This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend my first ever Bent-Con, a convention in Los Angeles created specifically by and for the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual fans of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and all things geeky, as well as for their straight allies. Although in its fourth year, this was my first time ever going. After having gone, all I can wonder is… just what took me so long? As a gay geek, this is exactly the kind of convention I had always hoped for, but just as little as ten years ago, would have seemed like an impossibility. Bent-Con is just the kind of convention I had always hoped would exist, and now it does.
Being a gay geek, I’ve always felt like I was my own tribe. Sure, I feel a sense of community with my fellow nerds at gatherings like San Diego Comic-Con, where thousands upon thousands of people who love the exact same things I do gather at our version of Mecca every year. But even though we love the same stuff… straight geeks tend to not love it in the exact same way that we gay geeks do. Straight geeks might love the X-Men with the same fervor I do, for example, but more often than not for them, it’s all about Wolverine, or Cyclops, and maybe less about the metaphor of being a hated and oppressed minority and finding a group that accepts you. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just illustrates how we can love the same exact things for sometimes totally different reasons. And yet in a lot of ways, I’ve always similarly always felt just as out of place with the regular gay community at large as well, never totally being into all the same things they are into, either. Plop me in a group of super fit, well dressed gays in West Hollywood or someplace, and I feel just as equally like a geek and an outsider who doesn’t belong.
Which is why Bent-Con is so special. Yes, LGBT geeks are a minority within a minority, but as this weekend proved, there are certainly enough of us to fill a convention hall, and then some. And there are so many LGBT folks who work in this industry; it was awesome to see them speak at panels without the issues of their sexual identity having to take a back seat. This con isn’t about how our orientation doesn’t define our art, because to be fair, many times it’s not a factor. There are plenty of other conventions for those conversations. At this Con, it’s all about the ways in which our orientation does reflect the art we love and enjoy, and for many, actually get to create.
Just on the Saturday of the con alone, there were interesting panels on the subject of race and class in comics, LGBT geek YouTubers (a panel at which there was a wedding proposal!), a spotlight on gay author Christopher Rice, and my personal favorite, a one-hour lecture on The Kink In Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso and the character’s role as a subversive role in patriarchal culture. While some of the bigger cons have panels like these, they tend to get lost in the Hollywood-ness of it all. Here, they are all front and center.
So, how did all this start? I got a chance to talk to Sean Z. Maker, co-creator and co-founder of Bent-Con, and he gave me the story behind its genesis. “The con started in 2010,” he told me. “I’m a creator myself, and Jody Wheeler (Bent-Con co-founder) is also a creator and a director. We go to all these other conventions, and they’re fun, but we (the gay fans) are sort of the needle in the haystack, and because a lot of us had queer-specific work, we thought, let’s do something that identifies us out loud. We did the first one in Silverlake in a donated space, not knowing if a hundred people would show up. I brought a book to read, just in case! And we ended up having four, five hundred people show up. And we would up staying open an hour later too, because people just weren’t leaving. We thought “OK, let them buy stuff and talk to each other.” And a lot of the people who came who happened to also be gay didn’t even know there were gay comics or gay content outside of porn or anything else they were used to. So we realized we had a thing here… so let’s keep it going and let’s do it big next year. And in 2011 we had our first official convention at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. So we know we’re doing something right.”
As with all things in the geek world, the question of eventual franchising came up. After all, a Bent-Con in New York, San Francisco and Chicago would surely be as much of a hit. I asked co-founder Jody Wheeler about the idea of franchising Bent-Con: “We’ve had people ask, but right now we need to get this to like six or seven thousand people before we can think of something like that. But because (Los Angeles) is seen as a destination place, it’s so much easier to get talent to come out here for an hour because so many people live around here.”
As for the future of the con, according to Maker, “We just want to keep it growing. One of things that we wanted is to be that bridge; Bent-Con is by the community for the community, so they really helped to define it. So whether that be fandom, whether that be specifically for professionals, or just for people who don’t want to worry about batting an eye because of who they happen to love… they can hold hands down the hall here, ya know? Things like that. And to just keep that space going, and just to keep the message of diversity and inclusivity going, because we don’t turn away anyone if they’re not LGBT identified, we have what we call the “Un-gays,” our word for our straight allies who come to the show to support, and they feel that its really important to have that message out there. We think that’s important to tell all of the other industries that we’re not going anywhere, and obviously by the success of our show…we know there’s something to it.”
As I left the Con, there was a part of me that wished I could travel back in time and tell my thirteen-year-old self that one day, there was going to be such a thing as a Bent-Con. I doubt that kid me would even believe
39-year-old somewhat older, but still youthful looking me. But while thirteen-year-old me will never know the joys of Bent-Con, there are young, nerdy gay kids out there who do need to know this is out there. And that’s what makes me the most happy that something like Bent-Con exists. Count me in for Bent-Con 2014 already.