Monday, November 5, 2018

Feminist Futures: WisCon and Me

Let me set a scene for you. May 2014, and I have just started getting seriously into SFF in all the wrongest ways. And look, I’d love to go to conventions, have been looking for some around where I live (Western Wisconsin), and hear about WisCon. And it sounds amazing. Small and affordable and lots to see and do. Now let me reiterate, I have very little experience with SFF fandom, am not even on Twitter at this point, and my greatest sources of information on SFF are...well, shall we just say not exactly reliable (I am told repeatedly that WisCon is terrible and makes men feel unsafe).

All of this also means that I wasn’t aware of the crisis at the heart of the WisCon, and one that sort of exploded in and around WisCon 38. It’s a hell of a time to have my first ever convention. But listen. The guest of honors are Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin. I get some of their books ahead of time to prep. I read The Killing Moon. People, that book changes me.

Let me reach back a bit more. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, affluent and sheltered. My reading consisted of almost entirely straight white men. I read the entire Wheel of Time series every time a new book came out. I read the Legends anthology and see no lack in its table of contents. At this point I’m still fairly convinced (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary) that I am your average straight cis dude. That’s about to change.

WisCon is energy. It’s learning. And it doesn’t really hide anything. At that first WisCon I listen while people talk about consent, about race, about queerness, about SFF in ways that I have never encountered before. I listen. I keep listening. I don’t think I talk to a single other person during WisCon 38, except to blushingly thank N.K. Jemisin as she signs my copy of Circlet’s Fantastic Erotica (I told you there was evidence). But still, the experience is transformative. It opens my eyes not just to work within SFF that I had been wholly ignorant of, it also prompts me to introspect and examine myself and start actually working through my feelings and identity. I think I can safely say without WisCon, I would be a very different person.

And at the same time, the convention is dealing with harassment and a huge failure to protect attendees. The convention seems to be stuck at a crossroads of sorts, one where it can refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing and one where it can own up to it and do better. I like to think that it chose the second path. Because as I have returned to WisCon year after year, I have noticed only a better and better convention and conversation, one that in large part checks the 101 at the door and really digs into issues and discussions that I don’t really hear talked about anywhere else. And as the convention has moved forward, louder have been the voices claiming the convention too quick to respond to criticism, too receptive to complaints of harassment. Which seems to indicate to me at least that they’re doing something right.

Historically, WisCon has tried to inhabit the space where feminism and SFF intersect. Through its work to organize the convention and the Tiptree Award, the convention has consistently brought a needed light to issues within SFF that are often overlooked or suppressed. This, even as Wisconsin itself has turned its back on a lot of the liberal ideas that helped to birth the convention, even as much of the country has embraced a politics and rhetoric that are unafraid to call any attempt to foster inclusion intolerant, sexist, and racist (for not catering first and most to white straight cis men, basically). In practice, it has been a bumpy road, but one that I think WisCon is dedicated to seeing through. From its policy changes to its guests of honor to its wide range of programming and events, I continue to see improvements and a genuine desire to build a convention that is welcoming and enriching.

For me, WisCon has been an introduction into so much. And as I’ve attended, I’ve grown and learned. As a reader and writer. As a fan. And as a person. I doubt, in that, I am alone. When I first attended, WisCon was a revelation. It was getting to hear K. Tempest Bradford talk in person, which in turn led me to her Reading Challenge, which then led me to completely rethinking my reading habits. It was getting to hear Hiromi Goto’s guest of honor speech, and being floored by it. It was getting to hear every subsequent guest of honor speech, and be moved to tears, or to action. I’ve met friends, and even made some. I’ve been on programming, and gotten to talk about reviewing, yeah, but also about representation, masculinity, and my love of Garak.

I cannot separate out my personal journey that started at WisCon from how I think of the convention. So if you’re looking for an objective source of information, I’m probably not it. But it’s still the one convention I try to make no matter what. The one convention I would choose to attend each year (which is lucky because it’s just about the only one I can afford). I will not try to deny that for many WisCon has failed them, has hurt them, and I can only hope that the convention has truly learned from its mistakes and failures, and will continue to lead the charge for inclusive feminism in SFF.

For those who want to know more about the convention, check out its website here.

For those who want to know more about the issues with the convention, google is your friend, but there’s plenty of info and links here.


POSTED BY: Charles, avid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor (now at-large) to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.