From Diversity to Community in Geekdom and Convention Spaces

I remember the first time I was invited to join friends CONvergence, the sci-fi and fantasy convention near the Twin Cities. I had barely dipped my feet into the shallow end of the geekdom waters. I had gone head over heels for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Firefly. Futurama became my go-to show for laughs and comfort.

Circular shaped people of various races/skin tones, in various cosplays, as well as geeky anad non-geeky garb.

Look at all those beautiful nerds. Image by Bri

However, when I was invited to attend CONergence with friends, my immediate instinct was to say no (I didn’t, but more on that in a moment). My instinct was to say no because most of the geekdom I’d been introduced to was made by and for straight, white audiences. Sure, there were a smattering of brown faces here and there—Hermes in Futurama; Zoë, Shepard, and Inara in Firefly—but the main cast was pretty much always white and pretty much always straight, and I expected the fandom, and the convention, to be a reflection of that. It is difficult to feel like you can be a part of a fandom or community when the representations that are being geeked out over don’t reflect much of your identity—or worse, perpetuate shitty stereotypes about you or the people you love.

For queer folks of color, that catch-22, damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t feeling is just a part of our existence and everyday lives. That feeling is the reason I almost said no to ever setting foot at CONvergence and conventions in general. But I am so, so glad I gave it a chance.

I’m not going to lie and say it was queer, brown paradise; that would be an exaggeration of epic proportions. For one, it’s Minnesota, and diversity on a good day is not going to be relatively low compared to larger cities with larger communities of queer people and people of color (POC), such as San Diego or Chicago. I was nervous at my first con, thinking I’d feel out of place. But then I saw the panel schedule: there were panels on women in literature, diversity in comics, mental health, and sexual identity, to name a few. It was in those panels where I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking Hallelujah! I have found my people!

It has improved even more in recent years at CONvergence, my hometown con, with more guests of honor who are people of color and more representation in media of people of color (and queerness, slowly but surely) becoming popular, such as Steven UniverseAvatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra, to name a few. With more representation of queer brown and black folks, there is more space for POC in fandom as well as in cosplay—not to say you can’t cosplay outside your race, sexuality, or gender, but it’s always nice to have the option to cosplay within those identities as well. Each year, it seems there are more panels by and for people of color, touching on subjects ranging from intersectionality within fandom to cultural appropriation to canon and non-canon  queerness in our favorite characters and stories.

In addition to the work being done in representing queerness and folks of color, I’ve also learned there’s quite a bit happening on the accessibility front at CONvergence, as well. This year, for example, I learned of a “quiet room” where folks can go if they need a safe and peaceful space to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the convention—I will definitely be checking that out next year. The accessibility page of the CONvergence website outlines several helpful resources at the convention. (I was pleasantly surprised to see mini-fridges mentioned on there, because honestly, dietary conditions are more of a hindrance than they often get credit for.) It also outlines barriers that might come up at the convention that folks with disabilities might like a heads-up about. Each year there are at least a handful of panels about disabilities in fandom and in media, and this number seems to be growing as well.

In the first few years I went to CONvergence, I saw some diversity, yes. But at this point, with the number of diverse panels and guests of honor growing, there is a real sense of hope that the convention will soon be going beyond just diversity into a real sense of inclusion and community for queer people of color within the geek community. As I continue to see the number panels on marginalized identities and the amount of representation in media and fandom grow, I feel certain that the sense of community for POC and queer folks at conventions will continue to grow into a tangible reality.

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