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The Stealth Geek FAQ

The Stealth Geek FAQ — New, Improved Version 2.0

This is something I put together back in 1995 as part of an alt.tv.x-files newsgroup discussion. I got a lot of feedback on it from all over the world, and my plan was to keep adding to it and updating. But life went on, and I eventually almost forgot about it.

Almost is the operative word, for it turns out that it was put up on web sites by people who enjoyed it, and I kept getting e-mails from people who were excited to find a way to categorize themselves. I even had reporters contact me for interviews about Stealth Geeks.

Now, more than a decade later, I am finally getting around to updating it for the times.

Disclaimer for the humor-impaired: this is intended as humor, but like any good humor, it is based upon nuggets of truth. Any generalizations are not meant to apply to all stealth geeks or geeks. There will be individual variations.

1. What is a Stealth Geek?

Stealth Geekdom is a way of life that is difficult to sum up in so many words, but simply put:

A Stealth Geek (SG) is a person who has many of the internal qualities of geekiness yet who does not look or act like the stereotypical geek.

A more detailed definition:

A Stealth Geek is a person of above-average intelligence (often referred to as "a brain") with a deep, almost passionate, devotion to some academic, technological or scientific subject; an interest in science fiction and/or fantasy books, television, movies or comics; a bit of a loner who doesn't always fit in with the mainstream, but who has learned to blend in with the "real world" through behavior and looks. In other words, although they're a geek inside, no one will say, "What a geek!" about them based on an initial encounter.

2. What does a Stealth Geek look like?

A Stealth Geek looks pretty much like anyone else. It could be said that a Stealth Geek is a geek who has developed some fashion sense. Not that a Stealth Geek will ever look like something out of Vogue or GQ, but SGs have learned not to look too out of it, either. Because they still lack supreme confidence in their fashion know-how, they may not take risks, settling for the standard business suit or simple jeans and shirt combination for casual wear. In short, they have come to the realization that the 12-foot-long "Dr. Who" scarf worn with matching orange socks is not quite as cool as they once thought.

It has been noted that some female Stealth Geeks become almost overly interested in fashion as they emerge from geekdom, perhaps as a way of making up for lost time (you should see my shoe collection, including the killer red Stuart Weitzman stiletto pumps).

Often the watershed in the transition from geek to stealth geek is the purchase of contact lenses, but this is not always the case. A more stylish pair of glasses may replace the sturdy, practical pair worn in the past.

Stealth geek appearance is highly individualized. The bottom line is that no one should look at a stealth geek and declare, "What a geek!"

3. How does a Stealth Geek behave?

It could be said that a Stealth Geek is a geek who has developed social skills.

It could be better said that a stealth geek is a geek who has become aware of his/her geekiness and has made an effort to change.

A geek is generally not aware that he or she is a geek. Geeks tend to think they're the coolest things around. They can't distinguish in conversation with the opposite sex between polite interest and desire, and tend to err on the wrong side.

On the other hand, a stealth geek is aware of geek tendencies, and while not wanting to change his or her self internally, makes an effort to learn to deal with non-geeks. This may come about due to career necessity, when they have to deal with non-geeks in a business environment. It also may simply come about with maturity.

Again, the main test is that no one should think upon an initial encounter with a Stealth Geek, "What a geek!" They may think that when Star Trek finds its way into a conversation, but they don't think it because of general behavioral characteristics.

4. What are some examples of Stealth Geeks?

Our initial example of a stealth geek was Fox Mulder of The X-Files. In fact, that's how the whole stealth geek thing got started, in trying to find a way to describe him. He was a loner who didn’t fit in with the mainstream, he seemed to have an interest in science fiction, judging from the late-night movies he watched, and he had a passionate interest in a sort of scientific-related topic. But he didn’t come across as a geek until you knew him well. He dressed nicely, but unimaginatively (except sometimes for the ties), and in casual wear resorted to safe choices like jeans and sweatshirts. He was a little awkward socially, but had enough social skills to get by for business purposes.

In the real world, it is by definition difficult to determine who is and isn’t a Stealth Geek until you get to know them well. I suspect that actor Adam Baldwin (the TV series Firefly, the last couple of seasons of The X-Files, the film Independence Day, among many, many others) might qualify. He in no way fits any external geek stereotype, but get him on an Internet message board, and he sounds like your typical fanboy.

5. Is a Stealth Geek made or born?

This is a difficult question. Geeks are born with geek tendencies. These may lie latent until the viewing of a Star Trek episode or the first encounter with a computer. But some people are born stealth geeks, while most stealth geeks are geeks who have attained stealth status.

Many stealth geeks are geeks who have matured. One theory (okay, so I made it up, but I still think it's valid) states that when a person is in the developing/growing stages, only one thing at a time can really grow well. In the case of geeks, it's the brain growing at a rapid pace, which leaves everything else behind. A geek who is chronologically 16 may be mentally 25, emotionally 12 and physically (developmentally-wise) 14. The combination of these diverse age factors results in the stereotypical geek awkwardness. Stealth geekdom occurs at full maturity when everything catches up.

But there are Stealth Geeks who never go through the usual geeky phase. The most common of these are the jock stealth geeks, who because of some athletic ability manage to hide some of their geekiness. People only notice the star quarterback; they forget that he's also a whiz in math class and not all that social, even if he does get invited to all the parties.

It often happens that soon after the moment of awareness of geekiness, a stealth geek will try to deny his or her internal geekiness and distance him/herself from all things geeky. After the stealth part of it is mastered and the geek has more confidence, he or she may then more fully embrace the geekiness, knowing they'll never go back to being a real geek.

6. If a stealth geek is so stealthy, how do I find one?

Disclaimer: I’m still single, so you may want to take my advice here with a pillar of salt.

For starters, look in any place you tend to find geeks: computer stores, science fiction conventions, bookstores, etc. Look for the people who on first glance don't fit in because they look too "normal" but who seem to be pretty knowledgeable about the subject matter.

Or you may find stealth geeks in non-geek environments. Then it can be very difficult to pick the stealth geeks from the non-geek crowd.

Clues to tell a stealth geek from a boring normal person: look at the wrist. Geeks love gadgets, and a stealth geek's watch will probably be full of features. It's probably digital, with a stopwatch and alarm, and possibly a calculator, or else it's some high-tech sports watch.

Also look at the keychain. Most of the male stealth geeks I've known have been former Eagle Scouts. Look for the Swiss Army knife loaded with features. They also may have a number of keys, for no apparent reason, or other keychain tools, like a tiny flashlight (I used to carry a small Swiss Army knife, myself, back in the days when you were allowed to take a small blade on an airplane.).

Another way to find a stealth geek in a non-geeky crowd is to pick out your target (someone you hope, for whatever reason, is a stealth geek) and start aconversation based on your favorite geek subjects. If he or she responds, you may have a stealth geek. If they're not a geek, they'll look at you like you're insane, and you can move on to someone else.

Suggested conversational openers:

  •        "Which is your favorite Doctor?"
  •        "(Indicating a group of obvious non-geeks) Now, there's a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."
  •        "Star Trek lost its appeal for me after Roddenberry died/Berman took over."
  •        "Don’t you just hate Fox?" (As in the Fox television network, known for selecting sometimes brilliant or innovative programming, only to schedule it bizarrely (like putting science fiction on Friday nights when all the geeks are out at movies), promote it ineptly, jerk it around the schedule and cancel it before it can generate word of mouth. See Firefly, Futurama, Wonderfalls, The Tick, The Family Guy, Dark Angel, Harsh Realm, Keen Eddie, Strange Luck, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., among others.) 

Another way to find out if you're in the middle of a group of stealth geeks is to throw in a good incendiary line and watch to see if sparks fly. NOTE: only try these if trained security personnel are nearby:

  •        Macintosh vs. PC (in any of its forms: DOS, Windows, NT, XP) vs. Linux vs. UNIX
  •        Kirk vs. Picard vs. Sisko vs. Janeway vs. Archer
  •        Babylon 5 vs. Deep Space 9
  •        The Prequels: Are they or are they not raping our childhood memories of Star Wars?

You get the idea.

7. Mating habits of the Stealth Geek.

The ideal combination would be male stealth geek with female stealth geek, but that's not always what seems to happen, which is why so many stealth geeks don't have much of a social life.

Male geeks (especially those of the non-stealth variety) think of the female stealth geek as the ultimate catch. "Hey, a babe who can intelligently discuss Star Trek! Cool!" Unfortunately, geeks are geeks and not stealth geeks primarily because they have no social skills. They interpret acknowledgement of their existence as passion and then become pests. Stealth geek females frequently become geek magnets.

But male stealth geeks often feel self conscious about their recent bout of geekiness and go through a phase of trying to avoid anything geek-related. Instead of trying for a female stealth geek, they set their sights on a totally non-geek woman, who ultimately has little use for him.

Female stealth geeks find male stealth geeks absolutely adorable. They like their lack of annoying male ego, they find the shyness appealing, and they get really turned on by the glasses. Unfortunately, female stealth geeks also are a bit self conscious and aren't able to really make a play to catch the malestealth geek, who is usually completely oblivious to her interest. It can go on like that indefinitely, both being very fond of the other but neither doing anything about it.

So, embrace your geekiness, discard your pocket protector and stand proud! Join the few, the proud, the stealth geeks!

For more on stealth geekery, visit my Stealth Geek blog.

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