On Friday I was reading SF fansite IO9 when I came across a post by Emily Finke about her experience cosplaying at this year’s Balticon. Very briefly, she kept being told that her Star Trek original series-accurate science officer’s uniform was “too short” and grilled by self-appointed “true geek” gatekeepers, among other infuriating abuses. As a man and someone who is generally not interested in cosplay, I can’t relate to a great deal of what she talks about. I can empathize, but I can’t truly grok it. All I can really say is “Emily – awesome costume, and you shouldn’t have had to put up with all that bullshit.” And to everyone else, go read what she has to say – it’s worth your time.
But there were a few things she wrote that got me thinking about my own limited con experience. Finke wrote about “Mr. Fake Geek Girl Screener.” She wrote about in-group policing being performed by geeks on other geeks. She wrote about men “hitting every hot button of geek gatekeeping they can.” And she wrote that other women, feeling as she did, might “lose all desire to attend *any* cons.”
And that’s when Finke’s words hit me in a way I do grok.
I’ve attended exactly two cons, the first and second Nan Desu Kan in Denver, Colorado. And after the second, I decided that I wasn’t going to attend a third.
See, while I enjoy watching anime and reading manga, I don’t devote a large portion of my life to either. I can talk intelligently about any of the titles I’ve watched and/or read (as well as differences between the anime and manga versions, which I prefer, and why), but I’m not a hard-core fan, at least not compared to someone who truly loves a particular title. I don’t watch so much anime that it consumes all my movie and television time, nor do I read manga so prolifically that I know all the latest titles.
And that’s why I didn’t have good experiences at the first two NDKs. I apparently didn’t meet the True OtakuTM threshold that the other con attendees unconsciously defined, and so I felt that I was being dismissed as a mere hobbyist. And it felt at the time that being a hobbyist was worse than being a “mundane” who wandered into see what all the fuss was about.
I haven’t gone to any cons, gaming or SF or anime, since. I had enough of being condescended to by my peers for being too geeky in high school, thankyouverymuch. And these days I don’t need the hassle of being condescended to for not being geeky enough for the hardcore “True Geek” con gatekeepers.
And that bugs me because cons are just the sort of thing I should enjoy. I positively love to geek out over Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Bab 5, the Stargate SG-1 universe (except for SG-Universe, which was very nearly as bad as Star Trek 5), Firefly, and so on. I love to debate the relative merit of space opera novels. It’s a blast to commiserate about the parts of Lord of the Rings that were cut out of the movies that I loved and missed, and the differences between the theatrical releases and the extended versions (which were WAY better). And so on.
But I don’t want to be sneered at because I don’t care to learn Klingon or Elvish, or because I’m only wearing a TARDIS polo when I could have dressed up as the Doctor, or because I’ve made a conscious choice not to get into X-Men because I don’t care to read the decades of back issues (my obsessiveness would demand it).
Perhaps I’m not being fair. Maybe the problems I had during the first two NDKs aren’t integral to anime cons, or to cons in general. Maybe the gatekeeping I experienced was related more to birthing pains than it was to geeks being cliquish and petty. And maybe what I experienced at an anime con isn’t what I would encounter at a gaming or an SF con. To date I haven’t been willing to find out. But given what Finke described (and the far worse harassment described by other women at cons over the last few years), I suspect that the gatekeeping and pettiness I experienced at NDK are relatively universal.
And that really, really sucks.