I have no intention of dropping out of attending WisCon. I have a lot of friends that go, and Wiscon is the only con where we can all get together. I refuse to give up my time with friends because of Jim Frenkel. This is not a new approach. It has been my approach since long before Frenkel being able to attend WisCon was ever in question. You see, I have never thought of WisCon as safe space. Not after 2009 (my first trip) and if I hoped it was safe space before then…well I was naive and I didn’t know any better. I do now. Race, gender, and class have all been issues at various points for me at WisCon. Most incidents fall into microaggression territory, and as a personal philosophy I tend not to let those dissuade me from things I want to do. That is an eminently personal choice, and should not be construed as telling anyone else what to do or how to feel. If my friends stop going, then so will I. That’s my standard. YMMV.
Now that we’ve gotten the niceties out of the way, let’s talk about Frenkel. More specifically, let’s talk about Frenkel, WisCon, and the response that has everyone up in arms. See back in 2009 when this picture of Frenkel staring at my breasts was taken it was in many ways just one of those things. It was my first time at a con, we were trying to get the now defunct Verb Noire off the ground, and Frenkel was an editor at Tor. It sucks, but as a woman trying (and yes, failing) to get a new business off the ground, there was no value add in me doing more about Frenkel ogling me than getting away from him. I had been warned a few minutes earlier about his long running pattern of bad behavior towards women, and was laboring under the impression that he was tolerated at WisCon because of his position at Tor. It’s awful to say this I suppose, but having worked in corporate America for some years I have a certain tolerance built up for moments like this one. That’s a me thing, it does not need to be a you thing.
Over the years since when I’ve gone to WisCon I’ve made a point of steering clear of Frenkel. I’ve warned others about him as necessary and life has gone on. During that time I’ve had other issues with WisCon from fighting about the POC safe space with certain members of the concom to MoonFail. I have had it driven home over and over again that feminist space is not safe space. And yes, I’ve chosen to keep going anyway, while fighting all those battles to make WisCon a better space. Not safe…just better. Then Frenkel tried it with someone willing to make a report to his employer (that saga is detailed elsewhere and is not my story to tell, though I will say that I submitted this picture and an explanation of it to MacMillan in the interests of full disclosure) and faced appropriate consequences as a result. Which…removes the professional stake reasons for WisCon to keep admitting him.
Fast forward to earlier this year when the subject of Frenkel attending WisCon & possibly being on programming was raised on the concom list. On April 14th I said:
So I’m going to stick my nose in & say that I have avoided Frenkel at Wiscon every year since my first trip to WisCon. The first time I met Frenkel he spent the entirety of a fortunately brief interaction staring at my breasts. There are pictures in case anyone wants proof. I have long operated under the assumption that his presence had to be tolerated because of his position with Tor. Now I have to ask exactly what is the value add of him being on programming? For that matter regardless of whose friend he is, the fact that Frenkel was someone for women to avoid was known long before 2009. This is one of those times when WisCon could avoid a problem, but I suspect things won’t be that easy. Personally I had no idea he was on any programming & assumed common sense would keep him from volunteering.
As we all know Frenkel did in fact attend Wiscon this year, and while he was not on any programming, he did volunteer in the con suite. There are any number of posts about the conversations he had with people, and how unhappy and unsafe some people felt as a result of his presence. For the record, I only saw him once, I side stepped having to interact with him at all. This is always my policy. This will always be my policy. See the aforementioned refusal to let people like him drive me away from things I enjoy doing. But note, I did attempt to tell the WisCon concom that this could only end in tears. And yes, it did lead us to the statement from a few days ago that is going to be clarified. I saw it before it dropped, but I apparently read it incorrectly, as I thought it was a four year ban followed by him having to apply to be allowed back at the con. I thought the language around that part of the process was a bit unclear, but it’s been a really hectic time in my life so I didn’t pause to ask for clarification.
I regret not digging in further, as I can now see that my understanding was incorrect. Although Frenkel’s presence is not a breaking point for me, I can absolutely see why it would be that way for others. Additionally, there’s the confusion in this thread about my report and it’s impact on the proceedings. I’ve written about the incident with Frenkel in the past, so when I was asked for the picture and the statement on June 2nd of this year I assumed it would be a factor in the decision. As of right now it may have been, or maybe not. I’m a wee bit unclear and may remain that way in the days ahead. I am not mentioned in the statement so I don’t know what to think. I am being told that it was not ignored. After being told that it wasn’t known. So…make of that what you will.
Mind you, I never actually expected Frenkel to respect a ban from WisCon if one was ever handed down. He’s got that kind of personality from what I have seen and heard that lets one rewrite reality to suit, and WisCon is generally not designed for a mass shunning. But here’s the thing, this all looks bad. Really really incredibly bad. And I don’t think it is supposed to be such a hot ass mess. But it has come out that way, and I’m…whatever the feeling is past anger and sadness. Resigned maybe? Yeah that sounds right. Resigned to the idea that WisCon isn’t going to be a better space any time soon.
Or maybe at all. WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci-fi con. And compared to some others that I have attended, it is definitely better at paying lip service to being feminist than any of them. At times it is even feminist in its approach. But…that doesn’t make it good at it. That doesn’t make it more welcoming, safer, or significantly more adept at making policies than others. Being less awful isn’t the same as being good. So yes, treat WisCon as a fun place to go with your friends, expect to have some great convos, delicious food, and a whole lot of booze. But, don’t expect WisCon to be a safe space. Right now, don’t even expect it to be a better space. Expect it to be less awful. That’s it.
Some really good people who I like a lot as a general rule are on the concom. Some folks I don’t think very highly of are also on the concom. They are all trying to do their best to whatever degree that may factor into your impression of things. Is their best good enough? Well no. Probably not. This wasn’t good enough for me. I don’t object so much to the possible presence of Frenkel at the hotel, as I do to WisCon not stating definitively that his behavior (which let us all be honest isn’t all that unusual at cons) is unacceptable. If a feminist sci-fi con has a problem stating that a pattern of persistent inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated, then aside from panel topics what makes it more feminist than any other? For that matter, I’ve done some of the same panels elsewhere. Because fandom talks about these things in places that are not WisCon. And realistically, what WisCon has just said sounds a lot like “We’re feminist so we can’t be wrong.” Heh, funny how hollow that always sounds. Turns out solidarity might just be for white men.
ETA: So Wiscon has made an apology. It’s not one that I find particularly compelling, especially since I am also on the concom Google group (as I have been since 2009) and I just saw the Member Advocate state that despite having approved the apology wording, they can’t really get “exercised about not including it in the document the subcommittee worked with (though doing so would have been more complete)” though they did share “incidents, letters from people who talked about their discomfort that did not rise to an incident, and letters from members who were distressed” which…oh. OH. Apparently everything else that happened was more relevant than Frenkel’s behavior towards me.
Now, I know that what he did to me was barely actionable from a legal perspective. After all I immediately removed from his reach and have never gone near him again. But come on now, at least pretend to give a damn about what happened to me. Try to feign some concern. Or at least don’t hand out hollow worthless apologies with one hand, while making it clear that some members are definitely worth less to you than others. Yes. I’m angry. No, I’m not so sure I’ll still be going to Wiscon. May is months away, and there are a lot of things that can happen between now and then. Including exploring the potential of a new home con. Because clearly Wiscon isn’t even interested in being a better space. It’s just a hot damned mess.
People who know me well will tell you that I need a keeper. It’s partly my own refusal to stop adding things to my plate (guess who has 2 thumbs & 20 projects), & partly the invisible sign over my head that invites people to tell me things. Complete strangers have told me stories about abortions they regret, relationships they need to end, and on one memorable occasion a very nice old lady told me a story about the time she tried to poison her husband. So I’m used to the things that happen around me. Mostly. Today I met a guy who was clean cut, with a nice smile, super friendly & very much a gentleman in terms of door opening and stepping aside to let me board first.
The first few minutes of our conversation while we were waiting for the bus were the kind of pleasant chit chat you get when people establish that they have military service in common. Some ribbing about our respective branches, a little chatter about the weather, you know just the basics. Then we got on the bus, he sat next to me (I really have to stop using window seats), and kept on talking. He mentioned that his discharge was other than honorable, and when I guessed that it was for fighting he started to nod along, then he shook his head. I think I asked him what it was for, or at least alluded to being curious and he got really quiet.
Now let me say that at no point in this conversation did I feel threatened. He led with smiles and handshakes, he was polite, never once invaded my space, and in fact didn’t even give me a bad feeling. So when he started talking about the party he went to and how embarrassed he was about why he got out I was expecting something like infidelity. Or participating in a really stupid prank while he was in uniform, and winding up on Facebook or in the paper. It turns out he went to a party at a college kid’s apartment. There was a drunk underage girl, and he “let himself” be talked into spending time in a room with her. And two other dudes.
He didn’t go into great detail, but someone caught them during the act. There was screaming, some non military dudes who were happy to restrain them, and the cops were called in fairly short order. He plead guilty in order to avoid a full fledged court martial, and did a brief stint in jail before being released back into the world. He told me all about his remorse, his guilt, and his sisters who don’t know what he did. He’s let everyone who knows him believe he was just drunk and passed out in the room before the assault. But for whatever reason he really wanted to tell someone the truth.
There was a minimal glimmer of understanding that he was making me uncomfortable, but mostly his focus seemed to be on purging his pain. So, 20 minutes of not quite blubbering (his eyes were damp, he wasn’t smiling, didn’t seem to be enjoying the recounting, & his face was flushed but there were no actual tears), and then once we got to the right stop (we got off at the same place, but were headed to two different places) he jumped up to help a couple of elderly people off the bus & generally acted like a gentleman. Again.It was actually really jarring.
Once we were outside he thanked me for listening, invited me to friend him on Facebook (that would be a no), shook my hand again and went on his way. I went to the grocery store, sent a couple of tweets about it & then decided I need to lay it out all for some kind of analysis. Because I have so many questions. Not just about his urge to tell a complete stranger, but also about the way he did it. When I tell y’all we were having the most mundane pass the time on public transit conversation? I mean it. It wasn’t like we even really exchanged names before he told me. Hell the Facebook thing seemed to be an afterthought because I didn’t start screaming, & there was no indication that he thought about whether or not I’d ever want to see or speak to him again.
I know no one can explain what happens to bring these things to my life, but can anyone explain this dude’s mindset to me? The possibility that he was actually traumatizing me didn’t seem to register. And to be honest I’m not sold that the girl they assaulted was real to him either. He said some things about how he couldn’t tell his sisters because they’d never look at him the same way so I assume they are real people to him. But even that was flat, he showed the most emotion when he talked about what it did to him. And yeah, I can guess some answers but if we’re not really people then why the grand confession?
In case you were wondering why I haven’t said as much about Jordan Davis as I did about Trayvon Martin? I can’t formulate anything that isn’t blubbering. My son is 13, 5 ft 7 & just over 100lbs. It’s all I can do to let him out of my house alone. Being the mother of a young black man in America is hard frightening work in general, much less when you know that they can be killed for the crime of being black and outside. No one tells you when you give birth to a tiny person like this:
That the day they look like this:
is the day people start reaching for guns & not patience. I’m haunted by the possibility that he won’t come home one day because he scared a white man just by breathing. And the worst part? No one will see the baby that I lost, they’ll be too busy trying to make him a monster to justify his murder.
Tu Books is looking for authors of color!
Ken Liu’s story is lyrically beautiful.
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. Nnedi continues to rock out.
Letter to the black babies of the future.
Pre-WWII black SF.
Black Lit Magazine talks SF/F
Mother/Daughter struggles in Parable of the Talents.
So I asked this question on Twitter, but then I realized I wanted to ask it here too. As all the discussions circulate about domestic violence blackface at Waverly & the bus driver in Cleveland who decided to punch a belligerent female passenger at what point do we talk about why so many are quick to laugh about violence against black women? When do we talk about domestic violence stats in the black community & how often violence against black women is encouraged and supported by the mainstream narrative that black women are strong and can’t be hurt?
I’m totally willing to have a discussion about racialized misogyny, and what it means to say that WOC can never be victimized, but I’m not sure we’re ready to have it. Because it would mean talking about sexual abuse of black women before the age of 18, and intimate partner violence like black women are human. And so far I’m not seeing too many people willing to recognize our humanity, much less our vulnerability to violence. So when can we start the conversation, and how long before it is about the health and safety of black women, and not just another discourse on how we need to support black men?
Sorry, my beauties! This is a much delayed post.
Tanarive Due has a fantastic novel out.
The Fen of Color LJ comm recently celebrated spec fic authors of color.
Deluge features black mermaids.
Assassin’s Creed to feature a woman of color in its newest release.
Here’s a gorgeous, creepy anthology waiting to be yours.
“Who More Sci Fi Than Us?”
The Black Science Fiction Society wants to serve your nerdy needs.
Here’s an interview with Ken Liu, who’s a challenging and innovative writer.
Mainstream fiction isn’t about reflecting “reality” exactly the way it is. It’s about transforming it though the application of a map of metaphors. So I treat all fiction as speculative, because the really speculative element is always how fresh and how interesting the applied metaphorical logic feels, and how transformative of reality the vision is.
Sponsor a writer for a write-a-thon!
(crossposted from my personal blog)
Been wondering why I’m in such a funk lately, then my calendar reminded me again this morning that today is my mother’s birthday. Her name is Marjorie Bradford and she died 13 years ago now, but the pain feels pretty fresh whenever I stop to think about her (which is often).
For many years after her death I tried to write a story that encapsulated how I felt about what happened and how much I loved her, but nothing ever came out quite right.
After she died, I had tons of dreams about her, but most of them had a common theme. In them, I was often aware that I only had a little bit of time to spend with her because I understood that she was sick and still dying. In some dreams she was very sick, in others almost completely healthy. A few times in my dreams I even asked her “How much time do we have?” and she’d say “Only a little while” or “A few days” or something.
It was as if, in my dreamscape, I was able to roll back the clock a little and revive her, but not completely and for good.
In mulling over why she almost always manifested in this way in my dreams led me to finally being able to write a story about her that did all of my memories and feelings and her impact on me justice. The story is “Elan Vital” and you can read or listen to it over at Escape Pod.
I’ve never read that story in public and probably never will because any attempt to do so will end up with me curling up in a ball sobbing. I don’t even read it to myself for that same reason.
However, when the story first appeared on the podcast I saw so many people praising the reading of it, I decided to listen to just a few minutes. I ended up listening to the whole thing. Mur Lafferty, as you may know, is an extremely talented reader. She did such justice to that story I can’t praise her enough.
Happy birthday, mom. I miss you and love you and I still have that dream.
These images are supposed to hearken back to Blackamoor images as decorative, but let’s look at what the term Blackamoor means:
blackamoor (plural blackamoors)
(degrading) A person with dark skin, especially (but not necessarily) one from northern Africa ?[quotations ?]
a blackamoor slave, a blackamoor servant; and hence any slave, servant, inferior, or child ?[quotations ?]
(heraldry) a stylized Negro Argent, three blackamoors’ heads couped sable, capped or, fretty gules.
So, this is from Dolce & Gabbana’s 2013 collection. Let’s talk about the decision to re-purpose the racist imagery of the past as fashion for the future! While we’re talking about that, let’s also talk about the process from conception to execution for a collection which only images of black people as servants, and yet no actual black models were present on the runway. What does that thought process look like & how exactly will people try to spin this as harmless? Oh right, I’m certain any references to actual history will be met with the insistence that things are different now, and it just happens that the only black faces in this collection belong to images of slaves.
I’m a graduate of Chicago public schools. So is my husband. We’re old enough to remember the last time there was a strike. Here’s the thing about all the “Kids won’t learn as much” rhetoric. It’s only the second week of school. They aren’t missing a year at this point. It’s one day. And even if this strike lasts a few weeks, guess what? Kids miss school for holidays, illness, & natural disasters. They catch up. Hell, if parents have the time & access a strike can be a learning opportunity. Hell any break is a good time for some one on one propping up of skills in areas where your child struggles. Kid #1 and I are discussing politics & current events a lot. There’ll be some in depth discussion of history while we’re at it so he can understand how things got to this point. Kid #2 is working on his handwriting & we’ll talk about being flexible when it comes to new experiences & there’ll be reading practice with picket signs. Because that’s how we roll. And I get that there are real concerns about safety & meals for a lot of kids. That my husband & I are fortunate to have family support that makes it easier for us to get through this strike.
Do I wish that things could have been resolved without a strike? Sure. But I am well aware that teachers are looking down the barrel of long days with huge class sizes & requirements to teach to a goal of higher scores on standardized test instead of to student needs and abilities. I am aware that promised raises didn’t happen, and that teachers are spending significant amounts of money out of their own pockets every year. So are parents. And still our kids aren’t getting art, music, library, or computer classes in a lot of these neighborhoods. I am aware that my kids aren’t getting the same amount of time or attention that I got as a Chicago student. In the 80’s & 90’s we thought classrooms with 30 kids was a lot. Some schools are now looking at classes approaching 40 kids to one teacher. I can’t fault the teachers for being less successful when they’re trying to wrangle 35+ 5th graders (all at different levels of ability) into listening to a 50 minute lesson from a workbook that might or might not be recent. That might or might not be effective at teaching the skills the kids will need after testing.
Mind you, I don’t deny that there are problem teachers. My aunt was a turn around principal with CPS for years & the stories she told us about some of the teachers under her would curl your hair. But, tying pay and employment to test scores doesn’t address that problem at all. It’s telling that the board isn’t concerned with ways to get rid of abusive teachers, only with ways to punish teachers for not producing standardized outputs from individuals. The rhetoric around all of this has been about what’s best for the kids. I don’t believe that longer school days and higher test scores are all it takes for my child to have a quality education. I want my sons to have recess, art, music, & a curriculum that gives them room to develop their individual talents. Only one side of this discussion has ever said anything about kids being people with needs & that side is not the board or the mayor. I hear teachers talking about kids as people with needs & so I side with them. For the sake of kids like me, kids like my sons, and for the future.
Due to a discussion on Facebook started by Scott Edelman, I’ve spent the last couple of days arguing with people about Rene Walling and what constitutes “real” sexual harassment. I have a lot to say on this subject, but it’s going to require a longer blog post and a lot of crafting.
In the mean time, I’d like to point you to the blog of Laurie Mann, who posted a stunningly ridiculous and stupid post in which she wags a finger at all the bad fandom people who are just blowing this whole ReaderCon thing out of proportion.
I left a comment on that blog, but I doubt it will escape the moderation queue, thus I am posting it here. You really, really need to go over to Laurie’s blog and read her post before reading this because of context.
I always felt very safe in fandom.
This right here is the crux of everything that is wrong with your post, Laurie. Just because you have always felt safe does not mean that fandom is safe or that other women do. This entire post is you positing that your experiences trump everyone else’s and all these evil friends of Genevieve are just being soooo unfair. It’s bull.
I can think of a couple of times having long discussions with men, sometimes in their hotel rooms during SF conventions. A few of them came onto me – a kiss, a grope, whatever. I said no, and we just resumed our conversation.
UM. Laurie. This is not in any way okay. Yes, it’s good that when you said no they stopped, but what the hell is it with you thinking it’s just fine for them to have groped and kissed you without permission? That’s the way you wrote it. That you were with them, they touched you, you said no.
Perhaps you’ve been socialized to think that this is just harmless flirting and, as long as they back off when you tell them to, all is copacetic. I’m here to tell you it is not. There is never a scenario in which someone touches you un-accidentally without your permission and that’s okay.
Here again we come to the real problem with your entire post and attitude: you have decided that certain boundaries are okay and attempting to say that anyone who feels differently is just blowing things out of proportion. You don’t get to decide that for others.
No meant no, but an unwanted kiss did not mean I’d just been raped.
It did mean you’d just been sexually assaulted. And I know you’re going to say “That does not rise to the level of ‘real’ sexual assault and by saying it does you belittle people who have actually been assaulted!” so I’m going to head you off by saying: Nope, wrong. Just because a grope is not rape doesn’t mean it’s not a violation and wrong. There is no getting around this.
Sexual assault is not a matter of degrees. It’s a violation of boundaries without consent. Period.
Fannish women knew how to stand up for themselves, right?
And yet you are angry at a fannish woman and her female and male friends standing up for herself because we’re a mob. It’s okay okay to stand up for yourself alone.
At the same time, I never heard about a woman being raped at a con.
Because you’ve never heard of it, it never happens. I’m so glad that your reality is the only reality, Laurie. It makes the world so much easier to live in!
Do you know how ridiculous you sound? Just because you knew women in college that got raped but didn’t hear from fannish women who were raped does not mean that the latter did not happen.
Perhaps the fannish women you know or don’t know didn’t tell you about their rapes or didn’t announce it. And perhaps they didn’t do so because women LIKE YOU would trot out of the filk room to say you’d never heard of anyone being raped at a con, plus that guy is totally nice and all, so obviously they must be wrong about their own experiences.
Why do you insist on invalidating other people’s experiences, Laurie? Oh right, because it makes your reality that much less real and more like a fantasy you made up.
Can I also point out that you’ve been told by multiple people at this point that your little summary of what happened at ReaderCon is both incomplete and inaccurate, yet I have not seen you correct it here on this blog post. That’s class, Laurie.
You ask for people to be respectful of each other, but you have not been respectful of the person who had to deal with the harassment at the con or of anyone who has ever had to deal with harassment, sexual assault, rape, and more.
Instead you’re sitting up here defending Rene Walling.
Keep being classy, Laurie Mann. You’re going on my list of people to avoid at cons.