A few years ago I was at a gaming convention with my wife and one of our friends. While we were waiting in line for… something (badge collection maybe), we met a couple of guys who we took the opportunity to chew the fat with. They were nice enough guys and we had a nice chat in a line that was really, really long. It helped pass the time and we got to gab about gaming.
The next day we ran into them again and they invited us to lunch. So we headed out to a bar and grill, noted for embracing the geek/gaming culture during the convention (they were playing Lord of the Rings on their big-screen when we walked in and advertising their D&D hot-wing special, so we knew we had the right place). During our lunch and conversation with them one of the guys made a comment that stuck in my craw, and ultimately led to me “losing” their contact information:
“I really enjoy [convention], but I don’t know why they allow the furries in there. We don’t need those freaks running around. It’s as bad as when they started letting the Anime people use the small basement rooms to play their crap.”
This struck me as rather hypocritical to say the least. Here we were, a group of 5 twenty and thirty-somethings, going to a convention based around a style of game that is really just glorified make-believe. I didn’t break it to him at the time, but really the whole lot of us are freaks. I’m certainly a freak, my wife is a freak, my friends are all freaks, the only normal one among us is Tron… because he’s too young to really be a decent freak. It seems that if you’re a freak you might as well hang out with them, even if they’re a different brand of freak. As long as both parties are amicable, there’s no issue. There’s plenty of space at the convention to have a few devoted to playing anime, and seeing a guy walking around in bear costume doesn’t really bother me. I’ve been to Disneyland and there are tons of people running around in costumes there, and lines of people waiting to get pictures of it. Similarly, I like Anime, and cartoons in general. A lot of the geek/gaming people double dip into anime/cartoons, so it only makes sense to have it available at the convention. More revenue and more happy customers.
Let’s back up a bit though: Between the grades of 3 and 10, I was about as popular as a mouth ulcer. I played video games, D&D, and wore clothes based on comfort rather than how cool they were. Back in those days that made me unpopular kid number 2, right behind that one kid who always smelled like urine. I had few friends growing up because I bore, rather proudly, the geek label (the same label that is so popular right now… *sigh*). As such, I know very well that it’s difficult and rather lonely being the freak, and that freaks crave company of their same ilk, or at least those who can relate.
As such, the inclusion of the Furry, Anime, and Cosplay societies within the gaming convention always made sense to me. It’s a convention devoted to the freaks who loved make-believe so much that they had to create a massive collection of rule sets for it. We wear costumes, we make foam weapons, we create characters with more vibrant backgrounds than you’re like to see in even a novel, and we even have paintings made of our favored characters. We. Are. Freaks. Putting on an animal costume (for whatever reason) or loving to watch Japanese cartoons and dress up as the characters does not seem all that out of place; it never did. Some of the practices within those groups I find a little… yucky, but as long as they’re keeping that stuff private, they can do what they want. If everything is consensual and nobody is getting hurt, all the power to them; just don’t ask me to watch.
But the view has to be more than that. It’s all well and good to accept the groups that don’t really weird me out that much (and who do have redeeming crafts/interests that I like), but it’s another, harder thing to accept those groups that I find truly bizzar. Technosexuals, Smurfs, Emos, and Juggalos to name a few. If I’m really going to accept the freaks, I’ve got to go the whole way and accept those who I wouldn’t even be comfortable being seen with in public. I have to be better than that, and it’s hard.
It all comes down to understanding why these things make us so uncomfortable, and really, it’s a pretty easy thing to grasp: We are uncomfortable with that which we don’t understand. I can’t fathom why somebody would want to paint themselves blue or dress up like a crazy clown. Because I don’t understand it, and I can’t really relate to it, I naturally shy away from it. Many, like those I lunched with, instantly take the path of hateful exclusion because it’s easy and helps build a sense of worth in your own camp (whatever it may be). By excluding those who are weird, and denouncing them, you declare how normal you must be and how good you are. You get double duty by spacing yourself from that which makes you uncomfortable while at the same time feeding your own ego. It’s an, unfortunately, natural response to what is different. It is why change is so hard for humans, and why social progress takes so long. But, what if you want people to accept what you are? Can you really defend yourself from those hatefully distancing their camps from you if you’re doing the same thing to another?
No, you really can’t. And that’s where loving the freak comes into play. If I really, really want to defend my obsession with games, then I must defend the freak as well. I have to point at the Juggalo and the Emo and say “I don’t like or understand that, but there’s nothing wrong with them wanting to do it.” In the end, all the freaks are in it together; even if we don’t understand each other.
-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?
NOTE: By the same token this is why groups entirely DEVOTED to hateful separation don’t have a leg to stand on. For instance: the KKK is about the biggest group of hypocrites I can think of. They hate those who are different but they are shocked, confused, and angry when people hate them. Seems that they aren’t fond of getting dished out exactly what they are serving. Loving the freak is all well and good, but when the “freaks” in question are hate-mongering douchebags, they’re on their own.