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This isn’t about any one con or event, but rather about alcohol-fueled work culture as we know and love it in the U.S. and elsewhere and what it looks like to not participate in it. It’s about me, my relationship to alcohol and the relationship that a lot of my colleagues, friends, acquaintances and so forth have with it, based on what I’ve seen and experienced. It may or may not apply to you. Whether or not it does apply to you, it is not a personal attack/judgment; many pros and fans drink responsibly at cons. But, at the same time, it is also often considered perfectly okay within fannish cultures to justify bad behavior with “I had too much to drink,” and that needs to change. It is also often considered “weird” to not drink and that too needs to change.
 
I am sober (I also describe it as “Elderly Straight Edge”). This does not mean that I have gone through treatment or a 12 Step program or counseling or any of the other options many people use to try and give up alcohol, narcotics and other substances and/or behaviors that they wish to stop using or engaging in. This is important in that I don’t have access to a 12 Step or equivalent community. This is important because many other folks don’t either, possibly because they choose to use another approach or because those programs didn’t work for them or for a wide variety of other reasons. Why do I call myself sober? Well, I don’t drink or do drugs or other intoxicants any more, which is the standard definition. I apply the term to myself both to describe my behavior and to help make a safer space for other folks who have made a decision to abstain from drinking or equivalent in social situations. It can make it easier for them to fend off social pressure to drink or may just give them someone to talk to or give folks who are big “social drinkers’ someone to focus on who can handle the social pressure to drink because “everyone else is” or because “it will make you feel more relaxed.”
 
Why do people never drink or stop drinking alcohol? All kinds of reasons, including, but not limited to:
·        Religious practice
·        Personal preference
·        Addiction recovery
·        Physical reaction
·        Any combination of these and/or additional reasons.

None of these reasons is intended to be invalid or better than any other; they are not listed in any sort of order. Personally, I stopped drinking and choose to not resume drinking due to a combination of personal preference and physical reaction. I grew up with alcoholics and I used to drink, quite heavily at times. I did some very injudicious things, particularly in my early twenties, and one morning when I sobered up, I realized that some of my activities of the night before could have easily hurt or potentially killed someone. So I put myself on a self-imposed drink limit. Then I started to roll that back – no more than 3 drinks at a sitting to no more than 3 drinks a week to no more than 2 drinks a week to 1 drink once a month or so, to the point where I eventually got diagnosed with an alcohol allergy (also known as “alcohol intolerance”) in my mid-thirties. I used to have a glass of wine once or twice a year, when we  found a vintage I could tolerate, but I gave that up about 5 years ago. Do I miss it? Sometimes. Do I miss it enough to want to deal with the physical symptoms? Hell, no.
 
At various points in my life, I have been an archeologist doing CRM work on construction sites, a college student,  a graduate student. I used to work at a bar. I have had many of the standard relationship crises and a few of the more unusual ones. I used to hang out with friends who drank a lot. Now, I work in IT and hang out with writers and science fiction fans. Being queer, being female, being all of these things shape what I know about drinking and how and why I did it and why the people I hung out with did it. I drank because I was unhappy, because my friends were doing it and I wanted to fit in, because I was shy and awkward, because it was force of habit, because I wanted to forget, because it was expected of me. Notice I didn’t say that I was an addict or that I am an alcoholic. I have conflicted feelings about the addiction model that is most commonly used; I wasn’t too addicted to walk away, so I tend to not apply it to myself and my own behaviors. Others might view it differently under the same circumstances. The point is that I have at one point or another internalized all of the various justifications for why I or someone like me or in my circumstances would be drinking a lot and using it for social glue in heavy drinking work/social cultures.
 
Since my Great Tapering Off, I’ve noticed things, like the folks who host parties where they don’t stock any nonalcoholic options. Or the folks who respond to being told that I don’t drink by suggesting I try just one. Or the folks who need to talk at me a lot about how they don’t drink that much or don’t need it or don’t think about it that often so it’s not a problem for them. I can pretty much tell you that if you’re someone who feels a need to do or say any of this, it’s probably a good idea to do something about your level of consumption. Those comments are a red flag to anyone familiar with dealing with people with drinking problems and they tend to make the more sober and cautious members of your audience pretty wary.

Drinking helps lower inhibitions, which in turn can lead to everything from violence to sex to saying dumb crap to falling asleep on the couch. In general, the more extreme end of the scale tapers off as you get older but not always and not for everyone. From the standpoint of things that happen at cons (or tech events, for that matter), there’s more harassment of various kinds, sexual and otherwise if alcohol is readily available in quantity. Inappropriate humor, unwanted touching, unwanted proposals – all this goes up when people drink more (yes, some folks can manage this stone-cold sober, but an open bar  definitely doesn’t help). The social excuses range from variations on “it doesn’t count if you’re drinking” to “I don’t remember doing that so it didn’t happen.” None of this is considered to be particularly extreme or even rare, which is what I mean when I say that it is normalized.

Generally speaking, most people at work events like happy hours have a drink or two and call it quits, particularly if they have other events, families, etc. But if you’re already staying at the event venue or within walking distance, that control disappears. I’ve gotten in the habit of arriving early at convention parties/Bar Con and bailing early, before the people who are going to drink enough to behave badly or just be super annoying really hit their stride. Are they the majority? Depends on the con and the party, really, but the fact that I’m saying that based on personal experience says something about how well you have to know conventions and their attendees and what’s condoned and what isn’t. It’s a lot more challenging for someone new to those events to know who to avoid and when. And the “come early/leave early” approach means that sometimes I miss seeing people I want to see or having conversations that may be helpful to my career or me personally. So there are definite trade-offs between the culture and what I need to feel comfortable (and occasionally, safe) and I would like to stop having to make those trade-offs and I would like other people who aren’t drinking to stop having to make those trade-offs.
 
So what do I suggest as alternatives?
  • Always and absolutely the following: if someone isn’t drinking alcohol and say they don’t drink at all or don’t want to at that moment or whatever their particular truth may be, don’t attempt to pressure them to drink for any reason.
  • If you’re hosting a party or buying a round, provide nonalcoholic alternatives.
  • Do your networking somewhere that serves food and encourage people to eat, since food often helps things stay a bit more even keel.
  • Don’t rationalize away bad behavior, drunk or sober. Alcohol doesn't "make" anyone behave like an asshole and it shouldn't justify it.
  • Cut people off if it’s your party and they’re getting drunk and/or problematic.
  • Encourage sober space at cons to support folks who are in recovery or have other issues with alcohol consumption; I'm starting to see a bit more of this, but it's still pretty rare.
  • Designate someone to be your Sober Party Pal to keep an eye on folks who might be getting pressured to drink, or are otherwise vulnerable or who simply want to enjoy a pop or a glass of water and a chat.
  • If you want to drink and your friend doesn’t, ask if you having a drink bothers them. If it does, maybe hold off until they leave or try joining them in pop or juice or water for the evening. You might like it and they almost certainly will.
  •  If you’re drinking in moderation and having fun and not bothering anyone, that’s great; be cool and let your nondrinking friends and colleagues be cool in their own ways. it’ll make for a much better time for everyone.
And finally, if we're at a con together and you could use some support being sober on whatever level you want to maintain, you can come find me and I'll do what I can to help.
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This weekend was Diversicon 23, a small Twin Cities-area con (longtime readers may recall that I was one of the guests at Diversicon 21). This year's guests were Ytasha Womack who's an Afrofuturist writer, choreographer, filmmaker and scholar from Chicago and Rob Callahan, a local storyteller, writer and arts journalist. I met Ytasha a couple of years ago a the Twin Cities Book Festival when she was in town promoting her book Afrofuturism and was quite impressed with both her and the book. And she did not disappoint. She was articulate and fascinating and charming and funny, easily one of the best GOHs that I've seen at a science fiction and fantasy con. I got to spend a fair amount of time talking to her about her work on a couple of panels as well as some hanging around time, all of which was very pleasant and interesting. She also has a great sense of personal style and the con was lucky to catch her on her way up, so said we all.

The con as a whole was pretty decent (and those of you who skipped it missed out, just saying). I got there on Saturday and ate lunch with some of my writer pals before appearing on a panel on Aging in Science Fiction and Fantasy, which was a decent enough panel, though I'm not sure that it was particularly ground-breaking in terms of what we discussed. After that, I had a lovely conversation with some local fans before going to dinner with friends at Mai Village in St. Paul. Then, we headed back to the con for the auction, where I picked up 2 books by Elizabeth Lynn (the books I was missing from the Chronicles of Tornor, in fact!), Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus, a James Morrow novel and a 5 more wuxia including early Sammo Hung and Shaolin Soccer. I also found a new home for Mom's big stuffed dragon that's too big to fit in her current room. Then it was back home through the wilds of St. Paul while playing the popular new game Everything is Closed/Partially Blocked Due to Construction (road construction is much worse than usual this year and I live about 30 minutes drive from the hotel under optimal conditions).

Sunday dawned early with a migraine and the need to head back to St. Paul for a day of panels. I made it to my 11 AM panel by minutes, though, and spent a lively hour interviewing/grilling Ytasha about Afrofuturism and showing off art by John Jennings. It was quite interesting and I think I got a better understanding of the scope of Afrofutrism as an artistic/cultural movement. After that, we got Ytasha out of the hotel for a short lunch break at Nelson's Deli, then back again for hanging out and eating. The Alternate Sherlocks panel turned into a discussion of some of our favorites (Elementary generally preferred to Sherlock, the graphic novel Baker Street, split on the Robert Downey version, nobody likes stupid Watson, Carole Nelson Douglas' Irene Adler series, etc.) and recommendations regarding the fabulous Sherlock Holmes Collection at the University of MN Library. Then, I got to go grill Ytasha about comics (she has a multimedia graphic novel out, called Rayla 2212). We also talked about some recently recovered Golden Age comics featuring culturally diverse protagonists like Nelvana of the North and related. Good stuff and an interesting chat to close out the con. After that, I hung out with Ytasha and Anton (her guest liaison) for a bit before taking off.

Taking involved racing home, starting to cook dinner, adding another dining companion (for a total of 4), then bolting off to see Mr. Holmes (Sir Ian McKellan, et al) with one of my friends. It was, for the record, sadly disappointing. The performances were good, but dear god, there were few cliches they did not bring out of storage. Older protagonist wrestling with dementia, victimized women, with or without emotionally abusive spouses, irritatingly superior small boy in danger, bees in danger, the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, because when in doubt, you trot out everything you have. All to get to...well, nothing really, except SAD. SO VERY SAD. So yeah, disappointed. Now back to the regular fun of my week, day job and catchup, and no more cons for a couple of months, which will be novel at this point.



catherineldf: (Default)
Because how can I not?

 Starting with Friday's news. OMG, what a huge, giant relief and source of joy! I'm so happy for the folks who can now have their relationships legally recognized and can access the associated benefits. I'm glad for the folks who have decided to get married. I'm deeply grateful to all those who paved the way for this day to come in U.S. and wish we hadn't lost so many more of them along the way. Does it fix everything? Sadly, not by a longshot. It's a victory, not the end of the campaign. But for those of us who didn't have hospitalization visitation rights, access to survivor benefits, parental rights, tax benefits, healthcare benefits, etc., etc., this is a giant boon. I'm not paying nearly twice as much for my wife's healthcare, like I was when we were domestic partners. We were able to vastly improve out tax situation. And from our personal standpoint, not living in constant terror of producing a sequel to Why Can't Sharon Kowalski Come Home? every time one of us has to travel somewhere less progressive is stupendous. So, thank you, everyone who made this possible.

We sort of celebrated by going to the Twin Cities Antiquarian Book Fair, since we had already planned that with friends. Chatted with a lot of folks, picked up a couple of books and got booted out a bit too early for me; I needed another half hour for browsing. Saturday morning, we were off to Twin Cities Pride to bask in the sunshine, literally  and figuratively. It was lovely and pleasant and I have new earrings and a commemorative tshirt from a friend's company, plus bonus greeting of friends all over the place.

From there, my wife went home, my friend moved on and I went to 4th Street Fantasy. 4th Street, for those unfamiliar with it, is a small local con dedicated to discussing books. Big name pros of various sorts are often thick on the ground,and there's a single track of programming, plus sundry other events. It is traditionally one of my "mixed feels" cons. On the one hand, there are friends I love to hang out with and the panels can sometimes be quite interesting. On the other, it can be quite cliquish
and I have sat through some truly unsound writing advice to newby writers who hung on each word. I also find myself getting irritated by a sense of self-satisfaction about the whole affair, which I'm not sure it earns. What I interpret as a lack of interest in genre diversity--attendance tends to be a very homogenous, panelists often discuss each other's books and don't venture much outside the charmed circle of current attendees, panel topics tend to be geared toward a given cultural default, etc. --make it rather frustrating for me.  Then there's the just plain weird crap, like getting told that the Con suite didn't have the recycling bin provided by the hotel because attendees just couldn't figure it out (Srsly? Blue thing, spinny arrows, often says "Recycling" on it? In a metropolitan area where nearly every event and venue has some form of recycling in it?). The mind truly boggles. So, yeah. I understand that a number of my friends absolutely love it, but I sometimes feel like I'm attending a different event from the one they're at, and it's not big enough to have that much dissonance. Sigh. I think it's time for a year off, barring some big shift in scheduling or makeup.

In other news, the new front yard retaining wall-landscaping project should be done today. Huzzah! Now, if I can just get my mother's phone hooked up again, life will be blissful. Send chocolate, please!

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