Geeking Out About Flame Con Panels: Queer Fandoms That Bridge Generations

On the Sunday of Flame Con 2 in Room A at 3:00PM, con attendees filled the room to listen to Nayland Blake, Matthew Waterhouse (Adric in Doctor Who), Laura Antoniou, and Cecilia Tan. Mags Visaggio was scheduled to attend but was absent from the panel, though I did meet her on the convention floor. The subject of the panel concerned connecting queer fandoms through generations, and focused on the importance of how fandoms are disseminated through the internet as well as physical gathering spaces such as conventions. There was emphasis placed on encouraging younger generations to add convention organization to their skill set so cons can continue and grow in number. Conventions, the panel discussed, are vital in discovering the new and surprising while convening with like-minded individuals over discussing solutions to outstanding problems queer and geek cultures face. The panel expressed concern about how we collectively allow our fandom images, writings, and other expressions become owned by various social media outlets, namely the popular illustration-focused Tumblr. Everyone on the panel misses the autonomous nature of the earliest chat rooms--a clear and direct descendant of fan zines that were sent amongst fans throughout physical mail until the advent of the internet took hold in making such communications more efficient.

Blake, Antoniou, Waterhouse, Tan (image courtesy of my questionable Samsung phone camera)

Some highlights of the panel played with the nebulous idea of how fandoms of youth lead towards career ambitions. Waterhouse finds it surreal that he was a fan of Doctor Who in his youth, then became a cast member, and now records audio books for new Who books further adding to the franchise's legacy while interacting with his fans from the television series. He was happy to also say that he has lent his voice to Dark Shadows audio books, and that both franchises are currently celebrating 50 year anniversaries. Tan found in her youth a strong connection to Star Trek and its fandom, which the panel agreed was the first big fandom that connected fans through physical mail. She would role play with pillows acting as the bridge of the Enterprise, and her stuffed animals as her crew. Tan has written several works of fantasy and science fiction that are basically, her word, "smut." She and the panel said as soon as they engaged with anything science fiction or fantasy they would look for anything that represented their alternative perspectives, even going so far as watching Mork and Mindy because it is about an alien, after all. Blake developed this idea further saying he would cobble together whatever content had an even remotely queer connotation. He found alternative sexualities in Tolkien, early Batman, and especially The Addams Family. Interesting, he points out, that Gomez and Morticia Addams were the only television couple that were open about being sexually desirous of each other. They often are seen playing in their dungeon and practicing whips. Seizing on to Batman, the consistently hilarious Antoniou says she has an early role model in butler Alfred Pennyworth. She says he gets to wear suits all day, he gets to mouth off at his boss, and live in a mansion!

There was quite a bit of discussion of how fan conventions in the past were real events where, for example, fans could expect to see episodes of Star Trek screened at a time when syndication and reruns were uncommon. There were blooper reels to enjoy with associates, but early conventions like NYCC were not queer friendly. The panel was collectively cheerful in seeing that change over the years and to witness cons become about showing up as whoever you want to be! Blake, going back to his earlier subject, said where he saw queer representation early on was in National Lampoon magazine and various underground comics. He remembers the first time he saw a Lampoon comic where Jesus battles a gay-stereotyped Dracula. While it presented a gay cliché, it was hot that there was a vampire biting guys and making them gay. I have to find this. Everyone connected these "cobbling" of queer culture to how the queer community has an almost telepathic connection, and they have each explored that through conventions, roleplay gaming ("I play a female gnome", said Blake. "Of course you do," Antoniou quipped back), and engaging with slash fic. Tan, and other panelists, still actively writes slash fic stating that there is no end to the fun.

Blake, recognizing there has not been much time talking with Waterhouse, asks him what he feels makes Doctor Who have such incredible queer appeal. Waterhouse said that many of the show's writers have been gay, the Doctor himself is an outsider, and he himself was elected an object of sex appeal noting how he was often put in pajama bottoms that showed off his "bum." Waterhouse further says that gender representation on Doctor Who also evolved with time, pointing to how women were often sexualized damsels, but over time men would be objectified and women moved into power roles. Antoniou, ever the humorist, jumps in with, "Torchwood is total fan service," pointing out how the queerness of the Doctor Who universe was always there but the spinoff gave it an extra push.

To close out my coverage of Flame Con 2 panels, I will leave you with my favorite quote from panelist Tan: "Oh, flame wars still happened back then, just over the course of 4 months." Everyone lauded the line saying that we certainly have found ourselves living in the future. Thank you for reading! Let me know what you thought of Flame Con 2 and its panels in the comments below.

Gavin Rehfeldt's picture
on September 8, 2016

Native Chicagoan. Former comics slinger. Current comics reader. Bespectacled.