MoonFail: Raising The Bar

MoonFail: Raising The Bar

I wanted to expand on some of what I said in my first post a few days ago about not settling for the bare minimum when it comes to charged discussions ignited by Elizabeth Moon’s post and the WisCon troika’s subsequent statement regarding it. I’ve been mulling over this for the past few days, but this post by committee member Piglet snapped things into focus. In particular, this line:

The bar for disinviting a Guest of Honor is much, much higher than the bar for inviting a GoH.  I can’t imagine (failure of imagination again, no doubt — nevertheless) circumstances under which I would support it.  Yes, even someone who verbally attacked my marginalizations in the interim between invitation & con.  Or, as Ms. Moon has done, those of my friends.

When I read that, my immediate thought was that this was not something I expect to hear from a WisCon committee member. And while I was feeling very wavery about whether Moon should be disinvited before, I now feel very strongly that she should.

My path here has been very similar to what Nora describes in this post:

For awhile I thought of this as a matter of professionalism, and the ineffectuality of a top-down gesture. But that letter makes it clear that what motivated the ConCom was not a concern for professionalism, or the desire to make the most effective protest. That letter makes it clear that the decision was made out of the usual fear of taking a hardline stand on principle, and the usual expectation that oppressed people will find some way to accommodate the bigots who hate them.

Further down, what she has to say here:

I think I’ve become too wedded to defending people like this. ::sigh:: Damn, I must be getting old. I’m always so grateful when I encounter people willing just to have these conversations… even if talking is all they do. I’m always so happy when they take a step… even if it’s nowhere near far enough, and even if they land on my foot in the process. In this sense I’m actually buying into Moon’s BS — specifically her resentment over having to make even the slightest effort to accommodate others’ differences and needs. It’s gotten to the point where I expect that resentment, and even plan for it. But I need to expect better of the people I call my friends.

echoes what Amal said in the post I pointed to either:

I’m grateful that [the ConCom doesn’t] see her words as anything less than hateful and damaging. I’m grateful for their dismay and their anger. But that gratitude should be telling. That gratitude is part of the problem. That gratitude is indicative of the fact that the status quo is so dire that I perceive basic human decency as Moon’s “bending over backwards,” and that some part of me was afraid that the ConCom would see no problem at all with what she said. After all, millions of Americans don’t.

I was okay with the ConCom’s statement because I was afraid there’d be no statement at all. I was okay with the ConCom’s statement because it didn’t sweep this under the rug, because they offered me something I could engage with. …that’s our purpose, of course. To be Makers of Points before we are people. To be valuable and acceptable additions to Moon’s commonweal. To be pattable on the head.

This is particularly appropriate given recent WisCon history. As I said, in the years I’ve been going to the con I’ve seen an increase in people of color and a definite change in attitude toward what counts as a “Feminist Issue”. Intersectionality is a higher priority, as well as an increase in awareness surrounding the needs of different WisCon-going groups[1]. But getting to that point wasn’t a smooth road. Those things had to be asked or fought for specifically, sometimes over the objections of people on the concom. It’s not all a happy, shiny family — nor would one expect it to be. It’s a community of people who have some interests and goals and ideas in common, but not all.

On these issues we are moving past (or have already moved past) the stage of things where basic human decency should be all we expect and should be grateful for. Oh no. Just acknowledging that what Moon had to say is wrong is not enough. Not at this point. Given that this con is built around a social justice issue and an incredibly important ideal and movement, it is shocking to see that attitude on display. The bar for disinviting a GoH is high? Sure it is. But is it high enough that you are willing to go back on what WisCon is about in order to bring in and honor someone who holds ideas that are antithetical to the very work this con is about?

WisCon isn’t just a convention of people who love science fiction and fantasy like, say, WorldCon or PhilCon or something. WisCon stands for something. WisCon is where you go when the sexism and prejudice at other cons becomes intolerable. WisCon is where you go when you realize that other cons aren’t going to disinvite their GoHs for saying/doing the most despicable things about/to homosexuals or women or immigrants or people of color or Jews or Muslims or or or.

People can shout all they want about how Elizabeth Moon is being honored for her fiction, but WisCon hasn’t always just been about the fiction. The conversations we have there, the issues we tackle, are not fictional or always concerning fiction. Or, when they are, they are also about how fiction affects and shapes our society and our opinions about each other. Why else would there be a panel about cultural appropriation? Not just for a bunch of people to talk about how it’s okay to appropriate as long as you write a good yarn, but because it’s important to acknowledge how the choices fiction writers make affect readers, which affects how readers think and view the world.

Someone feel free to correct me, but it seems that the bar for inviting a Guest of Honor to WisCon is that the person, in their life and in their fiction, embody what WisCon is about. What WisCon is about has changed over the years, and will continue to change (hopefully for the better). And before now I would have hoped that it did not stand for the kind of ignorant, bigoted ideas that Elizabeth Moon holds. I suspect that if the marginalizations Moon had attacked had been closer to Piglet’s her attitude about disinvitation would be different.

Because this con stands for something. Wanting to attend means something. This is not Joe Blow’s Con Of Stuff. This is not the con for being grateful just because people acknowledge bad things were said without actively fighting against bad things. It is no longer acceptable to simply be appalled. Being appalled is step one. Step two is doing what is in your power to change things for the better, to make a better world. Or, short of that, a better community.

Amal, again:

The precedent we should be worried about setting is not “blogging could get me disinvited from a convention as Guest of Honour.” The precedent we should be worried about setting is “some fans are worth more than others, and Muslims don’t matter enough to take a stand for.”

What kind of community do you want, WisCon committee? A community in which social justice and fighting prejudice stops at “That was a really terrible thing to say!”? Or, at least one that stops at that when it’s not YOUR marginalization that’s under attack?

Footnotes

  1. Including, but not limited to, people with disabilities, as one example[]

Comments

  1. says

    YES.

    Also, I am sickened by comments I’ve seen along the lines of, “WisCon has never promised to be a safe space.” Because they never seem to be along the lines of “Safe space is impossible; we’re trying for safer space,” but this kind of disingenuous thing where people are pretending that WisCon isn’t a progressive con. That it hasn’t been built around the idea that, as you said, it’s where you go when the oppressive bullshit from other cons becomes intolerable. Like this kind of crap is okay for WisCon. It’s not.

  2. betsyl says

    piglet says : “Yes, even someone who verbally attacked my marginalizations in the interim between invitation & con. Or, as Ms. Moon has done, those of my friends.”

    you say : “I suspect that if the marginalizations Moon had attacked had been closer to Piglet’s her attitude about disinvitation would be different.”

    i say : would not would too would not would too is NOT USEFUL.

    we’ve got a fucked up situation here. theories on how people might react in different ways if the situation were differently fucked up have probably done as much good as they’re going to do.

    i really like the rest of your post, but i can’t figure out how to say so in a way that doesn’t sound condescending as all hell. so, there’s that.

  3. Deanne says

    Here to say that I agree that the “Guest of Honour” status should be revoked. I would hope that she would attend, though, because it does appear that she has a lot to learn.

  4. says

    “I would hope that she would attend, though, because it does appear that she has a lot to learn.”

    Not that I want to bar her attendance or anything of the kind (she should absolutely be free to come, though I’d prefer not as GoH), but this IS the woman who called all previous attempts to educate her “slag” and deleted them. Nisi is talking to her. If she doesn’t learn from that, is she likely to learn at all?

  5. says

    Both Nisi and Piglet seem to be operating on the idea that Moon is planning to apologize. Maybe she is. Maybe she even told them so overtly. But how much planning does an apology take? Eight months’ worth?

  6. says

    I agree that ‘would not, would too’ formulations of this question are useless.

    But, as someone who was one of the main targets of Moon’s attack, it’s actually crucial to me to know how this works procedurally and how it will work procedurally in the future. The question, framed more productively and proactively might be “Under what circumstances, if any, would the organizers consider rescinding GoH status to be on the table? Under what circumstances, if any, would they consider it to be obligatory?” To my mind, clear answers to such questions would be the only way for me to know whether the act of rescinding is considered, as a matter of principle or policy, beyond the pale, PERIOD (which would be fine by me), or whether Moon’s comments just weren’t vicious enough — or weren’t vicious enough toward the right people — for the organizers to consider them worth rescinding her GoH status (which would not be fine by me).

  7. Vicki says

    The question I’d like answered is, Are there any circumstances in which the concom would revoke a Guest of Honor-ship? If the answer is no, that’s at least something concrete; it may be the wrong position, but it has a solidity that “maybe, but not for that” doesn’t.

  8. Pan says

    I don’t think we should have to boycott our con because of Moon’s disgusting diatribe. I want to celebrate Nisi and I don’t want Moon to ruin that for her. But I plan to write to the con committee to suggest that Moon be uninvited as a GOH. And in case of future such issues, they should create a protocol for disinviting GOHs who go postal. Our con is supposed to NOT be about that. We are supposed to be reaching for something better – however imperfectly. I believe a hundred percent in free speech – so that is not the issue. The issue is that there need to be rules of civility for the con, and for those who are GOHed, period, full stop, no exceptions. We need to ask ourselves why this kind of anti-Moslem diatribe is considered tolerable at all, in any measure, ever. We need to talk about that at the con and learn, and find ways to push back because racism is surging like a tidal wave in this country and we all need to be part of stopping it in its tracks – we need to start by having our own standards here at the con and amongst our community. If WE can’t do it the tea party sure aint gonna help us. Meanwhile, Moon can join the conversation, why not? We’re strong enough and smart enough to harbor arguments and disagreements, even nasty ones. We belong to a pluralistic society and that is one of the values we need to defend. But Moon cannot work out her racist demons as a GOH. She needs to graduate first… It is just WRONG to submit any of our members to this insult, this pain, this discrimination, and divisive vitriol.

  9. Lou Hoffman says

    I’m on the concom and I agree with you 100% WisCon has always been about more than just the writing. I WAS a fan of Moon’s writing, but after this I won’t spend a cent on anything of hers and I don’t want her poisen at our WisCon.
    The co-chairs issued the statement without input from the concom as a whole. There are many members of the planning committee who are arguing for disinviting her. This story is not done yet.

  10. betsyl says

    @tempest, i agree one hundred percent, and i know there are things that i don’t see until i walk right into them, and i’ve had that little trying to keep it all in my head chat about “oh, so this is a problem now that it affects *you* ha ha ha whatever”.

  11. betsyl says

    “Under what circumstances, if any, would the organizers consider rescinding GoH status to be on the table? Under what circumstances, if any, would they consider it to be obligatory?”

    *rubs achy head*

    we don’t know yet. can we get back to you?

    as lou said, there is a *lot* of discussion going on right now on the concom email list. this story is not done yet.

  12. betsyl says

    johanna, we’re saying it wrong, then, by which i mean, i’m saying it wrong. and i’m sorry.

    i wish i could make wiscon safe space. i wish i could. but i can’t, and we can’t. i can’t guarantee that someone doesn’t have a peanut butter sandwich stuffed in their bag. i can’t guarantee that racist asshats will stay home instead of being on the same sleeping floor as you. i can’t guarantee that people who present as women won’t be objectified and ogled and leered at and commented after. i wish i could. i work to make all of those things happen less at wiscon, but wiscon doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and, as tempest said, a lot of people don’t see things that don’t affect them.

    i will try to remember to emphasize the part where we’re/i’m working on it more, and emphasize the part where i want to be clear about this so that you’re surprised now and not later less.

  13. Lori S. says

    FWIW, I read Piglet’s statement as saying that *speech* of any sort would not get a GoH disinvited.

    For the record, I do not consider this an acceptable standard.

  14. says

    Tempest, speaking personally, supposing that I discovered a con I was going to had invited Orson Scott Card or John C. Wright as GoH…

    The only way I would consider not going would be if the concom told me to shut up with my bitterness and my activism and kindly don’t distribute that fanzine you printed up in which you deconstruct Card’s views to pieces and yes, we’d like you not to challenge Card in public and NO we won’t allow you to be on a panel with him… SHUT UP ALREADY WE INVITED HIM AND WE WANT HIM TO HAVE A GOOD TIME. Well, I don’t: I’d want him to be stuck at a con for three days with people who were interested in challenging his views.

    If I could, I’d make sure everyone at the con had a copy of CARD MARRIAGE, a collection of my writings about Orson Scott Card’s poisonous bigotry over the years. I’d write some more bits and pieces analysing his work just for the con. I’d muster people for every panel he was on to challenge his views. I’d get everyone at the con who supports equal marriage to stand up and turn their backs to him during his GoH speech. If I could schedule a series of authors like Elizabeth A. Lynn or Ellen Kushner or hell, Mercedes Lackey, to be signing books opposite from him and try to get their queue out of the door while Orson Scott Card is being asked to sign books like Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe and Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation and even No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones, I’d do it. (Though that would take more organising. Still…)

    My views on Wiscon are necessarily coloured by it being a con I’m never likely to go to, see my post Wiscon on the Moon. A con which was going to be friendly and welcoming to Orson Scott Card would be one I’d feel unsafe at. But a con where I’d feel safe to challenge Card … I’d jump for it.

    But there are circumstances under which I would not feel safe to challenge Card (if it was a con he’d been invited to in Utah and virtually everyone there was a loyal Mormon…) and mostly I also feel that I’m not equipped to judge if WisCon is a space like that, as it’s one I’m excluded from.

  15. says

    WisCon isn’t just a convention of people who love science fiction and fantasy like, say, WorldCon or PhilCon or something. WisCon stands for something. WisCon is where you go when the sexism and prejudice at other cons becomes intolerable. WisCon is where you go when you realize that other cons aren’t going to disinvite their GoHs for saying/doing the most despicable things about/to homosexuals or women or immigrants or people of color or Jews or Muslims or or or.

    Thank you, Tempest; this pretty well sums up my feelings about the concom’s (and, frankly, Piglet’s) response.

    Funny, I was under the impression we all were working from relatively similar notes on at least this simple point, but I guess not.

  16. says

    I also wonder, honestly, WHAT Moon will apologise for.

    A lot of the specific things she claimed about the Cordoba Centre were just flat-out ignorant and she could have discovered they were in fifteen minutes research, if she had been willing to do that. Her immediate reaction to people in “the crowd” pointing out her ignorance was to delete those comments.

    But, she could apologise for that – for that specific set of ignorant comments and angry rejection of people enlightening her ignorance – and it would still leave a crapload of Fail hanging, in particular the assertion (some dialogue with Brad Forgerson has let some light in there) that the present situation for Muslims in the US is that they should feel grateful for the forbearance they have received.

    I have a basic hope that someone whom Moon cannot dismiss or delete as “crowd” or “slag” can, in conversation, enlighten Moon that she made a set of ignorant comments about the Cordoba Centre.

    I have significantly less hope that one conversation could open up Moon’s mind to the idea that American Muslims are as much to blame for al-Qaeda as Moon in particular is to blame for the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act. Bigotry is hard to enlighten because bigots by definition believe their views to be simply a plainspoken truth about the target of their bigotry, and get angry when voicing such a “truth” is identified as bigotry and themselves as bigots.

  17. says

    OMG, I just read Piglet’s post. Sorry I didn’t do that at once.

    Yeah, if Elizabeth Moon genuinely wants to apologise, why isn’t she, you know, apologising?

    To all of the people whose comments she deleted, for starters? (I sent her a tweet, since our only direct engagement was on Twitter, to let her know she had a long list…. but for all I know she has me blocked already.)

  18. Saira Ali says

    You know, when this first went down, I was of the opinion that there should be no bar for disinviting a GOH — that no speech should warrant a disinvitation. The reaction of the concomm, though, has rapidly changed my mind. It’s clear that they are not operating from the same position I am (namely, what if, in future years, some rabid tone-police or ‘reverse-racism’ beliefs are in favor on the troika and they decide to disinvite someone like Nisi or Nnedi for speaking against bigotry). Their reaction, especially Piglet’s post, has burned through any benefit of the doubt I might have had for the troika and the concomm.

  19. tchernabyelo says

    “The bar for disinviting a Guest of Honor is much, much higher than the bar for inviting a GoH.”

    Why? Honestly, that makes no sense to me. The impication seems to be that if someone does something heinous they won’t be invited as a GoH, but if they have already been invited as a GoH they can do the same heinous thing without sanction.

    Elitist, much? Let’s check the very term again. Guest of HONOR. They are either being honored, or are supposed to be honorable. Surely they should be held to some kind of standard, rather than given carte blanche to do as they see fit once the invitation has been made?

  20. Alexandra Erin says

    Yes, very much this. Any time someone says that we shouldn’t be silencing or excluding voices we don’t agree with, I wonder what happened to all that wide open space that exists between “silencing” and “honoring”. Membership is open to the public.

  21. says

    In my working life I organise conferences and events to which we invite guests, keynote speakers, etc. We try to be very careful about WHO we invite, because the catch about disinviting someone is that once the invitation like this has been extended in writing, you have a contract between the event organisers and the guest, and there can be legal/financial consequences if the contract is broken.

    IANAL, and I don’t know precisely how things would play out in the US, but in Scotland, if Wiscon decided to revoke the contract with Elizabeth Moon, unless Wiscon could show a reason that would stand up in court *why* they should, then Moon could potentially sue them.

    I doubt if Moon would – it would be expensive and it would do nothing for her reputation. But I don’t think that organizations should do doubtfully legal things merely because the likelihood of their getting sued by the person they do them to is minimal. Everyone is entitled to fair treatment under the law, regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer.

    I don’t think Wiscon concommittee should have told Moon they’re definitely not disinviting her, not least because I think that eliminates the possibility that they could argue her initial post and deleting the comments was justification in itself for disinviting her: it verbally confirms their contract with her.

  22. Alexandra Erin says

    I couldn’t help it, this part:

    Because this con stands for something. Wanting to attend means something. This is not Joe Blow’s Con Of Stuff. This is not the con for being grateful just because people acknowledge bad things were said without actively fighting against bad things.

    demanded an icon:

    I haven’t yet found the spoons to address this whole thing in writing above the comment level, but that sums up my feelings in two words: which con is this again? Okay, the summary just grew by three words. I’m not good at concise.

  23. Alexandra Erin says

    Ah, either I botched the HTML or images are disabled. :P It’s a copy of the WisCon35 logo, edited to say “WhichCon?”

  24. says

    This is really a good point that I hadn’t considered in trying to put together the pieces of ‘why the hell DIDN’T they act properly’. (Though from what I’ve gathered in conversation, Scottish and English contract law is somewhat more stringent than US contract law…but then again, US law is considerably more suit-happy.)

  25. Peter David says

    I suppose these things balance out. Months ago on my own website, I stated my unequivocal support for the building of the Muslim center. It was not all that long ago (I pointed out) that people didn’t want synagogues being built in their neighborhood on the assumption that the elders of Zion would use such places as gathering hubs to plot their evil plans, and sacrifice young Christian babies while they were at it. My reasoning was that if we Americans don’t take a stand on behalf of religious freedom, who will?

    And I received plenty of blowback about it, and lots of people emailing me that they were henceforth going to boycott everything that I wrote because I was unAmerican, a lover of Muslims, and a total cad, uncaring about the feelings of 9/11 families, and probably even a supporter of that secret Muslim, Obama. They made sure to express their crushing disappointment. Some correspondents let me know they’d be lobbying to have me removed as GoH from an upcoming convention in New Mexico and, failing that, they’d be boycotting it.

    If they attempted the former, they did not succeed. As for the latter, well, attendance was up, for what that was worth. And when I stated that Muslims didn’t lose their right to religious freedom because of 9/11 during my GoH speech, people applauded, so that was nice. Unfortunately no one came up to me and challenged my view on that. I say “unfortunately” because I would have looked forward to the debate. The answer to free speech is always more free speech rather than boycotts or banning the speaker.

    But apparently, as I said, it all balances out. Good luck with your endeavors.

    PAD