This has been a con not quite like any other, and it is deserving of a post-con post not quite like any other. I don’t just want to give a shout out to the people I met whose names I can remember and say that I had a good time (although that will come), I want to thank people. An awful lot of people.
I want to thank the organisers for their vision. For wanting to do an event as open in its geekery as the big US cons at which British geeks on a tight budget have only been able to look on with envy. But not only that, I want to thank you for the vision to go further, to make inclusivity front and central. The name, Nine Worlds, frames the space in terms of multiplicity from the outset. It is in stark contrast to the most famous con, Sandiago Comic-Con, which still sounds, whether that is the intention or not, as though the Real Geeks, the ones for whom the convention is Really For, are the comic fans – implicitly the same (straight, white, male, cisgendered, ablebodied) geeks who form some kind of nebulous Old Guard, who claim to have read the entirety of the DC and Marvell back catalogue and are ready and able to school you on it. I don’t blame Comic-Con for its name – it grew out of comics into something much broader, and that’s fine – but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Nine Worlds for using their fresh start to do something different and better.
And it’s not only surface deep. The inclusivity and multiplicity goes all the way down.
It’s here in the accessibility of the con. Accessibility information is front and centre on the web and in the programme. And it makes a difference. I’ve never seen so many people with (visible) disabilities at a con, and I can only suppose that that is a consequence of them feeling confident that they could go to the con and get about and fully enjoy it, the same as everyone else.
I’ve also never seen so many women. Granted, the presence of women in cons has been more than the zeitgeist would have you believe for years, but with the exception of ‘Just a Minute’, which I went to on the first day (which was led by a man and at first seemed like it would go on without a single woman on the panel, and which did single out the woman on the panel and a gay guy for mockery (however mild) on the basis of their deviation from the (assumed male, straight) norm) you could really feel the difference in attitude in the equal presence and treatment of women, both on the panels and in the audience. I think that’s a consequence of two things: the well-publicised and explained policy on harassment, and having a whole track for events on Geek Feminism across the weekend. That says that the organisers want to make women feel comfortable and safe, but also that they regard the issues women face in Geek Culture not just as valid in themselves, but worthy of devoting time, space, and serious consideration to as an interest of geeks.
And with that in mind we reach the next person I want to thank: Siân Fever, who organised and ran the Geek Feminism track. Due to a Cow-on-the-Line delay, I missed the first Geek Feminist session I was supposed to be helping out with, but she was very understanding and when I attended her ‘What the FRAK is Geek Feminism’ 101 on Saturday morning I was beyond impressed by her understanding of the myriad of issues that face modern feminism in general, and geek feminism in particular; by her clarity in explaining these complex and fraught issues; and by her openness and ability to engage her audience. Honestly, it’s a talk that should be online for everyone to sample. But beyond her talk itself, her willingness to enter into discussion helped set a tone for the weekend and let me know, as a woman, as a feminist, as a geek, that this was a convention that was going to do things right in a way I hadn’t encountered anywhere else.
Whilst we’re on the topic of geek feminism, I want to thank Laurie Penny, whose talk on Cybersexism surprised me by bringing me to tears more than once. It surprised me because in many ways she didn’t say anything I didn’t know already or hadn’t said myself on multiple occasions, but there was an unexpected power to the sense of recognition hearing her say those things gave, and in the fact that she had been given the platform to say those things, which showed that the organisers respected her and recognised the validity of her opinions also. Here were the things that cut so very close to the bone, and that one has said so often one feels mentally hoarse (and suspects, or has even been told, that one is exaggerating and should just shut up about), and they were laid bare in a scenario that said they were worthy of attention, being expressed by an articulate and confident woman. A woman younger than me who has gained national and international recognition for speaking out on these issues and received a backlash beyond the sort of things I have experienced which have led me to have a hair-trigger blocking policy on Twitter and to close my Ask box on Tumblr. A woman who earlier this week received a bomb threat. And for what? For saying things like this:
That male geeks, geeks who were persecuted, isolated, picked on and marginalised at school, still don’t understand – still will not accept – that female geeks were right there with them, being just as geeky, and further marginalised still. Because we were the ones that even the male geeks disdained and persecuted – who are still being disdained and persecuted now. Apparently there were Dungeons and Dragons groups at my school, but I would never have known about it, because the male geeks at my school would not have been seen dead with me. Because it would have ruined their street cred – their geek cred – to give credence of the lowest of the low: a geek who is also a girl.
And she addressed the narrative of my generation where the changes that have been positive for male geeks have had negative effects for female geeks. Where the ‘geeks are cool now’ story has been expressed as a male story of male success in making money and showing the bullies they grew up with by getting the symbols of power and wealth – including getting ‘the girl’. This misogynistic tale most tellingly expressed in The Social Network, that successful tale of a man getting ahead by shaming women in the grossest fashion, and who somehow is presented as winning the sexy lawyer lady at the end of the movie, too, despite his despicable character and misogyny. I couldn’t believe the success and critical acclaim of that movie, and it meant a lot to hear Laurie Penny take it down for the exact reasons I found disgusting and appalling.
I don’t even know how to put into words how much this talk meant to me, and how much that, in itself, surprised me. So I just want to say thank you: thank you Laurie Penny, for saying these things; thank you, Siân Fever, for organising the track that put her there; thank you, Nine Worlds, for giving Siân the power to do that.
And at the same time as the Geek Feminism track was doing all this for me, there were also tracks that addressed LGBT issues, along with fun stuff aimed at queer geeks, too – discos and high tea and poetry. Whilst I don’t know what it’s like to be a queer person being given that validation and celebration and consideration, I can relate to it by considering what the feminism track did to me. And I can see the results – again, there have always been LGBT people at cons and in fandoms and involved in geekery, but there did seem to be a more visible and (this is important) relaxed quotient of LGBT attendees. And that’s fantastic.
There have also been events addressing race issues, and, again, a greater diversity of race, both in attendees and panellists. I’ve seen very few all white panels, and both the New Voices events I attended for debut authors contained a diversity of race and gender and cultural background that I, as both reader and writer, was grateful for. Some of the most interesting readings were from people of colour coming at genre fiction from different angles than mainstream white Anglo-American specfic.
These things might seem poe-faced matters to those who are privileged to enjoy cons without facing the issues some of the rest of us geeks face, but it’s not just about addressing and airing serious issues. Because by addressing and airing the serious issues it’s made the whole of the rest of the con that much more open, relaxed, and enjoyable. I thought I’ve felt geek circles to be welcoming and progressive in the past, but in the context of the experience I’ve had here, those experiences seem pale and fraught and tense. This is how you use geekery to set enthusiasm free. This is how you get all manner of geeks to feel comfortable getting to know strange people and having fun.
And coming from that I have to thank the people who have made the experience better for me on a personal level. My internet friends, Amanda Rutter, Anne Lyle, Jennifer Williams, Doug Strider, Chris Brosnahan, and Liz de Jager, who welcomed me into their midst on Friday evening when I was feeling left out and lonely because I’d come to the con by myself. My old friend, Jo Oldham, who I hadn’t seen in years and who introduced me to her new friends late on Saturday night; and Dave Tallerman, who I caught up with on Sunday. New friends I’ve made this weekend (most of whose names I am ashamed to say I have forgotten in con-overload) like Becky Austin, the best Buffy cosplayer I have ever seen, and her friends who I joined in the ‘Once More with Feeling’ sing-along, and who welcomed me without hesitation when I asked if I could be Tara in their planned live action ‘Once More, with Feeling’ at next year’s con.
And whilst I’m here, I want to thank everyone involved in the Buffy and Doctor Horrible Sing-Alongs on Saturday and Sunday night, especially our fantastic pianist, David Merriman. Someone did get a complete video of the Doctor Horrible one (complete with spontaneous re-enactment of the Town Hall scene, including two excellent Doctor Horrible cosplays), and if she gets permission from everyone involved to share it on YouTube, I’ll share that with you guys, too, because, damn, that was a very special experience.
Overall, there was just such an incredible atmosphere of inclusivity at Nine Worlds. So that, yeah, I want to tell you that I cosplayed Daenerys and people liked my wig, and the programme was full of more varied and wonderful things than I could actually go to, and I got a signed photo of Miltos and he was lovely and he kissed my hand. And I want to tell you the minor gripes: that the dealers room wasn’t that impressive and that lack of free wifi in the main hotel was a definite bummer. But mostly I just want to say: go to Nine Worlds next year. You haven’t been to a con like it and you’ll be missing out if you don’t.