Found another unicorn! This week we continue our mission of debunking the fake geek girl stereotype by introducing Asia Thomas (25), a very talented geek in our community. She is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Purdue University's Honors College, a position that she absolutely loves. She acknowledged that she enjoys shaping the narrative of designs and products that she strongly believes in, which include the Honors College and what they stand for. Her passion towards art and design started when she was a little kid. She would draw characters and whole cities with her sister in order to play with them and in them. They called it the "Paper Doll Game" and they would spend hours playing in the imaginary worlds that they designed. Due to their love of art, Asia and her sister started watching Anime, with their first introduction to it being "Digimon". She said: "The drawing styles of Anime are what really attracted us to it. Digimon was so cool and weird." Nowadays, Asia is a huge fan of "Gravity Falls", "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic", and "Adventure Time". In fact, one of her favorite fictional characters is Lady Rarity from "My Little Pony". She explained: "I never really considered myself a "girly girl". Lady Rarity is girly but she is also nice. I like that they don’t play her as being a horrible person just because she is prissy. She has friends and cares about people. Sure, she can be selfish sometimes, but everybody is. She’s a real character, a true person. She’s a reminder that you don't have to stereotype characters, they can have dimensions to their personality."
For Asia, a geek is someone that is really passionate about something; it doesn't need to be a specific fandom. She said that as long as you are invested in something and feel passion towards it, that should be enough. Asia has been a geek for as long as she can remember. She is not only an art geek but a music geek as well. She attended a performing arts school from middle school to high school where she majored in piano. Because of her interest in music, art, and studying, Asia was often bullied. She mentioned: "The piano majors were considered the nerds because they consistently had the highest grades compared to everybody else. I was called a nerd just because I was in that major. There were some moments when the bullying almost got physical, but the teachers or other students would protect me because I was very shy and had straight A’s."
Aside from the fact that she was labeled a nerd by other students, Asia also experienced bullying and discrimination after starting a relationship in high school with her best friend. She explained: "Being in a performance arts school some people expect you to be gay but at the same time you can’t be openly gay. There were many students that we knew were gay but we couldn't say it. I started going out with my best friend who was a girl and we had to keep it a secret. We would be together all the time and some people thought that we were just really good friends but other people started to notice that we were together. Some kids decided to make up these stories about how we were having sex in the bathroom and behaving inappropriately, which wasn't true. We got sent to the guidance counselor’s office and she threatened to expel us from school. She didn't even contact our parents and told us we couldn't be together. The rumors were enough to almost get us kicked out of school. It was not good. Our parents found out later and we broke up. Unfortunately, I did not get the friends in the divorce." In order to find a way to cope with this situation and express her frustrations, Asia started to get into comics. She didn't have a lot of friends, but the ones that she had were mostly art majors due to the fact that they all liked to draw together. She said: "Since I didn't have a lot of people to hang out with, I would just draw. Ever since I was a little kid I've always been a storyteller and I've always wanted to do comics."
Asia identifies herself as gender-queer, meaning that she doesn't consider herself belonging to a specific gender. She confessed that she often struggles to find characters in geek culture that she can identify with, due to the misrepresentation of the LGBTQ community in the media and the stereotypes that continue to be promoted. She said: "There’s no representation and when you actually find it, it is usually hyper sexualized, fetishized, or over the top. Since I don’t see anybody like me, I decided to create it." Asia started a web comic called "Tabula Rasa" (which means blank slate) which she posts every Saturday on her Tumblr page. The comic is about three characters, one of them gender-queer, that gain superpowers and have to figure out how to use them .
Asia explained that the lack of representation and misrepresentation of different races and genders in geek culture contributes to the lack of minorities in the geek community. She said: "When a black person says they like Anime, people see it as strange, when it really isn't. Having only one specific race or gender represented in the media leads to a sense of entitlement in the geek community when in reality it should be for everyone. We need more diversity, we are tired of listening to the same stories anyway."
In addition to the representation of different races and genders in geek culture, Asia mentioned that she has been the victim of sexism many times, especially in the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" fandom. She shared that her experiences especially with Bronies, which is a male-dominated "My Little Pony" fandom, have been for the most part negative. Men will usually mention they know more than women and accuse female fans of liking "My Little Pony" just because men like it: " I mean, it's ponies, it was made for everyone, but they come to the fandom and exclude us from it. I used to be part of a Bronies group on campus. They were all guys and I was the only girl. The group was not hostile but it was uncomfortable." Furthermore, Asia has also experienced sexism and racism in conventions while cosplaying: "I didn't get the memo that black people can only cosplay as black characters. Also, if you are a girl in cosplay, it gives some people the impression that they have the right to touch you, take photos of you without your permission, or follow you around. I am not comfortable with that."
Asia acknowledged that she tends to get wrapped up in her art and work. That is one of the reasons why she decided to join Ladies Geeking Out (LGO). She was looking for ways to hang out with people that had similar interests as her. After she noticed the wide range of fandoms and backgrounds the members of LGO had, she knew she had found her group: "I like how we can all talk about geeky things but they don’t necessarily need to be the same thing all the time." Asia admits that after her general experiences in geek culture, she had kind of given up the idea of hanging out with other geeks, but after joining LGO she has gained a better perspective of the geek community and has seen that there are welcoming and non-judgmental people in it.
Ever since she joined LGO, Asia has always been able to put a smile on everyone's face. She has a great way of making people feel comfortable and accepted. She is also a great example of how someone can turn negative situations, like bullying, into positive and useful skills. She continues to work on her art and has become an amazing and talented artist (check out some of her artwork below!). Moreover, by creating new diverse characters and stories, she has proven to all of us that if you want to see a change in society, the best way to do it is by starting to push boundaries and make those changes. She is talented, funny, strong, and a role model. She is not a unicorn, she exists, and she is an amazing geek doing amazing things.