Before I get any further into this piece, let me state this clearly: If I met you at WisCon and chatted and connected with you, or shook your hand and said, “it has been great to meet you,” or had a meal with you, or invited you to email me or connect on Twitter… thank you. This post is not reflective of my feelings towards the many individuals who I am truly pleased and honoured to have met. I hope that if we connected, you can still trust that my interest and excitement in getting to know you – even if it was only for a twenty minute hallway conversation – was sincere. I always aim to present myself honestly, so my pleasure in meeting you was not performance. I hope that we can continue to get to know one another in our new varied relationships even if we disagree about the WisCon experience.
I will not be returning to WisCon next year. I might go back in the future, after sufficient time has passed and I have gathered other experiences and established myself further in the broader SF community. I have left my first WisCon with a mixed bag of feelings … and great trepidation in expressing those that are not positive. Since WisCon is a community that promotes honest discussion from all of its members – no matter how marginal they might be – I am going ahead with this post. It has been a long time since I was this nervous about publicly airing my thoughts on a topic (seriously, I feel like I did when I was criticizing grad school for the first time!).
I’m nervous because I feel that the expectation from the WisCon community is to love WisCon. But I just didn’t. It’s hard to articulate exactly what I experienced, so the closest I can come to it (and what I tried expressing to others when they asked), is that I felt welcomed but not invited. I think that many people coming into a new community for the first time feel like they are on the edges of it, and that is certainly how I felt for the whole con. Whereas I have always felt like there is a place for me in other con or SF-centric communities, I didn’t get that sense at WisCon. It’s entirely possible that this is my own social anxiety speaking or I’m being too quick to judge, nevertheless, my sense of “outsiderness” didn’t dissipate.
I don’t know, I’m having an incredibly hard time writing about my WisCon experience. Part of it is that I don’t want to offend or hurt the people that I met and connected with – it was individuals who made my trip to Madison worth it – but I just didn’t mesh with the larger community. There are several experiences that deeply upset me during WisCon, where I witnessed members being silenced, marginalized, or simply ignored. I can’t write about those incidents, however, without having to speak for others, and I don’t have their permission to do so. What made WisCon so frustrating for me is that the community-line is equality and accessibility for all (at least that’s the message I heard), so when I saw incidents where that ethic failed, it was, in many ways, more egregious.
I suspect that some people will want to respond to me: “Well, all communities have their problems. You should have spoken up. Volunteer to make WisCon better for next year!” But the issues I have with the con cannot be solved by my volunteering or lone voice. Hell, I can’t even openly write about the problems that I have with the con! No one has the power to fix the ways people are (un)intentionally dismissive to others who they read as different (even when they promote inclusiveness). I can’t re-adjust established personalities or restructure larger modes of community identity.
Ultimately, I don’t think I fit in at WisCon. At least, not in the way that I want to and not right now. What I’m looking to get out of a con is not what WisCon is offering at the present moment. And that’s fine. It doesn’t have to. A con can’t be all things to all people. I guess that I’m sad that WisCon is not the place for me – and I am startled by the depth of that sadness. I wanted to step into a place where I instantly felt like I belonged. I’ve been searching for community for so long, that to feel uninvited – uncared for and unchallenged – at a feminist SF convention is heartbreaking.
I don’t feel good about having to write this post and it is incomplete and terribly vague. I might write more about my WisCon experience at a later date, but it is also likely that I will leave this half-articulated statement as it is. Despite the obvious shortcomings of this reflection piece, I’m still going to publish it, because I want all the awesome people I met at WisCon to know that my dissatisfaction is not with them or anything that they did. There were positives to my time at the con: I discovered a few new writers and had good conversations (and reconnected) with some cool and intelligent people. Those individuals made my trip worth it. I don’t regret attending WisCon, but I am incredibly disappointed that I don’t want to go back.