Safe Spaces: CONvergence

I am back from CONvergence and ready to post about all the fantastical things that happened there. Not really, I’d much rather just still be there, but as I don’t have that option I will console myself by reliving the weekend with a billion posts about the topics that caught my interest while I was there.

The first thing that I noticed while I was at Con, something that made me both very happy and very sad, was the high number of people I noticed who had self harm scars. Not only did they have self harm scars, but they were wearing clothing that openly showed their scars, and they seemed utterly unbothered by the fact that others could see. Perhaps even better was the fact that I never once saw or heard someone comment on scars or react negatively in any way.

To most, this might seem unimportant. Con is a place where everyone is utterly and completely themselves. I saw someone dressed as a cat walking on all fours and reacting to a “master’s” commands. I saw people in costumes, people with colorful hair of every known variety, people covered in tattoos, people who were on the extreme ends of fat and skinny, people with almost no clothes on, people walking on stilts…one of the most beautiful things about going to Con is that everyone there is presenting exactly as they want to be perceived.

And yet when I was preparing for the weekend, choosing my cosplays, getting dressed each morning, I was fully aware of the fact that I didn’t think it was totally ok to expose some of my scars. As an example, for the last two years I’ve had cosplays with short shorts (Femme!Hammer and Amy Pond):

8439_10151481244972601_938655005_n amy

In contrast, this year both of my costumes had full length pants involved (Coraline and Orange is the New Black Nicky). I made this choice purposefully because of new scars on my legs. In my mind, despite how safe Con is, nowhere was safe enough for self harm scars. I remembered vividly hearing one of my friends mention at a past Con being triggered by the sight of self harm scars on someone’s arm. I deeply did not want to be that trigger for someone else.

And I was certain that if I did show scars, there would be a comment or a look. The special ones. The ones that say “I have no idea how to react to this, I’m so uncomfortable” or “gross, that’s so fucked up”. What I forgot was that the community of people who actively seek out geeky nerdy activities has a huge percentage of people who have had major struggles in their lives. It draws in people who have been bullied or ostracized, people whose day to day lives hurt too much to stay there in their fun time, people who need an escape and unmitigated acceptance. If there was any place that I would find a group of people with similar experiences, people who have needed to use negative coping mechanisms, it would be here.

And so while these scars can be triggering, and there were a few iffy moments this weekend, I really appreciate how open people were with their bodies. There is such vulnerability in having your worst moments visible on your skin. It’s so easy to choose not to let others see them, even when it means you are less comfortable. But it is not only brave for yourself to show them, but also brave in that it normalizes the fact that many people have these struggles and continue their lives and survive and are amazing. It is a wonderful stigma reducer and community builder to have these small (or large) signs that show to others “I have hurt myself and I’m still here. You don’t have to be afraid of me, and you don’t have to be afraid of yourself”.

And it also creates an undercurrent of self acceptance. Not everyone has to feel comfortable showing all of their body, but when people appear to be wearing what they feel like wearing without worrying about judgment, it shows a lack of self judgment. It takes a great deal of self acceptance to openly wear scars, whether they are from self harm or not. People are hardly encouraged to expose their scars, and while we can never know someone’s exact motivation for being willing to show their scars, we can assume that they’ve managed to slough off some of the societal expectations that were harming them.

Being able to see that around you is wonderfully comforting. It tells you that you can do the same, that you’ll be welcomed, that there are others who have been there and understand even if you’re not quite there yet. It says to me that I’m in a space people are building to be safe for themselves, not in a space that is built in the image of patriarchy or racism or heteronormativity or beauty culture.

And so while Con does a million things to make their convention safe (and I absolutely love them for it), the thing that makes me feel safest at Con is the other people who are brave enough to feel safe.

Featured photo is this year’s cosplay.

 

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