Curious: How did TGIFemslash get started?
Jarrow: I ran FaberryCon with this lovely group of people who, for the most part, are the same folks who are running TGIF/F. We knew that FaberryCon was going to end. It had to have an expiration date, because Glee was ending. Most people had already moved on to other things. We wanted to keep the community together. We were starting to have new conversations about new things.
Two things happened at once. First, I went to visit Karyn, who was my co-chair on FaberryCon. She was driving me to the airport and talking about Xena Con. They were also ending. She had talked to some of them about wanting to carry on this tradition of getting fan communities together. Maybe we could integrate with them somehow, and do some kind of cross fandom thing together.
I must not have been completely listening, because very shortly thereafter, just a couple of weeks later, I was visiting some of my Vividcon friends. I started thinking about, “You know, we should have a multi-fandom femslash con. We should have Bitchin’ Party, but for femslash.” I’m just like, “Man, this is the thing that needs to happen. Wow. This hasn’t been done. Maybe I can do it, but I would need some help.” I called Karyn up, and she’s like, “You idiot. This is exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned the thing with the Xena people.” [laughs]
In my mind, I was thinking more of the structure of a Bitchin’ Party type thing, because I had been to that con before, so I could see in my head what it would look like. I’m a structure-minded person. She was coming at it from, “Let’s start integrating these communities, who no longer have an event of their own. Let’s create new conversations and opportunities for people to make connections.” When you take those 2 pieces and put them together, then ta-da, you get TGIFemslash.
Curious: Were you in it from the start as well, Leah?
Leah: Yes and no. I am a lifer attendee of all the FaberryCons. I’m one of the few people who didn’t miss a single one. Maybe being friends with Karyn is actually the reason I went to the first FaberryCon, but I didn’t know Jarrow until we met there. I loved him immediately. I was always just kind of staff-adjacent. There wasn’t really a role for me, but because I was an old timer, basically, when the newbies came in, I showed them the ropes. I ran a lot of panels. I gave myself the responsibility of making sure that people felt welcome.
Jarrow: We put a microphone in her hand as much as possible, because she’s so charming and so damn smart.
Leah: Well thanks, pal. I would run the auction at FaberryCon and stuff like that, volunteer-based things, not staff-based things. Then, when Karyn chose to step down from TGIF/F staff, because she wanted to focus on her actual film career, they both essentially decided that I should be her heir apparent. When Jarrow pushed that to me, I was like … You know that old meme about, “Oh, wait, are you flirting with me?” It’s like, “Yeah. I have been for a year. Thanks for noticing.” They’re like, “Would you want to be on staff?” I was like, “Guys, I pretty much already am on staff.”
Jarrow: She’s been interviewing for the position for 4 years, basically. When we sat down and wrote out the list of everything we needed from someone in that position, there was literally only one person who could take that job, and it was Leah. Thank god she said yes.
Curious: How big is TGIF/F?
Jarrow: We had 75 people at the first one. Our goal for the second one is 100 or so. It can hold up to 200 people. For a comparison, Bitchin’ Party is around 100 people also. Same with Vividcon. That size of event has been the target from the start. There’s the big, giant DragonCon/Comic-Con type thing where you get lost in the crowd. But when it’s smaller, you can really get to know people. I’m hoping that we can always keep it around the 100-150-ish mark.
Curious: For someone who’s new or hasn’t heard about this con, or they’re thinking about attending for the first time, what can they expect?
Leah: They can expect to feel as though they’re in the safest online space they’ve ever been in, just IRL. We get a lot of people who’ve never gotten to hang out with other queer people in person before. We get a lot of people for whom this is their first con. We’re very mindful of that. Privacy is a huge thing with us. Intimacy is a huge thing with us. We have a lot of introverts. We are a lot of introverts. Everything that we do is very much put forward so that you never have to feel like you are alone and you are missing out. You are never absent from the conversation, because you are the conversation.
All of our actual fan content panels are self-run by the people who are attending. We also, of course, have games and other planned programs and events that the staff runs, but the reason everyone is here, the conversations that we’re having, they can only be created with participation.
Jarrow: Yeah. A sense of belonging is the big thing that I want to push. Thinking back to that first night at my first Vividcon, just sitting there—again, I didn’t know anybody—but just being at a dinner table full of women who were smart and funny and knowledgeable about all of these shows, and even more shows that I had not yet heard of and just all of these fannish topics, just being around that was so validating. Just that a space like that can exist, that there was a reason in the universe to bring all of these people together. And feeling all of a sudden that you’re important and that you can be in a majority instead of feeling isolated and like the world is outnumbering you.
There’s safety in numbers, and when we go into the hotel room space, when we’re inside those walls, the rest of the world melts away. We create our own reality in a way, where these conversations are the norm. And whoever you are, you are safe and valued, and you’re not going to be judged or questioned. You’re going to be celebrated for who you are.
People choose to participate in different ways. We love when we have outgoing people who throw themselves in for games that they’ve never heard of and whatnot, but we do have a lot of people with anxiety, social or otherwise, who choose to lurk and to just be present. That is absolutely okay, too. It’s whatever you feel comfortable with. It’s always fun for us to hear on the very first day people walking in and going like, “Oh my god. This is amazing.”
This happened to one of our staff people, Kayla. At the very first FaberryCon on the very first night, the con hadn’t even started yet, but just hanging out in the hotel room with people she just met, she already mentally committed to going to the second con. Even before seeing how the weekend was going to play out. Because of how special it was to be in a room of like-minded people.
Curious: Do you think you’ll always keep it as a smaller convention?
Jarrow: I certainly hope to. I wouldn’t want to limit what we can do, or what we can be. If time passes and it feels right to grow, then absolutely we should do that if it stays true to the heart of the con and the feeling of the con and what we are. We’re not looking to become something that we’re not.
Leah: On the other hand, we would never turn anyone away. You know, if 400 people want to come, we would find a way to make it feel the same with 400 people. With the place we’re in now, there’s only so much that we could expand. We’re hoping to make that our home. Even already, we’ve had conversations about certain games and panels that we’ve developed, we realize like, “Oh man, if we tried to have 100 people sitting in the circle, it’s going to feel very different than 50 people sitting in the circle.” Just literally doing that mental math of not only where do we put the chairs, but will people hear each other?
Jarrow: Will everyone get to talk?
Leah: Exactly. Every time you grow, it becomes a new conversation. It’s something that’s very much on our minds and we’re very mindful of.
Jarrow: We’re not in this to make a buck. Yes, there is the financial piece, but all the money that comes into the con goes right back into it. The money that we got from the last auction of FaberryCon is what is affording us opportunities to rent new, additional space for TGIF/F. We’re going to have a quiet room this time, a place for people to just go if they need to just be on their phone or on their laptop for a while, or just be quiet and not feel pressure to engage in a conversation, but they still want to be in the con space, or sitting with fans. A little introvert room.
We now have money to do that. It all comes back to what is best for the attendees, what kind of conversations do they want to have, and how can you help them feel safe and feel connected to each other? I do think smaller is better for what we’re going for.
Curious: Have you started planning out the events and programming?
Jarrow: Yes, we have. We have laid out initial details on everything planned at this point on the website. We have events and games, but most of the con is discussion panels. Most of them are 1 hour. We have at least one in the works that is going to be 2 hours. Those are opportunities for fans to sit in circle of chairs, or theater style if need be, and talk to each other about what they want to talk about. We don’t have guests sitting behind a table with a microphone, it’s about getting people face to face.
Most of those conversations are going to be more meta conversation across genres, across shows, across pairings, drawing connections and talking about femslash fandom at large, major trends, et cetera. We do have some space for single fandom programming as well. We had more last year, then a lot of shows got torpedoed. We’re moving toward more general conversations to include more people in those.
We do allow for people to run their own conversations. In our con suite space, we have round tables and a way where you can sign up to offer, “Hey, Sunday at 2:00, we’re going to be talking about Grey’s Anatomy. Saturday at 4, we’re going to be talking about Supergirl.” We had a conversation about vids last time, just 12 of us sitting around a table. Those are a great way to have the conversation you want and have your voice heard, because it’s a really small group. It’s great for people who don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of big crowds, or even medium-sized crowds, and a great way to make friends. A lot of people say that those are their favorite panels, their favorite conversations, because they’re so intimate.
Leah: On top of that, we have these special events that we’re doing, including a vid show dance party where the music is going to be playing from the vids. If you want to dance, you can dance. If you’re not so much a dancey person, you can watch the vids, which we’re really excited about. There’s going to be a costume contest, which we tried out last year. We’re kind of making it a bit more official and expanding.
There’s going to be an auction, which we love doing, because they are so fun. It’s actually really great to see our other con staffers, Pooh and Kristine, come up with these amazing, fan-themed baskets filled with really specific creative content themed to the characters and the shows. They’re so cute and awesome. We’re going to be doing some of that.
We’re going to be doing a fandom osmosis exchange, where—you know how there’s a lot of shows that you don’t watch, but all of your friends watch it, so you feel like you can talk about it even though you don’t actually know what’s going on? In our exchange, people will get partnered up and can then volunteer to write a mini-fic or comic about a show they haven’t watched before for their partner. It’s going to be hysterical. We’re very excited about it.
Jarrow: Draw a sketch, draw a little stick figure conversation, whatever you can put on an index card about a show that you’re not very familiar with as a gift for someone who is.
Leah: We also have the Fic Battle! That was something we developed for FaberryCon (I say as though I developed it).
Jarrow: It’s the best idea I’ve ever had.
Leah: You split off into 2 teams. Each team has several writers on it. They each volunteer for what they’re good writing about. The crowd volunteers the theme of the piece, whether it’s fluff, angst or mystery or thriller, hurt, comfort, sci-fi, horror, etc. Then, they also will give a prompt, like “laundry day” or “in the library,” or sometimes they’re hyper-specific, like “spatulas.” Then, you’re given 3-minute writing rounds to incorporate the theme and the prompts in this fic. Then, when time is called you’re given a new scene and a new prompt, but it’s the same story. You’re trying to keep continuity as you go. It’s such a wild ride. It’s so fun, because you can hear people gasping on the other side, but you don’t have time to read what they’re writing, because you’re trying to write your own. Then, we go back and read them at the end.
Curious: That sounds great. I’ve never heard of that before.
Jarrow: It’s fun; we project the writer’s computer screen as they’re typing so the audience can follow along. We have dual projector screens side by side. We did this at FaberryCon three times, and it worked really well. We’re taking it to TGIF/F to do it multi-fandom. We’re looking forward to it.