Ansible logo Ansible logo

ConFusion Report
Farah Mendlesohn

I don’t usually write con reports, though I do like reading them, but I feel the need to say some things forcefully, one of which is going to lose me a friend.

In line with the convention code of conduct I will refrain from swearing.

First, the things I enjoyed:
As usual actual programme items were excellent. I have a few to catch up on (Queer Writers of Colour, Breakfast with Aliette, Voice Actors, Mapping the Fantastic, and a few others) and I thought How to Train Your Spaceship, the BSFA talk on trial by combat, the Hay lecture on osteoarcheology, the art show, and the writing panel with Geoff Ryman, Aliette de Bodard and Liz Williams were all fascinating. I dipped into the Fan Fiction talk and really enjoyed it.

Second, the people I want to cheer:
To all the people who worked behind the scenes on registration, programme and actually making the shitty tech work, I salute you. If I could give every one of you beer/chocolate/vegan ice cream etc I would.

Oh well, here goes...

This is not just a rant about the con itself but about how we got here.

For full disclosure, last March I had to pivot a year’s events to online only one week after we had set them up face to face, with a community that barely even did email; I headed up a conference team that spent the next six months looking anxiously to February 2021 and put plans in place that meant when we took the decision in December, we moved fast. A very small event yes, but one which took the decision to deliver across international time zones.

I have not believed we would have a face to face Eastercon for months. No one who was paying attention could have believed we stood more than a small chance of it. Emergency planning my arse.

In sections: note that though I will mention Access at times, I am reserving it for my last point.

Programme platform as a participant

I hated the broadcast platform:

Gather Town

Communications before and after the Convention

And before I start: I would not usually refer to the convention before this one. Vanessa [May, Chair of ConFusion] was very insistent in 2020 that the 2021 conventions were not connected (and this was why guests were not rolled over). But in the bid session she kept saying ‘we’ and referring to both teams as if they were one and deserved a chance, so that I now have no hesitation in making reference to 2020 of which I was a small cog (dealer room). In 2020 communication was poor, social media was non-existent and everything had to be cleared by the chair, but far too often was dismissed as a distraction, not important enough, could wait for later.... Sound familiar?

The communications have been awful. I cannot remember the last time I heard so little from a convention, and it was certainly before we all went electronic.

Now the second and third points are merely the result of a shambolic convention, but I have some very very harsh words about the communication issue, and here I have to out myself as a controlling manager. One of the things you learn as a middle manager is that if you have to present something that cannot be changed, you limit the space for argument.

I believe that ConFusion released information late and poorly in part because they wanted to prevent argument. I also believe that this is why Discord was more or less shut down, so that people could not get together to discuss issues. It is also why the Bid session was originally set up to prevent people speaking from the floor in clear violation of precedent (there was an argument that you would have to let people in and it might be disruptive, but as a zoom admin can simply put someone on mute or kick them out, it’s nonsense).

This is something employers do to union bust. When I was at Middlesex for example, the smoking room (which many of non smokers went to because that’s where the interesting conversation was) was shut down the day after a very fractious all staff meeting. Any university employee who has been in the field since the 80s will point to the loss of both spaces and times where and when university staff can meet. I do not believe that the decisions this committee made were ‘just’ about inability to monitor for code of conduct because they didn’t have enough volunteers (not least because they did, they just didn’t ask us or – worse- reply when we volunteered). You don’t actually need to live-monitor Discord, you just need a report process: it’s a text chat that can be photographed, and checked.

The chair was notable by her absence throughout the convention, other than Everything is Wonderful! Statements each day in the newsletter.


Access is where I move from bad tempered to incandescent, and where I have a huge and personal stake in the whole shit show. I feel deeply betrayed.

I have worked with Vanessa on access off and on for years. I absolutely accept that Vanessa has been deeply committed to access at other conventions. Vanessa and I have clashed frequently over definitions of disability, access, ‘priorities’ and crucially, who has expertise. As she has more experience than I do, I have often deferred to her decisions. I have always regarded her as a friend, and as fundamentally on the same side. I don’t think that’s true any more.

I am very much part of the ‘nothing about us, without us’ camp. I believe firmly that you listen to access users and try as far as possible to meet needs, not labels.

I also believe that you start building in access right at the beginning; for example I didn’t realise we would be uploading our bid slides to the fan room, so I hastily added a voice over. I now have on my notes: make a check list for access requirements for all public documents for 2024.

In working with Vanessa I more than once hit moments where my ‘expertise’ as someone with hearing loss who depends on lip reading (I am not Deaf, and my hearing loss is most definitely a loss or impairment, please don’t tell me otherwise) was disregarded. At Ytterbium I was reprimanded for suggesting that maybe people in scooters should not have right of way in an area mostly used by pedestrians including small children (they are fast in a small space, I was almost run over as I stepped into the Park Inn’s over narrow corridor). I was also a bit surprised when Ytterbium’s decision to pay for scooters (the only access equipment we traditionally ask con attendees to pay for themselves) was dismissed as somehow molly coddling (for the record it cost us less than £2000).

But mostly we got on fine and I never ever expected that 2021 would utterly disregard Access, just because we didn’t need to worry about ramps.

I am not going to pretend here. I felt utterly betrayed. My sneaking feeling at other conventions that ‘only wheelchair users really mattered’, a feeling for which I’d berated myself, was utterly confirmed. Hearing, sight, neurodivergence, hand or co-ordination issues.... None of these things apparently mattered, yet all of them could have been addressed with good design, a careful choice of discussion platforms, and over and above all with conversation.

I didn’t go to the Feedback meetings because for much of the convention I was too angry. What would I have asked after all; ‘will the convention chair make a full and unqualified apology for the utter disregard of issues of accessibility in the planning and delivery of this convention?’

In future I will not vote for any bid that does not have a clear statement on access and inclusion. I will not go to a convention that does not support access and inclusion (I began declining conferences for this reason some time ago).

I hope that someone will come forward to bid for 2023 who takes this seriously, and understands that access affects all of us. It’s not a ‘special need’, it’s part and parcel of hosting a convention that is for all of us.

An addendum: I am not watching the final business meeting because I value my blood vessels, but I gather Vanessa has made it clear that she does not intend to publish accounts because ‘no one has for years’. Ytterbium published within months. Dysprosium didn’t but Ytterbium has taken responsibility for them and will deliver shortly. Unfortunately both I and the Treasurer were very sick last year. I will hereby commit to delivering them by Easter 2022. I am informed that Follycon is also about to send theirs in.

Another addendum: in defiance of long tradition, there was no children’s track. Apparently this was because there were no child members. Er....