2014’s GeekGirlCon Was a Much-Needed Home For Diverse Geeks
When I got back from my fourth GeekGirlCon, held this past weekend in Seattle, I couldn’t help but feel a little lonely. While other Canadians were celebrating Thanksgiving, I was spending time with, in a way, my other family. The one that I’ve seen once a year for the last four years since the GGC started. My people.
Well over 7,000 geeks attended this year’s con, which sold out of passes for the second year. Convention organizers estimate about 40 per cent of attendees were men, and many attendees came with children—more than any other convention I’ve been to. What is it that keeps several thousand geeks coming to a convention where you’re more likely to be challenged to look critically at the media you love than to get your picture taken with the star of your favourite TV series?
For me, it’s about feeling like I belong, along with other geeks of all genders, colors, shapes, and sizes. I’ve been to conventions (like Fan Expo Vancouver) where there are almost no opportunities for fans to lead on-stage discussions or even participate in significant or meaningful ways. GGC is practically the polar opposite of that, and to me, that makes it more consistently interesting.
The first panel I attended this year was called “Feminist Community Building 101,” and it featured Anita Sarkeesian, Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds, Angela Webber of The Doubleclicks, Sheena McNeil of Sequential Tart, and Ashlee Blackwell of Graveyard Shift Sisters.
The panelists talked about the issues that they’re working on and their experience pushing for more diverse, safer geek spaces. Some suggestions for more inclusive spaces included being willing to really listen and reach out meaningfully to people from more marginalized groups, putting “all genders welcome” on posters and advertising, and offering childcare.
“There are so many ways you can affect change. It can be one-on-one. It can be in small communities. It can be offline, and that’s just as valuable,” said Sarkeesian.
My own panel, “A Woman’s Place is on the Bridge: Trek Women in Charge,” took place on Saturday afternoon. My co-panelists Grace Moore of the All Things Trek Podcast, Tanya Feldman from Geekquality, Jamala Henderson (sadly not pictured above), and I got to talk to a room packed with a couple hundred people about depictions of women in authority in Star Trek. We had a blast.
Jamala Henderson also put together my favorite panel of the convention, “Geek Elders Speak,” on Sunday morning. The “geek elders”—Susan R. Matthews, Linda Deneroff, Maggie Nowakowska, and Tish Wells—talked about the changes in fandom since the 1970s, when they first got involved. Not only did they work on some of the earliest Star Trek conventions and sci-fi fanzines, they also challenged gender norms of the time and helped others do the same.
“In the 70s there were a lot of women in fandom who grew up in households where their mother never wrote a cheque. They had no power,” said Nowakowska. She told a story about one woman who wanted to go to conventions, but her husband refused. Eventually he let her go, but only to one, because he refused to fix his own meals for longer than that.
Women didn’t always have power in their homes at the time, but in science fiction conventions, Nowakowska said, “You could really share and help people pull away from the stereotypical expectations.”
The last panel I hit up was “Fatness and Fandom,” moderated by Rachelle Abellar of Pacific Northwest Fattitude. Panelists, including Kim Correa, Sabrina Taylor, Shawna Jaquez, Amber Bushnell, and Uhura Jones, talked about issues faced by fat fans, including a serious lack of geeky merchandise for diverse body types.
“It would be great to—like the rest of you—just go on a website and press a button and have it show up at my house,” said Taylor about how many larger fans have to go searching around for geeky clothing that actually fits and is good quality.
There were a lot of panels that looked amazing but that I didn’t get a chance to check out. “My favorite Panel had to be ‘Queerbating in Genre Television: Representation and Exploitation’,” my friend and first-time GGC-goer Oren Ashkenazi said. “Queerbating is not a topic I know very much about, and as a writer who wants to be inclusive, I don’t want to end up using LGBT characters in an exploitative way by mistake.”
I think the programming focus on fan-led discussions like these lends itself to a friendlier, more collaborative atmosphere. GGC is not the type of con where you’ll overhear cosplayers denounce each other for tiny costume flaws or fans fighting about whether or not someone is a “fake geek girl.”
On the “Fatness and Fandom” panel, Uhura Jones talked about how watching a panel on fatness at a previous GeekGirlCon helped her get over her fear and speak her mind publicly. Likewise, Amber Bushnell said, “Being surrounded by people who look like you and have gone through the same experiences as you… just knowing that you’re not alone is really, really important.”
“The highlight of GeekGirlCon this year was definitely being able to connect with so many awesome fat and geeky women. I’m really impressed with how much body positive programming there was this year. I feel like the treatment of fat people in the geek community is something that isn’t addressed very often, and I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the conversation again,” Rachelle Abellar told me post-panel.
“I think GeekGirlCon is different from other cons because they work extremely hard to ensure that it is a safe space for everyone to be who they are and express themselves without fear of judgment or harassment. What makes GGC different from other cons for me is how welcoming it is—I’ve only ever been to Emerald City Comicon besides this one, but as a trans person I actually felt much more welcome and safe. Will definitely go again next year!” Dakota Sather said.
Outside of the panels, other aspects of GGC keep the open, friendly feeling. The Saturday evening events included a Doubleclicks concert and a live, slightly gender-bent performance of the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” by Outdoor Trek.
The exhibitors hall at GGC is always full of awesome, geeky merch by mainly smaller and local artists and businesses. This year there were tons of indie comics and jewellery available, hand-made Harry Potter-style wands, geeky T-shirts for all body shapes, and four different places you could get geeky nail art done. Some of the most popular items for sale this year—both sold out before I could get my mitts on them—were the cutest-ever custom plush dragons from Skydragons and glowing clip-on cat ears from GeekStar Costuming.
I came home with a wand, a Snitch necklace, and vintage Cyndi Lauper trading cards—souvenirs of a fabulous weekend spent geeking out with passionate, creative people dedicated to celebrating our favorite geek things and working to make our fandoms better.
For everyone who didn’t get a chance to attend GeekGirlCon—or everyone who did, but wants to relive it—here’s some of my favorite cosplay from the con:
Jarrah Hodge is a feminist blogger from Vancouver, B.C. She runs the feminist blog gender-focus.com, and analyzes Star Trek from a feminist perspective at trekkiefeminist.tumblr.com. You can also find her on Twitter @jarrahpenguin.
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