I’m still thinking about Detcon1 and some of the things the convention did so well. One thing that stood out for me was the Fan Gallery in the dealer’s room. This was a collection of photos of fans past and present.
Included with the gallery was a note acknowledging that historically, white men have tended to be the dominant group in fandom and the genre, a statement backed up by looking through the faces in the photo collection. The note goes on to encourage people to help change that, to get involved and make fandom a more welcoming and inclusive place.
I really appreciate this approach. Rather than getting defensive about our history and the state of the genre, it acknowledges where we’ve been and where we are, and encourages people to join in the work of getting to a better place.
It’s hard to fix a problem you won’t acknowledge exists in the first place. It’s even harder when people actively mock you for trying to point out problems you’ve seen and experienced first-hand, or when the people you’re trying to reach take any discussion of said problems as a personal attack on them.
That knee-jerk defensiveness is an incredibly frustrating obstacle, often derailing and shutting down conversations before they can even get started. How many times have we seen exchanges that go something like:
“I really wish we had more non-white protagonists in the genre.”
“I’M NOT RACIST! THE PROBLEM IS JERKS LIKE YOU RUNNING AROUND CALLING PEOPLE BIGOTS!”
“Ever notice how few non-straight characters ever get a truly satisfying romantic plotline?”
“I’m not homophobic because I once wrote a gay character!”
“It would be nice to see a wider range of female characters in–”
“THE GAMMA-BUNNY MANGINA-POLICE ARE COMING TO STEAL MY ‘CAPTAIN McMANLY: SPACE MAN OF TESTOSTERIA’ STORIES!”
So kudos to Detcon1 for not only recognizing that fandom hasn’t been as inclusive as we sometimes like to believe, but also for understanding that acknowledging the historical problems of our genre doesn’t mean you’re a horrible, bigoted, sexist, racist, tribble-kicking jerk. Acknowledgment is the first step toward progress.
In a similar vein, Detcon1 created the FANtastic Detroit Fund to provide memberships for fans who might not otherwise be able to attend.
Here’s Detcon1 conchair Tammy Coxen talking about the program in her own words:
Even though we worked to keep our membership rates as low as possible, conventions are expensive, and Detroit has the highest poverty rate of any large city in the United States. We wanted to provide a mechanism for fans of limited means, from Detroit and beyond, to be able to attend the convention, so we launched a crowdfunded program to provide free membership.
The program was very successful. We received $1555 in cash and 28 donated memberships, which allowed us to provide 66 memberships to adults, youth and children.
I can say without reservations that we would strongly encourage other conventions to adopt a similar program. It was easy to implement and had big impact. We will be offering seed funding to the next WSFS-sanctioned convention to offer such a program (exact amount to be determined based on our final bookkeeping), and are happy to serve as consultants to those desiring to set up a similar program.
Bottom line, I’m very proud of the work my state did here, not only to create what was by almost all accounts an amazing convention, but also setting an example of how to work toward a more inclusive and welcoming fandom.