rm (rm) wrote,

WriterCon: *fail edition

WriterCon has two types of programming: programming that is planned and panelists chosen by Con Programming, and programming organized by attendees and included on the official con schedule but not really endorsed or not by WriterCon. This, as you might imagine, can make things a little murky. I do like that both types of programming exist at the con, but I thought it needed more clarification in places. I explain this because it's necessary to some of the *fail issues I'm about to address.

I also want to note, in what I will go into in a separate post, that there were many, many things I loved about this con: including the focus on transformative works craft, the multi-fandom attendees and the really fantastic efforts of accommodation the Con Staff made towards folks with special needs, including dietary. I have never, ever felt like a con staff cared more about each of its attendees on an individual basis.

Which is why when fail came, I was like "woah, what the fuck?!"

Sadly, I think much of the fail is a product of the fact that people have become defensive. People are scared of these discussions, and I have to say while they are often unfun and heartbreaking (who wants to be the target of this stuff? who wants to realize they've hurt people or a community they care about no matter how inadvertently?) -- jeez they are not going to kill you, and they certainly aren't a reason to fail more.

  • Like most SF/F and fandom cons, only about 5% of the attendees were PoC. Honestly, this was more than I was expecting, and it was nice to see that these people were part of programming and not just on RaceFail-related topics. Also a plus -- lots of fliers for the Carl Brandon Society.

  • However, at more than one panel more than one person noticed folks avoiding calling on PoC attendees and had to step in and make sure those people got heard. FUCKED UP.

  • Of the official programming there was a single panel entitled "Evil in Our Midst: Dealing with racism, sexism and homophobia in fandom." Because of my flight schedule, I was only able to attend half of it. I have to assume it was placed towards the end of the con so that if it went badly, it wouldn't affect the mood of the whole con, but these issues can't be afterthoughts, and scheduling things in such a way to make sure the issue isn't infused throughout the con and prevents people from attending is really problematic. On the plus side, the attendance was pretty damn good anyway!

  • The panel was made up of a fantastically diverse group and was so able to encompass a lot of perspectives. However, the panel was moderated by a straight, white woman, and I couldn't figure that out. Did the PoC and queer folks need translation? Could they not speak for themselves? This was uncomfortable to me at the time, and has become increasingly more upsetting to me in my head (yes, there's the sexism angle, but because the con was more than 95% female, a white, straight woman in this case is totally a part of the dominant group and appointing her to the position of power was sort of creepy - no slight on her (ETA: who has subsequently posted some great stuff, linked to later in all this, about privilege -- so I get why she was chosen, but the impression is delivered sadly doesn't stop being problematic and I have to believe that other people on the panel would have been equally capable of moderating), I'm just not sure this was thought out super-well.

  • The panel was necessarily very 101-level although some really interesting stuff came up, including a discussion of Bollywood as a fandom (what does it mean when we fan an entire culture? are you wearing a saree because you like the aesthetic or because you're cosplaying? do you get how that impacts actual South Asian people?) and the usual vaguely derail-y things ("should our goal be not to offend anyone?").

    Then I had to leave to catch my flight.

    And then apparently other things happened that people who were there and people who were on the panel will address at more length and more accurately than me, but the phone call I got at the airport included the report that someone got up and said they felt marginalized for being straight and that they felt marginalized for being in a fandom and having a child, and I can't not address this. (ETA: I have subsequently learned that in small post-panel discussions the woman's point was actually about age-ism in fandom, which is a very real and legitimate problem, but hopefully those discussions also highlighted how incredibly fail-y and rude it was to say "am I not fucked up enough to be in fandom?" -- I'm not fucked up for being queer and my friends aren't fucked up for being transfolk or PoC: further insight into events here: http://community.livejournal.com/writercon/228157.html / http://rahirah.livejournal.com/411832.html (same post, different comments)).

    I am queer every day. And every once in a while I get to hang out in a queer space, such that I don't have to worry if I'm dressing femininely enough to get through airport security or if kissing my girlfriend on my street corner at 11:30 at night is really the best fucking idea in the world.

    And I get that feeling marginalized even for a minute is weird and can be heartrending. I get this specifically as it applies to fandom: a lot of us were outcasts growing up, a lot of us don't have face-to-face fannish communities to be a part of where we live, and when we go to a con, we want everyone to be just like us. We don't want to be outcasts -- not still, not again.

    But I gotta tell you something -- and this isn't about bias and oppression and marginalization, it's just about life -- it's what I learned from fencing, from learning to fight: We all die alone. And we all fight alone. And we all live alone. On some level, we are always, always, always in a space where no one can know what we are feeling and how strange and terrible and lonely we are -- whether we're straight white guys or people of color or queer folks or a mom at a con.

    And in being who I am -- someone who is melancholy and mournful, who views the solid presence of other people in my life as a one-in-a-billion craps shoot I can't believe I won -- you have all my compassion, all my love, all my sympathy and all my interest, because that is, innately, how I react to people who, like me, who know this nature of aloneness. You are beautiful to me.

    But you need to step back. Because no, you are not marginalized or oppressed because you are part of the dominant group and people who are part of other groups are stepping up to say that we want some damn consideration. Nor are you marginalized or oppressed because you chose to have a kid. I spent most of the weekend with a woman who is second-generation fen and her baby; we wrote fic together, talked about slash and hung out with her wife. So no matter how different you may feel from what you perceive to be the majority of fandom, no one is being oppressed because they have a kid -- if someone's rude to you, that's actually something else -- the -ism's are something way beyond rudeness or you feeling awkward or out of place.

    Look, I don't like being part of a marginalized group. It's not fun or romantic. Some of us -- both in these groups and outside of them -- have to learn this, just as many of us have to go through the thing where we learn there's nothing cool or fun about poverty or having to whore (as opposed to choosing to engage in sex work) to put food on the table or get the damn rent paid.

    And that's about all I'm capable of saying without resorting to a great deal of obscenity, so I'm going to stop there on this particular part of the situation.

  • Moving on, I think no one is well-served by there just being one panel for the racism, homophobia and sexism conversations, as they are three very different things. Because transformative works fanishness is perceived as so female dominated (and probably is) the sexism discussion must largely be about internalized-sexism and that's a profoundly different conversation than the conversation about queer fetishization. And race issues are very different from that -- because I can look gender-conforming and straight going through airport security, while PoC don't suddenly get to be white when shopping, going through airport security or taking flack from asshole cosplayers who don't understand the idea of color-blind casting.

  • People who are family to me in the immediate sense (good friends and creative partners) and in the distant sense (fellow fen) are in pain over what happened, and so am I. It's upsetting, and as one of the panelists kept saying, we need to learn to listen harder and fail better.

  • The other case of (specific as opposed to atmospheric) *fail happened in a fan-led discussion that was about addressing slash how and whether it should take into consideration real, actual queer people. This panel also had much positive discussion, some of which started to get past a 101-level I thought, but the moderator had a clear agenda that, to me, felt like "those damn gays are meddling in our porn."

    The discussion included a hand-out of potential discussion questions, many of which I found mind-blowingly offensive (I've made a deal with at least one other attendee that we're going to post them all with our answers on LJ over the next week or so), and the woman hosting the panel repeatedly snarked on our table (we were not the only queer people speaking up, but we could, rather legitimately, be perceived as a unified force, as it were) for being articulate and was particularly dismissive to the two PoC people at our table (and the combination of "articulate" and PoC is one of those very loaded, sneaky RaceFail things that happen sometimes and that was seriously, seriously sketchy).

    I was shocked and appalled, and while some of this woman's viewpoint would have been potentially useful on a panel, to be an individual with an agenda on a sensitive issue with unvetted programming?!?!?! -- WOW. Not Okay.

  • Also, bisexuality is real. People not getting this came up all over the place -- in slash convos, in convos about internalized-sexism, in people chatting about Torchwood.

  • Finally, I want to return to the theme of defensiveness. We're now in a phase of this process, of talking about "the evil in our midst," wherein too many people are either bracing themselves for a fight because of the backlash the people speaking out are getting (I think of my table at the above-mentioned queer panel) -- which of course isn't necessarily constructive but something I think we have an unfortunate right to, or looking for a fight, because suddenly (like the straight person who said they felt marginalized in the first panel I talked about) they aren't part of the dominant group all the damn time.

  • Additionally, people need to stop dismissing conversations about these issues as wank. Wank is when we gossip about people's egos or get into flame wars about how someone behaved at a con or deal with things that make no sense to most of us: like Snape's Wives. Dealing with racism, sexism and homophobia = not wank.

    So what good came out of all of this for me personally:
    - I have even more love and respect for my friends, especially having watched ones who don't want to have to be the educators on these issues do it anyway.
    - I met some really cool new people.
    - I did see people have ah-hah! moments.
    - I did learn that there are actually large swathes of fandom that missed the RaceFail thing entirely, and so were just sort of getting caught up on how big the problems are.
    - I did see the larger community of the con close ranks against fail when it happened.
    - I feel more confident in the value of my being willing to talk about this stuff. I don't like falling on this grenade over and over again, but since no one expects me to be "nice" or "non-threatening" or "look the other way" I have more latitude to say what needs to be said.
    - I have new frameworks for the discussion.
    - Hey, the Carl Brandon society totally deserves my money.
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