Here's how it works: I'm shy. I think a lot of people in fandom are shy. I am an extrovert, though, and I love being around people once I feel comfortable around them. I also have a history of bad experiences with men that goes back pretty far and gets pretty gross and awful. So the thing that can dampen any social experience for me faster than anything is guy skeeving on me.
I have mixed feelings about cons. I have never been to a con where a man has not tried to hit on me, touch me inappropriately, take my photo, or otherwise interfere with my space without my consent. I got to New York Comic-Con every year for work, but apart from that, I really pretty much avoid con spaces. Well, that and MoCCAFest, but I don't consider MoCCAFest a con in the traditional sense as it's really not a fandom-related event and doesn't attract the same kind of crowd. Even with MoCCAFest, though, some wonderful women started DDLL to create a safer space because the social culture around MoCCA wasn't safe, and I've been a very big proponent of DDLL since its inception.
I went to Readercon for the first time last year, and had, well, mixed feelings about it, too. I had some interactions that left me uncomfortable. None of them were bad enough for me to feel like I was actively being harassed, but certainly felt like there was a lack of respect for my space. I also felt like a lot of the panels included panelists who didn't know a lot about perspectives outside of their own talking over people whose perspectives were different and often from more traditionally outlying, othered, or silenced experiences. So while there were a lot of panels on topics I was interested, I didn't really enjoy going to them and seeing people be so dismissive of experiences they weren't familiar with.
I knew a lot of effort has been made in the past year to make Readercon into a safer space, and I very much wanted to support my friends who've worked to make that happen. But Readercon was happening when I thought I might be having to look for a new apartment, so I'd declined to go after all.
Circumstances (including signing a lease) made it not only possible but also preferable for this weekend. And ta-da, I was there. With some apprehension, because I was concerned that even WITH the effort put in, I might not feel super comfortable there.
I decided to make an effort to go to any programming about safety and about the issues that were important to me: gender politics in particular. I also had a bit of a conflict when I tried to decide what sort of clothing to pack. Those of you who know me know that I am the girliest girl ever to girl, and that I tend to dress in the sort of clothing that certain people feel they have a prerogative to comment upon. Which I wear because they make me feel more confident about myself, after years of wearing clothing that hid my body because I was trying to avoid unwanted attention, and realized that that didn't actually work. I wasn't sure if I wanted to dress that way this year.
I decided to suck it up and dress the way I wanted to dress. Visible bra straps, short skirts, transparent fabrics, the heck with it. Because part of making a place into a safer space is about behaving as if I can confidently feel safe in that space. If I couldn't, then it wouldn't be true.
I got many compliments on my clothing. I did not have a single person make any kind of unwanted, creepy, skeevy sort of comment to me the entire weekend.
You have no idea how happy that makes me, and how much more I feel as if Readercon is the sort of event I want to go back to after that.
I thought the programming was great. I saw a lot less fail and a lot more listening and sharing of experiences. I did see one panel where I felt that someone who was talking about non-gender-conforming experiences was talked over by another panelist, and I had some objections to the way some panelists talked about sex in the panel on teen sexuality and violence in YA, because there seemed to be this idea about "straight sex" as PIV sex and "gay sex" as anal sex that seemed oversimplified and missed the point for me a bit, especially in terms of teen exploration of sexuality. I saw some offensive and problematic questions from audience members, but this year, I felt that most of the panelists fielding such questions handled them with decency and aplomb.
I also saw some truly great panels. The panels on safety were all wonderful and brought up interesting concepts and subjects. The panel on character trauma was deeply intense for me in a way where I nearly felt like leaving the room-- not because it was full of fail, which is usually the only reason I feel like a need to leave a room-- but because the panelists were all speaking so well and in ways that really struck a deep chord with my own personal experiences. While last year, I ended up in several panels where I shifted uncomfortably in my chair for the duration, I didn't feel that way once this year-- certain panels were better than others, but none felt like a waste of time.
I think the one thing I would have liked more of from this convention is a way to meet and get to know people outside of my relatively small social circle. I certainly met new people whom my friends introduced me to, but it doesn't seem as if programming really has much in the way of events focused on creating and building community-- which I think can help foster safer environments just by bringing people together and making for a stronger sense of belonging. For a community where so many people are shy and/or introverted, giving people more opportunities to get to know people outside of a very very large "Meet the Prose" event that is crowded and overwhelming even for someone as extroverted as I am would be nice.
I wanted to address one thing that came up during the feedback panel: The idea that it's insulting to women to try to educate people about safety.
This is bullshit. Yes, I know how to take care of myself. But sometimes I can't. Sometimes I don't have the emotional ability, and sometimes men are bigger and persistent and scary. So while yes, I can take care of myself, it's insulting to suggest that I should have to. I shouldn't have to. I should feel safe and comfortable anywhere and everywhere I go, and not have to deal with uninvited attention.
On one of the safety panels, someone was talking about how they had heard a comment about "communities of last resort." The idea (which the panelist disagreed with) was that fandom tends to be a "sanctuary" for people who don't fit in anywhere else, and it's therefore cruel or unkind to exclude someone from a fandom event because they have nowhere else to go.
I disagree. I came to fandom because I chose fandom. I came to fandom because I love stories. I have lots of places I can go, and one thing that has always saddened me about fandom is that so many of the fannish spaces are places where I feel unwelcome because of this attitude that they must be welcoming to people who are not welcome elsewhere. And that sucks, because I want to know and spend time with other people who love stories.
I've been excluded from things, or made to feel as if I'm not as good at things, because of parts of my identity that I didn't choose. I've had friends excluded from things. I am sure there are potential friends I've never met because they felt excluded, because the group they wanted to be so much a part of put a premium on including a person who chose to indulge in behavior that made them feel uncomfortable.
So I want to say this: communities should strive to be communities full of people who want to be there, who choose to be there, of the best and the brightest and the most interesting, people who want to share with and learn from each other. Communities should strive to attract, not to be a catch-all for people who are coming there as a last resort. After all, what makes communities thrive is a shared sense of knowing that everyone who is there chose to be part of it, not because they're settling for what was handed them, and the people who are the most likely to work the hardest for a community are the ones who want to be there most of all.
I'm excited at the prospect that this might be shaping into a community of first choice instead of a community of last resort.