Fandom has, in many ways, existed in my life since I was a child. Yet I’m still a newcomer to conventions. I’d never even been to a fan convention prior to ClexaCon, and in many ways that one was exactly what I expected. Panels led by experts, celebrities signing autographs, photo ops, an official merchandise space with a lot of different booths, so much official programming you barely had time to breathe, and one or two official special events. All of these were things I’d come to expect of a con given my background in academia. ClexaCon as an event seemed a reasonable fandom analogue to an academic conference: interesting, exciting, exhausting, and professional. A great place to network, buy awesome merch, and engage with new ideas as well as celebrities and content creators.
This past weekend, I attended TGIFemslash, and let me tell you, I’d never been to a con like this, academic or fandom oriented, in my life. I knew to expect a more intimate atmosphere, but nothing could prepare me for how immediately welcome I felt. If Tumblr and a family reunion had a baby that had all the best aspects of both minus the assholes and crazy uncles, you’d get TGIFemslash. It’s all your favorite social media blogs and fansites rolled into one with a healthy dose of band camp/closing night of a high school theater production. Plus alcohol and lots of snacky foods. And femslash. So much femslash.
It’s a haven of femslash and queer folks. Everyone freely celebrates their fave shows, pairings, headcanons, videos, and fics. Have an unusual femslash pairing that’s your OTP? Chances are at least one other person there loves it, so you can go talk in a corner for hours. You’ll likely pick up a few more fans along the way if you talk loud enough (I definitely do). Have a favorite show that doesn’t get enough Tumblr attention? Want to gush about power dynamics in femslassh pairings or your favorite headcanon? People will listen and gush along with you. I have more headcanons and fic ideas than I know what to do with for a long list of shows.
Even more academically-minded folks like me found some time and people to talk with about themes or analysis on a deep, engaging level. Friday night, I had a four hour long conversation (or was it five?) that started with linguistics and eventually came around to Steven Universe and Legend of Korra. Saturday night I had at least a three hour conversation about Supergirl, and that wasn’t the only one I had on that show.
The panels themselves functioned more like extended group conversations than lectures or discussions featuring a small group of experts. Each had a moderator, to be sure. I moderated the panel on Steven Universe, actually. But we only existed to provide direction, keep the conversation going, and step in if the conversation was veering too far into the weeds or was starting to become unproductive. We got to talk about the shows and media we loved in our way and about the topics that mean most to us. Aside from fandom specific panels, TGIFemslash had everything from meta panels like religion and fandom or femslash history to fic specific panels like writing fanfic, headcanons and AUs (alternate universes), and power dynamics.
And if there wasn’t an interesting panel at any given time, DIY panels were heavily encouraged. I went to an impromptu ‘panel’ where we discussed yuri manga. Someone had even brought a table full of manga for us to look through and helped us all wade our way through recommendations. That discussion ended with 5-6 people crowded around a computer while I started playing Life is Strange, but that’s another story. There were DIY panels on Power Rangers, Xena, and even an extension of my Steven Universe panel. Because 50 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to talk about that gem of a show. Basically, if it was femslash related and you wanted to talk about it, there was either an official or DIY panel available to do so.
The programming offered unique experiences I’d probably never see at a ‘big time’ con like Clexacon. The fan auction may have been my favorite of the special events. It’s hard to describe just how utterly absurd and delightful it is to see people in a mad bidding war over a Clexa or Wayhaught themed basket of goodies. And all while using paddles with the faces of famous ladies and lady characters on them. I never thought I’d see Cat Grant win a Marvel basket (traitor), or Kormione (Korra x Hermione) and Saverly (Santana x Waverly) get into a bidding war over a manga/animation basket.
Don’t even get me started on how much Hillary Clinton wanted to buy. (Side note, we also had a Hillary Clinton cut out in the main con room, and her wide grin delighted me every time I saw it. She was so happy to be there.)
Then there was Club Femslash: three hours of dancing set to fan videos featuring ladies loving ladies. Some people preferred just to watch the vids and that was perfectly okay, too. Everyone had fun in their own way. And how could I not mention the fic battle? Two teams of 9 writers writing dueling fanfics using femslash characters and genres/prompts shouted at them by the audience. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Not to mention the 75 minute femslash vidshow or the orginal works panel, both of which featured content created by con attendees. Many of these activities had been adapted from other small cons, as the organizers have admitted, but in the context of femslash, they were that much more enjoyable and meaningful to me as a queer woman.
The con organizers also went out of their way to create safe spaces for everyone. Not only was the con itself a haven for queer folks who want to celebrate ladies loving ladies, there were special spaces specifically devoted to resting as well as having loud conversations. Stocked with snacks and drinks, the party room provided a contained space for yelling about faves without fear of being overheard or interrupted by the outside world.
The quiet room, on the other hand, provided a silent space to rest and recoup for introverts like me that didn’t require retreating to a hotel room. It was right next door to the con suite, so when I needed a break, I didn’t have to stray far from the center of action. As someone who can get easily overwhelmed either by people or by sensory input, having a quiet space close at hand meant a lot to me. A built-in, guilt-free escape everyone would respect? I didn’t know I needed that at a con until this weekend.
Yet, I found that I needed it far less than I expected. As I mentioned earlier, I spent literal hours having conversations with a lot of different people. There were 110+ attendees this past weekend, and I felt like I made 110+ new friends. I normally need a lot of time to recover after a long day talking with people. Going to be early is normal for me at conventions. I stayed up until 3am or later every night but the first night. I didn’t even go to bed on Sunday night because I had a red eye flight out of LA and wanted to keep talking. Pulling an all nighter, and with an entire group of relative strangers before this weekend, hasn’t happened since college.
I can’t emphasize enough just how much friendship pervaded this past weekend. So many people felt like ‘home’ to me. More than once I would forget that I’d only met someone hours or days ago that felt like they’d been my friend for years. The conversations haven’t died down either. I’ve already had hundreds of notifications on my phone today from the group messaging service we used. If you want to make a ton of amazing, smart, fun, delightful new queer friends who love femslash, this is the con to go to.
What I love most is that there’s space for both types of con to exist. This doesn’t compete with the ‘big time’ cons like ClexaCon, because they’re two completely different experiences. Yes, there’s some overlap in the making friends and connections department. I wouldn’t have gone to TGIFemslash if I hadn’t have made friends like John, Apple, Alice, Kayla, Krizten, Jaime, and Kendra at ClexaCon. They’re what got me to this con.
At the same time, both types of con feed my soul in different ways. As an academic, I love the expert panels and making professional connections. Ideas for meta analysis articles are more likely to come from the conversations had at a con like ClexaCon. As a fangirl, TGIFemslash feeds my creative writing juices for fic and personal writing. I’d been struggling to prioritize my fiction writing in recent weeks. Coming home from this con, I’m more determined than ever to set boundaries around my fiction (and hopefully fic) writing time.
It also lets me gush, rant, yell, and laugh about all my fave fandoms and characters in a more intimate way than I can do online. I love social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter; eight times out of ten, I’d choose to sit at home and talk online because I’m introverted and like being able to control my engagement. Still, it’s hard to beat staying up until 3 am talking about Korrasami and sad Lena Luthor headcanons.
We need both types of spaces. Some people will always prefer to go to a con like ClexaCon. Others would rather go to TGIFemslash and never consider going to a con with several thousand people rather than just over a hundred. Me? I’m going to both for as long as I can afford to. I need both, because they nourish and excite me in different, complimentary ways.
All that to say, I love my TGIFamily, and I’m so glad I met them. I felt more seen, celebrated, and loved as part of a community than I’ve felt in my life. I made a lot of new friends and hope to have many of them in my life for years (you know who you are). So mark the date for TGIFemslash for next year folks, it’s so worth it!