firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
[personal profile] firecat
Social isolation and Wiscon

Description: For many of us, WisCon can be a magical bastion of cluefulness in an expanse of oppression. Yet even at the best WisCon, we can have internalized phobias, impostor syndrome and geek self-loathing. And when we're not here, we may not have access to the social support we need. How do we support ourselves when the world doesn't do it for us?

Moderator: Kimberly Gonzalez. [personal profile] firecat, Janice Mynchenberg, Susan Ramirez, Elena Tabachnick

[My comments are in [italic brackets]. My notes aren't a complete transcription, especially because I was a panelist. I welcome corrections. I did not identify audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]

Why did you want to be on this panel?

firecat: I have a constantly shifting and ambivalent relationship to social isolation. Sometimes I don't like it, and sometimes I seek it out.
I have a variety of stuff that plays into it. Some I have a choice about and some I dont. Some is external, some is internal. Some is emotional, some is intellectual, some is physical. Some is assumptions about other people, and some is how ppl actually behave. There's never a dull moment, it's always changing.

KG: When we're isolated, we feel "I'm the only one who feels this way." KG/SR passed out pieces of paper to the audience; audience invited to write down some reasons they are socially isolated and pass the papers back to the front.

ET: I have Shallow Asperger's syndrome; I didn't understand how social clues worked. In college, for guys it's ok, but women supposed to be socially competent. I had a friend who would translate what I said. When people heard the translation, they laughed, which was what I intended. I learned better social skills. They take conscious effort. They are simple but hard. I've always hated conference socializing. I'm usually happy being alone, but I'm not happy being alone at a conference.

JM: I was a brainy girl. The world didn't like brainy girls. I preferred reading to games. I had "Wallflower syndrome". I felt called to be a minister, but my church didn't ordain women. I like science fiction, but SF cons are not friendly to Christians. I like things that don't come together. I wrote about this in the Wiscon Chronicles.

SR: I am shy, so social interactions cost more. I am introverted, so I have less energy for social interactions. I'm separated and live alone. I don't know how to start new relationships. As I get older I have fewer opportunities. I felt welcome at Wiscon. Social luck accumulates: if I know someone, they might say "come to game night," and if I go to game night, I might meet someone else to connect with.

KG - I have social anxiety but I fake it. I was a military brat. At my 20th high school reunion I thought, how different were we really? Internally we may be the same.

[KG read some of the things audience members wrote, and made a point that a lot of these are invisible (in other words, you can't know a person is feeling isolated about this issue by looking at them)]
  • Weight
  • Closeted about hobbies
  • Conflicted about comfort zone
  • Non techie - everyone has latest gadget, but it doesn't come easily to me.
  • Geek self loathing, geek loathing from others, closeted because of being a geek
ET: I'm blind in one eye, can't play ball, hard to drive. I didn't know about my disability as a kid. My parents knew but didn't tell me.

SR: I'm deaf in one ear and have no sense of balance. My parents didn't tell me. I learned to ride a bike but I wondered why is it so hard for me?

ET: I thought I was retarded. Now I have chronic pain and when people ask me places I am always thinking "How far is the walking distance?" I park in a handicap spot and worry that people are judging me.

SM: I use a scooter and I'm fat; when I go out I'm always battling voices in my head telling me "You're going to end up on the People of Walmart blog".

Audience comment: I'm jealous of ppl who can write. I'm not published.

KG: What are causes of isolation at Wiscon?

JM: I'm a lesbian but my church didn't allow lesbians to be pastors. But at Wiscon it's OK that I am a lesbian.

[Forgot who said this]: Conferences bring out aloneness. I'm comfortable in reg life, but not at cons. Lobby sitting. How do we reach out? At Wiscon we come to feel like we belong. But we might feel threatened by ppl who are different. Bernice Johnson Reagon [] wrote an essay [I think might be "Coalition Politics: Turning the Century," and part of it can be viewed here:] pointing out that the desire for community creates exclusion. Social change work requires street work and being in coalition with ppl who are different.

KG: How do you handle lobby at mealtimes? How do you support yourself when feeling isolated?

SR: I got lucky in terms of social connections at Wiscon, but later I went to another con on the recommendation of some friends, and ppl ignored me at that con—even some of the same ppl who welcomed me at Wiscon.

MK: I knew a couple ppl. I have an outgoing partner and I shadowed her. She introduced me to people, but if I met them later on my own, they wouldn't remember me. I learned to keep reaching out.

ET[?] In ally session [I think this refers to the "How To Ally" panel:] it was recommended to see ppl with compassion. Maybe someone scowling is protecting themselves. Volunteering is another way to be less isolated.

firecat: There was a Wiscon Friending meme on dreamwidth beforehand, I posted in it. I set expectations for myself that if I sit in the lobby for a while and find no one to go to dinner with, I'll have a sandwich in my room. That's OK because I like being alone.

[After this point I mostly forgot who said what.]

What about a "Social Isolates" group for dinnertimes? (We agreed that we would make one happen and announce it in the Wiscon newsletter. It didn't happen in time for Saturday, but it did get announced for Sunday. I don't know what came out of it.)

I'm not part of the SF community. I'm extroverted, but this is my husband's thing. There are not enough intuitive feeler types like me at the con. There's a conversation style mismatch. When I am with my husband we take two different cars so I can leave when I'm ready.

Sometimes you have to organize something yourself. [Addressing SR] If you want someone to have a meal with, ask me. As for the con you mentioned, it is known to be cliqueish, so fuck 'em.

What about the geek social hierarchy at Wiscon, the idea that you're nobody unless you're a published prose fiction author?

Writers need readers.

When choosing panels to go to, I look at the topic and also who is going to be on panel, and I go to panels with ppl I enjoy. The ppl who promote themselves a lot on panels [I think they meant published prose fiction authors] may feel insufficient.

Does anyone else get bio inadequacy? I look at people's bios and they've all done amazing stuff and I feel inadequate.

It comes out of inner dynamic of each person. Ally, put some emotional energy toward being open in body language.

Create space we want to have.

Sometimes I think, "I don't write any more, why am I here?" But I tell myself it's just not my priority now. "I'm ok"

I don't recognize friendliness/liking. One person I see every year is friendly to me, but I don't know why? I don't recognize social cues.

You got the cue, you just don't know what to do with it. Just enjoy it.

There's a guy at the con I feel safe with and like, and he doesn't remember me. But he is still nice to me. Maybe you're this person's safe person.

Not all SF cons are writers' events. We are just talking about what interests us.

Talk to ppl who have gone to fan run cons vs. pro cons. They are very different.

Sometimes I find out ppl are attracted to me but only when it's too late. How do I recognize/respond to social cues in a timely manner?

Use a geek flirt? Tell the person in some face-saving manner, e.g. by email, that you like them and want to get to know them better.

But I don't want to be the creepy old guy.

Ppl won't show that they need attention. But you can have a habit of checking in with people who might be feeling isolated.

I understand body language but can't do it myself. It helps me to have a safe person. Talk to ppl I recognize and ask "can I go to you if I need a touchstone?"

People are often open to helping. A lot of Ppl like to help.

Here is a really great writeup of the panel by an audience member.

I liked the camaraderie that developed during this panel. I would have liked there to be more political analysis of why some people are more isolated, or isolated more often, than others. But there was plenty of political analysis at other panels so maybe it's OK to have one that's just people trying to brainstorm and problem-solve our social stuff.

Date: 3 Jun 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
barometry: solid wall of paperbacks stacked up (Default)
From: [personal profile] barometry
This is a really interesting write-up, thanks for sharing! I didn't manage to attend this panel (it was a low-panel-attendance year for me generally), but there are very interesting themes here.

I find it particularly interesting to think about the ways in which social isolation is invisible -- though I shouldn't, because I'm what I like to think about as a "stealth introvert". Or maybe more accurate to say I'm a person with stealth social anxiety? By which I mean: most people meeting me assume that I'm really comfortable introducing myself to new people, making plans, etc., because I'm loud and outgoing once you start talking to me. But I also have an eternal conviction that unless explicitly stated otherwise in that exact moment people will find it weird or pushy if I try to talk to them, so that I have a lot of stress and paralysis around "forcing" my company on people (i.e. actually striking up conversation). I am very lucky that I attend WisCon with a friend who's (if anything) a stealth extrovert, who is miraculously willing and able to make plans and have me tag along on them.

Discussions like this make me remember that I myself should try to be better about reaching out to people if it looks like they might enjoy joining a group, or even talking one-on-one, since I know how much of a disconnect there can be between apparent-interest and actual-interest in socializing.

Mostly unrelatedly: This panel summary also contributes to a theory I have that there are several entirely different WisCons going on simultaneously. One of the things I love about WisCon is that I don't experience a hierarchy of writers over other fans, or the assumption that everyone is / is trying to be a published author -- but that is 100% a consequence of the types of panels I attend, and the types of people I've ended up meeting (mostly not writers trying to publish).

Sorry for accidentally writing a novel in your comments. But thanks again for the panel overview, and for linking to the other write-up as well.

Date: 4 Jun 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Extreme closeup of dark red blood cells (Blood makes noise)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
I think there are at least twenty WisCons, and I'm trying to write that up, in a game show format.

Thanks for the write-up. I also was hoping for the more political analysis of why some people are more isolated, or isolated more often, than others. Maybe next year we can have a panel on "The Structural Underpinnings of Social Isolation"?

Date: 7 Jun 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
Yes! Many simultaneous WisCons, that's a phenomenon I've observed too. I think part of it is that WisCon is large enough that people self-sort into smaller, more manageable subgroups. Especially when they already know other people at the con.

(IME, 150 people is the largest a convention can get where people generally mingle all together, over the weekend. Unless there's serious cliqueishness going on. Some cons work to avoid that; others don't.)

Date: 4 Jun 2014 02:33 am (UTC)
snippy: Lego me holding book (Default)
From: [personal profile] snippy
I'm great at beginnings. I can make casual conversation, I'm assertive, I ask the other person questions, I don't dominate the conversation. But I never know how to go further than that. I never get invited to lunch or dinner, and if I ask others, they're busy.

I think I am perceived as uninteresting. I think I am encountering a cultural difference: they expect interesting people to talk about themselves in a way that my culture labels selfish.

Date: 4 Jun 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Ultra modern white fabric interlaced to create strong weave (interdependence)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Ooooh! *klunk*

An entirely new way of thinking about this issue.

D'you think snippy's "selfish" and your "braggy" are the same thing?

Date: 7 Jun 2014 03:21 pm (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
But you can have a habit of checking in with people who might be feeling isolated.

I'd shorten that to "checking in with people," because I think that's something that's quite fallen off the radar in the US. [skips long discussion on social manners & habits in US vs say UK] As in, it's generally a good thing to do, to build community in general never mind target specific people who may be isolated.
Edited Date: 7 Jun 2014 03:22 pm (UTC)

Date: 3 Jun 2014 03:51 am (UTC)
ext_3172: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Heh, I'm socially isolated because I have crappy social skills and can't keep friendships with people because I keep screwing them up.

Date: 4 Jun 2014 01:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good stuff! I'm this socially awkward extrovert who wants to connect to people but feels weird about trying to connect with people! I'm super lucky to be local to WisCon and to have it be a thing that my close tribe of friends goes to as well so even if I am feeling isolated at large at the con, I have them as a security blanket to fall back on. I would totes socially organize all the folks who feels isolated but want to connect .... if I didn't worry that all of those people would just think I'm being creepy or something.


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