Just to be clear, don't simply describe Gaylaxicon 2008 -- this planet's premier GLBT sci-fi event, held semi-annually since 1988 and last in the D.C. area in 2000 -- as a ''science-fiction convention.'' First, one must define the terms.
''It's really anything that might fall under the umbrella of 'speculative fiction,''' says Rob Gates, 41. ''That includes science fiction, fantasy and horror -- particularly things like supernatural horror.''
Gates, one of the organizers of this year's event, serves as the head of the programming committee for the local Lambda Sci-Fi group. He describes Gaylaxicon as the only science-fiction convention specially geared toward GLBT people.
''In many ways Gaylaxicon is a safe and friendly place to look at these things specifically from a queer angle,'' he says. ''Other conventions may talk about a particular book, or author, or TV show or movie, but they're doing so from a mainstream perspective. Our panels and our discussions tend to focus on things from our perspective.''
To demonstrate his point, Gates cites a scene from the movie X-Men: The Last Stand, in which a ''mutant'' teenage boy goes home from mutant school to visit his parents. They plead with him to try to suppress his powers and not be a mutant, and instead blend in with the norm.
''It's a scene that for us as gay people, it resonated. For other people, it's just a cute scene.''
Gaylaxicon's extensive schedule of events, running from Friday, Oct. 10, to Monday, Oct. 13, at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda, includes autograph signings, charity auctions, discussion panels, games, parties, readings, video programming and much more.
''There are definitely a lot of panels and discussions, but it's also a very social event,'' Gates says. ''I've been going for a long time, and these are people that I've gone to conventions with over and over again.''
Those fellow conventioneers include Lambda Sci-Fi member Barrett Brick, 54, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance (GLAA).
''Gaylaxicon is a fun weekend for people who have any interest in science fiction, fantasy and other genres,'' Brick says. ''It's also for those who don't have any knowledge of science fiction, but they're just curious about it.
''There are a number of science-fiction conventions through the year, through the world, and many of them do include some ounce of gay-themed programming. Sometimes it's one or two panels, something it's nothing at all. Here's a chance for people to get a major fix.''
The upcoming convention marks the 16th Gaylaxicon over the past 20 years. Organizers encourage attendees to wear costumes.
Before deciding on a costume, however, be warned:
''Costumes are very popular at science-fiction conventions in general, but they've never been popular at Gaylaxicon,'' Gates says, adding that one of this year's panel discussions, titled ''Where's the Drag?'' centers on the gay community's lack of enthusiasm for costumes at Gaylaxicon conventions.
''It's never caught on at all,'' he says. ''It's very odd.''
One thing that has not been a rarity at the gay event in years past is attendance by straight people.
''We joke that we don't check credentials at the door,'' Gates says. ''Anybody is welcome.''
Gaylaxicon 2008 runs Oct. 10-13 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda, 7400 Wisconsin Ave. Admission is $70 for the full weekend, $30 for a day pass. For a full listing of events, visit www.gaylaxicon2008.org.