S0, my hubby and I are attending our first GeekGirlCon, which is held at the Washington State Convention Center. It’s a sci fi con, dedicated to welcoming and celebrating girls, women, young women in geek/sci fi/fantasy culture.
And it’s fun!
First impression while we were in line to get our badges was that the crowd is much more like a pony con than a traditional sf/f convention. Fewer guys. A lot more kids. Not that there aren’t a lot of guys of all ages, here, but we’re in the minority. Which is the point, and not at all a bad thing.
There’s a Do It Yourself Science area that’s set up for kids to sit down and do science projects. Every time I’ve walked by today, it’s been pretty full. I first learned about it a couple months back when the GeekGirlCon mailing list sent out a link for people to donate to pay for the supplies and such in the area. You know I jumped on that. We need more science-literate people in future generations!
I’m writing this blog post in Introvert Alley, which is a room the set up for people to have a quiet, dark place to retreat to if you need it. It’s nice. I can still hear the con outside, but we’re clearly in another space. I had to adjust the brightness of my iPad screen several times before it felt right in here. Now I wish every con had someplace like this. When I feel the need for this sort of thing at some cons, I just head back to our hotel room. But since this place is about a fifteen minute drive from our house, and downtown hotels are never cheap, we don’t have that option.
The Exhibitor Hall (or dealer’s den) is huge. We did one long methodical sweep through it, only stopping at a couple of booths. I was pulled to one by a 1954 Hermes 3000 typewriter. The author whose table it was at, Eva L Elasigue, had typed some poetry on it. We geeked out about manual typewriters a bit, then I asked her about her book. She said it was mythic space opera, “think, Les Mis meets Cowboy Bebop.” No, I’m one of those queer boys who hates Les Mis. I know, sorry, it’s just too grim for me. But I understand the pathos and appeal it has for a lot of people. And I absolutely love Cowboy Bebop. And Cowboy Bebop’s noir-ish vibe certainly could go well with a Les Mis sensibility. So, as I told her, based on the pitch alone I had to buy the book: Bones of Starlight: Fire On All Sides.
We hadn’t walked far from her table when we hit one of those traffic jams that happen in crowed dealer’s rooms, so I opened the book, and read a few sentences. Yeah, I could totally hear a Cowboy Bebop soundtrack playing as I read. I got through the rest of the first page in starts and stops every time we had to wait while walking. I like it already and have high hopes for the rest of the book.
I’m seen several people I know, but other than Joi, it’s all been from a distance through the crowd, so haven’t talked to any of them, yet.
Michael reminded me that he hadn’t eaten before we left, so we tried to walk to a restaurant 600 feet away, but I managed to get turned around and go the wrong direction for at least that far before I figured out where we were. We’d exited the convention center from a side I’ve never been on before, and thanks to some construction projects happening outside (I think for the new light rail station), I couldn’t see any landmarks I recognized until we’d gone a block and a half the wrong way. We got to the place eventually, and the way we both inhaled our meals, clearly he wasn’t the only one who needed to eat.
I had trouble finding the room the next panel I wanted to see was in. By the time we did, the room was full with a guard at the door telling people the room was full. But the next panel I want to see is there, so I now know where it is and I can go get there early. I hope.
When I do check twitter, I’m trying to just skim over all the deplorable stuff. I much prefer the bright future I see on display here to the rationalization and rape apologetics that the Republicans are trying to pass off as political discourse this week.
Cora Buhlert argued very convincingly this week that there are Three Fractions of Speculative Fiction. She identifies them as the Traditionalists, the Anti-Nostalgics, and the Character Driven1.
Traditionalist fans want sci fi that is heavy on the engineering and explosions and light on the characterization. Rightwing politics in space is all right, but they’d prefer the stories not focus on issues that matter to women, people of colour, or LGBT people. Literary fiction is right out.
Anti-Nostalgic fans want speculative fiction that is sophisticated, literary, and eschews old paradigms. They vehemently reject anything nostalgic. They think the only worthwhile stories are the ones which break new ground and redefine the genre. Many of them give lip service to wanting diversity, but they heap condescension on all non-white, non-male, non-straight writers except one or two favored tokens.
Character Driven fans want sf/f that is heavy on characterization. They aren’t opposed to Big Ideas, but emotional arcs, moral dilemmas, and the effects of technology on human lives should drive the plot, to the point that sci fi tropes can exist as mere set dressing. They are especially fond of protagonists and settings which have previously been neglected in classic sf (women, characters of color, LGBT characters, disabled characters, non-western european settings, non-Anglo cultures).
I think these are fairly good definitions of three of the big categories of science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Though there will be some overlap, and of course no classification system is going to neatly encompass everyone. For instance, I have emphatically argued that Babylon Five (which I loved) is not science fiction at all, but rather techno-fantasy. It is an epic fantasy which wraps itself in all of the trappings of space opera, but gets some extremely basic science that is fundamental to its main plot laughably and embarrassingly wrong. When I was in the heat of such an argument, I’m sure that I looked to all outside observers like a pure Traditionalist there. Whereas anyone who has read my fiction would likely place me in the Character Driven group.
I also agree with Buhlert that the struggle between the Traditionalist and Anti-Nostalgics has been raging in various incarnations since at least the 1930s. Her examples are: the Campbellian SF versus Pulp Adventure SF, the exclusion of the Futurians from the ’39 WorldCon, the New Wave versus the Campbellians (which had become the old guard by then), the rise of and resistance to Cyberpunk. With each wave, elements that had been new and different and championed by the Anti-Nostalgics were co-opted by the Traditionalist (along with some of their fans), until some other upstarts came along.
There are at least two other fan wars that were primarily Traditionalist vs Anti-Nostalgics that I’d like to throw into the mix. In the early 70s fans who had subscribed to (and later contributed to) magazines for years looked with disdain on fans who never read the monthly ‘zines, and only read novels and anthologies (which were reprints of selected works from the ‘zines). In the later 70s, when comic book fans started coming to sci fi conventions, there was another backlash against these newbies and their “picture books.”2
But not all of the upstarts have been Anti-Nostalgics. When Star Trek fandom blossomed spontaneously, rather than from within existing sf/f fandom, there was a strong backlash, with elements of both the Traditionalist and Anti-Nostalgics looking down on these Trekkies, who weren’t just newbies unfamiliar with classic sf and traditional fandom, but were far more likely to be women! Trek was just the first of many waves of Media Fans (new fans brought into the fold primarily by movies and television)—Doctor Who, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica3, anime, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight—that have each faced resistance and rejection from established fandom.
A lot of these Media Fans fall into the Character Driven category. And just like the Anti-Nostalgic waves before them, most of them have, after being resisted by Traditionalists, been at least been partially assimilated. To the point that the stereotypical attacker of a Fake Geek Girl is a guy who speaks Klingon, has a collection of Star Wars figurines, and will attempt to exclude the girl by asking super obscure comic book questions.
But even more than that, each new wave of the Media Fans tends to have more women, particularly young women and girls, more people of color, more queers, and other marginalized groups than the existing fandom as a whole. I believe the reasons for that is that movies, television, and hit young adult books4 are readily available to all demographic segments of society, and find enthusiasts from all of those walks of life. Established fandom isn’t very welcoming of the newbies, especially non-male, non-white, non-straight newbies. The subsets of the previous waves that have assimilated into existing fandom winds up skewing male, straight, and white. Which perpetuates the problem.
The queers, women, and people of color continue to be fans of sf/f, but more and more they find welcoming communities on the web and outside the established fandom, some times creating their own conventions and meet-ups.
And it’s not just because the existing fandom is all actively racist, misogynist, and homophobic. It’s a combination of lots of subtle things. When the vast majority of the staff of a convention is white, and you’re not, you don’t feel welcome. When the vast majority of existing fans keep telling you that you must read certain classics, which are full of straight white male protagonists, with plots that are full of misogynist and colonial subtext, you don’t feel that this fandom is for you. Heck, when the existing fans won’t talk about anything published less than thirty years ago, and you’re younger than the books they keep talking about, you don’t feel invited7.
The most recent fannish dust-up, the Affair of the Melancholy Canines, is mostly a subset of the Traditionalist reacting to the kind of fiction the Character Driven fans like starting to get more than token representation in certain awards short lists, as well as the inclusion of non-white, non-male, non-straight writers and editors on those lists in more than small token numbers. The Melancholy Canines also claim that they’re pushing back against the sort of literary fiction the Anti-Nostalgics want, but the funny thing is that the Anti-Nostalgics hate all the same books and authors as the Canines. And if you read some of the posts that Buhlert links to, you’ll notice that they heap rather a lot of condescension on the writers who happen to be women or people of color.
I’m hopeful that this time, maybe, the section of fandom that welcomes (and is eager to both create and consume) sf/f that’s inclusive of all genders, gender identities, races, abilities, et cetera continues to grow and make inroads throughout fandom. It isn’t guaranteed. Previous waves haven’t been successful in changing the complexion of established fandom, after all.
But I’m not giving up. This queer fan is staying right here. I’m going to keep writing the kinds of characters and stories I like. I’m going to keep reading the good stuff I can find. I’m going to try to start doing a better job of promoting all of the interesting newer stuff I’m reading, as well.
“I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”
― Philip K. Dick
1. I am attempting to paraphrase Buhlert here, but my own perceptions may be skewing her point. If you don’t like anything I say here, blame me.
2. The current incarnation of the Anti-Nostalgics is very snobbish and literary, whereas the primary argument against both the non-magazine subscribers and the comic book fans were that they weren’t perceived as reading as broadly nor as seriously as the Traditional fans. Both sides have been snobbish in various ways. The comic fans argued that graphic stories (even though comics had been around for decades) were a new and more experimental art form than the unillustrated word on paper, for instance.
3. Original series. By the time the reboot series had happened, enough fans of the old series had been incorporated into the fandom community that the new series was embraced by many, and their fans tolerated by the rest.
4. It seems to me that Young Adult series have become the new gateway books. Back in the 50s and even still ins the 60s5, the Heinlein juveniles were the introduction to sf for many. Though certain older fogies6 still insisted on panels at conventions that Heinlein’s works are great gateways, the truth is most of his work (the juveniles in particular) have not aged well.
5. Which is when was a child finding Heinlein books in school libraries.
6. By which I mean, older than me.
7. I’ve published on this blog a series of “why I love sf/f” posts that focus on books, short stories, shows, writers, and magazines I read as a kid and teen-ager and how they influenced me as a fan (and a writer). So I’m not saying that nothing printed more then a decade ago is worth anyone’s time. I haven’t written about everything I read back then, because not all of it was good. Even for the works I really loved, sometimes had problems I didn’t recognize back then, which I’ve commented on (the children’s book that had two antisemitic scenes which flew right over my head as a child, and shocked the heck out of me when I rediscovered the book in my thirties, for instance). The issue is that when established members of the community tell you (explicitly or not) that only people who can love those particular books can be part of the community, well, when the young fan finds themselves cringing at the blatant homophobia, the racism, the misogyny (or at least total lack of any portrayal of many types of people who live in the real world), the message seems clear that we aren’t welcome in the community.
Not writing about it so much this year was intentional. One benefit of that was that I had fewer vitriolic comments come in on this blog that I had to delete rather than approve. I was a lot less anxious about what the results of the voting would be than I was last year. I’m not sure how much of that was because last year the Hugo voters overwhelmingly rejected the Puppy slate, rather than a result of actively avoiding writing and thinking about them as much.
I am quite certain that at least part of the reason I was less emotionally distraught going in was that I didn’t force myself to read all the way to the end of every entry in short story, novella, and novelette this year. I gave each entry three pages to hook me, and if they didn’t hook me by then, I stopped and put them beneath No Award on my ballot. Reading some of that awful stuff—stories that would have been rejected for poor composition, lack of plot, or gapping logic holes by most of the fanzines I’ve ever been associated with—and getting outraged at the knowledge that such poorly crafted material had displaced more deserving works was a big part of why I was so upset last year.
The works that won this year are great and quite deserving. A couple of them were even things that I nominated, so that was fun.
There was some drama at WorldCon, at least some of it related to the proponents of the Puppy cause. But I also hear that a lot more very cool stuff happened.
I don’t think I want to get into that. And a bunch of what I would like to say has already been said by other people: Abigail Nussbaum observes in Sunday, August 21, 2016 The 2016 Hugo Awards: Thoughts on the Winners,
“The one thing I keep learning, again and again, as I study this award is that, much as it frustrates me, much as it throws up shortlists that disappoint me, much as it often seems stuck in a middlebrow rut, the Hugo is always what it is. It doesn’t take thousands of new voters to keep the Hugo true to itself, because the people who vote for it every year will do that job themselves. With something like half the voters we had last year, we still managed to send the same message: that we have no patience for astroturf; that we have no time for writing that embarrasses the paper and ink used to print it; and that this is an award that can be gamed, but it can’t be stolen. This year’s Hugo voters had no trouble telling junk from serious nominees; they saw the difference between the nominees being used as shields by the puppies and the ones that truly represent their literary tastes and politics. And even more importantly, in the best novel and best novella categories in particular, Hugo voters recognized some of the finest and most exciting work published in this genre in years.”
One place where I disagree with Nussbaum is about the nature of the drop-off in voting numbers this year compared to last, after last year had such a dramatic surge of new voters. Last year’s number of voters was 5,950, which was a big leap from the 3,587 ballots cast in 2014. This year, the number dropped down to 3,130, which is in the ballpark of the 2014 number. However, as many people pointed out, 2014 had an usually high number of Hugo voters. In fact, from 1976 through 2010, the average number of ballots cast each year was about 1100.
So to argue that the voting numbers this year have dropped back to the level before is a bit shaky. Yes, last year after news broke of the Puppy assaults on the award, a couple thousand more fans than usual purchased WorldCon supporting memberships. Based on all the blogging and how they voted, those extra memberships were people coming to vote against slate voting, or at least the worst of the slates. But that the numbers didn’t leap that high this year doesn’t mean those extra fans all gave up. I know of six people who voted for the first time ever last year because of the Puppies, and who also voted this year. That isn’t a scientific sample by any means, but 3130 votes is a lot higher than the pre-Puppy typical number.
Also, last year wasn’t the first year that the Puppies ran their campaign, it was simply the first year that they managed to take over entire categories on the ballot with their bloc voting scheme.
She’s right that it is harder to get people to do something they’ve never done before consistently, but I don’t think that all of us who had never voted before last year are going away.
Then over at WeHuntedTheMammoth.com we have: Fake sci-fi boys cry salty tears over Puppies defeat at the Hugo Awards, which observes:
“[Theodore “Vox Day” Beale] is trying his best to spin the defeat as a victory (“we have the SF-SJWs exactly where we want them at this point in time”) but even the fake sci-fi boys on Reddit’s gamergate hangout KotakuInAction can see what happened. And they are indeed sad little puppies about it.”
The Reddit conversation in question links to this wonderful Guardian article: Hugo awards see off rightwing protests to celebrate diverse authors which observes:
“Another attempt by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups to hijack the science fiction award goes to the dogs, as authors and titles not in their campaign take top prizes.”
And past Hugo-nominee Saladin Ahmed had a couple of good observations on Twitter:
The Hugos went to some very deserving works. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (which won Best Novel) was one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years; it’s hard to describe, but it is a book about a world where apocalypse events happen with great regularity, but it is also funny and hopeful even while commenting on the nature of inequality. And “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (which won Best Short Story) was the a truly delightful take on Artificial Intelligence while being a comment on the human condition. I could keep going on, because oddly enough, my first choice in most of the categories of the ballot were also the winners. They were all really good. To read a good run-down of who won, you can check out this blog: The 2016 Hugo Awards or Fandom 2 : Puppies 0:
“To sum it up, in spite of canine interference, women won or co-won Hugos in nine of seventeen categories. All four fiction categories were won by women, three of them women of colour (plus a man of colour winning as translator). So inspite of the rabid puppies doing their worst, we still have one of the most diverse list of winners ever. And even though a couple of IMO puppy hostages finished under “No Award”, we also puppy hostages winning. Actual puppies, however, lost and lost badly.”
And I could repeat all the arguments I and others have made before of how the claims of the Sad and Rabid Puppies are highly illogical, but you’d have more fun reading the Guardian’s Book Blog where Damien Walter reads and reacts to some of the Puppies’ favorite authors, Hugo awards: reading the Sad Puppies’ pets:
“[T]he Sad Puppies don’t want any of their books to end up on bestseller lists or TV screens. It’s the same frustrating paradigm that British MP Michael Gove hit upon when he said that people were sick of experts, or what Donald Trump plays upon when he rails against “professional politicians”. We’re seeing the Dunning-Kruger effect played out on a mass scale, and the Sad Puppies are just a speck in that wider problem.”
Okay, the Puppies will be with us for years to come, just as we have never gotten rid of white supremacists nor men who want to take the right to vote away from women. But over time, the movements wither. As we’re seeing right now with the upsurgence of the Teabaggers and other Trump supporters, hate can rear its ugly head again. But in the long run, light dispels darkness and love beats hate. All this anger about people other than straight white dudes winning every single award is the dying gasp of a shrinking fraction of the population.
Vox Day and his ilk will keep trying to whip up trouble as long as he thinks it will help him sell books. But I think history is clear that he is going to be appealing to a smaller and smaller group of people. And as Mr. Spock once observed: “Without followers, evil cannot spread.”
Fortunately, there are people actively working to spread good. Alexandra Erin points out that the point of conventions or Hugos and any other awards is about connections and feelings of genuine admiration: WORLDCON: Comedy tomorrow, Hugos tonight. And once again George R.R. Martin hosted the Hugo Losers Party and handed out awards to people and publications that would have made the ballet without the slate voting: Alfie Awards.
To be clear, I didn’t know Logan. I had seen him at least once before, and I had read a guest post or two of his on some of the myriad sf/f themed blogs and sites that I read, but I don’t believe I’ve ever even sat in a panel that he was participating in. Nor had I read any of his books, so it’s a little weird that hearing through my social media stream that he had died struck me the way it did.
Seriously, when I passed him in the hall this last weekend, it took me several seconds to remember why he seemed familiar. His name didn’t come to mind right way.
So why did the news upset me so? Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of how much fun I had at NorWesCon; and how—for me—a good convention experience leaves me feeling a renewed sense of purpose and a new appreciation for what a wonderful, messy, diverse, and strange variety of humans make up what I think of as “my peeps?” Maybe also a little bit of guilt that I could be having such a great time while another human I was (however briefly) sharing space with was apparently in great pain?
Someone who does know Logan personally has written about it: Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence. And I think this part is spot on:
We need to be more compassionate, and more aware that we don’t know what’s going on in one another’s heads and hearts.
We seriously need to STOP MAKING A FUCKING SPORT out of shredding one another in public for fun.
We must stop holding each other to, and stop teaching our children to expect, impossible standards with unhealthy results.
And when someone cries out – regardless of their gender and our thoughts of how they “should” be acting in that time of crisis – we goddamned well should fucking LISTEN. And not make it about ourselves.
I know I’m guilty of failing to listen. All of that socialization about being strong and handling problems makes us say things we think are encouraging, but don’t sound that way to the person who needs a little compassion. If I read a post or an article by someone talking about feeling unattractive or undesirable, my first instinct is to argue with them. If I hear someone lamenting a bad situation, my first instinct is to tell them what I think they ought to be doing (or have already done) to fix the problem.
Instead, our first instinct should be to listen, to ask whether they want anything from us before we start outlining a plan to fix their lives, and offer hugs if we think they’re comfortable with it.
Hugs can’t fix everything. Listening can’t fix everything. But most of the time we don’t need to be fixed, we just need to know we’re not alone.
The burlesque show is essentially a series of strip tease acts, often with sci fi/fantasy themes. And usually most of the performers are women, so you might understand why I, as a queer man, don’t attend often.
But they are fun shows, and more about performance and comedy than sex, so I probably ought to go more often. Matt was carded at the door, which was amusing. Jared, who was not attending, happened to text me having just realized I was at NorWesCon and asked me to take pictures. So I teased him about the fact that I was about to watch a strip show where they didn’t allow photography and too bad he wasn’t with us. There was more teasing, of course.
After that I headed back to the room to collapse into bed. Michael was asleep when I got there, but a few hours later when I woke up with a painfully stuffed head because of allergies he was awake. Not voluntarily, by any means. He was feeling even less well. He took another shower, and we commiserated about our various symptoms. After letting some fresh air into the room and waiting for more meds to kick in, I was able to get back to sleep, but apparently Michael didn’t. Before going to breakfast we discussed how to proceed since he was feeling so sick, couldn’t get comfortable in the hotel bed, and the small shower stall wasn’t conducive to soaking (which would have helped his knee which is still recovering for the recent injury).
The upshot was that he headed back home on the train. I tracked him until he was home. He had planned, when he left, to do a long soak in the tub, but he said by the time he was back he just collapsed into bed and sleep the rest of the day.So he wasn’t there when a big bunch of us had dinner and Julie and Jeff teamed up to take these panaramic pictures of us.
After thoroughly confusing the wait staff multiple times with our orders and requests, I was sent off to my room to get my box of games and meet up and Juli and Keith’s room. We wound up playing four games of Give Me the Brain, none of which I won before deciding to call it a night.
Sunday morning I was a little slow getting up. I always have a hard time packing up the room on my own. It’s not just that two of us pack faster and can carry more per trip, it’s mostly that my husband is really efficient at this sort of thing, and keeps me focused. I have a number of friends who describe their distractabiliy as a super-power (to the point of at least one calling herself Distract-a-Girl!), but I think my brain is an entire horde of distract-a-minions. So even though I had a lot fewer things to pack than usual, it took me about three times as long to get everything out into the car and confirm I hadn’t left anything in the room.
Which made me a couple minutes late for the Why Representation Matters panel. But I’m glad I made it, not just because it was the third or fourth excellent panel that I got to see the fabulous Lisa Bolekaja in, but also because Paul Constant, whose book reviews I have been reading for many, many years was on it, and I finally got to hear his voice to place to the reviews. And it was an excellent panel.
I went to a lot of good panels, and really enjoyed all of them. Our last NorWesCon, a couple of years ago, had been less than fabulous for a variety of reasons, one of them being that, other than Auntie’s Seattle Opera Costume Department Trunk Show panel, none of the panels I went to felt worth my time (which is why I walked out of a couple). This year there were many hours where I had to choose between several panels that looked really interesting. I know the concom has been making efforts the last few years to shake thing up in programming, bring in some new blood, and so on. So that seems to have paid off. It also doesn’t hurt my perspective that I skipped two years. And this year I wasn’t a panelist, I wasn’t running a fan table, nor helping run someone else’s fan table, and otherwise had no obligations at all.
I didn’t even do my usual trick of stealth covering a volunteer shift or two in a department that is run by one of my friends.
I did hang out with my friends, though some of them less often than I would have liked. I introduced Keith to a new cocktail. I had buffalo wings just about every night. I got nicely squiffy at least one night. I did a pretty good job on my blood sugar all weekend. I picked up a pony plush, a set of pony key right charms, a sonic screwdriver earring, an Ash vs Evil Dead t-shirt, and birthday presents for two friends. I was given a Grumpy Cat as Dungeon Master t-shirt.
I met some cool new people, wrote down a lot of links to interesting web sites and have added a bunch of books to my “need to get this” list. Not to mention several new authors to follow.
For many, many years I would always buy our memberships for the next convention before we left. Three years ago, at the end of the con neither of us was certain we wanted to attend the next year, which is what led to us skipping in 2014 and ’15. I had a good time this year, but I had forgotten to ask Michael before he left Saturday what he thought. So Sunday morning I sent him a text (not certain whether he was awake or not). He replied about 20 minutes later that yes, we want to come back next year. So I’ve purchased our memberships for NorWesCon 40, and look forward to attending next year!
This, by the way, was the most awesome thing shown at the Movies and Previews panel Friday morning at the con:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
My plan had been to pack Wednesday night so I could load the car and leave relatively early in the morning. But I was so tired when I got home from work that I had to take a nap. I slept for several hours, woke up with a nightmare (a really nasty one, too; I was frankly surprised that I hadn’t woken my husband, since it was the sort where I often start talking loudly in my sleep). So I got up and tried to write for a bit, then went back to sleep. And had another nightmare. Then woke up to hear my husband in the shower (he’s working Thursday and Friday and isn’t joining me at the con until Friday evening). I said goodbye to him as he left for work at his usual oh-god-o-clock in the morning, fell asleep, and had yet another nightmare.
All different nightmares, none of them anything to do with anything that I can think of. The important part is that while technically I was mostly asleep for a total of about 13 hours, I didn’t really feel fully rested. So I hadn’t packed and I wasn’t at my best, mentally.
Then I had a weird problem with backing trying to back up the laptop before I left. The upshot was, I didn’t leave the house to head to the convention until almost noon. Still, I got to the con hotel while there were still parking spots available. I managed to get one very close to the wing where my room turned out to be totally by luck.
I found Kehf fairly quickly, got the room keys squared away, then went to get in line to pick up my badge and only when I got up to the cashier did I learn of the new-ish (since I haven’t been here for two years) policy about bringing your signed statement with a bar code, so I had to go get in another line to get that printed out, then get back in the original line. And I wouldn’t have been grousing when I got to the second line if I hadn’t gotten to witness a con staffer essentially yelling at another attendee for the horrible sin of having not seen the email telling them to bring the signed statement.
Having been a con staff member at several different-sized conventions, who once unloaded on a particularly bothersome attendee, I know that I live in a glass house–and therefore should not hurl stones. (In my defense, that incident happened when I came down very sick at the con, and it turned out I was running around doing my programming director job while running a 104º fever, but it still means I was less than professional while being staff, so I get it.)
Anyway, Matt and Sheryl commiserated in line with me, and invited me to meet them for some lunch when I got out of line. I think my grousing was at least as much due to a less-than perfect blood sugar situation as anything.
We ate, then went off to panels. Sheryl and I had picked the same panel at 5, while Matt and I had picked the same one at 6. One was on “Any Tool Can Be a Weapon” which was a good discussion. The other was a writing panel, specifically ways to figure out your own methods to be productive. Also a good panel.
I had accidentally said yes to two different people for dinner (I thought I was agreeing to Friday night in one). I wound up hanging in the bar with Keith, Juli sans-e, and Mark. We saw Edd and waved him over, then saw Kehf and Auntie and waved them over. I also got to visit with Julie avec-e and Mike. Amy dropped over for a bit and introduced me to “Adult Wednesday Addams” and how did I not know about this before!
After we had hung out for a while, I went back to the room intending to get some writing done, but mostly wound up catching up on social media and taking care of some of the Camp NaNoWriMo prep. Speaking of which, if you have a creative project that you would like to work on in April, you should look into Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s a little bit more low key than National Novel Writing Month. Unless you want it to be a competition. In which case, we can do that, too.
Friday was mostly about running to panels, though I did wander the dealer’s den with Mark. I picked up some cool sonic screwdriver earrings and also found birthday presents for two friends. Woo!
Most of the panels I went to during the day were writing related. I still think the most interesting new thing I learned was at the weapons panel Thursday afternoon. But I got useful and intriguing stuff at all of Friday’s panels, too.
My husband took the train from Seattle after he got off work Friday, so I feel a bit less disjointed. It is weird; we’ve only spent a few minutes alone at the con, but knowing he’s here at the hotel with me makes me feel less incomplete. It is weird being one of two introverts (who are learned extroverts) in a relationship. There’s probably several blog posts in there, now that I think about it.
The upshot is, I am really glad to be back at NorWesCon after skipping a few years. And there are still two days of awesomeness to go!
There once was a fan artist whose schtick at conventions was to viciously attack and destroy plushies. He had a particular hatred for plush toys based on animated characters from programs that he disliked: Smurfs, for example. People would intentionally bring such plushies to his table in dealer dens or artist alleys and watch him scream and shout and foam at the mouth (not always figuratively)… and tear the thing to shreds.
A lot of people thought this was funny. Not just a teeny bit funny, but funniest thing ever in the history of funny things.
The first time I saw it, I was horrified. I was on the other side of the room, looking at some artwork in an artist’s portfolio, when I heard an angry shout. I barely got turned around to see what was happening before this man was standing up, screaming angry insults at what looked like a cowering young man. He lunged across the table, grabbed something (I couldn’t tell if it was a teddy bear, or what), screamed more angry insults punctuated with the phrase “Die! Die! Die!” and proceeded to shred the thing.
This was in the late 1990s, so I didn’t have a cell phone. If I had, I would have been calling 911. I thought this stranger had literally lost his mind. I thought someone was being assaulted.
And half the room (it was a dealer’s den at a smallish/medium-sized convention, so maybe 35-40 dealer’s tables, maybe a couple hundred people in the room) started laughing. “What the heck?” I said aloud. A fan I didn’t know standing next to me said, “Oh, that’s just so-and-so killing another Smurf.”
It was his schtick or signature move. Something he was known for. Everyone knew it was just an act. Several people assured me that he was really quite a sweet guy. He only did it when he knew the person wanted the plushie destroyed. It was all in good fun.
Unless, of course, you weren’t in on the joke. Like me. My heart was pounding like a trip hammer during the display. I was trying to figure out how to get over there and pull the person whose toy was being attacked out of danger. I was wondering why the hell no one else was doing anything. And I bet I wasn’t the only person in the room who didn’t know about this guy and his act.
Over the next few years I had other interactions with the same guy. Online he tended to be a curmudgeon and a crank. If he knew who you were and considered you an established person in fandom, and you happened to disagree with him, his arguments would be snarky, but he’d concede that you had the right to an opinion. If you weren’t in that category, he was a full-fledged asshole.
In person at conventions where I was staff, he behaved in a civil if gruff manner in our exchanges as long as things were going his way. He groused and grumbled and sometimes threatened if things weren’t. When I wasn’t staff, or when I wasn’t clearly identified as such, how polite he acted depended on whether there was an audience, and how big. If the dealer’s den was relatively quiet and he was browsing at my table or the table next to mine, he was soft spoken and almost friendly. If there was a crowd around, he would find reasons to declaim opinions, usually negative opinions, loudly and with colorful language.
I had a very hard time believing that he really was a sweetheart. Yes, some of his behavior was an act. The destroying plushies thing, once you had witnessed it a few times, had a rhythm and repeated sequence of phrases. He was performing. It was part of his brand. Exactly how behaving like a deranged ax murderer toward harmless toys was a brand worth perpetuating I wasn’t very clear about, but that’s what it was.
Performance or not, that doesn’t mean that everyone who witnesses the performance enjoys the experience. Particularly, like me the first time, if you aren’t in on the joke. Even once I was in on the joke, it was still upsetting. I’m a collector, and one of the things I collect is plushies. Anyone who has been to our house has seen that we have otters and tigers and teddy bears and other cute plush animals lined up on top of the bookcases and stashed in other locations. Some of those plushies have a lot of sentimental value. There’s a particular floppy tiger plush that was one late husband’s, for instance. There is a particular mouse in a Christmas scarf that my late husband gave me one Christmas that I have an incredibly strong emotional attachment to. Every time I have witnessed the performance of the destroy the plushie routine at a convention, part of me has wondered how does he know that the person carrying that thing past his table was in on the joke and wanted it to happen?
Call me a softy, but thinking of that happening to an unsuspecting person’s possession by mistake is almost as upsetting as seeing the act without warning was the first time.
If you’ve been involved in any fandom for any significant length of time, you’ve met or seen someone like kill-the-plushies guy. He or she has a schtick, whether it be:
- partially disrobing in public spaces, declaiming loudly about body positivity, and daring people to be offended;
- or making sexual gestures and comments at anyone and everyone while commenting to the significant other of said person about how lucky they are to have “that”;
- or pontificating loudly about people who don’t have respect for the classics while denigrating some new popular thing;
- or spinning long humorous tales about how clueless some people are;
- or being exaggeratedly offended at something and going on long, grandiloquent rants;
…and so forth.
I’ve been thinking about that guy (and many other fans and pros I’ve known who have a reputation that their badass or angry or asshole behavior is just a schtick or a joke they do), while reading reactions and continued attempts at defending the things that happened to Mike Oshiro at ConQuesT.
Many of the defenders are using variations of the “it’s just a joke” excuse, of course. But there are other similar elements, as well. The fellow panelist who briefly defended himself (then deleted his comments) on the original post by saying, “We’ve been on panels together at conventions before” and “I thought we were friends” is essentially saying, “You should have known it was just an act. I’m really a sweetheart.”
But I think that the notion that he or she is really a sweetheart once you get to know him was also part of the brand. It is just as much a performance as the outrageous behavior. The outrageous behavior is only accepted by some of the audience because they know it’s only an act. They are making a choice when to treat someone with respect, and when to be a badass.
And the fact that often their attempt at apology is to simply say, “But I didn’t mean it that way. I thought you were in on the joke” is all the proof you need that the “sweetheart” part of the act is the least accurate representation of their true nature.
File770 has an extensive post, with links to several other comments and additional information, and a very long comment thread (which has remained mostly civil): Mark Oshiro Says ConQuesT Didn’t Act On His Harassment Complaints.
I’m more than a bit disappointed in how many people are still jumping to the defense of a couple of the harassers with re-treads of the “can’t you take a joke”/“But everyone knows she didn’t mean anything by it.” One version of that which has surfaced a few times in regards to the person who has a history of taking her pants off at panels is, “she does that all the time; I’m not offended by it; Therefore it isn’t offensive and there’s something wrong with you if you think there is.”
This is an old defense that has been used to excuse sexual harassment and sexual assault for decades. A woman complains that she was made uncomfortable by someone who kept comment on some part of her anatomy, kept crowding in on her, et cetera, and people say, “Oh, so-and-so does that all the time, but he’s harmless!” By which, presumably they mean so far as they know he has never murdered anyone, or raped anyone at knifepoint. This completely ignores that fact that the leering, crowding, groping, or whatever that he does do makes the person feel very uncomfortable, unsafe, and completely obliterates any enjoyment she gets out of the activity/convention/party/panel whatever.
Similarly, the pants situation this time isn’t just about whether it is offensive for a woman to stand around wearing a pair of mens boxers as outerwear, it’s whether after dropping her pants bumping into and continuously rubbing up against another panelist who has previously indicated he isn’t comfortable with that behavior is an acceptable way to behave.
Never mind whether it is conducive to a serious discussion about tolerance for a panelist to do that on stage at the panel.
To switch sides for a moment: I’ve been on the other side of the “is it offensive” debate. There are still people (they got quoted in some of the news stories after the last Hugos, for instance), who angrily insist that even including a platonic gay relationship in a story/movie/TV series is deeply offensive to them. Heck, there were calls for boycotts because a black actor was cast as a stormtrooper in the new Star Wars movie, not long after the calls for a boycott of one of the official Star Wars tie-in novels because it included a gay character. I totally understand that someone merely saying that something is offensive is not justification for utterly banning that something. For those people, seeing me simply giving my husband a quick peck on the lips before heading into a panel room completely squicks them out. And I refuse to stop being who I am just because some bigots think they have a right to live in a diversity-free world.
So, I understand that the woman who takes her pants off may be trying to make a statement about body positivity, and about women being in control of their own bodies and having a say in how they dress. I understand that I don’t have a right to veto her choices about herself. But if I happen to be on the panel with her, my lack of a veto over how she dresses doesn’t mean that I have no right to be upset if she rubs up against me, leers at me, and otherwise tries to turn me into a prop for her performative critique of societal norms. My lack of a veto over her sexuality or identity doesn’t mean I have to participate at that level.
Related to all of this, our local furry convention seems to have finally self-destructed: What really killed RF2016 was RF2011 to RF2015. Yes, I said finally. I know it isn’t nice to pile on when someone is already down, but there were very clear warning signs early (as the person, a recently resigned conchair, who wrote that post-mortem alludes to) that the concom had serious problems. The ones mentioned in the post are bad, but they were the tip of the iceberg from my experiences: as an attendee, as a dealer, as a panelist, as someone who offered to help on staff, and as someone who filed multiple reports of times the convention didn’t adhere to their own policies. The thing that actually brought them down was failing to deal with misbehaving attendees, but that was only a symptom of a deeper problem—just the most obviously expensive symptom.
These things don’t have to kill conventions, though.
Last summer, after the incident of the drunken writer contacting the local police to file a false report that one of the WorldCon guests of honor (with whom he had a political disagreement) was a dangerous person who might commit violent acts at the con, Lydy Nickerson posted a lengthy post about her own experiences as a staff member dealing with problems at conventions over the years: Harassment: What do we do? It’s really well done. She lays out a lot of real scenarios and explains the options and how to take some mitigating circumstances into account and so on. It is really worth a read.
At least one specific post over the weekend warrants some commentary: Mark Does Stuff – TRIGGER WARNING: For extended, detailed… | Facebook. Mark Oshiro was invited as a Guest of Honor to ConQuesT, where he and his partner were sexually and racially harassed both on and off panels, treated very strangely by con staff (including the chair) at Opening Ceremonies and the GoH dinner, and so on. It is not a pleasant story to read, and even more infuriating to see how the con staff many times assured him things would be taken care of, then months later told that no action would be taken on any of his complaints.
He concludes the tale with this explanation for why he’s going public:
Harassment is unfortunately a part of my experience at SF/F conventions. Not at all of them, but at most of them, something happens to me. I’m an outspoken queer Latinx, and it’s inevitable. However, since ConQuesT, every con staff that I’ve had to make a report to has dealt with my report quickly and fairly. At ConFusion this year, the concom dealt with my incident report in two hours. Meaning they spoke to the person and that person apologized to my face within two hours. At that point, it almost seemed comical that over half a year had passed, and both ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner did nothing at all.
That’s why I’m talking. I did what I was supposed to. I kept quiet, I trusted the system in place, and it completely failed me. I will not be attending ConQuesT this year or for the foreseeable future. (I’m going to WisCon for the first time instead!) I don’t feel safe there, and ultimately, that’s why this bothers me so much. There are people who are part of that community who were actively hostile to me, and when I reported them, the message was sent loud and clear:
We don’t care about you. At all.
It left me wondering why a convention would invite someone to be a guest of honor, then treat them this way. I can come up with a number of explanations, but even the most benign ones still leave no excuse for not dealing with the harassment incidents.
A certain number of responses (both at Mark’s original post and on various blogs reacting to it) trot out the usual blame the victim/blame no one defenses. 1) Surely if Mark had simply politely asked the harassers to stop everything could have been avoided, and 2) Con staff can’t prevent bad behavior and certainly can’t be expected to anticipate everything that might go wrong.
The first defense, besides ignoring Mark’s account that he did ask and otherwise signal his discomfort multiple times, completely overlooks the fact that speaking up for yourself, no matter how politely, often leads to even worse consequences than the original harassment. When folks are confronted about their offensive behavior, they frequently deny and escalate. One example happened in the comments of Mark’s posting (which was subsequently deleted, but not before someone took a screencap of it).
The second defense contains truth, but is also very misleading. Three of the problem people named in the post have been known to say and do those (or substantially similar) things at previous conventions. The panelist who took her pants off and kept bumping up against Mark and making weird faces even said, at the time, that she had gotten in trouble for doing that sort of thing on panels at that very convention previously! Con staff can’t predict the future, but surely they can remember problems from previous years?
I get it. I’ve worked on convention staff many times. My jobs have ranged from very low level gopher to being in charge of programming and vice-chair. I understand that the con staff is all-volunteer, always overworked, always understaffed, always juggling lots of things, and frequently doing all of this on too little sleep and without enough time. I understand that no one has time to vet every panelist. I get all of that.
And I’ve been on the other side. I’ve said and done things I realized later that I shouldn’t have. I’ve had to go apologize to people. I’ve been in situations where I should have apologized but wasn’t able to for various reasons. And sometimes when I’ve been confronted about something I said and did, instead of taking the complaint to heart, I’ve denied and gotten defensive—aggressively defensive. So, I understand and empathize with those people, too.
Some folks are defending the other panelists by trying to say it was all in good fun, or it wasn’t meant that way (whatever that means). You know, that’s exactly what bullies say when they get called out. “I was just joking around. I didn’t mean anything by it.” You can hurt people without intending to. You can make people uncomfortable without intending to. Your intent doesn’t change how the person felt while you were behaving that way. Just as saying you didn’t mean to break something doesn’t magically repair the broken thing.
If you sincerely didn’t realize what you were doing was making someone feel uncomfortable or unwanted or despised, it is all right to mention that in your apology. But the rest of the apology has to be sincere. “I didn’t realize how my actions affected you at the time. Now that I understand, I deeply regret what I said and did. It was wrong to put you in that position. I will try not to do that to you or anyone else ever again.” Something like that is a real apology and shows that you value the other person.
While the “Can’t you take a joke?” sort of reactions just confirms your utter disregard for anyone other than yourself.
I’d had a half-baked idea for a follow-up to yesterday’s blog post, but then a friend posted a link to a tumblr that covers several of the ideas I was going to talk about in a much more funny way:
Bikini Armor Battle Damage The whole tumblr is awesome, but I want especially to draw your attention to three posts:
Female Armor Bingo – includes downloadable PDF, rules, and links to t-shirts, mugs, and so forth with the bingo card image.
Bikini Armor Battle Damage: Female Armor Rhetoric Bingo – the perfect companion!
Thank you, Sheryl, for the link yesterday! You’d think, since I already follow The Hawkeye Initiative, Fake Geek Guys!, and Fake Nerd Guys that I would have already known about this, but no, I had missed it!