“So, how did you get into Star Trek?”
“My dad watched it. I didn’t really appreciate it growing up, but then I started to get into it when I moved away from home. I recently found these talking Star Trek Christmas ornaments that we had when we were young –”
“ — “Shuttlecraft to Enterprise, shuttlecraft to Enterprise!” The talking Spock Galileo!”
“YES! They had a few, so I bought one for myself and my sister.”
This past January, I attended the first Chicago chapter meeting of the Geek Girl Illuminati, organized by local GGI Captains Jen Usellis-Mackay and Molly Jane Kremer. I had the opportunity to experience the above exchange with another Trekkie during the event, which quickly made it clear that I was in good company. Challengers Comics + Conversation served as host for the inaugural event, though the male owners kept their distance, opting to let one of their many female employees, Donovan, oversee the meeting.
The turnout was impressive considering it was probably the coldest day of 2015 thus far, with wind chills well below zero. The organizers kept the event casual, providing drinks and snacks, then briefly introducing themselves. Venn diagrams of many nerd interests overlapped during the relaxed meeting; sci-fi nerds, comic book geeks, Superwholocks, and gaming fanatics alike mingled. It was easy enough to find common interests amongst this group of women, and share and receive various recommendations. I convinced a fellow attendee to buy Saga and Bitch Planet and considered my whole week a success.
Throughout the evening, Jen and Molly asked for suggestions for upcoming Geek Girl Illuminati events. Book clubs, drink and draws, group outings to various nerdy events around Chicago, were just a few of the ideas that were thrown out. With ambitious leaders at the helm and enthusiastic women pointing them in the right direction, here is hoping this first meeting brought together enough willing volunteers to help bring these events to fruition.
So you may still be wondering; what is the Geek Girl Illuminati? Like, really? Well, the geek girls are still working that out. The illusive organization, founded by self-described Khaleesi Stephanie Cooke, made its debut last October with the release of a logo and t-shirt designed by Kate Leth. Like the real (or totally fake) illuminati, the metaphysical details of the group only seemed to be known by its members. For now, the Geek Girl Illuminati is very much in its early stages, recruiting members to its loose ranks, and putting together plans for events. For further clarification of what that future may look like in Chicago, Jen Usellis-Mackay answered a few of our questions about this budding not-so-secret society.
How did you become involved with the Geek Girl Illuminati after it was started by Stephanie Cooke?
I know Stephanie from Twitter. About three years ago we ended up meeting when she was in town for Chicon. We bonded over our mutual love of Anne of Green Gables. When she mentioned Geek Girl Illuminati and that she was looking for city captains, I jumped on it. She already had Molly Kremer on board, so I got in touch with Molly and we started making plans.
I’m a Whedonite. I love paranormal romance novels, board gaming, craft beer, NyanCat, and Star Wars. I taught myself to sew last year so I could build a Star Trek: The Original Series Klingon uniform and a TNG/DS9 inspired uniform. I performed in A Klingon Christmas Carol for the first two years it was in Chicago, which got me into Star Trek fandom. Last year I recorded and released an EP of pop songs translated into Klingon combining my loves of singing, acting, and geeking the eff out into one crazy alter ego, The Klingon Pop Warrior. I’m also a member of the Klingon Assault Group and Klingon Armada International, which are pretty much big, happy Klingon / Star Trek fandom groups in Chicago.
Since the structure of the group is being built around regional chapters, Geek Girl Illuminati could potentially look very different depending on one’s location. What do you foresee becoming of the Chicago chapter?
The one thing I heard from the women who came to our first event is a continued desire for gathering together. While I love my guy friends, my women friends and I share a really special and different bond. Being around other geeky women makes me feel more fearless and willing to try new things. I bought my first real comic books after our first GGI meetup. Not that the Firefly comics aren’t real comics, but Saga and Hawkeye are a whole other level for me.
Enthusiasm is contagious among women. When we boost each other up and validate each other and share the things that we’re passionate about, amazing things happen. Just knowing you’re not alone is incredibly empowering because, as we’ve seen of late, it can be a very lonely, bitter thing to be a woman geek. There are a lot of people out there who want to make us feel like we don’t belong. I want women of all geeky persuasions to know they can come to a Geek Girl Illuminati event, and even if it’s not their “thing” they’re going to meet awesome women and will still laugh and have a good time and, maybe discover they’re secretly a brilliant board game strategist or find the comic book that starts them on a whole new reading path. I also see us as a networking group. For example, I ended up meeting fellow beer enthusiasts at our first GGI meetup that turned me onto a local women’s beer enthusiast group. I joined them at their January meetup and can’t wait for February. Giving women the chance to meet other women and create new bonds in the geeky community and even provide them with a larger circle to say, “Hey I heard about this event here, is anyone interested in going with me?” seems like just what we need right now. It also just gives us a chance to infiltrate more groups across the city.
What are the “dream events” you hope to host in the future?
I’m really excited to put together an arcade night at one of the local beercades. I’d also love there to end up being a series of monthly offshoot events in a “Fandom 101” vein, where women pick something they love and spend an evening sharing it. Maybe it’s a craft night, Star Trek, or intro to the Marvel Universe. I’d love to head to Jo-Ann Fabrics and get a group sewing class together.
We sent out a survey to see what people were interested in, and “group outings” was number one. This month we have a trip to Improvised Star Trek, a board game event, and I’m looking into group discounts for museums and nerdy theatre events. The number two request was book clubs. One of the girls shared a YA book club that she had already begun, there’s a local Vaginal Fantasy meetup this month (Felicia Day & Bonnie Burton’s paranormal romance book club), and hopefully we can get a monthly comic book/graphic novel group rolling, too. I’m hoping that by March, we’ll have boosted membership in all of these.
Lastly, how does one join the Geek Girl Illuminati?
Show up. Seriously. It’s that easy. There are no dues and my goal is to keep the bigger events reasonably priced and as much as possible, 18+ friendly. Like the main Geek Girl Illuminati Facebook group and if you’re in Chicago, ask for an invite to Geek Girl Illuminati – Chicago Chapter closed group. Even if a particular event isn’t your fandom, come hang out and maybe be surprised. No one cares if you’ve never read a comic book or don’t know who Amy Pond is. Come share what you love and enjoy the incredible enthusiasm of other awesome women.
Join your local Geek Girl Illuminati today, or inquire about starting your own local chapter via their Facebook page. Here are more photos from the inaugural Chicago GGI event this past January at Challengers Comics.