I’m at GeekGirlCon today!!! It’s awesome! 3rd year in a row!
I spent yesterday in The Attic, Seattle’s feminist community workshop/hacker/maker space. The Attic’s booth here at GeekGirlCon is representing the space’s combination of fiber, art, tech, robots, geekiness, hacking, and making things very beautifully and there are tshirts and stickers! That’s where I’ll be on Sunday morning and part of the afternoon, orbiting between the games area, the Art Alley, and The Attic’s table.
Here are some quick shout outs to people I talked with today and cool stuff I saw.
- Heroes & Inspirations who make jewelry and art. Their new Ladies of Science series is great. There’s a Heroes and Inspirations Ladies of Science Kickstarter! I’m definitely backing this project and want several of the wearable tributes to admirable scientists!
- Stasia Burrington who has a print (and tshirt) of a woman in a pile of cats and another that I love that is kind of the same concept with books. As I look through her etsy shop I want to buy a zillion prints… her work is so charming!
- Bhaloidam, an interesting board game that is a storytelling RPG.
- BigBrainedSuperheroes Club, a STEAM education organization!
- Monkey Minion Press who have very beautifully done posters with SF retro WWII themes, often somewhat creepy.
- ReelGrrls who are working with young women to teach video production skills and to support their work as film makers.
- Women’s Funding Alliance which is a big philanthropic collective.
I got to talk a bit with Tempest who was on the panel “Changing Culture in Mainstream and Alternative Spaces” which I thought of as the “safer spaces” strategy panel. The panel was good. I also met up with Sigrid Ellis who I know from WisCon and who is now editing Apex Magazine. In a totally lucky random encounter I ended up talking intensely with Elsa S. Henry from Feminist Sonar and went to her Disabled Geeks panel which was not in the schedule booklet but which was well attended. Here are my notes on the panel! They’re a bit rough and were basically liveblogging that I have not fully edited.
Elsa and Stevi Costa are speaking on the Disabled Geeks panel. Elsa’s talking about comics and characters with disabilities. Disability is used as a narrative crutch. The words “inspiration porn” are also being tossed out there . . . for those of us who might be hate-watching things like Glee or watching Push Girls. (Audience LOL, ruefully). Disability is too often used as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles. It’s rare to have a character born with a disability who did not get bitten by a radioactive spider but has been how they are since birth.
Discussion of the Glee character who is a wheelchair user who is played by a non-disabled character. Elsa describes the horrible scene where he gets up out of the wheelchair and dances, which many people felt was a huge problem, since you don’t have to miraculously get out of your wheelchair in order to dance. You can dance while using your wheelchair or while you have whatever other impairment you happen to have in your life. Your dreams may be things that you can actually fucking do. Etc. An audience member describes her teeth grinding as the pretty girl gets to walk across the room getting out of her chair in some other episode. As if, aww, the other guy is the loser in the chair. There is also an Xmas episode where the guy wishes he could walk. Critique of the “walking” exoskeleton thingies. My personal reaction is that I am kind of glad I have never watched this show.
“Yay, accepting our cyborg bodies and then we become your OVERLORD.” *audience cheer*
Something something crip sex. (I had lost the thread, but start paying attention at these words…) “How did that feel to you?” “I dunno”. It was amazing but it just can’t make up for that dancing episode. Another episode where bullies take a blind person’s cane away. That was a painful moment for Elsa since people have done that to her deciding that she doesn’t need her cane so that they can bully her. Invisible disabilities represented, for once the character with Downs Syndrome is played by an actor with Downs. Great character usually but the school shooter episode was incredibly bad. Inconsistent with the character, makes it look like PWD have no future after the insitutional support of childhood and youth. Yes there is fear but they blew it out of proportion and people said online “I wonder if that’s going to happen at my school”. It represented disabled people as violent when actually we are often the targets of violence.
How about Oracle. (I cheer). Elsa loved Oracle, a great superhero with disabilities. And then they took her away. Oh, you’re disabled, you’re like one of the X-Men. No actually I’m not. And Oracle was a woman with an actual disablity who lived with her physical impairments.
In contrast in the Daredevil movie, she lasted 2 minutes, the movie was too much. “My nickname is snarkbat, I use snark to echolocate.” Why doesn’t he use the cane while he’s in the costume!? I’d like to see a superhero who uses a cane. So I had someone make me one. People with disabilities should be able to cosplay anything they want. My blind cataracted eye is not a special effects contact! Please do not ask me where I bought my own eyeball. Then I will tell you I bought it at Rubella and you will feel like a jerk. I’m playing Odin today. (Elsa holds up her cape with a raven (Munin) attached to the shoulder.) (I asked her earlier if it was Hugin or Munin) People ask Hey where’d you get that awesome contact, they assume you couldn’t be disabled so you become strangely invisitble again. Elsa asks for abled bodied people to not cosplay disability. It makes many of us really frustrated. We need to be recognized and read as people with disabilities. If you are playing disabled with your pirate eyepatch you are making the world worse for people who actually need to wear one. The fictionalizing means the people aren’t reading us as real.
Why would you go to all the trouble of finding visually impaired young women to play helen keller but as the understudy for the not-visually-impaired main actress who got cast for the role. There could be the name recognition if you start casting us in the roles.
Cons and accessible space. Getting trampled and pushed around in crowds. This con is good. People are educated to the point where they are not pushing into people in wheelchairs, people with white canes. This con has an introvert alley so people can go have some quiet space. We have a wheelchair lift here at the stage. (though . . . no one on stage who is a wheelchair user. . . .) Stevi asks Elsa when she goes to larger cons that don’t have any focus on inclusivity do you feel that you become invisible? Geek culture is not as inclusive as it is supposed to be. That is why Elsa does not like to go to cons. She doesn’t like feeling invisible and being trampled. She lives in NYC and is used to that environment but to come into a safer space where it’s “our people” it would be nice not to be run over. (I so strongly agree!! This feeling only grows in me that we have to insist on respect from our communities.)
Audience question about therapy dogs and fakers. Yeah Hmmmmm. Panel handles this question with perhaps too much patience. OK I popped up and asked the asker if she has a special need to police whether people are really disabled or not or a concern over being allergic to dogs or dog phobic so it becomes an issue for her or people around her. Come on. Is this the moment?
Elsa talks about how she wears glasses and can see partially. People go Hey are you really blind? Yes. they don’t give white canes out like candy and I really need it. People come up to me at cocktail parties and ask me how many fingers they are holding up. People just take my cane because they are curious. It’s not okay to just investigate my disability. Peeople with disabilities are not public property. We are human beings. TELL IT. Stevi adds that we narrativize it to where the story is that you have gone from being able-bodies to disabled and that is the dominant story.
Aud comment about being happy to be talking about people who were born with disabilities and glad we’re having this panel. She wants to talk about more pop culture and the show Covert Affairs. The character who is super sexy and confident. He is not really blind but the attempt to make a positive character is awesome and rare so props to them for trying. Elsa says she will have to watch it. She is the only blind burlesque performer she knows about. How does she know she’s being attractive? Well, she practices a lot and asks her friends if she looks good in her costumes.
Aud comment about the school shooting story. She wants to know recs for characters where their disability is not the issue.
Elsa recommends Switched at Birth it is sort of ridiculous and has some sort of weird republican thing going on, but they have an entire episode done in ASL where the characters are all teenage girls.
Stevi likes the Michael J Fox show because they address the inspiration porn question head on, in episode one and then they move on and he is just a character who happens to have Parkinson’s and that isn’t what it’s about. The first episode includes some epic crip humor. Then it becomes a normal family sitcom which includes a character with a chronic condition.
Another rec from the audience, the forensic doctor on CSI. He plays guitar, he happens to have one leg, he is awesome.
Back to superheroes with disability. The character Hawkeye lost 80% of his hearing. it became part of his character but then of course then in 2000s he got reset.
Can we stop resetting the disabled characters? OMG.
Fanfic writers cherrypicked that one detail and wrote after the Avengers movies how he had hearing loss. A lot of it was great but there was also a lot of problematic aspects where people wrote it as inspiration porn where he overcomes his hearing loss etc.
Breaking Bad and a character where a disabled actor applied for a character who was written as able bodied and he is a great actor, they just put it into his character, they didn’t reject him from the role, it was just like the color of a person’s hair or whatever.
Cosplay and able bodied people and disabled people What if there is an able bodied people who really likes Oracle and wants to cosplay Oracle. What if there’s a person in the wheelchair who wants to cosplay Supergirl. What then.
Elsa says people in wheelchairs can cosplay whoever they want. But if you are able bodied and want to cosplay Oracle just dont use a wheelchair. If you dont need it please don’t use it. Do not put on cripface. Geordi’s visor is fiction, it is not a real device so it isn’t going to be mixed up with reality. Stevi thinks it is possible to use an assistive device in cosplay in a way that is respectful, but it is tricky. Elsa wants people who are not disabled not to be read as disabled.
(Personally I have some complicated feelings around this and I don’t like the idea that people think they can just play disability. What the hell, isn’t there enough to play with? And, it is even more complicated because of actual discrimination and also I would add in fetishists as an issue. I don’t like the idea that, as with actors, Non disabled people get attention and fame from pretending to be us and perhaps “doing it better”. They get rewarded for performing “disability” in ways that are more acceptable to mainstream culture than the actual lives and being in the world of those of us who are disabled. How can this not fail to be offensive and have the fake cripple come off as perky or happier or reacting in some way that gets props from people who want everything to be okay. My first reaction is that it makes me instantly angry. I let people ride my scooter and manual chair to experience it as fun and not unimaginable. But I hate the idea that people would pretend they are disabled as their costume. )
Elsa talking about her current work writing a game module for ghost hunting blind people, warriors of midgaard, for role playing games. I know how to do and represent this thing. Pay me to do it. Rather than thinking you know it all and faking it.
Orange is the New Black, best humor moment with wheelchair, Scared Straight group goes to the prison and one of the prisoners goes you think you’re really tough . . . She is the most bad ass, I will shank you so hard character.
The panel wraps up. I did not count the attendees but would estimate 30-40 people as I think back on how full the room was.
YAY, great panel!