I’m a Cambodian American. Technically we’ve been here before: in my debut article for Twin Cities Geek, “The Surprising Difficulty of Being a Cambodian American Geek,” I brought to light—for the first time publicly—my personal experiences, observations, and difficulties with dealing with antigeek hostility in my own ethnic community. The majority of experiences were due to conflicts between the older generation, who emigrated from Cambodia as a result of the Khmer Rouge, and the younger generation, who were born here in the US.
Despite these conflicts, I’m still a geek, loud and proud as ever—and despite the negative experiences I went through, it’s not all bad. There are certain upsides to being a Cambodian American geek, and if you’ve gone through the same thing that I have or something like it, understand that a lot of these types of life experiences can shape who you are as a geek in a myriad of different ways. This is just my own experience, but hopefully you can find the proverbial “silver lining” in your own situation.
As I mentioned in my previous article, I’ve unfortunately felt I had to constantly defend my geek hobbies against criticism. One good things to come out of this, however, is that I developed a thick skin when it comes to negativity. This is a benefit in general in today’s Internet-connected world, where everyone has an opinion on just about everything. When you’re surrounded by negativity, you can go one of two ways: either it wreaks havoc on your mental health and you withdraw or lash out or both, or you learn to simply ignore it and it doesn’t bother you. While admittedly this is easier said than done, it’s one of the best things I’ve learned along my path to becoming a full-fledged geek.
After being told many very terrible and demeaning things by people in my community, including that I would die single, alone, and childless (although I’m okay with this, or think I am) or that I would be more useful as a gang member than as a nerd (been there, done that), I learned to start tuning it out. I had to, because if I didn’t, every time con flu hit—which it always does—I’d be at risk of serious damage to my mental health with the constant existential crisis that plagues my mind after every convention I attend. And it’s strange saying that as someone who advocates for the geek community and cares deeply for cosplay and cosplayers, but even after spending a weekend helping people enjoy theirs, the negativity can hit in the worst way. The criticisms I’ve received for being “Takeo, the Cosplay Repair Guy” and helping people without asking for anything in return could easily cause me to self-destruct, were it not for the defenses I built up against the hostility I faced growing up and the thick skin I developed after being fed up with feeling like I had to please others with what I did and loved to do.
It was liberating when I stopped caring what other people thought about me or felt that I “should” be doing instead. I can get into what I love with abandon, I can cosplay openly in public—within reason—and not waste time thinking about how people around me are going to judge me. Of course, that also means I can talk about what I love in public with other geeks and not care if people around us are giving disapproving looks. It means that I don’t have stage fright, which is important considering I perform for a living. And it means I don’t follow the Asian cultural norm of not speaking up or speaking out when there’s something I have a problem with. As a result, I can finally shed some light on problems that have been plaguing the culture for years, such as talking about mental health, suicide, abuse, gang-related crime, sexism, and sexual assault.
In addition to all of that, when you face a lot of negativity, you can also use it as fuel. You find motivation in proving the naysayers wrong. I was told that I would never earn money as a DJ or a musician, and yet here I am doing it for a living. I was told playing video games was a waste of time, but I’ve since taken advantage of YouTube and Twitch gaming to make some extra money on the side. I was told conventions were a waste of money, but it goes without saying that being around “my people” has done wonders for my psyche, and money can’t really buy sanity.
When you ignore the negativity and not interact with it, it allows you to focus on expanding your reach into your chosen geekdom, rather than dwelling on what so-and-so said that ruined your day and made you question why you became a geek in the first place. In saying that, it also allows you to actually not care what people think, rather than say and think that you don’t really care, but subconsciously, you actually do. Negativity bias, if you will. I have the unique position to have grown up actually antigeek and antinerd, but becoming a geek in my adult life, so I understand both sides. While the origins of people’s negativity can stem from many different things, the bottom line is, if they’re not being constructive, does what they say actually even matter when it comes to what you love to do?
Is directed negativity intense? It can be, and it can be pretty heavy too. But, remember, it’s not all bad. See, I’ve learned many things being a geek and want to pass my experience to anyone else. And it’s formed me into the geek I am today.