My fiancée (Ally) and I went to TwitchCon 2019 in San Diego. TwitchCon is a large convention held by the streaming platform Twitch. I didn't really know too much about it before that. There were panels, artists, and various sponsor booths. I did the bare minimum research into what to do when we got there. The convention was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so I figured I would have enough time to see everything. The talks were held by various streamers on various topics. Some were an hour long, others were three hours, or other variations in between. Choosing which to see would require careful planning because of that overlap! There were also meet and greets with various partnered streamers on each day.
I was afraid that I would be like I usually am. I would be quiet. I would not talk to any strangers. I would maybe even break down and cry from just how many people were there. I had other fears about maybe facing harassment or at least exclusion for being trans. I had fears that even the other trans streamers I knew I would be meeting with and hung out with on streams would not like me and exclude me. I had deep fears that things would turn into cliques and I would be part of none.
All of this was on top of the anxiety about traveling in general! I had been afraid that the hotel would for some reason say our reservation was gone, the car would do the same, the flights would be canceled, the convention tickets would be misplaced, or even that the city would just be too foreign and I'd get homesick. Most of the fears were things outside my control. We booked the hotel, car, flights, and had our convention tickets. I had no sway in whether that all went to plan. The rest was general anxiety I always have around new people and crowds. I am typically very shy and small talk, leading to larger talk, is one of my worst skills, in my opinion.
It turns out that everything did go to plan. We even got upgraded flight seats because my sister works for the airline we were taking and worked that day! The only holdup was that the car rental was canceled because we had chosen the wrong time period (we chose PM instead of AM) so our reservation was out of a limited window and was canceled. We ended up renting a jeep instead of a more economical sedan. We had a full day of traveling with a several hour layover but no delays and no lost luggage. Nothing unexpected happened here.
After wasting one day traveling we had one day to get our badges early and see whatever we wanted in San Diego. Badge pickup was starting at noon. We had a quick breakfast and got into line at the convention center. The line was long! Very long. According to the walking estimate of Google Maps, we were roughly a third of a mile from the entrance door when we got there at 11 am. We watched tons of people walk by and disappear behind us into the parking garage where the line continued but the light to see them did not.
I saw a couple of people I knew I wanted to meet but was too scared to call out to them as they walked past. I awkwardly waved when the line snaked around and we were within vision (but still no words). I am not sure if this is clear enough so I will repeat: it was very awkward for me and I feel like it was awkward for them.
It didn't feel like very long before we were let into the building to stand in new queues to get badges. All told it was only about 90 minutes wait. It would have been sooner but Ally and I had different badge types and therefore had different lines. I am not sure if it would have made a difference had I gone to her line but I imagine it was split that way because the badges were labeled with those differences in color and text.
After getting our badges we decided to see the zoo. I am not sure why but I had heard of the San Diego zoo being very highly rated. Maybe it was just constantly hearing it from people when I said we were going to San Diego but for whatever reason I had heard high praise. Neither of us had even taken the time to price out the zoo and we got a little bit of sticker shock when we saw it was $60 per person (at the cheapest). We found the line we needed to get the basic tickets and just as we got in line a woman approached us and asked if we wanted two free tickets. Of course, we said yes and thanked her as well as we could but I wouldn't say nearly enough. I had a thought and quickly realized I am very untrusting. I expected it to be some kind of scam or the tickets to be fake, somehow it was too good to be true. They were not. We got into the zoo for free because of that woman, and she was not far behind us in entering with several children in tow. I felt kind of bad for being so wary but only I knew any of that anyways. Shortly after exploring we met with an elderly couple who asked us to take a picture of them with the giraffes. They were also from Wisconsin, specifically our part of it! They were wearing Packers apparel because it was a Thursday night game and that made a simple comment ("Go Pack") turn into a short chat about how far from home we all were.
We had been told by the rental car clerk that the zoo would take about two days to really see everything. We were there for nearly four hours and saw about 50% of the place. There were a few exhibits closed for various reasons. We didn't explore the farthest parts but we had seen everything that we set out to see. Concessions and gift shop prices were rather high but we ate some ice cream and came back with a few souvenirs. One thing neither of us really thought about was how much walking it was. We must have walked several miles, for me this is more than I walk in an average week. That's the highlights of this day. I took a lot of pictures of animals but very few with us in them. I intended to take more pictures with us in them but it's my first vacation since transition and the old habit of not taking pictures of myself has carried on still.
We got there just a bit after it had opened and since we had our badges we didn't have to wait in a long line to get them before entering. The "badge-holder" line was much shorter and we just had to get through a quick security checkpoint consisting of a metal detector and a bag search. We intentionally didn't bring larger bags than our purses because we knew they would hold us up or not be allowed. I was amazed at how big it was. There were two floors with what I consider very large layouts and this wasn't even taking up the entire building (there were other things happening in other areas of the building)! We had wandered around the artist vendors for a little while until my friends messaged me that they were coming up to meet us.
Here I met two of the streamers I knew I would. I was so nervous we wouldn't get along. They are both pretty, talented, and driven. I look up to them but also call them friend. This is how I feel about all the people I met to one degree or another. I was scared we wouldn't get along personality-wise or that they would rather do things without me there. Instead we walked around a little bit more in the artist area and split from Ally, leaving her alone. We headed to the sponsor booth area (I don't remember the names of the rooms). It was huge. There were some sponsors/vendors with small booths and others that had exhibits that took up tons of room with couches and walls and displays everywhere. So many energy drinks!
After some exploring we ended up at the Trans Lifeline booth. There was an entire section of booths specifically for charities that gave information and resources for streamers to run charity streams or how to help charities in general. The Trans Lifeline booth (hereafter called "home base") had a couple of other streamers that I had talked to volunteering at it.
I ended up meeting with almost all the people I had known were going to be at the convention on this first day. I got pictures with most of them and there was a lot of hugging. Ally had finished exploring what she wanted and came to meet everyone. Afterwards her and I went back to finish exploring the artist booths. After that we went to a talk given by several trans woman about diversity on Twitch. Unfortunately, we couldn't hear very well. The mics were not terribly loud, and the doors were open, which let in a lot of the noise from the halls. I didn't notice but there were a couple of people talking right next to Ally the entire time and so she didn't get to hear most of the talk. She also told off that group as we were leaving. I don't like confrontation and tried my best to avoid eye contact. I would later figure out that they were streamers that I would see around the coming days and I ended up not talking to them to avoid the discomfort if they realized or brought up the scolding at all.
After that we wandered a bit around the sponsor booths but time went fast and soon we were leaving. I tried but failed to get any plans for dinner together so we ended up going to dinner at a familiar place (Applebee's). I was upset throughout dinner because I had tried to get dinner together with the people I had met just today. A couple had agreed to get together with us afterwards but texted that they were going to get a bit with someone else a little while before we were leaving for the day. For a while I felt like I was a failure. I had tried to make plans and it failed, which meant I was unworthy. Ally eventually got it through to me that I was taking it personal when it most likely was not. I had spent the day with her while they had probably spent the day together and it organically happened that they got dinner early. She was right, about it all. I found a way to let it go and understand that it isn't really about me. This was just my insecurity and reading negatively into situations and words like I usually do. I had set out to have a good time at the convention, and entire vacation, and I couldn't let imagined things like that take over. After some time had passed, I reread the messages and read them with entirely different intentions. I am glad that I had Ally to be my voice of reason.
We watched a little TV and I went to bed rather early. The nice thing about going back two time zones is that I got tired "early". That and the walking! Between the zoo the day before and the walking today (again I'd estimate miles) I had no energy to fight sleep once I was in bed.
I had an okay first day but I felt like it could have been better. Nothing specific but just I could be better. Also, I was told there would be flirting at TwitchCon and I didn't notice any on Friday, so I made it my intention to flirt Saturday. It was a small goal I had set for myself. I think I succeeded but beats me if I did or not. I was told that bringing Ally the first day made people think I was "off-limits", and I don't blame people for thinking that. Ally and I had agreed to take things as they go and we understood there is a good chance of flirting happening at the event but nobody else would know that obviously.
This was the first day I had to go the entire day without Ally. This was the day I had been dreading and most anxious about. Ally and I got a little breakfast and she dropped me off near the convention center. No difference from the first day as far as lines or security. Maybe slightly quicker to get through the lines, perhaps I was there early or people realized to bring smaller, or no bags, to get through security faster. I basically bee-lined for home base. I did stop to buy a drink so I'd have a bottle to refill occasionally so that I wouldn't get as dehydrated as I had been the previous day.
I sat (in reality I stood near it) at the Trans Lifeline booth for only a few minutes before I saw someone from the day before. We went for a walk around and visited the artist area again. After a while we were back at home base and I tagged along with the next person who was checking out the various sponsors/vendor booths. Again, after a little over an hour we were back at home base. This pattern continued with various people wanting to check out a specific area or vendor or just continue walking.
On this day I didn't end up going to a single panel. The only thing I did attend was a Meet and Greet where I stood in line for about 30 minutes to get an autograph, picture, and hug from a voice actress and streamer that Ally and I enjoy watching.
After the Meet and Greet I was right back at home base again. There may have been just a little more walking but one of the streamers in the group was organizing a get-together with as many of the Discord users that wanted to join us. Discord is a chatting program. Think something like Skype only easier to use, more widely used by gamers/streamers because of integration (as well as the ease), etc. About 12 of us congregated in one of the lesser used hallways. The day was nearly over so there weren't many (if any) panels still in that hallway. We sat there chatting for a while and eventually headed to a restaurant within walking distance. Unfortunately the venue could only seat 6 or 7 at a table so we had to split into two groups. I did sit at the table with the people I was most familiar with but I was actually sat directly around people I did not spend the day with, strangers. The place was also rather loud with music that required talking very loudly to be heard. I don't even remember if I got to say or hear anything to the people diagonal to me (I was in the corner of our 6-person table). The food was good, if a little pricey, but I will admit that I expected prices to be much higher than where I live, and they weren't as bad as I thought they would be.
After dinner we spent another little while chatting outside in an emptier are of sidewalk. A few went home or departed for whatever they were doing that night. Of the remaining (about 8 or 9) half the group had the tickets that would let them go to the TwitchCon party and the other half did not. The party was essentially a concert (with various performers) at the baseball stadium, at least that's what I understood it to be. Partly because we couldn't all go, but more likely because based on previous TwitchCon's, and word of mouth, the people who did have the party tickets decided to not split the group.
A few in the group were rooming together at a hotel and we all walked there. It was only six blocks or so, but uphill for a few, and after a day of walking already. It was tiring. One of my friends had a marijuana vape pen. They were willing to share and most of the people had already used it at various points. Many of them more than once! My friend actually used it as frequently as some people used tobacco products, at least that's what it seemed like to me. I took a rather small puff and honestly, I'm not even sure I did it right because I didn't notice anything (physical or mental). This will come up later.
We got to their hotel room. There were two beds, half-taken by various clothes, that looked like unpacked luggage. Some of the group sat at the foot of the beds or on nearby chairs while playing Nintendo Switch games. One or two were on the edge playing on their phones or laptops. The rest of us were using the bed space at the head of the beds. It will sound a bit strange but I have not been to a party like this before. At least not since I was a teenager, and certainly not with this many people. I was very out of my element. I spent a lot of time watching and very little talking. At least that is what I remember. I remember being very thirsty. They had beer but I don't drink much, and I never mix substances. I just sat there without anything to drink since I'd discarded my water bottle earlier.
Remember that vape pen? At some point we all went out for the smokers to get some time, and while I don't smoke, I joined them. Partly because I wanted quiet but also because almost all the people I knew had gone and I like familiarity. While out there I had taken one puff from the vape pen. I don't remember it being very large or anything special, definitely made sure it wasn't taken as lightly as before. I remember my throat feeling rather scratchy nearly immediately. I attributed this to the lack of drinking anything in the last few hours. On our way back in we passed a water dispenser and I was able to get some hydration. Probably not enough though.
We were back in the room and there were a few more people who had joined. People I had met already and liked. That was helpful because with the new arrivals I had lost my previous position on the bed. Now I was nearer to the foot of the bed and what you could call the "center" of the room. I had people in every direction around me. This did not help with what was coming. That one puff from the vape was about to kick in. I was already pretty euphoric from the day I was having, and possibly from the small puff from earlier. The second puff ended up getting me stoned. Not in a bad way but I recognized the feeling of forgetting things and near constant déjà vu. The moments after I had felt it were kind of scary to me. I recognized that it was likely that I could become paranoid and basically ruin my night. I decided to do my best to focus on positive things and pretty quickly the paranoia stopped and I could enjoy myself. One of the few cases where "faking it 'til you make it" worked for me.
Just a heads up, my recollection of events will be skewed because of the state of mind I was in. I had fun. I remember that. I remember having tons of thoughts race through my head faster than I could say them and I would forget them before I could articulate them if I tried. One of the more prominent thoughts that came up was that I was an impostor. I had somehow gotten into the "cool kids" party and now I was sat in the middle of the room, hoping they didn't notice I didn't belong. I was quiet before but now I was practically mute. I spent the most energy focusing on specific people near me and just trying to keep up with the conversations. I had to focus on a person to be able to properly understand them. At the time it was as if I could hear all the conversations at deafening volume but if I focused on someone's face I could hear only that conversation. This was good except for the fact that I felt like I was just staring at people. Even worse was that I did find many of the people attractive, meaning I kind of did want to look at them, and they were the closest to me. I'm not sure if they noticed I was staring so much or if they were just friendly but at one point I was suddenly being talked to by the people I was focusing on.
I confided I was just trying to keep it together, in a room full of strangers, an introvert, stoned in the middle of the room. It was basically a nightmare scenario for me but I was having a good time. There was a lot of talking and silly stuff that only made sense in the moment. Seriously if I wrote it you would ask what the point was, where is the rest of the story, but at the time it was hilarious (the punchline was "Oh, up!"). At some point there were four girls cuddling at the head of the bed and I was at their feet, not cuddling. I had desperately wished I was in that pile. I felt like I didn't belong though. They were all attractive, and I felt like they all knew it and were attracted to each other, but not me. I use attracted and I don't intend to mean specifically a sexual way. It could also be perceived as a close group of friends. The kind who cuddle their friends. If it was more than that I didn't pick up on it. I will miss any sign that isn't spelled out literally, and some even if they are spelled out.
It was a little bit after I had realized I was high that I had texted Ally and told her a time to pick me up (11 PM). That was about 10:30 when I texted that and she was there at 11:30. I was having a blast but I still couldn't let myself be irresponsible for a night. Partly because I didn't know how late the party would go for, partly not knowing if she would pick me up any later. There was another part that came about after a little while where I realized that I was less inhibited and being into so many of the people in the room I started fearing I would flirt and it would be received poorly and ruin the night. The other option, that it was received well, was equally scary to me. I tend to think in extremes like that.
When Ally got there it was just a little after the cuddle pile had started. When I had sent the text I was not sure if I would continue to be having a good high or not and now, I had committed to leaving. I said my goodbyes and left. I regretted it a lot in the moment, and a lot afterwards. Now I have the benefit of hindsight, knowing that they were all still there until 3 or 4 AM, but I still wished I had stayed at the time. Maybe I would have gotten to join the cuddling. Maybe I would have continued to have fun. I also had doubts, like maybe it was all about to take a turn for the worse.
I spent roughly two more hours giggling while cuddling with Ally and telling her about everything I could about the day before I fell asleep.
I had regrets, and wished I had done more, but I had an incredible day.
If Saturday was the best day ever then Sunday was one of the worst (a bit melodramatic).
The final day of the convention. I had been invited to breakfast with a few people. They had stayed at the party until 3 or 4 AM. I was curious but I didn't ask, and they didn't tell what had happened after I left. I assumed much the same as had been happening while I was there.
The food was okay, and we had talked a bit about all the things we could think of. One of the group was having a bad day (probably better described as a bad week) and breakfast was no exception. I didn't see how or how much was on it, but her plate fell off the table and got on her dress and on the floor. I didn't see if she had even gotten to eat anything but they didn't bring her a replacement. I had only been about halfway through mine so I didn't think she would have been able to eat much. After the meal the group split, half walking back to the hotel to change the dress that had been hit with food before the convention, myself and another walking straight over.
It was only a few blocks but I was grateful to have alone time with her. I had flirted with her a lot Saturday and had time now to continue flirting. I don't know if this was good or bad. I was uncomfortable with being so assertive but I did my best. I had asked, at least once, if it was making her uncomfortable and she said it was not. Other than that direct question I couldn't read any feedback I was given, if there was any.
We didn't get to the convention center until around 11:30 or 12, which meant there was only a few hours left in the event. The first couple of hours were much the same as the previous day. Walking around and chatting. Not going to panels. Around 2 PM is where things took a turn for me. I had a huge drop in mood. I don't even remember if I said a single word for a couple hours. There was a lot of sitting or standing around in groups while people chatted. I spent a lot of energy trying not to cry. I wanted to cry so badly. I specifically asked one person for a hug, hoping that it would help. Sadly, I needed more than a hug. I tried to confide in her what I was feeling but every word I spoke was hindered by my throat tightening and caused most of my words to get swallowed. I was told this was "con drop". Having never been to a convention of this kind or part of a community that would talk about it I had never heard the term. There is a similar thing called "sub drop" that I've learned more about since. The simple version is: the previous day/experience/etc. flooded my brain with endorphins and other "happy" chemicals and now I am low on those and experiencing that low. There really isn't much that can be done except to wait it out, but I had not known that it would happen at all, so it took me by surprise.
After that most of the time was spent at home base, just standing there talking, or in my case silently observing. I did talk to a few people and luckily I suppressed the tears enough to speak normally, at least I think I did. The girls that Ally had told off on the first day were nearby and chatting to everyone. Not to me but I didn't know if that was because they recognized me or if it was just because of any of the other reasons it could be. One of them was handing out cat-ear headbands, and she offered me the last one. I think I said, "thank you", I hope I did. It was very soon 5 PM and the convention was closing and asking people to leave. I could have helped the Trans Lifeline booth clean up but I was waiting for Ally to pick me up. I didn't know if I would have enough time to run the items where they were asking before she would arrive, and I felt pretty bad about that. I should have been useful and I had just stood there.
Ally picked me up and I had barely gotten the car door open before I was crying. She didn't understand why, and I couldn't speak to tell her. These last few hours are the least well remembered for me. I am holding back tears just writing about it. I miss everyone, I miss the camaraderie, I miss the hugging when saying "hello", I miss it all. I don't have the same thoughts but I am still getting all the same emotions.
The notes I took as I was crying in the car afterwards are much sadder than this lets on. I had felt like I, personally, was ruining everyone's day by being present because they could just feel the sadness emanating from me. I still felt like an impostor that was somehow unnoticed. It got worse the more I watched everyone. There was no way I could belong to this group of awesome people. I was waiting for everything to come crashing down because it was all too good. I wondered if they would all forget about me but remember each other after this event. I took these notes because I knew the specifics would fade in time and I wouldn't remember them as well when I wrote this. Smart thinking because I really had forgotten a lot of that stuff.
I really did not expect to have as good a time as I did. I didn't expect to feel close to and not want to leave everyone the way I did (and do). Now that I know what to expect I can better prepare and improve on what I can. I really hope I can go again.
We had one more day in San Diego before we had to go back. Our goal was to see the Midway Museum and the beach. The USS Midway is a naval aircraft carrier, now museum. I am not big on history but Ally loved it. I made it work by asking a lot of questions (because I know nothing) and making up alternative explanations for various things we saw.
Afterwards we went to the beach. It wasn't a cold day, in my opinion, but the water was fairly cold on my feet. I had only been on an ocean beach once and it was much colder, and only slightly more windier, than this one was. I spent a lot of time splashing my feet in the water and giggling. I was in my new shortall dress and that combined with the way the water splashed on my feet made "little" me very happy. We took a lot of pictures but the sun was hindering our efforts to get them with the ocean in the background. We weren't there for too long but long enough to get a little sunburned on my face and arms.
I would say this was the best trip ever. I was hesitant because this was first vacation since transition and my last vacation ended up being terrible and one of the last nails in the coffin for that relationship. Ally was amazing and helped so much. I know some people who were traveling without their partners and I can't imagine how much harder it would be without her there for me.
I had taken some of the right steps for preparing but there was a lot more I could have done. Hydration is important and probably one of the biggest things I will be more prepared for. I had also used this time to improve myself, or try to. I made small goals that I could build upon. They may have been too small but at the time they were all I could manage. The biggest being to talk to at least one stranger each day. I achieved that, maybe barely, but having done it I can say I accomplished one goal. This is a big thing for me because I usually don't recognize accomplishments and I am trying to change that.
I found a renewed energy for streaming. I tend to be pretty low energy but something just sparked a drive in me that I can do better and will do better. A drive I don't usually have. Maybe it would be better described as I had hope finally. Sadly, I got sick just after getting home and couldn't utilize that passion for a week, but I still have some of that spark.
I look back and realize I spent most of the time with people instead of attending panels. I don't mind. I left myself open to either type of experience for the event intentionally. I can see that kind of content another time if I am interested. I can't replace the time I spent with people.
I didn't expect this article to be this long. I didn't mention anybody by name but I'm sure if they read this, they will figure out who they are. I probably left out a bunch but I tried to include as much detail as I could. Maybe too much!