Saving WisCon and Other Myths (my post con chair report)

WisCon 39 happened this weekend. I co chaired with Levi & we made a bunch of changes with the help of an amazing team of people. And I heard that we saved WisCon. I have a hard time with that idea because I don’t think WisCon was ever in danger of ending. I think it was in danger of drastic changes in one of two directions. Do I like the direction it went? Yes. My goal when I agreed to co chair was that we would make WisCon a safer space for the most marginalized members of the community. I think we accomplished the first steps of reaching that goal.

I am 100% certain it was imperfect & that we could have done many things better. This year was always (in my mind anyway) going to be the transition year where we had to learn old processes, improve some processes, and in some cases come up with new processes. Some people left, and new people came aboard. That is the nature of any long running annual event. Personally, I hope to make every position on the convention committee accessible to anyone who wants to do the work. We are all replaceable or should be when it comes to these kinds of events. No community event should hinge on the participation of one person, or one set of people. That way lies burnout.

We made some decisions that aren’t going to be popular. But you know, that’s life. You can’t please all of the people any of the time. Some people will likely not return to WisCon, and that’s their right. Some new people will be coming to WisCon, others who had left are now announcing their plans to return. That too is life. WisCon is changing. WisCon will always be changing. That’s not about destruction, that is just growth. Sometimes painful, often messy, and thoroughly inconvenient.

Despite the hype, decisions at WisCon remain community decisions. It’s just a question of the demographics of the community changing. Is fandom still the last refuge for outsiders from the mainstream? Well to be honest…no. Because fandom is mainstream. When we power whole industries, and are a demographic that is often courted as a financial and social force we have to let go of the myth that enjoying speculative fiction makes us outsiders. We have to stop pretending that being fen means we can’t set any boundaries with anyone in our community. Our community is global, and in order for it to be inclusive we have to learn to navigate that space, not the one of yesteryear that came about during and after Jim Crow laws in America. Part of having an integrated inclusive community is recognizing there is no hierarchy of who gets to be treated as human.

Yes, fandom spaces are not courthouses or governments. Conventions are essentially private parties with really large flexible guest lists, and many many things cannot be regulated in house. But…many things can be, and in order to make conventions like WisCon sustainable over time, one of the ways to regulate behavior is to set up clearly written community guidelines, create mechanisms to enforce them, and then for the community to hold members accountable. That too is messy, awkward, and often emotionally fraught. Because community health (like any relationship) requires a lot of work.

WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci fi con. And feminism keeps evolving. So too does sci fi. And so WisCon itself must evolve. It may not go in a direction everyone likes, but then that was always the case. The key to being a part of WisCon’s future isn’t towing some imaginary unknowable line, it is treating everyone with a basic modicum of respect, displaying some form of common sense about behavior in public spaces, and knowing that other people have a right to say no, to set a boundary, or to consent as it suits them. That’s a far cry from the draconian reputation being given to anti abuse/harassment policies. It’s not that you can’t talk to people, it’s that you can’t treat them like they aren’t human and expect that to be accepted.

We are a community that is learning to work together in new, and sometimes exciting ways. This is hard work, it will be hard work, but the potential results are worth it. WisCon is getting some much needed shaking up, and in twenty years as whoever is chairing gears up for WisCon 60, I hope they can look back as I do, and be grateful to their predecessors as well as aware of all the work that lies ahead. Thank you WisCon community for giving us something to fight for, for supporting us when times were hard, and for partying with us when times are good. We made it. Now we just have to keep moving forward. I am honored to have apparently been your first chair who is a Black woman. We’ve come a long way in 40 years.