American Culture

You’re not geeky enough for our con

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.

David Tennant as the 10th Doctor, with the TARDIS

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.

8 replies »

  1. Maybe because I’m older but my sister and I have been to lots of cons and I’ve never had a problem. It also may be the cons we choose to go to because at the One Ring Cons I carry a large sword. It also maybe that at cons like Xena Con it’s mostly women. But I have to say of a pimply faced scrawnly little dweeb gotin my face he would be sorry and I’m afraid that stereotype does hold true for a lot of the self appointed gate keepers.

    • Brian,
      NDK IS very insular and standoffish and I think it is mostly because how small it is related to a number of other cons in the Denver area. Try StarCon for SciFi or GhengisCon for gaming and you’ll find not only people who are hard core geeks but also a number of others who try to attract “mundanes” and so called “hobbyist” into their communities, or at least that has been my experience and have been to both of those con’s multiple time although not in the last few years. GhengisCon has events specifically aimed at teaching newbies to game, both adults and the younger sets as well.

      • As I was writing this piece, I realized that, as much as I enjoy anime, SF is really more my thing. As such, if I ever go to a con again, I’ll probably go to something an SF con, and I’ll probably start with StarCon because it’s local.

        We shall see, I guess.

        • StarFest or MileHiCon are both general SF cons in Denver; StarFest more media, MileHiCon more literary. There are others, less SF focused. Genghis Con (and TactiCon) are local gaming cons. There is also Denver Comic Con (about which I know little), AnomalyCon (steampunk), Anime Wasabi (if you think the crowd at NDK is too old and staid), Rocky Mountain Fur Con, BrethrenCon (pirates, now become part of Myths & Legends Con, or MalCon) – and I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

      • NDK is larger than StarFest (no StarCon for years) and MUCH larger than Genghis, so that’s not the problem. I’m not an anime fan, so I can’t address the rest.

  2. You don’t want a gate show calling itself a con. You want a literary science fiction convention. (Gate shows sell tickets because they’re a show. Conventions sell memberships because you’re expected to be a part of the experience.) The con you want is MileHighCon, a science fiction convention of many year’s duration in the Denver area. I’ve been to it, and I barely read science fiction but I found lots of interesting panels and people. Please check it out come October, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  3. Oh Dear, costume police. I thought they were a SCA phenomenon. I should have realized that the concept was universal. Sigh

    I am sure that there are people that know more then you and less than you about anything. I am willing to bet that you know more than me about Anime. You and I should talk. I love to hear about things I know little about. Yes, we should talk and I will learn MORE and MORE. BWAhahahahahhh cough, cough. Hmmm what was I saying? Ahh yes conventions.

    Denver has a wealth of opportunities and I personally recommend Mile Hi Con. This is one of what I like to think of as an old style Con. Aside from books this con has as much of everything it can cram into its programming. This is less a place for the Leet and more for the like minded. I have been exposed to so much I never would have come to love and enjoy over the years. My favorate thing to do at MHC is talk. Talk with strangers, old friends, new friends and anyone who will talk and listen.

    So come and talk. I would love to see you there.