nerd rage: masculinity culture from an ex-nerd gone trans

by kerrigan j merz [27 / she-her-hers]

Kerrigan J Merz | photo courtesy of author

Let me be upfront about something: “ex-nerd?” No, not entirely. I still sink my teeth into a good RPG when I can. Yet I feel othered among them now, for once in my rather privileged life. A large subset of nerds, in the end of 2016, set aside their prior experience as a primary beneficiary of the bullying allocated to the teenage straight white male, and helped to elect one of the biggest bullies the world has ever seen. How did we get here?

Let’s hop on this runaway train and take it to the end. We start with Revenge of the Nerds. Okay,  let’s not linger on Revenge of the Nerds, because I hate that movie. However, the general idea, nerds getting revenge on the people hurting them—I can get behind that. That smells like justice. By the early 2000s, this felt like a plausible future. I was there, right along with them, watching the rising might of Anonymous: nerds with power, lest they misuse it. While I never was successfully straight or male, I too felt powerful.

The exponential growth of the internet would eventually lead to both Reddit and tumblr. I joined tumblr in 2010, and was privy to a Cambrian explosion in leftist ideology; the discourse on #BlackLivesMatter, transmisogyny, language usage on queer & trans identity – just to name a few – was all flung forward at mach speed, and it was growing in months where it would previously have taken years. Reddit’s more libertarian bent gave us, at a similar pace, the new far right, commonplace Islamophobia, a variety of different “men’s rights” groups (most of which are functionally just anti-feminist), and legions of people calling each other “cucks.”

It’s hard for me to empathize because, while up to a certain point this is my history too, it’s profoundly sad watching the tortured become the torturers, lashing out at others unlike them, trying to find meaning in their pain. The pull to misanthropy, in the wake of bullying, is strong — I was once a closeted trans girl growing up in rural North Carolina, believe me, I get it. It just makes me wish intervention could have come sooner, before these men became so entrenched in their toxic little world.

Yet here we are, and I don’t know if intervention can reach them, because the layers of conspiracy are woven so thick, it’s nearly impossible to unravel them. Even if you could, you risk appearing a CIA infiltrator yourself. It would be absurd to underestimate the still-growing power of these disaffected men a second time. There would be no Donald Trump without them. They took the presidency because the so-called “alt-right” is no longer an “alternative” to anything; like “alt-rock,” they are the establishment they meant to replace.

It would take a profound shattering of faith for this new establishment to be shaken at its foundation and I don’t know of anything today that could manage it. Maybe somehow all of our foundations will have to be cracked if we want to build something new.


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