Everyone gets moments of choice. We might even put too much stake in them.
This particular time I was fourteen, about to enter high school, and I was a fucking great baseball player. My dad had taught me to play in the back yard. I could hit a killer line drive. I took pride in my arm. The only option for me, of course, was the softball team. But I wanted to give it a shot. It was one of the few times I felt good enough at a particular sport to try for a team, and that was exciting.
I had also been involved in a number of theater productions over the years—musicals, mostly. I was in the chorus and such. I was a ‘theater kid’. I loved singing and acting on a spotlit stage.
I was waiting patiently in the white-tiled hallway above the gym to talk to the softball coach. Two of my previous musical costars were there as well, waiting to try out for THE MIKADO, a high school production that was allowing a select number of talented eighth graders in. “You should try out with us!” they insisted. “Music is better than sports!”
Music is better than sports.
I was torn. I couldn’t do both. I had to choose. In this case it was because both extracurriculars took place during the same season. But the point is that I thought I had to pick a side. School and adolescence does that; it boxes you into a corner where you’re good at one or the other. You become either an artsy-fartsy nerd or a jock. There’s nothing in between.
And that’s the problem: I’ve always been in-between. [See also: Nerd Glam.] I’m not mired in anything traditional. My legs of interest are uselessly mobile, always moving. I’m not gay, though I do like girls. I’m not a typical nerd, though I do read comics. I’m not much like a woman, though I do have female anatomy. I like boys, I wear designer clothes, and childbirth squicks me out. I can’t party or play RPGs or fall for people in a traditional way. It’s like trying to navigate a wooden maze without a marble. And the comfort found in categories—in human consolidation—bristles me.
If I thought such barriers would dissolve as I grew up, I was sorely mistaken. Take the student population at my first college: rural Ohio, sharply divided. It was like vampires vs. zombies. Even the dorms were designated by type—the D&D-playing nerds had their own, and they all dressed like elves and loved video games and some of them wore dragon t-shirts and smelled bad. That wasn’t for me. But I was sequestered in a hallway full of former cheerleaders who peppered their walls with Anne Geddes pictures and thought lesbians were ‘gross’. Again: I had to choose. And it made me so goddamn depressed that I stopped socializing entirely.
I didn’t develop a real taste for sports until after moving to California, it’s true; but I was hesitant, feeling like I’d ‘betrayed my people’ or something by watching a bloody football game. Like I had specific team colors for being an ‘art person’, and I wasn’t allowed to take them off. I couldn’t cross the invisible line.
Now? Shit, I can bang on the couch during a Sunday game with the best of them. I obsessively check Tennis results during tournaments. (I still don’t give a fuck about basketball, but that’s a different argument.) Still, there are battles all over social media; lines drawn in the sand between canon and fandom, fanboys and fangirls, Marvel and DC, dogs and cats, red and blue… things much less pivotal than sports and art.
For example, I spent eight years working at bookstores. People always asked me: paper or digital?
The answer was always complicated. I own a digital reader, and I love it. It saves me time and space. I can subscribe to ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION magazine without becoming overwhelmed by the piles of material on my bedside table. I download free samples obsessively. I enjoy the convenience.
But like hell I would give up paper books. Like hell. Give me my gorgeous leather-bound classics, my folded zines, my monthly floppies. It’s my goal to own a goddamn physical library. I read in all available mediums.
And I read comics. Oh, comics, I love you. But soon the question arises: superheroes or creator-owned indies?
I love indie comics, DIYs, zines, small press releases, and creator-owned books. I buy and support them every week. I love horror; I love psychedelic fantasy; I love crazy-ass science fiction escapades that involve sentient meat-monsters.
Know what else I love? Captain America.
Yeah, Cap. That old, tired, used-up symbol of patriotism, goodness, and spandex. Because as much as I adore original concepts and symbolic one-shots, sometimes I just want to read a 20-pager about Steve Rogers punching a douchebag in the face.
Does that lessen the impact of the indie comics I love? Not at all. But who do I commiserate with: the fanboys who grew up with their favorite characters and love them, or the jaded writers and artists who think ‘superpower’ is a dirty word? Some people are sick of Superman; it’s true. The underwear-and-muscles game gets tired. But you know what? Some people are sick of Frankenstein and his goddamn neck bolts. Some people are sick of gritty noir with gravelly-voiced narrators. Some people love it all. It all boils down to what makes us happy.
Why do we feel the need to ‘choose’? Are we afraid of duality? A lack of conviction? Cross-pollination? Notions of pluralism?
Pluralism is for politics, people. Let’s not lose sight of ourselves.
Board games or baseball? iTunes or Vinyl? Fashion or comfort? Indie or mainstream?
Hey, I have a revolutionary answer: