Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: panel discussions at sf conventions

What are your pronouns? This badge ribbon from a science fiction convention is one attempt to affirm respect for all in fandom.

What are your pronouns?

Have you ever been asked, “What are your pronouns?” I have been, on several occasions, so far, all at sf conventions. (Mine are “She/Her”). But more and more often today, you can’t necessarily predict a person’s PGPs (preferred gender pronouns) just by looking. That’s why I’ve often seen variations on this badge ribbon in the last couple years at conventions.

This badge ribbon from an science fiction convention says, "my pronouns are," then provides a blank to fill in. What are your prounouns?
I forget which convention gave me this badge ribbon, but they’re cropping up all over. They’re a sign of a new awareness and an acknowledgement that identities deserve respect.

No, it’s not an excess of political correctness, although there are those who’ll moan that it is. For those who claim non-traditional pronouns as their own, it’s a question of identity affirmation versus erasure

Because I really want to be an ally, I have been trying to educate myself. And if the badge isn’t flipped so you can’t read the ribbons, this little “cue” really can be helpful!

I’ve had pronouns on my mind recently, especially in the wake of moderating the “LGBTQ+ Representation in Fandom” panel at Archon 43, where the topic came up. Then my friend Lucy contacted me for my thoughts after she’d been tapped to be on a panel about inclusive pronouns at Windycon 2019.

There's quite a range of variations these days, to answer the question, "What are your pronouns?" Here an artist depicts eight variations on the traditional male/female icons.
Did the artist get a little carried away with this illustration? Possibly NOT. It seems there are more variations on gender than some of us ever imagined–but that is not a valid reason to disrespect any person’s identity.

“It” just doesn’t cut it! (but “they” might)

As my friend Lucy A. Synk pointed out in a recent email, “‘it’ is not acceptable for a human once the question “is it a boy or a girl?” has been answered, or for God.” We’ve gone through several decades of controversy in religious circles about pronouns in modern English translations of the Bibleand the controversy is far from over todayLucy mentioned “debate in the Catholic Church among those of us who resent referring to the human race and God as “he, him, his, brother, son, father, etc.” Non-Catholics have been having that one, too.

Yes, “it” is only fit for objects, and is understood correctly to be demeaning when applied to a person. But the historically-loaded tanker ships‘-worth of baggage and assumptions we attach to “him” and “her” have led many people to seek alternative pronouns.

A nursing student writes their pronouns, as well as other facts about themself, on a whiteboard in this photo.
What are your pronouns? This nursing student introduces themself and their preferred gender pronouns. (BBC/Kit Wilson)

Until recently, I’ve had a problem with “they/them” as singular pronouns, because I was taught these are plural. However, people who identify as they/them will point you to Shakespeare as an example of how the usage was considered “grammatically correct” in earlier times (when there actually wasn’t a standard as we define it, but never mind).

I don’t argue with them anymore. They don’t care what my grammar teachers taught me in high school. English is a living language. Living languages, by their very nature, change. If “you” can be both singular and plural in English, then why not “they”?

Non-terrestrials, gender, and pronouns

It is perhaps not strange at all that some members of science fiction fandom want to assert non-traditional pronouns. 

Science fiction authors have been exploring ideas about both human and non-terrestrial genders for decadesThis sometimes also has led to pronoun variations, although not as often as one might expect.

“Alien sex” has been a fascination of science fiction writers for-almost-ever, but understandings have evolved slowly, most likely because the field was dominated by a cisgender white “boys’ club” for a long time. Some of them weren’t above misogyny and imperialism, although others wrote brilliant, insightful works. Some have experimented with alternative pronouns.

Two Pulp-Age covers from "Thrills Incorporated" magazine depict outmoded tropes that once were popular, but which never made sense to the author of this post. Why would a giant robot or an alien have any interest in a human woman?
Why a giant robot or a devilish-looking alien would have any interest in a female human has always escaped me, but thank goodness the field has evolved since the days when people thought only pubescent white boys would read science fiction. I guarantee that no one was wondering about the robots’ or aliens’ preferred gender pronouns back then.

The straight white men may have dominated, but not completelyDon’t ever forget that science fiction arguably was invented by Mary Shelley. And such pioneers as Andre NortonMarion Zimmer BradleyJames Tiptree, Jr.Ursula K. LeGuinC.J. CherryhLois McMaster Bujold, and Octavia Butler have been influencing the field for decades.

Alternative voices and viewpoints have been a growing factor in science fiction for a long timeRepresentation mattersThe range of expressions and subgenres is expanding, thanks in part to pressure on traditional publishing by the “age of Indie writers.” Representation, as well as “post-binary gender” pronouns, are gradually gaining ground.

After all, why would anyone from another planetidentify in terrestrial terms of “he” and “she”? Even if there are two genders, “he” and “she” are culturally-loaded concepts for Earth people. If non-terrestrials don’t understand the same connotations and backloading as pertaining to them (and why would they?), then it seems to me it’s not reasonable to use “he/she” to describe them. 

Why would an android or AI identify as male or female, unless their choice was dictated by the body shape they’d been placed in, and convenience? Ann Leckie’s books of the Imperial Radche are but one recent high-profile example of rethinking this question. Another fresh take is the Murderbot stories of Martha Wells.

Using pronouns in the XK9 books

This type of question came up several times for me in writing What’s Bred in the Bone and subsequent titles in the XK9 series, because the cast of characters includes a variety of non-humans and non-terrestrials.

The system I use for Dr. SCISCO and nir siblings (who are genderless cybernetic entities) is taken from a marvelous resource, The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog. But since 2016, when I went searching for pronoun ideas and found it, there’s been an explosion of resources online.

This chart of pronouns from "The Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog" offers a range of alternative, invented pronouns, in addition to the traditional English ones.
This chart from the Gender Neutral Pronouns Blog offers a helpful range of pronoun variations. I played with all of them, and felt most comfortable using the Ne variations for Doc Sheesh and nir siblings. The author acknowledges a Wikepedia chart of pronouns as the primary source for this one.

Readers of my books also have encountered “k’kim” and “k’kir” for ozzirikkians, the non-terrestrials who are citizens of Rana Station, along with the humans and the XK9sOzzirikkians may experience several gender states during their lifetimes. However, they don’t distinguish between them (at least, not with pronouns) in Pan-Ozzirikkian, the language they use for conversation and commerce with non-ozzirikkians.

What difference does fiction make?

I don’t think I can stress this enough: Representation mattersIt matters in deeper ways for under-represented individuals than the over-represented members of a dominant culture can begin to imagine. 

Representation of gender identity and sexual orientation. Representation of ethnicity and racial identity. Representation of the differently-abled in positive, life-affirming ways. Representation is recognition that one exists. That one matters. Representation and respect for one’s preferred gender pronouns is the antidote to erasure.

Asking “What are your pronouns?” is an affirmation of respect.

A little girl stands next to a poster for the movie "HOME" in a grocery store, with a huge grin on her face. The lead character looks a lot like her. Representation matters!
Representation matters, no matter who you are, where you live, or what you relate to. Not being “erased” feels really good.

Even when the characters aren’t human, we humans relate. We relate by identifying with characters whom we may recognize as stand-ins for our identities (why do you imagine fanfics gain such followings? Not only are they authentic voices of admiration, but they’re often free to go places and explore areas where more traditionally-oriented media can’t or won’t go).

Representation matters. And pronouns matter, too. What are your pronouns? We really need to know.

IMAGE CREDITS: The “my pronouns are” badge ribbon is mine. I think I got this one at either SoonerCon or Capricon in 2019. I took the photo, and I’d be delighted if you spread it around all over the Internet. You don’t even need to attribute this one or include a link back (although that would be nice of you). 

The “gender variations” image is courtesy of Chapman University (no artist credit given). The photo of the nursing student is courtesy of the BBC/Kit Wilson. Many thanks to Coverbrowser and Thrills Unlimited for the pulp fiction cover art (again, I could find no artist credits), and to the Gender Neutral Pronouns Blog for the table listing alternative pronouns. 

And finally, many thanks to Denene Miller’s “My Brown Baby” blog for the awesome”represenation” photo!

Glimpses of Archon 42

Halloween? No, just an active costuming contingent!

I enjoyed my return to Archon, a St. Louis-area convention I’d often attended when it was scheduled in the summer (I know: back in ancient days!). In more recent decades, this convention has become a major event for restaurants and hotels near the Gateway Center in Collinsville, IL. The one I’m writing about here was held October 12-14, 2018.

I enjoyed the costumes–but what I managed to catch in photos are a far cry from their full extent. For a better glimpse of what tends to wander the halls of Archon, there’s a great photo lineup from #41, by Thomas Crone in St. Louis Magazine onlineand the Masquerade has a Facebook page you also may enjoy. Here’s another rather comprehensive look at the convention you also may enjoy.

One thing about Archon at the Gateway Center: you walk a lot. Even the main convention hotel, the Doubletree, isn’t attached to the Gateway Centerso you’re walking wherever you stay (we stayed at the just-as-nearby Fairfield Inn, which was sung and well-kept). The other thing about the Doubletree is that it books up each year in a flash. It wasn’t the best of weather for trekking though the landscape, this year. I was glad I’d brought my trench coat.

Of course, I always want to display my artwork at conventions I attend. Here’s my Archon 42 Art Show display.

I also love to be on, and also attend, panels. I have photos from several enjoyable ones, below. This year, I also have put a particular emphasis on my readings, as a way to both learn what other authors are writing, and to give people an advance glimpse of my to-be-released-this-winter science fiction novel What’s Bred in the Bone.

The programming staff mostly put me on Art Track panels, rather than the writing ones I’ve become used to lately, so I had a chance to do things such as dust off my art teacher skills for Basic Drawing and geek out with Rachael Mayo about art supplies, quality, and when/how you can afford to go with a cheaper option.

Rachael Mayo (seated at left) brought samples of different kinds of both paper and colored pencils (some cheap, some top-grade professional, some in between), for the audience to test at the end of the Saturday panel titled Crayola is Fine, Right?: Art on a Budget.”
One of the first programming items I attended on Friday of the convention was one of their three-person Author Readings, this one featuring, L-R: Donna J.W. MunroMarella Sands, and Christine Nobbe, who read a science fiction story she often shares with her gifted classes.
The “Diversity in Speculative Fiction” panel on Friday night of the con explored long-overdue changes developing as sf becomes more inclusive. L-R Participants: Jennifer Stolzer, Kathleen KayembeCamille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer, who moderated.
The Sunday afternoon “Alternate Paths to Publishing” panel had such an engaged audience that we overshot our scheduled stop-time, and missed Closing Ceremonies. L-R, George Sirois (“SEAR-oy”) moderated; Brad R. Cook, Camille Faye, and Debbie Manber Kupfer added a variety of thoughts and reflections on their experiences.

Archon 43 will be held in Collinsville again next year, Oct. 4-6, 2019. But don’t expect to book a room in the Doubletree. It’s already full up.

IMAGES: All of the photos in this post were taken by me, Jan S. Gephardt, at Archon 42, between October 12-14, 2018. You may freely re-post or reblog them, but in all fairness please include an attribution to me, and a link back to this post. The cover art for What’s Bred in the Bone is a color comp by Jody A. Lee; she promises the finished art is coming soon.

How did the future look in the 1920s?

The Artdog Image of Interest 

My Images of Interest in October are videos, all of them drawn from a panel discussion, “Yesterday’s Tomorrow,” moderated by Kathryn Sullivan, in which I participated at FenCon XV. I shared these videos with the audience, and they generated enough interest that I thought my blog-readers might like them too!

I’ll start with one from the 1920s.

VIDEO: Many thanks to YouTube and Aaron1912 for this video!

Fondly remembering FenCon XV

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two weeks since Ty and I left for FenCon XV at the Westin DFW in Irving, TX. It was our first FenCon, but we certainly don’t want it to be our last! Those Texans really know how to put on a great science fiction convention!

The Royal Manticoran Navy made a strong showing at FenCon XV, both with its information booth and at parties and other events. I deeply regret that I had a brain glitch and didn’t remember to get the names of these folks!
Writers in the Field has an interesting concept: they provide opportunities for writers to learn what it really feels like to . . . experience a whole bunch of things they’re likely to need to know if they write sf, fantasy, westerns, historicals, or other stories. How does it feel to saddle up and ride across country? Wear armor? Shoot with a bow and arrow? and much more. Instructor Jana Stout and co-founder William “Bud” Humble were holding down the table when I took this photo.
Like any well-run convention, FenCon XV had an Art Show Reception with excellent goodies to nibble, on Friday night.
Here’s how my Art Show display looked before the show opened on Friday. I sold several pieces, including the one-of-a-kind original mixed media paper sculpture Aka-Bekko Dragon.
created a postcard to publicize my Friday reading of material from What’s Bred in the Bone, my sf novel due to be published this winter. I was gratified to have a nice group of people show up for the reading. Better yet, all weekend people responded favorably to my cover by the accomplished illustrator Jody A. Lee, even though it’s still in the color comp stage. I should have finished artwork soon!
FenConXV parties rocked! I haven’t enjoyed circulating at fan parties this much in ages. People were actually friendly to strangers (hard to over-emphasize how important that is!!). I could mostly hear what people were saying to me, and the conversations were substantive and interesting.

Clockwise from upper left: Ken Ruffin of the local National Space Society chapter and me; Ed and Brandy portray Frankenstein and his Bride-to-be; the Space Party (sponsored Saturday night by the National Space Society); and new friend Marah, rocking a T-shirt she scored on a trip with friends to Arkansas. Gotta add a special shout-out to the Blue Coconut Bar Party, too. They were very welcoming (and knowledgeable mixologists), both nights.

Unfortunately, it was really rainy Friday night around DFW Airport. They had flash floods all over the place, and a great many locals crashed with friends at the hotel because they couldn’t get home. Ty and I were on the 14th floor, literally “above it all,” but that doesn’t mean we didn’t think it sucked when friends such as Brad Foster had floods in their studios!
I attended quite a few readings at FenCon XV, but the three I enjoyed most were by (L-R) Ethan Nahté, whose upcoming Wings of Mercury is an homage to the 1950s, sf-style; Gloria Oliver, whose latest book is set in the Victorian Era and is a work of exquisite horror, firmly grounded in historical accuracy; and Martha Wells, who read the delicious first chapter of her new Murderbot novel-to-come. I was an instant convert.
It was good to be back on panels other than a reading (much though I love doing readings). Here I’m participating on the “The Sexes . . . in Space!” panel with Marianne Dyson at left (also William Ledbetter and John DeLaughternot shown) on Friday of the convention. (Photo by Tyrell Gephardt)
It was a smaller Dealers’ Room than I’d expected for a convention of nearly 1,000 people, but what do aI know?
At the “Space Habitats and Mega-Structures” panel we had an interesting and informative session. Panelists, L-R are: Ken RuffinLarry NivenWilliam LedbetterC. Stuart Hardwick, and Martin L. Shoemaker.

IMAGES: All photos were taken my me, Jan S. Gephardt, with one (noted) exception that was taken by Tyrell Gephardt. If you’d like to use one on a blog or other place, please include an attribution to the photographer and a link back to this page. Thanks!

Over and con too soon!

I’m freshly back from SoonerCon 27, and what an excellent convention it was! They had some great guests, excellent programming and fun special events. One blog post (or even several) couldn’t do justice to it, but here’s a small taste of what I enjoyed most.

SoonerCon 27’s lineup of featured guests included: L-R: Lloyd Lee BarnettGlenn GarlandJerry BennettCarrie VaughnJohn PicacioStan LoveLarry Nemecek, and Selina RosenHere they are at Opening Ceremonies on Friday, June 22, 2018.

One last time at the Reed Center in Midwest City

As ever, the people-watching at SoonerCon 27 was delightful, whether one was on the upper-level concourse, at the Artists Alley on the lower level, or in the Dealers Room.

Some of the many talented people who showed up in costumes at SoonerCon 27.
Some of the action in the Artists Alley at SoonerCon 27.
One corner of the Dealers Room–pardon, the Exhibitors Hall–at SoonerCon 27.

This was SoonerCon’s final year at the Reed Conference Center in Midwest City, OK. Next year they’ll shift to the first weekend in June (oh, goody! Back-to-back with ConQuesT!) and relocate to the Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Norman, OK.

The Art Show and “World Peace Through Chocolate” Artists Reception

I hope they can give the SoonerCon Art Show, capably run this year by Marcia Bull and her excellent crew, more room at the Embassy Suites, because we were really crammed in there pretty good, despite having both Reed Center Ballrooms A and B.

The “World Peace Through Chocolate” Artists Reception was pretty crowded inside the Art Show itself, but maybe they’ll have more room next year. Photo taken with permission of the Art Show Staff.
The artwork of John Picacio, the Artist Guest of Honor, was the first thing you saw when you stepped inside the SoonerCon 27 Art Show. During the reception, a whole lot of people stepped inside! Photo taken with permission from the Art Show Staff and John Picacio.

The Friday night “World Peace Through Chocolate”Artists Reception spilled out of the Art Show into the ConSuite area, dubbed “Ten Forward.” The chocolate very quickly disappeared, of course. But we all stayed peaceful.

Panels and Readings 

There were way too many interesting panels and readings to see everything I wanted to! I had a reading and five panels (to my delight, I got to moderate ALL of them! Yes!), and yes, I enjoy staying busy at an sf con, so that was just fine by me. I don’t have pictures of my own events, but here are glimpses of some others I did have a chance to attend and enjoy.

I didn’t have as many chances to listen to author readings as I like, but I did enjoy the trio of Urban Fantasy readings on Saturday morning by (L-R) Trakena PrevostSeth Skorkowskyand Rosemary Clement-Moore.
It would’ve been lovely if the “Black Panther and Intersectionality” panel had been scheduled for two hours and the biggest ballroom–but we had a fascinating discussion, and the room was packed. Panelists, L-R: Kimber ChessmoreTrakena PrevostShai FenwickVickey Malone KennedyJeff ProvineTyrell Gephardt, and Dan Erickson.
The “Because, Aliens!” panel discussion ranged far and wide, from the gradual thinning of hominid species in prehistory, through cryptozoology, genitalia, and would you believe . . . Torah? Panelists, L-R: Tim FrayserTyrell GephardtGloria OliverSelina RosenLinda L. Donahue, and Mark Alfred.
Scheduling the “Do Cons Still Matter?” panel at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday of the convention probably skewed the bias of the audience and participants just a tad, but it was fun to get perspectives from individuals of several different generations, who participate in several different subgenres of fandom. Fielding questions from an engaged audience were (L-R) panelists James MurrayTim FrayserSummer Rain Cosplay, and Caleb Haldane.

Like all good things, eventually the weekend had to end. The magic, along with the costumes and propsgame paraphernaliaart show, and panel discussions, went back into their boxes till next time.

Lowering the “boo” during tear-down and pack-up after the con. This skeleton had spent the weekend suspended over an Artists Alley display, beneath a simulated Pit of Sarlacc. How often do you get to see that?

I thoroughly enjoyed SoonerCon 27. Kudos to Con Chair Aislinn Burrows, the SoonerCon Committee, and the Future Society of Central Oklahoma! You put on a GREAT convention. I’m already looking forward to SoonerCon 28!

IMAGES: All photos were taken by me (Jan S. Gephardt), with appropriate permissions. If you wish to re-post any of them, please do so with an attribution to me as the photographer, and a link back to the post, if possible. Many thanks, and I hope you enjoyed them!

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