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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.[]

Intra-Community Behavior – How Do We Address Problems Constructively?

This was a very long comment on the post from yesterday. However, in writing it I realized that this discussion is separate but related, so I broke it out into its own post. This comment addresses some stuff across multiple comments over there plus some things from this discussion on the anon community.

Just to clarify: For me, my worries over the doubts I had about Kynn and the way I pushed them aside isn’t about whether I should have known she would rape someone. It’s totally separate from that. It’s more about how I shouldn’t have accepted that behavior from a person who very clearly wanted to be allied with my community and me personally. I don’t look back and regret my errors because of what happened to jack specifically. Wanted to clear that up.

While on one hand I agree with the anon that points out that within social justice communities if someone doesn’t speak up and say “hey, I don’t agree with the actions this person is taking” then people may assume that we endorse or, at least, don’t find the behavior problematic. And that can be a problem both within and outside of the community.

On the other hand, I very much agree with Cheryl that I don’t then want us to turn the tone argument on each other or start deciding whose anger is more valid. Plus, I get the feeling that what some critics of social justice want in that instance is a public “I DON’T AGREE” in big letters. I’m not always comfortable with that.

Intra-community discussions of appropriate actions and words should stay inside unless the community decides to open it up to wider discussion.

Examples of this include the recent flare-up surrounding Ashley Judd’s condemnation of hip-hop as sexist. Women in the hip-hop and POC community have been dealing with this issue a lot longer, and many did not appreciate someone from outside the community swanning in to give her ill-formed and unwanted opinion on the matter.

Within a feminist context, women outside of mainstream white western culture are forever dealing with well-meaning feminists trying to tell them how their cultures are evil and should be abandoned. Whereas women inside those cultures and communities are constantly saying “Back off, we got this, we’re working on it from our own cultural framework.”

Those are big picture examples. Those are also more straightforward than what we’re dealing with here.

The dilemma I see is this: how does a community or an individual within a community approach another individual to say I/We think you’re crossing a line? That’s a tough conversation to have. I’ve found myself reluctant to have it the few times it’s come up. And, as I said yesterday, I am not the behavior police nor do I feel I have the right to be.

Still, this situation is making me realize how important it is to discuss this and come up with strategies not only to ensure the mental health of the community at large, but also to achieve our common goals.

As before, thoughts are very much appreciated. And to the anonymice out there — I allow anon comments here, but reserve the right to moderate as I see fit. (Generally: deleting abusive ones.)

ETA: Hey anons, want to further clarify something for those of you who seem to be lacking reading skills. This post is not about reactions to what Kynn did to Jack. I’m not saying AT ALL that intra-community issues need to be worked out around people’s reactions to that. I’m talking here about more general issues using Kynn’s behavior before this incident as a touchpoint, but not due to what happened at WisCon. This is about things I observed before that. How people deal with someone in their group who rapes another is a separate conversation and not what I’m addressing here (for that, see the other post). Okay? Okay.

Community, Trust, Responsibility, Consequences

This post may be triggering for some as it contains discussions of rape, sexual assault, and community responses to such.

I promised to write this post last week, but unfortunately preparations for BlogHer took up more spoons than I anticipated. Plus, I’ve been dealing with a lot of intense emotions around the issue and it kept me from posting publicly for a while. But I feel it’s important for several reasons, all of which you will understand by the end of this post. I’m placing the bulk of it under a cut, just in case. Continue reading “Community, Trust, Responsibility, Consequences”