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Finding Safe Spaces To Be Yourself

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James Gavsie and his son Rex at Wondercon

I had been delaying the inevitable. As a self defined (and proud) comic book nerd, I knew that going to a comic book convention was something beyond what I simply wanted to do; it was something I HAD to do! It’s the combination of a pilgrimage as and a rite of passage. Living in Los Angeles provides ample opportunities to attend conventions either within the city or a short drive outside of it.

When I was younger, being a big fan of comic books and all things related wasn’t something to share with others. Bullying was rampant, and nothing made you an easier target than outwardly displaying the preference for your favorite superhero. The last thing I wanted was for my son to be targeted for the same thing. I still have very clear memories of being bullied, physically and verbally, for liking all things comic book related. It made me isolate myself and think of myself as weird, which didn’t help my self-esteem. The effects of bullying last into adulthood. I still have strong childhood memories of being bullied in a variety of ways for wearing that Batman shirt.

Fast forward to 2017 and I quickly realized that times have indeed changed.

With my oldest son, Rex, now starting to share my passion for comic books, fantasy/sci-fi related films and TV shows, I decided now was the time to finally attend a convention.  After a very brief conversation with him about which convention to attend my son ran to my wife and said ‘Mom, we’re going to Wondercon!’

He was beyond excited. We quickly jumped on Amazon’s website and ordered a Deadpool shirt and baseball cap, which would be his official Wondercon uniform.  His exuberance was contagious as we settled on a date to attend the convention.

Still, as someone who has made part of their career center around anti-bullying I decided to remain vigilant at Wondercon…just in case bullying reared its ugly head.

After parking our car at the Anaheim convention center my son and I got our press passes and started to walk the floor. I noticed something right away once we got inside the main building; people were smiling. Not just the attendees mind you, but also the people who worked there. To say there was a positive vibe would be a huge understatement. On top of that, my son started to get compliments on his shirt and baseball hat. He was feeling it.

I had previously explained the etiquette of cosplay picture taking to my son and he wasted no time in asking people for pictures. This was the first day of the convention so the costumes were out in full effect. Regardless of the effort put into the cosplay everybody that my son asked for a picture happily obliged. In fact, they didn’t just oblige as much as they went out of their way to make sure my son got the picture he wanted. My first impression of Wondercon was great.

We attended a couple of panels and decided to walk the convention floor. The vendors were out in full force and the booths were beyond majestic. Being a technology nutcase, my son stopped at one particular booth that featured high-powered laptops. Clearly they were looking to network and sell their wares, but my son wanted to talk to these vendors about their computers. I told him to go ahead and talk to them but to keep in mind that they are trying to sell machines so to be respectful of their time.  To my surprise they spent 20 minutes with him telling him everything he wanted to know. They made him feel comfortable and important. I took one of their cards as we said our goodbyes.

Rex was smiling ear to ear because he was in his environment. While Rex was taking in Wondercon, I was simultaneously taking in everything else. How was the mood of everyone there? Are people happy? Are they in a panic to sell art, comic books, swords, to the public? I was taking in the general mood and, so far, had detected nothing but happy people who were genuinely excited to be at Wondercon. Still, I stayed somewhat vigilant in case I witnessed some bullying and needed to ‘intervene’, something I love to do.

I encouraged my son to go and talk to the vendors to buy a poster he wanted while I hung out in the background as he handled the transaction. As a kid I remember never having the confidence to directly interact with adults. I was very happy to see my son had no such issues. But something else caught my eye. The adults at the booth we’re engaging in a lively conversation with Rex. It was a back and forth dialog that was very lively. They knew the importance of treating people, especially kids, with respect. It had a hugely positive effect on Rex.

I was also taking full advantage of the networking opportunities and had arranged for a couple of meetings during the day. Our last meeting was with an amazing group of people who produced the ‘Blacker Than Black Infinity’ podcast (twitter: @BThanBTI ) and YouTube show. The moment we met they treated me and my son like gold. We talked a little business and they made sure to include him in on the conversation. Rex even brought up some good points in our discussions. He felt comfortable to engage with the group because the group made him realize that he was valued. That’s a key point in building self-esteem, an important aspect in fighting back against bullying.

A comic book convention may not be your safe haven, but you can still use tools like meetup.com and eventbrite to find events and like minded individuals for you to network and be yourself with.

James Gavsie is an anti-bully advocate, Self Defense Expert, and proud nerd, who left the IT world behind to pursue his dreams in Los Angeles. Opening Max Impact Martial Arts, a high-end self defense and MMA training facility, James found himself in demand for anti-bullying consultation for an ever-growing clientele. As a result, James wrote the "Renegade's Guide to Stopping Bullies" in the hopes of helping as many as possible avoid being victims of bullying.

          
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