Fangirl Friday: Post-ClexaCon 2019…uh-oh…

Greetings, all!

Well, I attended Clexacon 2019, the third year in a row for me. It launched in 2017; I’ve gone to every single one, the last two as a vendor for my publishing company, Dirt Road Books.

I want to start by saying that I really enjoy ClexaCon — billed as the “largest multi-fandom event for LGBTQ women and allies.” And I get that putting on an event like this takes a f*ck-ton of organization and effort and that there will be glitches and missteps and issues. Last year, for example, had about 4200 people attend, which demonstrates the real need there is for space like this for LGBTQIA people.

This year, however, was different.

Basically, this is what I observed, and I was both a vendor and a panelist.

  • Attendance felt way down from last year. Perhaps half what it was, but I don’t have the exact count.
  • Traffic in the vendor room was much lighter compared to last year and even year one, and I’ll provide links for you below so you can understand why that might have been, but the consensus seems to be that this might be attributable to no real promotion of the vendor room/vendors prior to the event and no consistent promotion during the event, including no signage anywhere to indicate that there even was a vendor room.
  • Volunteers doing the best they could with little information about how the venue was set up or where things were being held. Most were gracious and worked hard to get the right information and to be as helpful as possible — SHOUT OUT to the volunteers; that can be a thankless situation, so thank you to all who worked their asses off amidst a sense of disorganization and scrambling to make things work.
  • Security concerns. Last year security was posted at the vendor room entrances to check badges and bags (there was more than one entrance into the vendor room last year). There was only one this year, and it didn’t open directly into the vendor room. Rather, into a main room where people lined up to go to the big fan panels and because there was no signage to indicate a vendor room, attendees may not even have been aware there was one right there. At any rate, there was a decided lack of security this year, and given the type of event this is, with all kinds of queer people and the current political climate in this country…I don’t know. It was a little concerning.
  • A sense of price-gouging, and not just because it’s Vegas on the strip. Rather, some attendees mentioned on social media the jump in prices for registrations and didn’t see much, if any, benefit. I saw and heard a few comments noticing disinterest on the part of some leadership to engage with attendees. In Andi parlance, they didn’t seem interested in “sharing the luv.”
  • Comments on social media expressing dismay and discomfort with a lack of inclusivity and diversity overall, and a sense that the event caters primarily to wlw cis lesbians. The event has faced this criticism since the beginning, and though most attendees appreciated the smaller panels whose topics dealt with trans and nonbinary rep and disability rep — there were some GREAT panels — but there was a lack of non-cis and nonbinary celebrity presence and a lack of QPOC/WOC in a lot of the celebrity panels. We can do better in this regard. And we must. And there was an academic track this year (all day Thursday — for an extra $75 in addition to the all the other charges) which had some good stuff. Also a creative lab (yes, another $75), which had good stuff. But yeah, this event is pricey, and I’m privileged because I have a day job and I’m comfortable and able to afford it. So many others aren’t, and yes, there are some scholarships offered and THANK YOU CC for those!!!
  • 6 members of the ClexaCon leadership team resigned two days after the event ended. More on that below.

Again, shit happens with big events like this. I get it. But damn, the vibe this year was…off. It didn’t feel like the big family last year and I know that’s anecdotal, but check social media, especially the hashtag #clexapocalypse.

That said, let’s talk…

Pros for me:

  • I met some amazing people, especially among other vendors because there were, as I said, long stretches of very little traffic, so we chatted each other up, checked on each other, spelled each other for breaks, and ensured we watched out for each other. Because honestly, it seemed nobody else was.
  • The volunteers who did come around were great. THANK YOU for all your hard work, because I suspect you might not have been getting the support and training you needed.
  • My panels. were. awesome. I did have to cancel the live podcast I was slated to do with my buddy and fellow writer Lise MacTague for LezGeekOut! because Lise’s flights were cancelled due to the blizzard that hit Minnesota (among other places) that Thursday. SADZ! MAJOR SADZ!
  • Had a blast, as usual, on the queer lady business panel that I moderated. Check out these queer lady businesses (they were on the panel) and support them if you can: Fangirl Shirts; Tello Films; Revry TV.
  • Did a Clexa roundtable with a great bunch of people, including Javier Grillo-Marxauch, who used to write for The 100. It was like a giant bonding experience over Lexa, what that character meant, and coming together of fans. Really great. Shout out to Javi, who was the writer of the episode in which Lexa died. He has spent the last 3 years educating himself, reaching out, and being an ally. Thank you, sir. Also, I did bring beer for all the panelists who wanted one, so there was that. You can find the panelists on Twitter: Javier G-M (@OKBJGM); Professor E. Bridges (@EGBridges); and Spencer Madison (@Qu33rQu33ry)
  • Did one of the last panels of the con about getting into publishing with a great lineup! The audience was much bigger than we expected at 4.15 PM on the last day, but wow! Great questions and fun times. And yes, I brought wine for all the panelists who wanted it, so…lolol. Find my fellow panelists also on Twitter: Robyn Vie-Carpenter (@TheLesSocialite); Rachel Gold (@RachelGold); Kimberly Amato (@KimberlyAmato); and Jenn Grace (@JennTGrace)
  • OMG saw some GREAT previews for some AMAZING web series that are in the works. Those include Passage, a web series featuring a lesbian mom who is a paranormal agent; season 2 teasers for Riley Parra, another paranormal series with a lesbian detective; Functional, which features two queer Latinx BFFs navigating life and love; and BIFL, a comedy/drama series featuring a whole lot of different queer identities. PLZ CHECK THEM ALL OUT KTHX.
  • The Lexa’s Legacy panel was great. Made me a little weepy. lol I’m such a Clexaholic.
  • Sunday night was the Killing Eve watch party and I gotta tell you, hanging out with about 150 mostly queer people completely engrossed in the first 2 episodes of S2 of Killing Eve and all reacting to it was like being in a living room with 150 of my best friends. THAT’S the kind of Clexacon magic that’s possible.

And now let’s get to what is currently circulating around social media, especially on the clexapocalypse hashtag on Twitter. Go to Twitter and type #clexapocalypse into your search bar and it’ll take you there.

Anyway, this past Tuesday after the event, vendors started raising concerns on that hashtag about what had happened during CC with regard to the vendor hall. Bunches of other vendors showed up on the hashtag, too, and then at about 11.30 PM EST, 6 members of the CC leadership team resigned. Here are five of those Tweets, collected by Twitter user Bri.

So. A coordinated resignation. That indicates something is amiss behind the scenes, it seems to me. Kudos to them, though, for waiting until after the con and putting the con and its attendees and panelists and guests first and giving it their all before leaving. There is new leadership this year, but the two current primary directors have been with CC since at least last year, so…what’s going on?  Why was this year so not like last year? And why the different vibe? 🤔

At any rate, several vendors coordinated their efforts in an open letter to the CC leadership (signed by a lot of vendors) regarding the situation in the vendor room and Jenn over at Arledge Comics wrote it up. You can view it as a Google Doc and a Twitter thread. The concerns were listed and solutions suggested. Jenn noted the response (or lack thereof?) from CC on Twitter. See the response at that thread; Jenn has a screenshot of it.

So this “clexapocalypse” is wending its way across social media and CC has yet to release a statement (from what I’ve seen) or address the situation beyond the cut n’ paste general email, and scrubbing the 6 who resigned from their website. Meanwhile, media is starting to pick up on it.

Several other attendees now have a letter going to CC listing some of the things that they wish to bring to the attention of the CC leadership (along with suggestions). Some of those issues deal with continuing inclusion issues and questions about where the money is actually going and concerns about a lack of transparency. You can find it as a Google doc that people are working on. They closed it to additions/subtractions at 7 PM PST Thursday, so that probably went to the CC team afterward.

So here we are.

And let me be clear/queer. I love this event, I did have some good times this year.

I happen to know the former director and about half of the 6 who quit. I also know the two new leaders. I understand that an ambitious and huge project like this takes a while to find its footing. But there was such a marked difference between last year — which did, in a lot of ways, feel like 4200 of your closest friends — and this year, which felt kind of like corporate overlords looking to squeeze whatever they could out of you.

And, before anybody gets freaky, I am not at all opposed to making money at your business. Shit, I have my own business, too.

But there are ways to offer a service, make money, and build good will in the communities you are asking to support you through time, money, and energy. As marginalized communities, we are careful with regard to who gets our money, who we support in media and business, and we’re damn savvy about all of that and we can tell when something’s not right. It is not cool to screw over a community that you are a part of and seek to provide an event for.

I don’t think that was the intent here — I don’t think the new leadership has bad motivations (at least, I HOPE not), but their continued silence with regard to the rumblings on social media and seeming refusal to do some self-examination and reach out to those of us who want CC to succeed and are willing to help with that, speaks volumes. Loudly.

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with some of the threads on Twitter that speak to a lack of inclusion and diversity at this event as well as how disjointed and perhaps greedy it felt. And a reminder that, as one Twitter user pointed out, it is possible to hold multiple truths with regard to an event like this (to notice the issues but to have enjoyed yourself, too), and I, as a privileged white cis lesbian, may not have myself experienced what others who are not did, but I believe them.

On the resignations and some observations
Please listen, Clexacon
On holding multiple truths; enjoying oneself but also not feeling included
On the lack of disability visibility
on (lack of) diversity among guests and speakers and scheduling weirdness
On lack of inclusion and privilege
On the corporate greed feel and lack of organization
on some of the issues that it would be good for CC to address
on lack of security

All right, friends. Happy Friday and let us all work together to make even more queer space available.

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8 comments

  1. Very interesting blog. I’ve been following this on Twitter and it’s good to hear from someone who was there. I can’t see many people wanting to attend next year – and part with their hard earned money.

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  2. It’s…problematic. And prices on registrations jumped. Some of the passes cost around $1000 and you were supposed to get a bunch of perks, but I’ve seen people on Twitter saying that even with the more expensive passes, there didn’t seem to be discernible differences between what perks they got versus the lower-priced tickets.

    Plus, Vegas is expensive, anyway. I know there were scholarships offered, but CC apparently didn’t post a list this year of recipients as it had in the past, so I don’t know how many were given out, though I heard there were some that were. It seemed this year the focus of the leadership was on making money from the celebrity appearances via autographs and photographs.

    The letter from attendees that’s being put together that I linked to above noted that the photography company is owned by the two new CC leaders, which raises some questions about where that money is going — to CC as a whole? Or…? Not to suggest it’s illegal or wrong to have your own company and use it at as event you’re paid to put on, but it does raise some questions about propriety and conflict of interest, seems to me. But I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to what specifically might be issues and what aren’t in this regard.

    Someone else on Twitter pointed out that CC doesn’t get money from vendor sales, after all, and if the focus is solely on making money, then of course they’re not going to promote the vendor hall, which isn’t making money for them.

    CC got money from each vendor to basically rent a table. But prices were different for different vendors for the same-sized table, with no explanation (there are receipts on that). And there were vendors who left before the event finished for whatever reasons, leaving empty tables. Vendors who asked CC if they could move some of their stuff to the empty tables to make it look like they weren’t empty were told it would be an extra charge to do that, even though the table had already been paid for by the previous vendor (and there were no refunds). Some vendors didn’t ask and just did it and apparently got no pushback in that regard.

    Another thing that was weird this year was all vendors were supposed to pay NV state taxes to CC prior to leaving on Sunday in CASH or money order.

    Last year, that meant you turned in a check to CC at the end with your taxes (8.25 percent in NV, if I remember correctly) from your total sales and then CC sent it all to NV. This is not weird; if you’re going to vend at an event, you are required by law in the states where you vend to pay taxes on your total sales. What was weird was the requirement that we had to pay direct to CC in CASH or money order.

    I spoke with other vendors about that and they said it was weird; one said that apparently CC leadership said some checks bounced last year so they weren’t taking checks. Okay. But they wouldn’t take credit cards, either. So you had to have cash on hand to turn in along with your NV state tax form. And there weren’t receipts offered. So…are we sure that money went to NV? I don’t know. And with regard to a money order–you can’t just go get a money order on a Sunday in the exact amount you need because you don’t know what your total sales are going to be until the absolute end of the event. The vendor hall was closed down around 5 on Sunday evening. Where are you going to go get a money order with the exact amount and make sure it gets to leadership? So basically, you were stuck having to pay cash and you might not have had cash on-hand and were instead taking payments from customers via credit card.

    That felt weird and I’m still wondering about accountability for all that cash.

    I’m still wondering about a lot of things. LOL

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  3. I heard great things about the 2018 Clexacon that made me really want to attend this year but, between a family vacation and con attendance planned for July, I couldn’t swing it. I envied a couple of author friends who were very stoked about it. I’m interested to hear their opinions now that it is over.

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    • Update: I’ve heard from my friends who went, participated on panels and exhibited. To a woman, they all said things were different this year, but they still found a lot of good in this con and will continue to attend and support it – if the issues get ironed out. Most mentioned better visibility for the vendors and diversity.

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  4. Here’s the thing. Some people had a great time. And that’s fine. The whole “multiple truth” thing. But I spoke with a lot of people, including three who resigned, and behind the scenes, shit is not okay. I also have noticed the overwhelming white, cis lesbian rep and lack of other queer and POC rep. If you didn’t attend in 2018, then you’re not going to recognize the problems with 2019. But straight up, the vendor hall was a mess this year and if you bill yourself as a queer-friendly event and don’t support/promote queer artists and vendors, then what exactly are you doing?

    That’s my take. And again. lots of people had a good time and I’m so very glad. But this event can do better. 2018 demonstrated that. However, if current leadership doesn’t want to engage, I can tell you right now that word is getting out and people will not attend next year. Queerfolk call out BS in their communities. If the CC leadership continues to obfuscate, refuses to accept responsibility, refuses to engage, continues to put out cut n’ paste blanket emails that don’t address anything head-on — that’s not gonna work. Queer communities can be forgiving — IF someone recognizes the issues, works with critique and criticism, takes responsibility, apologizes, and DOES BETTER.

    We all want CC to succeed. But as long as leadership continues along its trajectory, I don’t see much hope of that. And that’s sad.

    On the plus side, I saw and heard lots of evidence that other queer media events are in the works, because we all have seen how important it is to have this kind of space. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I decided this year to go to a con, it was not this one but I’m sorry to hear that it had a shakeup this year.

    I hope it can recover but I’m glad to hear that several other groups are making regional cons.

    We need more like this. I know others will rise from the ashes or just make other cons.

    Maybe I’ll see you there

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  6. My two cents. This was my first year to attend, but I thought it was a fantastic event. Barbara Ann Wright and I ran the Bold Strokes Books booth and we found the advance and onsite communication to be thorough. We had a ton of traffic in the booth with book sales way exceeding our expectations. 8 total BSB authors attended and participated in panels, and we did pop-up book signings in the booth and offered a daily raffle that helped drive traffic. We crossed promoted our presence at the Con using all the usual social media outlets, and at one point we had a line for autographs that stretched half the length of the vendor hall. The coolest part was that most of the fans were people I’d never met before which means we were reaching an entirely new audience of readers. I personally participated in three panels and found the volunteers assigned to each room extremely helpful in keeping things moving between panels and assisting with AV needs. The panels were packed with engaged participants and this event is definitely on my list for next year!

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