There’s been a lot going around about ReaderCon and the results of an individual’s harassing behavior. This post isn’t a direct response to that. It is a post, however, that I’ve been contemplating writing since last year, when several things happened spread across several conventions that have made me uncomfortable or confused. I wanted to address these things, and it seems that now is the appropriate time to post my thoughts, while these discussions are happening.
*On Being A Guest*
I adore being a guest at conventions. I adore conventions in general. I have been going to conventions since I was fifteen, cosplaying since I was sixteen, and have been panelling since I was twenty five. I got my first official invitation to be an actual invited guest last summer and it was an absolute thrill to see my hard work and the effort I’ve put into helping support and build my local geek community rewarded in that fashion.
The move from one side of the table to the other has been wonderful, and I am so grateful and lucky that the people I supported in the geek community as a fan are now supporting me as a creator.
I love conventions because it is where my people are. My tribe. My community. My family.
Conventions are where my hobbies and interests are accepted, normalized, and celebrated. It is where my work can find the audience it is most created for, and where we can celebrate it together. It is where I can totally geek out and squee over something and have it be not only accepted but encouraged by the people around me.
It is where I can see what my fellow professionals have accomplished in the past year and pat them on the back for it. It is where I can marvel at the skill and talent of the cosplayers, the fanartists, the gamesmakers and the fanficcers. It is where I can catch up with the people I cherish and only see infrequently.
Its marvelous. And it’s exhausting.
I go back to my hotel room every night completely drained because I have been “on” all day, aware that I am being watched and judged at all times because of the profile of my name. Or, like most con-goers, because I want to indulge and party, stay up late dancing and singing karaoke, and talking with friends.
It also costs money. Unless you’re a very big name guest, you are paying to attend the con, not being paid, or at least having your travel/meals/room expenses covered. Sure, my pass is usually free (and because of the tightness of my pockets I’ve unfortunately had to start turning down any con that won’t give me my pass for free), and sometimes I get two (one for a family member or handler), but I still have to pay for the hotel room, the transportation to the con, and meals. That is money out of my pocket, when I could have easily stayed home that weekend to write books or make films, things that would have put money into my pockets. I’m not saying this to whinge.
I am saying this so you understand that I want to be there badly enough that I’m paying for the privilege, same as the attendees. I want to be there.
And having been a guest of one caliber or another at a good dozen plus conventions, there are some trends and patterns that I’ve begun to notice which I feel need addressing.
This blog post is not aimed at one person or one con specifically, but is a list of suggestions for Guests, Cons, and Attendees to help make everyone’s experience more pleasant and safe, accumulated from several years worth of experience.
*What Conventions Can Do To Make Guests Safer and Happier*
Do a background check on your volunteers. Ensure that your volunteers are not creepy, are polite and cheery, and aren’t rude. Also, make sure they know exactly to whom they should turn if someone brings them a situation they can’t handle or a question they can’t answer on their own.
Provide a GreenRoom. A ConSuite is a room at a convention where all attendees can chill out, get something to eat or drink, and visit. While in theory, guests should be safe and happy here, it is still a place where the guests have to be “on”. Having a haven of our own is vital for guests; we all need somewhere to decompress, get a cuppa and a sammie, refuel and chill out without the dread or expectation of having to be “on”and, unfortunately, escape attendees who might be harassing us. It doesn’t have to be large or well stocked or a 24/7 party. It just needs to be a place where we can retreat when it all becomes too much. To my mind, this is the single most important thing you can do for a guest at a con.
If you are asking your guests to attend parties, have a volunteer there to keep a discreet eye on things. If a guest appears uncomfortable or an attendee is getting inappropriate, have the volunteer step in and escort the guest to a different part of the party, or back to their rooms if required/requested.
If the guest informs you that they have a stalker/creeper/etc. they fear may appear, take it seriously. They wouldn’t have said anything if they didn’t mean it. If that person tries to buy a ticket, give them a full refund and kick them out. If they somehow get in, kick them out. If they keep trying to get in, call the police and have them escorted off premises. Press charges if necessary.
*What Guests Can Do To Make Their Experiences Safer and Happier*
Remember that you are among colleagues, and you never know who knows who. If you want to gossip, tear down another professional, or complain, do so with close friends in the privacy of your hotel room or back at home. There is nothing less professional than guests sniping other guests, or other professionals in their field who aren’t present. If you have legitimate complaints about how the con is run, bring them to the appropriate people and address them in a mature, discreet fashion.
Retreat to the GreenRoom if you need to. Tell people no, if you have to. Yes, you are there for the attendees, but your off time is your off time, and you have the right to an uninterrupted drink or meal. (Of course, we all know the difference between someone who wants an autograph and a quick chat, which is usually most welcome, and a linger-er). Don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m in the middle of dinner/on my way to a panel/on my way out/ need to be somewhere else right now” and go if someone is making you uncomfortable.
Thank the ConCom for inviting you when you get home, and let them know in a nice little letter what you enjoyed and what they did right. Also, make any suggestions you may have to improve next year’s experience.
Bring the GreenRoom attendants something to show your appreciation – whether it’s a large tip, a box of Timbits, a bottle of wine, or a piece of your work, etc. I know one author who gives the security team a free copy of their new book every year, and it gets passed around and read by at least ten people that weekend while they’re bored and guarding doors. Make it clear that you appreciate the space they are providing for you.
Inform the security team if you have a stalker/creeper/etc. you fear may appear, and make sure they take it seriously. If that person gets in and harasses you, call security and have them escorted off the premises. If the con does not take the concern seriously, pack up and go home. You are under no obligation to remain at the con if you do not feel safe there.
*What Attendees Can Do to Keep Guests Safe and Happy*
Remember that the Guests are probably knackered and/or rushed. Respect their schedules where possible. However, this doesn’t mean never say hello or give them a high five in the hallway or anything like that. Just be respectful. Remember, we guests want to be there just as much as you do, and we’re probably looking to have just as much fun as you. We want to engage with you, party with you, dance with you, laugh with you. Just be mindful of how much attention is appropriate, and at what times. And dear gods, the toilet is never a good time or place to chat, pitch, get a photo or shake hands.
Don’t be entitled. Remember that as much as you admire this guest and their work, they don’t know you. Even if you’ve met them before, they probably don’t remember you. Even if you’ve sent them a billion letters and they’ve answered every one, these people are not your friends and they do not know you. Keep your creepy sex fantasies to yourself, don’t be handsy or grabby, and be respectful of the guest as a human being. I’m not saying to not write fanfic or make fanart, or have all the sex fantasies and tabloid-fed gossip you want, but be aware that it might be unwelcome in an actual interaction, and don’t push your desires or expectations on the guests. (i.e. Benedict Cumberbatch is not your real boyfriend. Have all the fun envisioning it you’d like, but don’t make a lunge for his lips if you meet him.)
Guests owe you nothing. They don’t have to answer your questions about errors they made in their last book, they don’t owe you a photograph with them, they don’t owe you a hug or a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. They don’t owe you an explanation, or a spoiler, or a chat. Unless you’ve paid for the privilege of getting a photo or autograph, the guests owe you exactly nothing that exceeds their contracted requirements (which usually includes an agreement to be present, a certain number of hours of programming, and attending a certain event at the con, such as a dance or awards ceremony.) Their job is to create; if you find problems or want to discuss their creations, then please do so in a respectful, non-attacky manner. If you don’t like what they create then… stop reading/watching it. Don’t insult or harass the creator over it. And for goodness sake, please don’t insult a guest’s work to their face. Having particular tastes is one thing, but to call all their work objectively bad to their faces is poor manners of the highest sort. (Guys, we’re already terrified to be there; afraid that no one will want our autographs and that we’re frauds and that we’ll be laughed out of the con. Please be tender with our feelings! If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.)
Ladies and Gentlemen, you know exactly what I mean by a Con Creeper if you have been around them before. They are the person who behaves entitled around a guest. They are the ones with poor ability to read body language, who don’t know when to lay off or disappear. They are grabby. They are the creepy ones who stare at your tits or your package, who oogle, who linger too long and too close, who make everyone around them cringe.They are the ones who talk to and behave towards and touch guests as if they are the dearest and oldest of friends when they are not. They are the ones who demand things of guests that they have no right demanding. And the biggest problem with Con Creepers is that they usually have no idea that they are Creeping. So here is what you do:
If you know a Con Creeper, call them out on it when they start Creeping. Better yet, warn them in advance of the Con that some people find their behavior inappropriate and hurtful, and counsel them on how better to show their appreciation for the community around them.
If you are an attendee and you see a Creeper creeping on anyone, you come to that person’s rescue. You offer to escort that person to coffee, for air, to the GreenRoom, anywhere the Creeper can’t go. (And don’t expect anything in return for the rescue). If you can’t do that or aren’t comfortable doing that, then you find security and you tell them that you think that someone is the recipient of unwelcome attention and make sure security follows up. At no time engage in a fight or confrontation with the Creeper.
If you are with the ConComm, ensure that your security knows that they must take reports of this nature seriously. Brushing it off because the person receiving the unwelcome attention is in cosplay, or because they’re a guest, or because they’re a cute boy/girl/gurl/boi/etc. is not okay. You wouldn’t tell a person who’s about to be raped that it’s their fault for dressing like a slut; so don’t support this sort of behavior by not engaging with it, not stopping it before it gets worse, or someone gets hurt.
Have an absolutely iron clad system of responses on paper and ready to be implemented if your staff or volunteers end up in a situation where they have to deal with a Creeper. Call the police if you/your staff/volunteers cannot handle with situation. Press charges. Let the world know you are serious about the safety of everyone at your convention.
People who make others fear for their safety do not have to be a way of life at cons. We all know people who have come away from an extremely unpleasant interaction, complaining of harassment or molestation, or inappropriate comments, only to have someone else say: “Yeah, but that’s just So-and-So. He’s socially inept, but he’s a good guy. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” <– That? That right there is totally invalidating someone else’s right to police their own comfort and bodies and that is not okay. And there are people who go to cons and do it every time and the community turns a blind eye, because Creepers are a fact of life at Cons.
Well guess what, folks? When that person finally stops taking “no” for an answer, because people have never stopped him or her before, never told him or her that their behavior is unwelcome, and assaults someone, it will be partially your fault. Because you didn’t make it clear that you will not tolerate that behavior in your community. Report these people. Get them kicked out. And follow up to make sure they’re never allowed back in.
So that’s my list. Seems a bit grim, but a lot of it ought to be common sense. In the end, I just hope that everyone remembers that everyone is there because they want to be, and they have the right to have a good time without fear of harassment, stalking, groping, rape, or physical harm.
This is your con, and your community. Take pride in it, and protect the people who are a part of it, including yourself.
Any more suggestions, folks?