Online TV fandom is an extraordinary thing, enabling fans from all over the world to connect with people who share a passion for the same shows and ships that they do. And for the LGBTQ+ community, it can also be something so much more. For queer fans, it can be the one place where we can be ourselves, connect with other LGBTQ+ people, and maybe is even the only place some of us feel safe enough to be out of the closet. To be able to take this essence of online fandom community and somehow mimic it in real life is something fans have always wished they could do. Lucky for us, it’s something John and Leah, who run the F/F focused fan convention TGIF/F, have been doing for years.
What started as only a single fandom F/F convention has now grown to encompass not only multiple show fandoms, but also expanded to cover other relevant LGBTQ+ topics. And, most importantly, it has established itself as a genuine safe place for people from all walks of life who gather and meet people who share common interests.
When we heard about the amazing things this convention has been doing for our community, we arranged to have members attend the upcoming convention on February 16 – 18th to check it out first hand. And in seeing for ourselves via their Slack group exactly what it is they have built, we wanted to dig a bit deeper and find out all we could about it. We couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to sit down with John and Leah to ask them about all things TGIF/F.
Mel (LGBTFDB): Thank you both so much for agreeing to talk to us! To start, can you describe TGIF/F for the people who may not be aware of what it is?
Leah: I would say that TGIF/F is an intimate, discussion-based con and community that focuses on women who like women in media–both canon (material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story) and fanon (a particular belief which has not been used in the universe of whatever program or story they follow, but seems to make sense to that particular individual, and as such is adopted as a sort of “personal canon”).
John: TGIF/F is a small fan convention for people who like femslash (fictional relationships between female-identified characters). It’s made for fans and run by fans. Because it’s small for a con (with fewer than 150 people), it’s an intimate setting to have conversations about the things we care about with people who understand just how meaningful these relationships in media can mean to us.
Discussions are the heart of what we do. But some of our favorite memories of the weekend come from events like Club Femslash (our big vidshow dance party) or games like the Fic Battle. We try to provide a balance of discussion and silly times.
Mel: I know this started out as a single fandom convention, what inspired you to branch it out?
Leah: Necessity, mostly. The world had moved on from Glee and we were ready to, as well.
John: Well, Glee had ended and run its course, and we found that most of the people attending FaberryCon had as well. We wanted to talk about other things. It felt very limiting to just stick to one thing with this amazing community of people we’d found.
Leah: What the con evolved to grew out of the discussions we were already having after-hours during FaberryCon–as well as the separate brain children of both John and my predecessor, Kben.
Mel: How do panels work at your con versus how they would at a bigger convention like SDCC?
Leah: Whereas at larger cons, the panel setup is “experts or persons of interest behind a table with microphones” and only those people guide the conversation, with a q&a at the end, and it’s only their opinions that get voiced, all of our panels are roundtables–which is to say, we’re all sitting in a circle, and everybody talks. We always have a moderator (sometimes two) to help guide and focus the discussion, but it’s a platform where every voice is equal.
John: I would add that everyone can talk, but nobody is forced to. Many people just like to listen, and that’s fine!
Mel: How does the panel lineup get decided?
John: It’s critical to us that we provide programming that is of interest to our attendees. With such a small group, the panels need to be things they’re excited to talk about. So, we let possible attendees nominate panel topic ideas — which are usually cooler than anything we could’ve come up with on our own — and then everyone who is registered by a cutoff date gets to vote on which panels they are interested in. (Since they’re all great ideas, we let them rank their choices.) We then take that data and put the top-voted choices on the schedule. We try very hard to present an array of panel topics ranging from conversations about femslash specifically to things like media as a whole and even conversations around personal identities. It’s very important to us to feature conversations that address topics like representation and diversity in media.
So, in a very real way, our attendees decide what the con is going to be. They have the ideas, they cast the votes, they show up and hold the conversations.
Leah: And from there, though, we have the unenviable task of figuring out what panels are next to which. It involves a lot of sort of chess-piece thinking about moderators and what else has happened that day.
John: There are so many amazing things to talk about, it’s a crime that we only have three days.
Mel: As an aside, I really wish something like this existed when I was younger.
Leah: Worth mentioning that we don’t allow anyone under 18 because of liability reasons but what *I* had as a teen was Harry Potter conventions.
Mel: I had Xena. I went to the first 3 or 4.
John: I always wanted something like this, even when I wasn’t cognizant of it. When the idea for a multifandom femslash con fully formed, nothing like it existed yet. (This was still over a year before ClexaCon launched.) I was like, “Well. I guess I have to start it.” I’m so grateful my FaberryCon staff wanted to expand like this, too.
Leah: And even though those aren’t overtly queer–heck, I didn’t even know I was queer at the time–it changed me on a fundamental level to be able to go to a space where everyone loved what I loved, and also largely loved it the same way.
And these were academic symposia, based on like, reading the text in a rigorous way, and that was really exciting to me and definitely a vibe we try to emulate ourselves.
John: I’ve attended fan cons and big cons since 2005. My life has been fundamentally changed by the existence of cons, and I am eternally grateful to the people who put those on. It didn’t feel like a big leap for me to start running my own con, especially since I knew I wanted it to be on the small side.
Mel: I know from being part of LGBT Fans how much time, and sometimes money, can go into things like this. How are you able to pull it off year after year?
Leah: Generosity, pure and simple. Our registration fees pay for our event space and catering, but everything else– our equipment, our after-hours party space, our transportation rentals, merchandise, the booth we get at ClexaCon—all of these other expenses are paid for by the money we get from our live auction.
We are very lucky that our co-staffers, Pooh and Kristine, put on an amazing auction every year with high-demand items, and equally lucky that our attendees are willing to open their hearts and their wallets to us.
We also, this year, added a scholarship fund, and people who had a little more to give very generously donated to the cause to help other people get to the con.
John: It’s incredibly important to us to put on an event that is accessible to as many people as possible. That is why we work hard to keep our registration costs low — passes start at $35. Leah’s right — it’s because of the generosity of our attendees who buy items at the amazing auction that Pooh and Kristine put on. That is what allows us to run a low-cost event and sustains us from year to year.
Mel: The convention is in Los Angeles, but from what I can tell, some people travel pretty far just to attend right?
John: Yes, the con was in Los Angeles and has now moved to nearby Orange County. We’ve had attendees from all over the US as well as Canada, Australia, and Panama.
Leah: Some of our attendees who live within like three hours of each other will do mini-meetups during the year.
Mel: Can you talk a bit about the Slack you’ve started for registered attendees? What’s its purpose and how do you think it helps with the con experience?
John: We’re very grateful to one of our staffers, Kayla, for suggesting we start this Slack channel, as it has greatly enhanced the sense of community — family, even — that we feel as a con. It provides a place for attendees to connect 365 days a year, not just in-person during the con. It allows us to build and maintain friendships and get to know people outside of the confines of a panel. It provides specific avenues for people to discuss specific topics, like a certain show or type of art or meta topic. It provides a place where people can just celebrate (or gripe about) their day in a very casual way. And it also provides a real support system for people who need to talk about things they’re dealing with like coming out, grief, gender issues, mental health issues, family problems, and so on. Our Slack provides a group of safe people to talk to. We’ve seen such a great sense of support arise from this, and we’re really proud of it.
Leah: Yes, ten thousand percent. People from our con go out of their way to see each other at major holidays, they meet people who become significant others, they get married. It’s a family.
John: Again — it goes back to a) the small size of our con, and b) the amazing people who show up. It’s a perfect formula for a support system like no other and friendships that last a lifetime. If you are someone looking for a community that will love and support you for who you are, come hang out with us. We can’t wait to meet you.
Mel: I don’t talk a lot in there, mostly because I’m super busy, but I really, really love that it exists and being able to see everyone support each other all the time.
John: We fully understand when people who haven’t met us in person are shy in Slack at first. After the con happens, Slack erupts as people reconnect with friends they made and continue conversations. Then that never really stops, heh. In a way, it’s a year-long con (with group themed discussions happening often in side channels), and we just get together in person one weekend a year to be face to face and have cool events.
Something that I really want to emphasize is that even though we’ve built this amazing group of people so far, this is still just the beginning. This will only be the third TGIF/F in February. If you’re reading this and it sounds like something you want to be a part of, please come join us! We’ll be even more awesome with you here.
Mel: Which leads perfectly into this next question: what would you like to see happen for TGIF/F in the next, say, five years?
Leah: Oh man! We’d love to have a bigger/dedicated artist alley where we can support people who want to sell their own merch throughout the con. We’d also love to find our forever-home.
We had to change hotels unexpectedly and while we’re very excited about where we are this year and it’s a big step up in many ways, it’s not quite the Cinderella glass slipper of hotels.
John: My goal for TGIF/F is to build on our cap of 150 attendees, because that means we’re providing the experience and community for as many people as we can. There are so many amazing people out there who need something like this. We had a great first year with our scholarship program, organized by the amazing Mady, and I look forward to seeing how that can grow in the future to help accommodate even more people. We have such giving, loving people. No matter what TGIF/F grows into, I want the heart of who we are to always remain the same.
I also hope we’ll continue to grow and adjust as fandoms and people change over time. New and exciting panel ideas, fresh and fun events, etc. We always want to make each year the best that it can be for our attendees.
Leah: Oh, our other goal over five years is to have the diversity of our attendees and our panels reflect the actual proportions of our community.
John: Yes! That is so important.
Leah: Every year it’s gotten better and we’ve been very consciously putting effort into expanding in those directions. Our community isn’t lily white; cons shouldn’t be, either.
Mel: If people can’t attend, but want to support the event, what options are there for them to do that?
Leah: TELL YOUR FRIENDS.
John: The best thing people can do is help spread the word on social media and to their friends. We want more awesome people at the con! We also gladly accept donations to the con fund (via Paypal or Venmo), as all of that money goes directly into making the con the best experience it can be for those who can attend. More money means we can get more food, more decorations, assist with transportation, more snacks for the party rooms, fund scholarships, etc.
Leah: We’ll also have a booth at ClexaCon this year, so if that’s something you will be able to attend, swing by and chat with us. You can also buy our t-shirts, there or whenever. We’ll be rolling out more designs in the coming year which we’re really pumped for.
Also, if you’re a vidder, we have two different vid-viewing opportunities over the course of the evening–our sit-down cinema-style vidshow on Friday and our big dance party on Saturday. So please submit your vids!