Post-WisCon40 Report

by Ariela

Ariela's name badge and program books from WisCon40.

Ariela's name badge and program books from WisCon40.

This weekend was WisCon. To say that I had a blast is both true and incomplete. It was so much more than just a good time.

I was promised that it would be a very different con than any other I had attended, and that was very true. To start with, the majority of people I encountered were female presenting, and there was a much higher than usual NB representation. Racial representation was also much more diverse.

Programming had the typical problem of stacking great panels in the same time slots, so no matter what you do you miss something awesome. It was even more intense at WisCon than basically any other con I have attended. Also, they stop panels at mealtimes to encourage people to eat, so they have to cram even more awesome into the slots that are left. The one I probably enjoyed the most was Staying In Your Lane, how to be inclusive without stepping over the line, with Riley as moderator and Mark Oshiro and MedievalPOC as fellow panelists. It was utterly fascinating and all of them were really insightful. (I may have gone and fangirled a bit to MedievalPOC after the panel. Maybe.) My second favorite was probably Class Basics 101, which talked a lot about different constructs of class, intersections of classism and other prejudices, and the differences between the academic study of class vs the experience of being truly poor.

I sat on three panels and had a lovely time with all of them. The moderators were good, fellow panelists were good, and all of them were well attended. None of them were particularly well-tweeted, though. Not sure what it was about the panels I was on that inspired people to take notes on pen and paper. The first panel that I was on, Creating Your Own Religion, also extended into a multi-hour discussion over lunch, which was utterly fascinating. The second panel, SFF Where Religion Works, was the first panel where I have ever cried. We were discussing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and all of us got weepy, as expected; we even passed around a tissue box before we started discussing it. The third panel, The Tough Tribute to Fantasyland, was funny and fun, but I had to run out immediately after it ended to check out of the hotel and get my stuff from the art show.

Speaking of which, the art show was smaller than I am used to, and I sold more greeting cards than before but less matted art. Hmm. Lee Moyer assured me that this kind of win-some-lose-some is normal and you never really know what will happen. That made me feel better.

I got earrings from Elise Matthesen at her Haiku Party (she like my haiku!), soaked in the hot tub twice, and danced at the Floomp (which is the big Saturday night dance party). I made an utter cake of myself in front of Charlie Jane Anders when I was standing next to her in line to get salad and she was really kind about it.

Over the course of the weekend, someone did something that made me feel kind of uncomfortable [note: not sexual in nature] and I called them on it. They pushed back, kinda hard, and I decided to just walk away. The next evening, that person came up to me to apologize. They said that they were very sorry they reacted so defensively and that almost immediately after I left they realized that I was completely right. We parted on good terms. This is the kind of con that WisCon is - not only did this person do the emotional work of questioning their reaction, they sought me out to apologize and make amends.

Ariela at the WisCon40 dessert salon and GOH speeches. Photo courtesy of John Scalzi.

Ariela at the WisCon40 dessert salon and GOH speeches.
Photo courtesy of John Scalzi.

The central experience of the con, for me at least, was the Guest of Honor speeches. They have all of the GOHs speak one after the other, right after the dessert salon. Many people, including the friends who dragooned me into attending WisCon, dress up for this. So I did, too. It made it feel much less like attending a con GOH speech and more like hearing a speech at a fancy dinner. I happen to have liked that. I also suspect that a larger percentage of con attendees came to the GOH speeches than at other cons I have attended. They really are the highlight.

The three GOHs this year were Justine Larblestier, Sofia Samatar, and Nalo Hopkinson.

Justine spoke first. She was hilarious. Like, really, really funny. Also, mad props to the closed captioning typist, who was actually interacting with her in real time, to the point that Justine would pause to see what the typist did with her various sounds of excitement and disgust, and then react to that in turn. She spoke about teens and teen literature and the history of the concept of being a teen, and class, and race, and representation. And she started off so funny and at the end we were all just sitting there with our mouths hanging open feeling struck. Or at least everyone around me was. There wasn't any laughter at the end of her speech, just some really hard truths.

Sofia Samatar spoke next. She was wonderfully eloquent speaking about breaking down the borders between genres, but her speech did not hit me as hard. Perhaps it was because I was not a writer.

Nalo Hopkinson went last. Justine tee'd me up, but Nalo knocked me flat. She addressed the Puppies, gatekeeping, hatred in fandom, how easy it is to descend into mob mentality in the name of social justice and called for us to resist that slide, the guilt that can be paralyzing when we fail and hurt someone, and so much more. Wow. I cannot wait for a transcript of her speech. She also announced that she is creating a new award, the Lemonade Award, for people or organizations who make a significant improvement to the fan community. When she talked about starting off by just awarding certificates, it was all I could do not to leap out of my seat and yell "I volunteer as tribute!" Instead I tweeted at her that I would be happy to make the certificates. Then I went up to her after the speeches were done and volunteered in person, giving her my card. I also probably sounded like a blithering idiot, as I was busy thinking "Your speech gave me all the feels! And that's a good thing and I want you to know that, but my feels are my problem, not yours, and I don't want to make you do any emotional labor over me having feelings!" So I blubbered out something about wanting to volunteer, even though I know that maybe as a straight, white, ciswoman I might not be the best one for the job, or possibly not the right art style, but I wanted to volunteer and here's my card and now I am going to cry and ruin my makeup. (The above photo was taken before said crying took place.)

I have not had a con affect me this much since my first con at Arisia 2011. As then, I did not come home the same person, and I cannot wait to come back next year. I met loads of wonderful people and got to spend time with the wonderful friends who brought me along saying "This is the con you share with the people you love!" None of what I wrote truly captures the effect of the experience.

A+ Will definitely repeat.