Tentative Plan for Con Safety Discussion and Call for Feedback

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

Over the past week, I’ve had a number of people reach out to me in both the literary and gaming spaces. Conversations are happening both publicly and privately; the idea of a book on con safety is also gaining traction. Additionally, there’s been some discussion about putting together collections of critical essays that tackle why women (1) aren’t believed (2) as well. And, in the “this is reassuring” file, a handful of security guards reached out and told me I did the right thing. (3)

In light of this, however, I’ve since learned that what’s needed right now is for people to have those conversations in their cons, for their groups. Maybe some volunteers are recognizing that, when money exchanges hands, a convention isn’t “4theluv” after all. That’s hard to stomach on multiple levels, because without fans we (e.g. creators) wouldn’t be able to thrive, either. Maybe other cons could start by talking to people who’ve come forward with concerns at their events in the past, and ask them what they did right and what went wrong. The key, here, is to listen and get multiple perspectives because there’s a complex dynamic at work. There needs to be a bond of trust between guests/panelists and conrunners, especially since we’re expected to perform emotional labor to attract, retain, and entertain attendees. Attendees need to know that they’re valued, too, that if they have a concern it won’t be shoved aside.

I want to stress, however, that I am no expert on the subject of con safety. There are several people (4) who are already doing the work to make cons/events safer, and I feel that any forthcoming materials needs to emphasis those efforts and individuals. As I mentioned in the previous post, the discussion about con safety is far bigger than what happened at one con, and there can definitely be more than one solution (5) and multiple books.

What I Can Offer

Besides offering support, words of encouragement, or signal boosting where I can (6), I’ve had a few volunteers saying they’d be willing to help put together a book (7) on con safety. Doing so is complex, because a) it collates invaluable knowledge from existing volunteers b) people need to be paid fairly for their time c) it needs to be inclusive to address “what’s missing” from underrepresented groups d) it requires a publisher and ample distribution and e) possibly a Kickstarter.

Here’s what I can do with the resources I have at my disposal:

1. Form a private Slack for the project so people can have the necessary discussions. I would need moderators for this, to ensure that conversations didn’t get heated and people’s privacy remained protected.
2. Plan the book. Essentially, this would be the managing editor role to put together a book proposal with budget, outline, etc. I wouldn’t want to do this until the discussions have been had following this year’s convention season. Who knows? If someone else picks up the ball, maybe this book could be geared for creative professionals, instead.
3. Edit the book. I’m happy to do the full enchilada (or shoulder that burden with a co-editor). Mind you, I’m sensitive to the subject of payment, because my knee-jerk reaction would be to say “Yes! I can do this for free!” only to realize how much it interferes with my ability to get paid for other stuff. I want to do what’s fair, but I also want to do the right thing.
4. Help with the Kickstarter. This I’m less inclined to shoulder, because after running a Kickstarter for Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling (8) while high on Ny-Quil for a month… Well, running a Kickstarter is its own job, and I know I don’t have the bandwidth to volunteer for the full bit.

So that’s my proposed plan and follow-up. Comments are open on this post, and they are moderated. What do you think?

A Compendium of Footnotes

(1) This emphasis emerged in reaction to what I experienced, but I feel this isn’t limited to women but all marginalized voices. Harassment, in particular, often exploits imbalances of power and the perception of who has it and who doesn’t.

(2) I started writing this but, sadly, that turned into a very long treatise on the power of a story, the Malleus Maleficarum, the wandering womb, and the origin of pop culture myths. Not exactly light reading or relevant to this discussion, so I shall spare you my rant.

(3) There’s a laughable idea that the best way to deal with any harasser/abuser is to face them, because that’s the only way to prove you’re stronger. That, unfortunately, is how many people get hurt or worse, and those concerns escalate when you’re at risk.

(4) I learned that several game designers and members in the Live Action Role Playing (LARP) community have done some stellar work on this. Check out nordiclarp.org for starters.

(5) Brain went a bit haywire while I was out for a walk. I thought about a portal/website where conventions could be rated on different scales; safety, fun, panels, amenities, etc. Then I remembered I do not have the resources to pull that off. See also: story of my life. Oh, what I could do with a fat pile of cash and an adoring cabal!

(6) Long story short, last year I made a conscious decision to start working on my own stuff. I’m now perilously behind on that goal, and my bandwidth decreases if I–HEY THERE’S ANOTHER SQUIRREL! It’s crucial that I bust my ass right now.

(7) Another HEY SQUIRREL! was to tackle some safety stuff in comic form. The ability to read non-verbal cues, for example, is so crucial to ensuring people feel comfortable.

(8)(a) I was yelled at in a friendly way, to ensure that I did link to my book titles when mentioned. It sucks, but such is the life of a creative.

(a) I went a little nutty with the footnotes since rediscovering how to link them. But, it is an accurate depiction of how my brain works, regardless.

3 Responses to Tentative Plan for Con Safety Discussion and Call for Feedback
  1. Dave Creek

    In order to get this volume out to the largest number of people possible, why not make it a perma-free ebook? That would keep costs down and mean it could also be updated fairly easily as individuals have more experiences to share, whether positive or negative ones.

    This is a problem that’s not going away, unfortunately, but over time people would be able to share information on new dangers and new solutions.

    • Monica Valentinelli

      The costs involved to produce, publish, and offer the book greatly depend upon how it comes together. To get a publisher, for example, free is a deterrent to accepting a proposal. Regardless, doing a book like this is a drain on resources, and the people involved should be able to recoup the costs of their work even if a significant amount of time is donated.

  2. Lydy Nickerson

    I would be interested in this conversation, if you do set up a Slack channel. I’ve headed up the Minicon Code of Conduct for three years, and been on the Mnstf Board, and helped write both our policy and procedures. I have some strong feelings about safety vs. consent (I strongly favor the latter.)

    Also, I think what you did was very brave, and difficult. Thank you.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

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