On Bad Cons & How You Kill An Event in Advance

So, I wasn’t going to bother with a formal response about the events at ConQuesT. I’ve never been, I probably won’t be going either. Not just because of the most recent hot mess, but because overwhelmingly con culture is a hot mess. And yeah, some people are trying to fix it. But as I watch people attempt to defend white women sexually harassing men of color…I feel like we’ve hit a point that demands an honest conversation about what’s really happening to cons. It’s not the aging of fandom (young fans are created every day, and I promise you they love to get together), it’s not political correctness run amok (hi, taking off your pants and rubbing against people without consent isn’t okay, neither is referring to Black people as sexy chocolate and licking your lips), it’s a fundamental belief that marginalized people don’t have a right to be treated like people.

It’s not an accident that these stories keep happening. Or that people who attempt to correct bad behavior are lambasted for doing wild things like banning people who harass other attendees. There’s some bizarre assumption that just because someone has been going to a con for a long time and behaving badly, newcomers should adjust to that bad behavior, not call it out. Well…that’s not how this works, that’s not how anything works. Cons aren’t gifts to new fans. They are a commercial venture, a party that new attendees pay for in cash and often in unpaid work. Like explaining to the people who have let a missing stair (or a whole flight of missing stairs) run amok that no, fans don’t have to pay for the dubious privilege of being harassed, demeaned or fetishized. Cons seems to think that marginalized people need them & the truth is cons need access to those communities to maintain their attendee rate.

I get invited to a lot of cons that have a diversity problem. I also get a lot of requests from cons that claim to want to create anti harassment policies. Aside from my feelings on an expectation that I donate hours of work to strangers for events I have no interest in attending, there’s the sad reality that many small cons are so entrenched on reinventing the wheel they’ve missed the window to do better. Younger fans, fans of color, disabled fans…they don’t have to keep going to cons that aren’t welcoming to be able to connect with other fans. They can go to the big commercial cons, to the smaller cons that do get it & to social media for their community needs. So no, they won’t keep giving cons with bad reps chance after chance. They won’t be patient with serial offenders or the places that enable them. Why should they donate that time & energy to some place that doesn’t want them, that thinks they deserve to be hazed, deserve to be mistreated in order to prove something to bigots?

Bluntly? Most small cons will age out of existence because of bad behavior, because of a focus on the past that prioritizes the social mores of the dead over the actual experiences of the living. Yeah, in 1974 maybe So and So was really progressive compared to the KKK. That’s nice. So and So is still a bigot in 2016. A loud bigot who is prioritized over younger fans. Fans who will take their money and their energy somewhere else. To major cons run by corporations, to create their own cons that won’t look anything like the ones that made them feel unsafe, unwanted & uninterested. Small cons are cutting their own throats when they decide that rather than listen to new paying guests, they should cater to the bad actors they already know.

Your con is going under and you can’t figure out why the kids today won’t attend, won’t volunteer, won’t put up with the bullshit? The answer isn’t that they are lazy, oversensitive or whatever other excuses you might be making. The answer is that your con sucks, it’s full of adults who skipped all those kindergarten lessons about not touching strangers, not calling people names, not expecting people to be your friend when you’re not a friend to them. And now, as you con runners sit around trying to figure out what went wrong, you’re seeing other cons…cons where young people might have staged coups or created new cons entirely prosper. The secret, the big amazing secret to their success is that they did all those things you’re complaining are too hard. They made their spaces accessible, set explicit standards for behavior, and they didn’t invite you. That’s not disrespect, that’s not forgetting history, that’s solving a problem in advance by not perpetuating it. Try that & maybe your con won’t go under.