Flight delayed so blog about ICFA!

[Flight delayed by 2.5 hours. Lost the first version of this blog post by accident. Fortunately, everything up until now was much better.]

The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) was a great time. I met a lot of cool people, caught up with good friends and got interviewed for the Skiffy and Fanty podcast. Coincidentally, I’d mentioned on that podcast that I get tongue-tied when I have to speak to strangers (as opposed to friends or family) in Mandarin. Right before I started blog post version 2, a woman came up to me asking me if speak Mandarin (in Mandarin, of course). We had a short conversation where I could tell her not to worry she wasn’t missing her flight to Boston. The flight boarding right now at the gate was headed to NYC. Communication achieved! (Given that I do some translation from Chinese to English, you’d think I’d have less anxiety about this…)

ICFA was, on the whole, a relaxing time. I had great roommates. The conversations, panels, and readings were unfailingly interesting. The weather was amazing. The hotel has a pool which turns out to be integral to the conference. Lots of people spent lots of time by the pool. (I had the prerequisite pool-side daiquiri.) I’ll definitely go to ICFA again if I can manage it. (I will say that, being an academic conference, this is not the most affordable thing I can attend.)

Before I went, I wondered what people would wear, whether I should pack my full academic drag or whether I could get away with the T-shirt and jeans I wear at spec fic cons. The latter is no less a uniform than the former. However, for me, the latter is easier to pack (if only because I’ve had more practice).

For the most part, if anyone wore a suit, it was either in non-conservative colors or it was, for example, without a tie. If anyone wore a power skirt, it was with non-conservative shoes. Everyone was at least a click less formal than what might have been. Some people attended in jeans and T-shirts (including me for half the conference). A conference in Orlando in the middle of March can only be so formal, I guess. Certainly, the mood at the conference was relaxed and informal.

What was most interesting, though, was that ICFA shared the hotel with some sort of John Deere training session, not to mention ComplianceOrlando. The latter was composed of people in formal business wear. The former seemed to be composed solely of tall, physically substantial men wearing jeans, plaid shirts and green John Deere baseball caps. Now, I’m sure they weren’t all like that. That it looked that way has to be observation bias. Still, there were a lot of them. It was like being adjacent to a bear convention except that they probably weren’t bears. (A friend has one of those apps that allow bears to advertise their location and he said no bears in the hotel advertised. FWIW, whenever I went to the workout room, I saw some people from ICFA, but no John Deere people. This led to my roommates and I talking about muscly people at the con.)

What you wore pretty much cued why you were at the hotel. I guess that’s not a surprise but I thought it was interesting. It’s one thing to see Fandom cuing itself by dress. I hadn’t expected it from the folks going to the John Deere function. There was also some amount of people on either group puzzling over the people in the other group. (Certainly, I was until I realized there was a John Deere thing going on at the same time as ICFA.) Some of that puzzling had to do with gender performance with one side pointing out the cans of Bud Light and the other side looking askance at the nail polish. (I feel this is a good time to point out that there is no One Right Way to performance any gender. You should rock whatever you want to rock. That said, it would have been neat to see one of the more bearish ICFA attendees rock the plaid shirt with jeans and one of the John Deere attendees rock the nail polish.)

After all this observation of people in the hotel, it’s only fair to talk about how I present. I’m wearing slacks and a T-shirt. Friends of mine and I were walking back to the hotel from dinner at a steakhouse. A married couple also attending the conference joined us because, duh, we’re all going the same place. They’re interesting people. We talked about what their day jobs and when we reached the hotel, I extended my hand and wished them a good night. The man responded with “Whoa, you’re much buffer than you look!”

I didn’t respond because, frankly, even now, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of that. Friend A joked about how the man should see me when I’m wearing a tight T-shirt. (For the record, no. Just no.) Friend B, hearing this, was all “Dude, represent!” Meanwhile, the man stared at me, squinting slightly as though that would allow him to make out the “muscles” hidden by my T-shirt.

The moment passed as quickly as it came. We shook hands, wished each other good night and life went on. However, I’m still wondering how extending my hand to him caused that reaction. I.e., what changed that caused him to see me differently. (Lest anyone get any false impressions, I don’t think “you’re much buffer than you look” means “buff.” Also, I find this a little funny since I’m short and small-framed. Most men dwarf me.) If I’d somehow managed some feat of strength, then maybe I could see someone saying “stronger than you look” (also not true). However, if possible, I squeeze only as hard as I am squeezed for handshakes which, in this case, was not very hard.

Anyway, considering I spent much of this con observing how other people present, it’s not surprising that other people observed how I present. If anything, I wish the observation made more sense.


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