This weekend in Burbank, Bent-Con brought together gaggles of geeky gays to revel in our shared fandom. This year was even bigger than last year's event and it shows every sign of growing (phallic pun kind of not intended). I can only imagine the difficulty of organizing logistics for a convention, especially creating a new one and attempting to draw an audience. Specialized cons, like Bent-Con, and GeekGirlCon, and GaymerX, have been trending heavily. This is a GREAT thing, IMHO, if for no other reason than to show the “powers that be” – corporate powerhouses like DC Comics and Warner Brothers – that there is a queer/female/queerfemale fan base out there. But that ISN'T the only reason these gatherings happen. They happen because we want a space to be geeks without getting either our geek bona fides or our physical safety threatened. A place to be us in all our gay geekery, with a minimum of scorn and derision. Bent-Con provided some wonderful instances of that, but there is definitely room for improvement.
Male-bodied eye candy abounded, see, e.g., Dead Pool Party
I want to preface my critique of Bent-Con with a description of a quote that now escapes me and is un-findable on the interwebz, explains the intention behind critiquing culture(s) of which we are a part. The author of this elusive quote was one of two fierce queer Chicana feminist scholars (either Cherríe Moraga or Gloria Anzaldúa). In general, their writings were critical of machismo in Chicano culture: the way it perpetuates patriarchy and devalues (and kills) its women. Because they criticized something seen as central to Chicanismo, they were accused of undermining the Chicano movement; of siding (wittingly or not) with the dominant White power structure in the struggle for liberation. They responded by saying, essentially this: their purpose in criticizing institutions and structures of which they were a part was to make them better, not because they wanted to tear them down. They wanted to point out weaknesses so that they could be fixed, not to highlight their failings and bring about their destruction. In identifying and criticizing the ways that patriarchy and machismo subjugated women, they were hoping to show their Chicano brethren another path to freedom, one on which all could participate. It was done out of LOVE, not spite or malice.
This concept can be very hard to understand within the context of current internet culture that thrives on negativity. Where it is much easier to find vicious, snarky teardowns of anything creative than it is to find glowing reviews. We come together in spaces like Bent-Con because we want to share our love and enthusiasm (h/t Jackson Eather). It is in that spirit that I discuss the highs and the mehs of Bent-Con.
First, because I'd rather rip off the band-aid after that intro, the meh. I have only two main critiques, and they're actually pretty closely related. The first, because it flows so nicely from the work of Moraga and Anzaldúa, is a gender problem. The second is the Industry-centric, name-dropping culture that made this event feel “so L.A.” in a bad way.
I don't know if it's because there aren't enough women high in the organizing structure of Bent-Con or because they're not being listened to or whether Bent-Con's proximity to Hollywood unfortunately rubbed off on it, but, as a cis female, I did not feel the kind of welcome inclusion that I did at, for example, GaymerX. A couple examples: on the convention floor at Bent-Con, a presenter thought it was fairly hilarious, right in front of me, to agree that “[His] friends would agree” that he “hate[s] women.” I'm right here, dude, vagina y todo. And then, of course, there were the throw-away rape jokes.
It might be a function of geography, but unlike the unfettered enthusiasm I experienced at GaymerX, Bent-Con's vibe was very too-cool-for-school. I am all about supporting local artists, but I guess when you're in a town that's full of people who want to be artists in The Industry, self-promotion can too easily become shilling self-aggrandizement. It was hard to really geek out with some people because it became all about who they knew or had worked with or would work with on upcoming projects, which, for those of us not in Hollywood, can be really, crucially boring. We might like the taste of sausage, but we don't necessarily want to see how it's made (again with the dick jokes, Amber).
It would be unfair to say that the organizers weren't trying at all to welcome women, but to be completely honest, it all felt rather like an afterthought. The sparsely attended “Geek Girl Gathering” that was held at 11 am (early much?) in a room set up for a later panel, not for a “gathering.” Also, “Geek Girl”? From that description, I was expecting a much younger crowd than was in attendance. Don't get me wrong, it was AWESOME to speak informally with the archery tech from Arrow, a music editor with lots of impressive credits who talked about her work, and other women in television. I was just hoping for something with more forethought and more conducive to mingling/flirting. A later panel called “I Got This: A Women's Panel” included a lesbian film icon who (as much as I admire her work) did not have a single geek credit to her name. On a related note, the permeating influence of Husbands, and other gay-but-not-geek media being promoted was also confusing and disappointing. I think it's a failing to try and make Bent-Con the “gay Comic-Con” when it can be so much more than that. Comic-Con's transformation into a general beyond-comics/geek entertainment powerhouse is not a model to emulate. By contrast, GaymerX fostered a culture of inclusion for ALL genders, and, I would argue, for the explicit inclusion and celebration of trans* geeks, the easiest example being the availability of non-gendered bathroom facilities.
I worry that this makes it sound like I had a horrible time at the convention. This was really far from the case. As with life, there was plenty of good with the bad – more awesome than bummer, by far. Boston Blake presented “The Kink in Wonder Woman's Lasso,” a profound, thought-provoking visual analysis of the multiple meanings of bondage in early Wonder Woman comics, including a broader exploration of how we treat the archetype of the empowered feminine.
Race and Class in Comics Panel: Phil Jimenez, Damion Poitier, Jezza Smiley, and B.Dave Walters
The Race and Class in Comics was one of my favorites, as it provided really provocative ideas about how race, class, sexuality and gender operate in comics and culture and encouraged audience participation. The panelists were funny, smart and highly opinionated; their disagreements were a rollicking good time to behold (e.g., a clash in ideology over race-bending characters like Johnny Storm and whether Extraño's hyper-swishiness was offensively stereotypical or a radical explosion of the traditional hypermasculine superhero paradigm).
David Yost, of Power Rangers fame, was incredibly gracious on his panel, despite being pitched at from the audience during the Q&A, sending off his audience with, “Have a great time being a gay comic geek.” The vendors displayed some impressive wares – the neo-noir pulp aesthetic of Jack Foster's Reckless Eyeballs deserves a special call-out in this regard.
Rick got himself A Bloody Mouthful later.
As you can see in my picture with the winners of the group cosplay (The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes and Zombie Shane sealed their win by making out on stage, igniting disturbing, but hot, slash fic everywhere), I wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt my first day at the con. The security attendant at the rental car gate on my way to the con noticed it, and we struck up a conversation about the rumored Wonder Woman movie. As I drove toward Bent-Con, I was so excited anticipating that same conversation among my fellow gay geeks, who I KNEW would bring an avalanche of excitement and thoughts on the hot topic (mission accomplished, Eric Diaz). Here's hoping that the shortcomings of Bent-Con are just growing pains. I critique because I love.