I signed books at WisCon’s SignOut in the second floor ballroom of the Concourse Hotel in Madison, WI on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, from Noon until 1:30 PM. I do so every year, although few people at WisCon ask for my autograph (I do, always, have at least one; and one is all I need).
I attend WisCon as a learning experience. Not only do I learn about authors and books I would not hear about otherwise, rubbing shoulders with diverse writers and readers takes me out of my normally complacent comfort zone, therefore allowing me to grow both as a person and as a writer and reader of science fiction and fantasy.
Each year I come away from WisCon filled with fury. I — a privileged white straight male – am seen there as the hated enemy, the quintessential dirty old man, the has-been, the exploiter of the marginalized and vulnerable downtrodden. I am, at WisCon, The Invisible Man, not H. G. Wells’ fictional character but James Ellison’s. And that makes me angry.
WisCon is filled with angry people of all ages, races, gender identities, political persuasions, and disabilities. People like me have always been in the minority at a gender-bending feminist celebration. It doesn’t matter if I support feminist ideals or love the works of Russ, Tiptree, Nisi Shawl, and Nora Jemisin. I am, nevertheless, an outsider at WisCon.
Outsiders, in my biased opinion, make the best writers. We’re able to observe, not necessarily more objectively but more intensely, events and relationships.
One of the cherished events I always look forward to at WisCon is the gathering of mid-career sf and fantasy authors who meet to share survival secrets. We have all been published by major NY houses sometime in the past, but we’ve been affected by changes in the book industry and changes in our own lives that have adversely affected our careers. At one time, we may have been the darlings of the book trade, winners of awards and inspirations for wannabe writers who have since replaced us on bestseller lists. We may or may not still look like our photos on book jackets or that decades ago appeared in Locus. Living up to our reputations has made writing more difficult for many of us. We often become our own worst critics. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my self-doubt.
Maybe I’m not as much of an outsider as I think I am.
WisCon teaches me that we all fear being left out or left behind or simply ignored. We all want to matter, to be important, to make a difference.
That’s a good lesson for a privileged white straight male to remember.