Our Washington DC correspondent David wrote in about 18+ panels, Nerdlesque shows, and the sexy & empowered side of Comic-con culture.
When Nerdy Gets Dirty
Three years ago I attended my first comic convention and, thankfully, had certain aspects of my worldview entirely obliterated. For one, I become acutely aware that nerds, geeks, and fandom freaks aren’t the socially awkward, reclusive, introverts that the vast majority of mainstream mentality assumes them to be. Instead, I discovered that they are a wildly social, inclusive, friendly, and often times incredibly risqué and naughty group of people (when set in the right environment). Three years and many conventions later, I find myself entirely captivated by how dirty nerdy can actually get and how open and accepting this subculture within a subculture really is.
During my first Con, I ventured into an 18+ panel around midnight on my groups second day at the convention. That panel was called the “Anything Goes Dating Show” and by “Anything Goes” they really meant Anything Goes. This panel dramatically changed how I felt about the comic convention scene for a number of reasons and continues to be one of my favorite convention memories. First of all, it made me more comfortable in my own skin and completely dashed out the discomfort I felt by being at a comic convention in the first place (at that time I hadn’t completely embraced my inner nerd). Secondly, it changed my opinion of everyone in the room and of comic convention culture in general. I no longer felt like I was sitting in a room full of introverts and recluses with weird comic obsessions. Instead, I saw this as a room full of incredibly confident extroverts who were amazingly vocal about their many kinks and fetishes. At the time, I found this experience completely shocking. Today, I still find it completely shocking but have a much better understanding that there is a vibrant subculture of dirty nerds within the subculture of traditional nerds (however you want to define traditional) and I find this totally fascinating.
Now, let’s get on to the good stuff. The “Anything Goes Dating Show” was structured exactly like the ABC television show The Dating Game. Three potential suitors were separated from their potential date by a thin visual barrier and were asked a series of questions until the date decided which of the three to meet face-to-face. Now, the difference between ABC’s The Dating Game and the comic convention’s Anything Goes Dating Show was that the questions, as well as the behavior, at the comic convention were excessively dirty. For example, one girl asked her group of suitors “if I were any type of food, what would I be and how would you eat me?” The question alone was obviously met with a roar of laughter from the audience but the answers were even better. One guy said “you would be an ice-cream cone and I would slowly lick you until you started to drip down my chin” and another guy said something disgusting about spaghetti and slurping and sucking until the bed was covered with sauce. Both answers were of course gut wrenchingly hilarious and, for me, entirely unexpected. Keep in mind this was in a room full of cosplaying nerds in the middle of a comic convention. As the show went on, the debauchery went much further than just dirty questions and answers. Eventually, the questions turned to actionable requests which were met, confidently and shamelessly, with actual action. One guy asked his line up of three women “will you strip for me?” and, sure enough, all three said yes. The panel moderators pulled a chair into the center of the room and each woman gave their best lap dance. Charizard was the first to give it a go and within moments she’d taken her top off. Several gyrations and grinds later, she dropped her panties to the floor, did a tushy exposing twirl, and dropped into a full split in the middle of this crowded room. The crowd was roaring. Next up was Michonne from the Walking Dead and again within moments, totally unprovoked, her top came off and the lap dance went on. I can’t remember what the third cosplayer was but I do remember that she too ended up topless and fully committed to giving the sexiest lap dance she could muster…amidst a room full of hooting and hollering nerds.
I like this story because it shows a completely different side of nerd culture. It shows the unashamed side of cosplay, it shows how comfortable and safe cosplayers can feel amongst their peers. From my point of view this wasn’t a simple peep show full of horny nerds looking to see a pair of breasts. This was direct testament to the culture of safety, understanding, acceptance, and inclusion found at comic conventions. Once you look past the obvious veneer of perversion, you see a celebration of body confidence, a lack of judgment, a total embrace of differences, and a deep respect for personal space and decision making. None of these women were forced to do anything they weren’t comfortable doing. They all chose to participate because they felt comfortable with their body image, they knew they were in a safe space free of judgement and harassment, and they knew at no point would they be putting their safety in jeopardy by engaging in this type of risqué behavior.
To further my point that nerdy can get dirty; we’ll fast forward to a different comic convention roughly a year later. After wandering around all morning, dropping oodles of cash at various vendors, marveling at the artist’s alley, snapping tons of pictures, and bouncing between panel discussions, the day bled into night and the 18+ panels took hold. “Joysticks and Button Mashing: Sex for Geeks” was of course a crowd pleaser but my favorite was “Nerdlesque: Bringing Fandom to the Burlesque Stage.” The nerdlesque panelists ranged from semiprofessionals to total amateurs and were a mix of both male and female. The discussion was incredible. Not only did they discuss the sexy side of nerdy dirty dancing but they all individually explored their reasons for pursuing nerdlesque as a creative outlet. Some discussed their previous body image issues and how nerdlesque helped them overcome those issues, others discussed how free they felt when they could let go of reality for a night and totally take on a character, and one even discussed the sense of community and belonging they found within the nerdlesque scene that they had never experienced anywhere else. Each panelist also discussed how empowering it was to take their favorite comic or fandom character and explore them in an entirely new way. They also all emphasized that to choreograph a burlesque show around a characters persona, ultimately ending with that character wearing nothing but pasties and panties, takes a huge amount of creativity, confidence, and skill to actually bring that show to stage. After going to this panel I was immediately interested in seeing an actual show and I’ve been to two separate nerdlesque shows since. The first was based entirely around Joss Whedon and his various works. It was very interesting to watch Buffy, Spike, Captain America, and Buzz Lightyear all get naked in the same evening. The second came during the height of the Pokémon Go frenzy. So, of course, Pikachu and Venusaur did some dirty dancing, Misty showed her jiggly puffs, and Ash exposed his pokéballs.
My third and final example of dirty nerds comes from my most recent convention. The panel was called “Intermediate Rope Bondage” and the scene was just like all the others. A room filled to the brim with cosplaying nerds all ready to get dirty. This panel, however, was particularly interesting because the panelists took volunteers to either play with some adult toys or be bound by rope. The various kinks in the room became very well-known and I, again, was shocked by the level of confidence and security that these nerds felt amongst their peers. Both men and women were throwing themselves at the opportunity to be bound by rope or teased with an electric sex toy in front of a fairly significant audience. Never in my non-convention life have I heard or seen such cavalier and nonchalant discussions and engagements of nerdy kinks and fetishes… even among my own group of incredibly nerdy and degenerate friends. This, in my opinion, simply goes to show how wonderful an environment a comic-convention actually is.
So, to conclude, I would like to emphasize a few things. (1) Regardless of what you may think, nerds can, and do, get dirty and likely have better sex lives than most “normal” people, (2) cosplay is not consent, obviously nothing you have just read gives you the permission to touch, photograph, speak to, or even look at a cosplayer in an inappropriate or sexual way without their consent, and (3) nerd culture, comic-convention culture, and the dirty nerd subculture are all incredible things. Convention goers, nerds, and dirty nerds know not to disrespect one another, they know not to judge or disparage one another, they openly embrace each other’s creative spin on their particular cosplay, and they often welcome you into their fold if you are legitimately interested in learning and asking questions. I’ve learned a lot about the dirty nerd subculture over the last few years. And I will say that I am in no way confident or comfortable enough with my own body image or sexuality to partake in a nerdlesque show, or openly discuss my kinks and fetishes in a crowded room, but I do truly respect and envoy those who are.
– David in legal