Saturday, 10 September 2016

Dragon*Con 2016, and all that it means

We went, we saw, we took a shitloads of pictures. And for the first time in my life, I dressed up in cosplay. And it was awesome.

So. For those of you just joining us, Dragon*Con is probably the second largest fan convention of media and games after San Diego Comic Con. I could be wrong. However, I know Dragon*Con is far better than SDCC, because (1) you can afford the entry tickets, (2) you can actually get into panels you want to see, and (3) there’s so much to do, if you think you’re not going to get into a certain panel, there are at least 3 others on at the same time you can have a crack at.

And, oh yeah, there are at least 3 parties every night that you can flit between. With alcohol.

My mate and I originally went to D*C in 2010, but we knew we would one day go again. We had no time frame. Skip years later, and she now has a fiancé with two teenage kids. I, on the other hand, have had nearly 3 years of living back in England and being close to terminally bored. We decided that 2016 would be the year to revisit D*C - coinciding with its 30th anniversary. Sorted.

Costumes. It took me less than a minute to name my first one. But then I wanted a second, too. So I planned and researched and emailed, and within a few months I had not only sewing patterns for both, but also the details of a professional seamstress - who would shortly be making my costumes for me. Other parts of the finished articles were actually harder to get - boots, pins, badges, earrings, belts, and even a nose. But I did find them, and over what seemed like years but was actually only 8 months, I put together two complete costumes.

Who did I want to go as? Hmm. This is a bit of a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

Way back in the dim and distant, I was a student. I had no real female role models, due to family circumstances and some old-fashioned attitudes to TV going on around me. Basically, there were no women on TV. Apart from Dana Scully and Xena, things were looking bleak. My dad used to have re-runs of Star Trek (TOS) on during the week when I was very young, and so when Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared during my secondary school years, I was curious enough to watch it (but perhaps not old enough to critique it. That and the fact that I was not yet a professional cynic). I liked it - I liked Tasha Yar as head of Security. But we all know what happened to her.

It would be a long time before Star Trek got another crack at me. In the meantime, I had Laura Holt of re-runs of Remington Steele fame to tide me over, as well as Dana Scully and Beverly Crusher. Deanna Troi got better as the seasons went on, but again, her character was normally an afterthought. The Star Trek Trio of three straight white dudes being the all-important triumvirate had not yet been threatened. We had gone from Kirk - Spock - Bones to Picard - Riker - Data. And still I was attempting to find who I was in a male-orientated, controlled environment.

Just as I was going through my GCSEs (end of secondary school exams when you’re 16, if you’re not familiar with the English school system), there were mutterings of a new Star Trek show. It finally debuted on BBC2 and I got to see a few episodes before my personal life went tits-up. But still throughout the rocky events and familial wars, there was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I was still struggling to work out who I was and why, and there was no-one around to help with that.

And then along came Major Kira.

She’s pretty much a legend in Star Trek circles. Like her or hate her, you certainly couldn’t ignore her. She had common sense, some tech and survival learning, was a bit of a fighter and marksman, and carried herself like someone who didn’t so much need self-confidence as just didn’t have time for people who thought their opinion of her was important. She did a few things that made TV audiences angry: she was a woman who voiced her opinion as if she were allowed one; she backed up her arguments with facts and reasons like she had thought it through even with her tiny female brain that should have been full of love interests and rom-com shit; she was not afraid to shout someone else down and, by all the gods and all of their brothers, you were not entitled to belittle her ideas or her opinions just because she wasn’t a man. Back in the real world of women being taught to conceal their emotions for fear of being told they’re just being ‘hysterical’, this woman who stood her ground and shouted in people’s faces, who called people out for being dicks, who owned up to making mistakes and spoke to people with the respect they deserved - it was ground-breaking for me. I was 17, and this was all new. It was magical. It was everything.

Of course it helped that the actress playing Kira Nerys was not exactly tall or built like a brick shit-house. Five foot seven she may have been, but she was a hundred pounds of fury and determination. She had excellent episodes where she was mad as hell and not going to take it any more, as well as stories that showed she could reconsider her belief system based on evidence and new discoveries. She taught me how to stand up straight and not care if people looked at me. She taught me I was allowed to take up space when I sat down on public transport. She taught me how to reply to people who didn’t realise I knew I had a right to voice an opinion. She taught me how to divorce indifference from things I just could not relate to; she taught me how to objectively weigh up my options, to step back and try to see things from other angles. And yes, she taught me that respect is not given until it’s earned.

So we had a black dude running DS9 - Commander Benjamin Sisko. He started off as a jagged edge, a weird square peg that didn’t want his square hole. In time he came to understand how to squeeze into the round hole he did want, and that was fine. He also learnt how to get on with his liaison officer Kira Nerys, and they became a closer Captain and First Officer than that of any other series. (Seriously, I will fight people on that point. I think I have at some time or other.) Already we were so far from the 3 straight white dude triumvirate we were used to. Maybe that’s why I gave the show more chances to impress me than TNG.

Whatever the reason, as the series went on it became obvious who else was getting more screen time and was Sisko’s rock, his confidant, his aid in all things: Jadzia Dax. A Trill symbiont, Dax ‘cheated’ death by moving from host body to host body upon that humanoid’s imminent death or through illness. Before Dax was joined to the humanoid female Jadzia, it was joined with Curzon - an ornery old man who loved klingons, wrestling, picking up twins on Risa for a one-night stand, and trying to teach a young Starfleet officer called Benjamin Sisko how to be a man. Right off the bat, we have a very interesting dynamic: the young woman who appears to be barely thirty years old is actually closer to three hundred and sixty, and has been Sisko’s father figure for at least thirty years. When he needs help and advice, he goes to Dax. When he needs to rant about Starfleet, it’s Dax. When he needs to angst about his son, or get feedback on a battle plan, it’s Dax. The symbiont, in various hosts, had been married as a husband and a wife, been a son and a daughter, died in shuttle accidents and lived out to a ripe old age. Dax had seven lifetimes of experience to draw on - and Sisko did just that. He listened to her counsel, he considered her words. Her opinions had weight with him - and as the seasons sped by, I realised not only was she the third point of the triangle, but she was someone I wanted to be when I grew up.

Sitting down and thinking about the two costumes - uniforms - I would wear to D*C wasn’t too hard, then. No other characters have had as much of an impact on me as Kira Nerys and Jadzia Dax, just when I needed them. While the Bajoran nose prosthetic I bought for Kira just would not stick (seriously wtf is that made of?), and I had no hope of copying Jadzia’s Trill spot patterns, I wore both uniforms and I enjoyed the shit out of them. I walked down streets in Atlanta in broad daylight wearing either a Bajoran militia uniform or a Starfleet NEM/DS9 jumpsuit, and I was happy.

And here’s the magic of D*C: I wasn’t self-conscious because I was in costume - I have already been in the happy bubble of exactly no shits given about who looks at how I dress for years. However, when people in their costumes saw me on the street, they called out ‘Major!’, or ‘Kira!’, or ‘Hey, Starfleet!’. And I did it too.

We loved, and we were loved.

There was such a brilliant vibe of appreciation, of sharing, of plain wonder - and it was the best feeling in all the worlds. That’s what D*C is for me: sharing the fandom. And I don’t mean the Star Trek or Doctor Who or Mad Max or Jurassic Park or Harley Quinn or Pokemon fandom. I mean fandom as one single event, one giant mess of people unashamed of loving that one thing in their lives.

We got back Wednesday morning. It’s now Saturday night. I’m nearly over the jetlag, and I think returning to the ‘meh’ness and general malaise that comes with going back to live in a country you’re too familiar with hasn’t quite set back in yet. After all, there’s the streaming membership I purchased, so I can see a few panels I couldn’t get to, and some of the excellent TV moments from people who tweeted questions and opinions live. Thankfully or otherwise, Captain Kirk was not climbing a mountain this year.

That’s pretty much all the news that’s fit to print. I did make a list of things that I knew I’d need to remember about the con, but that’s for another post, seeing as this one is already longer than my wish list for Things From Another World.

Until I’m back, be proud of what you love and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be.

Peach and lube, people, peach and frelling lube.

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