Description and the Other Sirens

I’m Teaching A Writing Intensive at Sirens Studio 2018

Four years ago I attended the Sirens conference for the first time and fell right in love with it. You can read a little about my experience here. The theme that year: Reunion. It was Siren’s 5th year and they were celebrating the fact that in those years a small but potent community had grown up around the conference.

I didn’t get to go to Sirens in 2014 or 2015 for financial reasons – it can be an expensive event – but in 2016 I got a scholarship to attend and this year I financed it in part via Patreon. I wanted to be there to celebrate my friends Kiini Ibura Salaam (one of last year’s guests of honor) and N. K. Jemisin (one of this year’s GoHs). And I missed that little but potent community of awesome people.

Next year, I get to go back! I’ve been invited to be a part of the Writing faculty for Sirens Studio, a workshop that takes place in the days right before the main conference starts. My workshop will be on description and writing inclusive fiction:

After characterization, the aspect of craft writers who aim to create inclusive, representational fiction are most anxious to get right is description. This can be particularly difficult for fantasy and science fiction authors, who must sometimes describe types of people who don’t yet exist. In this intensive we’ll use writing exercises to explore and practice the art of description, talk about bias language, and dismantle the idea of exposition as the enemy of good writing. There will be a mix of lecture, discussion, and exercises, and all participants will leave with a set of resources for further practice and deeper understanding.

I’m so pleased I get to go back, especially because next year’s theme is, once again, Reunion. This time it really will be a reunion for me. I’m also very excited about the guests of honor: Zen Cho, Kameron Hurley, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Leigh Bardugo. It’s going to be awesome.

If you are thinking about coming to Sirens, think harder! It’s still a small conference – this year they broke all previous records by having about 225 people all told – and it’s still more in the academic conference mold than the SF convention one. That’s what makes it great. There’s a concentrated amount of programming, there are panels and discussions and presentations, the attendees are all smart and love reading, and it isn’t primarily about writing and writers, it’s about reading and readers. If you love books, if you love fantasy, if you love fantasy books written by women, then then you will love Sirens. And you should come. Registration is open. See you there.

wiscon

My WisCon 41 Schedule

I’ll be at WisCon this weekend, just as I am every year. EVERY YEAR. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you want to find me, here’s my schedule:

Stop, Collaborate and Listen | Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm Conference 2

Amal El-Mohtar has a history of collaborating with likeminded souls, from editing a poetry zine to performing with a troupe of writer/musicians to co-writing fiction and beyond. How is it possible to discover fellow travelers and co conspirators across space and time(zones)? What are the benefits of such long distance collaborations, and how do different kinds of collaborative projects come together?

Julia Starkey, K. Tempest Bradford, Amal El-Mohtar, C. S. E. Cooney , Max Gladstone

Social Media in 2017 | Sat, 10:30–11:45 pm University C

LiveJournal is now hosted in Russia and doesn’t support HTTPS. Facebook is infected with fake news and trolls (not to mention giving us only random access to what friends have to say). Twitter keeps adding features we don’t want and allowing trolls to flourish. What’s worth using? Is there any way to change the social media landscape?

Rachel Kronick, K. Tempest Bradford, Emma Humphries, Sunny Moraine

How Lazy Writing Recreates Oppression | Sun, 10:00–11:15 am Capitol A

Themes of colonialism and racial oppression are extremely popular in the genre of science fiction. Authors of sci-fi often use the tropes of the genre to explore real issues in the world, however, colonialism and oppression is only alluded to in the fictional elements and not in the elements of the story based in the real world. Practices like color-blind casting are not only lazy but uphold white-default characterizations, stereotypes of marginalized people, and damage the spirit of real diversity and inclusion. On this panel, we will discuss stories like Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Who and Star Wars, and how these stories fall short and recreate oppression in their stories through lazy writing, as well as what writers need to be aware of when writing.

Mark Oshiro, K. Tempest Bradford, Nicasio Reed

Reading: Looking for Trouble | Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm Michelangelos

I will be reading from my story The Copper Scarab, which will be just out in Clockwork Cairo!

K. Tempest Bradford, Eileen Gunn, Pat Murphy, Nisi Shawl

Steven Universe and Consent | Sun, 2:30–3:45 pm Caucus

Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, said the following at San Diego Comic-Con: “It’s very important to me that we speak to kids about consent. That we speak to kids about identity. There’s so much I have to say about this. I want to feel like I exist and I want everyone else who wants to feel that way to feel that way too.” Let’s talk about how the show deals with issues of consent, especially in regards to its use of SF ideas like mind-sharing, body-swapping, and fusion. What can we learn from SU about how to (or how NOT to) discuss consent in SF texts? What history is there of discussing consent explicitly in SF, and how does SU  connect to it or fail to connect to it? And, going back to Sugar’s comments: how does consent relate directly to identity on SU?

Ty Blauersouth, K. Tempest Bradford, Seth Frost, thingswithwings, JP Fairfield, Jo Vanderhooft

Decentering Whiteness in Fandom | Sun, 10:00–11:15 pm University C

A more in-depth look at how whiteness is always the focus in fandom, fan works in particular. How POC characters are forgotten, written out, killed off by fandom so their white faves who do no more than glance at each other can be together in fanon bliss. How do we de-center the narratives built around minor white characters and problematic faves versus existing POC characters? A hard topic and not for those who think this doesn’t happen.

Tanya D., K. Tempest Bradford, Mark Oshiro

 

Me with the steampunk scarab necklace I got for the con

My AnomalyCon Schedule

I’m one of the guests at AnomalyCon this year! If you’re in the greater Denver area, get on down to the con. If you’re already attending the con: hooray! Come find me.

The Source of Our Power | Fri 6pm in Mesa Verde A

Writing a story is one thing, but writing serial novels and then maintaining an audience and a relationship with that audience takes a lot of energy. Successful authors talk about the source of their (seemingly) endless reserves.

Panelists: Ken Liu, K. Tempest Bradford, Wesley Chu

Social Linguistics | Fri 7pm in Mesa Verde A

Words are created, coopted, morph in meaning, become empowering or divisive. A discussion on the evolution of the meaning of words through their social use, as well as the development of colloquiallism.

Panelists: S. Dunn, K. Tempest Bradford, Ekaterina Sedia

Defense Against the Dark Arts | Fri 9pm in Windstar

Being an activist, or sometimes just being a marginalized person who exists on the internet, or even writing a character the fans don’t expect, can result in a lot of harassment and online backlash that might even creep into your personal life. A discussion of how to protect yourself and your family as much as possible.

Panelists: A Milton Davis, K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya DePass, N. Lightfoot

Technology in Fiction | Sat 10am in Mesa Verde A

We’ve all seen those movies with implausible computers, old tech in a new age, etc. Join us as we discuss how to write believable technology, even if you’re not a techie yourself.

Panelists: K. Tempest Bradford, S. Dunn, K. Major, N. Lightfoot

The Best Science Fiction In The World | Sat 12pm in Mesa Verde A

Science Fiction is bigger than its founders ever imagined, and there’s so much out there. We talk about our favorites: the guilty pleasures, the big inspirations, and the things you should be reading or watching.

Panelists: K. Tempest Bradford, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, C. Kemp

Is it Possible to Like Problematic Things? | Sat 1pm in Wind River B

Tale as old as time. Something comes out in one of our favorite fandoms, but the author appropriated a culture or left out any diversity or filled the story with fridging tropes. Is it possible to enjoy but engage? A discussion that should be approached only after attendees have read K. Tempest Bradford’s 101 series.

Panelists: K. Tempest Bradford, S. Glassman

What’s So Funny? | Sat 2pm in Mesa Verde C

Humor is a coping mechanism, but it’s also a vital mechanic of fiction. Our authors talk about humor, and it’s sure to be a lark.

Panelists: K. Tempest Bradford, Milton Davis, S. Dunn

We Need Diverse Books | Sat 3pm in Mesa Verde C

You’ve been reading white authors all your life. Maybe you don’t even think about it. But you need to get your hands on these great and diverse stories.

Panelists: K. Tempest Bradford, Zetta Elliott, A. Howard

AnomalyCon Celebrity Tea Duel | Sat 5pm on the 12th Floor

The grandest excitement on stage! Our biggest guests battle each other for the best cuppa!

Hell Hath No Fury | Sat 7pm in Wind River A

Ways to impede, motivate, change and inspire female characters (that aren’t rape tropes).

Panelists: Seanan McGuire, K. Tempest Bradford, T.L. Morganfield

Queer Identities After the Apocalypse | Sat 8pm in Wind River B

Trans healthcare and queer reproductive choices in post-apocalyptic worlds, even if the topic is a little close to home.

Panelists: D. Edwards, S. Glassman, K. Tempest Bradford

The Messiah/Hero Complex | Sun 11am in Mesa Verde A

Many stories, video games, and legends revolve around the idea of a young “chosen one” who is going to progress through the hero’s journey regardless of what they do to get there. How much of that story is wrapped up in Christianity embedded in our Western storytelling? What storytelling goes beyond this timeless trope?

Panelists: Stant Litore, Tanya DePass, K. Tempest Bradford, A. Brooks

 

Tempest at the Ocean

Where to Find Tempest in 2017

My Tempest World Tour continues, and this time it actually includes more world, I promise!

I’m heading back to Portland, OR, in March to stay for several months. Though, as you’ll see, I won’t actually be there much in March. This summer I’ll likely then spend a few months in Seattle. Once fall rolls around I’ll be looking for a warm weather place t spend the rest of the year.

AnomalyCon March 17 – 19th, Denver, CO

I am going to be a guest at AnomalyCon in March! I’m very, very excited out this. My first time as a guest at a steampunk con.

I’ve had a peek at the program schedule and it is PACKED with good stuff. And the other guests? Soooooo many amazing people I really look forward to seeing: Milton Davis, Tanya DePass, Zetta Elliott, Stant Litore, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, Ekaterina Sedia, and a bunch of other folks I’m looking forward to meeting for the first time.

By the time the con comes around I may even be ready to offer the attendees a sneak peek of the steampunk novel I’m in the midst of writing. If you’re dying to get a glimpse of it now there will be a post coming up about that later this week.

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts March 22 – 26th, Orlando, FL

Right after AnomalyCon I’m off to Florida for ICFA. I plan to be around town for about a week after ICFA, so if you Orlando peeps wanna get together, ping me now.

WisCon 41 May 26 – 29th, Madison, WI

This year I’m helping to coordinate the POC Dinner and POC Safer Space. More deets to come!

Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat (& Cruise!) July 28 – August 5th, 2017  + WorldCon August 9 – 13th, Helsinki

I will once again take part in the Out of Excuses cruise. I had a fabulous time last year (I should have blogged about it… more blogs, my first Resolution) and anticipate an even better time this year.

This cruise is a European one and timed so that if you’re going to WorldCon in Helsinki you can go from the boat to the con with a few days in-between to catch your breath and take your time getting there. And yeah, I’ll be at WorldCon, too.

I am not one of the official instructors at the workshop, though I may do a breakout session and put in some one-on-one time. The real reason to go is the amazing lineup of authors and editors and agents, which includes Ken Liu and Aliette de Bodard and Desiree Burch and a bunch of other fancy people. The way the cruise is structured, there will be plenty of time for conversation and writing together and some fun offshore excursions.

You can check out all the details on the registration page. It does cost some money. There will be scholarships this year as there have been in the past. Details on that are coming, I believe. I’ll update y’all (I promise… I do!).

If you can’t do the cruise but are coming to WorldCon, let me know. I have no set plans at the moment, don’t even know if I’m going to be on programming. We have some time to work it out.

After WorldCon I could be persuaded to hang around in Europe if anyone is dying to have me as a houseguest. ;)

This is all the stuff that’s confirmed so far. I also really want to go to Sirens and am heavy planning on it, but that’s not set in stone yet.

How many of you will I get to see this year?

On WisCon, and Who Is Allowed To Feel Welcome

Before WisCon I was having a conversation with a person who used to come to the con but does not, anymore. I asked why and they said, “WisCon isn’t fun, anymore,” and I thought about that for a while.

This person is not the only person to have expressed such a sentiment to me before that moment. I’ve heard from others over the years, usually people who have stopped coming since MoonFail[1] but a few are people who stopped coming in the last couple of years during the major shakeup that started with FrenkelFail and that the con is still emerging from.

  • WisCon isn’t that fun.
  • I’m not comfortable there.
  • I feel unwelcome.
  • I don’t like the vibe, anymore.

I’ve listened to these people and, in some cases, internalized these complaints and thought about whether or not there is something that needs to be done.

That’s what happened right before the con got started. I internalized that person’s issues.

And then the POC Dinner happened.

Okay, I say happened like Woop, it appeared! No. I organized it this year, as I have done in many previous years, and several wonderful and amazing volunteers helped me out at con.

The room was packed. I think we had 80 people all told. It was loud. There was so much joyous conversation and laughter. It was a room full of People of Color and Native folk having a good time and I loved it.

Loved it even though I stress myself out a bit every year trying to pull it together. Because each year since it went from being an informal lunch to a coordinated dinner in 2009, more and more and more POC have come to the con. We’ve had to switch locations and food plans and even how we collect the money many times to accommodate all the people who come. I can’t really complain about that.

Because there is this beautiful space, this wonderful moment, right before the con gets underway where we can all be together and see each other and know that the people in the room have our backs at the con.

Every year someone or two someones or half a dozen someones comes up to me to say:

  • Thank you.
  • This was amazing.
  • I’ve never experienced anything like this at an SF convention before.
  • I never felt so welcomed and like I belong.
  • When I first heard about this I thought it was gonna be 20 people but it was so many!
  • I didn’t think a con could be like this for a person like me.
  • This meant the world to me.

Almost as long as we’ve been having a POC Dinner, we’ve had the POC Safer Space at the con. It’s a place where POC and Native people can go to just be around each other and have discussions about our own stuff. A place where we acknowledge that we come from many different backgrounds, even as we all huddle under this one umbrella, and that it’s important to be able to talk and have community and decompress away from the white gaze. That doesn’t mean we’re all only ever going to be in that room—we came to WisCon, after all, and want to participate in all of it. It does mean that there are still people at the con giving us reason to want to talk amongst ourselves.

Every year I hear from people:

  • Thank you for that space.
  • Thank you for fighting for that space.
  • It was important for me to be able to process what happened on that panel.
  • It was crucial that I have somewhere to go besides my room so I could be calm and safe but not alone.

When I first started coming to WisCon in 2003 there were a handful of non-white people in attendance. I don’t think I counted that year. I did the next year. Still a handful. Other folks remember when it was a literal handful—five people out of 800-1000.

This is still the case at a lot of other SF cons right now. Small, midsized, local, regional, large, allegedly global…

People who go to them can often count the POC because they stand out. They recognize (or think they recognize) those people the next time and the time after because they are so few. That was WisCon. Until we changed it.

I think it started in earnest around 2009 after that horrendous winter of RaceFail and a bunch of white folks showing their asses on the Internet. Some of those white folks were WisCon regulars. And some of us were determined they weren’t going to chase us away.

The first time I came to WisCon I knew I wanted to come every year, again and again, for the rest of my life. Yes, there were few brown people. I was used to that. Yes, there were incidents around me and my brown-ness. I was used to that. It was much less terrible than WorldCon. And the wonderful experiences far, far outweighed the unpleasant ones. The panels were amazing, the speeches were amazing, the people I met were amazing.

I wasn’t gonna give that up over Faily McFailerson and her cronies.

I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

More people of color started to come because they wanted to meet this one person, because they had a friend going, because high profile brown folks told other brown folks to come and see how a con could be.

They came and saw that WisCon wasn’t a perfect con but that it had potential. That there were some panels about POC-specific issues. That there was a group of us who tried to make it our business to be welcoming. And when those moments of the con going south happened, some of us made it our business to fight to make change to that WisCon could be a better space for everyone. Everyone.

I say again: Everyone.

Unless.

Unless you’re a person who makes a space worse for certain people. People you know you can step on because they’re stepped on everywhere. People who are marginalized even in spaces that are supposed to be a refuge for marginalized people. But you know, like I know, that there are hierarchies, and intersections, and even in a feminist space some feminists are “less important” than others. Or, at least, that’s how things were for some for a long while. Until we changed it. And that right there is what’s making some people mad. And the people mad about that? Are not going to see WisCon as a better space for them.

Kanye Shrug

Oh well.

Because here’s the thing: 99% of the people I have seen or heard complaining about how WisCon isn’t comfortable for them and WisCon isn’t fun are white people. Not 100%. But 99%. It’s a bunch.

You know what else I’ve noticed about the people making these complaints? A lot of them are cisgender, a lot of them are men, a lot of them are people with privilege along multiple axes. Funny that.

And while it makes me sad at any time for folks to feel excluded, or like a space has been taken away from them, I have to say:

Where were you when this was other people feeling this way?

Where were you when people who are marginalized in nearly every other fandom space and came to WisCon thinking it would be different said they felt uncomfortable, unwelcome, threatened, unsafe?

I don’t remember seeing some of your faces when the fight for the Safer Space happened[2]. I don’t remember you chiming in when a guy on the concom[3] was abusing members of the concom (those who weren’t his friends…) and then people at the convention. I don’t recall you having any kind of problem when volunteers were leaving left and right because they were treated horribly by the “Old Guard” runners of the con[4]. I don’t remember you standing up to the woman the co-chairs had to ban last year[5] because she verbally abused everyone from hotel staff to volunteers at the reg desk every single year[6].

I don’t even remember some of you ever saying “Hey, I’ll do some work to make WisCon run smoothly for all attendees.[7]

Meanwhile, the people who I and others have worked hard to make feel welcome and relatively safe and empowered to report incidents of microagression or just plain old aggression have said:

  • Thank you.
  • This was so important to me.
  • How can I help?
  • You do so much and you look exhausted, can I get you something?
  • Can I be part of making this all work next time?

As N K Jemisin said in her speech at WisCon 38: “If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you?[8]

I ride or die for the people who have felt uncomfortable and pushed out and marginalized historically in this community, and at this con. I ride or die for the people who have come to me, sometimes with tears in their eyes, to tell me they’ve never felt more welcome and wanted and embraced by a con before this one[9].

I am not unwilling to ride or die for all y’all. I’ll say it again: I want WisCon to be a better space for everyone. I want you to surf this wave of change with us. But only if you’re willing to make the con better for both you and yours as well as me and mine, she and hers, they and theirs, Jackie an’ ’em, and all the other folks who want it to be great for all of us together.

If you’re uncomfortable now, but weren’t before, then think about that. Really think about it. Consider if you were making people uncomfortable before, even without thought or intention. Consider that you’re feeling left out because, in the course of our claiming a space for ourselves, we made clear to you just how much you or people like you contributed to our pain, our lack of fun, our lack of safety. Ponder the puzzle of how a con dedicated to feminism, populated by many amazing people, somehow ended up being a place where people who weren’t the right color, the right class, the right age, the right level of ability, the right gender presentation felt like they didn’t fully belong. And delve deep into the mystery of how fixing that problem is the thing that’s made you run away[10].

Footnotes

  1. For context, please read my post and Jim C. Hines’ follow up post.[]
  2. Yes, this is something that we had to fight for. And the person talked about in the footnote below this? Was the main person fighting against it. I believe the spectre of a lawsuit against the con if the Safer Space happened was brought up in public to other concom members.[]
  3. There’s an entire other post in the footnotes to follow. I felt it was important to give actual names here. If you say “I feel uncomfortable/unwelcome at WisCon because of what you did to Richard Russell”? Then what you’re saying is you feel unwelcome because Richard violated the Statement of Principles, which we explicitly made apply to the concom and not just the convention itself. You’re saying you side with a person who routinely abused concom members who were younger, who were not white, who were essentially not the friend group/local community he was a part of. And while you may have heard all kinds of stories from Richard about what we did and why, the bottom line is that he was told, repeatedly, over years, to stop. He did not stop. He was told, repeatedly, over years, why his words and actions were harmful and harmful mostly to People of Color on the concom. He did not stop. He was told, repeatedly, that his abusive behavior drove volunteers away from the concom and attendees away from WisCon. He did not stop. And let’s be clear on one point: We didn’t ban him from WisCon, we removed him from the concom because he was abusive. So if you feel unwelcome because of what we did to Richard Russell, then you are okay with Richard making others feel unwelcome and unsafe. And to that I say: Fuck you.[]
  4. Once again, I am gonna name names. In my post, Sometimes Allies Are Bad Actors, I quote Mikki Kendall pointing out that just because a person has done work, good work, for the con, for fandom, for the people they love, doesn’t mean they can’t be problematic and doesn’t mean they have treated everyone equally. Jeanne Gomoll started WisCon and has been a friend to many people and has done much good work. Jeanne also sometimes shit all over the work and contributions of WisCon volunteers and concom members who were not in her friend group/local community (do you see a theme emerging?). There were people who tried to volunteer and felt disrespected and dismissed by Jeanne and then left because of that. There were people who left upset because of Jeanne’s unwavering support of Richard Russell, who, as I have mentioned, was verbally abusive to members of the concom. But not to her. But not to her friends. And so we were terrible people for deciding that members of the concom had to be held to the same standards of conduct that we hold our attendees to. And so Jeanne decided to leave the concom over this. No one tossed her out. Another long time WisCon runner? Hope of ConSuite fame. Another person saying far and wide how horrendously the new WisCon runners have treated her. Hope harassed the person who took over running the ConSuite (a position Hope vacated officially a month before the con last year) several times during WisCon 39 and had to be restricted to food access only so she had less opportunity to harass folks there. She then repeated this behavior at this year’s con. And, beyond that, my understanding is that there were volunteers that felt some kind of way about how Hope treated them for years and years. Not a new problem. So if you’re feeling unwelcome because your good friend Jeanne or your good friend Hope were drummed out of WisCon and made to feel unwelcome, then what you’re saying is that the people they harassed or made to feel unwelcome don’t matter. That it only matters how they feel, because they’re your friends. And to that I say: Fuck you.[]
  5. The woman’s name is Alyson L. Abramowitz. She was banned last year for screaming at the hotel staff before she even got to WisCon. This was not out of character for her, since she’s been yelling and screaming at hotel folks, Reg folks, and plenty of other folks—volunteers and attendees—for all the many years she’d been coming to the con. This is why she was banned. And, when it happened, so many people went: phew! Glad she’s not coming. She made my con experience terrible when I was around her. One of those people was me. If you feel unwelcome because your good friend Alyson was so cruelly banned from the con for making other people feel unwelcome, then you’re saying that her behavior towards others doesn’t matter because she’s your friend. And to that I say: Fuck you.[]
  6. We had a panel at WisCon 39 in which a lot of the stuff from the above footnotes was discussed. Here’s a Storify of the live tweets from it.[]
  7. Anyone wanna place bets on how many people will respond to this by saying: “But I did do yadda yadda!” and ignore the qualifiers there and everywhere in this post?[]
  8. Just want to point out here that Nora publicly left the concom because of MoonFail, and that her experience and reaction was emblematic of the way many people felt. Those volunteers I mentioned in footnotes above? The ones who left because of the Bad Actors? Listen to what Nora has to say and then multiply by many.[]
  9. There’s an entire side conversation to be had about how, years ago, this was the experience of many of the (now) long-time attendees. A con the centers feminism? Where we talk about women and science fiction and writing? There’s nothing like this anywhere else! How many of you experienced that back then? Why then do you not understand why this is important for the people experiencing it now?[]
  10. There are a ton of links I want you to read in relation to this post:
wiscon

Find A Tempest @ WisCon 40!

The WisCon Feminist Science Fiction Convention is coming up this week and I am all up in it. I’m on a ton of amazing panels, I’m organizing a bunch of things, and I aim ready to have a good time.

However, I do want to direct people to this blog post from a year ago about microaggressions and WisCon I feel like it’s important to bring up again ahead of the con.

I also want to send a signal flare up to the POC and Native folk coming to the con: Are you aware we have activites at WisCon just for us? If you aren’t, ping me. I’ll give you all the deets[1].

Okay so…. this year I’m one of the Program department deputies and so I put myself on too many panels. As always… Here’s my schedule:

AMA with GOHs (aka Ask Me Anything Live with the Guests of Honor) | moderator

Sat 10:00 – 11:15AM | Capitol A

Have a question for Guests of Honor Sofia Samatar, Justine Larbalestier, or Nalo Hopkinson about writing craft, writing life, or their fiction? Come to this Ask Me Anything session with your questions!

#KeepYAKind and Other Nice Tools of the Oppressor | moderator

Sat 1:00 – 2:15PM | Assembly

There is always a point in the midst of heated Internet discussions where someone lifts their voice to make a call for Kindness, Niceness, Civility, or any other adjacent concept. These calls often go up when the issue at hand concerns an individual with privilege being called out by folks with significantly less privilege or cultural power. And Kind, Nice, and Civil become synonyms for Keep Your Mouth Shut. When this happens again, what tools can we use to dismantle this toxic dynamic and get back to the core matter? Are there secret code words we can deploy to neutralize the terms?

Panelists: Becky Allen, Betsy Haibel, Justine Larbalestier, Mark Oshiro[2]

Podcasts for Beginners | moderator

Sat 4:00 – 5:15PM | Conference 1

So you want to start a podcast. You have a computer, a mic, and Skype. What else do you need? What does good editing software cost? Where’s the best place to host? How do you get your podcast listed in all the right places? A panel of seasoned podcasters is ready to answer your questions, give great advice, and probably pop their Ps.

Panelists: Tanya D., Keffy R. M. Kehrli, JP Fairfield

Analog and Digital Writing Tools[3] | moderator

Sun 8:30 – 9:45AM | Conference 1

Writers, bring your favorite writing tools—laptop, tablet, quill, or steam-fueled ideatron—and share the pros and cons of your favored method of writing with others! We’ll talk software, hardware, analogware, old-fashioned methods as well as new. If you’re willing to share your beloved your writing gear, others may be eager to give them a try.

Panelists: Dylan Moonfire, Kristine Smith

Afrofuturist Narratives Outside Of Literature | moderator

Sun 10:00 – 11:15AM | Capitol A

Janelle Monae’s albums tell the story of the android Cindi Mayweather, fugitive and freedom fighter. Sun-Ra explored the past and future of Africans and people of the diaspora through music, poetry, and film. Nick Cave’s Soundsuits evoke the strangeness of aliens while drawing on multiple cultural traditions around sound, dance, and design. Let’s explore the different mediums in which afrofuturist artists are expressing and engaging with the future, blackness, and art.

Panelists: Bill Campbell, Nalo Hopkinson[4]

SIX SEASON SERIES BASED ON THE THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL | Vanna White

Sun 4:00 – 5:15PM | Wisconsin

The eighth installment of this popular and amazing panel! Writers of color working in F/SF face unique challenges, it’s true. But, at the end of the day, being a “person of color” is only one aspect of what makes up our identities as writers. While it’s very flattering to be asked to be on panels, most of these panels never crack the ceiling of Race 101. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be nice for multiple writers and fans of color to sit on a panel that isn’t about race at all? Here’s our chance to do just that. So, what are we gonna talk about, instead? Practically anything! Presented in game show format, SIX SEASON SERIES BASED ON THE THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL brings together writers and fans of color to get their geek on about any number of pop culture topics—none of them race related.

Panelists: Jackie Gross (ladyjax), Sumana (brainwane) Harihareswara, Nalo Hopkinson, Emily Jiang, Michi Trota


I didn’t start out moderating all of these panels, then somehow I was moderating them all….

Come to my panels, go to the many other amazing panels on the schedule, go to the readings, come to the speeches. I’m telling you, it’s going to be fabulous this year.

 

Footnotes

  1. Not giving all the deets here because racist trolls sometimes comes by and have feelings about the stuff we do.[]
  2. Can we talk for a second about how stoked I am to be on a panel with these people? Because I so am.[]
  3. Or, as I like to call it: The Write Gear live[]
  4. Yaaaaaaaaaaaallllll these panelists[]
conventions

Expect More From Your Regional ConCom

There are so many conversations going on right now sparked by Mark Oshiro’s report[1] detailing what happened to him at last year’s ConQuesT convention that it’s hard to just focus in on one aspect to talk about[2]. There is one thing I want to jump in and speak about right away, which is what should be expected of con staff and ConComs. I decided to write this post after reading Rachael Caine’s post on the situation, in which she says:

But you know what? It’s not necessarily the fault of the volunteers throwing conventions. Audiences and panelists must hold each other accountable if fandom is going to continue as it began. ConComs are not gods. They can’t vet moderators, they can’t interview panelists about every panel topic to see if they’re qualified. They are organizers of a show for which they don’t get paid, and while they do shoulder the burden for responding to bad behavior, WE are responsible for responding immediately to the bad behavior in the first place.

I agree with the overall point of Rachel’s post: that fans and panel participants and pros all need to look out for each other. Many of us already do that because we long ago figured out the importance. It’s the bolded bits that I take issue with. ConComs are not gods, but they sure as hell can vet moderators and can put systems in place to up the chances that panelists are qualified to be on the panels they’re assigned to. I speak from experience as a programming volunteer myself.

I work on the programming committee for WisCon and am most familiar with our system and workflow. I also know a bit about how ReaderCon does things. Both of these cons are relatively small, just as ConQuesT is, both have a volunteer staff, and both have very involved programming.

WisCon programming is a highly collaborative process. We solicit panel ideas from WisCongoers and allow the members to vote on which panels they want to see based on the list of all qualified panels submitted[3]. You can read an overview of the process on the WisCon blog, if you want more details. After we figure out which panels will happen, we have to decide who gets to be on them. Again, this is a collaborative process. Folks volunteer to be on, to moderate, and the Program team uses a combination of database wizardry and hand selection to get all the panels staffed.

In past years, there have been big mistakes made in this department, such as having a panel about [insert marginalized identity] with only one person of that identity on it (or none), or panels with problematic descriptions, or panels with moderators that just made everything terrible and harmful and triggering. One of my goals in joining the Program staff was to help this not happen–and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that all of us on staff have that as a major goal. To that end, we’ve asked for, and received, changes to the programming database that help us identify which volunteers would be best for a panel or, hopefully, which people should not be on certain panels. Some of it is still a function of knowing the folks at WisCon since we’re all long-time attendees as well.

Though our system is very useful, it is not perfect. It’s still evolving, too. We still make mistakes. We try hard not to make the same ones, to be aware of problems that could crop up and nip them in the bud–such as by making sure we mark panels to hand staff so the database’s random assignments don’t put a cis person on a panel about trans people talking about trans issues, for example. We strive to be proactive because we want our attendees and guests to have as great a time as possible.

conventions
This is what it looks like when people are having an awesome time on a panel

This is a lot of work, yes. This is necessary work. It’s work that fan cons should do–yes, even if the staff is all volunteers. Because this is important.

Just look at what happened at last year’s GenCon Writer’s Symposium. A dude who is well known for being a problem, especially about women’s issues, was allowed to moderate a panel on women in comics even after The Mary Sue pointed out that the original panel was made up of All Men. ALL MEN. Even after that bit was addressed–hurriedly–Bill Willingham was still allowed to moderate. Marc Tassin, the Writer’s Symposium Track Director, should have known better. Willingham’s viewpoint and attitude are not a secret. And yet.

I expect GenCon to do better, and that con is far, far bigger than ConQuesT. Kansas City fans have pointed out that it is the very essence of a local con. Most folks running it and putting people on panels know each other well and know the panelists. Robin Wayne Bailey[4]  is a local and, from what I can gather, a regular at that con. Selina Rosen, who pulled down her pants, is apparently a serial pants taker off-er at that very con. Yes, this is a small local con. That means it’s probably even easier for programming volunteers to know that they’ve staffed a panel about diversity and erasure with one person of color and a bunch of problematic white folks who are prone to undressing at the slightest provocation.

It is certainly not possible to predict the behavior of every person, to know the specific background and identity details of every guest and panelist. And there is always room for error. I really need us to not pretend that there aren’t ways to be better, that we shouldn’t demand better while also saying “I will be an advocate and activist about this, too.”

ConComs and programming staff have to be proactive. They have to know what the potential problems are, where the common pitfalls lie, and pay attention to what has happened at other cons so they can avoid making the very same exact mistakes. Nothing that happened at ConQuesT regarding those panels Mark talked about hasn’t happened elsewhere many times[5]. All of it was avoidable.

Large con or small, the ConComs and program volunteers absolutely must be proactive and address these issues. When they do, it helps to empower the kind of personal response Rachel talks about. And I’ll reiterate: I agree that this is important, too. We, all of us, con staff and guest and attendee, have to look out for each other, speak up, create the kind of spaces we want at our fun community gatherings.

 

Footnotes

  1. Mark posted about his experience as a Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT in which he was treated so horrendously by staff, other guests, panelists, and attendees he was triggered into an anxiety attack, among other things.[]
  2. To wit: here’s one of my Twitter rants about the cost of publicizing bias in the community. That’s just a small smidge of what we talked about there and on Facebook today.[]
  3. By the way, the program survey is now live. Go tell us which panels you want to attend and be on![]
  4. Did you see his comment on Mark’s Facebook post? Here it is.[]
  5. Maybe not the thing with the undressing. What is wrong with people??[]
How to be black

Sometimes Allies Are Bad Actors

How to be black

“Stop attacking your allies!” –White Proverb

Okay, it’s not really a white proverb. This is the favorite rallying cry of a certain kind of ally[1] — the kind that assumes their self-proclaimed ally status means that any disagreement with them is an attack. And those in need of allies should be careful of attacking, else they will have none.

There’s a lot of bullshit wrapped up in this.

The main problem being that just because you’re an ally doesn’t mean you magically always act in the best interests of the group you’re allied with, and nor should you assume you are. An ally is not some glittery state of being in which you can do no wrong, in which your presence is always wanted or helpful, in which the loss of you represents a great loss to the cause. Sometimes allies are more here for themselves than they are for others.

“Sometimes allies are bad actors.”

That last is a quote from the panel “What Happened With WisCon Last Summer?” Mikki Kendall was the one who said it. She said it in response to Pat Murphy, who expressed sadness that the actions of some people on the WisCon ConCom caused longtime volunteers of the same to drop out of the organization. The people who left are those who have done a ton of work for the convention and for the fan community. This is not in dispute. They are people who have worked to build a feminist space within SF fandom, and are committed to their feminist values. This is not in dispute.

They are also people who, at some time or another over the past two years, have failed to be good allies to people in their feminist space who are not from their same generation, their same race or ethnicity, their same class.

That doesn’t mean they’ve done no good work, or that all their good work is moot. Plus, no one is perfect. Even the most hardcore social justice warrior (or paladin, cleric, rogue…) can fail to be a good ally to someone from a different group or identity at some point. What matters, what always matters, is how you deal with your fail. Did you apologize? Did you sit with yourself and examine what happened and why? Did you think about what being a good ally really means? Did you recommit yourself to being a better ally in the future?

Or did you double down with the idea that you’re an ally, not one of those bigots out there, and you marched with King, and you supported some feminists in 1973, and you’ve done all this work, and therefore you didn’t do anything wrong, you find nothing objectionable in what you did (or failed to do), and so the problem must be with the people you’re allied to, and not with yourself. In other words: did you center yourself?

The kind of people who say Stop Attacking Your Allies are the kind who tie their allyship to specific behaviors from the group they’re supposedly interested in helping. They, the ally, want to dictate the terms of the relationship and want to be the one to say “Now it’s the time to address this thing,” instead of allowing the marginalized and oppressed folks to make that determination. The ally wants to set the rules for what is appropriate discourse, to determine the parameters for politeness, and the conditions under which they will use or set aside their privilege. Do I need to explain the problems with that?[2]

Are we really “driving away” our allies, or are we making it clear that we won’t accept an ally relationship that is about the needs and comfort of the allies above everyone else? Yes, we might be making that clear with harsh language. And yes, in making that clear we might hurt some feelings. That happens when allies don’t listen to the polite, patient words that come before the yelling.

We are far more patient with our allies because they are allies. Because we know, on some level, that they do get it. And we want them to understand. We need our allies.

But we don’t need them so much that we’re willing to be treated like they know what’s best better than we do. Nor so much that we will tolerate them not listening or being dismissive when we say “this is wrong, hurtful, damaging, dangerous, and deadly.” Allies that do? We don’t need.

Sometimes allies are bad actors.

Do you want to be a good actor? To be the real ally you consider yourself to be? Then I suggest you read this guide to allyship & interracial friendships on The Feminist Griote, as it breaks allyship down extremely well. The article focuses on white allies to POC, particularly women of color, but the kinds of questions raised–Do you, white person, have any POC friends? Do you allow your closeness to POC to give you an excuse to not police your whiteness?–apply to many an ally relationship.

Read that article, sit with it, and consider whether you have been a bad actor in the past. If you have, then the best way to make up for that is to do better going forward.

Footnotes

  1. I have an acquaintance who just loves to whip this out when someone confronts her on her less than sterling attitudes about progress and diversity.[]
  2. Nevermind, I’ll let Dr. King do so: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”[]
microagressions

Your Microaggressions Aren’t Welcome Here

microagressions

Two years ago I proposed, then moderated a panel at WisCon called “Speak To Me In Your Native Language!” And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone (clicky for description). The panel title comes directly from something a WisCon-goer said to a friend of mine; and that’s just one of the othering experiences she’s had at the con and why she hasn’t been back in a while. I brought up other examples on the panel having to do with inappropriate touching/moving–of hair, of assistive devices such as wheelchairs–inappropriate interrogation–“You’re not blind, so why do you need a service dog?”–and similar instances of Othering[1]. I created this panel because I wanted to try and figure out how WisCon and the community of people in it should address the problem and maybe even strive toward fixing it.

The panel didn’t go completely to plan because we got derailed several times by one of the panelists[2]. I also don’t remember us coming up with any actionable solutions.

The most obvious one for me is to be that person that calls folks out when I witness such situations and encourage others to do so as well. That’s only workable so long as there are people willing and around. You can’t be everywhere. And while that could eventually grow and grow into awareness for everyone, that could take time. And while that’s happening some people still won’t feel welcome at the con.

What didn’t occur to me is that WisCon the organization could do something to address this behavior[3]. As of this year, we are.

The Safety chairs made it clear that con goers should, if they felt comfortable doing so, report such behavior (labeled microaggressions[4] ) to Safety, and that the on duty staff as well as appropriate department or con chairs would take steps to address the problem with the involved parties. That could mean having a discussion with someone about their inappropriate words/behavior and giving them guidelines around further contact with the person who filed the complaint (such as: do not approach them again), as happened this year. That’s not the only recourse. The idea is to make WisCon a safer space for everyone, not just some certain kinds of people. To make WisCon the type of con where you are not required to let things roll off your back and ignore or laugh off microaggressions and othering so you don’t disrupt everyone else’s good time[5].

I never realized until recently that there could be an official response to these kinds of actions. Or even what that response would look like.

I know that going forward I’m going to have to fight my own impulses to shrug off such behavior and only share and get understanding over how much it sucks from friends and fellow POC. For so long that was the only recourse I had–well, that and talking about it on the Internet. I got used to that being the status quo. I’m grateful others shattered the status quo.

I’m also glad that as a community we’re more and more giving the signal that addressing Othering and Microagressions is a community effort, not just an individual one. At WisCon, Debbie Notkin noted that when she was young, individuals (mostly girls and women) were expected to deal with sexual harassment on their own. That it was your job to remove yourself from that person, your job to find friends who could help you, your job to be on the lookout and not get in their sights again. Now folks take the stance that it’s the responsibility of the community as a whole to deal with harassers. By actively removing harassers from our community spaces, by identifying harassing behavior and making it clear it won’t be tolerated, by ensuring that people can safely report harassers and feel supported when they do.

As a community, can we make it clear that othering is not okay? That microagressions are not appropriate? Can we make it our problem to address as a community and not only a burden individuals have to deal with? Can we agree that allowing this crap to drive people away (and it does) is untenable?

Can we, community?

Footnotes

  1. Othering is viewing or treating a person as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. Doing so allows you to say or ask completely inappropriate stuff that you would never if you saw that person as fully human as yourself. Here’s a deeper breakdown.[]
  2. He kept saying things like: “You just need to let things like that roll off your back.” and “I don’t see how getting angry does anyone any good.” These can be valid strategies for getting along in the wider world, but were counterproductive in the context of the panel and the con itself.[]
  3. It should have. That it didn’t has a lot to do with the organization’s reluctance to move on certain things in the past.[]
  4. the top image is from this vid on microaggressions.[]
  5. I should also note that the Safety folks at Arisia are doing something similar and have been proactive in addressing this problem at their con.[]

My WisCon 39 Schedule

When I decided to be programming co-chair I swore to myself that I would not overload on panels this year. “Overload” seems to mean 8 panels. I’m on 5. Huzzah?

Misandry, Reverse Racism, and Other Imaginary Creatures (aka Drinking the tears of my enemies Part 2) Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm Assembly
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Mystery Guest, Isabel Schechter, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, Michi Trota

Cultural Literacy or Cultural Appropriation? Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm Capitol B
K. Tempest Bradford, @SoosheBot, Sally Wiener Grotta, Andrea D. Hairston, Mikki Kendall

In our diverse culture all thinking and reading individuals are influenced by a wide range of heritages, histories, and mythologies. Let’s talk about how to articulate the boundaries and borders of what’s appropriative and what’s okay in fiction, dance, craft, and other art. In the end, who gets paid? And who gets propped up as an “expert”? In what ways can artists and creators engage with cultures without being harmful and destructive?

If you’re coming to this panel we’re collecting questions ahead of time here and will accept questions via Twitter while the panel is happening via the hashtag #LiteracyorAppropriation

THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm Wisconsin
Sparkymonster, K. Tempest Bradford, Chesya Burke, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mikki Kendall, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun

The seventh installment of this popular and amazing panel! Writers of color working in F/SF face unique challenges, it’s true. But, at the end of the day, being a “person of color” is only one aspect of what makes up our identities as writers. While it’s very flattering to be asked to be on panels, most of these panels never crack the ceiling of Race 101. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be nice for multiple writers and fans of color to sit on a panel that isn’t about race at all? Here’s our chance to do just that. So, what are we gonna talk about, instead? Practically anything! Presented in game show format, THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL brings together writers and fans of color to get their geek on about any number of pop culture topics—none of them race related.

Chips On Our Shoulders: The Wearable Tech Trend Sat, 10:30–11:45 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, BC Holmes, Stephanie Krislov, Neil Rest

One of fastest growing trends in gadgetry is wearable tech: not only expensive and well-known products like Google Glass but a huge variety of devices designed to be strapped on a wrist, clipped on clothing, perched on our head, or even worn on our feet. These gadgets are getting smaller, less noticeable, and literally woven into the fabric of our lives. In this panel we’ll explore the implications wearables have on health, personal interaction, privacy, and social issues through the lens of science fiction literature that addresses these themes and our real world experiences. 

How To Tell POC Apart: The Game! Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Jackie Gross, N. K. Jemisin

So many POC writers these days—how can we tell them apart? This game-show format panel will sharpen your skills while earning you fabulous prizes! (Books!) Ted Chiang or John Chu? Nalo, Nnedi, Nora, or Nisi? You decide.

We’re still accepting contestants for this panel. Ping me in the comments if you want to play!