I just got back from my home convention, Ad Astra, and wanted to write about it a bit. Now you might wonder why I waited until today to write it. Well…
First off, Sunday was May Day, and I took the Monday off and didn’t do anything work-adjacent, that includes blogging. I take my vaguely socialist holidays seriously. Secondly I wanted to decompress a bit, because while I have a lot that I was very positive coming out of this weekend to talk about, there’s also a bit of stuff that happened at the con that didn’t sit right with me, and I wanted to pause for 24 hours before actually talking about it.
So amazing getting to catch up with all my out-of-town friends. And my in-town friends who I don’t get to see often enough. Special shout-outs to Adam Shaftoe, David Blackwood and Mike Rimar for making the second We Destroy the Things You Love panel a roaring pile of shouty, sweary fun. Also a big shout-out to Kelly Robson for being awesome and shockingly coherent for anybody on Sunday morning at a con during our panel on social media.
Beyond the amazing people, who there are too many of to list them all, I’ve also got to take my hat off to the hotel, which gave us a surprise upgrade to the best room I’ve ever had. I also want to say thank you to the con staff, there were some scheduling issues which caused some problems, but I will say that the con staff did their very best to fix those issues and to accommodate panelists who might have been inconvenienced.
The Bad and Ugly
That being said, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are problems in convention culture, and those problems do affect my home con. A few vignettes:
It’s 2 AM on Friday and we’re leaving the consuite. On the elevator down, a large older man in a star fleet uniform gets off. He turns, gestures expansively and solicits all the women in the elevator (all of whom are probably young enough to be his daughters and none of whom he’s so much as spoken to) to join him in his room. He leaves and there are uncomfortable chuckles and eye-rolls.
It’s at a panel. Literature related topic. Panel has gender parity, and all four of the authors on it are authorities on the subject. Five minutes into the panel, just after the one straggler takes her seat and the introductions have been completed, a hand goes up in the audience. The moderator says she’ll take questions at the end. He clearly doesn’t respect her. He proceeds to spend the first half of the panel blurting out random phrases that are sometimes related to something a panelist said, and sometimes seem like a bizarre game of word association, “government inaction,” says a panelist, “George Bush!” he exclaims. Eventually he withers under the combined glares of several people in the audience sitting behind him who have trouble hearing the panel under his interruptions.
It’s at a launch party with my family and I’m talking to a friend. My wife and daughter leave the room and I excuse myself, telling my friend I have to hunt down my family. A person I wasn’t speaking to says, “what caliber?” The words make no sense. I say, “what?” He says, “you know, because you’re hunting them.” Sickened by the idea that somebody would joke about shooting my family, worse about ME shooting my family, I say, “that’s not funny,” and walk away. It’s that or hit him. He’s unpleasant to me the rest of the convention whenever he gets the chance. I avoid him whenever I can.
It’s the next day. I’m at lunch and have left the convention. I check Facebook and it’s full of comments from the audience at another panel. One about a woman and populated by women. Disruptive men in the audience have derailed the panel enough that people are taking to social media to grouse.
So yeah, noticing a theme yet? Unwanted and awkward solicitations. Jokes predicated on violence against a woman and a girl. Disrespect for a woman moderating. Disrespect for women on a panel. This is my home convention. This is my safe convention. This is the convention I bring my family to. This kind of stuff is not OK. It’s not OK anywhere and it’s not OK here.
After the convention my wife asked me if I’d go back next year and I said, “probably.” It’s never been anything other than a resounding, “YES,” before. And it’s not because of the con-com. Volunteer run events will have their little glitches. It’s part of life. And at the convention itself they worked hard to try. And it’s not because of the programming which was good or about the hotel which was excellent or even about the inconvenience of going all the way to Richmond Hill: just too far for transit but close enough to make a hotel seem an unnecessary expense. It certainly isn’t because I don’t see the utility in the convention. I’d not be a published author if not for Ad Astra.
But if my home con isn’t a safe space for my daughter, it isn’t a space I want to be in. Hannah loved Ad Astra. She got to explore a hotel, go swimming, meet storm troopers and Jedi, eat snacks that her parents don’t normally give her and do a dozen other exciting things. I want to share it with her. But conventions need to be safe spaces for women and girls before that happens. They need to be spaces women and girls get the basic respect that any person should be afforded. And that’s not something the con-com can fix on their own. That’s something that depends on a sea change in our culture to fix.