Guests of Honor at WisCon: An introduction

What are Guests of Honor?

Guests of honor (GoHs) are one or more people invited to Wiscon, who give a keynote speech, give readings, and, if they are interested, sit on panels during the convention. Their membership fee, hotel costs, and travel are paid for, and they receive a small honorarium.  They typically receive a free membership for life thereafter (keep in mind that memberships are relatively inexpensive, around 50 dollars for the whole convention).  The speeches that GoHs give can be inspiring and informative, and may appear on websites afterward.  Some con-goers will make a point of buying and reading books by WisCon GoHs through the year, and getting those books signed at the convention.

How are Guests of Honor chosen?

Anyone (literally) can nominate someone for guest of honor status by emailing gohnoms at wiscon dot info.  It is best to include a few sentences about why you think they would make a good GoH or why you think they are awesome.  The members of the planning committee (concom) vote on who they would like to be GoH, which is one of the perks of serving on the committee.  In recent years, a group of people vets the finalists to see if they meet WisCon’s statement of principles, if they require speaker fees, etc.

Who has been Guest of Honor in the past?

You can see a list at WisCon’s website and at Wikipedia (links below).  As WisCon is a primarily literary convention, GoHs have usually been writers and editors of SF/F, but have also included fan writers and zine publishers, illustrators, and influential community members.

WisCon’s history

WisCon page at Wikipedia

In the next post I’ll examine trends regarding race and gender over time in relation to WisCon’s guests of honor.

Social Interaction Badges at WisCon 39: Part 2

WisCon is a medium-sized convention, capped at 1,000 members, focused on feminist science fiction and fantasy.  Our members come from all over the country and world.  This year we introduced social interaction badges, which are explained in the previous post.

The badges were quite popular.  We set them near the plastic badge holders and had to reprint the “green” and “white” cards several times during the convention because we ran out.  Many people only took green or white cards.  I forgot to explain that people could take all four cards as a set and rotate through them during the convention.  During our end-of-con feedback session, one person suggested that we put out the cards as sets, with a paperclip keeping them together, which means more prep time but is a great idea.  However, I think some people do want to use just one or two colors the whole time, which is also fine.

Many people come to SF conventions to be social, and many geeks (I surmise) are a bit shy, which is why the green cards went fast.  Some people did not know if the green card meant “I am OK with talking to people” or if it meant “Please talk to me.”

I realized on the first day of the convention that the “white” card had awkward racial connotations.  We talk about race a lot at WisCon which is refreshing, awesome, and sometimes uncomfortable.  So I looked down at the white card I was wearing and went “um, oops, it looks like I am referring to race here….”  It was too late to change it, but next year we will change this to a different color or pattern, such as blue, purple, or plaid.

People seemed to like the clarity of the “stoplight” system of colors.  There is a universal quality to these colors; they are used in airports and are easy to understand.  “White” was not quite as clear.  One person said she took the white card in solidarity for others, and to make the cards less stigmatized, and only later realized she could have used the red, yellow, and green cards as social signals herself during the convention.

What did it mean when someone at the convention was not wearing an interaction badge?  One person said very thoughtfully that they would ask such a person if they were up for talking.

For myself, I really liked wearing the “white” interaction badge.  It was like telling myself that indeed, I can manage my own social interactions.  I can be assertive and use body language; I have practiced this and come a long way, largely because of WisCon and events like it.  I know enough people at WisCon that I did not feel I needed to wear the green card, but I wore a green one at SDS, where I did not know many people.  I am neurotypical, somewhat shy, and advocating these badges as part of universal design.

If you’ve used these badges, what was your experience like?

Interaction Badges at WisCon 39: Part 1

At WisCon this year, we introduced social interaction badges for optional use.  We used red, yellow, green, and white cards, which you can see the design of at my Flickr.  Thank you to Jeremy Parker for these designs.  We used symbols and words along with the colors to make them clear and accessible as possible, and to accommodate color-blind folks.

Flickr photos

I got the idea for these after attending SDS, the Society for Disability Studies, conference in June 2014.  I also saw two Tumblr posts about them:

I also chatted online with Sam, an autistic activist who is familiar with the cards, and introduced the idea to WisCon’s planning committee, called the ConCom.

We hung up posters explaining what the cards meant, and explained them at opening ceremonies.  I used the text almost verbatim from the above Tumblr posts.


RED (stop sign symbol) means: STOP don’t talk to me!  I don’t want to talk to anyone right now, or if I do, I will approach you.  If I initiate conversation, it’s ok to talk back.

YELLOW (triangle symbol) means: I only want to talk to people I know, not to strangers and not to people I only know from the internet.  If I initiate conversation, it’s ok to talk back, but please don’t approach me unless you know me.

GREEN (circle symbol): I would like to be approached by people interested in talking.  I may have trouble initiating conversation.

WHITE (square symbol): I can manage my own social interactions.

 So how did it go?  I will explain that in part two!
Part Two!