Tuesday 11 August 2015

Dancing in the rain

[This weekend just gone, I attended 9 Worlds London Geekfest for the third time. This is a review, except it isn't. But it is. Just bear with me. Pre-emptive thanks go to Emma Newman for her Fear and Writing workshop which led to three days of long hard looking at myself and led to the following.]

'So is that your thing then? Writing?' she said. The she being an elf masquerading as a person, dressed in jade green and purple tights, red hair, short and bouncing wildly with the emphatic movements of her head.

'Well when you're sort of passingly good at everything you pick up and try, at some point you've got to kind of choose, and it made as much sense as any to choose something I love to do' I replied. 'I love to make words dance and sing across the page, love to help people see things differently, to help them see things the way I see them, which isn't always entirely normal'. Or at least that's as close an approximation as I remember.

Before this she'd appeared from nowhere to ask where the toilets were. After that we'd discussed boyfriends and it transpired that she was actually me 15 years ago, close enough to make me momentarily question whether actually she was real at all or whether my subconscious was laughing at me and I was dreaming.

She asked for advice. I told her everything I wish I'd known before but am proud to wear the battle scars in the process of learning. And then we parted ways, never to cross paths again.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

We sat at the front of the Bifrost cabaret, after bumping into someone from a previous life and this causing much head breaking, but also before I'd realised that of course he would be here taking photos because no one else can take pictures of elves quite like he can. A person in a green dress welcomed us all, paced with the kinetic energy of a being far larger than them, and proceeded to sing about Gamergate to the Portal Still Alive song. I felt less alone, less sore and less invisible instantly, because the song was about being invisible and I am. In game space I am. I am eternally grateful that I never picked up the book about cute fluffy animals that she read so eloquently from. But I am also grateful that even when as a child I thought I was alone (books, cute fluffy animals), I wasn't.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'Let's not discriminate against those with a lack of imagination' said the only female panellist of the Books vs Comics vs Games vs Film & TV: FIGHT panel (the mod was female too; this isn't about gender, but as an identifier without breaking flow to check the programme for names it will do). She laughed. We all laughed. I laughed. But I also quietly said thank you to her under my breath for noticing when Pete Newman (who is lovely) made a comment about reading books being a collaboration. I briefly felt alone. As if I were the only person in the entire world who doesn't imagine anything when reading. I remembered the moment when I discovered I was a freak girl who read 50 fiction books a year but who imagined the faces of precisely none of the characters I'd fallen in love with. I remembered the grief I felt, briefly, that I would never have the same reading experience even as my husband, never mind everyone else. I don't know if the panellist who made the comment saw my face; I was looking down at my knitting, which is of course there for the very purpose of being looked down at because Eye Contact, but nevertheless it was appreciated. I felt less alone.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'What do I do with this?' said my friend brandishing a skein of yarn. It turned out to be special yarn, in that it was dyed in order to expressly represent intervals, I think in an aural interval and I vaguely remember Blink being mentioned but I'm not sure. 'Oh that needs to be knitted with like this' I said and fell into a long chat about wool, knitting, crafting in general, geekery and friendship affirming. The previous day I'd sat and taught someone to drop spindle to spin their own yarn, and had found words I didn't know I had which enabled me to explain in an orderly and easily understandable fashion what we were trying to achieve, how simple the thing actually was we were trying to achieve before demonstrating it and then leaving her to do the working out bit herself. I spent many panels knitting while next to me someone embroidered and behind me others knitted also. For me it enables me to avoid eye contact. For others it is possibly simply something to do with their hands. Who knows, who cares, it doesn't matter. We were simply left alone to get on with our crafting with nary a raised eyebrow to be seen.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'I'm really glad you were in this panel because I nearly left at the point where everyone was asked to self identify gender and sexuality, but the fact that you are you helped me understand that I could learn something and so I stayed' I said. This wasn't met with confusion, nor backing away which I was quite worried it would be, having sat and stewed for at least 10 minutes before the panel had even ended about whether I could be brave enough to go and talk to a proper real-life author about something that I felt quite strongly about, even though I had a sneaking suspicion those feelings might be at least recognised by the recipient even if not directly felt by them. What followed was a discussion on gender and sexuality fluidity, the need or lack thereof of self-badging and labels, the acknowledgement from both of us that actually they could be quite useful but also that LGBTQ+ discussions were still being defined by Tatchell's Stonewall era and that at the point where my mother has managed to move on with her thinking, maybe we all should too. My mother who never had a problem with anyone I brought home to meet her, nail varnish and eyeliner wearing or no. My mother who had absolutely no problem with my formative years being spent on a podium in gay clubs. That kind of mother. I came away knowing I'd been heard and understood, also knowing I'd wittered a wee bit too long, but also knowing it wouldn't be held against me.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

'Even my elbows hurt' I said on Sunday after someone had kindly enquired how I felt after unwisely becoming overenthusiastic on the dancefloor at the post cabaret geekrave the night before. I missed panels I wanted to go to - Writing the Other being one of many. I was vaguely aware people were missing panels due to them being full. I was also aware I was privileged in my disability, which meant I was allowed to leave queuing to the last five minutes because someone was kind enough to think to let us broken bods in first. I didn't use any of the Quiet Rooms because I sat outside instead. But they were there should I have needed them, which is probably why I didn't. I have nothing bad to say about Access at all, and in fact quite a lot of good. Signage was excellent; the non-gendered toilets were refreshing; the indicators of urinals and sanitary bins useful; and the thought which had gone into not just dumping all the priority seating at the front, utterly fantastic. I only noticed it on the last day because I was assuming they'd all be at the front, but as someone who find it incredibly anxiety dampening to have her partner next to her during panels when she's feeling a bit wobbly, having priority seats on ends means I can do this without him tying up a priority seat too. I am more grateful than I can express for the hard work, focus, thought and kindness which has been shown by the Access team this weekend. A prevailing memory for me will be a BSL interpreter in costume, sat at the front of the cabaret on the floor, happily signing the lyrics to the Gamergate song.

This is what 9 Worlds is.

In my imagination, 9 Worlds is a Venn diagram. On each world is the representation of a group of people who for whatever reason find mainstream cons too much or not enough. There is a world for sexuality, a world for disability, a world for people of colour, a world for gender, a world for the niches inside the niches, a world for none of the prior.

9 Worlds allows all of us to come together to play nicely. We can each make a choice. We can either stay on our world inside our bubble, or venture across the rainbow, be that into a new track of fandom or into a new room full of new people who might or might not accept us for we are. We can choose to embrace peoples confusion or lack of understanding and take an opportunity to educate. We can choose to be visibly something, or visibly nothing. We can choose to badge ourselves "other" or meld into the masses of other, making new colours and new rainbows. We can choose to accept heartfelt apologies and send hugs back, we can choose to be hurt and grumpy because someone kicked our stick out from under us. We can choose to laugh about a lack of imagination or we can choose to grieve what we now know we miss. We can choose to pull together, wrap our comrades in nerdery in a warm, fluffy, rainbow in every sense embrace or we can choose to divide, to section off, to step outside and away.

I am a high functioning Autistic, half hearing loss in one ear, hypermobile spontaneously dislocating, muscle spasming, heart rate randomly fluctuating person who until last week was in the midst of the longest depressive episode of my entire life. Some mornings I can't dress myself, some days I forget to feed myself, most days I am in pain and wear a patch that tries to help with that. I can choose. I am choosing. I am choosing all of you. Every single person who went to 9 Worlds is someone I want to know, I want in my tribe. The educated, the soon to be educated. The broken and the able. The straight hims and the genderqueer asexual hers. I want to be in your tribe and I want you to want me in yours. 9 Worlds is the most forward thinking, intellectual, emotionally intelligent, comfortable-in-its-own-skin con I have ever had the privilege to attend. It can be better. It will be better. It is every single one of the attendees' jobs to make it better. We all have responsibility because we are all tribe.

I'll be your 7 of 9, if you'll be my Data. All my love and thanks,



  1. Brava. Brava brava brava brava.

    I LOL'ed at the "sub-conscious was laughing at me" bit, and enjoyed every moment of reading this.

  2. We want you in our tribe too. This is what 9 Worlds is.