Guest Etiquette - How To Keep Your Con Experience Safe and Happy

There’s been a lot going around about ReaderCon and the results of an individual’s harassing behavior. This post isn’t a direct response to that. It is a post, however, that I’ve been contemplating writing since last year, when several things happened spread across several conventions that have made me uncomfortable or confused. I wanted to address these things, and it seems that now is the appropriate time to post my thoughts, while these discussions are happening.

*On Being A Guest*
I adore being a guest at conventions. I adore conventions in general. I have been going to conventions since I was fifteen, cosplaying since I was sixteen, and have been panelling since I was twenty five.  I got my first official invitation to be an actual invited guest last summer and it was an absolute thrill to see my hard work and the effort I’ve put into helping support and build my local geek community rewarded in that fashion.

The move from one side of the table to the other has been wonderful, and I am so grateful and lucky that the people I supported in the geek community as a fan are now supporting me as a creator.

I love conventions because it is where my people are. My tribe. My community. My family.

Conventions are where my hobbies and interests are accepted, normalized, and celebrated. It is where my work can find the audience it is most created for, and where we can celebrate it together. It is where I can totally geek out and squee over something and have it be not only accepted but encouraged by the people around me.

It is where I can see what my fellow professionals have accomplished in the past year and pat them on the back for it. It is where I can marvel at the skill and talent of the cosplayers, the fanartists, the gamesmakers and the fanficcers. It is where I can catch up with the people I cherish and only see infrequently.

Its marvelous. And it’s exhausting.

I go back to my hotel room every night completely drained because I have been “on” all day, aware that I am being watched and judged at all times because of the profile of my name. Or, like most con-goers, because I want to indulge and party, stay up late dancing and singing karaoke, and talking with friends.

It also costs money. Unless you’re a very big name guest, you are paying to attend the con, not being paid, or at least having your travel/meals/room expenses covered. Sure, my pass is usually free (and because of the tightness of my pockets I’ve unfortunately had to start turning down any con that won’t give me my pass for free), and sometimes I get two (one for a family member or handler), but I still have to pay for the hotel room, the transportation to the con, and meals. That is money out of my pocket, when I could have easily stayed home that weekend to write books or make films, things that would have put money into my pockets. I’m not saying this to whinge.

I am saying this so you understand that I want to be there badly enough that I’m paying for the privilege, same as the attendees. I want to be there.

And having been a guest of one caliber or another at a good dozen plus conventions, there are some trends and patterns that I’ve begun to notice which I feel need addressing.

This blog post is not aimed at one person or one con specifically, but is a list of suggestions for Guests, Cons, and Attendees to help make everyone’s experience more pleasant and safe, accumulated from several years worth of experience.

*What Conventions Can Do To Make Guests Safer and Happier*

Do a background check on your volunteers. Ensure that your volunteers are not creepy, are polite and cheery, and aren’t rude.  Also, make sure they know exactly to whom they should turn if someone brings them a situation they can’t handle or a question they can’t answer on their own.

Provide a GreenRoom. A ConSuite is a room at a convention where all attendees can chill out, get something to eat or drink, and visit. While in theory, guests should be safe and happy here, it is still a place where the guests have to be “on”. Having a haven of our own is vital for guests; we all need somewhere to decompress, get a cuppa and a sammie, refuel and chill out without the dread or expectation of having to be “on”, and, unfortunately, escape attendees who might be harassing us. It doesn’t have to be large or well stocked or a 24/7 party. It just needs to be a place where we can retreat when it all becomes too much. To my mind, this is the single most important thing you can do for a guest at a con.

If you are asking your guests to attend parties, have a volunteer there to keep a discreet eye on things. If a guest appears uncomfortable or an attendee is getting inappropriate, have the volunteer step in and escort the guest to a different part of the party, or back to their rooms if required/requested.

If the guest informs you that they have a stalker/creeper/etc. they fear may appear, take it seriously. They wouldn’t have said anything if they didn’t mean it. If that person tries to buy a ticket, give them a full refund and kick them out. If they somehow get in, kick them out. If they keep trying to get in, call the police and have them escorted off premises. Press charges if necessary.

*What Guests Can Do To Make Their Experiences Safer and Happier*

Remember that you are among colleagues, and you never know who knows who. If you want to gossip, tear down another professional, or complain, do so with close friends in the privacy of your hotel room or back at home. There is nothing less professional than guests sniping other guests, or other professionals in their field who aren’t present. If you have legitimate complaints about how the con is run, bring them to the appropriate people and address them in a mature, discreet fashion.

Retreat to the GreenRoom if you need to. Tell people no, if you have to. Yes, you are there for the attendees, but your off time is your off time, and you have the right to an uninterrupted drink or meal. (Of course, we all know the difference between someone who wants an autograph and a quick chat, which is usually most welcome, and a linger-er).  Don’t be afraid to say, “Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m in the middle of dinner/on my way to a panel/on my way out/ need to be somewhere else right now” and go if someone is making you uncomfortable.

Thank the ConCom for inviting you when you get home, and let them know in a nice little letter what you enjoyed and what they did right. Also, make any suggestions you may have to improve next year’s experience.

Bring the GreenRoom attendants something to show your appreciation - whether it’s a large tip, a box of Timbits, a bottle of wine, or a piece of your work, etc. I know one author who gives the security team a free copy of their new book every year, and it gets passed around and read by at least ten people that weekend while they’re bored and guarding doors. Make it clear that you appreciate the space they are providing for you.

Inform the security team if you have a stalker/creeper/etc. you fear may appear,  and make sure they take it seriously. If that person gets in and harasses you, call security and have them escorted off the premises. If the con does not take the concern seriously, pack up and go home. You are under no obligation to remain at the con if you do not feel safe there.

*What Attendees Can Do to Keep Guests Safe and Happy*

Remember that the Guests are probably knackered and/or rushed. Respect their schedules where possible. However, this doesn’t mean never say hello or give them a high five in the hallway or anything like that. Just be respectful. Remember, we guests want to be there just as much as you do, and we’re probably looking to have just as much fun as you. We want to engage with you, party with you, dance with you, laugh with you. Just be mindful of how much attention is appropriate, and at what times. And dear gods, the toilet is never a good time or place to chat, pitch, get a photo or shake hands.

Don’t be entitled. Remember that as much as you admire this guest and their work, they don’t know you. Even if  you’ve met them before, they probably don’t remember you. Even if you’ve sent them a billion letters and they’ve answered every one, these people are not your friends and they do not know you. Keep your creepy sex fantasies to yourself, don’t be handsy or grabby, and be respectful of the guest as a human being. I’m not saying to not write fanfic or make fanart, or have all the sex fantasies and tabloid-fed gossip you want, but be aware that it might be unwelcome in an actual interaction, and don’t push your desires or expectations on the guests. (i.e. That cute actor is not your real boyfriend. Have all the fun envisioning it you’d like, but don’t make a lunge for his lips if you meet him.)

Guests owe you nothing. They don’t have to answer your questions about errors they made in their last book, they don’t owe you a photograph with them, they don’t owe you a hug or a kiss on the cheek or a handshake. They don’t owe you an explanation, or a spoiler, or a chat. Unless you’ve paid for the privilege of getting a photo or autograph, the guests owe you exactly nothing that exceeds their contracted requirements (which usually includes an agreement to be present, a certain number of hours of programming, and attending a certain event at the con, such as a dance or awards ceremony.)  Their job is to create; if you find problems or want to discuss their creations, then please do so in a respectful, non-attacky manner. If you don’t like what they create then… stop reading/watching it. Don’t insult or harass the creator over it. And for goodness sake, please don’t insult a guest’s work to their face. Having particular tastes is one thing, but to call all their work objectively bad to their faces is poor manners of the highest sort. (Guys, we’re already terrified to be there; afraid that no one will want our autographs and that we’re frauds and that we’ll be laughed out of the con. Please be tender with our feelings! If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.)

*Con Creepers*

Ladies and Gentlemen, you know exactly what I mean by a Con Creeper if you have been around them before. They are the person who behaves entitled around a guest. They are the ones with poor ability to read body language, who don’t know when to lay off or disappear. They are grabby. They are the creepy ones who stare at your tits or your package, who oogle, who linger too long and too close, who make everyone around them cringe. They are the ones who talk to and behave towards and touch guests as if they are the dearest and oldest of friends when theyare not. They are the ones who demand things of guests that they have no right demanding. And the biggest problem with Con Creepers is that they usually have no idea that they are Creeping. So here is what you do:

If you know a Con Creeper, call them out on it when they start Creeping. Better yet, warn them in advance of the Con that some people find their behavior inappropriate and hurtful, and counsel them on how better to show their appreciation for the community around them.

If you are an attendee and you see a Creeper creeping on anyone, you come to that person’s rescue. You offer to escort that person to coffee, for air, to the GreenRoom, anywhere the Creeper can’t go. (And don’t expect anything in return for the rescue). If you can’t do that or aren’t comfortable doing that, then you find security and you tell them that you think that someone is the recipient of unwelcome attention and make sure security follows up. At no time engage in a fight or confrontation with the Creeper. That’s for security to do, if it is necessary.

If you are with the ConComm, ensure that your security knows that they must take reports of this nature seriously. Brushing it off because the person receiving the unwelcome attention is in cosplay, or because they’re a guest, or because they’re a cute boy/girl/gurl/boi/etc. is not okay. You wouldn’t tell a person who’s about to be raped that it’s their fault for dressing like a slut; so don’t support this sort of behavior by not engaging with it, not stopping it before it gets worse, or someone gets hurt.

Have an absolutely iron clad system of responses on paper and ready to be implemented if your staff or volunteers end up in a situation where they have to deal with a Creeper. Call the police if you/your staff/volunteers cannot handle with situation. Press charges. Let the world know you are serious about the safety of everyone at your convention.

People who make others fear for their safety do not have to be a way of life at cons. We all know people who have come away from an extremely unpleasant interaction, complaining of harassment or molestation, or inappropriate comments, only to have someone else say: “Yeah, but that’s just So-and-So. He’s socially inept, but he’s a good guy. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” <– That? That right there is totally invalidating someone else’s right to police their own comfort and bodies and that is not okay. And there are people who go to cons and do it every time and the community turns a blind eye, because Creepers are a fact of life at Cons.

Well guess what, folks? When that person finally stops taking “no” for an answer, because people have never stopped him or her before, never told him or her that their behavior is unwelcome, and assaults someone, it will be partially your fault. Because you didn’t make it clear that you will not tolerate that behavior in your community. Report these people. Get them kicked out. And follow up to make sure they’re never allowed back in.

So that’s my list. Seems a bit grim, but a lot of it ought to be common sense. In the end, I just hope that everyone remembers that everyone is there because they want to be, and they have the right to have a good time without fear of harassment, stalking, groping, rape, or physical harm.

This is your con, and your community. Take pride in it, and protect the people who are a part of it, including yourself.

Any more suggestions, folks?

So let's talk about Readercon

Somehow, we’re still talking about what happened at Readercon – and by extension the problem of rampant sexual harassment in fandom, how it threatens to shatter many people’s “Fans are Slans” view of fandom, and how little Convention Committees have done over the decades to address this problem.

In particular, I’m seeing people expressing confusion over why this got “blown out of proportion,” I’m seeing misappropriation of the term “lynching”, etc.

So let’s talk about why the reaction is as big as it is, and not blown out of proportion at all.

Readercon Con Com set and publicized a policy that said zero tolerance and lifetime ban.  They profited directly by setting this policy.  For some people, that policy was a deciding factor – if not the deciding factor – on whether they attended Readercon in the first place.  That’s no exaggeration: I’ve seen more and more women over the last decade announce that they’re done with Cons because of how little Cons do to counter the rampant sexual harassment that goes on.  I’m pretty sure they passed that policy in response to their awareness of the issue.

But here’s the thing about policies:  once policy is set, it must be followed.

When Readercon didn’t follow its policy, the message to fandom was “Sure, we talk a good game, but if you’re a SMOF we’ll give you a pass” and all that good stuff they generated by passing the policy in the first place turned into a sense of betrayal.  Feelings were intensified exponentially because both the reaction to Mr. Walling’s behavior and the Concom’s betrayal were in place and interacting.  That’s not overreaction, though.  That’s reaction to far more than some people think is being reacted to.

That’s why it was appropriate – necessary in fact – for Mr. Walling’s 2-year ban to be brought into compliance with policy.  That’s why it was appropriate for the entire Concom to resign for blatantly ignoring the policy it set.

If they have the wrong policy – a topic for a different post – policies can be amended.  Lifetime bans can be rescinded or commuted once there is a new policy.  Or a door can be opened for someone to make the case that they are ready to be welcomed back into civilized company because they have learned how to conduct themselves in a civilized manner and make amends to those they’ve wronged – for certain, small, values of wrong.  But that can’t suddenly happen in the middle of the event, and especially not when it looks like the only reason it’s happening at all is that the offender in question is a personal friend of one or more members of the group who set the policy.

But it still leaves the elephant in the room:  rape culture is alive and well at SF Conventions, from harassment to rape and everything in between.  Every single Concom is now on notice that they need to take a stand by setting and enforcing policy with the same rigor they use for their weapons policy – and for the same reasons. 

And every single fan who hasn’t figured it out yet needs to get the memo:  We’re not Slans.

I’ll be a panelist at Readercon 24 in Burlington, MA on July 11 and 13, where among other things I will read a few poems, give a lecture on economic systems past and present, discuss fictional/mythological representations of the American Civil War, and interview some fairly knowledgeable people about how apocalyptic fiction compares to historical examples of regime collapse. Be there and be square?

starlitshores  asked:

While I agree that your article makes it clear that AO3 isn't going anywhere, and I agree that the title isn't necessarily inaccurate, it IS a bit leading. Especially when combined with the black/red image and the tying of AO3 to OTW's "murky" future. You're not wrong, but I'm not surprised that fandom reacted the way they did. I'm paranoid af because of what happened with GJ/LJ, so I too started to wonder if people shouldn't back up everything, just in case. *shrug*

The headline of the article is, “The entire board of the Organization for Transformative Works has resigned.” That is an entirely accurate, non-leading headline.

The headline of this article on Tumblr is, “The entire board of the group that runs the AO3 has resigned.” That is also an entirely accurate headline, and it’s also extremely appropriate for Tumblr because most of our readers have never heard of the OTW and only care about the AO3, which is a significant daily part of their fandom lives. We did this to make sure our readers understand why this news is important to them, because what happens to the OTW board directly impacts the AO3. That’s not leading. The OTW board ultimately determines how AO3 is run, what kind of budget it has (not that the OTW has a budget), what kinds of resources it gets. This is a directly relevant headline.

Our artist chose the burgundy background of the art, and chose to use the OTW logo. The OTW’s colors as an org are red and white, those aren’t just the AO3′s colors. And we use the OTW logo, not the AO3 logo. 

We’ve written about boards resigning before (when the board resigned from ReaderCon, and when the executive director left the Ada Initiative after only a month or two), because those are HUGE DEALS for those organizations, and they do generally signify instability. That’s why we report on them. 

Is it *leading* to imply that the AO3 has a murky future because the board of the OTW resigned, when usually mass board walkouts *do* indicate murky futures? The Ada Initiative completely shut down like a month after their board room shakeups. I know that’s not going to happen here, but it’s not really “leading” to say that the future of the OTW, including the AO3, is “murky” when the entire board has resigned. It’s not alarmist to observe that something reasonably significant to the AO3 has happened. Yes, there are plenty of systems in place to keep things running smoothly, as we point out in the article. But this was a big deal, and people who use the AO3 deserved to know that it happened, because what the board does *does* impact the AO3.

It’s never ever a good idea to let a single archive be your sole repositor of fics. Trust in the AO3, sure, but always make backups. @starlitshores 

ETA: oh and i responded to “your article” as though you meant “the Daily Dot’s article,” but just to be clear, I didn’t write this article! I don’t generally write articles about the OTW (though I do write articles mentioning AO3) because I was on committee there for two years.