Touch at WisCon

I'll be heading off to WisCon tomorrow; looking forward to it.

I'm on only one panel this year, and it's a departure from my usual sort of thing. (Oh, and of course I'll also be at the Strange Horizons tea party on Sunday afternoon.) Here's the panel title and description, from the WisCon schedule:

Please Touch/Don't Touch

Friday, 8:45 p.m.

One of the many qualities which sets WisCon apart from most other SF conventions is the perception that, for one weekend a year, the Concourse is a safe and inclusive space for SF fans of all genders, orientations, identities, races, and religions. Many people have commented that this extra level of comfort seems to create a very "touchy-feely" environment, with a lot more casual physical contact between old friends and new acquaintance, and a very different, (more open?) environment for flirting and hook-ups. But not everyone is quite so comfortable with such a relaxed atmosphere... Where do you draw the lines between casual and significant, affection and flirting, too much and not enough? How do the conditions change from situation to situation? And how do you tell someone to "back off"... or deal gracefully when someone else lets you know that you've crossed a line?

Participants: Debbie Notkin (M), Jed Hartman, Liz Henry, Mary Kay Kare, Karen Swanberg

I've been meaning for weeks to post that panel description, and to post a bunch of other thoughts about touch and conventions and consent and gender and so on; I figured it might be interesting to have some pre-con online discussion that I could take to the panel. (I haven't had a chance to stop by the other participants' blogs lately, so I'm not sure whether they've been having such discussions.) Sadly, time has just about run out, so I'll have to go with the other way 'round and bring back notes from the panel for a post-con online discussion. (Of course, if y'all want to comment here before Friday evening, feel free. But I'm not gonna have time during the next couple days to participate in such a discussion as much as I'd like.)

But one thing I do want to mention before the con, on a related but more personal note:

Most of the people who I'm on snuggling terms with who might normally be at WisCon aren't going to be there this year. (And no, "snuggling terms" is not, per se, a euphemism for sex; the people I'm on sexual terms with are only a subset of the people I'm on snuggling terms with. Which is to say, I have been known to snuggle with people I'm not sleeping with. (Oh, dear--I've now written "snuggle" enough times in a row that the word is starting to look alien/meaningless.))

(Aside: One of the things I hope to discuss on the panel is the common tendency to express appreciation of specifically nonsexual touch in terms that suggest that there's something wrong with sexual touch. "I really like touch--oh, but I don't mean that in a sexual way." Or "It's great that I can hug person X without it being about [shudder] sex." Often such statements are meant to be reassuring ("Don't worry, I'm not trying to hit on you") or boundary-setting ("Please don't try to hit on me"), or just appreciating the fact that there is such a thing as enjoyable nonsexual touch--and that's great, and an important/useful distinction to make; but people sometimes have a hard time expressing that distinction without coming across as sex-negative. . . . Note that this parenthetical aside is shorthand for about three dense paragraphs of discussion and examples that I don't have time to write up right now. I guess the really short version is that I think both nonsexual and sexual touch are good things, as long as they're both consensual.)

Okay, back to the personal: My point here is meant to be that I'll probably be a little touch-starved at WisCon. So if you see me this weekend and you happen to feel like hugging me, don't be scared off by the invisible "Do Not Approach" sign on my forehead.

And as usual, if you sit down in front of me and express any interest in receiving a back rub, I will happily provide one. (I like having something to keep my hands occupied.) And if you sit down behind me and offer a back rub (or, y'know, just start giving me one), I will happily accept.

4 Responses to “Touch at WisCon”

  1. M. C. A. Hogarth

    You’d like the novel I’m working on now, perhaps, which involves a “touch friendship.”

  2. sallytuppence

    Sounds like an interesting topic!

    Can I reserve a backrub?

  3. Anonymous

    Oh, I will SO take advantage of the back rub offer…

    I took a giant amount of notes while thinking about the panel and sent them to Debbie, but then didn’t have time to really talk about it. As with flirting, I think the decision to touch someone depends on non verbal and non touch-related cues. We might demonstrate those and explain them a bit! So I had a bunch of thoughts on both how to detect those signals… AND on how to tell someone to back off if they are crossing a line, another skill it’s good to practice.

  4. Badger Hemulen

    Oops, that was me.

    – Liz


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