Disclaimer: This piece is a response to a comment made at the end of discussion last class when a classmate said they were “deathly afraid of going to conventions.” The comments struck a nerve with me as someone who loves attending conventions.
You should not be afraid of conventions.
I mean that two-fold. In one sense, you should not have to carry the fear of being in a place where you don’t feel safe. That is, of course, inexcusable. No one deserves that.
But, I’m going to argue that you should not be afraid of going to a convention. The myth that anime or gaming conventions are dangerous is one that has haunted the con scene for decades. And it’s still not true.
I say this because I feel safest at anime conventions, where I can be my true self. They are one of the few spots where nerds can reach out and talk to anyone without judgment. Before I started cosplaying and attending conventions, I was socially awkward and afraid to make friends. Thanks to the kindness of costumed strangers, I became a lot more confident in myself and my hobbies. It’s safe to say that conventions are the reason I am able to be outgoing in most situations. I don’t say this lightly- my admissions essay to Amherst was why anime conventions are my favorite place in the world.
I have been going to cons for 7 years. Never have I had an experience that made me afraid, uncomfortable or embarrassed. I have cross-played (taken the role of a character of the opposite gender) and received nothing but support from fellow attendees. Some of my closest friends have been strangers I met at an expo.
Are there some odd characters? Yes. Mind you, you are in a convention hall for dedicated fans of mostly-obscure entertainment media. Chances are, you are a little odd too. You might bump into someone who has forgotten to tend to body odor, or has a trait like autism that makes them a little less socially able. But to assume that these people are dangerous or unhealthy is stereotyping the very community that you are a part of.
Admittedly, I am a guy; my experience is different. But I can also say that for those 7 years, I have consistently gone with my tight knit circle of 5 female friends. We’ve never had a problem with sexist remarks or inappropriate conduct. My closest friend, who loves wearing more revealing cosplays, has even said that cosplaying at cons is like a safer Halloween, where she doesn’t have to worry about lewd commentary from bystanders.
To anyone who is afraid to go to a convention, don’t let preconceived notions stop you. When you visit a convention already afraid of what might happen, you open the flood gates for more fear. At my first con, I was nervous when people would stare at me. I thought perhaps they were judging me or my body- but I quickly realized they weren’t. They were appreciating my outfit, or trying to remember when they’d seen my costume before. Most would come over and apologize, then ask me questions and show their interest.
If you have attended a con and had problems, I’m sorry. But it’s important to remember that such an occurrence is not representative of the experience and shouldn’t stop you from attending. If you let someone’s silly remark keep you from coming back or wearing a costume, you’re only letting that jerk win. And if you’ve never been to a convention but act like you know what they’re like because of one thing you read on tumblr once- please stop. You’re only hurting this hobby with a false narrative.
I’d also like to highlight the extreme effort that convention staff, both hosting the event and center staff, take to make sure your experience is a safe one. In the past few years, most major conventions have started running police report checks on per-registered attendees. At a well-managed con, any sign of harassment results in an automatic expulsion and removal of an attendance badge (in some cases, also criminal charges).
Can “things” happen at conventions? Yes. But those kinds of things can happen in any public space, and are not more likely to happen at a convention. The fear that you are more likely to be in danger at a convention is like the irrational fear that airplanes are more dangerous than cars. And the more you propagate that fear, the more likely you are to cast a negative image on one of the most welcoming events a nerd can go to.