SDCC Sundays: We Need To Work Harder to Make Geek Spaces Safe Spaces

It has been a rough couple of months for conventions and very few have been spared. From convention attendees to guests to panelists, all have been affected in one way or another. In examining the damage left in their wakes, one thing is very clear: geek spaces should be safe spaces.

Let me repeat that for everyone: geek spaces should be safe spaces. Fandom has the ability to connect fans all across the globe while enjoying the same movie, television show, book, actor, podcast… the list goes on. Anything you can nerd-out over, you can find a fandom that will connect you to geeks with the same interests. And with the biggest nerd convention, San Diego Comic-Con, happening next month, it is important to step back and realize the ways we can all do better.

It is important to remember that a piece of media will never be able to love you back and celebrities are not actually your friends when they respond to your tweet or participate in your photo op. Your identity is not based on your fandom alone and an inability to separate those things has been leading to increasingly toxic fandoms.

Just two months ago, one of the most egregious breaches of trust in fandom and convention news as of late was the last-minute cancellation of Universal Fan Con. What started out as a feel-good, crowdfunded venture that attracted a diverse guest list and promised an inclusive and accessible convention soured overnight when it was revealed that the funds weren’t there to have the event that was promised.

There was mass confusion and plenty of hurt to go around as the convention had heavily promoted itself to the marginalized communities of geekdom that they ultimately hurt. Support for creatives who had already shipped things to Baltimore and booked travel was strong and alternate events popped up, but the trust in the community was already broken. It may be irreconcilably broken, as fallout continues and no one has seen refunds from Universal Fan Con without going through their banks.

Convention attendees aren’t the only ones who have been left to advocate for themselves. Tee Franklin, who attended BookCon just this month, was invited to speak at two different panels without being properly accommodated. Franklin, who created the amazing queer POC graphic novel Bingo Love, eventually quit her second panel upon arriving and realizing there was no ramp for her to get onto the stage.

It should have never been her responsibility in the first place to have to figure out how to make things work for herself. As an invited guest, the onus was on the convention center itself, as well as those planning the panel, to ensure that all panelists were properly taken care of ahead of time.

Most recently, Chloe Dykstra quietly posted her account of an ex-boyfriend’s abuse on Medium. It quickly made the social media rounds and the ex in question was revealed as Chris Hardwick, a staple in the nerd community with his own company, television shows, hosting gigs, and moderating duties at some of the biggest panels of San Diego Comic Con.

The rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements make it more important than ever to believe and support women when they come out with stories like this and reaction has been swift. Hardwick’s show Talking with Chris Hardwick was put on hold and he was pulled from moderating duties at San Diego Comic Con for Doctor Who and The Walking Dead franchises while AMC investigates. The fallout from this news is still happening, but there are very few people coming forward to discredit Chloe’s characterization of Hardwick.

With all the negativity surrounding conventions lately, it’s nice to see allegations be taken seriously and immediate actions being taken to start making things right. It’s important to remember that convention experiences are what you make of them and you’re always going to have a better time if you’re being kind to everyone around you (yes, even security — they’re just doing their jobs).

Practicing self-care and being aware of your surroundings are only a few of the ways you can physically make geek spaces safer for yourself and others. Remembering that cosplay does not equal consent and that you should always ask before taking someone’s picture goes a long way in making things comfortable for others too.

Ultimately, geek spaces like conventions should be accessible, inclusive, and diverse in order to become safe spaces for all. The only way that is going to happen is if we, as attendees and guests and panelists and exhibitors and everyone in between, make the effort to collectively make things better for all.