Somehow, Nine Worlds managed to be even more awesome than last year. It was just so relaxed. It’s difficult to put one’s finger on any single thing that made it so, but what was clear was that the Nine Worlds crew had worked really hard to not only deliver a con as welcoming and inclusive as last year, but to improve on any imperfections.
For those unfamiliar, Nine Worlds is a general fannish convention with an explicit focus on inclusivity and diversity. They aim to provide a safe and welcoming environment for women, for disabled people, for people of all races, all sexualities (and none!), all genders (and none!), neuro-divergent people, and more.
Last year I was impressed by how many more visibly disabled people I had seen than at any other convention in the past. Why? Because everything was accessible. I was also impressed by how just the inclusion of a Geek Feminist track had made me feel safer and more included, and I assume others felt similarly for LGBQT and Race and Culture tracks. But I also felt that this year they had made a real effort to go beyond that.
At the reception desk there were communication tags so that people could signal their availability to chat: blue for willing to chat to anyone, yellow for only wanting to talk to people you know, red for not wanting to talk to anyone. Really useful signals, both for people who have trouble judging other people’s openness, and for people who are easily overwhelmed by people and are uncomfortable talking to strangers. They also had pronoun badges so that people could indicate whether they wanted to be referred to as ‘he/him/his’, ‘she/her/hers’, ‘they/them/theirs’ and so forth – a really useful tool for helping trans and non-binary people indicate how they wish to be referred to.
If I had one criticism of this, it would be that the note accompanying the tags and badges said to only take if you really needed it, because numbers were limited. As a socially anxious, non-binary woman, I would have loved to have taken all three colours of tags for use when appropriate, and I would have liked to take a ‘she/her/hers’ badge. But I didn’t want to take them if there then weren’t enough for neuro-divergent people or trans people who really needed them more. In general, I think there’s something flawed in telling people who struggle with communication to consider whether they are worthy of aid – I know it wasn’t intended that way, but I hope that, for the future, Nine Worlds will obtain more such tags and badges so that people don’t have to hold back in that way.
Nevertheless, I think the ‘default blue/approachable’ assumption did have a positive effect. And I think I, personally, benefitted from going down on the Thursday and engaging in the smaller, sociable events held then. I felt so much more at ease getting to know people, and I have never met so many awesome people at one time. I even felt easier about approaching people I thought I might know from the Internet. Maybe some of that’s me, but I think the general atmosphere helped.
As with last year, the sheer range of activities was also a bonus. Nine Worlds has a plethora of different tracks, ranging from Academia to Social Gaming, Cosplay to Comics, Geek Feminism to Podcasting, and more. Last year I went to a lot of the Geek Feminist events, but this year… I don’t know. I guess I had more fun. I think last year I needed the Geek Feminism to feel included; this year I could be more relaxed, and I also just needed a break from the seriousness of my Real Life. I attended a session on finding your voice as a podcaster, one of fight choreography for writers, a Live Action Role Play, A Song of Ice and Fire Sewing, the Whedon Track’s Sing-Along, Reading SF While Brown, African Speculative Fiction, and more.
My experiences were almost universally good. I confess, I deliberately avoided issues that looked fraught – the sessions on Mental Health in SF, and Sexual Assault – but reports from others told me they were handled very sensitively. The only session I found a bit strange was the one on African Speculative Fiction, where the panel was entirely white. This was partly due to one of the panelists being in a traffic accident and thus unable to attend. I was pleased that his (white) replacement noted the uncomfortableness of this, but I did rather feel that when hosting a panel like that the organisers should have ensured that one person being unable to attend (for whatever reason) would not end up with an entirely white panel. The panelists were knowledgeable and did cover a number of perspectives of which I was not aware, including how the expensiveness of books has led to a vibrant fiction culture accessed via mobile networks. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering whether the perspectives offered were not, of necessity, limited.
In contrast, the Reading SF While Brown panel was entirely people of colour, and it was very interesting to hear their different perspectives. Both for myself, as a writer, and as a part of a community where it is easy to be unaware of casual slights and prejudices.
I also enjoyed the cosplay, both my own and others. There was a system of handing people tokens if you thought they had a good cosplay. If you got 15 tokens you won a prize. I’ll admit, I was somewhat sad to only recieve four, especially when there were people walking around with over 50, and I had heard that over 100 people had claimed a prize. It does make one feel a little sadder than if there had just been a few prizes and I was just one of many who had lost out. On the other hand, it was nice to give and receive tokens and did make a way of getting talking with people.
Overall, I feel just so refreshed by the whole experience. My geekery has been recharged. I can’t recommend Nine Worlds enough. Come hell or high water, I will find a way to be there next year, and I recommend that you do the same.