Category Archives: Geekery

How to Con

Last weekend I went to a science fiction/fantasy con that left me with a sour taste in my mouth – and heart. Rather than pick on this particular con, I’m going to just do a write up of things that I think make cons great and welcoming. Mostly I’m going to focus on programming and panels, because this is what I focus on when I go to cons. If you have suggestions for cosplay, gaming, dealers rooms, music/dances, or other events, I would love to hear them. There’s quite a bit available about diversity and inclusivity, and recently there have been discussions about making cons more accessible. There’s also information about harassment policies, which I’m not going to talk about here either.

elevator panel

Panels

Panels are either created by a centralized group who then assigns various attendees to each topic, or they are proposed by participants and then selected by a committee. Either way, here are my recommendations:

Moderators: have ’em.

Since you are going to have a moderator, have them develop questions before the con.
At a bare minimum, have the moderator send their questions to the other panelists before the con, to give everyone time to think about them.
Since your panel is moderated, that means the discussion will be dominated by the panelists, but make sure to leave time at the end for questions front the audience.

Diversity on the panel:
It’s easy to default to asking people you know to do things for you, especially when they aren’t being compensated. Try not to go with the default, which will likely be people who look a lot like you. Stretch yourself. Try to see who you can find that *isn’t* like you: be it gender, sexuality, race, ability, religion, hair color, preference in sushi, etc. I wouldn’t recommend asking someone just for the sake of diversity, which ends up tokenizing, but stretch a little beyond the first people who come to mind (unless of course you are already so awesome and have cultivated these connections already).

I say these things because I have had some great experiences at cons, and I know what’s possible. I want that for everyone. When I look around and see a bunch of people who look like one another and they don’t look like me, I don’t necessarily feel excluded, but I don’t quite feel included either.

In conclusion, spend a little bit of time and effort thinking about the programming and provide guidelines (at a bare minimum – it would be delightful if they were requirements) for the panelists. Cons can be for everyone!

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Slow Steep

I left my notebook with my notes on the last panel from Geek Girl Con at home, so I asked if anyone on Twitter had any topics they wanted to hear me riff on. The lovely Brenna Layne, who has been doing a #HereBeDragons run of late, asked me to write about tea.

My first response was, ME? Write about tea? But I know noooothing. I mean, what about Lauren? She’s so much more knowledgeable. Or all these other people I follow on Twitter. Or the people at Smith Teas. Or Remedy. Or or or …

So I’m going to stop quailing and tell you a few things about me and tea. I am at least an expert on that.

Fudouin in Koya-san - tea service

Brenna asked me how I got into tea. Now I have to dig into the archives. Like many decisions I’ve made, it started as a negative: I didn’t like coffee. I couldn’t tolerate caffeine. But I went to college in the Frozen North (otherwise known as Ohio, just west of Cleveland). It was cold. Oh so cold. And I started drinking tea to stay warm. I think the inside of my lower lip was permanently scalded from about November to March. Bigelow Tea bags. The lemon flavored one. That was my tea of choice. Hot, flavored water.

After college I moved to Seattle, The Land of Coffee Drinkers. The birthplace of Starbucks. I even applied for a job there, as a barista, but didn’t get very far when they found out I didn’t like coffee. Think of how much I would have saved the company in the drinks I wouldn’t consume!

So for the last twenty years or so I’ve been an erstwhile tea drinker. I had a basket for loose leaves, but I never paid attention to the water temperature or really much about the leaves, other than that they were loose.

All that changed a few years ago when I met my friend Lauren Hall-Stigerts. Lauren and I met at this time of year, at an unconference. We immediately bonded over many things, one of them being tea. Lauren loves the greens. I keep trying them, like some people do with certain vegetables, but for the most part, they leave me cold. My impression from hanging out with the tea people I know is that greens and oolongs and pu-ers are the prized teas. There’s not much noise made about blacks or whites.

Somewhere in this period I had some tea from Smith Teas. In many ways I feel like I have an undistinguished palate, but Oh. My. God. This was TEA. I mean, when I sipped my first cup from them, I tasted something. It wasn’t just flavored water. There was so much more going on. This was their bagged tea, and if you know anything about bagged tea, it’s usually the leavings. Broken leaves swept up unceremoniously and dumped into those hideous bags. Like the Red Rose tea my Canadian grandmother drank. Smith’s bags are the “pyramid” sachets, with full leaves. This was another story altogether. Another world.

So I started buying whole leaves from a tea shop around the corner. That was a couple of years ago and I haven’t looked back. I made more connections on Twitter, and we shared our favorite teas with each other, furthering my explorations. Last year my mom got me an electric kettle with variable temps. I USE IT EVERY DAY. I love it.

Here’ s what I’ve discovered:

  • I love fruity, malty, and bitter, which is why I love IPA beers so much, too.
  • I like my tea straight, unadulterated. Some blends and teas are meant to take cream or milk, like Earl Grey. I just like the flavor of the tea, and while I used to like flavored teas, I’m finding them less appealing.
  • Among the world of blacks, I’ve said Yunnan is like the champagne of tea. It’s perfectly black, and the bitterness is balanced by a delicate apricot flavor. Keemun has a harsher flavor, as well as smoky. I heard someone else describe Assam as a velvet fist. I had to laugh, because it’s very smooth, but really packs a punch in terms of the caffeine.
  • Turns out there is technically one green tea I like: hojicha, which is sometimes referred to as bancha or twig tea. It’s the twigs and stems from the camellia sinensis and they are roasted. And there’s an oolong from Smacha Tea called Red 27 that is similarly roasted and that is a revelation. If you ever have the chance to try that one, do it.
  • I just realized I didn’t say anything about Darjeeling. Like oolong, it’s too slippery or something. It doesn’t hit that pleasure center for me. Just cruises right on by.

As much as I love the flavor of tea, I also love the ritual, the quietness, and the connections I’ve made.

What do you like to drink? Given what you know about my tea tastes, what should I try next?

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Geek Girl Con Part II: Not like other

Team Nerd

The second thing I wanted to write about was sparked by the panel Not Like Other Girls. There was a general discussion about what this phrase implied and how divisive it can be. Geek culture tends to be defined by boys and men, and they are the gatekeepers and identity policers. I’ve heard other discussions about this phrase, so the panel wasn’t the first time I’d come across this concept. If you want to get some perspective from the inside, I highly recommend reading David J. Schwartz’s essay, Masculinity Is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box.

Not like other … is used as a tool to create more isolation and separation. The panelists spoke about how special it made them feel, to be identified this way, at first. They also started to look down on the girls who weren’t like them. They then believed that because they weren’t like the other girls, that those same girls wouldn’t like them and vice-versa. So they withdrew or withheld and stayed with those who approved of them. They spoke of a desire to maintain approval, which included not appearing too emotional or “high-maintenance.”

There are wide-reaching implications for this phrase. It’s not just limited to romantic relationships, or social interactions. This plays out in the workplace, too.

The panelists talked about how this affected their relationships with women in the workplace. One panelist told a story that I am sure was incredibly painful for her. She was the only woman on her team, and in a lead role. A second woman joined her team, and the panelist didn’t reach out to her or welcome her. She was afraid of losing her position within the group, and felt threatened, rather than seeing her as an equal. This ended up creating more conflict and affected cohesion and trust within the group.

Because we are not immune to the messages we receive from society, we internalize the messages and judgment of the mainstream, even when it contradicts our own internal knowing. One of the panelists talked about how we have a first thought when we meet someone. These are the judgments we’ve learned from society. But hopefully we then notice this thought and reflect on it, leading to a second thought, which is what we think. Second thoughts are generally considered bad, but in this case, HAVE SECOND THOUGHTS!

I also wanted to talk about you’re not like other … in general. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone say this to you in a different context, but I have for pretty much every demographic I can fit into: American, women, Jews, queers, femmes … Probably twins, writers, brown-haired people, tea drinkers, etc. This has had the effect of making me feel weird. It sends me the message that I don’t fit in or belong. It never felt like I was receiving the “cool” badge.

We all have ideas of what defines a particular group of people. I know I do, too. The next time you meet someone and you think, “Gee, that person isn’t like other [people],” consider flipping it around. Try seeing them as a way of expanding your definition of what qualities or attributes define that group, as in, “Oh, [people] can be like that, too. Coooool.”

Next week I’ll do my final write-up, which is going to be the panel discussion with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. So stay tuned!

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Geek Girl Con Recon

I spent last weekend at Geek Girl Con. For those of you unfamiliar with it, here is the description from their website:

GeekGirlCon celebrates and honors the legacy of women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design by connecting geeky women world-wide and creating community to foster continued growth of women in geek culture through events.

I wanted to write up a summary of my weekend, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because several of my friends asked me to since they weren’t able to join me.

Splendid

Panel Discussion on Gender v. Sex

Saturday morning I was on a panel with four other awesome humans. It was described as a discussion about the distinction between sex and gender, positive and negative examples of trans and non-binary characters, and where we can go from here. My fellow panelists were Raven Oak, Janine Southard, Winter Ellis Downs, and Fran Stewart. Four of us had gotten together a few weeks earlier to chat about what we might discuss. We talked for three hours, so you can imagine how quickly 50 minutes went by.

We were asked what first changed our concept of gender. For Fran, it was Warriors of the Wind, which was an edited version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. For Winter, it was music. Annie Lennox, David Bowie, and then Britpop bands like Suede. For me, Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness. Raven grew up with limited exposure, and it wasn’t until she had a friend with gay parents who introduced her to the world of science fiction and fantasy that her ideas began to change. Janine spoke of growing up as a theater kid, where the rules of engagement were based on different rules, so she didn’t realize that there were more rigid ideas of gender.

Fran pointed out that cyberpunk was about being dizzied by technology. She wants some genderpunk stories, where we can be dizzied by gender. I would love that, too! She also talked about the show Steven Universe, which is delightful, and if you haven’t watched it yet, give it a try. Fran pointed out that while the characters have apparent genders, they don’t end up being restricted by them, nor do they seem to matter to anything. The main character is a chubby little boy who values harmony. He’s half gem, his powers are pink and decorated with flowers. Connie is a human girl. She’s learning to sword fight, and she’s quicker to take action. Steven is more often in a support role. The gems themselves are ostensibly female, and they have romantic relationships with one another.

Winter talked about Greg Egan’s book Distress, which has seven genders. They found it problematic, in that each gender comes with its own roles and expectations.

The comic book Loki: Agent of Asgard does a good job of depicting gender variance in an individual, rather than attempting to deal with it on a societal level.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series were mentioned as also doing a good job representing gender.

We took questions from the audience, who also made several recommendations including the following webcomics:

There was also mention of the tv shows on Netflix, Orange is the New Black, and Sense8.

While this didn’t get mentioned at the panel, the Tiptree Award was specifically created to recognize work that “expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Go check it out for the list of winners, as well as the long list. I’m sure there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

So, that was the panel. Since this post is getting longish, I am going to break the rest into one or two more entries. Oooh, look at me, building suspense. You might almost suspect I was a writer!

I’m listing the titles here as suggestions for further reading. I haven’t read or seen most of them, but I do encourage you to check them out. If you have recommendations for cool stuff and how it presents gender, please leave a comment!

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Diversity link roundup

There have been a lot of discussions floating around online about diversity. I wanted to collect them in one place where I could go back and refer to them later. Some of these are about representation of self, some in literature, and some with representation/presentation at cons. I’m posting in the rough chronological order in which I read them.

wild at heart

Vajra Chandrasekera: Which This Margin is Too Small to Contain

Some thoughts on “diversity” in sf/f and discovering that I’m apparently a “writer of colour” and all that. I never actually use these words myself, whether to refer to either myself or anybody else. Though at the same time I don’t object to their use to refer to myself or anybody else either. It’s complicated. I do periodically worry at the meanings of these words, and I guess I’ve been saying stuff like this for a while now:

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Daniel Jose Older tweeted up a discussion on diversity being an issue of honesty in literature.

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Kate Elliott’s piece Diversity Panels: Where Next?. This was in response to her experience at Sasquan, the most recent WorldCon that was held in Spokane.

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Tobias Buckell added Some Thoughts on Herding POC Writers into Diversity Panels.

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Annalee’s Diversity Panels I’d like to see is a nice response to Toby, looking forward to panels she’d like to see at cons.

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Michi Trota has this one: Diversity Panels are the Beginning not the End

Recently I attended Wizard World Chicago, and for the first time since 2012 when I started doing convention panels, I wasn’t on a single panel specifically focused on diversity–related issues in geek culture. It was an odd feeling, sitting in the audience of a panel about racism at one of my two home cons, rather than being up on that podium.

I’d be lying if I said that didn’t involve more than a small amount of relief.

After dozens of cons and countless panels critically analyzing, explaining, and arguing for the need for greater inclusion and better representation in geek communities, it feels like I’ve spent a lifetime talking about these issues. It can be exhausting, and sometimes all a nerd wants to do is nerd out over the fandoms and activities she loves. It was a refreshing change to instead be on panels where I got to show off my nerd trivia knowledge, talk about why I adore the animated DC universe more than the DCCU, and host a discussion about what goes into being a nerd organizer.

This piece includes links to the storify of Rose Fox’s tweets in response to the Wired article about the Hugo debacle this year.

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L.E.H. Light writes No More Diversity Panels, It’s Time to Move On

I suggest a different assumption: that the majority of attendees at these panels are either PoC or allies who understand and accept the basic premise that diversity in the things we love makes them better, more interesting, more complicated, and more beautiful. That White people and Black people are there for the same reasons: nerd stuff, and we want to talk about those things together. And anyone who doesn’t agree can go to another panel. I promise, someone somewhere is discussing something else.

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I hope you will take the time to read at least these few posts and see this is part of an ongoing conversation, not just a single observation or moment in time. If there are links to posts I’m missing, please let me know.

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