conventions

Expect More From Your Regional ConCom

There are so many conversations going on right now sparked by Mark Oshiro’s report[1] detailing what happened to him at last year’s ConQuesT convention that it’s hard to just focus in on one aspect to talk about[2]. There is one thing I want to jump in and speak about right away, which is what should be expected of con staff and ConComs. I decided to write this post after reading Rachael Caine’s post on the situation, in which she says:

But you know what? It’s not necessarily the fault of the volunteers throwing conventions. Audiences and panelists must hold each other accountable if fandom is going to continue as it began. ConComs are not gods. They can’t vet moderators, they can’t interview panelists about every panel topic to see if they’re qualified. They are organizers of a show for which they don’t get paid, and while they do shoulder the burden for responding to bad behavior, WE are responsible for responding immediately to the bad behavior in the first place.

I agree with the overall point of Rachel’s post: that fans and panel participants and pros all need to look out for each other. Many of us already do that because we long ago figured out the importance. It’s the bolded bits that I take issue with. ConComs are not gods, but they sure as hell can vet moderators and can put systems in place to up the chances that panelists are qualified to be on the panels they’re assigned to. I speak from experience as a programming volunteer myself.

I work on the programming committee for WisCon and am most familiar with our system and workflow. I also know a bit about how ReaderCon does things. Both of these cons are relatively small, just as ConQuesT is, both have a volunteer staff, and both have very involved programming.

WisCon programming is a highly collaborative process. We solicit panel ideas from WisCongoers and allow the members to vote on which panels they want to see based on the list of all qualified panels submitted[3]. You can read an overview of the process on the WisCon blog, if you want more details. After we figure out which panels will happen, we have to decide who gets to be on them. Again, this is a collaborative process. Folks volunteer to be on, to moderate, and the Program team uses a combination of database wizardry and hand selection to get all the panels staffed.

In past years, there have been big mistakes made in this department, such as having a panel about [insert marginalized identity] with only one person of that identity on it (or none), or panels with problematic descriptions, or panels with moderators that just made everything terrible and harmful and triggering. One of my goals in joining the Program staff was to help this not happen–and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that all of us on staff have that as a major goal. To that end, we’ve asked for, and received, changes to the programming database that help us identify which volunteers would be best for a panel or, hopefully, which people should not be on certain panels. Some of it is still a function of knowing the folks at WisCon since we’re all long-time attendees as well.

Though our system is very useful, it is not perfect. It’s still evolving, too. We still make mistakes. We try hard not to make the same ones, to be aware of problems that could crop up and nip them in the bud–such as by making sure we mark panels to hand staff so the database’s random assignments don’t put a cis person on a panel about trans people talking about trans issues, for example. We strive to be proactive because we want our attendees and guests to have as great a time as possible.

conventions
This is what it looks like when people are having an awesome time on a panel

This is a lot of work, yes. This is necessary work. It’s work that fan cons should do–yes, even if the staff is all volunteers. Because this is important.

Just look at what happened at last year’s GenCon Writer’s Symposium. A dude who is well known for being a problem, especially about women’s issues, was allowed to moderate a panel on women in comics even after The Mary Sue pointed out that the original panel was made up of All Men. ALL MEN. Even after that bit was addressed–hurriedly–Bill Willingham was still allowed to moderate. Marc Tassin, the Writer’s Symposium Track Director, should have known better. Willingham’s viewpoint and attitude are not a secret. And yet.

I expect GenCon to do better, and that con is far, far bigger than ConQuesT. Kansas City fans have pointed out that it is the very essence of a local con. Most folks running it and putting people on panels know each other well and know the panelists. Robin Wayne Bailey[4]  is a local and, from what I can gather, a regular at that con. Selina Rosen, who pulled down her pants, is apparently a serial pants taker off-er at that very con. Yes, this is a small local con. That means it’s probably even easier for programming volunteers to know that they’ve staffed a panel about diversity and erasure with one person of color and a bunch of problematic white folks who are prone to undressing at the slightest provocation.

It is certainly not possible to predict the behavior of every person, to know the specific background and identity details of every guest and panelist. And there is always room for error. I really need us to not pretend that there aren’t ways to be better, that we shouldn’t demand better while also saying “I will be an advocate and activist about this, too.”

ConComs and programming staff have to be proactive. They have to know what the potential problems are, where the common pitfalls lie, and pay attention to what has happened at other cons so they can avoid making the very same exact mistakes. Nothing that happened at ConQuesT regarding those panels Mark talked about hasn’t happened elsewhere many times[5]. All of it was avoidable.

Large con or small, the ConComs and program volunteers absolutely must be proactive and address these issues. When they do, it helps to empower the kind of personal response Rachel talks about. And I’ll reiterate: I agree that this is important, too. We, all of us, con staff and guest and attendee, have to look out for each other, speak up, create the kind of spaces we want at our fun community gatherings.

 

Footnotes

  1. Mark posted about his experience as a Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT in which he was treated so horrendously by staff, other guests, panelists, and attendees he was triggered into an anxiety attack, among other things.[]
  2. To wit: here’s one of my Twitter rants about the cost of publicizing bias in the community. That’s just a small smidge of what we talked about there and on Facebook today.[]
  3. By the way, the program survey is now live. Go tell us which panels you want to attend and be on![]
  4. Did you see his comment on Mark’s Facebook post? Here it is.[]
  5. Maybe not the thing with the undressing. What is wrong with people??[]
How to be black

Sometimes Allies Are Bad Actors

How to be black

“Stop attacking your allies!” –White Proverb

Okay, it’s not really a white proverb. This is the favorite rallying cry of a certain kind of ally[1] — the kind that assumes their self-proclaimed ally status means that any disagreement with them is an attack. And those in need of allies should be careful of attacking, else they will have none.

There’s a lot of bullshit wrapped up in this.

The main problem being that just because you’re an ally doesn’t mean you magically always act in the best interests of the group you’re allied with, and nor should you assume you are. An ally is not some glittery state of being in which you can do no wrong, in which your presence is always wanted or helpful, in which the loss of you represents a great loss to the cause. Sometimes allies are more here for themselves than they are for others.

“Sometimes allies are bad actors.”

That last is a quote from the panel “What Happened With WisCon Last Summer?” Mikki Kendall was the one who said it. She said it in response to Pat Murphy, who expressed sadness that the actions of some people on the WisCon ConCom caused longtime volunteers of the same to drop out of the organization. The people who left are those who have done a ton of work for the convention and for the fan community. This is not in dispute. They are people who have worked to build a feminist space within SF fandom, and are committed to their feminist values. This is not in dispute.

They are also people who, at some time or another over the past two years, have failed to be good allies to people in their feminist space who are not from their same generation, their same race or ethnicity, their same class.

That doesn’t mean they’ve done no good work, or that all their good work is moot. Plus, no one is perfect. Even the most hardcore social justice warrior (or paladin, cleric, rogue…) can fail to be a good ally to someone from a different group or identity at some point. What matters, what always matters, is how you deal with your fail. Did you apologize? Did you sit with yourself and examine what happened and why? Did you think about what being a good ally really means? Did you recommit yourself to being a better ally in the future?

Or did you double down with the idea that you’re an ally, not one of those bigots out there, and you marched with King, and you supported some feminists in 1973, and you’ve done all this work, and therefore you didn’t do anything wrong, you find nothing objectionable in what you did (or failed to do), and so the problem must be with the people you’re allied to, and not with yourself. In other words: did you center yourself?

The kind of people who say Stop Attacking Your Allies are the kind who tie their allyship to specific behaviors from the group they’re supposedly interested in helping. They, the ally, want to dictate the terms of the relationship and want to be the one to say “Now it’s the time to address this thing,” instead of allowing the marginalized and oppressed folks to make that determination. The ally wants to set the rules for what is appropriate discourse, to determine the parameters for politeness, and the conditions under which they will use or set aside their privilege. Do I need to explain the problems with that?[2]

Are we really “driving away” our allies, or are we making it clear that we won’t accept an ally relationship that is about the needs and comfort of the allies above everyone else? Yes, we might be making that clear with harsh language. And yes, in making that clear we might hurt some feelings. That happens when allies don’t listen to the polite, patient words that come before the yelling.

We are far more patient with our allies because they are allies. Because we know, on some level, that they do get it. And we want them to understand. We need our allies.

But we don’t need them so much that we’re willing to be treated like they know what’s best better than we do. Nor so much that we will tolerate them not listening or being dismissive when we say “this is wrong, hurtful, damaging, dangerous, and deadly.” Allies that do? We don’t need.

Sometimes allies are bad actors.

Do you want to be a good actor? To be the real ally you consider yourself to be? Then I suggest you read this guide to allyship & interracial friendships on The Feminist Griote, as it breaks allyship down extremely well. The article focuses on white allies to POC, particularly women of color, but the kinds of questions raised–Do you, white person, have any POC friends? Do you allow your closeness to POC to give you an excuse to not police your whiteness?–apply to many an ally relationship.

Read that article, sit with it, and consider whether you have been a bad actor in the past. If you have, then the best way to make up for that is to do better going forward.

Footnotes

  1. I have an acquaintance who just loves to whip this out when someone confronts her on her less than sterling attitudes about progress and diversity.[]
  2. Nevermind, I’ll let Dr. King do so: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”[]
microagressions

Your Microaggressions Aren’t Welcome Here

microagressions

Two years ago I proposed, then moderated a panel at WisCon called “Speak To Me In Your Native Language!” And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone (clicky for description). The panel title comes directly from something a WisCon-goer said to a friend of mine; and that’s just one of the othering experiences she’s had at the con and why she hasn’t been back in a while. I brought up other examples on the panel having to do with inappropriate touching/moving–of hair, of assistive devices such as wheelchairs–inappropriate interrogation–“You’re not blind, so why do you need a service dog?”–and similar instances of Othering[1]. I created this panel because I wanted to try and figure out how WisCon and the community of people in it should address the problem and maybe even strive toward fixing it.

The panel didn’t go completely to plan because we got derailed several times by one of the panelists[2]. I also don’t remember us coming up with any actionable solutions.

The most obvious one for me is to be that person that calls folks out when I witness such situations and encourage others to do so as well. That’s only workable so long as there are people willing and around. You can’t be everywhere. And while that could eventually grow and grow into awareness for everyone, that could take time. And while that’s happening some people still won’t feel welcome at the con.

What didn’t occur to me is that WisCon the organization could do something to address this behavior[3]. As of this year, we are.

The Safety chairs made it clear that con goers should, if they felt comfortable doing so, report such behavior (labeled microaggressions[4] ) to Safety, and that the on duty staff as well as appropriate department or con chairs would take steps to address the problem with the involved parties. That could mean having a discussion with someone about their inappropriate words/behavior and giving them guidelines around further contact with the person who filed the complaint (such as: do not approach them again), as happened this year. That’s not the only recourse. The idea is to make WisCon a safer space for everyone, not just some certain kinds of people. To make WisCon the type of con where you are not required to let things roll off your back and ignore or laugh off microaggressions and othering so you don’t disrupt everyone else’s good time[5].

I never realized until recently that there could be an official response to these kinds of actions. Or even what that response would look like.

I know that going forward I’m going to have to fight my own impulses to shrug off such behavior and only share and get understanding over how much it sucks from friends and fellow POC. For so long that was the only recourse I had–well, that and talking about it on the Internet. I got used to that being the status quo. I’m grateful others shattered the status quo.

I’m also glad that as a community we’re more and more giving the signal that addressing Othering and Microagressions is a community effort, not just an individual one. At WisCon, Debbie Notkin noted that when she was young, individuals (mostly girls and women) were expected to deal with sexual harassment on their own. That it was your job to remove yourself from that person, your job to find friends who could help you, your job to be on the lookout and not get in their sights again. Now folks take the stance that it’s the responsibility of the community as a whole to deal with harassers. By actively removing harassers from our community spaces, by identifying harassing behavior and making it clear it won’t be tolerated, by ensuring that people can safely report harassers and feel supported when they do.

As a community, can we make it clear that othering is not okay? That microagressions are not appropriate? Can we make it our problem to address as a community and not only a burden individuals have to deal with? Can we agree that allowing this crap to drive people away (and it does) is untenable?

Can we, community?

Footnotes

  1. Othering is viewing or treating a person as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. Doing so allows you to say or ask completely inappropriate stuff that you would never if you saw that person as fully human as yourself. Here’s a deeper breakdown.[]
  2. He kept saying things like: “You just need to let things like that roll off your back.” and “I don’t see how getting angry does anyone any good.” These can be valid strategies for getting along in the wider world, but were counterproductive in the context of the panel and the con itself.[]
  3. It should have. That it didn’t has a lot to do with the organization’s reluctance to move on certain things in the past.[]
  4. the top image is from this vid on microaggressions.[]
  5. I should also note that the Safety folks at Arisia are doing something similar and have been proactive in addressing this problem at their con.[]

My WisCon 39 Schedule

When I decided to be programming co-chair I swore to myself that I would not overload on panels this year. “Overload” seems to mean 8 panels. I’m on 5. Huzzah?

Misandry, Reverse Racism, and Other Imaginary Creatures (aka Drinking the tears of my enemies Part 2) Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm Assembly
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Mystery Guest, Isabel Schechter, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, Michi Trota

Cultural Literacy or Cultural Appropriation? Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm Capitol B
K. Tempest Bradford, @SoosheBot, Sally Wiener Grotta, Andrea D. Hairston, Mikki Kendall

In our diverse culture all thinking and reading individuals are influenced by a wide range of heritages, histories, and mythologies. Let’s talk about how to articulate the boundaries and borders of what’s appropriative and what’s okay in fiction, dance, craft, and other art. In the end, who gets paid? And who gets propped up as an “expert”? In what ways can artists and creators engage with cultures without being harmful and destructive?

If you’re coming to this panel we’re collecting questions ahead of time here and will accept questions via Twitter while the panel is happening via the hashtag #LiteracyorAppropriation

THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm Wisconsin
Sparkymonster, K. Tempest Bradford, Chesya Burke, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mikki Kendall, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun

The seventh installment of this popular and amazing panel! Writers of color working in F/SF face unique challenges, it’s true. But, at the end of the day, being a “person of color” is only one aspect of what makes up our identities as writers. While it’s very flattering to be asked to be on panels, most of these panels never crack the ceiling of Race 101. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be nice for multiple writers and fans of color to sit on a panel that isn’t about race at all? Here’s our chance to do just that. So, what are we gonna talk about, instead? Practically anything! Presented in game show format, THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL brings together writers and fans of color to get their geek on about any number of pop culture topics—none of them race related.

Chips On Our Shoulders: The Wearable Tech Trend Sat, 10:30–11:45 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, BC Holmes, Stephanie Krislov, Neil Rest

One of fastest growing trends in gadgetry is wearable tech: not only expensive and well-known products like Google Glass but a huge variety of devices designed to be strapped on a wrist, clipped on clothing, perched on our head, or even worn on our feet. These gadgets are getting smaller, less noticeable, and literally woven into the fabric of our lives. In this panel we’ll explore the implications wearables have on health, personal interaction, privacy, and social issues through the lens of science fiction literature that addresses these themes and our real world experiences. 

How To Tell POC Apart: The Game! Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Jackie Gross, N. K. Jemisin

So many POC writers these days—how can we tell them apart? This game-show format panel will sharpen your skills while earning you fabulous prizes! (Books!) Ted Chiang or John Chu? Nalo, Nnedi, Nora, or Nisi? You decide.

We’re still accepting contestants for this panel. Ping me in the comments if you want to play!

Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

Erasure Comes In Many Forms - A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit

 

The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

N. K. Jemisin’s Introduction – WisCon 38

This year my role on the WisCon concom was as Nora’s guest of honor liaison. And one of the perks of that job is that I got first dibs on introducing her at various key moments, such as the night she gave her big speech. However, I wasn’t sure how such introductions go since I couldn’t remember the ones from past years. I asked Debbie Notkin and she suggested I could make it somewhat personal. Like the story of how we met (which was at WisCon). So, that’s what I did.

I never suspected that it would get such a strong reaction. Since a couple of people asked, I’m dropping the intro here for the folks who couldn’t be there.

Earlier this weekend I started to tell the story of how Nora and I first met. I remember it being at WisCon, she contends that it was at ReaderCon. But this is WisCon, and saying it happened at WisCon makes for a better story. So my memory wins.

We met at WisCon when Nora came up to me and, as way of introduction, said: Do you want to take bets on which of us gets mistaken for the other first? And I said: I’m not taking that bet because I’ve already been mistaken for Nalo Hopkinson today.

Back then there were only a handful of POC at WisCon–a generous handful, but the number was small. It was easy for Nora and I to remember each other for the rest of the weekend, and then later at ReaderCon, and then later online when we ended up arguing with the same people about the same stuff. Pretty soon she was blogging with me, then living in the same city as me, and then joining a writing group with me.

And let me tell you guys that I am so lucky to have her as a friend, and as a person I can turn to when I need writing advice or a critique. And I am super lucky that I sometimes get to read her stories and novels before almost anyone else. You’ve seen the announcement about that new book, The Fifth Season, coming out next year? I’ve read that book and it is awesome. Nanni nanni booboo.

Nora’s fiction is important for all the reasons why fiction written by a black woman from America is important. Representation is important. Our voices are important. But let’s not forget: her fiction is also damn good. I can’t tell you how many times I read the climactic chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and every single time it gave me chills. I loved the other two books in the Inheritance trilogy, too. But then I got to The Killing Moon, first in the Dreamblood duology and there were ninja priests of death and it was AMAZING.

There are times when I can’t believe I know someone who writes that well. The worlds she builds and the characters she creates are vibrant and alive and, yes, diverse and full of people who look something like me. But anyone can find something of themselves in the pages of an N. K. Jemisin book. And that is why we’re celebrating her this weekend. Gentlefolk of WisCon38, please welcome to the stage your guest of honor: N. K. Jemisin.

I refuse to get older without the assistance of a sauna

My birthday is coming up in less than two weeks! If you’re in the NYC area, you’ve probably gotten an email from me (or twelve) listing all my various birthday events. I party hard!

People always ask me: what do you want for your birthday? And usually I say “I dunno” because I pretty much have everything I need in life. But  this year I do have something I want: a 24 hour spa day with massages and scrubs and treatments and the whole thing.

King Spa

Since this costs a bit of money, it’s not something I would ask for from one person. However, if multiple people would like to contribute towards such a thing, I would not object.

To facilitate this, I first set up one of those personal crowdfunding things but the process was arduous and annoying. No one likes that. In the end, PayPal is better, anyway.

So, if you would like to give me a gift for my birthday, you can send it via PayPal to my GMail address: ktempestbradford 

And to everyone who has already done so: you’re awesome, I love you, and I’m sending individual thank yous soon!

Finally: BIRTHDAY UNENDING STARTS RIGHT NOW.

Con or Bust Auction Begins Today!

It’s that time of year again. The Con or Bust auction is on, and you can bid to win some seriously fabulous stuff ranging from awesome books to fiction critiques to swag of the highest order. All proceeds benefit the Con or Bust fund which “helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions” by providing financial assistance. If you don’t know why this an important and worthy thing, ask me and i’ll explain it.

Before I get into the links to the stuff you should definitely bid on, I also want to say that if you are a person of color who really wants to attend a specific convention this year but cannot, please do request assistance. You do not have to be financially destitute to ask for or receive assistance. I bolded that because I want to make sure everyone pays attention. There are many reasons why you may not be able to attend a con (including that you are budgeting for other, less expensive for you cons) but really want to because it could be supremely beneficial for whatever reason. You are totally allowed to request money, so please do. The whole reason Con or Bust exists is so that the community benefits from your presence at cons as attendees, audience members, programming participants, and volunteers.

With that out of the way, I wish to call your attention to the following awesome auction lots that you should totally bid on!

Fancy Fan Signed by Star Trek’s Garrett Wang

Garrett Wang Signed This

 

Fancy Fan Signed by BSG’s Edward James Olmos

Edward James Olmos so totally signed this

Yes, that is the type of fan I usually carry. It has the dragon design on the other side, but what you really should care about is that these fans were actually touched by Olmos and Wang. The DNA is still on them!

I also put up collections of magazine back issues that I no longer need (but are too good to just toss) that includes some very pretty issues of Weird Tales and all of the print issues of Fantasy Magazine. Check them out here.

Here are some other great auctions not submitted by me:

 

Wiscon 38 Panel Brainstorming Post

Wiscon 38 Panel Brainstorming Post

NOTE: If you’re coming for the first time, here are the panels that still need work:

—————-

Panel submissions for WisCon 38 close soon, and I have many ideas! I know many of my friends have ideas too, but might need some help brainstorming or fleshing them out. Thus, I have created this post.

Anyone who has an idea can put it in the comments, not just me! Let us know what you need, such as: making a kernel of an idea into a full-fleshed panel, help crafting an effective description, coming up with a punchy title, or finding fellow panelists so you can submit a pre-populated idea.

It will make discussions easier if you put one panel idea per comment (make as many as you want) and then folks can reply below each in the thread.

That’s it, let’s have fun!

 

Some faces from Sirens 2013

I Spent Two Weeks Attending Two Women-Focused Geek Cons And It Was Pretty Awesome

Some faces from Sirens 2013

I love going to science fiction/fantasy conventions. It’s one of the biggest drains on my wallet throughout the year and I regret nothing. I love talking about SF/F media and literature with other people who love it the way I do.

When I first started attending the WisCon Feminist Science Fiction Convention, it was the only women-centric SF/F I’d heard of. Over the years, I got wind of others and friends encouraged me to attend two in particular: Sirens, an academic conference and retreat on women in fantasy literature, and GeekGirlCon, a convention celebrating women in media, science, and technology. When I found out that these cons took place on consecutive weekends in cities just four hours apart, I knew it was time for a lady geek excursion.

Avoiding the Rocks

I started my female-centric con experience with the Sirens conference, which takes place at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. It’s a 40-minute drive from Portland, OR through the Columbia River Gorge. Driving along roads that cut through forests laden with turning leaves and close-clinging clouds that occasionally parted to reveal stunning waterfalls is the perfect way to get into the retreat mindset. By the time we crossed the Bridge of the Gods I knew I was heading to the perfect setting for a weekend of discussing fantasy literature.

Sirens is a very small conference with a narrow focus and only about a hundred women in attendance this year. This intimacy, combined with it being a conference and not a convention, gives Sirens a different vibe than most cons I’ve attended. There’s an emphasis on group discussions (not just panels), meals together, and individual keynotes each day. The narrow focus on academic discussions of women and fantasy literature gets even more specific in the keynotes and sessions that take on the yearly themes: warriors, faeries, monsters, retelling, and, in 2013, reunion.

Another thing affecting the vibe: a nearly complete lack of men. There were only three or four attending, so the conference space was almost exclusively women. (There may have been trans* or non-binary people whose gender I did not know, as well.) This might not seem unusual for a con that boldly announces the high presence of girl cooties up front. And if you’re familiar with academic conferences that focus on women’s issues, this won’t surprise you. It might if, like me, you’re from the world of SF conventions where even the most girl-cootie-filled among them (WisCon, for example) can still attract a decent number of guys.

Each of these elements contributes to the idea of Sirens as a “Safe Space” for women. Over and over conference organizers and attendees emphasized that point, and there is obvious pride in Sirens being the type of gathering where people can disagree yet still sit down to dinner together. Still, there are varying ideas of what makes a space safe.

As a woman of color, I don’t always find spaces created by white women or white feminists to be safe. Same with geeky or fandom spaces. Navigating the con scene means quickly assessing if a space is actually safe for me regardless of the label on the tin. It’s not often that someone sets out to make me uncomfortable or unwelcome at a con. Instead, I’ll encounter an unwitting microagression. Or, a person with no concept of their privilege, let alone how to check it, says or does something upsetting. That wasn’t my experience here.

I ended up pleasantly surprised at the depth of the attendees’ knowledge and interest in fantasy literature that goes beyond the white/white-washed epic tomes so often held up as great examples of the genre. Everyone I met was eager to understand different points of view and experiences of the world beyond their own. Nowhere was this clearer to me than in the Q&A sessions after the guest of honor keynotes by Alaya Dawn Johnson and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Both women of color gave deeply personal speeches full of intersectional ideas and the understanding and solidarity they received back from the room impressed and bolstered me. This is the kind of space I feel safe in.

Meanwhile, At New York Comic Con

That same weekend my friends back home went to New York Comic Con. Each time I hopped on Twitter or Facebook to see how things were going, I discovered some new instance of harassment. It made me glad I was on the other side of the country.

There had been concerns prior to the con that one or more groups of dudes looking to entertain their fellow dudebros on YouTube might come to NYCC for the express purpose of harassing women there. Between the self-styled Referees of Cosplay who intended to call out women “too fat” to dress up as their favorite characters, the guys kissing women without permission so they could film their reaction, and the horrid SiriusFM-affiliated Man Banter dudes engaging in both sexist and racist harassment, the weekend was chock full of fail.

The good aspects of the con didn’t always balance out the fail for some people, especially women targeted for harassment. The swift action of the NYCC organizers to address the harassment is praise-worthy; it just doesn’t address the underlying problem. Even though Mike Babchik is banned, there are plenty of other men ready to take his place. And these men feel that New York Comic Con is an appropriate venue for their activities.

Thinking about why that might be, and the contrast between my friends’ NYCC experience and my Sirens experience got me thinking about the kind of conventions I attend and why. I only go to NYCC because I live in NYC, and even then only if I get a free press pass. I used to wish I could go to San Diego Comic-Con, but I prioritize my budget toward attending WisCon, World Fantasy, ReaderCon, or DragonCon. I stopped going WorldCon regularly several years ago. I would rather clean toilets than attend either PAX.

All of these cons cater to what I love — though the focus, vibe, and general purpose differ — and are ostensibly safe spaces to be a giant geek. Yet I do not feel that my geek self is welcome or wanted at SDCC, NYCC, PAX, or WorldCon.

Women Are Ambassadors

After San Diego Comic-Con I saw this quote, attributed to Hannibal‘s Bryan Fuller, popping up around Tumblr:

“What was really great about Comic-Con, it shows that the core demographic is young women… It’s all young ladies. Women love genre, they’re more open to genre in a strange way. … Women are the ambassadors.”

This is not new information. It’s also not just anecdotal. When Networked Insights measured social media response and engagement around the media being discussed at SDCC in 2013, women made up the majority. Brett Schenker’s compilation of statistics from Facebook show that 40% of the people who Like comic-related things are women. Facebook’s Doctor Who fandom is mostly female, according to this data. Women make most tech buying decisions, download more movies and TV shows than men, and play more games on certain platforms.

In his book “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture,” Rob Salkowitz points out that “women today are the loudest and most compelling voices in fandom.” Yet the average media, comic, or science fiction convention is generally dismissive of, if not hostile to, the non-cis, het male population.

I could bring up a mountain of examples, but here are three:

SDCC 2011: Batgirl vs. DC Comics

ReaderCon and WorldCon 2012: Renee Walling vs People Who Don’t Want To Be Sexually Harassed

PAX 2013: Dickwolves vs All Common Sense

This crap is flying at women from all quarters: con attendees, con runners, con guests, con sponsors. It’s not surprising that more conventions and conferences now exist to offer respite from the nastiness. Sirens is one approach, GeekGirlCon is another.

Re-Centering The Focus

GeekGirlCon, now in it’s third year, is a more varied convention. It’s similar in style and scope to media and comic cons, though throws the net wider than most by including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) alongside literature, games, comics, TV, movies, and more. For such a young con I’m impressed with how ambitious GGC is in terms of providing a space for everything from tabletop gaming to professional networking, all with a focus on women.

That said, GeekGirlCon is a work in progress. The con’s track record on intersectionality is muddy, starting with the first year. A friend of mine warned me off this con because she got a strong vibe that she is not the “right type of geek girl” due to being POC. That was more about the attendees than the con itself, though this year a swell of anger rose up when people learned that problematic career feminist Amanda Marcotte was invited to participate in programming. As I said, work in progress. After talking to members of the staff and geeks involved in the community around GGC, it seems the con is worth the work and is also important on a larger scale.

At the Changing Culture in Mainstream and Alternative Spaces panel, I and my fellow panelists talked about the value of cons that focus on sub-sections of the geek community, such as women or LGBT people, and whether it’s better to create our own safer spaces or to try and make the mainstream conventions a better place for all geeks to be. Ben Williams, a founder of GaymerX/GaymerCon, spoke about how separating from a larger, less inviting culture has big benefits in helping people feel like they really belong.

However, Jo Jo Stiletto pointed out that even creating your own thing — in her case, roller derby — for your in-group doesn’t mean that it won’t grow and change into something that no longer feels right for you. Game designer Shoshana Kessock advocated for changing cons from the inside because she feels that if we completely withdraw, then the mainstream will only see geeks as the stereotypes we leave behind.

I can understand that point of view and I am often an advocate of changing instead of abandoning the cons I love. It can work; just look at how WisCon and ReaderCon have shifted in the past five years. However, there’s a big difference between those cons and PAX or SDCC, entities that aren’t as susceptible to big changes enacted by dedicated volunteers. I say the only way to force a change in that type of con is to starve them of their lifeblood: geek money and attention.

There Are A Lot Of Men Here

That’s where cons like GeekGirlCon come in. Here you have all the same kinds of events and panels and activities as other cons but with women at the center of the conversation. In this environment women hopefully feel like their voices and experiences and way of geeking out are celebrated and appreciated. If you listened to the common wisdom about centering women, you’d think that this type of con would result in a low male turnout. Not as low as Sirens, of course. But guys wouldn’t flock to this type of environment, would they?

Uh, yeah, they would.

There were far more men at GeekGirlCon than I expected and they participated at every level: on staff, on panels, and as attendees. And yet GGC people also spoke of the con as a Safe Space. Again, the idea of what is safe differs depending on what type of woman you are, yet I was pretty confident that there wouldn’t be anyone there saying that they “want to buy an umbrella [that comes] with an Asian girl,” no matter the gender. It’s not about banning or even discouraging guys from coming to the con, it’s about making it clear what is and is not valued that leads to a con women can feel safe attending.

So forget any ridiculousness you hear about how cons that cater to specific or marginalized groups are all about self-segregation. They’re not — not completely. Because if the con has all the elements geeks flock to cons for, it will attract all the geeks. And if these cons can attract geeks away from events that foster a hostile environment, then those other cons (and the media entities that support them) will either have to change or die.

There Are A Lot Of Women Here, Too

I’m torn on which option I want: Change or Die. The cons that represent the most problematic environments — NYCC, SDCC, PAX — aren’t the kind that I like to attend, anyway. I much prefer cons that are for the people attending and not media companies and sponsors looking to sell and market to us. Cons where fans and creators can share panel space and where attendees are treated with respect and not like cattle to be herded. And, after my two-week women-centric con adventure, I’m more reluctant than ever to go to cons that center the 18-49 year old, white, heterosexual male, explicitly or not.

Neither Sirens nor GeekGirlCon are perfect events and could benefit from a little change themselves. And I want to be part of that change. Because making a con better for me and women like me means making cons that are better for everyone. Guess I’d better start saving up now.

originally posted at xojane.