Tue
Apr 7 2009 5:58pm

How I Learned to Stop Being a Bitch and Love the Con

Every year in early April a warm and happy buzzing grows in me not entirely unlike what a kid feels just before Christmas. The reason? Norwescon. I love it. I always have a great time. 

So, here I am a few days away from the con, and the buzz is upon me in full force. And I’m wondering, what is it about scifi and fantasy conventions that makes them worthwhile? There are all kinds of conventions from the professional to the fan-run, from big and boisterous to quiet and conversational, from general interest to almost fetishistic in specificity. Some are not at all my cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot. But they each have something to offer their target audiences.

I didn’t always appreciate them. Once upon a time I thought they all sounded like extract of lame. I’m thinking back more than a decade now, to some role-playing friends in Tacoma talking about how much they were looking forward to a convention. I thought they were crazy. Great, I thought, you get a bunch of social misfits dressed up as Federation officers and vampires and have to spend a long weekend full of bad imitation British accents and arguments about physics. Hu-fuckin-zah.

My friends assured me that while those elements are undisputedly present, they hardly make up the whole picture. I would have fun, they promised. In the end, I relented and agreed to go for one day. One day and no more, mostly to shut them up.

The first person I saw my first moment of my first con was a Klingon. Not just any Klingon, mind you, but a massive, impressive Worf-plus mountain of a fellow in full, painstakingly recreated battle dress and very thick glasses.

The glasses threw me. Two thoughts occurred straight away. Why go through all the trouble to make the armor and still wear glasses? And would Klingon society even allow someone to become a warrior with astigmatism?

The second question shows what a total nerd I am, a fact I immediately admitted to myself then and there. My aloof behavior was therefore nonsensical. And just like that—pardon me for pulling a Carrie Bradshaw—I realized that for all his regalia, I wasn’t really so different from the bespectacled Klingon dude. The only significant distinction between us was that he had fully accepted his inner Q’pla and I was still closeted, despite a lifetime of less public geekery.

I felt more than a little ashamed at my prejudices against people who were so much like me. I decided to shed the bias immediately, and spent the day admiring the efforts con-goers put into their costumes, listening to fascinating panel discussions (including a few arguments about physics), flirted with a vampire girl (whose British accent was terrible) and really didn’t want to leave at the end of the day. I had come to the convention a bitch and left a lifelong fan.

That’s not to say I’ve loved every convention I’ve been to. But I understand why they’re important. I understand why people spend months and months in preparation, and why it's worthwhile. 

I suppose you could dismiss the whole scene as a need for validation. But hey, is validation really such a small thing? I don’t think so. Of course, in the long run we validate ourselves. That said, social approval and appreciation are nothing to sneeze at, especially to those of us who feel like the odd man out most of our lives. I have a head full of jokes my coworkers will never get, literary observations most of my relatives don’t relate to, and so forth. Moreover, I crave the euphoria that comes with new ideas, on subjects that those around me don’t always offer. I get that elation in large doses at conventions.

You know the theme song to Cheers? Well, not everyone at a convention knows my name. Hell, they don’t even know the pseudonym on my badge. But sometimes you wanna go where everybody’s cool with you wearing a Homestar Runner shirt and a kilt. 

Photos courtesy of DJ Wudi.

19 comments
Kate Keith-Fitzgerald
1. ceitfianna
I went to my first con in college and it was one of those wonderful, crazy experiences. I was surrounded by people who understood and wanted to understand and share all sorts of geek culture. Its been far too long since I've been to one and this post is a great reminder of just how much fun they are.
Sarmonster
2. Sarmonster
*Applause* Great article.
I was raised by nerds. My dad dragged me to my first con at the age of 4. The naysayers I always saw as responding with the knee-jerk 'I'm cool' stuff they were socially crammed into, or maybe they were just your average rednecks.
I've missed one Norwescon since 1993 and I was in Scotland. Lemme rephrase, I was in SCOTLAND, sitting down to some lovely blackberry whiskey, surrounded by fun-loving and handsome Scotsmen with REAL accents, thinking: "Aw maaan, I'm missing Norwescon."

See you there!
Sarmonster
3. artvixn
Bravo. I've been going since 1982, and Norwescon feel like home. A strange, dysfunctional and oh so geeky home, but home nonetheless. It's nice to go somewhere that people get the in jokes.

~artvixn
www.steam-con.com
Sarmonster
4. Polydad
This one is going to be my first NorWesCon. I've done three WorldCons, a big bunch of LunaCons and PhilCons, LosCons, and even ran a WesterCon once, but I've never before been this far north and this far west at the same time as a Con was going on.

So if you're up Sunday morning, come join me at Denny's for breakfast. I'll be wearing the top hat with the dice-laden goggles on it.
Alice Bentley
5. alicebentley
While this will be my third Norwescon, it's something like my 600th SF con. And that's led to some weird Twilight Zone moments where everything feels so familiar and welcoming, but the people are almost all alternate-world versions of my old friends that I haven't actually met yet. It was a bit uncomfortable, and I had trouble starting conversations.

This year I planned ahead and got a dealers table. Selling books is the greatest ice breaker there is, providing infinite topics even if you have no plans to buy anything.
Jason Henninger
6. jasonhenninger
Thanks for the kind responses. I'm sure we'll all have a great time. And if you see a guy who looks kinda like a chubby Ming the Merciless, with a Japanese crane design tattooed on his forearms, don't hesitate to say hi.
- -
7. heresiarch
It's so good you learned to love cons and stopped being an unpleasant female! Nothing worse than being an unpleasant female. Thank goodness you managed to stop doing that.

(And yes, I'm pissed at your usage of the word "bitch" as shorthand for, as far as I can tell, "someone who doesn't know what's good for them." 'Cuz there's nothing sexist about that!)
Jason Henninger
8. jasonhenninger
@7

I take your point, and I apologize.

For what it's worth, it's a gender-neutral term in my mind. Like dude. I even call my daughter "dude." Honestly, when I referred to myself as a bitch there wasn't the slightest intended implication of sexism. That may sound absurd, but it's true. When I think of it, it just means "jerk" only moreso.

All that aside, I'll be more cognizant of the other interpretation of the word in the future, because I certainly meant no offense.
- -
9. heresiarch
"For what it's worth, it's a gender-neutral term in my mind."

Unfortunately, what it means in your mind is a) inaccessible to the rest of us and b) no more relevant than what it means in my mind, or any other person's mind. And what most people think of when they hear "bitch" is decidedly not gender-neutral. It really doesn't matter what you thought you said--most people, seeing that post title will at some level think "bitch=woman=bad," even if that's not something you intended.

That said, are you sure it's really that neutral? Bitch is a rare insult in that it can be used on both men and women, but I don't think that makes it non-gendered. It's really two insults rolled into one: one for women, and one for men. Against women it means an bossy, arrogant woman who's doesn't know her place. Against men it means a man who is weak-willed, easily manipulated emotionally, i.e. has a feminine personality. While those are different meanings, they're both pretty sexist.

Now, like I said, I don't know your mind. If those aren't the mental definitions you use, then no problem. It's worth looking twice at these things, though.
Bridget McGovern
10. BMcGovern
For the record, heresiarch @9 makes a good point about the term in question, although I personally wasn't offended by its use in this case--probably because the spirit of the post is so overwhelmingly positive, celebrating the sense of community, inclusion, and acceptance that makes fandom worth participating in...Having only recently attended my first couple cons in the last year, I'm still a little dazed and wide-eyed, so it's interesting to hear about other people's experiences, and it certainly sounds as if Norwescon is the place to be this weekend. If you get a chance to report back, let us know how it goes (also, more pictures!--these are great :)
Sarmonster
11. Kiley Sedai
Awesome! I'm going to my very first Con next weekend - JordanCon - and I'm super excited! I'm a journalist and I've actually been doing a series of articles about prepping for my first Con for a webzine here. You can see them here: http://wakeupnaptown.com/2009/03/confessions-of-a-nerd/

The third will be up at the end of this week!
Ken Scholes
12. kenscholes
Looking forward to seeing you at the con, Jason!
Elizabeth Coleman
13. elizabethcoleman
Out of curiosity, how does Norwescon compare to other cons, size-wise? I've only been to cons in the northwest, and it's certainly the biggest of those, but it seems I hear more people talk about it online. Is it just one of the more notorious? (I know some reasons why it is!)
Samantha Brandt
14. Talia
I spent this past weekend at I-Con myself, and had an absolute blast.. I've been going for a decade now. :)

Everyone's so friendly. Comes from being around thousands of other people whom you know hold similar interests to you, I guess. :)
David Lev
16. davidlev
I recently went to my first con--Armaggedon Expo in Christchurch, NZ. It was nice being around people who spoke a common language of geek with me,something I've learned to cherish here as an American in New Zealand. It was fun and rewarding, and I have so many photos on facebook of people's beautiful costumes. You can see my photos here (if you're interested)

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2042569&id=17704134&l=72128a690c

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2042571&id=17704134&l=f49d385b3e
Sarmonster
17. ChonBey
I'm one of those Klingons in glasses, in a club of primarily Klingons in glasses, although we also do pirates in glasses, mad scientists/evil geniuses in glasses, Steampunk in glasses, and anything else we feel like doing in glasses. When we're not at conventions being x in glasses, we volunteer at the MS Walk, Cancer Walk, Asthma Walk, Heart Walk, Alzheimer Walk, answer phones for PBS, etc. all as Klingons or Pirates in Glasses.

So we're glad you found your inner fan and learned to love the bomb.

Did you see us Saturday?
IKV T'Mar
Jude-Marie Green
18. saycestsay
@13: NorWesCon is a regional convention, so it's larger than, say, RadCon, and smaller/more intimate than WorldCon. There are hordes more writers/pros than at other fan-cons in my experience.

Hi Jason... um, Ming. Hope you had a great time at NorWesCon!
Sarmonster
19. red zinger
And it's such a cute picture of my son in his tusks.

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