January 27th, 2016

fandom and friends and inclusion

Right now, a lot of people are talking about inclusion/exclusion at SF cons. This is an important conversation and it needs to be had.

We tend to be very aware when we're the people who are excluded. My first convention was appalling and if it hadn't been for Maxine McArthur, I probably would not have made it to my second and discovered how great they can be. Maxine saw me waiting for something, by myself and rather uncomfortable, and she stopped to chat. She had no idea who I was. She showed me she listened and cared, even though we'd never met before. I didn't feel less embarrassed about my first con (I suspect I never shall, for it was awkward) but I was willing to try again, and I've never looked back.

One thing I learned from Maxine is to make new friends at cons. Some of these friends will be friends-for-cons and some will be friends outside. All this is obvious. If I haven't made new friends at a convention then it's either the wrong convention for me (and I need to find out why) or I've been sticking with a single group the whole time. I was trying to explain this to Aussie friends at FantasyCon. It apparently looked as if I was ignoring most of my Australian friends, except for the time I joined them for dessert and for the afternoon I spent with Glenda - but most of the Australians live near me and are welcome to come over and be fed, or we can do fun activities together - it's a choice thing. If we haven't seen each other in a while, we really should remedy it locally and not on the other side of the world. I don't have the same choice to see any of the rather wonderful new friends I met at FantasyCon, because you all live in the UK. You, too, may drop over and be fed, of course, but it's not so easy as someone who lives locally. (Glenda, for the record, lives 3700 kms away, so she was a special case in York.)

Right now there are groups of fans in various places talking about this, following the conversation begun by Kameron Hurley. In one of the various locations this chat has been happening, there was an odd phenomenon. Fans who have a record of excluding others were complaining about being excluded. They'd been excluded themselves (which was bad) and have friends now, and so are fine (which is good). Their friends have unintentionally formed an exclusive clique. Sometimes cliques are important - they're small groups of friends who need each other and have a better convention because they hang out together.

I have other issues with cliques, for the prevalence of cliques in Australian fandom really explains a lot about our SF scene. Work out who knows whom and how well and you have explanations for many, many things. One issue I don't have is groups of friends meeting each other and being safe and happy and unintentionally excluding others. I especially don't have a problem because the first such clique I discovered in fandom were ensuring their physical safety by dining together.

If a group of friends is closed for safety or because they really aren't the sort of people who get happiness from new friends, I don't have an issue. It's a problem for the concom if there are too many of these groups, which is a different matter, though not unrelated, for it means the whole convention is closed to anyone not part of the regular mob. My concern is when a closed group claims to be open. In modelling closed behaviour but claiming to be modelling open, they're actually making the excluded more aware of the exclusion.

There is nothing wrong with friends hanging out with friends. It's nicer if they can be inclusive, but not all groups can, for a good many reasons. Those of us who like meeting new people are in a position of great advantage in this respect. However, groups that exclude because they haven't thought to include or because they haven't checked their body language are a different matter. I've met them too often. I want to be sarcastic in their presence.

For me, the wonder of SF conventions is their tremendous mix of people. This means we are always going to have small groups who need their space. The trick is to make sure that this space doesn't define the convention. One thing that SF fans are notable for is that we are varied in our personalities and our needs : it's about all of us, not about the select few.

So I fully agree that, yes, we should be inclusive at cons. One of the great joys of cons is meeting awesome people, and the shy people lingering on the fringe are (in my experience) such people. And there are places for small closed groups. What there isn't a place for is jumping on the bandwagon for one group and assuming that we're all comfortable with the same behaviour. The very richness and diversity of fandom means that we need to know ourselves and what we do, and not jump on every behavioral bandwagon.

Also, please remember that I am (despite appearances) somewhat shy. I love to talk to new people at cons, though (it's one of the reasons I go), so send them my way. If you know a con newbie and you know I'll be at a con, say "Gillian - chat with her." I may not be at the bar, for people don't tend to open up circles for me in Australia and I got tired of the whole song and dance, but not all cons revolve around bars. Suggest your friend collar me as I come out of a panel and ask if I'm free for coffee. If they will enjoy stirring, suggest they look at me accusingly and say "I was told you like to meet interesting people. I'm fabulously fascinating."

I'll be at Natcon in Brisbane in March - I am looking forward to all my old friends and all my friends-to-be and in making random acquaintances, too.

PS I fixed some typos. I blame the weather for the typos, just as I do for today's aches and pains. I do not blame the weather for me have 45 index entries to go.