Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swancon36/Natcon50: SO MUCH SQUEE

On my first day of Swancon, as I gazed in wide-eyed wonder at a wall of Doctor Who merchandise, I heard a sharp intake of breath beside me and a female voice exclaimed "OH MY GOD! SO MUCH SQUEE!!!"

That statement pretty much sums up my entire weekend.

The panels - bar one*** - were exceptional. Amongst my favourites were Alan Baxter's workshop on writing authentic fight scenes (including simulated punch-ups between participants), Nicole R Murphy's presentation on writing sex scenes (NOT including simulated sex between participants!) and a fascinating session called 'Ghosts in the Machine: AI and The Human Mind' (panel included Justina Robson and Sean Williams).

My overall favourite would have to be the Series Four Doctor Who (Hartnell and Troughton) session, which showed heaps of rare/lost footage and audio, complemented by expert commentary and behind-the-scenes info from the panel. It included an emotional video tribute to Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane Smith - half the room were sobbing their hearts out by the end - and another for Nicholas Courtney/The Brigadier. There was also a wake held for Sarah Jane and The Brigadier in the public bar on Saturday night.

This is only my third Swancon, but it's obvious there is a very large and passionate Who community in Perth and each year, the Doctor Who panels/events have made the top of my favourites list. If any of the folks involved happen to be reading this, THANK YOU.

I've never been to any other sci-fi conventions, but I've seen pics and heard many stories from my interstate and international friends. What blows me away about Swancon (and, from what I can gather, sets it apart from many other cons) is just how close you can get to the 'celebrities' of our field. If you read my post about last year's Swancon, you'll remember I had a major geekgasm over casually chatting with the likes of Ian Irvine and Richard Harland, and getting blind drunk with Scott Sigler. Let's not mince words here - that was nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME.

This year I found myself on a hunt for midnight munchies with Sylvia Kelso, teased Alan Baxter at the bar, danced like a mad woman to the music of DJ Sean Williams, philosiphised about small towns and family with Ian Nichols, talked sex with Nicole R Murphy, cuddled (at the behest of a Twitter friend) Paul Kidd, dodged (without success) Ellen Datlow's camera, and took happy snaps of Justina Robson. Just to mention a few. Again... nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME! Sometimes I regret living in the small-town backwater that is Western Australia, but Swancon is NOT one of those times.

Like all things, my Swancon experience had a downside. I raised the issue, for the second year running, of the exclusion of newbies as something the committee really needs to address. I know this exclusion isn't intentional, but the tight-knit groups of regular attendees can make new people feel very unwelcome. This is my third Swancon and each time I've ended up hanging out with people from interstate or overseas, because they often feel as left out as I do. If Swancon wants to broaden its fan base and increase its numbers, something really needs to be done about the isolation felt by newbies. This year I was a little better off thanks to Twitter - I'd met some Perth peeps online (and in person at #wawonkdrinks) and one of those people went out of his way to ensure that I felt included. His kindness made all the difference. Thank you, Nick!

All in all, Swancon was - all together now - FUCKING AWESOME. Thank you to the Swancon committee, the volunteers, the guest authors, the Whovians, the Perth Twitter geeks and everyone else who made my weekend so memorable. See you next year!

*** OH. MY. GOD...the 'Dolls of Desire: Man's Unnatural Selection of the Perfect Woman' presentation. I can't even begin to tell you how furious this session made me.

I haven't read the book and, after attending that session, I have no intention of ever doing so. But if the presentation is anything to go by, the book is a study based on a COMPLETELY FALSE PREMISE. I sat there with steam coming out of my ears as this white, heterosexual man talked about what it means to be a sex worker or porn star, denied women their agency and sexual enjoyment, described men as inherently abusive control freaks, demonised 'alternative' sexual behaviours like BDSM and polyamory, and invisibilised gay, lesbian and trans* folks. I had so many things I wanted to scream about that I was struck dumb and couldn't say anything at all.

To be honest, I had planned to give a constructive critique of this presentation, but I've realised I'm still too angry to comment politely on it. I was blown away by the level of sexist, stereotypical bullshit... and anyone who knows me in the real world knows I've dealt with a shitload of sexist, stereotypical bullshit in my time.

All I can say is... as a sex positive woman, I found this session incredibly frustrating.

[Edited because I let my temper get the better of me and behaved like an outrageously rude bitch.]


  1. Was great to meet you too. I think that being inclusive of newcomers is something that we all struggle with and a question to consider.

    I had wished that I'd attended that panel on sex dolls - I'm now wondering about it all.

  2. I'm hell on denial of agency; no more casual dehumanization exists .. that I've experienced, anyway.

  3. Thanks, guys. I feel bad tearing that session apart and I do want to make it clear that it was an attack on the content, not the author. It's impossible to get stroppy about the content of a book without inadvertently insulting the person who wrote it, but blasting the author was not my intention. (I also referred to him as a heterosexual man, which I don't know for sure and is none of my business anyway - what I should have said is that it was presented from a traditional heterosexual viewpoint).

  4. Glad you enjoyed the AI panel, and glad you enjoyed the DJIng.

  5. I sure did! Thanks heaps, Dave. It was a fantastic weekend.

  6. re: the sex dolls session. As you can see, I've edited the original (obnoxious) content of this post. I've also tried to explain why I was so annoyed, here:

  7. I think you're right about the newbies issue, it's something I often think about, but it's often a very hard one to address because, after all, so many of us come to cons to see our friends - I still remember feeling left out of the buzz and not getting the hang of my Swancon, but ten years later my issue is more that I don't get enough time with all the people I know.

    From the pro point of view, much as I love to meet new people and my readers, etc (and I really, really do!) I also put a lot of time into the convention doing things like panels, and if I didn't have downtime with my mates in between those working sessions, I'd be exhausted and overstressed halfway through the convention.

    Perhaps there need to be more organised events/groups for new and shyer people to meet each other as well as more veteran con goers - especially early in conventions. The 'so it's your first con' panels can be helpful but obviously aren't enough - maybe a separate booklet that is the newbie guide to congoing that can be referred throughout the con might be helpful, with info like "if you feel lost, come to the rego desk and ask to be given a job" or "authors will be so grateful if you turn up to their reading, this is a very good time to get to chat with them" and what a kaffeeklatch actually is.

    Having someone to eat meals with was always a big thing for me when I was new and nervous - a system for putting groups together for this might be nice, maybe having people sign up for themed lunch discussion groups - come eat sandwiches and discuss *this* panel or *that* recent movie/book. Book clubs with snacks, what could go wrong?

    I certainly felt this year that the design of the hotel bar was a lot more inclusive to joining & sharing conversations with a wider range of people (compared to the darker caves that sometimes serve as a hotel bar), but again that's speaking from my pro/privileged point of view, because I know everyone now! It took me a good 4 years to start seeing conventions in that way.

  8. Thanks, Tansy! I don't mean it as a criticism and I certainly don't think people are doing it on purpose. In fact, everyone I've met has been wonderfully warm and friendly - it's just that, as you said, they all have lots to do and friends to see and simply don't have the time to babysit newbies.

    I really like your lunch group idea - meal times are definitely the most lonely, with an hour or two to kick over before the next panels start. Even just a table reserved for 'Lost Souls', where people don't have to feel uncomfortable about joining the group? Or, as cheesy as this sounds, maybe brightly-coloured wrist bands or badges for newbies and/or people who came alone, so they can be easily identified and seek each other out?

    I don't think it needs to involve a lot of hand-holding or extra resources - just a little something to help people find their own way.

    Thanks so much for your reply. And congrats on all your awards!

  9. I didn't get to that panel, and even for experienced congoers lunch can be a lonely time if your friends are currently busy elsewhere. I did appreciate the longer meal breaks in the program this year. (Especially given how slow the food was to come out if you ate at the hotel) Perhaps the concommittee should appoint a newbie coordinator, or add that job to one of the OCMs (Ordinary Committee Members) duties.