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.




18 thoughts on “On Bad Cons & How You Kill An Event in Advance

  1. Reblogged this on Sheryl Nantus and commented:
    I’ve attended a lot of cons in my 50+ years on this earth. Most of them up in Canada and a few down here in the US and I’ve seen them come and go, some swallowed up by larger cons and others… just fading away.
    Wise words to those attending conventions and those working on the organizing committees for any convention. Stop, look around and see if you’re the problem, not the solution.

  2. There are cons which are 50 years old and going strong. They all have people in their 20s on their concoms. Tracks for teenagers. Anti-harassment policies.

    Just like you said.

  3. Thank you for speaking out. Being on staff for a smallish con, I know that we try really hard to do things Right(tm). We have good and long-standing policies. They do get enforced. Yes, we can always do better, and sometimes there are problems. However, I can’t for the life of me imagine *anyone* doing anything even remotely like the things that that con did. As a white woman, I have little experience with harrassment like that, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like. Thank you for speaking out, and speaking up.

  4. Your points on Cons are extremely important. Cons need to be aware of, sensitive to, and have protocols in place to effectively handle issues of harassment. Cons also need to evolve with the changing interests of new attendees.

    But just a small note – If you are referring to ConQuest in the Bay Area (Fremont, Labor Day Weekend) – it is not happening this year because our hotel contract expired, and we could not find a hotel with rates our attendees can afford. We have grown steadily for last several years, and to my knowledge as a Con staff member, we have never had a problem with harassment of any guest or attendee that did not get effectively handled.

    Putting a reference to ConQuest at the lead of your post suggests that we are a ‘hot mess’ and I don’t believe we are. If there is a specific incident you are aware of, I would appreciate a private message so that I can direct it to the appropriate Convention staff.

    1. Gah!! Bad Brain — I’m referring to an entirely different convention as well… is there a way to delete my comment, as it is irrelevant (except for the very first part supporting your post and expressing outrage at the treatment of ConQuesT’s guests!

  5. I’ve been a part of conventions for many years. As the numbers have grown large, attitudes from real life creep in. There’s a ugly reality that comes wth events with tens of thousands of people, and a convention can ignore that or they can be proactive. The majority of times, oppression is not deliberate, as in accessibility for disabled attendees and panelists. Sometimes it can be, as in with bullying about cosplaying or a morning DJ doing a live broadcast with transphobic slurs.

    SF/F conventions have an educational role since their very beginning and long been places that promote acceptance. Acceptance is cannon in the majority of SF/F literature. I was fortunate to learn this history from someone who was around for the Golden Age of fandom. In his name and for those who have experienced difficulty attending conventions, I helped create the Diversity Lounge at Phoenix Comicon 2 years ago. Our goal is to create a warm, welcoming space for all those who have need of it. We encourage people to draw, write and we make a street art wall. We also put up inspirational quotes from historical figures. We’ve shown videos spotlighting POC, PWDs, LGBTQIA folks doing great things in fandom. The first year, we had 400 people visit the Lounge. Last year, it was over 1200.

    I got the idea about doing a Diversity Lounge from PAX East, and changed it up a bit as theirs was heavily LGBTQIA. I am disabled and trans, so I thought a Diversity Lounge needed to be intersectional above all else. I think we also have a role to play about promoting the inclusion of more diverse staff, panelists and volunteers at conventions.

    I completely understand your desire to want to boycott a convention that has caused you and others so much pain. I am sharing my story because down the road, you or someone else might want to give this a try.

  6. Thanks for writing this. I took a break from going to cons when I became more active in the Pagan community, but now Pagan groups are running into similar issues with our conventions and festivals. Same issues of harassment being swept under the rug. There are some Pagan events that are adapting practices and policies, some directly pulling from safety/anti-harassment policies from SF/F cons, but it’s a long road and there’s still a lot of resistance. I hope that more posts like this make it clear that things do need to change. Just because someone’s famous/old guard/popular doesn’t make it ok for them to behave badly.

  7. Reblogged this on Shauna Aura Knight and commented:
    Excellent article. While it focuses on scifi/fantasy/fandom, it’s very much applicable to the Pagan community. While there aren’t hundreds of hotel conventions for Pagans, we do have a few of them, and we have numerous festivals of various sizes. Harassment is often tolerated at these just as it is in fandom.
    The day is going to come sooner rather than later where I will *not* participate in any event that does not have (and enforce) a safety/anti harassment policy

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