Another con (convention, not convict) season is upon us and there are many out there to choose from, unlike the old days when many of us hardly knew that other Pagans existed. Now, there are conventions and festivals across the country with Pagans, Witches, Druids and all other labels bringing out their individual lights to shine. Of course, anytime we assemble in groups of more than say (just choosing an arbitrary number here) one, we are subject to conflicts involving interests, values, personal space, and identification, among other things. In short, someone is going to get offended.
This is not a post about whether people should be offended or not. It will happen no matter what and will especially happen for someone who armors up for battle and goes into a situation expecting to be offended. Instead, this post addresses the ten biggest complaints festival and convention attendees shared with me, specifically about how the behavior of others interferes with their enjoyment of the event. The short version is that we should be able to have our own joyful experience without forcing others to compromise their experience on our behalf.
Of course, there are always people among us who believe that it is their prerogative to maximize their own joy, even to the detriment of others. Equally, there are those who are so reticent that they will not honor what they need if it imposes on someone else. Somewhere between these two extremes, there must be a middle ground and I am going to do my best to walk that line, knowing well that this post will no doubt offend. Since it is a post about not offending, it is doubtlessly doomed to do so.
In no special order:
1 – Keep your sickness at home
If you are ill or suspect you are becoming ill, please do not bring your germs to the event and risk making others ill. Sure, you paid for your con registration in advance. Understandably, you have been waiting for this for weeks, months, or even all year. Please don’t make us sick just so you can get your experience.
Con Crud is a real thing and wearing a mask can interfere with the aesthetics of any good cosplay. Just stay home if you even might be contagious. Even aside from the reasonable courtesy of this, we have otherwise healthy people in attendance who are immunocompromised and your illness will have a greater impact on them than on the average person.
2 – Party, but do so responsibly
Everyone wants to have a great time at the convention and one of the fastest ways to infringe on the comfort of the people around you is to overindulge in drink or drug so that your behavior is out of control.
Vomiting on the floor, furniture, or people around you is a problem. Passing out in hospitality rooms and common areas is a problem. Allowing drugs and alcohol to prevent you from honoring the boundaries of others is a problem. Everyone gets that this is a celebratory time and partying is essential. Just know your limits so you don’t bring your partying into someone else’s joy bubble.
Unless you are at an orgiastic event or other sexually explicit presentation, please refrain from having sex around other people. This is not sex-shaming. Yay, sex. This is being mindful that sex acts are usually inappropriate in a public place and most of our cons and festivals are open public places.
3 – Keep your hands and other body parts to yourself unless invited
As the ribbons at Patheacon proclaim, not everyone is a hugger or is comfortable with your body being pressed up against theirs. Do not presume the person, even someone who likes you, wants to hug you. “Are hugs OK?” or “May I hug you?” are fine ways to ask permission. “Do you hug?” is loaded because perhaps they do hug but do not want to hug you. Should a person decline, do not put on a show of how disappointed you are or attempt to coerce a hug.
Last year, I heard someone say, “I am going to get a hug from you before the weekend is over!” while shaking their finger in admonishment at the person who refused a hug. No one owes you body contact. Keep your hands to yourself unless consent is given and if the other person breaks off a consensual hug, let go. Do not hold on that extra moment and moan in their ear. (ew)
4 – Not everyone loves your children as much as you do
I understand this is hard to imagine because your children are so well behaved and adorable, but there is a whole pile of people out there in the convention world who, simply put, do not want to be around your kids. We…*cough* I mean THEY respect that you want your children exposed to rituals and classes and the magical world. Truly. When kids are not disruptive to the presentation or event, most people have no problem with them being there. As with the other nine considerations, be mindful and pay attention to the degree to which your children disrupt the experience of others.
In case you think that maybe I’m just a child-hater for even bringing this up, I birthed and raised six of my own children to adulthood after taking care of my mother’s children for six years before I left home. Six seems to be a magic number there.
5 – Be clean
People no longer like to hear, “Please shower or bathe,” but seriously, please shower or bathe. Do not simply slather on more of your favorite oil blends and throw on the sweaty, smelly clothes that you wore all weekend.
I do get that there are some folks who truly appreciate their own natural scents and the pheromones they exude, but most of us do not. We are in a close environment that rarely is cool with that many bodies in it, so do us all a favor and wash. For real.
6 – Be humble
Pagans and other magical folks love to learn things and love to share what they have experienced. Unfortunately, this too often turns into a pissing contest into who is holier, who has the best history of the ancient ways, who is truly initiated, and basically who knows more about something than another person does.
I would wager that easily a quarter of conversations at cons and festivals include at some point a sentence that begins with, “Well actually,” and then devolves into someone egosplaining to another person ad nauseum. You can all but see them pushing their academic glasses up onto their superior noses as they break off the real truth to their poor victim who is too ignorant to know. The impulse to correct someone is sexy and almost irresistible. Allow for multiple truths, but also for varying learning levels. Do not be condescending to people who ask genuine questions.
Sure, you might be Lord Barometric Moonshadow, High Priest of Wisdom and Keeper of the Eternal Flame of Knowledge at the convention, but for most of the days of the year, you are Kevin, the guy who runs the copy machine at Kinko’s, so dial back your all-knowing self a tad bit and consider that your information is just as subject to inaccuracy as anyone else’s.
Easily the biggest complaint I heard from people when researching this topic was how done they were with people exuding the arrogance that they are so much more magical and informed than anyone else.
ln Old West towns, people often had to relinquish their weapons at the city limits so no one got hurt. I’m starting to think that at Pagan cons and festivals, we should make people turn over their egos and high-brow attitudes so no one gets hurt.
7 – Con presenters are there to teach and (most) con attendees are there to learn
People come to presentations to hear what the presenter is there share. The con or festival chose that presenter presumably based on some merit they showed in their application others in the audience want to hear what the presenter is saying even if you do not. For that matter, why stay in a presentation you do not enjoy? The doors open both ways.
I can’t count the number of times I had to strain to hear a presenter over someone talking on their phone or to the person sitting next to them. Other times, I had to listen over nonstop chewing, paper rattling, farting, packing and repacking of bags, and other noisy disruptions.
When people leave, rather than discreetly slip out the back, they often walk directly between the presenter and the audience. They try and monopolize the presentation by arguing with the presenter over semantics, asking a long line of questions or making comments that interrupt the presentation. The person with the largest Witch hat always seems to sit in the front or middle of the room so that those behind them cannot see. Don’t do these things, please.
Silence your phone. Pay attention to the presentation and visit with your friends in the outside areas. Leave if you don’t enjoy the presentation. Limit your questions and comments and get contact information for the presenter if you want to have a lengthier discussion. Book your own presentation at an event if you feel you have so much to say that you need to take over the room. Be mindful of how your presence and behavior affect others in the room. If you have a problem with presentation content, take it up with the event organizers or the presenter after the event concludes.
8 – Be aware and respectful of others
Pay attention to your surroundings with your words and language. People watching is fun and is a big part of conventions but keep your opinions and snarky remarks to yourself or if you must comment negatively, use your phone to communicate. Overhearing rude or sexualized comments is not fun for the target of those comments.
Not all parents want their children exposed to adult language, so before your drop F bombs into every sentence and make genital jokes, please glance around for younger folks. Know your room.
There are newbies around us at conventions, meaning people who are easing out into the Pagan community for the first time. Notice people who seem overwhelmed, lost, or unsure of themselves. Ask if they need help finding a room or need assistance. Smile. Help them to feel welcome without being intrusive to their experience.
Not everyone who attends these events is out of the broom closet, so to speak, and it is not your place to out anyone as a Pagan. One of the most common ways this happens at conventions and festivals is through photographs on social media. “Isn’t that your math teacher, Ms. Simpson… AT A PAGAN EVENT?”
Position your photographs so that no one is visible who did not give permission to be so. This is a matter of courtesy, not legality. At a public event, there is a reasonable assumption that one could be photographed and the law views conventions and festivals from this perspective, so you are not likely to encounter litigation over an inadvertent outing. You could, however, make someone’s life miserable, cause them to lose their job or unnecessarily complicate their personal relationships, so it is a matter of being a good human to allow others to participate in the event without fear of exposure, accidental or purposeful.
More people than you would imagine are sensitive to strong smells and some will have difficulty breathing around them. Oils, colognes, heavy residual sage smoke, and other scents have a strong impact on others at the event when abundantly used. This is not to say you can’t smell nice, but please, keep it light.
If you pee on the toilet seat, please wipe it up. Leave public areas as clean or cleaner than they were when you got there.
Just…be kind. Be kind. If something crosses your mind to do or say, consider whether it is intrusive into someone else’s ability to enjoy the experience. Consider whether it is useful or just serving your ego.
9 – Notice spatial issues and your impact
Everyone at the convention likely has somewhere they need to be and their ambitions in this regard are no less important than yours. When you are walking in a large group of people, do not come to a dead stop to check your phone, say hello to a friend, or read the program. Everyone behind you then must then stop or re-route around you. Step to the side so that you are out of the flow of traffic and then check whatever you need to check and otherwise, keep moving with the flow.
Do not block the entrance of a room to have a conversation, rearrange the bags you are carrying, or figure out where you are going next. Again, step to the side and allow others to move freely.
Chairs are for butts, not baggage, purses, or other cargo. If you know you are going to take up a bigger-than-average footprint in a presentation, please sit at the end of a row and pull the chair aside to make more room for yourself.
Elevators are weight and space limited. Please pay attention to the restrictions posted at each elevator and honor them so we can keep the elevators functioning.
10 – Accept the con experience of others without debate
There is true value in phrases like “that has not been my experience, but I honor that it is yours.”
For example, I never once walked through Pantheacon in all the years I have gone and felt threatened in any way. I have felt elated, disgusted, thrilled, tired, old, dismissed, embraced, and so many other things, but I have not felt threatened.
When I heard that there were minority groups who felt that way, my first response was surprise, but it was not for me to deny that this was their experience. Everyone who attends events like these comes with their own set of experiences and triggers that create their reactions and impressions.
The fact that I have never felt threatened at Pantheacon as a CIS white woman is completely irrelevant to the experience of someone else… even another CIS white woman. We all have our own experiences and any is as relevant and valid as the next. We have no right to debate or doubt the veracity of someone else’s experience, even if we are the one who caused that experience.
Our goals should be to have a bonding, celebratory, educational and fun experience with each of us mindful of how our behaviors affect those around us. Just… be kind. You don’t have to take up extra space, be louder than everyone else, or know more than any of us to be important. We love you already (probably).