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[]