SIDNEY – The warm months are upon us, and with them come festivals, concerts, sports events and all kinds of other reasons for people to get out of the house and enjoy themselves in Portland.

While it’s not so unusual to see several casually dressed people walking the streets for an art show or outdoor concert, it turns heads when the people are costumed as elves, princesses and (fake) weapon-carrying schoolgirls. These people go by many self-imposed names — “geeks,” “nerds,” “Otaku,” “LARPers” (see below) — but at the heart of it they are just like you or me.

Popular culture would have you believe that anyone who identifies as a geek or nerd is an overweight man-child living in his parents’ basement and lacking any social skills unless it involves a chat room or Facebook, but that is not the case. A large percentage of the people who attend these gatherings are well-adjusted professional people, many with college educations and families.

They may be younger people working hard on their education, or seasoned career veterans looking to unwind for a weekend. They are artists and painters, crafters and costumers, administrators and techies. These people come from all walks of life and don’t fit the narrow-minded definitions that popular media have cultivated over the decades.

Whether it be the PortconMaine geek convention in the summer, the AniMaine anti-piracy convention in November or the numerous role-playing and comic book conventions throughout the year, they all provide a chance for people to get together and have fun with people who share the same interests. Those interests include science fiction, costuming (known as “cosplay”) or fashion, Japanese animation (or “anime”), live action role-playing (or “LARPing”) and the many other activities that fall under the “geek” umbrella.

To the uninitiated, these gatherings may seem like a conglomeration of a religious cult, but participants are having fun just as you would at a family reunion or a backyard baseball game with your friends from work.

These conventions are not dark, secretive gatherings of societies with handshakes known to a select few or drug-fueled wild escapades no one remembers come Monday morning. The gatherings often are a chance for folks to meet friends from far away. They are a chance to show off a costume that was worked on for days or weeks on end. They are a chance to meet the faces behind their favorite characters or show.

These gatherings provide a place for a group of friends to express their creativity where it may not be allowed elsewhere. They are an escape from everyday life and a chance to be themselves. Many of these wonderful people plan months ahead of time for these events, and in a lot of cases it is the highlight of the season to gather in a hotel or convention center to immerse themselves in the things they care about and enjoy.

These folks aren’t to be feared or laughed at, nor be ignored and avoided like the plague. If you find yourself in the presence of a group of people in costume, go ahead and ask why someone has a plush horn sticking out of a purple wig, or a lab coat and a giant screw sticking through their head.

Chances are the person will be happy to tell you what convention they are going to and who they are dressed as, and maybe even pose for pictures if asked. Chances are the fellow with the cross-eyed cartoon pony on his shirt isn’t there to hurt anyone, and the woman carrying the giant cardboard anchor is taking a break from being judged for a costume contest.

If you treat a geek/nerd as you would any other person you meet on the sidewalk, you will probably find a warm, friendly person who is willing to educate others on the passions and talents that make him or her a unique part of the city’s culture during the festival season.

Keith LaPointe is a resident of Sidney.