After 16 long, nerdy years, the popular anime convention MechaCon is shutting its doors for the final time.
According to a news release found on the official MechaCon website, the closure can’t be pinned down to one specific reason; however, one listed cause reads “changes in the overall fan convention landscape.”
“When we first decided to do this show in 2004, there was little to no convention presence for anime fans in the whole of Louisiana, so we set out to fill that void and put Louisiana’s fan community on the map,” the release says. “Now, in 2019 ... we feel that original mission has been accomplished.”
MechaCon held a special place in my heart. Not only was it one of the first conventions I ever attended, but it also had many things that other Louisiana conventions didn’t quite manage to do on the same level. For instance, MechaCon is held at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans hotel, which has a lot of space and fast glass elevators. There are plenty of great places to take cosplay pictures, a nice pool, and even an arcade with Japanese arcade games. The dealer’s room and artist alley (the spaces where con-goers who apply can sell their items) were also huge.
The dealer’s room and artist alley are also the two places where all the gay merchandise can be found.
With each passing con, I’ve noticed more and more sellers with LGBT items for sale. It might just be a sign of the times, but I’ve also noticed what seems to be a direct correlation between sexuality and anime conventions. This isn’t scientific, it’s just something I’ve noticed, but I believe that at least half of the people who attend anime conventions are in some way members of the LGBT community, whether it be through sexuality or gender identity.
So why are such a large number of LGBT people at conventions? Here’s what I’ve come up with, but feel free to contact me with your own theories.
There aren’t any parents at conventions.
That’s not entirely true — there are some super nerdy parents out there — but for the most part, I believe con attendees usually go with a group of friends rather than their parents.
If that is the case, then conventions must be an important place for young LGBT convention attendees, right? It’s a place where they can express themselves freely without worrying about their parents finding out if they aren’t out yet. It might also be the only way those with parents who monitor their purchases can get LGBT-themed items.
I wanted to speak with some artists who were selling LGBT items but limited myself to those who were selling items with LGBT pride colors on them rather than those selling posters depicting LGBT relationships from different forms of media.
The first table I spoke to was run by Laura, who did not wish to disclose their last name. Her brand is Dbl Feature, a vendor that I actually bought two buttons from the day before I spoke to her. The description of her Etsy Shop says “Apparel and Accessories for a Cuter World."
When I asked why she decided to begin selling LGBT items, she said she created them for her friends due to a lack of pride items in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in every, non-June month.
“I mainly vend at conventions, like anime conventions, and it’s just like a really inclusive space for everyone to be in, and so I feel like just selling those things at this place, the market is here. The audience here, that’s what they want.”
You can also find Dbl Feature on Instagram (@dblfeature).
I also spoke to Brooke Shock from The Geek Realms, based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Shock has been in the market for some time now, starting the brand around ten years ago when LGBT items began to gain popularity.
“As soon as it became available on the market, because a lot of it was underground, you know … but as soon as it became available, we wanted to show people that we were friendly, and we were safe because this is my wife and I’s booth,” shock said.
Shock and her wife sell things at other conventions as well, including festivals and community events.
“It’s been interesting because some of the booths that we have at various festivals don’t always have the best reception from various people because they don’t necessarily like it,” Shock said. “We’ve had people come by and say stuff like ‘Oh, I don’t know why anyone wants this stuff, this is nasty,’ and we’re just like, ‘You know what, love is love, and everybody that is an adult can decide what they want to do. If they don’t want to be here they don’t have to be.’”
The theory Shock has for why LGBT items are more well-received at conventions is that people at conventions are more open-minded.
“We’re the outcasts, we’ve always been an outcast community … and so is the pride community,” Shock said. “Which is odd that it goes hand in hand, but it actually kind of works for everybody, because everybody here is more open-minded and more ready to accept each other because we’ve all been in that same boat in one form or another.”
According to Shock, the amount of people who enjoy their LGBT items is higher at conventions such as MechaCon, but the few people who do see their stuff at community events in Arkansas have a greater appreciation.
Shock agrees that conventions are important for LGBT people, and also brings up a great point:
“Because of the open-mindedness of the general consensus of people who go here, it’s nice because people are more willing to learn about stuff they don’t know about instead of hate them because they don’t know about them,” Shock said.
You can also find The Geek Realms on Facebook.
So, my overall conclusion?
MechaCon, as well as other conventions, are important to young LGBT people, especially the conventions held in the South. Without conventions, they might not see as much representation as they get to, or meet older LGBT people who can reinforce the idea that, no matter what, everything will be okay. And that’s one of the many reasons I’m sad to see MechaCon go, but am extremely thankful for all they’ve done for us as a whole.
Farewell, MechaCon. You will be missed, but never forgotten. Thank you for all you’ve done.