This weekend, I attended a con that I wasn't working for the first time ever. A couple friends of mine, the dynamic Twisted Twins (a.k.a. Jen and Sylvia Soska) were guests as was the actress Katharine Isabelle. Since I have a real fondness for women in horror and I wanted to see the Soskas again, I decided to get myself a ticket and make a mini-vacation of it, something my GP has been on my case about doing.
For the most part, the convention was a blast. In my experience, fans of the Soskas are some of the most amazing and nice people on the planet. This con was no different. Everyone who stopped by their table was polite and wonderful. There was one guy who seemed to think being a fan was some kind of dick measuring contest (and he brought his little friend along, because assholes rarely travel alone), but for the most part the Soskas table was a safe space, as was the "American Mary" Q & A.
Now that we've got the positive out of the way, let's examine the absolute massive failing of this con (also known as why I'm never going to attend again and why no one should): Chicago Flashback Weekend has absolutely NO harassment policy. Nothing, nada. Part of me is wondering if this might be why there is an absolute lack of diversity (no guests were POC, there were no indie women authors in attendance, and both guests and attendees skewed heavily towards white cis-gender men).
Many people often mistakenly assume harassment policies are to prevent overt sexual harassment from occurring. Actually, a working harassment policy should prevent any form of harassment (verbal, emotional, sexual, etc.) or abuse. Harassment policies should be to make a space safer. There will never be an entirely safe space, but it can be made easier to navigate. If you don't have a clearly drawn harassment policy, you are giving free reign to people to police themselves.
Let's see exactly what that looks like, shall we?
I occasionally experience extremely mild anxiety attacks. Having experienced them since high school, I know exactly what my body is going to do and how to shorten the episode. When I'm experiencing an anxiety attack, my body freezes and I can't move. My heartrate jumps up and my breathing quickens. In order to pull myself out of this, I often have to lean against something (usually a wall) and occasionally, I need to sit down. Sometimes counting very slowly helps and sometimes thinking about a good memory will lessen the attack. These attacks can last between 2 - 10 minutes, 5 minutes being the average. While I'm never entirely sure when they'll happen, they're more likely to occur in a crowd. I've had a couple at cons, but since I'm usually working behind a table, I can usually hide what's happening and pull myself out of it (working does wonders for these attacks). It's a rather embarrassing experience, thanks to the stigma that accompanies all psychological health issues.
On Sunday, while on my way to the registration desk, I suddenly got that feeling of my heart speeding up slightly. Quickly recognizing that I was probably about to have an attack, I leaned against a wall and shut my eyes. I started hearing angry grumbles and within minutes, people were shouting at me and about me about there being a line. I muttered something about needing a minute, but they kept shouting.
Not. Okay. You know the #1 thing that is not going to help somebody experiencing a panic attack: shouting. Shouting is going to make it worse and it makes you a horrible person. I literally have no tolerance for the kinds of cunts who are so insensitive and rude to people who suffer from psychological disorders and anxiety attacks. Fuck the lot of them. There's this whole mindset that cons are a refuge for people who have been rejected and bullied their entire life for being passionate about things considered geeky or nerdy. I'd like to know: when did a good portion of these attendees become bullies themselves?
As I attempted to force myself to walk, I watched as these rude assholes proceeded to shout at an older woman walking with a cane, who asked if there was a shorter line for people with mobility issues (you would have thought this woman beat a child with her cane the way these people were speaking to her). They also shouted at a woman and her young daughter who were just a little lost.
Let me make one thing clear: everyone in this line had already paid for the weekend. Everybody had a ticket, everybody was getting in. There was no need for the kind of behavior I witnessed on Sunday. None at all. If that's the way you behave in public, you are a horrible worthless excuse for a human being.
To me, this is a perfect illustration of the stigma attached to mental disorders. I have friends who suffer from different psychological disorders, some more severe than others. I have friends who have chronic anxiety and it is a shitty thing to live with. Too often, mental disorders are blamed on the individual. I can't count how many times I've heard someone say something like, "Oh you just need to be more positive" or "You're putting too much stress on yourself" or "Why did you put yourself in that situation in the first place?" or, my personal favorite, "Shouldn't you be on medication, if that really happens?"
Newsflash: people can't fucking decide when they're going to have an anxiety attack! They can't decide that anymore than they can decide when they're going to get the flu or, for cis-gendered women, when they're going to get their period! I'm lucky that my occasional anxiety is so mild. People who have full blown panic attacks sometimes think they're dying. Not everyone who experiences anxiety needs to be on medication. Sometimes they just need people to act like decent fucking human beings for two minutes. Oh, but I'm sorry, that requires effort. And if it doesn't directly affect us or someone we know, effort is just too much to ask, right?
I'm getting a bit off tangent: my point is, had there been a working harassment policy in place, this kind of behavior could be dealt with (ideally). You'd have a security officer come by and say something like, "What you're doing right now is really not okay. If you don't take it down a notch, you will be asked to leave." Instead, you had a bunch of ignorant people getting into a needlessly defensive territorial pissing match and making the entire situation a hundred times worse. I'm actually surprised there wasn't actual violence, because let me tell you, it was building up to that.
After that incident, I sat in the hall and read my book. I did not trust myself to be inside any space with those jackasses (I'm still angry, hence my writing this blog). Cons need to be safe for everybody and that's why working harassment policies are so vital. Not all harassment is sexual in nature. Berating people with psychological conditions, people with mobility issues, and young children, those are all forms of harassment too.
Though I dearly love my friends who work in horror (most of them women), I don't know if I will ever attend another horror convention. I certainly won't go to one with absolutely no harassment policy.
Chicago Flashback Weekend: yet another convention that needs to get its damn shit together.
*Sorry for this unscheduled break in my spy series. Rest assured, the Josephine Baker post is going up very soon. She just led such an incredible life that it's hard to condense all the information down into a single blog post :)
*I should mention that almost all fans of women horror directors that I've met have been really kind and amazing individuals. It's the people who are into the testosterone-driven macho bullshit that are overwhelmingly assholes.