Con Wrap-Up: BayCon 2018

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Hello everyone, on this too-warm Friday evening. If you're reading my blog for the first time, welcome, welcome, welcome. You're going to hear a lot about anxiety, a lot about writing, a lot about progressive politics, and a little about pro wrestling, comic books, ice hockey, and board games. I promise to give you content warnings.

Now, the reason I'm here: BayCon 2018 has come and gone four days hence, which means I've had time to process and reflect on my convention experience.

tl;dr: BayCon is a good con with moments of being a great con, and on its way toward enhancing the ratio of great-to-good; the problems it has are problems with most fan cons in 2018, with the usual Bay Area force multiplier for cost. If you want an SFF fandom con in the Bay Area, and are willing to deal with a larger con, BayCon is the place for you.

(Full disclosure: I am friends with people who regularly staff BayCon, as well as several regular attendees.)

CNs for this post: U.S. politics, N*zis (brief mention)

I'll start with the high points. First: speaking from my experience as a guest, BayCon 2018 was incredibly welcoming. Nobody ever made me feel like I did not belong, like I was too small a name or too young a face or anything like that. My experience in that regard extended to the members, too -- people seemed generally congenial, and I never saw any serious hostility or drama break out at the convention (which is a far cry from my experiences with BayCon in college, but then again that may have had something to do with me being in college).

On a personal level, I think only going for Saturday and Sunday was smart for my mental health -- if I learned one thing from BayCon 2017, it is that if I am going to go to the con for all four days, I should get a hotel room. Likewise, my decision to only do as many panels as they asked full-time guests to do was good, compared to doing nearly double that last year.  But while only going for two days was good for my mental health, it meant most of my time at the convention was spent attending or speaking on panels rather than socializing, which means panels are all I can really comment on. However, I am happy to say that time was well-spent.

The two Master Class sessions I attended ("Getting to the Point," a master class in point of view, and "Other World Worldbuilding") had some valuable insights for me, even though they were (appropriately) aimed toward newer authors. The discussion panels I attended sometimes meandered, but even they had one or two worthwhile notes in them. Special mention goes to "Afrofuturism 101" (moderated by a friend of mine), which left me with a stack of books, music, and movies to take a deep dive into.

Of the panels I was on, all were fantastic, but I want to give a special shout-out to the audience and panelists for "Art as Resistance," my final panel and the one I moderated. Skye Allen and Taunya Gren, my panelists, were both wonderful contributors, and the audience gave me some freaking hope -- more on that later.

On that note, I also want to speak to the strong progressive politics of the con. Without mentioning his name, it's no secret that Bay Area SFF fandom is currently dealing with a certain poisonous personality; we'll call him the Prominent Local Author (PLA). PLA wrote a post ripping into the Social Justice Warrior agenda (read: decision to be decent people) of the convention, which he felt was personally wronging him somehow; he singled out a few panels, including mine, as examples of how we are failing the world by deciding to care about people. A BayCon staff member who shall remain anonymous sought out the moderators of all the panels PLA complained about and gave us, as a personal gift (they called it a "prize"), literal Social Justice Ally cookies, in the form of boxes of Thin Mints. That's the kind of con I want to support.

Now, the lows.

I did not take care of myself like I should have. I didn't get badly dehydrated, but I clearly wasn't fully hydrated when I got home either day. I misjudged the amount of exercise I would get, and thus ate a few too many carbs in the green room. I wore less breathable clothes than I should have, given I was in San Mateo in May. Nothing disastrous happened, but I can definitely stand to improve on this point. At least my shoes were comfortable.

I did not do as good a job moderating "Art as Resistance" as I'd have liked. I didn't give the panelists as equal a share of the time as I probably could have, and I talked a little more than I wanted to going in. It wasn't a crushing failure or a drama bomb, but it's something I want to improve on.

And finally: I got stuck in an unexpected conversation in the green room with a Bernie Bro who insisted it was an act of moral courage to vote "none of the above" for President in the 2016 election. He was at no point arguing in good faith, shrugging off facts and really obviously looking for me to tell him that he was in the right to do this (I suspect because he recognizes that people have died because of things like this), and I did not manage to muster up the courage to say to his face that I saw what he was doing and he would get no sympathy from me. I should have been better, and I hope next time I can be.

Beyond those personal issues, I think the thing that really stuck out to me at BayCon was, not to put too fine a point on it, the people. I mentioned recurring issues at a lot of SFF cons, and, well, let's just call it what it is: con audiences are getting old. With rare exceptions, SFF cons are having trouble attracting younger members, and it was on full display in the panels -- or rather, the social politics of the people involved in said panels.

Certain ideas are not dying quietly in fandom; nobody went full-blown Sad Puppy or, say, espoused sympathy for Nazis, but I heard a little too much casual ableism from panelists (a place of dishonor goes to the one who kept talking about their characters as though they were voices in their head in a way that was clearly meant to evoke "the cute kind of crazy"), and there was small-but-noticeable amount of grumbling about progressive ideas among the audience. There was also a high level of "not a question but a comment" or outright derailing from the audience, and a nontrivial amount of those were coming from older folks who wanted to complain about Kids These Days in one fashion or another. I can tell BayCon is working to counteract this problem, and that effort was on full display in the Art as Resistance panel, but it's going to take time.

I want to end on a positive note for what was a positive con experience, and so I'll end with three things I learned at BayCon 2018:

First, there is a ton of amazing creation going on in sci-fi and fantasy right now. Authors, art, crafts, film, music -- there is just so much, enough that everybody can find something they love, and a lot more of it than I could have hoped is being produced by marginalized voices. The doors to success are getting kicked down from every direction, and I can't wait to see what the genre look like in ten years.

Also, the con told me the thing I most needed to be told about myself right now: that it is worthwhile for me to try to be who I want to be. I strive to be someone who is willing to be vulnerable in public, awho vocally cares about other people, who is willing to shut up and listen to the less privileged and work to boost their voices. I don't always succeed, but I saw that trying was having a positive effect, both in terms of the connections I made and the people I talked to, and that's enough for me to keep getting up when I fall.

On that note, my final thought actually brings me back to "Art as Resistance." That panel's attendees were the youngest of any panel I attended, and the most radically engaged, erudite, and compassionate. People spoke passionately but gently; people engaged each other's ideas; people were frank about race and mental health and physical disability and a ton of other axes of privilege. People were good to each other. SFF fandom is (again?) becoming a place where it's cool to be kind and uncool to be hateful, and BayCon is trying to be a force for that change; and that is something I am proud to be a part of.