My First Eastercon, by Meryl aged 49.

The Lord of Longitude and I spent the Easter weekend in Harrogate, mostly at a hotel that looked like a cross between the Overlook and the Bates Motel owner’s home.  A grand old pile from the spa town’s heyday, it was playing host to this year’s Eastercon.

My first ever SF convention was Loncon, in 2014.  My second was Nine Worlds the following year – to which I’ve returned every year since.  So I was a bit unsure about what to expect from Follycon.  Would there be dodgy paintings like I saw at Loncon of the semi- or wholly-naked women who populate male heterosexual fantasyland?*  Would there be creepy sexist behaviour?**  I’m thinking again about Loncon and the man who asked a woman friend if he could look at her costume, and took her assent to mean he could walk 360 degrees around her while looking pointedly at her body parts without once talking to her or looking at her face.  And all this while three of us stood glaring and aghast and saying things out loud like ‘REALLY?’

Or would it be like Nine Worlds?  Would there be a clear code of conduct*** and a clear and accessible way to get support if needed?****  Would there be gender-neutral toilets? *****  Would there be a QUIET ROOM? ******  Would kids be welcome? Would nursing mums and parents and carers with small ones? ******

And what would the programme be like?  And would I have fun?  And would I go to Eastercon again?  Now that it’s all over, I’d say on the whole…

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Here are my positives:

There was real ale.  Who knew?  Not this Eastercon newbie.  I love real ale.  I love SF.  So do a lot of other people it seems.  It must have taken an incredible amount of organising, so bravo to the Beer wrangler and deputy (Martin Hoare and Rod O’Hanlon) and bravo to The Majestic Hotel for accommodating it.

The Follycon Committee and staff were clearly working towards making the convention a safe space for all.  Things that I noticed / appreciated:

  • The code of conduct was mentioned repeatedly.
  • When some hostile, dismissive graffiti appeared on the Gender Neutral Toilets sign, the sign was replaced.
  • A session considering women’s experiences within fandom was scheduled.
  • There was a quiet room!  YAY!  Speaking for myself, the Quiet Room was a fantastic space to retire to when sensory/social overload threatened, and it enabled me to stay the duration (I went to 3 sessions back-to-back on Saturday!  I’ve never done that before!)

I went to some really enjoyable sessions:

  • Nnedi Okorafor in discussion with Tade Thompson was so generous in sharing the details of her life and her thoughts about writing and process.  Their articulate, humorous and incisive shredding of District 9 for its racist stereotyping, their love for Black Panther for the specificity of its cultural references, their perspective on having Nigerian heritage, their observations of the gradual loosening of the white stranglehold over writing about Africa…. this was rich, intelligent, absorbing, wide ranging stuff.  I want to read all their books.
  • A really entertaining, interesting and very well-delivered pacey talk about Ray Harryhausen.
  • A fascinating panel on the future of cities.  Each of the panellists was extremely knowledgeable and could have presented a paper on the subject solo – in fact, I was a bit frustrated, because I felt the panel format didn’t always enable the speakers to enter into their specialism in-depth.  But that’s just to want more.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson.  That is all.

The convention was really well organised!  Lots of helpful information in the Welcome Pack, lots of clear signage, skilful effective tech support, clear information point.

I loved the fact that there were plenty of items on books and reading and SF lit and academia.

The cosplay!  Loved the Leia mash-up costume, the Psi Corps person and Delenn, all the Steampunky peeps.  There were a lot of great hats!

My negatives?  Well …

That hostile, dismissive graffiti on the Gender Neutral Toilets sign and this graffiti on the Quiet Room sign soured my experience.  Some people still don’t ‘get it’ or are actively hostile to the idea that SF is for everyone.

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I missed the woman-identified peeps meet up because I didn’t see it on Twitter in time!  It wasn’t programmed originally – I wish it had been – but was arranged after the ‘women in fandom’ panel session.  It’s great that the organisers were so responsive to what happened in the panel, I guess.

The habit of shouting out comments from the floor to people you know on the panel.  Some folk still do it.  When they do it, I feel excluded.  I think things like ‘I shouldn’t be here, this event is not for me.  If I don’t know (m)any other fans, then I might not be ‘allowed’ to come to things like this.  Maybe I’m not a ‘proper’ fan?  Maybe I shouldn’t try to talk to people since I’m not part of the ‘in’ crowd?’  It’s also really boring and tiresome, because it hijacks the flow of the session away from the speakers and the moderators’ guidance, breaks the thread of thought being developed, slows things down.

I observed a couple of comments that smacked a bit of inverted ageism – and one 20-something fan being condescended to by another, older fan because of their age – and this troubled me.  At Nine Worlds, I’m definitely towards the older end of the demographic and thus in a slight minority.  I don’t mind this at all – and in fact, last year there was a session where we ‘older’ fans could meet up and talk about ageism.  At Eastercon, I was smack in the middle of the demographic I think; one of the majority.  I definitely feel that older fans and younger fans benefit from talking to people in similar age brackets as themselves – there are issues and problems in fandom that are probably age-specific – but I would hate there to be too strong a line of demarcation between us.  As a middle-aged newbie, I’ve enjoyed so much my discussions with more experienced and younger fans – and age just hasn’t been an issue of consideration in these discussions, nor should it.  And ageism, inverted or not, sucks.

So on balance…

I’m in awe of anyone who organises a Follycon.

I had a good time.

I want to read everything written by Nnedi Okorafor, Tade Thompson and Kim Stanley Robinson.

I’m really tired.

I’m already looking at Ytterbium and wondering how much it would cost to make a Death Star skirt.

Thanks and congratulations to the Follycon committee and staff.  A huge heap of work and organisation and stress and who-knows-what else; I couldn’t do it.  I hope they’re all relaxing now – or at least are getting some proper sleep.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

* Er, yes there were, but not as many.  There were also some really interesting things: I was quite taken with some semi-abstract cityscape paintings, and excited to see lots of small presses represented (though didn’t have enough time to browse.  I suspect the LoL deliberately steered me away from them a couple of times).

**  See above.

***  Yes.  Bravo Follycon.  More of this.

****  I think so, but I’d be interested to hear from other attendees.

*****  Yes, but see above.

******  Yes!  Though again, see above.

*******  You’d have to ask them, as I’m not a parent or carer, but for what it’s worth, I noticed there was a creche, great, but it was in another building, not so great – I imagine that was far from ideal.  There were activities for kids and one event where kids were the panellists I think (that’s a great idea, more of that stuff!), so that’s positive.  There didn’t seem to be a space like at Nine Worlds which was a kind of kids / family base, but again, I’m the wrong person to judge whether families felt like they were a bit on the margins of Follycon or whether they felt included and/or welcomed.

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