of proud non-conformists, are bringing these pint-sized geeks to DragonCon to show them the power of community, the power of mutual acceptance in the authentic embrace of the DragonCon family.
Geek culture – and that is what DragonCon is truly about – shows us the true socially transformative
power of authenticity. All of these authentic people, by the very nature of their refusal to “grow up,” to conform, to deny their own truth, risked loneliness and ostracism from a society that rejected them. Instead, however, they remained genuine. They had the most integrity of all and that integrity attracted others who had followed the same path. Like magnets, the geeks were drawn to each other, aided in large part by gatherings like DragonCon, amassing into larger and larger groups that eventually transformed society, as we know it. By refusing to sacrifice their authenticity, the geeks won the world, creating the “rise of the geek” and making fandom – once the purview of disenfranchised, bullied outcasts – COOL!
Ghandi, in his call to transform society through the practice of authenticity, said to BE the change you wish to see in the world. It turns out to be the geeks, the members of the DragonCon international family tree, who set that example perfectly for our age. Through their individual self-honesty, their stubborn refusal to be anything other than genuine in their pursuits, geeks have and will continue to remake the world in an image of acceptance and authenticity. It's time we all followed suit.
Christina James is a freelance writer and blogger. A second-generation geek with a penchant for passion, spirituality, and culture, she is dedicated to living and writing with authenticity. She can be found online at http://nerdandnurturer.blogspot.com.