As you may have noticed, last Monday I went and got myself a wife. And things are all pretty nice. The wedding and ensuing consecutive mini-honeymoons are all worth gossiping about, and now that I’m back home with a computer and all the free time that comes with not having a wedding to plan, I’m getting myself back into writer mode. So, gossip ahoy-hoy.
Taking events in reverse chronological order, then, this post’s starting off with the London Nine Worlds convention, from which we returned yesterday. Two and a half days of geeks and sci-fi and fantasy and pop culture and room service. We’ve just bought tickets for 2014 and my wife is already making plans for how to dress me up next time, so I guess it must’ve gone kinda okay. A selection of things I took away from the weekend:
1. I’m a nerd.
(Or a geek, or whatever.)
My wife and I spent the last several days sitting in conference rooms and lecture halls, listening to learned and erudite discourse on such topics as: chaos theory and infinite monkeys; the legal challenges and implications resulting from the increased proliferation of robotics in everyday life; Hermione Granger’s credibility or lack thereof as a feminist icon; what conclusions can be drawn about plausible alien ecologies from our own planet’s evolutionary biology; and the restrictively binary mainstream perceptions of gender, sex, and sexuality, along with aspects of culture which tend to reinforce or subvert the dominant paradigms.
And we spent a non-trivial amount of money for the privilege and it was totally worth it.
I also bought a couple hundred Magic cards, a few urban fantasy novels, and a pixel-art necklace for my beloved – and this only after several very restrained tours of the vendor hall, gawping at all the shiny and reining in our impulses to fill our home with all the things.
These are not ways the majority of folk would be thrilled to spend their time, I think. I mean, I hang out almost exclusively with other nerds of one sort or another, in the parts of the world where I get to choose my own socialising schedule, so it might start to seem like swooning over Cory Doctorow is the kind of thing that everyone will immediately get. But really, it all puts me in something of a niche. I’m already thinking about how much of this detail I’ll end up skimming over when I go back to work next week and am quizzed on what I’ve been up to by my work colleagues. They’re not nerds.
2. I’m not that much of a nerd.
(Or maybe just not the same kind of nerd as some other nerds, maybe it’s not a matter of scale, or whatever.)
There’s a particular kind of geek/nerd behaviour I’ve witnessed a lot. The stereotypical nerd is a social misfit in everyday life, who doesn’t have much to say to all the normal people they’re surrounded by, and is largely inept at saying it. They’re an introvert, a loner, with little capacity for interaction with other humans and a tendency to shy away from situations where they might have to do so.
But what you actually see among a lot of nerds is a tendency to congregate eagerly with their own kind, and ample capacity to become extremely extroverted, expressive, and engaged with others, under the right circumstances. It’s really not that these people don’t like socialising, or are all painfully shy; they just don’t give a shit about football or whatever the hell the rest of you guys are talking about. Get them going on something actually interesting, though, and you’ll often have trouble shutting them up. (And you’ll encounter a similar proportion of obnoxious, aggressive dicks as can be found among the species as a whole.)
I really don’t do that one myself. I don’t simply have to join a crowd of the right people, my people, to suddenly find myself opening up and becoming a whole different, chatty, person, just because I finally have something in common with them. It’s not just the fact that muggles want to talk about football that I find off-putting and alienating. Even in subjects where I feel both interested and knowledgeable, I’m not always easy to draw into a conversation, depending on the circumstances (crowds and/or strangers being among the key factors).
Which I guess kinda sucks. I don’t have that sense of “coming home”, or suddenly being among friends, the way some people do at such geekfests. I can’t really imagine that a different sort of crowd ever would give me that feeling, either, because it’s not a matter of being among the “right people” that’s lacking here.
Having said that, there’s one related thing which strongly comes through from all the feedback that Nine Worlds has been receiving:
3. If you wanted a “safe space” for just about any minority interest or quirk, this was it.
For whatever reason (and I’m sure there are fascinating sociology papers discussing this somewhere), there seems to be a significant overlap between, say, reading comics/watching Doctor Who/playing board games/exploring steampunk/enjoying Tolkien/critically analysing Harry Potter, and possessing a not-completely-straightforward gender or sexual identity.
That’s a clunky way of phrasing my point. But there were a lot of people at this con dressing in ways not traditionally associated with their apparent gender in the mainstream world. And, if someone’s a stranger to you, but you happen to know that they’re way into My Little Pony, your estimate of how likely they are to shout transphobic abuse at you should go way down.
There was a whole track devoted to “Queer Fandom”, whose purpose was described as “celebrating and exploring LGBT themes, characters and creators throughout SFF media”. And even though my experience of the con had little overlap with any of their stuff, the general atmosphere of acceptance, welcoming, and camaraderie pervaded the convention as a whole. The idea of making it a friendly and safe space for people who wanted to dress, or wear their hair, or in any other way present themselves, in a fashion that might be controversial elsewhere, was built into the running of the con and its ethos.
Even refreshing the #nineworlds hashtag results now, I’m seeing more mentions of the phrase “safe space”. And it means a lot more coming from most of these Twitterfolk than it does from me. Because, y’know, I’m a straight white male. My odds of being “safe” in just about any environment amenable to human life are about as good as you could ask for.
For me, dressing myself comfortably – in a way that I feel truly reflects the person I consider myself to be – involves throwing on the nearest reasonably clean check shirt and cords that are lying around. It takes seconds, and the end result renders me entirely unremarkable. For some people, that’s not the case. They might want to use make-up, and hair dye, and creative outfits, and costumes, and personal accoutrements and ornamentation of all kinds, often in ways that don’t align with any conventional social demographic.
In its simplest form, this means that, if you were at Nine Worlds, you will likely have seen at least one bloke in a dress milling around. And that’s at the least inventive end of the scale.
And my general impression, based on the reports of actual blokes in dresses, among other people who lie outside of various social norms, is that they mostly felt safe and comfortable being themselves at this convention, in a way that starkly contrasts with their experiences in the world in general. Which is groovy.
Actually listening to other people’s personal accounts of such things is important. I mean, I know that to me everyone seemed nice and friendly, but then, someone massively racist or homophobic may have no reason not to be nice and friendly around me. But a brief wander outside my bubble serves as a reminder that, for some folk, it’s a genuine lifeline to have some space where you can just be yourself, without always wondering how long it’ll be before the next mocking catcall or physical abuse, and whether it wouldn’t be simpler to just keep lying to the world about who you are, for the sake of a peaceful life.
So, yeah. I support all of This Sort Of Thing, with very few reservations and a great deal of optimism for the future.
Also we had three nights in a hotel where you can just pick up the phone and ask them to bring you all the food on a trolley and they totally will and you don’t even have to get properly dressed or go outside or anything. How long have I failed to appreciate that that’s a thing?
More to follow, after a much shorter wait this time. I’m feeling back on the wagon now.
Edit: The aforementioned wife has also composed her own report of the weekend, which has a lot more description of the stuff that actually happened there. Also, pictures!