Geekdom has not had a good reputation lately, with rampant sexism, racism, homophobia, harassment, and a whole slew of other offenses being made public. But attending AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C. this past weekend with my kids gave me hope for the future.
To begin with, AwesomeCon went above and beyond in its harassment policy, something that many cons ignore or half-ass at best. They made their statement aspirational, saying, “Awesome Con is committed to fostering an atmosphere where fans can count on a safe, inclusive, and rewarding comic-con experience.” Besides a comprehensive list of unacceptable actions, it also gave an umbrella restriction on actions that “reinforce social structures of domination,” making it exceptionally hard for creeps to rules-lawyer their way out of awful behavior. They even worked with Collective Action for Safe Spaces, an anti-street harassment non-profit, to train their staff.
On top of that, they had programming that worked to represent the variety of geeks out there. They had panels on the treatment of sexual violence on Jessica Jones (in partnership with a local crisis center), challenges faced in LGTB cosplay, and the history of black characters in comics. On the other end of the complexity spectrum, they also had a full list of programming for kids and an open play area with Legos. While there were a few t-shirts with rude messages, there was nothing sexually explicit at the exhibition hall that made me want to cover the kids’ eyes. (There were some “adult” panels, but they were well-designated in the program.) They had ASL interpreters for a number of the panels and attendees could request one for any panels where they weren’t already assigned. The only accessibility problem appeared to be the bonkers way the elevators are set up in the Washington Convention Center, but you can’t really do much about the building. (It did teach me not to bring a stroller to these things though.)
The convention also showed an openness to more than just pure entertainment. The Department of Energy, DC Public Library, and Smithsonian all had booths. Similarly, they had a special episode of Star Talk with Bill Nye! While I’m sure these organizations paid their booth fees like anyone else, I liked that they had the integration of actual science in with the superheroes and video games.
And these efforts seemed to be paying off. I saw a large number of women and girls there, many of them cosplaying everything from Rapunzel to gender bent Loki. (Although the most popular cross-play seemed to be the Winter Soldier.) I spoke to a woman who had a service dog, with them both dressed as characters from Fallout 4. There was a contingent of gay X-Men posing in front of the LGBT HQ booth, being photographed by a woman in a beautiful leather Wonder Woman costume. I spotted Superman and Batman holding hands. I saw a guy in a costume with a dress that I think was supposed to be Louise from Bob’s Burgers. There were a number of fans of color – not surprising for Washington DC, but higher than normal for conventions, which tend to skew notoriously white. There were a ton of kids, both little ones there because their parents wanted to attend and older ones who were clearly fans themselves. Even the fandoms represented were diverse, with booths selling balloon art shaped like Disney Princesses, Batman pillows, and cartoon prints with both Toriel from Undertale and Deadpool. (Deadpool was hugging Toriel and crying, “I can’t do it!”)
The only problem I saw in terms of inclusivity was the fact that tickets were outside of many people’s price range. The base price for the whole weekend was pretty high and then the VIP tickets that provided preferred seating were extravagantly expensive. The worst part is that I heard from a friend even when the VIP seats were empty, they made non-VIPs stand rather than offer them a seat. That’s rather insulting.
But in general, it was a wonderful display of the diversity and span of what it can mean to be a geek. Being a geek should be about loving something unabashedly and wanting to share that love with others. If my sons are as geeky as Chris and I, I want them to be able to be proud of that fact and that community. AwesomeCon wasn’t perfect, but it offered a taste of what that might look like.