Rewriting the Trekkie Stereotype: Setting My Phasers to Striptease

Written by Crystal Tassels, burlesque performer.

Crystal Tassels

Crystal Tassels
Photo by Mandy Flame

Star Trek fans have long been portrayed by the mainstream media as quintessential nerds. Generally considered more fanatic than enthusiast, the negative connotation surrounding the term “Trekkie” has driven many fans to opt for the more neutral “Trekker.”  Even Urban Dictionary’s list of words related to Trekkie includes such affirming vocabulary as “loser,” “dork,” “dweeb,” and even “virgin” (which makes me cringe in a special way).

We’re all familiar with the image of a Trekkie as an unattractive, and maybe gross, middle-aged dude who presumably lives in his parents’ basement. (The comic book guy from The Simpsons comes to mind.) In America, this is the cultural baggage that we risk evoking when we tell people that we are Star Trek fans. Of course, this stereotype isn’t limited to just Trekkies, but, outside the gamut of geekery, it’s hard to come up with another hobby that carries with it such a specific and unsexy set of cultural associations.

As a fangirl, I find it incredibly inspiring to see other Trekkies getting their sexy on, Enterprise-style. It happens in fan fiction, in art, in swag, and in deliciously geeky conversations. But I find that I respond most strongly to something a bit more physical. Nerdlesque is the most over-the-top, sensual way to express and explore fandom that I’ve ever encountered. This subgenre of burlesque brings fandom to hot, fleshy life by combining it with parody, dance, and classic striptease. It brings physicality to fan fiction and narrative to cosplay, then gets naked and rolls in glitter.

Geek-mecca Seattle is home to some of the best nerdlesque in the world. (In fact, as a nerd and burlesque artist myself, the city’s robust community of geeky ecdysiasts was one of the main reasons I moved here.) That’s not an exaggeration; many genre-defining performers and producers call the Emerald City their home. (For more proof, check out this post on “Seattle’s Summer of Nerdlesque” by Jo Jo Stiletto, Professor of Nerdlesque and expert in all things naked and nerdy.) The artists that create nerdlesque are fans themselves, and use their bodies to investigate uncharted territory in canons “[f]rom video game vixens and superheroes to Labyrinth, David Lynch, DC Comics, Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who,” says Stiletto.

Star Trek: The Sexed Generation poster

Image source: Annex Theatre

A newcomer to the production side of nerdlesque is up-and-coming theater company Songbird & Raven, whose inaugural season opener is Star Trek: The Sexed Generation, a fully scripted burlesque play that unfolds aboard the Starship Enterprise. When the initial casting call for this show went out, I nearly fell out of my chair. Not only is this a romp of sexy Trek silliness, but also a legitimate exploration of gender and identity in the canon. Through gender-bending and storytelling, the characters tease their way through questions of power and sex in Roddenberry’s future utopia. It’s a space-age cultural study in tassels and sequins. Smart and sexy? Yes, please.

(Full disclosure: The author of this post is definitely biased in thinking that Star Trek: The Sexed Generation will be one of the best nerdlesque events of 2014. She’s in the show! But seriously, it’s good, y’all.)

So why does this matter? I’m not arguing that the burlesque stars shimmying through the canon are writing fan fiction scenarios that haven’t already been explored to some extent elsewhere. But the physical sexualization of geek canon, done on geek-girl terms, has powerful implications. Fangirls run the risk of actually believing the cultural baggage that nerdiness carries. We risk being othered and made to believe that our interests are weird and undesirable, and that therefore we are weird and undesirable. Nerdlesque rejects and negates all of that baggage. It lets geekdom shine in all its sexy glory and connects canon with the bodily sensuality of both the performers on stage and the audience watching. What’s more, nerdlesque celebrates and critiques pop culture by using nudity in a very public, subversive way.

I would strongly encourage all ladies of nerdy persuasion to celebrate their fandom with some woman-powered, sexy nerdlesque. Bring your friends and daughters, too.

For another look at nerdlesque, as written for the audiences of Penthouse magazine, check out this article from September 2013, which features several Seattle-based artists.

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