Making change and turning heads at C2E2

Two years ago, I went to my first C2E2. It was a turning point for me, for though I’d been obsessed with geeky things for years, I had just begun to call myself a geek, and to discover that there was a much larger community out there than I ever knew about. When I arrived on the show floor, it was like I’d found my family. I attended a brilliant panel called The Geek Girl and the Artist, where I heard the experiences of other intelligent, enthusiastic women who loved the same things I did, talking about how they had faced opposition and sexism from men. I was enthralled, inspired, and felt like I was part of something. And then, dressed in a TARDIS sari, I marched straight up the moderator. She told me how awesome my cosplay was. I told her how inspirational her panel was. I think it’s fair to say that my friendship with Michi Trota took off from there. 

Last weekend, it became quite apparent that our ship has not sailed. On the contrary, our ship has taken off, and is now blasting through the stratosphere out into space. Because this C2E2 was a resounding success in so many ways. Let's take a look at all of them. 

Some Amazing Folks Threw Out the Key to the Clubhouse Door

If you didn’t go to this panel on Friday evening (and there were definitely some seats to fill), you missed out, big time. My friend Michi Trota recruited an all-star cast: Jeff Smith, president of CNSC, moderated, and the lineup featured Michi; Karlyn Meyer, the stellar articulate lawyer; Mary Anne Mohanraj, a terrific writer, editor, and founder of the Speculative Literature Association ; Mary Robinette Kowal, who writes Regency fantasy and is my new best friend; Scott Snyder, known for his excellent comics and his willingness to be an ally; and Gail Simone, who is just made of awesome. 

 L to R: Michi Trota, Gail Simone, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Snyder, Karlyn Meyer, Jeff Smith. 

L to R: Michi Trota, Gail Simone, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Snyder, Karlyn Meyer, Jeff Smith. 

There was lots of talk of being a nonwhite hetero cis male creator, and the battles you have to be prepared to fight. Gail Simone talked about her entrance into the industry many years ago, and the level to which the executives didn't know their female readership, and didn't care. And even as she became successful, some guys still wanted to “deny the reality that's right in front of them--so you have to burn down the gates.”

There was talk of writing diverse characters, and nearly everyone pointed out that writing white men was not the “natural” way to go about things. It was a learned default. As Gail said, it has been years of creators making “conscious decisions. Are we writing another white character? You’ve got to decide to break it.” Of course, you want to write those characters for the correct reasons, not for tokenism. But Mary Anne cautioned against stopping writing those characters whose lived experience a writer is not intimately familiar with, and urged us to go beyond our comfort zone. We should do our 101 research, and then go for it. Show it to someone whose experience is similar to the character and see what we are missing. And to know that we all screw up, and “when your friend screws up--just think of this analogy--would you tell them if they had a booger in their nose?” quipped Mary Anne. 

A good portion of the panel was spent on harassment and rape threats, both online and off, of female fans and creators. Anti-harassment policies were applauded, the power of allies was to do good touted, and the need for us to publicize the things we’re going through was shown. And then the floor was opened for questions, and an interesting phenomenon occurred: two men stood up to ask questions give long rambling comments. Apart from it being bad form to monopolize others time at a public panel, these statements were so incredibly centered around them and their male privilege that it made me want to hit something. One guy asked for a cookie for being attracted to trans* individuals. The other guy was angry we didn’t talk about how men get raped as well. 

I won’t rehash the whole thing, because Caitlin Roguesberg has written a great article on Jezebel’s Powder Room about it. Suffice it to say that these comments were both versions of “But what about teh menz!” The conversation was about rape threats and harassment towards women, and having two men beg for themselves to be included in the conversation was a) unacceptable and b) complete derailment and silencing. First of all, allies do not get cookies just for being allies. Second of all, though men do get raped and there are problems with our society’s lack of recognition of that fact, we were talking about rape threats as a form of silencing women--and this guy’s attempt to bring it back to men proves the necessity of the conversation in itself--because rape threats are a very particular form of gendered violence that men do not get. Only those with feminine-sounding names or usernames do, whether that is in gaming chatrooms or comments on articles or even hate mail towards comics writers. Put simply--we’re not talking about you. Sit down and shut up.

We Pointed Out the Missing Stair, and People Loved Us For It

We branched out this year, and I think our title does a good job of showcasing that. The Fake Geek Girl crisis is (mostly) winding down for those people immersed in fandom, and more discussions of gatekeeping as a general phenomenon are taking place. But glass ceilings are still present. Creepers are still treated as the missing stair for people “in the know.” Rape threats still occur at an alarming rate. Harassment happens daily. It’s time we fixed this shit.  

 Isabel Schechter, Caryle Frank, Sooshe Bot, Kate Lansky, myself, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon. 

Isabel Schechter, Caryle Frank, Sooshe Bot, Kate Lansky, myself, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon. 

And people agree with us. Thankfully, C2E2 granted us a much bigger panel room this year--and we still filled it, and turned away some people who wanted to get in! That alone makes me immensely pleased. As much as we are still held by the impostor syndrome, the attendees of C2E2 think we have something to say--and that is so incredibly validating, to us as people, and to these arguments for inclusion and justice as a whole. 

This issue has gotten more attention and more space every year, and it’s so thrilling to us to see that. It’s now getting noticed by mainstream media--NPR recently wrote an article on gaming while female, and The Guardian has pointed out that if you say “But Teh Menz” well then, you’re not actually a feminist. So move on. So if you came to the panel, thank you so much. We are only here, and continuing to do this, because of our audiences. We got some great press this year, from the blogs Nerditis, Next Dark Age by Anne K Bradley, and Playing, With Research  by CarrieLynn D Reinhard. And the biggest surprise was that the Chicago Tribune’s Cheryl Jackson covered us for BlueSky business section!

 I believe here we were laughing at the Sexy Lamp Test. L to R: Sooshe Bot, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon, myself, Caryle Frank, Kate Lansky. Photo by Paul Callan. 

I believe here we were laughing at the Sexy Lamp Test. L to R: Sooshe Bot, Tippy Tipton, Michi Trota, Dawn Xiana Moon, myself, Caryle Frank, Kate Lansky. Photo by Paul Callan. 

We had a grand old time, talking about experiences of sexism and gatekeeping, problems of authenticity and gender representation, and of solutions and things allies could do. Tippy got off some wonderful quotes, we got introduced by an audience member to the Sexy Lamp Test, and talked about how awesome anti-harassment policies are. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and we hope you did too. Expect to see us back again soon, most likely (though unofficially) at Wizard World in August.

Artists Are Beautiful People

I made a conscious decision to buy almost all original designs this year, and it was a terriffic choice. I bought another beautiful, one-of-a-kind necklace from Sparkle! Designs, a Georgia-based geeky jewelry store that’s been doing the convention rounds. I got a “We Are All Wonder Woman” necklace, courtesy of the Satrun Twins. And I spent quite a bit of time lingering near Karen Hallion’s booth, the artist responsible for all the beautiful Disney/TARDIS mashups, before I finally bought a print and some buttons. The best thing about buying from creators? You get to ogle their works and then tell them how much you love them.

I Will Never Be Too Old To Cosplay

It is not my first time in costume. But it was the first time I started to feel something pretty powerful: on Friday and Saturday, it felt like those in cosplay outnumbered those who weren’t. Now, I say this with no authority or official numbers. But more and more of us are rejecting the idea that dressing up is just for kids, and we’re jumping into it with all the fun and time and money we can. And there’s nothing like walking around the floor and getting compliments and pictures taken of you. 

On Saturday, I premiered my genderbent Bilbo Baggins. I was particularly proud of it because I’d gotten no outside sewing help. Every stitch, drop of dye, and dab of paint was my own. I needed no wig, no shoes, and my height was an advantage. And to make the ensemble even more perfect, my friend Renee was a particularly fierce Thorin Oakenshield. Photo by Andreas Schneider. 

Sunday I was Merida, and Kids’ Day is always a great day to be a Disney princess--there's a neverending stream of young children who want to pose with you. Photo by Andreas Schneider 

These Are My People, and They're Multiplying

Some people dislike big cons like C2E2 for being too crowded, too big, or too dominated by first time convention goers. But that's exactly why I love it. We need entry points into the fandom, places where pop culture and comics and sci-fi blur together, places where newcomers can feel at ease and not judged for their lack of knowledge and experience. Because that's how I got into it. And every year, more people keep coming. 

At my first con, I felt like I had discovered a whole new world. Well, now it's not a new world. I'm slowly making it my world. I know people, from friends to panelists to authors to random attendees. I feel at home on the floor, in panels, and everywhere else. Fandom has a lot of problems of exclusion, and those have hindered my enjoyment of it sometimes. But that is changing, and we are making that change happen.

Of course, there is still work to be done. There are still things that make me mad--the horrible essentialist experience that--from what I heard secondhand--was the Genre Feminism or Fierce Females in Comics panels, for example. Or the fact that Jen Cross' panel proposal on being a black nerd woman was ignored and then rejected by ReedPOP with the transparent lie that it just wasn't quality enough. It's infuriating. But we're getting there. And we won't settle. We'll make it there. 

Many thanks to all the audience members who came to our panels, to the panelists who gave their voices to these events, and to Isabel Schechter who live-tweeted the Friday panel and saved the most delicious gems. But most of all, a thousand thanks to Michi Trota. She made this all happen.