Gone too soon?
Much of the angst we associate with human existential crises can be traced to at least one, multifaceted, abiding source: the desire to “find tribe,” the search for one's “people,” the longing to be a “part of.” Those of us who have a certain overly-fond affection for all things video game, sci-fi, fantasy, animation, or (but usually and) comics have attempted to find this in gatherings we refer to in the shorthand as “cons.” This can get weird, though, when we bring our authentic, intersectional selves to cons that purport to be “for all,” but really only have a white, hetero, cismale demographic in mind. Enter GaymerX, whose central, organizing mission was to create "a safe space for queer geeks,” according to co-organizer Matt Conn. In that mission, utilizing the hashtag #everyonegames, GaymerX succeeded wildly.
It is beyond tragic, therefore, that one mere year after the inaugural GaymerX, this last Gaymer X (GaymerX2, held in San Francisco from July 11-13, 2014) also looks to be the final GaymerX. Some reports seem to indicate that the announcement of GaymerX's demise may have been premature, but the main page of the con tells a different story, as it says, “Good-bye.” There are also heartening reports that the con may continue in a slightly different incarnation, perhaps one with a less male-centric name. It's all very amorphous (fluid?) at this point, but for the small army of queer geeks who were fortunate enough to attend this year or last, and for the larger reinforcements waiting to experience what genre cons have the potential to be, we wait with baited breath for good news.
Although organizers have publicly apologized for snafus, overall, I give GaymerX very high marks. They hit upon a magic formula for genre con success: listening, and meaningfully responding to, the concerns of con-goers; providing a plethora of spaces for the plethora of interests that flock to such a gathering; and hosting a Golidlocks-just-right number of panels, with enough name recognition AND enough diverse subject matter to satisfy the wide spectrum of tastes and interests.
One major complaint from last year's GaymerX was that the event was much bigger than the space provided. GaymerX responded by moving the venue to the much larger (though much more corporate) InterContinental Hotel. The move away from the more geek-friendly Japantown area to the more centrally located downtown SF area meant that cosplayers enjoyed (endured?) much more quizzical side-eye from tourists and straight-laced types who may not have been expecting to sidle up to oh-so-much spandex. It's hard to get mad at organizers for this change, though, since the move was in direct response to the complaints of cramped digs at last years' con.
The panel schedule this year seemed light, but especially at a con like GaymerX, where there are rooms upon rooms of hosted entertainment (tabletop games, card games, multiple video game rooms (including one specifically for Pokémon Stadium)) trying to squeeze in panels can be an exercise in futility. If my regular attendance at cons has proven anything, it's that I'm lucky if I get to even three panels at a three-day event, even as a member of the press, if I want to enjoy the con as a whole. The benefit of fewer panels means more time for exhibit hall meandering, tabletop gaming, trying out alt-consoles like Ouya, cosplay preparation, city exploring, and just good old-fashioned, introvert-required downtime.
GaymerX “gets it” - it gets what it means to be inclusive and welcoming. It's not the lip service of the “Diversity Lounge” ghetto of PAX. It's not ridiculous “why don't you just organize your own con” responses to experiences of sexism/misogyny at other cons. It means having a big ticket, unabashedly feminist panel like “Internetting While Female” made up of 2/3 trans women. It means encouraging attendees to utilize name tags that indicate preferred pronouns. It means gender neutral bathrooms. It means removing transphobic merchandise quickly and quietly, with class and without fuss. It means having inclusiveness and safety for all manner of folx* be a central, organizing principle of the entire event.
THIS IS THE SHIT THAT MATTERS.
The inclusive name-tags offered at GaymerX to reduce instances of misgendering
I have been asked on more than one occasion, after I have voiced critiques of events or media, “What can we do to make our event/site/movement welcoming and inclusive to women?” It's one thing to ask that question. It's another thing to actually want to change things, systemically, to make inclusion a priority. Someone this weekend said something that I initially had a knee-jerk reaction against, in this regard. In order to make a space in which women and trans folx* feel welcome, he said, it means “making gay men uncomfortable.” My first reaction was NO, they don't have to be uncomfortable! Who wants to make someone uncomfortable? But as I thought about it, and as I thought about how male privilege operates within a patriarchal society (like it or not, being a man confers unearned perks), and the more I recognized the numerical superiority gay men enjoy in “queer” spaces like these and in general, the more I came to realize the truth of that statement. Sorry gay dudes, but to a certain extent, my friend is right. It's going to take a certain level of discomfort on your part to make this tent big enough for all of us. Think of that discomfort as growing pains, which are never fun, but that ultimately result in a pretty rad state of being (Bigger! Taller! Breasts!). Discomfort is not the same as feeling unsafe and it's not the same thing as being told you don't belong. Discomfort is learning, and some discomfort, when dismantling oppressive social structures, is inevitable.
Because I'm unavoidably centered in a POC, light-skinned-privileged, queer, cisfemale able-body, I can only express my specific experience. For me, the result of having next-to-zero worry that I'm going to be assaulted physically or aurally with some racist, sexist, transphobic, etc. bullshit, was that I got to experience the con in all its glory. I was encouraged and able to participate enthusiastically and full-heartedly. I was recruited to join the Enlightened in Ingress. I played a rousing game of Machine of Death on the 23rd floor of the hotel with friends new and old. I was simultaneously inspired and intimidated by amazing femin ist activists, one of whom (Katherine Cross) later instructed me (and others) on the finer points of writing trans characters. I posed with incredibly creative cosplayers, like those whose DIY feminist critique of Ubisoft's lame-ass rationale behind the lack of playable females in Assassin's Creed Unity got an incredibly enthusiastic reception right alongside Ubisoft's participation in the con (that inflatable sword you see was included in the con swag bag). GaymerX created a space where chiding wasn't seen as attacking, and that's really fracking special. As has been expressed elsewhere (cough, cough, Autostraddle, not HuffPo, cough, cough, cough), “GaymerX is the gaming convention made for queers, but important for everyone.”
Feminist critique cosplay with a wicked sharp sense of humor
At the end of this latest GaymerX weekend, I experienced what Craven Rock described (however improbably) in Nights and Days In a Dark Carnival: Time Spent with Juggalos: how the “tightness with people that actually 'get it,' and the feelings of solidarity, leaves an imprint. As humans we need these zones, these islands.” GaymerX was revolutionary and visionary – it showed us what was possible in the best possible way. Here's hoping we don't have to jump on Oceanic Flight 815 to get back to that blissful zone.
*”folx” is an inclusive term used in radical/queer discourse to refer to groups of people with intersecting identities.