Comic-Con. DragonCon. WonderCon. ClexaCon.
These are just a few of the major fan conventions held in the U.S. every year, while hundreds more are attended around the globe. The attendance of these major conventions generally range in the thousands, often using a lottery-queue system in order for guests to purchase tickets. Special celebrity guests are often the highlight of these fan Cons and likely contribute to the driving up of ticket costs, photo ops and autographs. And though these Cons are incredibly fun, there lacks a certain intimacy that smaller conventions offer.
This past weekend, TGI Femslash (TGIF/F) held it’s third annual convention in Orange County, California and we were lucky enough to sit down with one of the co-founders and a handful of attendees, to discuss all things fandom and convention.
John Arrow, who was rather humble about his large role at TGI Femslash, was gracious enough to chat with me during the “Pre-Con” festivities and do a little Q & A for our Queer Quality followers.
QQ: “TGI Femslash sort of birthed itself from another Con, is that correct?”
John: “Yes! That was FaberryCon, which I started on my own. FaberryCon was based around the ship of Quinn and Rachel, from Glee. And then when that show had ended, most people were moving on to other things and ships. But we weren’t done hanging out with these wonderful people so we decided to expanded to a multi-fandom convention. Growing in scope helped us grow in size as well, with FaberryCon’s average of about 40-45 people attending, to this convention averaging more than double that. There are a great number of people here at TGI Femslash this weekend, who attended one of the five FaberryCons, as well.”
QQ: “That’s awesome! So where did you come up with the name TGI Femslash?”
John: “So I can’t take credit for the name. My friend Karyn, who helped co-found this Con but is no longer on staff because she’s moved on to other things, came up with the name. She was a member of FaberryCon staff as well. We just wanted something that was a clever pun on “femslash.”
QQ: “It’s funny, I love it!”
John: “It’s a catchy name for sure! We wanted to have something that was still small and felt like a family reunion, which is why we expanded to multi-fandom. It’s not a celebrity Con. It’s about people coming together, building friendships and community. Getting to talk with each other and not just listening to people up on a panel talk.”
QQ: “Which is fun, too.”
John: “Which is fun, too! Absolutely.”
QQ: “One of the best parts about being at one of the larger Cons is the amount of time you spend in line talking to other people about the shows you love. But then you both go off and disappear, doing whatever you waited in line to do, and most likely you didn’t even catch each other’s names.”
John: “Exactly! I think of it as the difference between attending a small college and a big university. When I go to a big Con, like ClexaCon or Comic-Con, there’s way more there than you can ever do. It’s nice to have a variety, but like you said, I might not be able to form any close relationships. So those [conventions] become about building your own experience from the huge buffet of options that weekend. Here, the program is more limited. It’s the same hundred people you talk to all weekend. So you have way more time to talk to each other, whether it’s at the discussion panels or after hours in the party room. There are people who are here for the first time and they are already pulled into conversations about their favorite shows. Because this is a small intimate experience and environment which is really precious to us. That’s at the heart of what this Con is. Building friendships.”
QQ: “This type of setting is great for people who aren’t necessarily outgoing or they’re shy and introverted because one of the easiest things to talk about, is the things you love. And people LOVE their fandoms! I love my fandoms!”
John: “Yes. They really do! One of the harshest but most important lessons I learned in high school was that building friendships around common identity, like “oh I’m gay, you’re gay too!” would only get me so far. I could only talk about being gay for so long. But if I found common interests with these people, the friendships would be stronger. So building an event around common interests, finding people who are watching the same shows or reading the same fics or having the same OTP, can really help build something strong between people.”
“From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
QQ: “That’s awesome. Okay, so break down the weekend for me. It’s morning on Day One. I’m waking up, where am I going?”
John: “So we’ve got four spaces. The first, we have the Big Room, where events and large panels happen. We have the Con Suite, which is where you will register, hang out, and purchase things from vendors. Then we have a smaller Panel Room, for smaller discussions of twenty people or so. And finally we have the Quiet Room, which is exactly that. Because, like you mentioned, we have many introverts who may just need a break and need a place to unwind or recharge.
QQ: “Is the Quiet Room something you had originally at FaberryCon or is that new to TGI Femslash?”
John: “We just added it in last year, actually, and had a lot of positive feedback on it. So when we switched hotels from last year’s convention location, we made sure that there was a place we would be able to offer for a Quiet Room.”
QQ: “Very cool!”
John: “Yeah. So going back to your question, I’d say about 70% of our schedule is discussion panels. Half of that is meta or multi-fandom conversations. We’ve got panels like “Women in Science Fiction,” or “Feminism Onscreen,” and “The Perks and Pitfalls of Canon Versus Fanon.” These types of discussions are across the board, so even if your favorite show isn’t something I’ve seen, or vice versa, we can still talk about these topics and greater themes in them. And then we have eight single fandom panels, like One Day At A Time, that were voted on by attendees. There is something amazing about sitting in a room with like-minded individuals and just feel the safety and comfort of “okay, I can be a huge nerd!” and it be embraced because other people want to hear what I want to say.”
QQ: “Yeah and to not be judged for it.”
John: “It’s a fantastic feeling! And then the other 30% of our schedule are events. I get really excited for the events, personally. We have a 3 hour dance party on Saturday night but it’s not just music that’s playing. It’s fan vids! Fan vids set to music you can dance to. And they are all vids about woman. It’s amazing! Plus we have an auction, which is a huge revenue for us that helps us keep the cost of attending way down. A Black Panther screening, game show type stuff, open mic night… tons of stuff!”
QQ: “And I saw you have blocks of time set aside for meal breaks, right?”
John: “We do. And though it takes away time from programming, we want people to be healthy and it gives time for people to connect over a meal.”
QQ: “Personally, I have many friends who simply do not understand fandoms. What do you say to people who roll their eyes at people who are so passionate about their OTP’s and fandoms? How do you explain why fandoms are important?”
John: “I would say that for so many people who feel a step outside the mainstream default cultural experience, whether it’s because you’re a nerd, whether it’s because you’re queer, whether it’s because you’re not a white person… whatever it is, sometimes you feel like you’re kind of on the outside looking in. And to be in a room full of people who also feel on the outside of the real world, when we get in that room we create our own reality. And you are a part of this. There is something incredibly powerful about creating a safe space for people. There are a lot of people here who will say this is their favorite place to be because this is the place they can be themselves. They can wear the T-Shirts they can’t normally wear at home, they can talk about things they wouldn’t be able to talk about anywhere else. They can kiss their girlfriends here and they can’t do that at home. Or they can just be OUT and they can’t do that at home. There was a quote at FaberryCon someone wrote up on a whiteboard that said “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” There is something special about experiencing this. Once you do, then you get it. It’s just a sense of belonging.”
QQ: “And I saw you had scholarships for people to attend this year?”
John: “We do! It was new this year. For a Con this size, we raised $5,000 and we were able to bring 15 people who weren’t able to come otherwise. And we got so much money because people really understand how important it is for others to attend something like this.”
QQ: “What do you all do on the off season to stay connected?”
John: “We have our chat channels. It’s like having the Con in your pocket. And we have stations for different subjects or locals. About half of those who attend are active in those channels.”
QQ: “Queer Quality’s goal is to help combat queerbait. What can Cons like TGI Femslash do to help aid in ending queerbait in entertainment? How can we prevent another Lexa incident?”
John: “That is a big question. I think if we get noticed, if we speak up, if we can show that we as people and our identities are important and have the powers-that-be hear that, and they realize that real people’s lives are affected by the stories they put out, that’s the most power we have. There is the power of our viewership, there’s the power of our money. But sometimes it’s the power of our conversations and having our voices heard that brings the most change.”
QQ: “Okay, one final question, though I think I know the answer at this point! What is your favorite fandom and who is your favorite OTP?”
John: (Laughs) “Oh well you’re talking to the founder of FaberryCon! Faberry is the ship of my heart! The ultimate ship of ships! But I’m not really in a fandom right now.”
After our chat with John, we had the opportunity to speak with a handful of those attending TGI Femslash. Kendra, Vanessa, Morgan and Apple were happy to sit down with us and discuss fandom. And while our conversations got a little off topic at times (we *might* have spent way too much time talking about WayHaught, Supergirl and Clexa), here are some highlights.
- When asked if they preferred larger conventions to smaller conventions, both Kendra and Vanessa pointed out the benefits of each, but definitely prefer the smaller Cons. Kendra called ClexaCon a “Little-Big Con,” as it’s first year was a “best of both worlds” experience; Mixing the feel of larger Cons (both in attendance and celebrity appearances) with the more intimate discussions of smaller Cons. Vanessa pointed out that the benefit of a smaller convention is the ability for creators within fandoms to get together and share their work, like fan fiction and artwork. Kendra agreed, and noted that there are some things that are better said and shown within fandoms, to one another, that should not necessarily be shown to the actors or show runners. Vanessa agreed and so do we.
- Two other attendees, Morgan and Apple, joined our conversation and quickly agreed with Vanessa and Kendra on preferring smaller conventions. TGI Femslash being Morgan’s favorite, while Kendra said she needs both now that she’s had both. Apple told us a story about how Korrasami cosplay outfits that her and her wife were wearing one evening in the Bay Area, got the attention of another TGI Femslash attendee on the street. At the time they had never met, yet Apple and this other attendee began to pitch the TGI Femslash Con to one another. This is just one incredible example of how fandoms are a safe place for people and the importance of smaller, more intimate conventions like TGI Femslash.
We could honestly go on and on about all the conversations we had with several other attendees, but the theme remained the same with every single person we spoke with:
TGI Femslash is the convention for friends and for Con-family. After spending three hours with these wonderfully queer people, we couldn’t agree more. There were people in every corner, laughing and smiling, hugging and catching up with one another. While others were bustling around, setting up snacks and badges that needed to be picked up. The energy was palpable and infectious, making us feel truly disappointed that Queer Quality couldn’t attend all the festivities of the weekend.
Though we were unable to attend, TGI Femslash’s auction was a huge hit, raising $30,000 by it’s 110 attendees. That money will go to next year’s convention, as well as the ability to hopefully offer more scholarships for future attendees.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a real life Tumblr World, where your friends are from all over the world and want to talk about your favorite show and OTP, TGI Femslash is the place to go. It is a safe, friendly and understanding environment for everyone. In attendance were people from every background, every color, every age, every sex, gender, and sexual orientation. We highly encourage those attending ClexaCon this year to stop by the TGI Femslash booth and say hi to these awesome people.
For more reasons than we can put into words, TGI Femslash went above and beyond our expectations here at Queer Quality and we give them the #QueerQuality stamp of approval.
If you want more information, check out their website at www.tgifemslash.com.
We would like to thank Leah, John, Kendra, Vanessa, Apple and Morgan for taking time away from all the fun festivities to chat with us and we hope to see them, and many more, at ClexaCon in Las Vegas, April 5th through 9th. And we cannot wait to fully attend next year’s TGI Femslash Convention!