Gates McFadden on Pranks, Sexism, and Spandex: Tales from Hal-Con

Gates McFadden was fired for speaking out against sexism on Star Trek.

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DeviantArt.com | Spiritius

Last Sunday, FAN/FIC Magazine was granted a one-day pass to Hal-Con, the biggest, geekiest sci-fi convention in Atlantic Canada. Remarkably, it was also the first fan convention I’ve ever attended. So, armed with my con survival pack, I headed into the Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre to get my geek on.

First, I hit up the vendor floor, where hundreds of artists, craftsmen, jewellers, and sellers had set up shop. Crammed onto the exhibition floor in the Scotiabank Centre, there was a bevy sights and sounds to take in: free Fantastic Beasts posters, a mini-Castiel buying loose-leaf tea, a Lightsaber demonstration, Canadian Army recruiters (wrong crowd?), a Mermaid being pushed around in a wheelchair. My senses were so stimulated and overwhelmed that I ducked into a quieter panel, “Cosplay On a Budget,” just to take a breather. After I bought a Jean-Luc Picard fridge magnet, of course.

I attended two Q&As with actresses, nay, legends (and kickass women to boot): Star Trek’s Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher) and Harry Potter’s Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks). These were my first ever live Q&A sessions, although I was more than familiar with the format from binge-watching Supernatural con footage on YouTube (we all have our vices). After waiting in line, I ended up securing a decent seat at the Gates McFadden talk. The room buzzed in anticipation during the introduction by Canadian TV personality (and Orphan Black after show host) Ajay Fry. And, as is customary, I fangirled a little when she came out on stage, looking completely badass, fabulous, and oh-so Beverly Crusher-esque.

The most pleasantly surprising thing I learned about Gates during her panel was that she is seriously funny. She called out her fellow Trek actors for lying about there being no practical jokes on the TNG set. In reality, she says, they just didn’t “get” her jokes. She laughed as she told the audience how, once, she plastered “Hello Kitty” stickers all over Brent Spiner’s trailer. Another time, her target was Sir Patrick Stewart: she posted photos of Wesley Crusher and shirtless photos of the crew all over “the bridge.” She was a little miffed when Sir Patrick didn’t quite notice (or ignored it altogether). The only time she fell victim to a prank herself was during a stint on the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan, when Jim Henson tricked her into having a “real” conversation with Kermit the Frog.

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© Star Trek: The Next Generation

Gates McFadden is also resilient and unafraid to stand up for her beliefs. Initially, she was thrilled at the prospect of playing Dr. Beverly Crusher because she was written as such a strong female character: a doctor, a single mother, a commanding officer. “I did not want to be in a diminished female role,” said McFadden, who admitted to rolling her eyes at certain scenes where Dr. Crusher had to “exercise” (code for “put the women in spandex”). She was upfront about friction with one of the TNG writers, who she butted heads with over the sexist and racist overtones in the scripts. She was subsequently fired for speaking up, something she hadn’t expected, being used to the inclusive atmosphere of universities. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Gates experienced the full effects of sexism in the workplace.

Gates’ mother was a successful banker who had worked her way up to a managerial position in her local branch. One day, while accompanying her mother to work, Gates recalls watching a man unzip the back of her mother’s dress and announce to the rest of the office what colour bra she was wearing. “That Mad Men sexism stuff really did exist,” she said. Then there was the matter of her mother being fired during a bank merger for being (perceived as) disposable and not a “primary breadwinner” because she was a woman. In any case, Gates’ parents were strong role models who shaped her into the successful woman she is today: an accomplished actor, director, choreographer, and educator.

After the two Q&As (where I also learned that “Tonks” fronts a six-piece Tropical-Gypsy-Dance band called Molotov Jukebox), I attended a panel with Canadian writer and master of urban fantasy, Charles de Lint, who coached listeners on how to finish your novel (a particularly apt panel during NaNoWriMo season). Finally, I finished off the day with the fun-filled costume contest and by drooling over Supernatural’s “Baby,” the midnight-black 1967 Chevy Impala and site of countless Dean and Sam heart-to-hearts. (I must note: the delicious smell of that car cannot be adequately described here.) All in all, I had a fantastic time at Hal-Con and managed to survive my first fan convention. Can’t wait for next year!

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Instagram.com | Malory Beazley

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About Malory Beazley (36 Articles)
Malory has taken her interest in fandom to the academy, penning a Master's thesis entitled "Out of the Cupboards and Into the Streets!: Harry Potter Genderfuck Fan Fiction and Fan Activism." You can find her in Nova Scotia, sipping coffee, writing fiction, and reading slash.

2 Comments on Gates McFadden on Pranks, Sexism, and Spandex: Tales from Hal-Con

  1. Loved reading this!!!! I am jealous of your con going — that sounds incredibly fun! i thoroughly enjoyed reading your recap. I got to meet Gates McFadden at Dragon Con a few years ago, and she was super friendly. It saddens me that her tales of racism and sexism in the industry don’t surprise her or you or me. Maybe one day such things will be so rare as to be surprising.

    Thank you again for this lovely post!

    xo Charlotte

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // November 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm // Reply

      Gates McFadden was so badass. I loved her. Glad you were able to meet her at Dragon Con!

      Thank you for taking the time to read about (and compliment!) my experience at Hal-Con. It was my first ever fan convention (about time!) and I had an absolute blast. There are also a few more posts coming about some of the specific panels I attended. 😉

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