This is part of a series of profiles of conventions, local to Seattle and across the country, with missions that are relevant to the LGBTQ community.
While I’ve been an active convention goer as an adult for the last several years, I also attended a number of conventions in my pre-teen and early teen years with my dad, who at the time aspired to write fantasy/SF as a hobbyist. Most of the conventions I attended were in Portland–Orycon most frequently–but a few of them were in Seattle. I went to Westercon, Dragonflight, and Norwescon.
These were the days when attending a fantasy/SF convention was definitely not mainstream, when nerdy was not hip, and when large trade-style shows like PAX and Emerald City Comicon hadn’t been popularized. Attending these conventions really helped shape me and my perspectives and continues to do so today.
Norwescon is an annual science fiction and fantasy convention on Easter weekend (March 24-27, 2016) which takes place at the Doubletree by Hilton near the Airport (now conveniently reachable from the new Capitol Hill light rail station). While primarily focused on the written word, it extends out to other aspects of fandom including gaming (tabletop/board primarily), art, costumes, science and plenty more.
Norwescon is an older convention, but it has adapted to our changing culture with strong diversity and LGBTQ-friendly content. This year, Tanya Huff, an openly gay author, is the writer guest of honor, and there are a ton of relevant panels (I counted 18) for the queer community.
I spoke with Gregory Gadow, who offered his uniquely qualified perspective as a gay man, fourth year Norwescon convention committee member, and attendee since 1998.
“Norwescon has worked very hard to be an open, inclusive space for all,” he stated. “One of the driving factors is that we do have a lot of people involved in running the convention who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, poly, kink, queer and so on. We want a space where we can feel at ease and be ourselves, and that ends up creating a space where others can feel at ease and be their selves.”
I wondered how the convention had changed and adapted towards inclusivity.
“Science fiction conventions have tended to be safe spaces for book and science loving geeks,” Gregory explained. “In the last 10 years or so, more and more conventions have made a concerted effort to be inclusive and to implement – and enforce – anti-harassment policies. A good part of this change has been the mantle of leadership getting passed on to younger people, who have grown up in a more inclusive world and are less willing to let incidents of racism, sexism, and homophobia go unchallenged.”
As a queer attendee, sometimes gathering with fellow brethren can be difficult. Finding LGBTQ attendees on Queer Geek! Seattle is a great start. I asked Gregory if he had any tips on finding fellow queer geeks.
“You might want to look at people’s badge ribbons,” he indicated. “I hand out a ribbon blazoned with Full Spectrum to people who identify as LGBTQQIAEtc. or as an ally: the term is a science-y way of saying ‘rainbow’. There is a group that hands out pronoun ribbons so people can let others know how they want to be gendered. Other ribbons might give similar information. If you want to strike up a conversation, it is always acceptable to ask, “Excuse me, what does this ribbon mean and how can I get one?”
“Another thing would be to attend panels with a queer theme or which deal with sex such as the ‘How to Get Laid at a Con’ panel,” Gregory noted. “There will probably be at least one non-heterosexual on the panel and a lot in the audience. Also check out the signs posted around the convention, and follow the Norwescon hashtag on Twitter, which will probably be #nwc39. There has been talk of doing a ‘lavender lounge’ type of thing as a room party or maybe just a drop by this hotel lobby area at this time on this day’s informal gathering, but I don’t have any information about those.”
What’s new at Norwescon this year?
“We have a new feature this year,” Gregory exclaimed, “guided tours! The current plan is for groups to leave the Information Table throughout the day to point out the highlights of the convention, such as the Vendor Room, Art Show, gaming area, where the panels are done, and how best to navigate the hotel. The tour will be accessible from start to finish, and most of the tour guides will be old hands who know the history of the convention.”
Beyond panels, what is there to do at Norwescon?
“There are several areas set aside for gaming, including demos, tournaments and casual pickup games,” he listed. “We may be bringing back our networked Minecraft servers: check the signs at the convention for more info. There are concerts, dances, a burlesque show on Friday night, author readings, and music circles.”
As a side note, I personally highly recommend attending the room parties: they are odd and interesting and an experience you’re unlikely to get elsewhere. Where else can you walk into one party that offers you gnome hats, and another themed around the worship of Scott Bakula?
I wondered what tips Gregory had for Norwescon first-timers.
“The first piece of advice I give to any convention goer is the 5-2-1 rule,” he pointed out. “In any 24 hour period, you must get 5 hours of continuous sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower. You would be surprised how many people forget these things. And for the love of all that is holy, body spray does NOT count as a shower. Please.”
“Stay hydrated,” he added. “Accept that you will not be able to get into every panel you want to see. Try not to babble when you get the autograph of your favorite author EVER! If you want to dress up, feel free: there is a hall costume contest Saturday afternoon that can win you badge ribbons and the admiring stares of the masses. Remember that costumes are not consent. Treat the hotel staff nicely, because we want to stay there next year.”
“Be mindful that the people running the convention are all unpaid volunteers and they will deal with problems as quickly as they can,” Gregory mentioned. “If you want to get in on the action, convention staff will be happy to direct you to Volunteers where you can earn the eternal gratitude of everyone by moving boxes and washing dishes.”
“But most of all, enjoy yourself: that is, after all, the reason why we keep doing this.”
Gregory will be appearing on two relevant panels, “Identities & Terms: What Do They Mean?” which is Saturday at 10AM, and “Sex & Gender Fluidity,” Saturday at 8PM, and I’m sure you’ll see him running around with a rainbow badge if you attend!
Below is a list of the most relevant panels for LGBTQ folks, including panels with author guest Tanya Huff. (Note: the convention runs from Thursday to Sunday, but I only found relevant panels starting Friday.)
The Language of Gender
English is one of many languages that use pronouns that distinguish between male and female persons. In the last couple of decades, a number of non-gendered replacements have been proposed, from singular “they” to entirely new words. Our panelists will discuss these pronouns and why they matter.
Cat Rambo (M), Jason Bourget, Sar Surmick, Amber Clark, David J. Peterson
Non-Traditional Gamers Speak
Come hear how gaming is and can be an even more inclusive environment.
Donna Prior (M), J. F. High, Burton Gamble, Mickey Schulz
GOH Q&A: Tanya Huff
An interview and Q&A session with Norwescon 39 Writer Guest of Honor Tanya Huff.
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Tanya Huff
Transphobia: A Panel for Allies of Transgender Folk
An entry-level discussion on some of the facets of transgender identities. We’ll discuss terminology, pronoun usage, whether there’s a difference between sex and gender, and when it’s best to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Suggested pre-panel Googling: Not Your Mother’s Trans 101, Gender Binary, Silencing Tactics.
Lilith von Fraumench (M), Cynthia Radthorne, Cheryce Clayton, Jeliza Patterson-McGuire
Whether you’re married, available, gay, straight, queer, or all that and more, this workshop is for you. We’ll explore the rules of social engagement between sentient beings, and how to break them (the rules, not the sentients). Starting with the terror of “hello,” we’ll dive into taking risks, making mistakes, rejection, and how these are all stepping stones to success.
Sonia Orin Lyris (M)
Indie Comics vs. The Big Two
Who’s doing better with diversity and representation, and who’s falling behind? Five years ago the answer would have been more straightforward, but with a female Thor and a black Captain America, are the big two catching up with the diversity of indie comics?
Ogre Whiteside (M), Spencer Ellsworth, Brenna Clarke Gray
B*tch Planet & the Politics of Women’s Bodies
B*tch Planet has so many more body types than you usually see in comic books, superhero comics or not. Faith, a title coming soon, is a spin-off from Harbinger featuring plus-size heroine Zephyr. But the ladies of B*tch Planet and Faith are a tiny minority in a sea of female comic characters whose bodies defy physics and biology. What do images in comics say about women’s bodies?
Mickey Schulz (M), G. Willow Wilson, Brenna Clarke Gray, Torrey Stenmark
Identities & Terms: What Do They Mean?
Asexual, transgender, pansexual, biromantic, gay, lesbian, queer, cisgender, and many more. Why are these terms important, and what do they mean? How do they help both our youth and adults take control of their lives and move forward? Why is it important to have terms like full spectrum or QUILTBAG that are more inclusive than the previous LGBT? Come learn about new terms and experiences!
Sheye Anne Blaze (M), Lilith von Fraumench, Ogre Whiteside, Gregory Gadow
…But It Was Always So Awesome!
You take the red pill and suddenly it seems like all the media you loved before is betraying you with its inherent sexism, racism, homophobia and ableism. How do you still enjoy media once you’ve become aware of everything that’s wrong with it? Our panelists have been through it and have some tips for you.
Mickey Schulz (M), J. F. High, Lisa Bolekaja, Spencer Ellsworth, John Lovett
Finding Diverse Voices & Characters in SF/F
Diversity in the ethnic, cultural, sexual identity, and socioeconomic backgrounds of characters and writers of speculative fiction has become more important to readers and writers in recent years. Where do we go to find these characters and authors? Who are the writers (no matter their background) who are penning accurate and authentic experience? Do we find these books in the SF/F sections or do we need to look to other areas of the bookstore or library?
Marta Murvosh (M), Cat Rambo, J. F. High, Lisa Bolekaja
Join Norwescon 39 Writer Guest of Honor Tanya Huff for a reading of original fiction.
Tanya Huff (M)
Internet and Real-Life Trolls
From Gamergaters to Rabid Puppies to the person who just doesn’t think that being “PC” is important… How does this affect the real people who are being subjected to mistreatment? What can we do take a stand against it? Should we and how should we?
Donna Prior (M), Mickey Schulz, Elizabeth Sampat, Rafeal Richardson
Getting it Wrong: A Panel for Allies
As allies for marginalized groups (and as members of marginalized groups), we’re going to make mistakes. We all do. How do you stop it from turning into something worse? How do you react to being called out with grace and compassion? What does it mean to be an ally? What can you do to help without silencing others or co-opting the voices of marginalized people? Suggested pre-panel Googling: “Derailing for Dummies” and “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
Sheye Anne Blaze (M), Tim Bruhn, Jonny Nero Action Hero, Lilith von Fraumench
Is Fandom More Diverse and Accepting?
The idea that fandom and SF/F is more accepting and diverse is often bandied around. Is that true? How do we move beyond the oppressive tropes? And what can we do to be aware of creating a truly accepting environment? How do we build inclusive communities?
Rafeal Richardson (M), Donna Prior, Brenna Clarke Gray, Sheye Anne Blaze
Diversity in Media: Why is it important?
From heartbreaking videos of “the doll test” and both young children and adults who feel they can’t be accepted as they are—why is it important that our books, media, games, and cultures are diverse? Why isn’t the status quo good enough? The goal is to empower people of all stripes and diverse experiences and to show characters and role models that don’t make us feel like they need to be a part our fandoms.
Arinn Dembo (M), Rafeal Richardson, Lisa Bolekaja, J. F. High, Tim Bruhn
Sex and Gender Fluidity
We are used to thinking about people in binary terms, but the reality is nowhere near that simple. Join our panelists as they discuss what we know—and do not know—about the biology of sex and gender.
Sar Surmick (M), Amber Clark, Wednesday Phoenix, Luna Lindsey, Gregory Gadow
Why Representation Matters
Children seeing themselves represented on-screen can be a transformative experience. In the year 2016, “white male” shouldn’t still be shorthand for “default human.” Popular media has made great strides in recent years when it comes to diversity, but we still have a long way to go. Here’s what media is getting right, what’s still very, very wrong, and where we can go from here.
Sheye Anne Blaze (M), Rafeal Richardson, Lisa Bolekaja, Paul Constant
Geek Policing: Don’t Do It
Geek policing and gate-keeping happens when someone evinces interest in something of the nerdy persuasion, and someone else starts quizzing them on it like nerddom is the Ivy League. It’s not okay. And we—all of us nerds of all races, genders, orientations, and ages—need to stop it. Period.
Donna Prior (M), Jeff Harris, Shubzilla, J. Rachel Edidin, Jonny Nero Action Hero
There are many stories of people as young as ten who have ended their lives rather than endure another taunt. How do we take back our lives and communities from bullies and raise our kids to be kind? How do we explain terms like sexual identity, gender dysmorphia, racism, misogyny, and oppression in terms young children can understand? Or even in terms that adults can understand? What can we do to address these issues without being condescending? The timeworn strategy of “ignore bullies and they’ll stop” doesn’t work. What do we do instead?
Minim Calibre (M), Steven Barnes, Ogre Whiteside, Jonny Nero Action Hero
These panels and descriptions are taken from the schedule of events, which I recommend looking through to find other panels of interest. They will also have a panel and event list available on Guidebook, the iOS/Android app, closer to the convention.
If you are interested in attending, Norwescon still has tickets available! You can pre-register here or buy at the door, though be warned it does typically sell out. The host hotel is booked up, but there should be rooms available at nearby hotels: the closest being across the street at the La Quinta.
Hope to see you there!