Convention Facepalm

When you are in the middle of trying to persuade people to revitalize science fiction conventions, the last thing you need is something like this. The post linked to is a litany of fairly awful behavior experienced by the poster and his friends at Lunacon over the weekend. It includes things like:

It is not appropriate to assume that lesbians are there for your pleasure and entertainment; as such, do not ask them to kiss, engage in an orgy, or otherwise amuse you.


It is not appropriate to inquire to a trans person you do not know as to whether they’ve “cut it off yet”

Not to mention all of the usual stuff about washing, hijacking panels and the like.

My personal experience suggests that this sort of thing isn’t common. Aside from one unpleasant incident at a media con in San José years ago I can’t remember any serious problems with other con attendees that I don’t know. Obviously I have had run-ins with people who dislike me personally, and there are occasionally issues with people who have got “security” jobs at conventions and think that gives them the right to bully others. I’ve also encountered various people (mainly feminists) who think that their political philosophy gives them the right to police the lives of everyone else in the world. But by and large I think I’ve been pretty lucky at conventions.

I am, however, aware that my personal experience is not necessary typical, and experiences like the one linked to cause me to wonder if it might not be atypical.

I also note that already one commenter has muttered about the problems of letting young people into conventions. -sigh-

One specific point that was brought up was about txting during panels. This caused someone to link back to my discussion on the use of technology at Worldcons. Using a full keyboard from a panel audience can be distracting because of the clatter of the keys. Similarly if you have a phone that makes beepy noises every time you press a key, you shouldn’t be using it in a panel. It will probably take a while before some people get comfortable with the ubiquity of electronic communication, and those people may be badly distracted by the use of phones even if it is silent and unobtrusive, but I think in the long term we’ll all get used to it and the technology will get even less obvious.

Overall, however, I suspect that conventions are pretty much typical of society as a whole, although perhaps with an added dose of the “I have a lengthy and turgid intellectual justification for my bad behavior” syndrome. Having abuse yelled at me by strangers in the street is a pretty common experience in the UK (probably at least once a week). Conventions, in comparison, seem fairly safe places. Though that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge inappropriate behavior in our spaces when we encounter it.

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13 Responses to Convention Facepalm

  1. Kate says:

    I will attend my first really big con later this year if everything works out – but meanwhile I must have been incredibly lucky as the only experience I have had at the irish cons I have attended has been a warm reception and new friendships.

    But suddenly the comments during RaceFail about people being afraid to go to cons make more sense.

  2. Twilight says:

    I’ve been doing cons since 1988 all over the Left Coast + at least a couple of Worldcons (Nola and Chicago 199-something) outside of that area as well as some southern cons (including, but not limited to D*C in the early 90’s) and can only remember one time I saw anything along these lines as all – directed at me and a well-known-comic-artist-who-shall-remain-unnamed – the assumption that since were hanging out and our husbands had never actually appeared at cons, we must actually be lovers and they must be cover. Not just lovers, but “just like X&X” a well known out & proud lesbian couple in the costuming community (something about the way we dressed that weekend). That lasted for precisely one con at which we spent a couple of evenings hanging out. No one treated us badly – they just assumed we were a couple and treated us as such.

    Many of my experiences at Orycon were different from those at Rivercon (both good) – but I would expect Portland, OR to be notably different from Louisville, KY in many ways. Interestingly, from all the important perspectives for me, my experiences at those 2 cons were also very similar – I went to cool panels, I met cool people, I chatted with cool people some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, most folks were friendly and treated others around them well.

    While again, I know that my experience is not everyone’s – as much as I’ve been involved at these cons (on concom, on security, heavily in the halls and panels, at all the “onions and roses” ) – if it’s pervasive, I’ve missed it entirely (not impossible that I would miss some — even much – but all?) I’m not known for being quiet and the husband still never attends – so I don’t have “auto-cover” the way someone with their husband/bf might.

    I expect that while this stuff happens (and I know it does), that it happens less than in the broader community (RW) given the same interactions.

    Which, as you said, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it – in fact we should more than most – we who present ourselves as accepting of new and different and so on – but defining a whole world by the behaviour of one con in one town strikes me as odd (tho I know folks do that very thing all the time – both for good and for ill).

  3. I was there. I saw very little of this behavior: sleepers in the audience, and one incident of rudeness. It was a good post, but “rm” admitted to not seeing all of it, merely that such unaceptable behaviors had been reported. Lunacon is a very book-oriented con overall, with a lively gaming and costuming track and good panels. I hope the post you refer to does not discourage people from attending.

  4. Stacie says:

    This, plus RaceFail, plus things I’ve heard about from other cons over the years just add up to “I never want to attend a con.” Oh, yes, and the Open Source Boob Project.

    I’ve been to the Discworld cons, which seem pretty well-behaved, but I have my own protective cohort surrounding me at all times, even when I’m meeting new people.

    What I know for a fact is that there will be a lot of people there, and noise. When you add all of this together, I figure that SOME of this must go on at EVERY con, whether someone sees it to blog about it or not, and I think there’s no way in hell I want to go to one of these things.

    Clute and Liz Hand and a few others now have nearly persuaded me to attend Readercon as being most nearly my speed, and they’ve promised to shield me from large crowds of strangers, so maybe.

  5. V says:

    Stacie: Based on what I have seen and heard (as it is difficult to work on other than anecdotal evidence, absent statistics) the sort of behavior discussed in that post tends to be acute rather than ubiquitous at conventions; i.e. there are generally a small number of “bad apples” who give rise to many complaints and are, in some cases, asked to leave the premises.

    Readercon is, in my experience, a well-mannered and quiet event and I can think of a number of specific occasions in the past, which I will not enumerate, on which the organizers have acted to discontinue unacceptable behavior. Attending other conventions with groups of friends has allowed me to avoid, thus far, many of the more invasive displays of inappropriateness enumerated in that list.

    I hope you attend this summer.

  6. I was at Lunacon as well, and I don’t remember seeing any of those behaviors. (Well, except for the overly enthusiastic panel audience — there was one guy standing at the back of “Evil Lair Building” who seemed to believe he was our long-lost fifth panelist.)

    And the individual to whom you linked may mean well, but it looks more like an attempt at creating a omniversal “Catalog of Human Behaviors Which I Do Not Tolerate.” (And there seems to be very little that is tolerated, besides sitting down and shutting up.)

    News flash: there are billions of people in this world, and they have radically different ideas of appropriate behavior in various situations. If your first instinct is to climb up on your soapbox and complain, you’ll never get down and do anything else. Any of us could easily construct a list equally wrong of horrible behavior witnessed at football games, or operas, or shopping malls, or offices. If you can’t do it entertainingly, though, it’s just a tedious whine.

  7. Stacie, let me add my voice to those encouraging you to go. Every long-running, non-travelling annual convention has developed its own particular community. The vast majority of them are healthy and tolerant. I haven’t been to Readercon myself, being on the wrong coast, but I’ve heard nothing but positive things about it from people who have.

  8. Cheryl says:

    Thanks to everyone for chiming in with their personal experiences and reassuring me that I wasn’t going mad. Sadly, no matter what we say, I think this will discourage people from attending conventions. People tend to be much more willing to believe bad things about others than to believe good things.

    Something else that is worth bearing in mind is that if there are idiots at a convention, the straight, conventional white folks are not the ones who will be targeted. It is the LGBT people, the PoC, the disabled and so on who will be the butt of these people’s “humor”. The fact that we don’t experience it doesn’t mean that it isn’t going on.

  9. brownnicky says:

    I’ve never been to one and I have to say this has discouraged me.

  10. Neil Clarke says:

    There is a ten+ year gap in my con-going experience that was the direct result of attending cons at which I regularly encountered or observed several of the items mentioned on that list. If a friend hadn’t encouraged me to attend Readercon a few years ago, I probably never would have attended another convention.

    I was at Lunacon this weekend. Had a great time and would never have known most of that stuff had happened. I’m glad someone pointed it out and hope that something can be done to work towards improving things. At this point, I still intend to go back next year and I hope that this doesn’t scare good people from giving it a try.

  11. Carolyn says:

    Having abuse yelled at me by strangers in the street is a pretty common experience in the UK (probably at least once a week).


    I’m guessing from the fact that you specify the UK that this doesn’t happen in the US (or at least as much)? That would tally with my visually disabled business partner’s experience: she lived and worked in the UK, the US and parts of Europe before moving to New Zealand, and she found the UK was the least tolerant of someone visibly out of the mainstream. (Luckily, she finds NZ, although not perfect, by far the most comfortable from that point of view.)

  12. Cheryl says:


    It is very much a UK thing. I’ve not experienced it nearly so much living in Australia and California, or in any country I have visited. I’m not sure it is necessarily about being out of the mainstream though. A lot of it is men who think it is “funny” to yell abuse at women from the safety of their cars as they drive past.

  13. Carolyn says:


    Oh, I see, just general misogyny! I’m having a tough time figuring out which is more charming.

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