Ad Astra Wrap-Up

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.

The Good

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.

Final thoughts

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.

5 thoughts on “Ad Astra Wrap-Up

  1. This stuff is indeed always there, but in my eight years attending this convention, it has gotten better (from my perspective) so I think this change is already happening. Sea changes happen, but sometimes we don’t see the waves for what they are until we have perspective.

    I should also say — I have no intention of invalidating you. I understand why you feel this way and I am glad you are sharing it with us. I smooth over these experiences because I tire of them and am “used” to them. I only had one of those experiences this weekend where I kind of had to detach from someone and tell them to watch it (but while nervously laughing.. because… *sigh*). But everyone else I encountered was fantastic. So I am glad to go back.. but.. I understand and will back you if you decide you can’t come next year.

  2. Hi Simon,

    I saw Kelly share your post. Thanks for this. It’s hard to make these changes, but I think thoughtful posts like this is part of how we get there. At least bystanders and audience members seemed to be acting to quell these guys. So much of changing this culture is communicating that “Yes, you may have always done this and thought it was okay, but it’s really not. Cut it out.”

  3. Greetings:

    There is a change happening in making people aware of the sexist culture that permeates our society, which trickles down to Fandom. What is equally important is how we deal with this problem. If we sit back and expect someone else to fix it, then we are just as responsible as the people causing the problem. You have to ask yourself, “What am I going to do about this problem?”

    Maybe I am weird or something, but when I see a problem, I tend to both raise my voice about it, offer solutions, and if necessary, *do* something about it. For example, when that person addressed the elevator, did he say “All you ladies are invited to my room”, or did he say “You are all invited to my room”. If it was something like the former, did you say “Gee, that’s kind of sexist and creepy…is that really appropriate?” to him?

    In the panel, where the person was doing the disruptive word association, which, by the way, may indicate someone with Asperger’s Syndrome or something on the Autism spectrum, did you or anyone go up and tap the person on the shoulder and ask them if they really thought that those comments were appropriate for the panel and that it was disruptive? Did someone go out and get security or a member of the Concom to inform this person they were being disruptive? If they did have Asperger’s or Autism, when told they are behaving in a way that is disruptive, they will frequently get embarrassed and apologize, since they didn’t perceive that they were doing something wrong! And if not, they getting a warning makes it easier for Security or the Concom to remove the disruptive person from panel, or the event.

    You did do exactly what you should have done with the person who made the word-play about hunting and your family. But when he continued to be disrespectful to you, did you point that out to him and/or report him to Security or the Concom?

    And at the end of the convention, did you go to the Bitch Panel and let the Committee know about these problems?

    I am not saying that you did anything wrong, far from it. People have different levels of comfort in dealing with events and confrontations like these. But if something *is* bothering you at a con, if you are not able/willing to do something about it yourself, go and report the problem. If the organizers don’t hear about it until long after the event, then they can’t intercede and squash the problem when it is happening. A convention’s Committee, Staff and Security can only be in a limited number of places, it is up to the attendees to inform them when a problem occurs.

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