Geeked Out

Friendships Forged Around the Karaoke Machine

A categorical non-geek infiltrates Houston’s Geek Girl Brunch.

By Abby Ledoux March 2, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

"I won't sing," I told my friend Najla on our way to Genji, the Japanese restaurant and karaoke bar on the west side of town. “I’m just here to observe.”

I was about 15 steps from being way out of my element—this, I knew. My conversation the previous day with a girl named Clarisse had confirmed that much. Clarisse, head officer of the Houston chapter of something called Geek Girl Brunch, had invited me to tonight’s sing-along.

There are GGB outposts all over the country, but Houston’s—originally founded in 2015—was inactive until last March, when Clarisse resurrected it. “The previous officers had been so busy that we weren’t even having actual events, which was a damn shame,” she said. In the year since, Clarisse and her fellow officers have grown the group to around 200 women from across Houston who connect online and meet up a few times a month.

“What makes you ‘geeks’?” I asked her over the phone.

“We all have a diverse group of fandoms,” she explained. “Superheroes are pretty common; a lot of people like Korean dramas or Japanese anime; a lot of people like cosplay, dressing up, that sort of thing. It could even be going to comic book stores or playing arcade games.”

Rut roh.

Just how much am I not a geek, you ask? Well, I’ve never seen Star Wars, Star Trek, or anything Star-related; I can’t stand superheroes; I made it through exactly one and a half Harry Potter books; and when it comes to games of strategy, I’m tapping out at anything beyond Clue.

“I’ll be there,” I told Clarisse.

The truth is, I was intrigued by these women carving out a space in a traditionally male-dominated arena. I was determined to find out just who all these lady geeks were. Plus, I’m all about a good girl gang, and I would never say no to brunch—or karaoke, although, as I vowed to Najla, I didn’t plan to sing.

Speaking of Najla, I’d brought her along for moral support only to find out I had a bona fide geek in my midst—like, she played Magic: The Gathering in college. “Who even are you?” I asked.

Finding our geeks inside Genji proved more difficult than anticipated. “Clarisse?” I asked, poking my head into a private karaoke room full of teenagers wearing matching looks of disgust. “Um, no,” they said.

And then she found us: Clarisse, a beacon of light in a cotton-candy-colored dress printed with various Japanese ephemera, like the wand from Sailor Moon, which I silently congratulated myself for recognizing. “We’re in here!” she exclaimed. Soon a few more girls tentatively filtered in. “Geek Girls, yes!” Clarisse said to each, beaming.“Come on in!”

It was clear that most were strangers to one another, and I appreciated their bravery. An online group is just that—online—and it takes a certain courage to emerge from behind the safety of your laptop and into the real world, let alone to do it singing.

Shockingly, no one rushed to grab the mic right away, leaving Clarisse to take lead vocals on our first song: “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, which proved a great equalizer among us 20- and 30-somethings. By the final “zig-a-zig-ah,” we were in business. Next came NSYNC, then Britney, Snoop Dogg, Alanis Morissette, and My Chemical Romance, along with round after round of hot sake. “Not singing,” I told Najla, minutes before I found myself wailing Lady Gaga’s “I’ll Never Love Again.”

Though small, the group was as diverse  as Clarisse had promised it would be—in background, fandom, and hair color. “We have ladies from all walks of life, and it’s fun because everyone has a different perspective to bring,” she said.

True to its name, the group does brunch, but that’s just one activity. Most recently officers have organized craft nights, Asiatown shopping trips, and movie screenings. “It’s kind of a safe haven where you know there’s not going to be judgment,” Clarisse said. “It’s just fun to have a sisterhood.”

That’s especially true in the #MeToo era. Just about every girl geek has a story of discomfort, if not downright harassment, as exposed by the GamerGate scandal in recent years. “Oh, of course,” Clarisse said when I asked her if the group discussed such matters. “We’ve had those experiences, like when you’re in cosplay and someone does something inappropriate—even taking a photo without your permission is kind of not okay,” she said. “We have all sorts of stories like that.”

But more often they end up chatting like, well, any group of girlfriends. “It’s important to have a sisterhood base where everyone generally cares about your well-being and it’s not a transactional thing,” said Clarisse. “It’s more like a friendly commune where all the ladies get to know each other.”

Like Alyssa, who sports a growing sleeve of Sailor Moon tattoos and instantly bonded with Najla over having blue hair; or Kacey, who wowed everyone with her perhaps unexpected performance of a highly explicit Korn song. “It’s actually kind of challenging to make female friendships organically to begin with,” Clarisse said.“With us it’s kind of made that a little bit easier.”

Indeed, by the time I took the mic for my 10 p.m. finale—Mötley Crüe’s "Girls, Girls, Girls”—I was a full-blown convert. I might still never watch an Avengers movie, but I would meet these girls for another group rendition of “Shallow” any day of the week.

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