My First SkepchickCon

Before last weekend, I had never cosplayed (I’m on the far right in the amazing pic by Jamie Bernstein, above). I had never spoken on a panel. I had never made a large group of people laugh at me––on purpose. I had never talked about my mental health issues face-to-face with a roomful of strangers. I had never prepared myself to talk about my former eating disorder only to be handed a can of Surly Furious by a discreet stranger (thanks, Courtney’s hubs). I had never done a shot of out a test tube. I had never bartended for a group dressed convincingly like the characters of TriGun. I had never talked about sexual identity in a salon setting with people on my right and left using terms I’d never heard before. I had never heard Dr. Rubidium discuss maggot activity in corpses.

How I survived my whole life before this weekend, I’ll never know.

Last weekend was my first SkepchickCon and my first CONvergence, and I learned more about myself, the world, and my fellow Skepchicks in 72 hours than I’ve learned in the last year. Here are my top SkepchickCon takeaways:

If I ever need to get rid of a body and entertain a crowd simultaneously, I will hire Amanda, Ray, Gwen, and Desiree.

I laughed my ass off at the Getting Away With Murder panel, in which scientists with forensics expertise ranted about CSI shows, squeeed out over maggots, and shared amazing stories of not-so-perfect crime.

Cosplay is ridiculously fun and I am officially hooked.

This was my first venture into cosplay, and despite my incredibly large shirt (I hoped it would shrink more than it did) I had a great time and got some really fun compliments. By far the best was from a woman who circled me twice and then, when I told her it was my first cosplay, responded, “So you’re not a real bounty hunter?”

There is a huge need for mental illness stigma-busting.

In my circle of friends, it’s easy to take for granted that everyone I know is both respectful and knowledgeable about mental illness. But in the wider world, that’s not always the case––and the response we got for the Mental Illness Myths panel made me so glad to be doing a small part to fight mental illness stigma and misinformation.

Eugenics has a farther reach than I realized.

The “When Science Isn’t Your Friend” panel was really fantastic. I was aware that eugenics has had a depressingly robust, at times widely supported, and disturbingly recent history in the US. But I had no idea that, for example, Adolf Hitler referred to American eugenics as “leading the way” in his writings, or that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger supported eugenics (I’m ashamed to say I knew very little about her until this panel, which prompted me to do some research and educate myself on the truly awful views she held and her attempts to ally the birth control movement with the eugenics movement). Understanding how science has been used as a tool of oppression is very important to me as an advocate of both science and social justice.

Speaking in front of people is a lot less scary when you care a lot about the topic, your panel is full of awesome people, and you have a great moderator.

When you have all three––as I did, for each of my four panels––it’s easy to have so much fun or such a great conversation that you forget to be nervous. My anxiety has always made me terrified of speaking in front of a microphone, and historically I’ve been horrible at it for that reason, but this experience was a major confidence boost for me.

You can live on peanut butter sandwiches, Nilla Wafers, and coffee for like three days at least.

All the high fives for the people who thought to bring red raspberry preserves and Nutella to the PB&J station.

I haven’t been good at picking up on fundamental attribution errors in the past, because I didn’t know what they were.

The excellent Science of Irrationality panel discussed attribution errors, which are a form of “us vs them” thinking that tends to attribute behavior to another person’s essential nature rather than external factors (“That lady who bumped into me at the store is a JERK!” instead of “That lady who bumped into me must not have seen me, or must have been distracted”). The other side of the coin is actor-observer bias, which tends to excuse one’s own behavior because of external factors (“I snapped at her because I had a bad day/I was scared” as opposed to “I’m a jerk.”) It was pointed out––and I can’t remember by whom––that this is helpful for marriage counseling. Couples who are fighting can easily get to a point where each person has no perspective on their behavior and attributes everything their partner does to the partner being THE WORST EVER. I’ll be keeping the implications of this in mind in my future interactions, in relationships and in general.

If you can think of it, there is someone to nerd out with you about it, and they are probably at this Con.

Redwall. Feminism. Belgian beers made in the US. Invader Zim. What’s going on in 90s-era Reba McIntire music videos (don’t ask). Yeast. Marathon training. Carmen Sandiego. HAES. The Serenity RPG.

Historically I have been one of the bigger nerds among my group of friends, but this Con taught me that not only have I found my people, but, frankly, I’m a little behind on my grasp of the Star Trek canon.

I am part of an amazing team here at Skepchick.

From Amy’s gorgeous art illuminating the Skepchick Space Lab to Olivia’s phenomenal points on the panels we shared, this is one incredibly talented group, and I am pretty honored to be here––and inspired to earn my place.

Julia Burke

Julia is a wine educator with an interest in labor and politics in the wine industry. She has also written about fitness and exercise science, mental health, beer, and a variety of other topics for Skepchick. She has been known to drink Amaro Montenegro with PB&J.

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  1. Julia, It was such a very great pleasure to meet you IRL this past weekend! I never would have believed that these were your first panels, or that you are capable of not speaking well. At Con, you spoke with poise and confidence, and I know that many of the things you said during the Mental Illness Myths panel really resonated with both me and my daughter. In talking with her afterwards, I discovered that there were a whole host of issues she had never brought up before (despite the fact that we have talked much about mental illness) because she didn’t have the words to describe them. She also found out that some of the negative things she had been feeling were not, in fact, the way everybody feels, and that they were things she could seek help for. So kudos again to you and the rest of that panel for being so open. I can’t stress enough how valuable that is to people just starting to navigate the rough waters of mental illness!

    I also know she would agree with you about the idea of “finding your people”. That was exactly her reaction when we first went to Convergence 3 years ago. It instantly became a required event around which we MUST plan all future July 4th weekends! I think she had never imagined a scenario where she was not always the geekiest person around (barring her parents, of course!).

    So, welcome to the weird worlds of Convergence and Cosplay. I will warn you though, I went from paying someone to make me a costume last Con, to spending the entire next year working on my costume for this year. The sides of the Cosplay hole get steep very fast, and it’s a long way down to the bottom!

    1. Steve, it was so great meeting you in person as well! Thank you for your kind words––I’m so glad that our Mental Illness Myths panel resonated with your daughter. I wish her all the very best and she should feel free to reach out to me at any time if she has questions or just wants to talk.

      I appreciate the cosplay warning; though I have grand notions of learning how to make my own costumes, I did enough sewing projects as a kid to know that even that process can get pricey. Like I needed another expensive hobby! :)

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