TRIBAL OR ETHNIC AFFILIATION: FANFan Guest of Honor speech at ICon 25 (Coralville, IA; 10-14-2000)
I work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for a program called "Cultures and Communities." In our class on multiculturalism in America, one of the first things we ask students to do is to write an essay on their ethnic identity.
Now by genetics and upbringing, my ethnic identity is pretty much generic redneck: Scotch-Irish, some Cherokee, undoubtedly some English (I don't often admit to that last). I certainly identify with the Irish part (yes, Scotch-Irish means Ulster Irish, which means by heredity I AM an Orangeman; so sue me!) and the Cherokee part; but it's an intellectual identification. I had no cherished stories told me by elders steeped in the old ways; just tales, however beloved, learned from books.
I guess my youth was pretty standard for a fan: I was the bookworm, the kid who got bored in school and used up the meager resources of the school library, the one with few real peers who could understand what I was talking about. Occasionally I'd find somebody who was as inspired as I was by a Heinlein novel or the latest issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction; but such experiences were few and far between. Then I went to college up North, and found an actual science fiction club. It was informal, based off-campus, and full of wiser, older people, some of them in their late twenties or even older[!]; but they didn't care how old I was, just what kind of a mind I had. Once a week, I was pretty much guaranteed that I could find kindred souls with whom to talk. It was a lifesaver.
I left that college, and returned to my tiny home town. My sole contact with the SF community was the National Fantasy Fan Federation, the good old, much-abused N3F. It reminded me that there was something out there beyond the mundane realities of my roots; and I will always love it for that.
Then I moved to Nashville, where there was a large SF club with monthly meetings, discussion groups, and more; I was among kindred spirits again, and was delighted. At a meeting, somebody talked about going to an actual convention, in faraway Ohio somewhere. I'd heard about these things back in Chicago, and leapt at the chance. I stood there on the curb that Friday morning, my orange trooper hat on my head, my brand-new orange patent leather loafers on my feet, ready for a new experience. I was not disappointed.
It was what they called a small relaxacon, I was to learn (specifically, it was MidwestCon); but to me it was all the wonders of fandom unveiled. There was a dealer's room, and fanzines, and a few panels, and a film room (yes, we were still using film in those days), and pros whose books I'd read and admired (who would actually talk to a goshwowoboy neo like myself). But above all else there were the fans.
I was home. I had discovered my tribe, my people, my identity.
Whatever else I may be - husband, daddy, union steward, Esperantist, wearer of orange garments, Quaker, part-Cherokee, feminist, Irishman, Macintosh user, Wobbly, ex-Tennessean, anarcho-socialist, Wisconsinite, Hordesman - I am a Fan.
That first convention experience was in 1975, a quarter of a century ago; and it was the start of the best thing that ever happened to me. I have loved and married within the tribe, and we (Cicatrice and I, with the help of the rest of fandom) are now raising a wonderful femmefan who knows who her people are. By the time that first weekend was over I knew: forever and eternally, I am a Fan, a natural-born free citizen of the ImagiNation. This is my Way of Life, which I will fight to defend against all comers, regardless of what excuse they may have to attack it.
In the old days, before conventions like this one became commonplace, it was said: It is a Proud and Lonely Thing to be a Fan. Well, it's not so lonely anymore; but for me It is an Extremely Proud Thing to be a Fan. I am honored beyond description to be your Fan Guest of Honor this weekend, and I thank you.