Don’t get me wrong, I love conventions. From my first venture to Long Island’s I-Con at the tender age of six (parents were huge geeks, too) to spending four days at NYC Comic Con as press two years ago, I’ve always felt a sense of homecoming and belonging the second I see a stream of people walking down the street who are “clearly heading to that con” and know I’m going the same place. But Flame Con, New York’s first queer comic con, was something else. It was a window into what conventions should be and how they could feel: inclusive, innovative, and inspiring.
Created by Geeks OUT, it’s a “one-day comics, arts, and entertainment expo showcasing creators and celebrities from all corners of [LGBTQIA+] geek fandom, including comics, video games, film, and television.” They were also supported by Gaysiansgame, Fun Home, Atari’s Pridefest, MailChimp, Northwest Press, Cockyboys, and another queer con GaymerX (which will be happening this coming December in San Jose for all you West Coast readers). Flame Con had all the essential ingredients of a geek convention: a wide array of vendors selling merch, an assortment of panels, a cosplay pageant, a game demo room, etc. But what really defined Flame Con and made it so different from other cons I’ve attended was that this is the first time I really felt like I was at a con for me.
Queer inclusivity has been increasingly represented in video games, anime, comics, and consequently at cons all over the country, with more and more panels and vendors diversifying. (Check out this great piece on gender identity and queer inclusion in Dragon Age by FemHype author Shel Shepard.) But at the end of the day, the convention environment can sometimes lend itself to a certain stereotypical cast of characters, certain language being thrown around, and certain actions taking place. I mean, they have to put up signs stating that, “Cosplay is not consent.” Shouldn’t that be obvious?
On the other hand, Flame Con was clearly an event built by the queer community, but welcoming of everyone. I especially enjoyed the range of queer presentation, both in and out of cosplay. People weren’t afraid to break stereotypes and shared a range of gender expressions and versions of cosplay characters that took a lot of people by surprise. I definitely saw a trans Dumbledore and bondage Mario during the requisite costume pageant that took place in the middle of the day, and my trusty helper Captain America (in glitter pants and heels) also did her own queering of the Cap. Also be sure to check out this great video of the cosplay parade by our third Flame Con friend/helper for the day, Rodel!
Flame Con even featured many things that aren’t standard practice at other LGBTQIA+ events I’ve attended. Main example: Preferred Gender Pronoun (PGP) stickers available upon entry. These stickers—which looked like name tags reading he/his/him, she/hers/her, and they/theirs/them—were available to all fans. While I may be familiar with these concepts, given that I have many close transgender friends, a number of queer cisgender people had never encountered this before, and came face-to-face with their own cis privilege when understanding why these labels were available and necessary at all.
They also had gender neutral bathrooms built into a facility with non-gender neutral bathrooms. What this means is that people of all sexes and genders were using the same room, containing both a mix of stalls and urinals. I must admit, my first response upon encountering the setup was shock that men were using the urinals as I walked by a foot away. Then, after sitting in the stall for about 30 seconds, I realized how little I actually cared—and how not weird that actually was. Coming face to face with and dismissing my own gender insecurities when confronted with something that really wasn’t a big deal taught me a lot.
I’ve noticed lately how specifically “geeky” queer events seem to be pushing the inclusivity envelope. I also noticed this attending Alison Bechdel’s keynote speech at Queers & Comics last month. I mean, if queer geeks (one of the most lethal combos for high school ire and bullying) can’t get together and lead the fight for inclusive and comfortable spaces to be themselves, I don’t know who could be better qualified. All of these elements gave Flame Con a super chill and comfortable vibe I’ve never felt before. I didn’t feel nervous or scared telling people I liked their costume or getting into a long chat with a vendor about a particularly cool plot they had developed. I felt like I was the audience—I was who they wanted to talk to. So refreshing.
I should also mention that I felt like an absolute kid in a candy shop upon entering the merch room and seeing an assortment of G through R-rated materials (wink) about queer characters in every genre: comics, scifi/fantasy novels, gaming, figurines, graphic novels, prints, posters, clothes, buttons, pins, and more. I actually had one vendor—who will remain nameless—go through their entire line of smut scifi/fantasy novels, by subgenre, one by one with me.
At Flame Con, it felt like, for once, I didn’t have to search out the niche I was looking for among the rest of the crowded convention. I could just walk down every aisle knowing that characters like me were represented at those tables, jokes on the signs were aimed at things I’d know, and most of the clothes and merch typically geared toward cisgender men (like t-shirt styles and sizes) were there in my size and fit too.
We did check out the after party—aptly named the ‘Fire Ball’—and it was also flame-tastic. First of all, it (and the whole con) were set in the Grand Prospect Hall, a building that looks like it came straight out of an 18th century opera. There is a giant (what I can only describe as a) ballroom, a parlour, a wonderful terrace, balcony, chandeliers—the works. Now, turn that into a queer dance and performance party featuring a host of characters from geeky fandoms. Nailed it.
I saw some things that made my eyebrows arch all the way into my emo bangs, especially some of the burlesque. There was also the fact that the emcee for the day was on stilts walking along a giant catwalk built for performances. Also a plus were the hundreds of feet of paper covering the sides that fans could come up and sketch on. There are some seriously talented people walking around the con, and the paper wall was an awesome way to let them play and show off talent.
Some fanart from the side of the catwalk:
So, my night culminated with a giant dance party surrounded by people dressed as my favorite characters shimmying and leaping up onto the catwalk to form a train of awesome queer geekiness. A perfect end to a perfect day. Thanks again to Geeks OUT and all the vendors, artists, workers, and organizers who made the day possible! Flame Con has plans to return next year, so be sure to check out their site and see if they will be fundraising again. Happy to join anyone that wants to attend!
For more photos of Flame Con, check out photographer Fwee Carer’s Flickr with amazing high-resolution shots from the event!