I try not to get very personal here since I don’t intend this blog to be a “diary,” but in this case I feel like this situation might resonate with others in some way, since it’s related to things a lot of us go out of our way to experience – fandom conventions and interpersonal relationships. I also thought it might be good for my own well-being to talk through it and work it out a little bit before I bring it to a formal therapy session. So feel free to skip this one if you’re just here for the anime and lolita fashion. I promise I’m not insulted <3
This past weekend was CONvergence in Minneapolis, a large local fandom and media convention that lasts for four days around Independence Day every year. I started attending this convention around ten years ago when some friends of mine wanted to enter the masquerade and needed some warm bodies for the rather huge (and funny) production (I hesitate to say “skit” since there was singing and items planted in the audience… and it was quite involved). I had so much fun that year that I came back for the next, then the next… I’ve always been a fan of quality over quantity, and thus only attend a few conventions a year. CONvergence has always been on my list.
Some things happened last year at the convention that spoiled what was otherwise a really awesome weekend. I’ll spare everyone the fine details, because that’s not the point (and it’s easy enough to search out what happened, there was some internet press about it). The short answer is that someone made a joke, it wasn’t funny, it hurt some people, there was a big blow-up online about it, and suddenly I (and, several others, from what I gathered) ceased to feel safe around my fellow CON attendees. The feeling descended like a black cloud and spoiled what was otherwise a fun weekend where I had a lot of other positive experiences. I (and others) felt that the response from the convention wasn’t swift or decisive enough, the people associated with the “event” weren’t apologetic even after several people had voiced their hurt (note: if your comedy is hurting sexual assault survivors or otherwise “punching downward,” you’re doing it wrong), and the whole ordeal left a really bad taste in my mouth. I decided it was time for a break and didn’t register for the 2016 convention, and there were a few other close friends who made the same decision.
The subject would come up again every couple of months; one friend of mine had put a lot of hard work into getting people to fill out feedback surveys and get the concerns heard by the convention committee in an attempt to either get a substantive response or to have them beef up their staff training and response to future issues of the same nature (which it sounds like they eventually did – kudos to the con on that point and in general I’m complimentary towards steps they’ve taken since even if it wasn’t as quick as I would have liked). I voiced my opinion online a couple of times, primarily on Facebook though I did fill out a very extensive feedback survey as well. Some people were supportive, some people tried to CON-splain to me about why I was being “unreasonable” (and I utilize quotes because there’s always someone who pops in to tell me that my legitimate feelings that I’m feeling for reasons that I explain pretty completely aren’t legitimate for this, that, and the other reason because they didn’t feel the same way and also I don’t understand the full situation or how conventions work ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Even though I have staffed another similarly-sized local convention for ten years. But whatever!). The point is that I felt pretty secure in taking a year off and letting things fall where they were going to fall. It was nice to feel a little bit of solidarity from my friends since I always worry that I’m overly-sensitive. I’d never ask anyone outright to give up their convention experience just for my sake, but I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one feeling my feelings.
Last week (a couple of days before the convention), I attended an event with several friends and learned that, sometime within the last couple of months, they had decided to attend the con. I’m not going to pick apart who originally said they were or weren’t going and who had planned to go all along because it’s not important and I’m honestly not sure. I’m also not criticizing anyone’s choice to go and have a great time, because that’s not something that I would want anyone to feel bad about. But after trying to hide my surprise and voicing an admittedly kind of pathetic offer of free “limo service” to any off-site restaurants so that people wouldn’t need give up their parking spots (the food options immediately around the con hotel are kind of crappy and my sweetie and I live in an apartment very close by), I kind of spent the rest of the evening off in my own brain somewhere. The next couple of days found me very angry, then for about a day-and-a-half I became profoundly depressed (the type of depression where about all I did for a day was lay on the couch in a daze and not do anything of use besides drop the occasional tear out of my eyes). It wasn’t really that I wanted to go (and in fact I still didn’t and truthfully couldn’t – I couldn’t afford or justify the $120 at-the-door price of admission for the weekend, and I didn’t have the ability to take any time off from work). It was more that, in that moment I was reminded of what it feels like to be excluded and forgotten. To not be part of the “in” crowd.
I think as geeks we can get so insular that we forget that people are people, no matter what group they’re in. I’m very introverted and (though I risk retribution for even alluding to this) I spent quite a while having my friendships and activity choices subtly policed, manipulated, and controlled. Eventually I sort of lost the drive to leave the house and spend time with people, even to maintain friendships. And it’s really unreasonable to expect people to remember, let alone go out of their way to contact, someone who hasn’t done a very good job of making themselves present or upholding their end of a friendship. I literally don’t know how to friend, sometimes.
I was also reminded that my problems are just that – my problems. Whatever problem I had with the convention is mine to deal with, and it would be silly to expect others to react as dramatically to something that is based so much around my own feelings and history.
In any case, I realized after a while that it wasn’t jealousy or a desire to be at that hotel for that convention that was getting me down so much (though I did read through the programming guide and there were a lot of things I’m sad I missed, and I really lived vicariously through all the photographs that were and still are being posted online), it was more just knowing that I was outside looking in all along, and I should have known better. It’s kind of the same way with my friends from high school – I see them visiting one-another and interacting and I know a lot of them keep up their relationships and friendships with one-another, and all I feel like I can do is ask “how in the world do people achieve that?” It’s such a huge mystery to me, because I always just feel like I’m creeping on other people, looking through the window at them as they live their lives. I think I’m a nice person and I can kind of bribe people with food, but I’m sort of confounded by that next level and how to get there.
The one other thing that hurts my heart, which is one hundred percent my own fault, is that in choosing not to attend the convention in the manner that I did, I made my boyfriend feel obligated to sit it out with me. Last year was his first CONvergence, and he had an awesome time. And then I took that away. I’m the type who would have told him to go without me if I were more aware, but I just assumed that he felt the same way I did without asking and that was wrong to do. I feel profoundly guilty because of that.
I think ultimately the shock of feeling totally justified in what I was doing and then suddenly being faced with a huge pile of conflicting evidence just shook me down to my center, and I no longer know where I stand. I have no idea what I’m going to do for next year. My heart aches for what I’ve missed but I think in all my outspokenness I may have simply just made myself unwelcome. I still have fears about the type of people who would say the types of things that were said in the big Facebook blow-up of 2015 (it boiled down to a strong lack of empathy towards survivors and those triggered by slut-shaming and sexual assault references). I don’t trust the people around me that I don’t know, because they could very easily belittle me and my experiences, or at least that’s the conclusion I came to. I don’t know. I’m feeling very lost and I don’t know what to do about it.
I do want to mention (and end on more positive note) that a couple of people did reach out to me directly over the weekend; that in itself made me feel a little bit warmer and less isolated. I am always very thankful and amazed that there are people who are still willing to make the first move; it kept me from wallowing any deeper, at least.
I don’t think there’s a conclusion here; I don’t know that any person other than myself can say anything to help this. I don’t know if it’s an apology I’m looking for, because I don’t think I’m really owed one, exactly. I’ve always said that the best con drama is the con drama you’re not involved in, and those words are echoing for me right now. I wish the comedian who did the thing at the con last year had just not done the thing, because then none of this would have happened. I wish she’d taken more responsibility after the fact; that would have gone a long way to help, too. I wish people in general were more sensitive to those who have had rough experiences. But I also really wish that I could convey my feelings a bit better, so that maybe more people could understand the kind of emotional hell that I put myself through when these things happen. I try to keep that kind of stuff off the internet because it’s always so personal and it’s easier to let people assume that there’s nothing wrong than to try and explain why something is wrong in a way that they would care about. I feel like talking about it too frequently or at too much length makes it easier for people to just ignore. I don’t know what prompted me to come out and say anything this time, except that maybe the wound is still fresh (and honestly… every mention of how this year’s CON was BEST CON EVER reopens the wound every time I see it. Not that I would have gone! But it feels like rubbing salt in the wound).
Anyway, I thank anyone who at least tried to read some of this, I’m sure it makes very little sense and ended up being kind of a chore, but it feels sort of good to air it out. I don’t know that I’m looking for any advice either; I’ve had people on Facebook say some stuff they thought was helpful (“I’m not going to CON either because of [insert other mundane reason]” or “I didn’t think there was a big enough issue to keep from going” which is all fine but doesn’t amount to much when your heart is hurting) and I think I’d rather just come to my own conclusion and maybe work up towards trying to approach some other people about it. Thanks again.