Jay Maynard, 56, better known as Tron Guy, hails from a simpler time on the Internet. He skyrocketed into viral fame simply by donning a spandex Tron costume, capturing the attention of millions. His signature suit landed him on America’s Got Talent, Tosh.0, and he was even as a onetime character on South Park.
While Tron Guy hasn’t been in the spotlight for years, he still attends sci-fi conventions like Penguicon outside of Detroit, a combination science fiction and open-sourced computing convention where he debuted his Tron outfit in 2004.
Last week he wrote a Medium piece, “Make Penguicon Great Again,” lambasting the convention, which usually attracts about 1,600 people, for putting left-wing gender and race politics ahead of running a fun, interesting sci-fi event. He wrote that the hyper-fixation on social justice as opposed to quality sci-fi made the con not worth his time. He announced that he won’t return next year.
“When I paid attention, I saw that Penguicon was definitely taking the side of the social justice warrior contingent in fandom, from inviting Charlie Jane Anders and her io9 compatriot Analee Newitz as Guests of Honor to panels full of politically correct topics on gender in SF and the like, to putting up posters on ‘consent culture’ in several places around the hotel, to lamenting that they had not been able to designate any of the hotel bathrooms as unisex,” he wrote on Medium.
Tron Guy took his concerns to the board of Penguicon and suggested adding conservative panels to balance out the left-wing ones. The board told him they did not want to add any panels that would draw controversy.
His piece attracted a small bit of attention and ire from some lefty bloggers in the science fiction world. Rebecca Watson—a feminist sci-fi blogger most known as the center of the “Elevatorgate” controversy, a messy online flamewar involving Richard Dawkins—labeled Tron Guy “alt right” for his views on political correctness and identity politics. The alt right movement is most known for its connections to white supremacy and extremist anti-immigration rhetoric.
When asked over the phone if he is alt right, Tron Guy laughed, describing his political views as “movement conservative with a hint of libertarianism.”
“I am specifically not alt right,” he said. “I don’t believe in white supremacy or the patriarchy. I have no problems with true equality of opportunity, but social justice is a code word for equality of outcome.”
In a blog entry on her website Skepchick, Watson also attacked Tron Guy for the fact he used to role play as a female furry. Furries are a community of people who dress up, roleplay or draw anthropomorphic animals. About 10 years ago Tron Guy used to roleplay with the “fursona” Sheila Warner on IRC chat. Sheila was basically an older version of Dot from the ’90s kids show The Animaniacs, who sometimes was drawn as a centaur for some reason.
Tron Guy said he no longer roleplays as Sheila, but still has a number of other fursonas on the online multiplayer game, Second Life. He does not dress up in fursuits, and his furry life is mainly online.
“I don’t consider myself a furry to the extent I believe I’m an animal in a human body,” he said. “Being a furry is about enjoying anthropomorphic characters and that’s all they’re about is characters.”
Watson attempted to use Tron Guy’s former trans furry identity to “fur shame” him and claim his furry life is hypocritical to his views on social justice.
“It’s strange that I don’t see Tron Guy complaining about the panel on furries that was at Penguicon in 2016,” Watson wrote while claiming she was not fur shaming him. “So why complain about the one panel that addressed transgender people? Oh, because being transgender is a ridiculous, politically correct, social justice, virtue-signaling freak show, but being a small female monkey centaur trapped in the body of a fat old man dressed in a leotard is just the way things should be.”
Tron Guy said he cares more about the lack of balance and the one-sidedness of the event. The politicization simply made the con “not fun anymore.” While he has donned his signature Tron spandex costume for the last 14 years of Penguicon’s existence, this year he didn’t even feel like taking it out of his suitcase.
According to Tron Guy, he isn’t the only one feeling the pressures of political correctness at the convention. His roommate Orvan the Ox, who is also a furry, used to dress up as an Acme Corp. deliveryman and deliver gag gifts to the guests of honor. But this year, Orvan decided against the shtick in fear that he would “offend the perpetually offended” with his gift choice.
The only way Tron Guy will return to Penguicon next year is if the group running the convention takes steps to revert Penguicon back to how it used to be: an non-politicized event where people can meet and discuss their hobbies.
“I go to conventions to escape the culture wars, not take part in them,” he said. “I don’t care about their race, sex orientation or whether they’re transgender. I just want to hear about great sci-fi stories.”