Supporting safe spaces is really damn important.
They say that GX Australia is… well, was… ‘Australia’s most inclusive convention’. I disagree. GX Australia 2017 was a safe and welcoming space because it did not open its door to harassment, bigotry, or discrimination. There are very specific attitudes it excludes—as well as the people who perpetuate them—and as a result, it’s one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended.
GaymerX conventions—as well as the GaymerX movement more broadly—allow people to wear their queerness on their sleeve, and know they are surrounded by people who will not only respect it, but celebrate it. Minorities can become the majority, if only for a weekend. Queerness is normalised in the simplest of ways, from gender-neutral bathrooms, to a space for pronouns included on everyone’s passes. People respect personal boundaries and consent—I was not hugged by an attendee of GX Australia without them first asking if I am comfortable with hugs.
I spoke with Liam Esler and Joshua Meadows, who started GX Australia, and Liam made it clear that this feeling of inclusivity was what encouraged them: ‘We wanted to provide a safe, welcoming space for Australian geeks and gamers of all stripes to come together and have a great time.’ Joshua added, ‘It was the sort of welcoming and safe space I wish I had as a teenager coming to terms with my sexuality, and we know from the response it’s had that it’s been hugely important to those who attended.’
And he’s right—it’s obvious that the event had an incredible impact on attendees. At the closing ceremony of GX Australia 2017, people were invited to speak about why the event mattered to them. This ceremony was particularly moving for John Kane (of developer gritfish): ‘Each year there’s someone who says they never thought they’d be able to be themselves safely at a gaming convention. Each year there’s someone who says this is the first time they’ve been out of the house as their gender. Each year there’s someone who says it’s the first time their pronouns have been respected, or that this is the first place they felt they could just hold hands with their partner without judgement.’
'It was the sort of welcoming and safe space I wish I had as a teenager coming to terms with my sexuality, and we know from the response it’s had that it’s been hugely important to those who attended.'
Karri was an attendee who had one of these experiences. Speaking with her after the event, she said, ‘I'd only been out as transgender for a few weeks when I attended GX Australia, and was blown away by the incredibly friendly, inclusive and supportive atmosphere at the con… GX Australia was an experience I'll treasure for the rest of my life.’
Typically, gaming conventions are about the entire gaming community. If minorities gather together to speak about their communities and identities, it’s in diversity spaces that are separated from the rest of the convention, or on panels that are scheduled in tiny rooms. GX Australia gave us the space to speak about queerness in all its facets and specificity, rather than trying to cover the diversity of this rainbow in one forty-five minute session.
This is something Liam highlighted as important. ‘Initiatives like GX Australia are crucial to understanding why diversity and inclusion are important, educating people on what these terms mean, and seeing the actual effect on real people,’ he said. This attitude connects to what GaymerX is all about. According to Matt Conn—founder of GaymerX in the US—‘most gaming events are 101’ while GaymerX allows people to have ‘high-level discussions and debates about complex issues surrounding queerness, sexuality or gender expression/identity in gaming’.
The specificity of panels allows for greater self-expression and education. Listening to Lauren Clinnick and James Dominguez discuss representations of multiple-gender attraction on the ‘Erasing Erasure: Bi Visibility in Pop Culture’ panel at GX Australia 2017 was an affirming experience for me—and one that I could not have found at a panel covering queerness more generally. Charlie Francis Cassidy (of Mighty Games) had a similar response to ‘The A is not for Ally’. Speaking with me about their experience speaking on this panel, they said, ‘GX was the first time I got to speak openly about asexuality on a panel full of people with similar experiences to a room full of people interested in hearing what we had to say and there is no other conference that I can think of where I'd have gotten such an opportunity.’
But it’s not just about having nuanced discussions of queerness. Matt always intended GaymerX to be a space where queer folk ‘don’t have to constantly explain their identity, a place where they can just relax if they want to’. This was the atmosphere at GX Australia 2017; speaking with developers, journalists, panellists, volunteers, and other attendees after the convention made it clear how comfortable people felt across the weekend. Tristian (of Tyandae Games) highlighted this when she said, ‘GX always feels extremely comfortable. People are open minded, accepting, and free to be themselves.’
Ashton McAllan (of MachineSpirit) had similar feelings about the convention, saying, ‘GX Australia was by far the most comfortable feeling convention space I've ever experienced. Not only was it an environment where everyone was accepting and celebrating of each other but it also provided an event space where online friendships and support networks could convene and meet face to face, build those relationships and establish new ones.’ Similarly, Jess Zammit (of Queerly Represent Me, and Select Start Media) said, ‘GX Australia gave me a judgement-free zone in which I could express my ideas freely and feel confident in discussing big issues facing our industry. It was so nice to be in a space where I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I could express who I was, so I could focus on enjoying the exciting things that games have to offer. The community fostered by GX is, and always will be, unlike any other I’ve encountered.’
'GX Australia was by far the most comfortable feeling convention space I've ever experienced.'
It's these individual stories of GX Australia—and GaymerX more broadly—that make it apparent that the movement is vital for the queer community, and for increasing inclusivity in the games industry. And GaymerX isn’t just about queerness: GX Australia 2017 spotlighted the absolute necessity of intersectionality, in everything from the code of conduct to the panel schedule. Listening to Tanya DePass speak about race in character creation systems, or to Rami Ismail and Emre Deniz discuss representations of the Middle East in games, made this clear. The feeling of community fostered by GaymerX is what makes these reflective discussions of identity possible.
So, if GaymerX is so important, why was 2017 the last year for GX Australia?
Joshua shared that it was never an issue of support from the community. ‘The difficulty… came down to sponsorship from large corporate entities. The funding just wasn’t there, and if we tried to make up for it from ticket sales, then the events would become prohibitively expensive for the community we were trying to engage.’ Despite having a number of sponsors—which Joshua stressed he was ‘deeply appreciative of’—it just wasn’t enough for GX Australia to be sustainable.
And unfortunately, this isn’t an issue exclusive to the Australian event.
‘We’re in the same boat,’ Matt said of GaymerX in the US. ‘It feels as though there’s a lot of pullback in the mainstream gaming world over the last year or two in terms of support, not just for our event, but other like-minded events.’ In 2017, GaymerX is taking a year off from its West Coast event, instead focusing their attention on GX East. ‘There was no way we could logistically make it work with the budgets and costs involved… and we don’t want to see the quality of the event go down or not be able to provide the resources we pride ourselves on having,’ Matt said. ‘We hope that by taking this year off, we can find a better solution and not rush into it and get into further debt.’
It’s sad that GX Australia can’t continue in its current form, and that GaymerX in the US is having similar financial trouble, despite these events clearly having ample community support and a significant impact on the games industry. But it was evident at GX Australia 2017 that Liam and Joshua didn’t want attendees to think of the end of GX Australia as a death. ‘Don’t mourn,’ Joshua said during the opening ceremony. And attendees listened: GX Australia 2017 felt like a celebration and a call to action.
'We hope that by taking this year off, we can find a better solution and not rush into it and get into further debt.'
Knowing that GX East is approaching, I asked Matt how people could support the event, in the hope that folks could experience a similarly inspiring event in the US this year. ‘Support of the [GaymerX Kickstarter] and spreading the word is most helpful,’ he said. ‘If you’re an industry person or work with a company that has resources to help, either by getting a booth or sponsoring, that would be amazing—we are always looking for that corporate sponsorship, especially because our goal is not to make money off of people who are coming.’ He added, ‘We have AMAZING sprites and at-con volunteers, but GaymerX is a full-time job, and part of why we’re scaling back is we don’t have the money to be hiring paid volunteers… so if people who are amazing and have the time can help and be available, that’s always super helpful. To that end, if we had more sponsorship, we could also use that funding to pay for help, and we definitely want to be a resource that is giving to the queer community as much as possible.’
And it’s not just up to organisations to give back to the queer community—we can give back too. Joshua suggested organising ‘your own community events—the convention is finished but we’re wildly supportive of people who want to organise their own meetups and social enterprises. Australia needs as many of these as possible, in as many places as possible; not just to provide the safe environment that attendees at GX Australia experienced, but to give people a local place to recharge their batteries so they’ve got the strength to keep doing the hard work in a world that often makes this stuff difficult.’
Beyond organising our own events, there’s a lot more we can do to help keep the principles of GaymerX alive in Australia. Liam suggested people should be ‘working to make their own spaces as inclusive and welcoming as possible’, ‘confronting and acknowledging our biases’, and ‘expanding our understanding of the unknown.’
‘Even though the convention isn’t continuing,’ Joshua added, ‘that doesn’t mean the representation problem is “done”—we need more people creating and working on games, movies, TV shows, and comics who are from diverse backgrounds, and we need the companies that make these financial decisions to that the issue seriously. People can support GX and its principles by continuing to hold these companies accountable, and supporting the ones that are getting it right or trying to improve.’
Beyond organising our own events, there’s a lot more we can do to help keep the principles of GaymerX alive in Australia.
GX Australia 2017 was an incredible event. It was welcoming and celebratory, it felt safe and supportive, and it filled my mind with new perspectives and knowledge. It was a convention that felt different to every other gaming event I’ve ever attended, and it stoked the fire that keeps me fighting for representation and inclusivity in my day-to-day life. Although I’m sad GX Australia can’t continue, I’m awfully pleased that it happened, and even more excited that its call to action will continue to change our communities.
And in case you weren’t able to attend GX Australia, or can’t make it to GX East, let me leave you with some words of Liam’s that will stoke that fire for you too: ‘We are the catalysts of change in our own lives, and we can be catalysts for change in our communities. Nobody else will create the change we want to see—take charge and do it yourself.’