Easter means many things to many people. For instance: On Easter, as on every Sunday, hats have a deep significance for black women.
Or less seriously: 5 ways Easter is much more queer-inclusive then you realize.
Whether you’re celebrating this as a holiday to eat chocolate, or a fertility rite to welcome spring, or a holy holiday, or a day to be out in your community showing your finest hat, or if you just like bunnies, I hope you have a wonderful Easter!
Similarly, when marriage equality began being enacted, the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies found that queer teen suicides and suicide attempts decreased by 14%. Which would confirm that perceptions of societal acceptance his a significant driver of the problem.
This is why I get so angry when politicians, such as our current Vice President, scream bloody murder when anyone criticizes the anti-gay policies and teachings of any of their favorite institutions. Adult religious freedom shouldn’t be an excuse to bully children to death. Period.
The rate at which LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes, bullied, and driven to suicide is exactly why queer adults and our allies get upset when, say, the wife of the Vice President of the United States goes to work at a Christian school which rejects queer students. It isn’t about her religious freedom, it’s about the health and welfare of children. And if you don’t believe me, you can listen to a queer person who attended and that very school:
When we talk about this sort of thing in relation to private schools, a lot of people who think of themselves as open-minded respond by pointing out that attending a private school isn’t mandatory. As if a five-year-old kid is the one deciding which school their parents are going to enroll them into. Part of the problem with these institutions is that they are part of an entire ecosystem—an anti-gay (and usually also anti-science) bubble in which kids are brought up surrounded by misinformation. More than a little bit of that misinformation being quite harmful to one’s health.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The overwhelming scientific and medical consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice, it can’t be changed, and whatever the cause seems to be set sometime before the age of two. It is also the overwhelming scientific and medical consensus that the differences in health outcomes and such that are sometimes cherry-picked from studies to prove that being queer is harmful are actually evidence that anti-gay discrimination is harmful.
Queer kids are born in all types of families. And even when the adults around us don’t notice or suspect us from an early age, we all notice that something is different pretty early. And the older we get in an environment where our feelings and interests don’t match what is expected by the adults around us, the more we try to hide our true selves and contort ourselves into something that will please our elders and peers.
“When you’re young and consistently told that who you are is incorrect and needs to be eradicated, you listen and start to eradicate yourself.”
—Luke Hartman, Immanuel Christian alumnus
As Luke points out, being raised in a church that taught that gays are abominations, and going to a elementary school and then middle school where everyone believed that and the curriculum assumed that non-straight people don’t even exist, stunts a queer kids emotional growth. When none of the role models match their feelings, they just go through motions without many important social developments happening. It was only when he transitioned to a public high school (because the private school didn’t cover the upper grades) that he began to get a hint that people like him even existed.
“I believe the most hurtful messages are the ones that are expressed silently. It was an unspoken truth that being gay, or deviating from a narrow definition of sexual orientation or gender identity, was a no-fly zone.”
They don’t learn how to form healthy romantic relationships in a context that matches their orientation. They also internalize all the absence as much as the outright bigotry. If the only possible acceptable visions of your future are things that you can feel in your bones aren’t who you are, well, that must mean that something is profoundly wrong with you. It’s like one queer author once observed: in myth monsters don’t have reflections and don’t cast shadows. If people like us don’t exist in any books, movies, stories, et cetera that we see growing up—if people like us aren’t reflected in the culture, and if our accomplishments aren’t acknowledged—then the only conclusion is that we are monsters.
That leaves scars and deep trauma—trauma that studies show makes physical changes to the brain just like that seen in war zone survivors!
And that’s why it’s important to call out the people who claim they are just exercising their religious beliefs. They aren’t “merely” doing anything. They are imposing those beliefs on children. And before you let them claim that they have a right to raise their children as they like, let me remind you that children aren’t property. They are a responsibility. We impose severe penalties when parents physically brutalize and even kill their children. We need to realize that abuse and trauma isn’t limited to broken bones, contusions, and concussions.
Time for some more news that either didn’t make the cut for yesterday’s Friday Five, or I didn’t hear about them in time to include, or have new development since I linked to them. I’m running late today, so, let’s see if I can be quick!
First up, a follow-up to a story I shared quite a while ago. Background, about two years ago Oklahoma state legislator, Ralph Shortey, was caught in a motel room with a teen-age boy he had hired for sex. There were also illegal drugs in the room. Shortey had been a typical Republican politician pushing the typical family values lines, and yes, was even more vociferiously anti-gay than the typical Republicans (who are typically anti-LGBT, but don’t bring it up as often as Shortey did). Oh, and Shortey was wearing a t-shirt with a misogynist “make me a sandwich” joke when he was arrested. Anyway, of course he resigned in disgrace and has since been making the evangelical hate-radio circuit talking about how the devil made him do it and claiming he has begged god for forgiveness and that god has supposedly taken his gay cooties away. Anyway, Former GOP State Senator Ordered to Pay $125,000 to Male Teen He Was Caught with in Motel Room.
Shortey was convicted on federal sex trafficing charges and already been sentenced to 15 years in prison. Now prosecutors have requested restitution from Shortey to cover psychiatric treatment and such for the teen-ager. And the court has ordered Shortey to pay.
Sometimes there are consequences.
Previously when I’ve posted stories about self-loathing closet cases (particularly those in politics or otherwise having positions of authority and influence), I have sometimes received messages asking why I don’t feel sorry for these guys. The closet is a horrible place, and yeah, all of us who have been closeted said stupid and sometimes shitty things in order to deflect harassment from people around us. So to pre-emptively answer that: I’ll start considering feeling sorry for Shortey if and when he admits that he’s queer (whether gay or bi or pan or whatever), apologizes for his years of promoting hate, voting against gay rights and the like, apologizes for the harm his anti-gay rhetoric and laws caused to queer people, and takes real responsibility for the harm he caused his ex-wife and children.
I do feel sorry for the former Mrs Shortey (interesting note: when she divorced him last year, she asked the court to legally change her last name and those of her children, so that they would no longer have the same name as their disgraced father). I hope that she and the children are in a better situation.
I also feel bad about the young man who was selling his body and hiding who he was.
But the self-loathing closet case politician who is still hewing to the line that his own same-sex feelings are an abomination, and therefore all of of other queer people are abominations? Nope, not one iota of sympathy for him.
Also, let me repeat my call for journalists everywhere to investigate thoroughly the personal lives of vehemently anti-gay politicians, because they always seem to have this kind of secret in their life.
In other news: Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Fayetteville’s LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Ordinance. The Republicans of Arkansas hate queers so much, that they passed a law banning cities and counties from granting equal rights to LGBT people. The city of Fayetteville had such an ordinance and for the last few years has been fighting in court to keep the law. They have now lost at the state supreme court.
How much must you hate queer people that you insist other people have to hate them too? That’s what this comes down to, after all.
There is also the incredible level of hypocrisy that the same party that screams about local control and how bad big impersonal government is for everyone, turns around and uses their control of higher levels of government to strip away local control.
But then, hypocrisy isn’t a bug in the hearts of so-called pro-family Republicans/fundamentalists, it’s a feature!
The first one also involves me geeking out about two of my favorite topics: Parliamentary Procedure and the Constitution. And since it is politics and you’ve already had plenty of that this year, please feel free to scroll down to the First Kisses and Double Dads sections. I promise this update ends on a happy and adorable note!
Empty Seat in District 9
I have posted lots of links (and written some longish posts) about the Blue Wave that happened in the midterm elections. Well, that story is still developing. One of the issues is related that the misreporting that happens pretty much every election night in America: networks and the reports, anchors, and analysts that work for them all like to declare winners on election night, so they can then spend time explaining what this means. The problem here is that there are often a lot of ballots left to count in every district of every state on the morning after election night. And sometimes races which don’t appear close on election night turn out to be very tight. This is why on the morning after election day news services all over the place were declaring that the Blue Wave was just a ripple, when it fact, once all ballots were counted and elections were certified, it turned out to be more of a tsunami.
To wit: on election night is seemed the Democrats had only taken a net 20 seats from Republicans in the House of Representatives, but by the end of November, when nearly all of the elections were actually certified, it turned out to be 40 seats. A lot of races that networks had decided were likely Republican actually were won by Democrats.
And then there is the 9th District of North Carolina: House won’t seat North Carolina Republican amid ongoing election fraud dispute. Why won’t they be seating him, well, it’s simple: he hasn’t officially won, yet: North Carolina De-Certifies NC-09 Republican Win For Potential Fraud – By the time this is all over, we could have yet another win in the Democratic column..
Here’s what we know. During the primary, before the actual mid-term election, voters in one region of the state began reporting receiving absentee ballots that they had not asked for. Then reports came in of people showing up at the doors of some people who had absentee ballots and offering to take them to turn in for them. Turns out there was an extensive operation to steal absentee ballots, filling out and forging signatures on blank ones when they could and discarding those that had been properly filled out but didn’t vote for the Republican. And the crazy thing is that the people running it kept records of their activities! North Carolina election-fraud investigation centers on operative with criminal history who worked for GOP congressional candidate.
North Carolina law requires the election board to, if election fraud is proven, void the election and call a special election. The law also authorizes the election board to void even if fraud isn’t proven if the there is sufficient cause to doubt the integrity of the outcome. Because the investigation was ongoing, the margin of “victory” is only 905 votes, and the number of illegally diverted in at least in the hundreds, the Election Board voted unanimously to not certify a winner in the race. One wrinkle: the vote was on Friday, the last day of operation for the current Election Board, which had to dissolve because of another, unrelated, lawsuit. The new governor has to appoint a new board. At one point the outgoing governor was discussing appointing a temporary board, but decided that it was unlikely any decision of temporary appointees would survive any court challenge.
This means that the investigation into the fraud won’t be concluded before the new Congress meets next week.
Now a lot of people have been sharing on social media the claim that a Supreme Court case from 1969, Powell v. McCormack, prohibits the new Congress from refusing to seat the so-called winner of the District 9 race. And that’s where my nerdiness got triggered. Powell v. McCormack was a complicated ruling about two statements in the Constitution, both from Section 5 of Article 1: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members…” and from the next sentence: “Each House may…, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.” It is true that the Court ruled that the House couldn’t vote to expel a member without first allowing said member to be sworn in a seated. But the Court also said that this only applied to members “only after a member-elect had been elected under the laws of the state in which the congressional district was located.”
Under the laws of North Carolina, the person isn’t elected until the Election Board certifies the results. It doesn’t matter that one candidate has declared himself the victor by 905 votes. It sure as heck doesn’t matter if a bunch of television talking heads declared him the winner on election night. He does not become a member-elect until the North Carolina Election Board certifies him as the winner. The Board unanimously voted that not to certify. North Carolina law requires a new election if fraud is proven, and allows a new election if fraud seems likely.
The Blue Wave may actually turn out to be one victory bigger than we thought!
The U.S. Navy has a tradition that when a ship has been deployed for an extended time, that upon return to shore, there is a symbolic first kiss of a spouse welcoming home one of the sailors. The ships hold a raffle to determine who will be the sailor who does this. Naval spouses are typically on hand to meet the ship, and there is usually a whole lot of kissing and hugging and joyful welcoming that happens after that first kiss. This happens all the time, so it should be no big deal, right? Well: Gay Sailor’s Homecoming Kiss Prompts Wrath from Local News Viewers, Jubilation from Social Media.
First, this is hardly the first time a same sex couple has been the first kiss for a returning ship. Queer people have been allowed to serve opening in the U.S. military since September 20, 2011. The very first same sex married military couple were married on that very day. These two guys are hardly the first same sex couple to win that silly first kiss lottery (that is believed to be a lesbian couple back in December of 2011), and not the first to go viral. So I’m not exactly sure why this one blew up the way it did.
Same-sex Navy couple faces backlash for re-creating iconic WWII kiss: ‘We’re just showing our love for each other’. Is it because they’re an interracial couple? Was it the recreation of that old WWII photo? Who knows?
I’ll just leave it at: if you object to a pair of spouses kissing after being separated from months, you don’t ever get to claim you’re not a bigot.
For the first time ever, Nickelodeon’s ‘Double Dare’ features a family with two dads. So, Nickelodeon is considered a kid’s programming network, and the Double Dare game show is one of its most popular programs. In the show, families compete in what is essentially a trivia contest, where the family can perform a physical challenge rather than answer the question in order to win a round.
What I liked about how this story was how casually it was handled. The host asked them how they had become a family, the dads responded that six years ago they adopted their two sons, and then the host said, “And now you’re on Double Dare as Team Double Dads.”
That was it. And you know what? That’s all it needed to be.
Adoption by same sex couples is still under very active attack from many bigots, so I want to remind everyone that letting queer couples adopt children doesn’t mean that straight couples are being denied those kids. There is a serious shortage of qualified foster parents and adoptive parents. The Foster Care Crisis: The Shortage Of Foster Parents In America. For lots of kids without parents, the alternative to a gay or lesbian couple or a single parent adopting them isn’t a straight couple, it’s no family at all. Officials currently estimate that 65,000+, or about 4 percent of all adopted children live with gay or lesbian parents at this time.
Adoption questions aside, there are a lot of children being raised by queer parents. It’s a difficult number to nail down, because even now it isn’t always safe for people to openly declare their sexual orientation. Most of the studies indicate that at least 160,000 families headed by a gay or lesbian person include children under the age of 18. One reason for that is that lots of queer people, particularly in conservative states, make a go at straight marriage, wind up with kids, and then come out of the closet afterword. So a lot of kids are being raised by their divorced queer parent (with or without a queer step-parent).
A bigger take-away is to remember this: Most kids don’t live in a so-called traditional family; only 46% of kids live in a family led by two heterosexual parents in their first marriage. And there isn’t anything wrong with that.
Besides, why shouldn’t people get to cheer on these adorkable dads and their adorable sons:
Before I get further, let me get a couple of disclaimers out of the way: I have considered myself an ex-Baptist and an ex-Christian for a long time, so some people will want to dismiss anything I say on these topics out of hand. On the other hand, I learned my deep sense of social justice from that church and more specifically their holy book. I was the kind of nerd who read the Bible, on my own, cover-to-cover more than once (and had rather large swaths of it memorized). I have often said I didn’t leave the church, the church drove me (a gay man) away.
One of the big problems I had, again and again, was the many times that teachers and leaders in the church would insist that god’s love and mercy were unconditional—and then they would lay out a whole bunch of conditions that one must meet to earn that love. At first they said you had to believe in him order to get his love and mercy. And don’t forget obey him, or you won’t receive his love. And obey him in the right way, not the way other churches say to do it, or you won’t receive his love. And ignore these parts of the holy book, but these other parts you must interpret exactly as we say, or you won’t receive his love.
That’s an awful lot of conditions one must meet to qualify for supposedly unconditional divine love.
It’s not just unconditional divine love that the fundamentalist evangelicals don’t understand. They have a similar misapprehension of civil rights. Tony Perkins heads to Fox News to defend Trump administration’s latest attack on trans rights. This takes a little bit to unpack. If you missed the news this weekend, the New York Times got hold of a memo from the department of Health and Human Services that outlines how the government could erase all trans rights: ‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration. More details became available quickly thereafter: The Trump Administration Wants to Define Gender as Biological Sex at Birth.
An important clue in this memo is the assertion that previous definitions of sex “allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.”
Tony Perkins mention above is the leader of the Family Research Council, an evangelical fundamentalist hate group that spends all its time an energy not on helping families, but rather on attacking gay rights and transgender rights and so forth. And he has made a very similar argument for years: gay, lesbian, and trans people don’t deserve civil rights protections.
Which means he doesn’t understand what a civil right is: rights aren’t deserved. You have them because you exist, period. They aren’t privileges. The Declaration of Independence referred to rights as “inalienable”—they can’t be transferred or removed. We can argue about what is or isn’t a right, but not who has them. Everyone has them. The moment you argue that some categories of people shouldn’t have their rights protected, well, that’s taking you a very long way down the fascist road.
And it isn’t something that Christians should be fighting for. They are commanded to love everyone, including their enemies. And as the Sermon on the Mount makes clear, love isn’t just about warm fuzzy feelings, it’s action. Love means lifting people up. Love means standing up for people. Love means doing good for people who disagree with you. Love means not just taking care of your own, but taking care of everyone who needs help.
Perkins and his ilk justify their opposition to the rights of transgender people by frequently making the claim that the Bible clear says that there are only two genders. It is true that the Bible frequently refers to two genders, but none of those references say that those two are the only possibilities, nor does it give a definition of those genders. While some portions make a big deal about what sorts of behaviors are appropriate for one gender or the other, other passages contradict those notions. And there there are a few places where the text asserts very insistently that gender is unimportant. Such as:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
—Galatians 3:28, Holy Bible, King James Version
Which seems to back the notion that god’s love really is unconditional, so maybe his so-called followers should stop trying to enforce divisions.
Note: The title comes from the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal
There are less extreme reasons why it isn’t safe for everyone to come out, I get that. So not everyone is ready. But…
Being in the closet isn’t just an inconvenience. Studies show that being closeted adversely affects your physical health. You live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. This affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.Coming out is scary. Some of your family and friends will react badly. There may be drama. You may have the unpleasant surprise to find that some of the people you were sure would be fine with it are not at all. On the other hand (and I speak from personal experience), you may be pleasantly surprised at some of the people who support you—one of my aunts that I was certain wouldn’t react well was the first person to say to a bunch of my relatives, “If you have a problem with Gene being gay, then you’re going to have a much bigger problem with me!”
And coming out isn’t a one and done thing. People will continue to assume you’re straight. You’ll find yourself coming out again and again. But the thing is, being out is so much better than being in that closet. You will be amazed, as you process the aftermath, at how much energy you were expending worrying about people finding out. You will be surprised at the sheer weight of the stress you were dealing with being closeted. Like me, you may discover that a lot of health issues were fueled by that stress, and they get a lot better once you’re no longer hiding, deflecting, thinking of plausible lies, and constantly dreading someone finding out.
I wish we lived in a world where fear of being who we are wasn’t so real.
But one of the small ways we can make the world a little less scary for queer people is to come out. As a teenager, the one time I saw a gay couple on a news program being interviewed about the gay rights struggle probably saved my life. There were two men admitting they were gay—two men who had been in a committed relationship for years and seemed happy. It was a ray of hope I desperately needed.
And that’s one of the reasons I am out. It’s why I mention my queerness as often as I do. So that some frightened queer kid might see that, look, there’s a gay man who is happy, has a good life, has people who love him, has friends—gay, straight and otherwise—who have his back. So, maybe, we can be a glimmer of hope for them.
No one deserves the closet. No one deserves that fear and self-loathing. When you’re ready, come out. It really is a wonderful world outside of that closet.
We’ve spent trillions of dollars (let alone the thousands of military personnel killed or maimed in the process) an accomplished nothing more than radicalizing who knows how many people who would otherwise might have been allies.
Meanwhile, we have ignored and inadequately responded to other disasters closer to home: Hurricane Maria Killed More People Than Katrina and 9/11 Combined: Harvard Study “4,645 people probably died after Hurricane Maria struck the island last September.” We continue to act as if 9/11 was the worst disaster ever to hit this country, while we ignore the pain and suffering of the American citizens in Puerto Rico. We should be ashamed.
If we are going to talk about 9/11, we should talk about some of the heroes: Remembering 9/11 Hero Mark Bingham Mark Bingham, a 6’4″ tall gay man who had the nickname “Bear Trap” was one of the passengers of United Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit of their pilot, preventing the hijackers from crashing the plane into the intended fourth target that day. Mark and the other passengers died as the plane crashed into a field, instead.
Read about the other, often erased, queer heroes here: The Stories of 9/11’s LGBTQ Heroes.
I need to do a bit of a follow up to my previous post about the issues at Worldcon. I didn’t touch on everything that happened, and since the issue blew up, Mary Robinette Kowal, whose tweet from years ago on a related subject I quoted in that post, has agreed to help redo the programming. Kowal has been running the programming tracks at the annual Nebula conferences for a while, and she had posted a nice summary of their process for trying to put together a program that appeals to many parts of the community. So many of us are provisionally hopeful that the situation will be a bit better at the actual convention than they appeared just days ago.
I have also been reminded that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between ignorance and actual malice. Now, I was thinking that most of the bigotry that seemed to be motivating the issues were likely unconscious—all of us are often unaware of just how many prejudices we have absorbed from society. Alis Franklin, in particular, has pointed out another explanation for much of the problem:
“This all feels very much like people used to running a small-town parochial con with an established member-base suddenly getting in a twist because they have to accommodate (gasp) outsiders.”
And she’s likely on to something. A lot of this does sound like the people in programming are speaking from their past experience running their local convention, where they believe they know their audience and what those attendees expect. But even if that is the case, I still suspect that their local crowd includes a lot more queers, people of color, and other folks who are interested in topics that their local con doesn’t recognize in programming—because as I said, we’re everywhere, and we’re all used to being excluded and dismissed; so much so that when we raise an issue and are shut down, we often just hold our tongues thereafter.
On the issue of the one pro whose submitted bio was edited to change all of eir pronouns to “he” and “him”, and the insistence for a few days that this was a bio taken from the web (when no one can find such a bio and they can’t provide a link), that gets into the conscious versus unconscious bias. Either the person who copied the bio was simple too ill-informed about non binary people and nontraditional pronouns, and simply assumed it was some kind of extremely consistent typo (which I think is a stretch), or they’re one of those people who balk at pronouns to the point of refusing to use any they don’t agree with and decided to change the bio and then claim it was a mistake if they were called on it.
I don’t know if the same staffer is the one who decided not to use another pro’s usual publication bio and photograph, and instead write a different bio using information that usually was not released publicly and use a photo taken from the pro’s private Facebook. In any case, it is difficult to construct an “honest mistake” excuse for that one. And if it is the same staffer, I think that is more than adequate proof that the changed pronouns on the other bio was an intentional aggression.
In several of the discussions online I’ve seen a lot of people not understanding what the problem was with requesting semi-formal wear for the Hugo ceremony. Foz Meadows summed it up better than I did:
”…the fashion at the Hugo Awards ceremonies tends to be a welcoming, eclectic mixture of the sublime, the weird and the comfortable. Some people wear ballgowns and tuxedos; some wear cosplay; others wear jeans and t-shirts. George R. R. Martin famously tends to show up in a trademark peaked cap and suspenders. Those who do dress up for the Hugos do so out of a love of fashion and pageantry, but while their efforts are always admired and appreciated, sharing that enthusiasm has never been a requisite of attending. At an event whose aesthetics are fundamentally opposed to the phrase ‘business casual’ and whose members are often uncomfortable in formalwear for reasons such as expense, gender-nonconformity, sizeism in the fashion industry and just plain old physical comfort, this change to tradition was not only seen as unexpected and unwelcome, but actively hostile.”
I also note that a few days ago Mike Glyer posted a link to a letter from decades back from E.E. “Doc” Smith (the author of the Lensmen books, among others) when the 1962 WorldCon asked for all the ladies attending the award ceremony to wear long formal gowns. Smith commented that his wife had not owned formal wear since entering retirement and thought it was unreasonable to expect people to go to such an expense.
Which is a nice segue to this: until the 34th WorldCon (MidAmericaCon I, 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri) the Hugo Awards were given out at the end of the convention banquet. The banquet consisted of eating (obviously) while the guests of honor gave speeches. Fans who couldn’t afford the extra expense of the banquet were allowed in (usually in a separate area such as a balcony) for the awards portion. The awards ceremony was separated from the banquet in 1976 for a couple of reasons, but one was to make it easier for everyone who wanted to attend to do so. The conventions had gotten so large that the fraction who wanted to see the award ceremony was too much for the banquet halls of typical convention hotels to accommodate, and there had always been the problem of people who couldn’t afford the banquet ticket. I wanted to close with that because I have seen a number of people arguing that the people who are feeling unwelcome because of this con’s actions are making unreasonable demands to change traditions of the conventions.
The traditions change over time for many reasons. It isn’t about change for the sake of change, it is change of the sake of practicality and realism. People have, in the past, believed that science fiction and fantasy was only created by straight white guys, and was only loved by other straight white guys. That has never been true, but the illusion was maintained through a variety of societal forces and some willful ignorance. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain that willful ignorance, and besides, ignorance is never a good look on anyone. It’s not about whether fandom is diverse, it is about to what lengths some people are willing to go to ignore, silence, or push out that diversity.
So how things came to a head: a professional writer who has been nominated for a Hugo this year was told they weren’t going to be on programming because “there is a kind of creator who appeals to Hugo nominators, but are totally unknown to convention attendees.” The email also managed to misgender the pro and… well things went downhill, after the pro and their spouse posted some of this information online. The programming people contacted the spouse, asked the spouse to convey their apology and expressed disappointment that they went public instead of handling this privately.
And that prompted many many other writers and creators to come out of the woodwork, posting their own many attempts to deal with similar issues (such as, “why did you discard the bio my publisher sent you, and pull information from my private Facebook account instead?” “What do you mean that people like me aren’t of interest to convention attendees?”)—indicating that a whole bunch of people had been trying to address this privately to no avail.
Only when it became public and dozens of authors who were on the programs wrote in to either withdraw, or at least suggest that other, newer, less well known writers could take their place on some panels, did the con chair issue a real apology (there had been a “we’re sorry if anyone’s offended” style non-apology the night before).
Because the thing is, the people who were being excluded weren’t just new writers to the field, it was overwhelmingly the queer creators, the non-white creators, and the women creators. And at one point, the programming person explicitly said, “Do you expect a WorldCon to be like WisCon?” WisCon being famously more feminist-friendly and queer-friendly than most other conventions.
Other people have written about this situation, and probably better than I, but there’s a part of this whole thing that just really presses my buttons, and it aligns with a theme I’ve written about many times on this blog: to wit, queer people, trans people, people of color, women, and people of many religions and cultures have been fans of sci-fi/fantasy (and created sci-fi/fantasy) for as long as it has existed. We aren’t new. We aren’t exotic. We aren’t fringe or band-wagoners. We’ve always been here, we just have seldom been allowed to be visible. As Mary Robinette Kowal observed at least four years ago:
“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”
—Mary Robinette Kowal
Let’s go back to the explanation that was being given before the backlash forced them to scrap their programming plans and start over: “There is a kind of creator that appeals to the Hugo nominators who is not known by the convention attendees.”
I have at least three responses to that:
First, nominators are attendees. In order to nominate for the Hugo Awards and in order to vote for the winners, one must purchase a membership to the convention. And you know who else are attendees? The pros who are coming to the con that the con com doesn’t want to let on the program. Sure, not every attendee participated in the nomination process, and not every one of them nominated ever finalist, but some fraction of the attendees did. And the number of people who nominate is more than large enough to be a statistically significant sample of fans. So it is an entirely misleading and useless distinction to try to draw between attendees and nominators.
Second, this argument is a form of gaslighting. I’ve seen some people compare it to the old TrueFan arguments (and the more recent Real Fan claims from melancholy canines), and those are good comparisons, but I think a better model is the Moral Majority. I know I hark back to that particular group a lot, and I admit I know so much about them because they originated in the denomination in which I had been raised and they came to national prominence literally as I reached legal voting age, so my earliest election experiences included being told again and again that, because I disagreed with them, I was a member of the implied immoral minority.
This is the same kind of argument: “attendees” are implied as being the vast majority of fans, and these majority of fans don’t find “that certain kind of creator” interesting, unlike the “nominators.” The nominators are, by inference, supposed to be viewed as a fringe, extremist minority whose interests can’t possibly overlap with the implied majority. And just as the Moral Majority’s very name contained two lies (they were neither moral nor a majority), this notion that type of fans who are not interested in a “certain kind of creator” must consititute such an overwhelming majority that virtually no programming to appeals to anyone else is worth having.
Third, the majority/minority part isn’t the only form a gaslighting being attempted. Because here’s the thing: in most of the Hugo categories, it is not people who are nominated, but works of sci-fi/fantasy. The authors are referred to as nominees, but technically it is a specific novel, novella, novelette, short story, et cetera that is nominated. But that phrase, “a certain kind of creator who appeals to the nominators” puts the emphasis on the creator and the creator’s identity. In other words, they are arguing that the nominators really didn’t like the specific story, but have chosen the story to fulfill a quota or something.
In other words, the person who made this statement believes that the story nominated doesn’t really deserve to be nominated, and believes that the nominators don’t believe that either. It’s the same racist/homophobic/transphobic/misogynist arguments that the melancholy canines were making. A “certain kind of creator” is a dogwhistle. The nominators may want queer/trans/women/people of color, but “normal” people don’t. That’s what that statement says. And this is why I still fervently believe the person who said that should be fired from the con com.
Fourth, finally, they are arguing that attendees are only interested in seeing creators they already know and love. Completely ignoring the fact that most fans want to both see old favorites and to find new writers/stories/shows/what-have-you that might become favorites. One of my favorite parts of attending conventions are when I am exposed to new authors I’d never heard of before, and new works that I’d never seen. I’m always writing down names of authors and stories and ‘zines and so forth, and then going to look them up after the con.
Many of the authors who are currently in my personal list of favorites, are people who I learned about at a convention panel. Yes, once they become a favorite, I will look for their names in the programming grid and try to see some of their events, but I’m not just there to see the folks I already know.
The conventions where I ran programming were all smaller than WorldCon, but I have run programming at conventions. I know it is hard work. I know it can feel like thankless work. But one of my goals with that programming was to provide convention attendees opportunities to learn new things, to find new artists or writers and so forth that they didn’t previously know about; to introduce the work of many people to new audiences, while also giving fans a chance to see the people whose work they already liked.
If you don’t see that both of those goals should equally drive the programming of a sci fi or fantasy con, then you absolutely should not be working on programming. Go work for a commercial convention where the only point is to sell autographs. Do not volunteer for a World Science Fiction Con.