During my weekend at Flame Con, everyone around me was creative and intelligent—not to mention, queer. Organized by Geeks OUT, the “largest queer comic con” gathered artists, writers, creatives, fans, and gamers to network, share their art, and discuss queer-related issues in the media that we love to watch and read.
I’m somewhat of a convention novice—my experience includes going to TooManyGames in high school, and some sort of Walking Dead convention two years ago, where I couldn’t even muster up the moxie to talk to Grand Theft Auto’s Steven Ogg at his table. Flame Con 2018 was by far the largest convention I have been to yet, my first as a member of the press, and my first with a new sense of self-confidence.
And boy, was it exhausting and overwhelming.
Art by Gay Breakfast
The Artist’s Alley was the main point of attraction for Flame Con. Queer artists near and far peddled their wares, including prints, pins, books, and more. It was near-impossible to navigate through the sea of people and even harder to emerge without an empty wallet after buying from what felt like an infinite number of talented artists.
A litany of fandoms was represented here: Steven Universe, Pokémon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Splatoon, just to name a handful. Whenever my eye caught a piece of artwork that resonated with me, it eventually led to an extended conversation with the artist at the table about the fandom—and usually with a business transaction and exchange of business cards. Not just a prime place for networking, but for geeking out with your fellow fans in the queer community.
Whenever I found myself to be overwhelmed by the franticness of the Artist’s Alley, I retreated to the cleverly-named Gaymer Lounge. A line of televisions had PS4, Wii U, and Nintendo Switch set-ups, but most of the space was devoted to tabletop gaming. Also, on the floor was the first live game of DropMix that I’d ever seen with my own eyes.
The Gaymer Lounge ran on a schedule—every couple of hours, there would be a lesson on how to play a new up-and-coming tabletop game, or perhaps an organized video game tournament. I myself got all the way to the semi-finals of a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe bracket until I ultimately crashed and burned—metaphorically, of course. At least I got a ton of StreetPass action on my 3DS throughout the weekend.
(“Reclaiming my OoT: How Gaming Saved Me from Compassion Fatigue”)
But the heart and soul of the convention, at least from my own experience, were the panels that I attended—I extrapolated much more than I thought I would. You can imagine what some of the panel topics were: many involved examining queer issues in mainstream media such as Doctor Who, a panel where I caused a ruckus when I raised my hand and asked the panel’s opinion on Ianto Jones dying in Torchwood: Children of Earth. Never in my life had I ever caused that many exasperated groans and everyone in the room gave me a look as though I had killed the poor boy myself.
Other panels focused on social issues: a panel called “Square Enix and Beyond: A Study of Social Justice Issues in Final Fantasy and Other RPGs” discussed how many Final Fantasy games focus on finding justice in an unjust world. Themes like xenophobia in XIV, gentrification in XII, and large-scale gaslighting in X are prevalent throughout the franchise. Other panels looked at more inward issues, some focusing on the topic of mental health, and where video games fit in with that. This was at an early point in my experience at the convention, where I was under the impression that it was mostly fans running these panels.
I soon realized that it was more complicated than that. On the convention’s second and last day, I made it to a panel called “The LGBTQ History of Fanfiction,” which I initially attended out of morbid curiosity—fanfics aren’t really my jive. The panel went through the influence of Xena in the 90s for femmeslash fiction, and the use of ancient technology such as Geocities and Livejournal. But I was most fascinated listening to panelist and Marvel comics writer Leah Williams speak about how she considered her work with mainstream publications such as Marvel to be “professional fanfiction.” It’s a funny phrase at first, but Williams discussed how she was able to stay active in the fandom while still being at a professional level.
“No one knows the canon better than the fandom,” was a declaration that would likely stir up some argument, but one that I’m sometimes inclined to agree with.
At a panel titled “I Have Tons of Friends on the Internet: Finding Queer and Trans Community Online,” I got to listen to figures such as Couple-ish creator and actor Kaitlyn Alexander discuss transitioning from being a fan to a creator. Being on the other side of the fandom, they described quite simply, was weird. But Alexander ended the panel with a message of inclusivity and solidarity: in this large world of creativity from players with diverse identities, we have to support all aspects of the community.
To a layman, this sounds like a pretty standard convention experience—and in a way, it was. But having a convention unapologetically dominated by queerness added a unique color to the entire experience. Looking at everyone’s vibrant art, the smiles and excitement on everyone’s face, and engaging in engrossing conversations about fandom, I felt an affection, comfort, and friendliness that I can’t imagine is inherent in many other fandom conventions. It’s certainly a benefit from building a large, physical space for queer nerds, gender-neutral bathrooms and all.
I won’t harp on in this piece too much about my own personal identity, as there are several details that I prefer to keep private for the time being—but what I will share is that the queer online community, primarily on Twitter in my particular experience, is one that I’ve only recently immersed myself in. There’s a certain barrier from only experiencing this community online that made it feel intangible. Being at Flame Con was a profound experience for me—putting faces to all of this made me feel not only happy but safe.
Plus, I bought a lot of cool shit.