WisCon Report the First
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There is so much to say about WisCon! So many good things and good people and good conversations. If I just did one long con report, your eyes would glaze over by the time I was through with Friday. So I’m splitting things up into parts by theme. The first part is a general con overview. See how organized I am?
The greatest impression I came away with is that WisCon gets awesomer and awesomer every year. I have a great time each time for different reasons. As always, it’s wonderful to see my friends and to meet people I’ve only known online and to meet complete strangers. The kind of people WisCon attracts are, in general, the kind of people I’m interested in spending my time with. Folks who love SF, both literature and media, and who can both enjoy it as entertainment and think critically about it. And, of course, they’re people of a feminist persuasion interested in discussing the intersection of SF and ‘women’s issues’. I was really happy to see more people of color at the con this year. Not surprised to discover that this had a lot to do with the Cultural Appropriation Panel of DOOM from last year. (More on this later.)
I spent the con running around from one thing I had to be at to the next. The concom kindly put me on four panels plus we had a reading for the Interfictions anthology. I also knew beforehand that I was going to do a guerilla reading with the Farthing crew since they didn’t get a reading of their own. And I agreed to organize a Sunday night party for Interfictions. Six program items and a party, I thought that was quite a lot to do and sounded like a lot of fun. Little did I know.
Just before the con, Claire Light asked me if I’d like to be on the new Cultural Appropriation panel even though I was on so much other stuff. Because I felt quite strongly about the issues raised by last year’s debacle, I agreed. On Friday, Nancy Jane Moore asked if I would like to be on the Unfair to Middle Class White Men panel since she wanted to broaden the scope from just talking about women writers and editors to including POC views. Nora, my one time (and fabulous) guest blogger was also asked to join, so I said yes. Then, on Sunday night, Delia Sherman asked if I would be part of her solo talk on editing the Interfictions anthology since she thought some input from authors in it would be useful. In total, that made seven panels and two readings. And I still had a party to deal with.
Yes, I am very tired.
But it’s a good tired, because everything I participated in was wonderful. The panels went really well, I had great fellow panelists by my side, the audiences fostered great discussion, and I did not have to deal with one crazy fool all weekend long. The level of discourse in conversations around the con (that I participated in) was high as well. Like I said, most of the people who come to a con like this are well-educated and interested in engaging with SF literature and media on many levels. Moving from party to party I talked with people about polyamory in Jem & the Holograms, the racial issues prevalent in fandom, which fiction markets were friendliest to new writers, and why the universe continues to be so damn white.
As with all things involving a thousand or so people, not everything was rosy and perfect. Eileen Gunn mentioned an interview she did with a con attendee last year in which said attendee talked about how she felt when hearing the language of the freshly desegregated South used in the Cultural Appropriation panel. That sneaky, subtle (or not so) racism borne out of people who don’t question or have questioned their unconscious biases. As I said before — and will say again in my post about the panel — this year’s panel was meant to address that and I think we did a good job. However, another con-goer (who I won’t name just in case she doesn’t want to be named) said that in one of this year’s panels about trans issues folks in the audience were saying some uncomfortably racist things. The kind of things that no one at WisCon would have said regarding women.
Now, this is not to start off some craziness about how sexism isn’t as bad as racism or vice versa. As many of you know, I do not engage in comparing oppressions. However, seeing that WisCon is a feminist con, it would be seriously hard for someone to get away with saying some sexist shit. That’s just the bottom line. But saying racist things? Yeah, we know that could happen — it happened last year, and apparently it happened this year.
Of course, I did not see it because I was taking part in the kinds of panels that people with questionable views were less likely to attend. And, even if they did attend, it would have become clear real fast that the panelists weren’t going to allow that crap to last more than a half a second. And the attendee who saw this happen said that it so shocked her that she wasn’t sure how to respond or address it. Something else I completely understand. For non-POC who are aware of issues surrounding race, it is sometimes hard to confront racism because they aren’t sure how exactly to go about it or they’re concerned about being the voice of POC when they aren’t one. Plus, when you’re in a room full of white people and one or two (or three or four…) of them say something racist and the whole room doesn’t smack them down, it feels anywhere from extremely uncomfortable to a little bit dangerous. I’ve had that experience myself. Not long ago I was with a group of friends and two of them said an incredibly racist thing and everyone laughed. I was the only black person there and I felt not only really alone and hurt, but also betrayed. I didn’t feel safe voicing what I felt at the time, but you can be sure I’ve stayed the hell away from all of those assholes since.
For next year, I had an idea of not being on very many panels — say just one or two — but going to panels that aren’t about race and just watching. And if I see something like that happening again, I’ll speak out forcefully against it. Because that crap cannot continue. Especially in a space like WisCon. Obviously, I don’t want to turn into some sort of tolerance police. But just as someone would or should speak up in any other con about sexist behavior and words, I intend to confront people about racist behavior and words.
Lastly, I’d just like to give a shout out to all the people I saw and met and talked to this weekend. I can’t name everyone, I just can’t. But some highlights included meeting some of my fellow Feminist SF bloggers, meeting my boy Naamen and his friend Jackie (or is it Jacquie?) who immediately became my true con buddies, hanging out with the UK contingent of my Clarion West class, getting to see my friend Cat Valente on stage accepting an award she richly deserved, looking around a party one night and discovering that I knew everyone there and ‘everyone’ consisted of writers I admire and love, having people come to me and asking if I would take part in stuff both at and beyond the con, hearing people gasp with delight when I said “I also blog as The Angry Black Woman”, finding out that all of the issues I’ve been blogging and talking about on the Internet are important to others and that they really like what I’m doing and saying.
On Monday night, Ellen Klages came over to me and told me that I was awesome. Ellen “I’m so awesome I am glowing from awesomeness” Klages said that to me.
The thing is, I am only as awesome as the company I keep. And this weekend I was surrounded by some of the most awesome people on the planet. People do wonder, with the problems of diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy, why I continue to read, watch, and write in the genre. Take a look at the list of WisCon participants. Google WisCon in the blog search. Surf the posts tagged WisCon on Technorati and elsewhere. Those people are why. 31 years ago when the con got started, it was a different landscape. And 30 years from now when I’m shuffling through the con with my walker it will be different still. I’m looking forward to seeing the shape of that landscape and to having a hand in creating it. That’s what I’m doing to address the issues that concern me, and I can’t think of a better or more fun way.
So, end of the general con goodness. I have posts on deck about the panels and the issues raised. I’ll also try to collect as many related con reports as I can. To everyone I saw this weekend, thanks for making it awesome. To the concom, every last one of you deserves an award.