On the long weekend, I attended Continuum, my first science fiction fan convention ever. It started off with me registering then sitting with NK Jemisin waiting for the Continuum 101 session to begin - I guessed that it might be her, but didn't want to assume (and, not having read any of her work, I didn't want to get into an awkward position).
I read a fair bit of fantasy and science fiction when I was a teenager, but felt ostracised for it and mostly gave it up for 'serious' literature when I went to university. I have been exposed to fandom through friends but only started reading and watching science fiction again a few years ago. I was afraid that conventions would be isolating in similar ways to technology conferences, especially as a woman from an ethnic minority who is also relatively new to fandom. I probably only felt confident about attending because I knew the chair and some of the committee members and expected them to bring some diversity to the programme.
I didn't need to have these fears, and Continuum has set a high standard for future conventions for me. There were many genuine efforts to welcome newcomers and lurkers. Nora Jemisin's Guest of Honour speech confronted injustice in science fiction, and questions of injustice and inappropriate representation were raised in many panels. I estimate at least 50% of the members were women, which far exceeds the ratio at any tech event I have attended (apart from female-only ones). It felt like a safe environment for minority, queer, and disabled people (as far as I could tell from my mostly-able perspective). None of this surprises me, knowing the committee, but I suspect it's not representative of the wider world of fandom.
In 2014, Continuum will (again) be the Australian national convention. I expect I'll be there - I've got the convention bug now. That gives me a year to catch up on a lot of books and DVDs.