Mike Gibbs (From left), Oliver Sava, Christian Zahn, Elio Oscia, Danny… (Leon Andrew Hensley/a/s/l…)
Kicking down the geek closet door can be as liberating as the coming-out process for some LGBTs—a transformation as powerful as Clark Kent shedding his suit and spectacles for the iconic blue tights and red cape of his alter ego, Superman.
"LGBT culture is so image-based, and is all about being cool and at the top of your game. Self-identifying as a geek is counterintuitive to that. There is still a slight negative connotation to it," said Danny Bernardo, Chicago event coordinator for Geeks OUT, a national, LGBT-geek organization whose mission is to "rally, empower, and promote the queer community."
The newly formed Chicago chapter of Geeks OUT—a local offshoot of the national organization based in Gotham (a.k.a. New York City)—hosted its inaugural event in January at Spin Nightclub with over 200 LGBTs in attendance.
"I think that as times are shifting for the LGBT community, they're also shifting for geek culture," added Bernardo, 33, resident playwright and social media manager for Bailiwick Chicago. "Geek culture is becoming more mainstream. The successful Marvel film franchises of the early-2000's— like [Sam] Raimi's ‘Spider-Man,' Singer's ‘X-Men'—were like our ‘Will & Grace.' You could identify with those people, so you could readily accept them more."
Geeks OUT: The Arena, the Chicago chapter's sophomore event, beams into Boystown on Sunday and will feature an interactive reimaging of team trivia with a focus on comic books, video games, and all things geek.
"The Arena is like the love child of ‘The Hunger Games,' MTV's ‘Real World/Road Rules Challenge,' ‘Marvel Ultimate Alliance,' ‘Legend of Zelda' and ‘Family Feud,' " Bernardo said.
Arena Players are organized into specific classifications including Elite Guard, Warrior and The Worthy, and teams are selected at the event in a process that calls to mind both the "The Hunger Games'" Tribute lottery and "Harry Potter's" Sorting Hat ceremony.
If participating in the trivia-based Arena (sans smartphones) sounds about as appealing as trying to trick the impish super-villain Mxyzptlk into saying his name backwars—don't worry. Spin's upstairs bar will house the spectator's lounge where observers are permitted to sponsor players and give them gameplay advantage. (Think: "Hunger Games'" District 1 residents.)
Geeks OUT began in October 2010 with a singular goal, according to Patrick Yacco, national Geeks OUT board member: to establish a booth at the 2011 New York Comic-Con where queer geeks could gather and experience a sense of community.
"I was a volunteer at [at the booth], and it was really heartwarming to see people walking around with ‘Geeks OUT Thinks I'm Hot' stickers proudly displaying their support," recalled Yacco, 31, a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in non-profit management at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "Numerous people from out of town were in attendance, and one of the most commonly asked questions was ‘Why aren't you guys in my town?' Last year we decided to start expanding across country, and we're lucky to have friends throughout the U.S."
"Geeks OUT is changing that [perception]," adds Yacco, who considers being both gay and a geek as something of a "double closet." "We're believers in the idea that being queer and geeky is a double positive, and we make sure people on both sides of the equation have a place to call their own. Whether it's a meet-up at the local LGBT center or a furious debate on our website over Dazzler's latest costume choices, we want to celebrate and promote our unique intersection of fabulousness and fantasy."
Chicago and Dallas are the first cities to organize Geeks OUT events, and the C2E2 convention in Chicago (April 26-28, 2013) will be the first con outside the New York City metro area to feature a Geeks OUT presence, Bernardo said.
A highlight of the C2E2 weekend—the inaugural Mutant High Prom—is billed as the "largest LGBT-geek party Chicago has ever seen," with attendance numbers likely boosted by out-of-town LGBTs in Chicago for the C2E2 event.
"Most gays didn't have the high school prom experience they wanted, and throw the geek factor in, and that probably made [the experience] just as tough," Bernardo said. "Mutant High is obviously an allusion to the Xavier Institute in ‘X-Men,' but since so many geek stories (especially those with LGBT themes and undertones) were set in high school, we thought a prom would be fitting. So, whether you went to Xavier's, Hogwarts, Sunnydale High or Morning Glories Academy—you'll have an awesome time."
Mutant High Prom kicks off at 8 p.m. April 27 at Spin and will feature prom photo opportunities as well as a cosplay prom court.