A few months ago, a friend of mine who runs a production company specializing in producing panels at geek conventions like Otakon, AnimeUSA, and New York ComicCon (NYCC), asked me to join a panel called "This Panel is Gay"-- a frank and irreverent discussion on the intersection of queer and geek culture and the state of queer in the pan-geek universe. As many would be, I was immensely excited to be asked to be a panelist at New York ComicCon, one of the fastest growing Cons in the nation. Even though the panel was initially green-lit and approved, twice, by the NYCC staff, it was finally cancelled and swapped out for one of the other panels the production company had proposed on fan fiction. The reason we were given? "We have enough queer panels this year."
Now I'm well aware that Nerd conventions aren't known for being particularly well-oiled and smooth operations. Panels get added and dropped all the time with even less notice or reasoning. But when convention staff cancelled a pre-approved queer panel citing the fact that they already had plenty of queer content, I wanted to hold them to it and make sure that there indeed was a decent track of queer panels at this year's New York ComicCon.
I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they had indeed an overwhelming amount of panels on queer topics. It seemed unlikely since last year's NYCC had a total of zero explicitly queer panels, but you never know (they did have a panel on diversity with included Disney producer and young adult fiction novelist Perry Moore, who wrote a gay superhero young adult novel Hero*). So when the official panel listing came out last week, I dove through the impressive listing of over 650 panels. How many queer-related panels did I find?
Two panels: "LGBT Comics, Creators, and Characters" and "Gay for You? Yaoi and Yuri Manga for GBLTQ[sic] readers"
Two queer panels is somehow deemed sufficient queer content for over 100,000 convention attendees. Granted, they sound like interesting and worthwhile panels, but two panels of six hundred sixty panels?! That means 0.3% of NYCC's programming is queer to serve an estimated 10,000 queer attendees. That is a shockingly low, especially since I went to DragonCon only weeks ago where of 339 panels, 6 were explicitly queer-- including an entire party thrown for queer attendees by convention staff... which makes DragonCon roughly 400% more queer than NYCC.
I am aware that the geek community has a history of dragging its boots on many social issues and movements. This is still the industry in which the average female character's cup size is 36DD and most representations of queer characters are flat, offensive caricatures. This is slowly changing as we have seen in some heartening trends across the geek board: Comics has new exciting queer characters in feature roles including Batwoman, Wiccan & Hulkling, Carolina Dean & Xavin, Renee Montoya, Karma, etc. and video games has queerness embedded in some of the most unlikely of franchises like Bully and Grand Theft Auto. But it seems clear that this institutionalized silencing of queer voices continues to force queer readers, players, and fans to read about their lives only through allegory and subtext.
It should be noted that DragonCon is definitively a fan-oriented convention where fans have the reigns in terms of the planning, execution, and programming of the event, whereas New York ComicCon is much more of an "industry" convention, where attendance by the big names of the industry is more about marketing than it is about fan participation and community cultivation.
I am deeply disappointed in New York ComicCon's unfortunate and brazen lack of perspective on what quantifies "appropriate" inclusion of queer folk in their programming. It is one thing if there are no fans willing to put together and staff queer panels, but to cancel queer panels that had already been approved, twice, by citing the fact that there were "enough" queer panels in the mix... is just insulting.