It’s a bit belated, but as I mentioned earlier I was at FOGCon at the beginning of this month. This was my first small con and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I went in with the following goals:
1: Have or listen to some interesting discussions about bodies in SF/F fiction.
2: Keep an ear open for reading recommendations, especially in regards to more recent releases (I tend to visit the same handful of authors and always need new ones to get excited about).
3: Meet and interact with friendly new people.
I think I achieved all of those for sure! I haven’t transcribed the list of author and book suggestions from my notebook to something more easily readable, but I’ll get to it next time I visit the library. But I certainly met plenty of nice folks and was overall very happy with the conversations that were happening both in and outside of the official programming. When some of the first things I saw when I arrived at the con Friday were a corner full of knitters and a sign for a trans/poly/queer/kink-friendly munch at the hotel bar Saturday night, I figured I was in the right place. I’m not used to being in spaces where conversations about queer identity and fat activism bleed into serious discussions about fanfiction, and it was pretty fabulous. Several fantastic folks I met that weekend talked up WisCon as a place where similar conversations happen on a larger scale, and while I know I won’t be going this year I really want to try to make it there next year.
There were lots of great panels and discussions that weekend, but one of the most interesting was one called “Loving the Problematic.” It was probably the most well-attended panel I went to all weekend; impressive considering it took place at 9:00 Sunday morning! People had a lot they wanted to say – the panel certainly spoke a lot but you could tell that audience members were passionate about the topic and just desperate to contribute to the conversation, and the entire panel went over the time limit by at least ten minutes. That was the worst part about the panel: it just wasn’t long enough. I think there could have been an entire day dedicated to that topic and people would have still wanted to keep talking. It’s so fantastic to be in an environment where it’s possible to have a critical discussion about works that are beloved and flawed, without someone interrupting and accusing everyone of being “too sensitive” or some other bullshit like that.
There are some things that make me cringe but keep reading, and others that will keep me from finishing a book or reading other works by the same author; I suspect those triggers are different for everyone. But when so much genre fiction can be extremely powerful and also hurtful, it was great to have a space to discuss that honestly, where we could talk about the balance between accountability and not throwing babies out with bathwater. I will admit that sometimes I get surly and want to throw the damn baby out anyway.
There was some frustrating gender essentialism on hand, mainly in the “Mars Wants Our Genitals” panel about alien sex (although I also had an eyeroll moment in the mind/body separation panel when a panelist talked about male ways of knowing vs. female ways of feeling). I wish I could remember this exact quote or who to attribute it to, but someone on the panel provided one that was something like “men want to impregnate the universe… and women want to be impregnated by it” without any acknowledgement that this is a pretty narrow view of the world. The idea that men just want to ejaculate out into space is ridiculous to me. (Note to anyone I sleep with now or in the future: I have no desire to impregnate you!) I know the discussion has to be limited by the familiarities and experiences of the panelists, but I wish that had been more directly addressed or that the panel talked about that limitation more.
The big upside of this panel was that I remembered a throwaway reference to bright colors used to sexually stimulate an alien in some Torchwood fanfiction I read a few years back, and last weekend I finally remembered to track it down (#6, “Stupid Human Tricks,” in this post). During the process I learned that my Twitter friends are always willing to help track down bizarre fanfiction, which I suppose is a sign of true friendship.
Just this week, I came across this passage in a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin (“The Day Before the Revolution”) and wished I’d read it before the convention, because it would have been useful to have in mind then:
“A proper body’s not an object, not an implement, not a belonging to be admired, it’s just you, yourself. Only when it’s no longer you, but yours, a thing owned, do you worry about it — Is it in good shape? Will it do? Will it last?”
I hadn’t thought about that distinction this way before: not mine but me. I suppose this is a simple explanation of the transition I’m trying to make: from the object, from the thing owned, to just the self.