WisCon 40 Highs, Lows, & What The Actual F*ck?

I had really grand plans to be lazy at WiscCon this year. I totally failed on that front. I planned to do 2 panels and a party. I actually taught a Writers Workshop, did 4 panels, a party, and helped cook 50 lbs of beef for Saturday’s lunch, as well as help with logistics for Friday night’s dinner in the Con Suite. Oh & I recorded some things for two Kickstarters that are happening. Most of that list was great fun. Actually, even the prepping of the beef was okay (albeit a lot of work) because I was doing it with some of my favorite people. As always I enjoyed most of WisCon. I have some great friends, the Guests of Honor are all wonderful people, and over the last several years I have volunteered enough to know how the proverbial sausage gets made. The highs are pretty high which is why I keep going back to WisCon.

The lows…well, nothing is perfect. There was a minor hiccup with the hotel & billing (resolved easily enough), some mundane annoyance with my key card (which might just be a me thing, I killed two of them this weekend), and we got mild food poisoning from a place just off the square on Thursday. Also someone’s cigarette indoors habit made my allergies act up a bit one day. All minor, all normal. I mention the imperfections that can happen to anyone on any trip for a reason. You’ll see why in a second.

That brings me to the “WTAF?” part of this post. We’re going to start with the Con Suite. Because I made the actual beef for it, and because it is an exceptionally glaring example of an overarching problem. Time & time again I saw people come in, take umbrage that a place staffed by volunteers serving free food had imperfect service. Not dangerous service, not unhealthy (AFAIK no one got food poisoning which I did from a place where I actually paid for the food), just imperfect. Because a delivery didn’t show up on time the menus had to be shifted around. Because two of the aging fridges went out food was in shorter supply than expected. Because there weren’t enough volunteers actually willing to show up & work when scheduled some things took longer than expected. You know..normal things that can go wrong at any event.

Now, there are a lot of theories about the entitled attitudes on display from some con attendees. Some of it was definitely about race & gender (funnily enough all the Black women serving in the con suite that I know have similar stories about rudeness despite being there on different days, I didn’t get a chance to check in with other POC, but I have some guesses based off stories relayed to me), some of it was about bizarre expectations and a total lack of home training (possibly related to reason #1) but at base none of it was okay. Here is where I remind you that Julia, the con suite chair pays for a flight & hotel from Boston to Madison to spend an entire weekend volunteering. To feed hundreds of strangers three meals and unlimited snacks every day. Here is where I remind you that con suite staff are all volunteers. Here is where I ask you why a con that prides itself on being at a union hotel can’t remember to treat volunteers like people.

Mind you, I’m not totally surprised. The Concourse staff is heavily POC (particularly in housekeeping) and every year there are some…issues with the way they are treated. And people frequently lose the knowledge that housekeeping staff work very hard for relatively low wages and should be treated with respect, courtesy, and frankly they should be tipped. Just like the wait staff, the bartenders, etc. WisCon has a lot of panels on class & race (there was one this year that I was on with Nisi Shawl & Na’amen Tilahun that discussed the intersection of the two) so you would think most attendees at an explicitly feminist science fiction would have figure out appropriate behavior by now. Apparently not, so let’s get really clear because while the official con post will probably say this kindly, I want it to be said directly. You’re not less racist because you only treat Black people in lower income communities poorly. Your class politics aren’t great because you are only disrespectful to volunteers.

And while I’m at it, let me hit one more note about some of the aggression that was aimed at the POC Safer Space & at the DDP Yoga/Dance Party that I ran this weekend with some other WOC. There seems to be some idea that if the POC attendees and volunteers at WisCon don’t go out  of their way to make white people feel comfortable then they are being hostile. Someone lied to you when they told you that paying attendees are required to bend over backwards to coddle your unexamined internalized racism. That’s a personal problem. Do non white communities engage with each other in ways that might not center whiteness? Yes. Often. Pretty much always. And here’s the funny thing, plenty of white people at WisCon do understand that. They came to the DDP Yoga Party, they supported the POC Safer Space in word & deed, and they spoke up in support of the volunteers of color in the Con Suite. This is not about them.

This is about the people who were offended that the Floomp wasn’t the only dance party, that the music in the party hosted by WOC was largely music made by, and about POC. Yes you heard hip hop that wasn’t filtered through Clear Channel. Yes, you saw Black women dancing with each other, yes you saw interracial couples that didn’t include a single white person dancing with each other, yes it was not about you or your comfort. That’s life. Toughen up buttercup. WisCon is changing, and the mothers of children of color who don’t bring their kids to the con (hello, many of us have Black & Brown kids that would not be viewed as harmless if they were roaming the hotel unsupervised) are busy carving out a space via our money and our labor that celebrates the kind of feminism that we need for survival. We are working in concert with people who have chosen not to be parents ever, who may not be parents right now, who may be on undecided journeys to build a better future, in this genre that is all about the future. We cover a wide range of experiences and backgrounds, and the thing we have in common is that we want to make WisCon better. Not perfect, just…better. For all of the attendees. Not just a select few.

You might not like what WisCon is becoming now that the people working so hard to make it happen are different from you. You might not like knowing that their first concern isn’t the comfort of people who can’t see them as human or equals. That’s a hard road. It’s your road though, so you walk it. But don’t complain that it “feels unwelcoming” because it is becoming inclusive, and less concerned with the comfort of bigots. With the comfort of people who have been happy to not only excuse abusive behavior, but also to be abusers when it suited them. This isn’t “your” WisCon anymore? Okay. That’s fine, that’s your decision. It’s definitely ours now. We work hard for it every year. You can adapt, evolve and enjoy or you can move the hell on. We probably won’t miss you.