Wiscon 36 – Day 3

Day 3 started off not particularly well, though no fault of Wiscon. I headed out to catch the bus earlier than Saturday, but I still missed the bus I needed. Consequently, I ended up arriving 15 minutes into the first panel.

That first panel was Geek Girls and the Problem of Self-Objectification. The panel was meant to start with the article with the same title at geekfeminism.org. Specifically, the author was careful to point out that geek cosplayers who go for the sexy aren’t the problem. The geek (and wider) culture is what rewards skin-showing.

To be clear as to my background, I’m a straight dude. I pick that word specifically for the connotation. I like sexy women. In the right context, I think it’s great to see hot women. In the wrong context, I frequently do too. I am the male gaze.

Nevertheless, I was disappointed in the panel. About half the panel time was spent discussing whether or not sexy female cosplayers were doin’ it wrong. They talked about when it’s appropriate to do the sexy fun time costumes and when it’s not, that sort of thing. They did talk some about how to break down the culture, but always from the point of view of a cosplayer, despite few of them doing much of it. And the problem with that is that a single person is at a huge disadvantage against a large culture. I would have loved to hear how costuming geeks could team up to change this aspect of geek culture, how cons could change it, how publishers could change it, efforts groups have already done to change it.

Lunch was spent in the company of Mary Rickert and her husband, Sofia Samatar, Christopher Barzak, and Gary Wolfe.

The next panel I attended was Cultural Not-Appropriation, which was billed as the panelists discussing writing other cultures by outsiders who’ve done it right. Some really good discussion, though they drifted off the official topic into the harm of doing it wrong and the ways it’s done right. I was kind of hoping that they’d dissect some well-done examples to show how it can be done.

Sofia Samatar talked about two things she’d like to see: those that express the diversity of home, and those where it breaks down the exoticism of away. In other words, for the latter, stories where other cultures and peoples are not transformed into an exhibit to be gawked at by yet more outsiders. Her example of the former was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, due to a major character being a black butler in the story set in Victorian-style England. Ms. Samatar noted that Victorian England had a good sized black population that is rarely shown in culture. For her category, she talked about Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest for taking people of different cultures and mixing them in a new place. Diantha Sprouse said she had a hard time finding examples in her library outsiders who wrote well of cultures other than their own, at least in S.F. But in crime fiction, she wanted to highlight Tony Hillerman’s work as doing it well.

I then attended the 4 p.m. panel on Dispelling Trans Myths. The panelists handed out a four page handout on trans* 101 topics at the beginning of the panel. Because this is not a 101 panel! And they did well keeping the panel off 101 topics. The goal, according to moderator Rachel Kronick, was to blow people’s minds. I don’t know that my mind was really blown, but I did learn some things. The big thing was that at least some people, and I’m not sure how to word this to convey the meaning, compare notes and pictures on the aesthetics of surgeons’ work. The picture I got in my mind was almost like a restaurant that posts pictures of their meals in the window, so passersby can look and compare (with prices!). It had never occurred to me that someone getting bottom surgery would want and look for a particular style of genitalia. I’ve got what I’ve got, and it’s never occurred to me that someone could surgically change it to something I’d want more. Anyway, I thought it was a pretty damn good panel.

Space Babe

The guests of honor this year were Debbie Notkin and Andrea Hairston. Ms. Hairston’s speech was more a performance than a straight speech. Ms. Notkin’s was something meant to explore the nature of generosity. I was particularly moved by Ms. Notkin’s take. If I find a transcript online, I’ll post it. The guest of honor, Ms. Hairston, was also the winner of the Tiptree Award this year. One of my reading goals is to read all the Tiptree winners. I’m going to try to get Redwood And Wildfire read before the end of summer. The concom chairs for next year were announced, though I don’t recall their names. Both were young women rather than 20 year veterans. Perhaps a changing of the guard? And lastly, the guests of honor for next year were announced: Joan Slonczewski and Jo Walton.

I decided to forego Monday’s panels and Sign-Out. I was worried about taking my luggage to the Concourse hotel, finding a place to stash it, and then transporting it to the Van Galder bus stop. Just heading to the bus stop seemed a lot simpler. Since I purchased only one book while there, and the author wasn’t in attendance, Sign-Out seemed less important than making sure I got to Chicago for my flight on time.

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