I’m Going to PAX And It’s Freaking Me Out

After years of admiring excellent cosplay costumes, watching clips filmed from star-studded panels, and wishing I could have been present for the unveiling of the next big geek event, I’m finally attending my first convention: Seattle’s PAX.  I’m going with a bunch of friends, many of whom are also newbies, and I’m definitely going to wear some kind of costume.

For the most part, I’m excited.  With both the PS4 and Xbox One on the horizon, PAX should be nothing short of epic – but I’m also feeling quite a bit of dread, because, well, I’m not a dude.

Here’s what I’ve learned about women attending cons:

1. If you’re wearing a sexy costume, you will be harassed.

2. If you’re wearing any costume, you will be harassed.

3. If you’re a woman, you will be harassed.

The group I’m going with is planning our costumes, and I am at a loss for what to wear.  PAX is all about gaming, which means I can’t really dress up as River Song like I’ve always wanted to.  I’m also sadly limited in my gaming experience.  Halo and Fallout are my two main franchises, and I’ve never played some of the mainstays, like Zelda or Lara Croft. (I know, I know.)

There’s also the part where the gaming community…I’m trying to think of a nice way to put this.

The gaming community seems to be way less tolerant of its female participants in comparison with the rest of geekdom.  There.  I doubt that’s news to you, though.

Going back to the reveals of the PS4 and the Xbox One, which occurred within three months of each other: Sony sent an all-male team to debut their product, not for lack of qualified female executives and developers, but because…well, nobody seems to have a good reason.

And Xbox?

Because they had not one, but two women onstage.

While the Doctor Who, Marvel, and even Star Wars fandoms are full of women, and everyone is pretty chill about it because, well, it just isn’t a big deal, being a female gamer still feels a lot like being a spy behind enemy lines: if they find you, they’ll tar and feather you, kick you out, and put a “no girlz alowd” sign on the door.

Their reasons will vary, but they’re summed up pretty well in this comic: if they find you attractive, you’re obviously a fake and don’t deserve to be there.  If they don’t find you attractive, you’re an eyesore who’s ruining their day and/or their favorite fandom and/or killing their puppy.  It’s a catch-22 and I’m trying my best not to get sucked into it, because really, it all boils down to how others will perceive me, and ultimately I have no control over that.

But I feel like I ought to fight back – against however I might be judged, and against the assumption that I’m going to be judged at all.

So do I ride the recent wave of Lara Croft feminism and dress as the new Lara at PAX, even though I’ve never played any of her games?  Do I dress as another female character who will probably be sexy by default and go in preparing to wage war against harassment?

Or do I pick another female character from the group that answered hypersexuality by obscuring herself in armor?  Do I wear a “safe” costume to ensure a more enjoyable con experience, while knowing that I’m really hiding from a shouty hyper-masculine contingent?  I already “hide” when I play Xbox Live – sure, my Halo character is set up as female, but unless someone checks my profile or I die in a particularly noisy way, no other gamers will know I’m a woman.  I don’t use the mic, although that’s mostly to avoid the general onslaught of racist, homophobic slurs than misogyny aimed specifically at me.

And I’m very irritated at myself for feeling that I have to hide at all.  I already “hide” when I play Xbox Live – sure, my Halo character is set up as female, but unless someone checks my profile or I die in a particularly noisy way, no other gamers will know I’m a woman.  I don’t use the mic, although that’s mostly to avoid the general onslaught of racist, homophobic slurs than misogyny aimed specifically at me.

If I had the tools and the know-how, you can bet I’d be there in full lady-Assassin regalia, retractable blade and all.  Or, now that I’m finally playing Mass Effect, in Fem-Shep armor.  I would fearlessly draw attention to myself if I had the ability to make an incredible costume – but I don’t, which makes it harder to plan a costume that will simultaneously shield me from whatever negative attitudes might come my way (and which are ultimately impossible to predict or avoid) and allow me to express my moderate love of gaming.

It’s like trying to pack for a vacation, only you have no idea where you’re going or what the weather is like.  And the weather might yell at you if it doesn’t like you.

So, other geeks and con-goers: what do you do about this?  Are tales of being female at conventions exaggerated?  Have you experienced sexism or harassment, and how did you handle it?


3 thoughts on “I’m Going to PAX And It’s Freaking Me Out

  1. I haven’t been to a con in two years, but before that I went to Fanime annually for about…seven or eight years running? And I cosplayed for nearly every one of those (as both male and female characters). This is only my experience, but the truth is that I experienced very little harassment that entire time! Costumes were everywhere, and honestly most of my outfits weren’t good enough (or based on popular-enough series) to garner much attention good OR bad. I did dress super-sexy one year with friends, and we got a bit more attention, but nobody was threatening or rude, and my memory has probably glossed over the more mildly inappropriate comments, which were taken in good fun at the time.

    That isn’t to say that bad things didn’t happen at those cons, but they didn’t happen to me. When I did get attention, it was from other fans who were excited to see me cosplaying a character they liked, and there’d be pictures or excited chatter and it was fun and happy! Sometimes it can be hard to reconcile costuming skill level with characters you enjoy (I never did get around to doing a Slayers costume, what with the armor bits and all…), but even when the outfits weren’t perfect or I didn’t know as much about the character as I could have, I had a great time and look back on my con experiences with very fond memories. It may be a little different at a gaming or western-style comics convention, but honestly, I’d say you could do costumes from any nerdy media you enjoy–I remember seeing plenty of gaming and TV costumes at Fanime (including the Doctor and Rose), as well as costumes that were neither here nor there so far as nerddom is concerned (Waldo and Napoleon Dynamite, for two). I don’t know how helpful all this prattling has been, but it’s not like they won’t let you in if you’re costumed as something other than a game character, so just follow your bliss and I hope you have an excellent time!

    • Actually, the day I posted this, I talked to one of the friends in our group who had attended before, and he said there have been tons of non-gaming costumes in the past. So I still have a chance to do a River Song costume! I’d feel better doing some kind of group thing, though…unless I can talk my husband into going as the Tenth Doctor.

      I’m sure I’m overthinking the whole situation, but I’m anxious to make a good impression/not get harassed. Maybe part of the problem is that those things are linked in my mind – the idea that if I don’t make the best possible impression, I’ll get harassed, instead of just ignored. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case and that I’m not giving con-goers enough credit.

  2. Pingback: Taking PAX Back from the Trolls | Ruby Bastille

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