Scandalous, right? Gasp, shriek, oh the shock and the horror... Someone catch me, I believe I've caught the vapors, all that. Well, what do you expect when you bring together a community of consenting adults with similar interests with a celebratory atmosphere of belonging and acceptance? From what I've heard and seen at other conventions across the country, it's universal.
But for some reason, Dragon*Con in Atlanta (hereafter, "DragonCon," because the asterisk is annoying) has cultivated a reputation amongst the major conventions in the United States for having the most amorous adventures after hours. The term "HookupCon" has been bandied about for the past few years. You can bet that everyone who has attended DragonCon for at least two years has some story that begins with "Well I heard..." and ends with something involving sex. For instance, I heard this one girl kissed an alien. There's even photographic proof, above.
I was curious if the staff of DragonCon knew about some of the rumors whispered about their convention, so I reached out to Dan Carroll, head of media relations. "Obviously, Dragon*Con leadership understand that a twenty four hour event filling so many hotel rooms bring with it some opportunity for romance," he told me.
"I myself have many friends who met at Dragon*Con, got engaged at Dragon*Con, and even broke up at Dragon*Con. As for the reputation for causal encounters at Dragon*Con, I think that it occurs, but not as at the scale that would make it the focus of Dragon*Con."
So how did DragonCon, of all the pop culture cons, end up with this reputation?
Given the people I know and the circles they run with, I thought I'd dig a little deeper. So I had some of my friends in various circles give me a rundown of their experiences over the past 20-some-odd years of attending after hours parties, events, and other activities that have contributed to a reputation of DragonCon being "HookupCon".
(A note: I will not be using full names in this article, nor will I go into detail about the events that take place behind closed doors. Going into those details is salacious and adds nothing to the actual story. Using real names is saying "here's who you can't trust anymore if you're in the scene" and describing the events in detail is saying "hey 'normal' people, CHECK OUT THE NERD SEX" -- and I won't do it. If you really need this information verified, I would suggest exploring that part of your sexuality yourself, attending DragonCon, and experimenting a little. Otherwise, voyeurism ain't happening here.)
"Fritz," a convention attendee who is celebrating his tenth year of coming to DragonCon this year, has some keen insight. "[The term HookupCon] pre-dates me," he said, "but my best guess is that it evolved over time just from friends telling stories. When you have that quantity of like-minded people, many of whom are from the more socially liberal spectrum of society, spending 24 hours a day for four days together, things are more likely to happen than at a con that only lasts two days or one that shuts down at night."
And once the reputation of people being able to hook up at DragonCon started, it began to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as more and more people began to get comfortable with the idea that it could happen.
"Lander," a fifteen-year veteran of DragonCon and volunteer member of the convention's security staff, thinks it's only natural. "You have people who are very passionate by nature, and are generally accepted by the people around them," he told me. "Some are able to drink and most are above the age of consent in Georgia. So why not? It's nerd Mardi Gras, time to let our freak flag fly."
"Whether you're straight, gay, bi, transgendered, furry, Klingon, Time Lord, asexual, pansexual, omnisexual -- it doesn't matter," Lander says. "You have a shot at finding someone there who fits your bill."
Personally, I was 16 years old when I attended my first DragonCon in 1993. I didn't stay overnight, I went during the day with some of my convention-going friends from high school, so I didn't really know about any of the nightlife. It wasn't until my third year attending, when I was 19, that I learned about what goes on after hours. A girl I knew from the few months I spent in college gave me a quick tour of some of the room parties taking place.
I wasn't shocked at all. It made perfect sense to me. The people I attended the convention with, myself, the girl who was giving me my first nighttime tour of DragonCon... We were all "freaks." And when we went to 'Con, we went especially to find people like us, who we felt comfortable around and shared interests with. It was only natural that attractions would form and people would act on them.
But never once, in my years of attending, have I seen anything openly sexual take place outside of the privacy of a closed room. "There are conscious efforts to maintain discretion," Lander told me, "because honestly it is no one's business what two (or more) consenting adults do behind closed doors."
"In the seven years I have been with Dragon*Con, I have seen a lot, but I have hardly ever seen any public behavior that I wouldn't see at a wedding reception, nightclub, or other public setting," Carroll said. "Dragon*Con is a private event, but we have standards that are enforced in terms of public behavior in the hotel open spaces or any where else where families will be."
With the proliferation of geek culture into the mainstream, attendance has exploded. As the great folks from DragonCon TV show us in this video, attendance has been growing at an exponential rate through 2009, and according to the official DragonCon statistics, exploded from roughly 30,000 in 2010 to over 46,000 in 2011 -- and they project well over 50,000 this year.
That sudden appearance of "everyone" had a dramatic impact on the nighttime culture of DragonCon. The culture of acceptance among geeks, coupled with the inherent nature of geeks to share what they love with anyone who is interested and the spreading of geek culture into mainstream culture has opened wide the doors of almost every convention.
With that come the folks who, in years past, weren't very interested in conventions. But having heard that DragonCon is a great place to see costumes, learn more about the new Sci/Fi and Fantasy shows they've seen on television, or meet artists who draw the comics that the Iron Man, Batman, Spiderman and Avengers movies are based on, curiosity set in. When you combine this with the fact that the evening and overnight parties at DragonCon are legendary throughout the city, you get a throng of people showing up to see what all the fuss is about.
Not all of them were curious about superhero movies and steampunk.
"I have encountered guys from the non-geek world that show up at DragonCon under the assumption that they can simply "hook up" with a geek girl," Anastasia told me. She explained that in the past few years, she "witnessed males being escorted from the hotels for being too forward and even sexually assaulting women. For the most part, I have only seen this happen when the 'crashers' would come to the con."
The crashers in question, according to everyone I spoke with, mostly refer to the college football fans who ended up staying at the same hotels as the DragonCon attendees in 2010. Despite some fun and fanciful media coverage stating otherwise, as an attendee who had to break up seven different fights and ended up in one of my own, I can tell you -- it wasn't a good pairing.
"It really brought about a bad element, honestly," I was told by a longtime attending photographer, who asked to remain anonymous. "Jocks, frat boys, Buckhead-types (a stereotypically 'Yuppie' part of town known for bars, bars and more bars, and the people who frequent them)... They crashed DragonCon to see if they can score some "easy [sex]" from geek girls -- or worse, fondle, grab, or molest in the crush of the crowds."
At a certain point, people who weren't even attending the convention showed up for the nightlife. So many, in fact, that in 2011, DragonCon instituted a policy that you have to have a paid DragonCon badge to even enter a hotel that hosts the convention, and after a certain time, you also have to have a room key for that hotel.
"Dragon*Con is a private membership event that has expanded in size consistently since 2000," Carroll told me regarding the decision to institute the badge check policy. "There was no longer room in the hotel lobbies for non-members to congregate. The secondary factor was addressing security concerns involving harassment of our members. Room parties were not a deciding factor."
He added that the times and locations of these badge checks will be expanding in 2012.
"I say things have gotten better [since the new policy]", Lander told me. "Because of the new policy, we have less "party crashers" then we did before, where you had drunk football fans getting into fights with the 'sissys in skirts' as I heard them called." The sissies being referred to are the Scottish Highland Reenactment group, wearing full Tartan (kilts) with Claymores on their back. And they don't take bullying lightly.
The policy also limits the people at the con to the ones who truly want to be there enough to buy a badge. It has created a safer environment for people to meet and get to know each other. Not the least of which are women who want to cosplay, sometimes as a sexy character, who can now walk around in nothing but Empire Caution Tape without a fear of being harassed by someone who isn't part of the culture.
So, is DragonCon really a "HookupCon," as some have rumored it to be?
"This question also seems to be driven out of a believe that sees Dragon*Con attendees as stereotypes," Mr. Carroll said. And I can see his point -- why does there have to be a special occasion or event for a geek to get laid? Especially since the definition of "geek" keeps broadening?
"We are doctors, lawyers, business professionals, store clerks, moms, dads, brothers," Carroll said of DragonCon attendees. "We are as diverse at any moment as the population of Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport. We are geeks, but in the 21st century, 'geek' just means enthusiast and fan. We love Star Wars or Star Trek, gaming or costumes, independent film, or music. And most people out there enjoy at least one of those those things."
"Not everyone with a Star Wars DVD comes to Dragon*Con, and not everyone with an XBox comes to Dragon*Con," he added, "but it is likely they would enjoy it, whether they 'hook up' or not."
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