There’s been a lot of chatter in the environments surrounding Doomtastic about safe spaces lately. While this is of course always an issue in any situation or social network, some recent happenings in our area and some of the events we follow have led to more discussion. Some people have noticed in all this hullabaloo that we really seem to go out of our way to create them and why we do that. And some people have asked for some information on creating safe spaces, especially some people who know us IRL. This is especially based on our home, if anyone read our earlier post on how the Doomtastic headquarters is a safe space, you might know this too.
And after some soul searching, and some requests from people such as Black Hastega Studios and Kurenai Kiba, (specifically a comment that cons should feel like the house and how can that happen) we decided to write a post on something we feel strongly about, but that can be tricky to address. How to make Geekdom conventions a safe space. And while this is specific to nerdy events, most of the things mentioned will apply to any gathering.
Firstly, everyone needs to recognize that most cons are aimed a specific demographic or two and that is just something inherent in an event of that type. Geeks come from all walks of life and you will never be able to make everyone happy. However, this does not mean that it is okay to make people who do not fit that demographic unwelcome. Acknowledging that a gathering is aimed to please a distinct fandom or population does not bestow upon anyone the right to exclude others or make them feel rejected. Doctor Who cons are great and that’s why everyone has congregated, but that does NOT mean it is okay to malign the Brony who is attending with friends or demean someone who only likes classic or new Who. When conventions were started the purpose was to be inclusive of all the individuals who felt ostracized by the outside community. They were a place of belonging for people of varied races, abilities, and orientations who found connection through a shared passion. While a fandom may be closed or open, anyone who shares in that fandom should feel welcomed.
No one should ever have to leave a convention in order to feel safe or as if they are avoiding persecution. Leaving a con because it is too big, or is just is not your thing, or it is overwhelming are different. These are reasons to leave because you may not like the experience, but you should not feel that you NEED to leave in order to feel safe. And taking a breather makes perfect sense, you know you best. but again no one should have to leave a convention because they feel unsafe. Many people come to conventions because they feel that the outside world is not accepting or because of the narrow-mindedness of the people around them. When we have the power to exclude or include others in our exploits we need to make the conscious choice to be better and make the decision to INCLUDE people.
This can apply to convention staff, attendees, panelists, and organizers of other events. We, as both individuals and a collective, need to establish a pattern of accepting others, regardless of whether they are the same as us, or how much we share. This is something that does appear to be much harder for the collective than for the individual, because as a group, you tend to only seem as welcoming as your least welcoming member. And that least welcome voice can seem a lot louder than your most welcoming voice. Convention staff need to work this into their harassment policies and enforce it. Individuals need to act when they see others being intimidated or pestered. They need to act with respect and realize that being respectful is based on the perception of others and not always your intention. (This is a tough one, we know). Speak up, but do not take what someone said that was derogatory or hurtful personally if possible. And do not make your defense of others personal if at all feasible. Make it about the issue, not the person. Panelists can lay the groundwork by stating that hate, antagonizing others, and being derogatory will not be tolerated. And follow through with that during the panel. Lip service is not enough. And disagreement is not the same thing as being derogatory. A different opinion is not the same thing as disrespect. Saying that you did not care of a particular series is a different opinion. Saying that a series sucks and is the worst ever because you do not like it is derogatory.
So you have to keep an open mind when someone makes a point about your behavior, whether it is about a costume, or something you are wearing, or you are saying. Or if it is about a series. It is not inherently an attack on you, it is a comment. And if you feel that they were out of line, you can politely let them no. (This does NOT apply if you feel threatened. If you feel threatened, because unfortunately it does happen, get out and get a staff member). And never assume you know someone’s story. An incident that comes to mind is when we were at a con and while we were out to eat a stranger pulled one of us aside to let us know our friend should calm down or he was going to get in trouble. We politely thanked them and said we appreciated their advice, but our friend was not angry, he just had problem with voice modulation. On this occasion we did not follow up, but while we agree that we were probably pulled aside with good intentions, what these people did not know what that our friend has voice modulation difficulties and was truly not angry or upset.
So this has been a long soap box type post, which we try not to do. But we all need to work to make safe shared spaces for people who are both different and the same. Places for people to come together and intermingle. These are incredibly important and conventions have the power to function as this type of space if we work together to make it happen. Because ultimately that is the key. Safe spaces happen because people actively work together to make them happen. Having a safe space is not a given or something that one or two people can create in a large area. Safe Spaces are the result of a cooperative effort among individuals to make a choice and them laboring to make this a reality. Something where everyone needs to ask themselves what they can do and not apathetically shrug and turn away. And you can make mistakes, we are not perfect. No matter how hard we try, things will get by, we will accidentally hurt people, we will act without thinking of the consequences and unintended fallout will occur. But you keep learning and moving towards your desired outcome instead of thinking ‘good enough’. And that is the point! To say, “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” and try to change.