The Many Manys: Flame Con, Fandom, and Joy

I was halfway through Flame Con, eating breakfast Sunday morning before I caught a train uptown, and I decided to text my friend Kelsey. She had run a panel the day before—the first panel I attended at the convention—and I wanted to let her know how meaningful it was. Kelsey moderated a discussion about the need for queer joy in media. The full effect of this talk, which seemed fairly obvious at first, didn’t sink in until later in the day, when I started going through the main showroom, attending more panels, and visiting more workshops. What Kelsey had said in her first panel—there is a deep, spacious, massive need for the beauty of simply being happy—had only been emphasized over and over throughout the rest of the day.

Flame Con, for those of you that may not know, bills itself as the world’s largest LGBTQ+ Comic Convention. It usually takes place in late summer, in New York City, and this year, it spanned two floors of a large hotel. There are hundreds of vendors, three to four workshops or panels for every time slot, and a dedicated Gaymer Lounge, where tabletop, trading card games, and a video game station are all set up and happening.

The con started with gay actor Cecil Baldwin—the voice of gay character Cecil Palmer of Welcome to Nightvale—introducing everyone to Flame Con. He reminded us that fandom and comics were increasingly becoming more and more queer, diverse, and experimental. There is space for us, and there is a need for us. The ability to be in community with other fans who are Like You is a powerful thing. Baldwin’s speech—upbeat, joyful, proud—reminded everyone of the power in Queer gathering. We were there, and we were empowered by ourselves.

The diversity of the room was obvious and not-obvious. People wore pronoun tags, dressed as their favorite queers, queered their favorite straights, and showed up with creativity and power. Baldwin finished by pointing out that there was so much difference in the room. Difference in who we were, in what we loved, but ultimately the many differences were what made us strong, powerful, and beautiful. “We are the many manys. And our stories are here, in this room.”

I went out into the con and saw those many manys. I tried to go to as many panels as possible where I would learn about the different, beautiful ways that my community creates art, stories, and community. I’ve already mentioned The Subversive Simplicity of Queer Joy, but it fully defined what it meant to be queer and happy. Kelsey Hercs, the moderator, recently wrote a play in which a fabulously gay party occurs. She wanted to show that “joy is accessible” to queer people. So often it isn’t, or isn’t shown on screen. Stan Stanley also touched on why she loved the villains so much. They are usually queer-coded, and she said that “villains are usually the happiest queers on screen. Lets make them our  heroes.” Barbara Perez Marquez mentioned that “there is a freedom in finding your own joy.”

This active reclaiming of queerness and joyfulness was another theme. Cosplay, drag, and performances of queerness express publicly what many people already know and see as an art form. It’s showing people that we can exist in all bodies, and in all people.

Some of the most joyful panels spoke to the queer experience of growing up queer—and not really knowing it. “Let’s Talk About Scouts, Baby!” was a large panel moderated by Kate Leth, all about how Sailor Moon was a queer-coded show that expressed intimate, platonic queer female friendships. As one of the panelists said, you could always tell when another Senshi (Sailor) showed up, because Usagi (the main character) would always say how hot they were. The panelists all spoke about how Sailor Moon was joyful, empowering, and fun. It was an escapist, female fantasy, and it was so needed in the lives of young queer folk.

Another great panel was about how Dungeons & Dragons was a part of the queer experience. Specifically, “playing a tiefling warlock is a queer mood.” (Vita Ayala.) This panel was so well-attended that they were turning people away at the door. People talked about how they explored their sexuality and gender through their characters, how they developed bonds with their own imagination, how they learned to love and represent themselves. Once you get into a groove with your friends, anything goes, and the power to explore parts of yourself and your characters can lead to incredible revelations and understandings of your own self. Sar, better known by their art name “Little Corvus,” told the panel that they had played a non-binary DnD character for a year before they came out as non-binary themselves. The idea of a game where anything can happen, where you can be anything and nobody can tell you no because it’s Dungeons & Dragons, is a very powerful sandbox. 

Ultimately, the found-folk of queer gathering was a joy-filled and uplifting experience. Panels full of queer people, a room full of art that reflects you and your experience, storytelling that expresses your own life. It was a remarkable celebration of the society and culture that queer folk have created for themselves, filling the huge absence left by straight narratives in media. We want to see ourselves on screen, we want to be present in the conversations about love, happiness, joy, and representation. The familiarity of experience that was reflected in the creative and heartfelt output of the many manys was so powerful and overwhelmingly beautiful. The radical inclusivity of Flame Con was inspiring and hugely joyful.

I was feeling emotional and grateful at the end of the first day of Flame Con. At breakfast, as I used the swipe keyboard on my non-fruit phone, to tell Kelsey how much her panel meant to me, the word ‘hope’ had come up instead of ‘joy.’ I corrected it, but that word stuck with me throughout the remainder of the con. Ultimately, what Flame Con expressed was a hope for better, and the dedication of creators, fans, and organizers who believe that queer joy is possible, that it will happen, and that we are visible and important. Queer creators are the future. Queer creators are here. Queer creators will not be silenced. We will tell our own stories, and we will uplift those around us. We are powerful, fantastic, fabulous, and we will not make ourselves smaller any longer.