Despite averaging 4 hours/night of sleep and gaining 4 pounds (damn you Wisconsin and your tasty beers and cheese curds!), my experience of WisCon this year was fabulous.
Unlike last year, this year I had a real, live book that real, live people have read. I had my first fan interaction during the Gathering, from a man who just wanted to say he loved my book. I actually squeed (not peed, though I may have wanted to) from excitement. Here in the Bay Area, if people have read my book, it’s probably because they know me or know someone who knows me. This guy was the first total stranger I’ve met who’s read and liked my work. Pitter pat goes my heart.
It also was a great conference because last year was when I decided to self-publish Lunatic Fringe. I had been talking to a publishing house, and they gave me a rejection the week prior to me heading to WisCon. There at the event, I talked to a number of amazing authors who said if they had to do it again, they’d self-publish. It was surprising to hear, but knowing the very small world of feminist publishing, I can see the arguments for both sides.
So, it felt fulfilling to walk back into the Madison Concourse with my self-published book under my arm.
I got to moderate two panels on self-publishing, and it became clear that a lot of authors have a lot of questions. Because it’s still such a new world, the tools are changing all the time and it’s hard to keep up with trends and technologies. I hope WisCon adds more self-publishing panels to help aid people’s learning curves.
I also was privileged to sit on three other panels: Female Villains, Rape Fantasy & Feminism, and Trans* & Feminism. I admit I have a great love for the theoretical panels where I can wax poetic on topics that mean much to me. The crowd at all the panels was terrific (though female villains won the numbers game for sure), but I found the Rape Fantasy and Trans* & Feminism panels to offer great conversation. Ian Hagemann is a masterful moderator and engaged the group in a powerful conversation about consent, real-life power dynamic play (a la kink and bdsm), and fan fiction. The Trans* & Feminism panel had a very engaged audience, despite the late hour. Many folks in the audience were able to share from their own perspectives the intersectionality of transgender rights and anti-misogyny activism, and others. The hardest/most amusing part of the panel was me trying to (with liberal use of air quotes) characterize the “problem” that many “radical feminists” have with trans gender women. (See? It’s not easy.) Because I find their standpoint so hateful and repellant, it didn’t feel great to tell a room full of people about the “dude in a dress” myth. I admit, I was a bit afraid of some radfems in the audience for both panels waiting to attack me for my progressive views on sexuality and gender, but happily that didn’t happen. And my usual transparency and slight irreverence seemed to be well-received and helped lighten the mood.
I love being on panels because, though most people don’t believe it, I’m an introvert and a bit shy. This means that being on panels is a great way for people to a) get to know me and b) have something to talk to me about. So yes, I use these panels to my nefarious ends, and hopefully offer something interesting/useful to the participants.
Last year I had a hard time with some of the more readerly panels, i.e. panels that often become people suggesting books and television that offer good examples of whatever topic is being discussed. I’m a slow reader and not very widely read, especially in SF/F, so it made me feel a bit “less than” when the whole audience would be nodding in agreement with the suggestion of some book I’ve never heard of. This year, however, expecting that being the case, I began listening with a critical ear, filtering for suggestions that felt useful and interesting for me to pick up.
Thanks in part to last year’s attendance, I was able to have a bit more quality social time in the evenings. I recognized people and was able to catch up instead of standing awkwardly alone amidst rooms of people. I was also more prepared for the amount of partying in the evenings and adjusted my sleep expectations accordingly.
The Genderfloomp dance party is always a highlight. Last year I dressed in my usual dapper butch gear and
immediately overheated and stripped down to my binder. This year, inspired partially by a cheesecake photoshoot I did a couple weeks back, I decided to go femme, which is something I never really do. But femmes get to wear less clothes and still be considered fancy AND it would be such a stretch for me to dress like a lady, that I went for it. And I was happy I did. It was comfortable, I felt pretty in a way I don’t normally, and later when it was time for the dress to come off, well, it worked much easier than a vest, tie, and binder.
The crowd at WisCon is really special. It’s a mix of genders, ages and classes that I don’t often see sharing space, and doing so in an informed yet respectful way. There’s a keen eye towards accessibility and acceptance of people where they are, but there’s very little 101 conversation that I’ve seen. Most people start at a level where we can respect each other’s identities and build on those similarities and differences in a respectful, supportive, and educational way. This was refreshing because I saw absolutely no “apologize for being” issues at all. This isn’t to say there weren’t people who had their own phobias or biases, or 101 conversations in private, but many of the panels and conversations were oriented towards assuming that body fascism (for example) is a thing and not spinning wheels for an hour explaining why it’s bad. Because of this overarching vibe of People Are People and it’s not my job to educate you, I’d say this is most progressive and kind con I’ve ever been to. There’s very little posturing and oppression Olympics being played. Instead, there’s an eye towards “we’re all folks and folks are all awesome and weird”. Almost like Burning Man, there’s an appreciation for people being as them as they can. So if you’re femmed out, or butched out, or talking politics until 4am because you think that’s fun, or gaming all day instead of going to panels, or whatever, it’s all good as long as you’re living your passions and compassions.
Before leaving, I booked my hotel for next year. It’s a bit more spendy than I’d usually go for, but I’ve made a commitment to keep WisCon in the travel docket for the future, so I may as well do it up right.
A final note: If you wanted to buy my book at WisCon and couldn’t, you can do so by visiting Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or IndieBound. Bring it to WisCon next year and I’ll be sure to sign it for you!