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OdysseyCon and Why Serial Harassers Are Safe In Our Community

This post is long, and will have to dip back into history a bit before returning to the present. But this context is important.

A couple of years ago the WisCon concom went through some rough times due to both individual and group responses to the harassment experienced by one of WisCon’s attendees perpetrated by another of WisCon’s attendees. If you’re not familiar, please read about the incident and some of the ways it affected the person harassed. The fallout from this was widespread in our community and long ongoing.

One of the things that happened because of the discussion around what should have been done and what didn’t get done after the harassment was reported is that a long time member of WisCon’s concom, a man named Richard Russell, was removed from the concom via a vote by members of that body. Why was he removed? Because it was decided by WisCon’s governing body that the statement of principles and code of conduct WisCon had for its members during the convention should also be applied to the concom throughout the year. If someone on the concom is being abusive, or harassing, or any other such behavior, they should not get to remain on the concom. Makes sense, right?

Well. Some folks didn’t feel like it did.

Enough folks agreed that this was a proper way to handle things, and so that became a rule. Under the terms of that rule, Richard Russell’s behavior, stretching back literal years, was brought up. Multiple people pointed out instances where they felt Richard was abusive and, even when called on this directly, continued his abusive behavior. Due to this no longer being acceptable[1], Richard was forced to leave the concom.

Mind you, not banned from WisCon. Removed from the concom. That’s important.

Richard set about telling everyone who would listen[2] that he had been treated unfairly, that no one had ever told him what he did wrong, that he was banned, that everyone was a big meanie. How do I know this? (Aside from the thing mentioned in footnotes.) Because someone publicly defended him on these points.

Fast forward to WisCon that year. We had a panel called WisCon: What Happened Last Summer?[3] To talk through the stuff that went down around FrenkelFail and then Richard being removed and all of Richard’s dear friends leaving the concom because of this. One of those dear friends, who also defended him on the concom mailing list to the rest of us many times, was on the panel: Jeanne Gomoll. But I’ve already told that story.

Here’s something I apparently did not mention in my post, but did tweet at the time: A man got up during the part of the panel where the audience was invited to comment and stated that he was there to defend Richard Russell and began to chide us all for the terrible manner in which we had treated him. In my memory, Mikki Kendall, who was one of that year’s con chairs and also on the panel, let him go on for a bit before she informed him that everything he was saying was wrong.

The paraphrased memories I have go something like:

Guy: Instead of banning him–

Mikki: We didn’t ban him. He was removed from the concom but not banned.

Guy: Well but before doing that you should have _______.

Mikki: We did do _______.

Guy: But you didn’t _______.

Mikki: Yes, we did.

Guy: But what about _______.

Mikki: We did.

Guy: Oh.

Mikki then informed him that if he thought that we had banned Richard, never warned him, didn’t explain to him and whatever else he had come there to tell us we should have done, that was because Richard had lied to him. She then reiterated that Richard was removed from the concom because he was abusive. She used that word.

I remember this part clearly because I had a very deep and sudden anxiety attack just hearing these words.

The guy said: “Well, yes, Richard can be an asshole sometimes, sure. But–“

I don’t know if I can adequately express how painful it was to hear someone dismiss the words “he abused” with “he can be an asshole, sure.” I had not been very emotional during the whole of that very emotional panel until that moment. I almost got up and left.

Except the immediate reaction in the room was multiple voices rising up to say NO. NO, YOU DO NOT GET TO DISMISS THAT. NO. Mikki had a mic, so her voice is loudest in my memory. She said the same. She did not let him get away with that. It’s the only thing that kept me calm. The slapping back of that all too common narrative by many voices in the room. I didn’t even realize how much trauma I had around that narrative until that moment.

Shortly after that, the guy finally stopped talking, made some mumbling about how maybe he needed to rethink things, and sat down.

Okay, I told you all of that story in order to tell you this one.

Today, Monica Valentinelli, who was slated to be one of the Guests of Honor at OdyessyCon, another local Madison convention, publicly stated she would not attend or be guest because of the presence of a person who had previously harassed her and she did not feel comfortable around[4]. You can read her statement explaining this. Here’s some information that wasn’t included in this initial statement because Monica was still attempting to be a professional about all of this. The reason why she posted that statement this morning is because, after sending an email to the concom raising concerns about Frenkel’s involvement in the con, which she had not been aware of, she got this email[5]:

Monica,

While I understand your position, I hope that I can encourage you to reconsider. Jim Frenkel is, and has been for a long time, a member of the Odyssey Con concom, so he is very involved with the convention. As such, he is very concerned that nothing happen that will reflect badly on it. Having attended every prior OddCon myself, I can assure you that he has always behaved in a correct manner there. He does “yeoman duty” for the con every year, and is respected for his contributions.

I have known Jim personally for more than thirty years. Although there have been unfortunate events in the past, I do not now believe, nor have I ever, that Jim is dangerous to any one, in any way. I believe that the lamentably widely disseminated idea that he is, is exaggerated and grows from a lack of knowledge of the facts in his case. His reputation since the WisCon incident has been spotless.

I will, if you wish, take Jim off any panel that presently features both of you, which I hope you would find a reasonable compromise. Banning Jim entirely would be unfair to him, and, in refusing to attend if he is working the con at all, you are being unfair to yourself. Why let other people make your decisions for you? Come and see the man for yourself. You will see that he is a decent man, and not a monster.

Don’t take my word alone. I would urge you to reach out to some of our past guests. I’m sure you know Margaret Weis–she was a guest at last OddCon, why not get her opinion?

Thank you for your consideration,
Gregory G.H. Rihn
Odyssey Con 2017 Programming

Yes. That was said.

Today I looked up Gregory G.H. Rihn on Facebook and discovered that he is the Guy who stood up and defended Richard Russell at that panel. In almost this exact same disgusting language.

And guess who else is on the OddCon concom? Richard Russell[6].

So we’ve got Greg Rihn, serial apologist for serial harassers and abusers, responding to a guest of honor in this manner. When said guest of honor responds to that by withdrawing from the con, Richard Russell, who has a history of abusive communications, signs his name to a statement that essentially says “Well she brought all this up awfully late! And also Frenkel has never harassed anyone at OddCon, so we have no grounds to ban him. Plus, we don’t let guests of honor dictate who can come to our safe space. Also, this is a safe space[7].”

I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting on this wondering how it is that Jim Frenkel is in any way involved with any convention at this point in time given everything that’s happened. Well. This. This is why. It’s multiple people[8] who knew full well the problems before this came up yesterday[9] who know Jim and are real sure he didn’t ever do anything wrong, despite those third hard reports from the Internet (who trusts that?? Pish) continuing to allow him to be in official roles because we wouldn’t want to lose all his knowledge and experience.

This is how fandom has worked for decades.

So quit being shocked by it, or ignoring it, and start connecting the dots. Hold these people accountable.

And support the people who take the incredibly difficult step of being public about this stuff. Monica could have quietly withdrawn, made up some innocuous public reason for doing so, and not rocked the boat. Might have been easier on her because she lives in Madison and is in nominal community with these people. Maybe she won’t experience massive blowback because of this, but history tells us that she will. How about we not let that slide. How about we stand by her side, swords drawn, ready to cut down the waves of sexist assholery already coming her way.

ETA: OddCon issued a new statement/apology. I have thoughts about this in comments.

Footnotes

  1. And yeah, it’s a whole conversation about this never having been acceptable, but there are reasons motions had to be made and votes taken and rules put firmly in place by governing bodies to make this happen. They are all annoying reasons.[]
  2. Including a post I remember being on File770 but I now cannot find, making me wonder if I mis-remembered or if they took it down because it was super one-sided and awful.[]
  3. That link goes to a Storify that covers quite a bit of what was said.[]
  4. She does not name him, but in the ensuing conversation it became clear she was talking about Jim Frenkel[]
  5. I am only posting this email publicly because OdysseyCon already did so on their Facebook page[]
  6. Who, by the by, had his name as a signer at the bottom of OddCon’s first official statement about all of this, which was completely unprofessional and gross, and is just of a piece with all this fuckery.[]
  7. There is a screenshot of this statement here.[]
  8. See how many folks are listed on this concom ETA: This page is not working right now. But there are about a dozen people who were listed on the concom.[]
  9. Sigrid Ellis brought it up a year ago and they ignored it. They wanna act like this is new and it’s not.[]

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.”[]

The POC Dinner @ WisCon – It’s A Tradition!

A few days ago Jaymee Goh asked me for some historical info on the POC Safer Space at WisCon, which got me wondering if there were any public posts chronicling the POC Dinner as well. Not exactly. The first formal dinner we did was in 2009, and with that we just met in the lobby and went out to a restaurant. However, that grew out of similar POC lunches and get-togethers that were mainly the result of coordinating the Safer Space.

Very quickly this event became an important part of WisCon for me and other folks of color. Meeting other people from the community in a welcoming and supportive environment is so important. As is meeting people you can go to if the con gets rough in a specific way. And, if you’re new to WisCon, the dinner serves to ease you into the con experience.

We eat, we talk, we joke, we introduce, we create community. It’s one of my favorite parts of WisCon. I want it to be yours as well.

This year’s POC Dinner will take place Friday May 22 at 5:30pm local time (the dinner break) in room 629. Who can come? People who identify as people of color, which is a pretty broad umbrella. We’re not about checking your POC cred at the door. We’re about creating community. Consider yourself welcome[1].

Important Details

If you plan to attend, please, please, PLEASE buy a ticket ahead of time. This allows us to not only know how many people are coming but how much (and what kind of) food to order. I’d love it if everyone bought a ticket today, but you can buy one up until 12pm local on Friday. That’s when we’re putting in the final order for food.

If you cannot afford the dinner price you can still come. Generous folks have already donated extra money to cover the costs for people with limited budgets. Your name will only be known to the dinner coordinators and will be kept confidential. Just nab a free ticket at this link.

The menu for dinner is at the link. If you don’t see any food you’re willing to eat, you can still join us. Just bring your own food. Also, nab a BYOF ticket at this link (it helps us to know how many people are attending even if you’re not eating so we get enough tables and chairs).

If you don’t buy a ticket ahead of time you can still come! Just bring cash to pay for dinner.

And if you know a person of color attending WisCon who might not know about this dinner, please pass this post along.

I’m so looking forward to breaking bread with y’all this year and many years to come.

Footnotes

  1. This is usually the point where obnoxious people will say “I have a color: white! So I should get to come!” If you’re that dedicated to being obnoxious, good on you. See how well that works out at the con.[]

Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

Erasure Comes In Many Forms - A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit

 

The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

Some faces from Sirens 2013

I Spent Two Weeks Attending Two Women-Focused Geek Cons And It Was Pretty Awesome

Some faces from Sirens 2013

I love going to science fiction/fantasy conventions. It’s one of the biggest drains on my wallet throughout the year and I regret nothing. I love talking about SF/F media and literature with other people who love it the way I do.

When I first started attending the WisCon Feminist Science Fiction Convention, it was the only women-centric SF/F I’d heard of. Over the years, I got wind of others and friends encouraged me to attend two in particular: Sirens, an academic conference and retreat on women in fantasy literature, and GeekGirlCon, a convention celebrating women in media, science, and technology. When I found out that these cons took place on consecutive weekends in cities just four hours apart, I knew it was time for a lady geek excursion.

Avoiding the Rocks

I started my female-centric con experience with the Sirens conference, which takes place at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. It’s a 40-minute drive from Portland, OR through the Columbia River Gorge. Driving along roads that cut through forests laden with turning leaves and close-clinging clouds that occasionally parted to reveal stunning waterfalls is the perfect way to get into the retreat mindset. By the time we crossed the Bridge of the Gods I knew I was heading to the perfect setting for a weekend of discussing fantasy literature.

Sirens is a very small conference with a narrow focus and only about a hundred women in attendance this year. This intimacy, combined with it being a conference and not a convention, gives Sirens a different vibe than most cons I’ve attended. There’s an emphasis on group discussions (not just panels), meals together, and individual keynotes each day. The narrow focus on academic discussions of women and fantasy literature gets even more specific in the keynotes and sessions that take on the yearly themes: warriors, faeries, monsters, retelling, and, in 2013, reunion.

Another thing affecting the vibe: a nearly complete lack of men. There were only three or four attending, so the conference space was almost exclusively women. (There may have been trans* or non-binary people whose gender I did not know, as well.) This might not seem unusual for a con that boldly announces the high presence of girl cooties up front. And if you’re familiar with academic conferences that focus on women’s issues, this won’t surprise you. It might if, like me, you’re from the world of SF conventions where even the most girl-cootie-filled among them (WisCon, for example) can still attract a decent number of guys.

Each of these elements contributes to the idea of Sirens as a “Safe Space” for women. Over and over conference organizers and attendees emphasized that point, and there is obvious pride in Sirens being the type of gathering where people can disagree yet still sit down to dinner together. Still, there are varying ideas of what makes a space safe.

As a woman of color, I don’t always find spaces created by white women or white feminists to be safe. Same with geeky or fandom spaces. Navigating the con scene means quickly assessing if a space is actually safe for me regardless of the label on the tin. It’s not often that someone sets out to make me uncomfortable or unwelcome at a con. Instead, I’ll encounter an unwitting microagression. Or, a person with no concept of their privilege, let alone how to check it, says or does something upsetting. That wasn’t my experience here.

I ended up pleasantly surprised at the depth of the attendees’ knowledge and interest in fantasy literature that goes beyond the white/white-washed epic tomes so often held up as great examples of the genre. Everyone I met was eager to understand different points of view and experiences of the world beyond their own. Nowhere was this clearer to me than in the Q&A sessions after the guest of honor keynotes by Alaya Dawn Johnson and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Both women of color gave deeply personal speeches full of intersectional ideas and the understanding and solidarity they received back from the room impressed and bolstered me. This is the kind of space I feel safe in.

Meanwhile, At New York Comic Con

That same weekend my friends back home went to New York Comic Con. Each time I hopped on Twitter or Facebook to see how things were going, I discovered some new instance of harassment. It made me glad I was on the other side of the country.

There had been concerns prior to the con that one or more groups of dudes looking to entertain their fellow dudebros on YouTube might come to NYCC for the express purpose of harassing women there. Between the self-styled Referees of Cosplay who intended to call out women “too fat” to dress up as their favorite characters, the guys kissing women without permission so they could film their reaction, and the horrid SiriusFM-affiliated Man Banter dudes engaging in both sexist and racist harassment, the weekend was chock full of fail.

The good aspects of the con didn’t always balance out the fail for some people, especially women targeted for harassment. The swift action of the NYCC organizers to address the harassment is praise-worthy; it just doesn’t address the underlying problem. Even though Mike Babchik is banned, there are plenty of other men ready to take his place. And these men feel that New York Comic Con is an appropriate venue for their activities.

Thinking about why that might be, and the contrast between my friends’ NYCC experience and my Sirens experience got me thinking about the kind of conventions I attend and why. I only go to NYCC because I live in NYC, and even then only if I get a free press pass. I used to wish I could go to San Diego Comic-Con, but I prioritize my budget toward attending WisCon, World Fantasy, ReaderCon, or DragonCon. I stopped going WorldCon regularly several years ago. I would rather clean toilets than attend either PAX.

All of these cons cater to what I love — though the focus, vibe, and general purpose differ — and are ostensibly safe spaces to be a giant geek. Yet I do not feel that my geek self is welcome or wanted at SDCC, NYCC, PAX, or WorldCon.

Women Are Ambassadors

After San Diego Comic-Con I saw this quote, attributed to Hannibal‘s Bryan Fuller, popping up around Tumblr:

“What was really great about Comic-Con, it shows that the core demographic is young women… It’s all young ladies. Women love genre, they’re more open to genre in a strange way. … Women are the ambassadors.”

This is not new information. It’s also not just anecdotal. When Networked Insights measured social media response and engagement around the media being discussed at SDCC in 2013, women made up the majority. Brett Schenker’s compilation of statistics from Facebook show that 40% of the people who Like comic-related things are women. Facebook’s Doctor Who fandom is mostly female, according to this data. Women make most tech buying decisions, download more movies and TV shows than men, and play more games on certain platforms.

In his book “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture,” Rob Salkowitz points out that “women today are the loudest and most compelling voices in fandom.” Yet the average media, comic, or science fiction convention is generally dismissive of, if not hostile to, the non-cis, het male population.

I could bring up a mountain of examples, but here are three:

SDCC 2011: Batgirl vs. DC Comics

ReaderCon and WorldCon 2012: Renee Walling vs People Who Don’t Want To Be Sexually Harassed

PAX 2013: Dickwolves vs All Common Sense

This crap is flying at women from all quarters: con attendees, con runners, con guests, con sponsors. It’s not surprising that more conventions and conferences now exist to offer respite from the nastiness. Sirens is one approach, GeekGirlCon is another.

Re-Centering The Focus

GeekGirlCon, now in it’s third year, is a more varied convention. It’s similar in style and scope to media and comic cons, though throws the net wider than most by including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) alongside literature, games, comics, TV, movies, and more. For such a young con I’m impressed with how ambitious GGC is in terms of providing a space for everything from tabletop gaming to professional networking, all with a focus on women.

That said, GeekGirlCon is a work in progress. The con’s track record on intersectionality is muddy, starting with the first year. A friend of mine warned me off this con because she got a strong vibe that she is not the “right type of geek girl” due to being POC. That was more about the attendees than the con itself, though this year a swell of anger rose up when people learned that problematic career feminist Amanda Marcotte was invited to participate in programming. As I said, work in progress. After talking to members of the staff and geeks involved in the community around GGC, it seems the con is worth the work and is also important on a larger scale.

At the Changing Culture in Mainstream and Alternative Spaces panel, I and my fellow panelists talked about the value of cons that focus on sub-sections of the geek community, such as women or LGBT people, and whether it’s better to create our own safer spaces or to try and make the mainstream conventions a better place for all geeks to be. Ben Williams, a founder of GaymerX/GaymerCon, spoke about how separating from a larger, less inviting culture has big benefits in helping people feel like they really belong.

However, Jo Jo Stiletto pointed out that even creating your own thing — in her case, roller derby — for your in-group doesn’t mean that it won’t grow and change into something that no longer feels right for you. Game designer Shoshana Kessock advocated for changing cons from the inside because she feels that if we completely withdraw, then the mainstream will only see geeks as the stereotypes we leave behind.

I can understand that point of view and I am often an advocate of changing instead of abandoning the cons I love. It can work; just look at how WisCon and ReaderCon have shifted in the past five years. However, there’s a big difference between those cons and PAX or SDCC, entities that aren’t as susceptible to big changes enacted by dedicated volunteers. I say the only way to force a change in that type of con is to starve them of their lifeblood: geek money and attention.

There Are A Lot Of Men Here

That’s where cons like GeekGirlCon come in. Here you have all the same kinds of events and panels and activities as other cons but with women at the center of the conversation. In this environment women hopefully feel like their voices and experiences and way of geeking out are celebrated and appreciated. If you listened to the common wisdom about centering women, you’d think that this type of con would result in a low male turnout. Not as low as Sirens, of course. But guys wouldn’t flock to this type of environment, would they?

Uh, yeah, they would.

There were far more men at GeekGirlCon than I expected and they participated at every level: on staff, on panels, and as attendees. And yet GGC people also spoke of the con as a Safe Space. Again, the idea of what is safe differs depending on what type of woman you are, yet I was pretty confident that there wouldn’t be anyone there saying that they “want to buy an umbrella [that comes] with an Asian girl,” no matter the gender. It’s not about banning or even discouraging guys from coming to the con, it’s about making it clear what is and is not valued that leads to a con women can feel safe attending.

So forget any ridiculousness you hear about how cons that cater to specific or marginalized groups are all about self-segregation. They’re not — not completely. Because if the con has all the elements geeks flock to cons for, it will attract all the geeks. And if these cons can attract geeks away from events that foster a hostile environment, then those other cons (and the media entities that support them) will either have to change or die.

There Are A Lot Of Women Here, Too

I’m torn on which option I want: Change or Die. The cons that represent the most problematic environments — NYCC, SDCC, PAX — aren’t the kind that I like to attend, anyway. I much prefer cons that are for the people attending and not media companies and sponsors looking to sell and market to us. Cons where fans and creators can share panel space and where attendees are treated with respect and not like cattle to be herded. And, after my two-week women-centric con adventure, I’m more reluctant than ever to go to cons that center the 18-49 year old, white, heterosexual male, explicitly or not.

Neither Sirens nor GeekGirlCon are perfect events and could benefit from a little change themselves. And I want to be part of that change. Because making a con better for me and women like me means making cons that are better for everyone. Guess I’d better start saving up now.

originally posted at xojane.

Writing and the Art of Provocation

Writing and the Art of Provocation

At last year’s Readercon I participated in a panel called Myth, Midrash, and Misappropriation (actually, I was the leader/moderator) with an interesting group of writers and Claude Lalumière. The panel was supposed to be about the appeals and challenges of creating fiction from a religious source and how to avoid or deal with the dangers of cultural appropriation and/or offending people.

I won’t recap the entire discussion for you, but the major highlight of the panel (for me) was when, in his introduction, Claude announced that the purpose of art is to be offensive or to offend people I can’t remember if he initially said offensive or to offend, but this was definitely the core of his argument. Art should offend! He said more than once until he started to backpedal pretty hard in the middle of the panel.

Not knowing much about Claude before that moment, I was unprepared for the douchewankery he brought to the discussion[1]. He was unprepared for how hard I would not allow him to get away with that statement or how prepared I was to challenge him on it. And he was super unprepared for how much the audience was not on his side when question time came. That’s when the backpedaling started.

We spent a good deal of time on the panel unpacking that initial statement and talking about all the ways in which it’s completely problematic (along with all the other problematic stuff he said such as how it’s okay for him to use any religious or spiritual trappings from any culture because he’s an atheist, anyway, and doesn’t believe in them oh and also he is from French Canada so he understands what it means to come from an oppressed, occupied culture). I believe it was Jack Haringa who, after initially agreeing with his understanding of what Claude meant, actually came around to something more like: artists may hope to offend if their message is aimed at a group or idea that they find offensive. Writing with an eye toward pointing out a horrible injustice, say. The ones perpetrating that injustice may be offended — good.

I sort of agreed with that as well, but still didn’t feel it was quite the right way to think about art. In the many months since I’ve poked at the idea more and more, but still hadn’t come up with a better way to think about what Jack was getting at. Then last month someone else came along and nailed it.

NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed National Book Award-winning poet Nikki Finney, and toward the end of that interview she said this:

Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I immediately thought: YES, THAT. That is what we were reaching for around the 600 pound gorilla of Claude’s initial statement.

There is no beauty in being offensive. Offending someone, especially when you’re coming from a place of privilege and oppression, is not the basis for great art, for beautiful art, even if the beauty you’re reaching for is terrible and tragic and real.

Consider the context in which Finney made this statement:

As a young poet, I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s, when difficult things were being said and shouted and screamed,” Finney says. “I remember saying to myself, those things are very, very important to hear, but there must be another way to say them so that they will truly be heard. I mean, that’s what art is. Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I haven’t read any of this woman’s poetry yet, but I want to. I feel like she can teach me the art of saying difficult things. I am often among those who say and shout and scream because that’s important, too. And I know for a fact that engaging in this mode of discourse does result in being heard, because I often have conversations with people who listened and appreciate it. But I’d also like to be adept at that other way she speaks of.

Footnotes

  1. Later, when I related the goings on to others, several people said “Oh, you didn’t know? Claude Lalumiere is a total douchecanoe.” No one warned me![]

WisCon 36: POC Safer Space

WisCon 36: POC Safer Space

I am once again the WisCon concom liaison and organizer for the POC Safer Space. This year I am joined in organizing and fabulousness by Jayme Goh. Huzzah!

We will once again be in the Solitaire Room since it affords us an out of the way space with no Gawkers. Last year we had the hotel push the conference room up against the wall which made the space a lot more inviting. I will also ask if more comfy chairs can find a way in there. If any locals are willing to donate comfy chairs, please let me know.

Last year we pre-scheduled some break out sessions and alternate panels in the room, but what seemed to work better was spontaneous stuff.I encourage any POC attending WisCon to come to that space if they need to discuss something that went down on a panel, continue a discussion that started at a panel, or if they just need a space to vent and calm down. I actually had some of the most enlightening conversations in that room during after-panel venting and I’m sure that will happen again,

However, if anyone wants to pre-schedule something please feel free. I just suspect mostly it will be spontaneous stuff.

The one thing I would like to schedule is a post Opening Ceremonies trip to the space so that people know where it is and how it will be set up and how they can use the space. This will come on the heels of the POC dinner earlier that evening. And then, of course, it’s party time.

Just as with last year, there will be coffee and tea service in the room throughout the day and a laptop for those who need to check email or Tumblr. Just don’t leave any Tumblr porn on the screen for those of us who are innocent ;)

Any questions, requests, comments, suggestions? Leave them in the comments or ping me via email or on Twitter or Facebook.