Wishing Never Changed A Damn Thing

I haven’t posted about the ongoing SFWA controversy in depth because I looked at the initial outcry, and the immediate response of some SFWA members, who stood up in the Forum* to say, “This has to change,” and I thought we were making progress. Over the course of a couple of days, the President made a statement, the previous editor stepped down, and a task force was formed to revise the Bulletin into a publication we could be proud of. I felt that if I publicly agitated for change the way that I was doing so privately, it would further distract from all of the great work that SFWA has done and is doing, and it would imply that the matter wasn’t being handled internally–and that wouldn’t have been true.

I’m proud of the changes we’ve made lately, which include not only moving to a higher standard of both content and writing in our official publication, but also creating guidelines for the official @SFWAauthors Twitter feed (which reposts member blogs), expanding the volunteer database, creating an archive project to collect historical materials, and more. I’m happy to see dozens of people step up and say, “I’ll help make this better,” by offering suggestions, volunteering their time, and being part of the discussion. I am most satisfied that when I stood up and took on tasks that needed doing–I answered questions about editing and magazine management even as the discussion turned to defending the old and attacking the new, I asked for volunteers for the next phase of the Bulletin, created and curated a list of those names and suggestions for the task force, and I wrote the first draft of a diversity statement for the Board to consider–there were people who didn’t just leave me to do it on my own, as I’ve seen in other organizations. Rachel Swirsky supported my efforts, Jim C. Hines ran his red pen over the diversity statement to help cut it down to a more manageable size, Cat Rambo and Mary Robinette Kowal stepped in to keep the conversation calm when it threatened to get negative, and a dozen people emailed me privately to encourage, ask questions, and offer their own opinions. I appreciate all of that.

But I was wrong when I thought I could do my part quietly, and things would get better from there.

For every good thing we’ve done to improve SFWA this month, there is another jackass trying to take it away. In our private space (which cannot be quoted from) I’ve had certain people not just disagree with me but were deeply offended that I would dare to tell them things must change, even when I’m saying that based on the obvious outpouring of sentiment from members and non-members alike. I’m allowed to express an opinion, sure, but I’m not well known enough, not “Big Name” enough, to decide anything. I’ve been told I must want something, that I’m only complaining about the previous iteration of the Bulletin because I wanted the old editor fired so I can take her job. I’ve been accused of being involved in a plot of force out the old guard of SFWA. I’ve been dismissed for being a woman, because that fact somehow explains away my opinions as emotional, and therefore ignorable.

I’ve gotten emails about how I don’t understand real sexism, because I wasn’t around in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.** How if I were the editor, I would have made exactly the same choices, because otherwise I’d have lost my job. (Fact time: No, would have edited the material presented to me in a professional way, even if it meant losing my job. Because, standards, that’s why. Also, according to those in charge at SFWA, the idea that they’d have policed the Bulletin in a sexist and/or racist way is a totally unfounded rumor, and they’re working to prevent anything like that from happening.) I’ve been told I was making a fuss just to get attention, as if there’s nothing else about me anyone else would pay attention to. I’ve gotten emails telling me to shut the fuck up, telling me that I’m nothing and no one and need to go away while I still can, before I make too much noise, get too much attention, and then I’ll see what happens to women like me.

Because I commented in a private discussion about the need for stricter editorial standards. And did so while being a woman.

But at least I wasn’t making those comments in public, for the most part. And at least I wasn’t doing so while black. Because then this would happen:

Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do not view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we simply do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious historical reason that she is not.

and

those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.

and

there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.  If one considers that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilized after their first contact with advanced Greco-Roman civilization, it should be patently obvious that it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do the same in less than half the time at a greater geographic distance.  These things take time.

and

Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance.

All courtesy of Theodore Beale, writing as Vox Day. For those who don’t know, Beale is an active member of SFWA, and even ran for President this year. Though he repeatedly says things like women are ruining SF, except for those few who write like men, or women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or women should be ignored entirely if they’re not attractive, not to mention his views on people of color (as evidenced above, and elsewhere in his public site), he still managed to get roughly 10% of the vote.

That’s the genre community for you, right there. But we ignore trolls like him, right? That’s what I’ve been seeing all day. Ignore him. Ignore his post. Don’t read the comments. Stay off the Internet for an hour until the unpleasantness passes.

You know what? Fuck that. Go read his post (it’s linked above). Read the comments. See the vile things that get said out in the open in 2013. See what happens when we speak up about it. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s happening to someone else and you don’t need to worry about it. Hey, I’m white, what do I care, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. Nothing gets better when we pretend everything is at acceptable levels of okay.

Yeah, maybe it’s giving the trolls attention for a few minutes, and maybe people like Beale revel in the muck they create. But on the other hand, that’s a convenient excuse to ignore it, isn’t it? You can tell yourself you’re doing the right thing by taking away Beale’s power over five minutes of your time, but you’re also saying that you’re not willing to spend five minutes to find out how NK Jemisin is being attacked, how women and PoC are being characterized and treated in the genre community, and you’re not willing to get angry for five minutes.

But if we don’t get angry, what will motivate us to do anything about it? We can wish that things were different, but the truth remains:

Wishing never changed a damn thing.

Note: the wonderful Amal El-Mohtar posted a reasoned, polite, letter to SFWA, calling for Beale’s expulsion, and current President John Scalzi is matching funds for people donating to the Carl Brandon Society, or the Octavia E. Butler memorial scholarship.

ETA: Today and tomorrow, I’m donating 100% of the sales of Dagan Books ebooks to the Carl Brandon Society. See the list of books here.

* the private discussion board for SFWA members.

** For the record, I’ve been involved in the genre community since I moved to San Francisco at 18–that would be in 1991. I’ve been a fan of SF (never was much of a fantasy reader) and horror since I was a little girl. I read the Grand Masters of science fiction when I was a kid; I’ve got paperbacks of Heinlein’s work–all of his work–on my shelf now. So, I’m not someone who doesn’t appreciate or know the founding works of American SF. I went to cons and parties with some of those guys, 20 years ago, and if you want to know what sexism was like in genre in the 90s, I can tell you. I’m not coming to genre in 2013 with no knowledge of what happened before. I’m coming to it, well aware of its past, and willing to be here anyway.

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16 thoughts on “Wishing Never Changed A Damn Thing

  1. Holy crap! I haven’t logged onto the boards in months because I’ve been head down on projects. This sucks. I expect better from the SFWA.

  2. I feel for all people trying to be a part of this community in the role of an author/creator. It is bad enough being a fan. I grew up with a passion for science fiction (more so than fantasy, though I enjoy a good fantasy too) and as a blogger with an interest in being engaged with this community I find a preponderance of negativity, narrow-minded opinions, and downright hateful interactions that make it hard for me to want to stay engaged. I have been very open about my desire to “evangelize” the unconverted to the joy that is Science Fiction and yet I’m embarrassed to introduce them to the community at large because of how vitriolic the most simple interactions can be.

    I’ve seen, and experienced, scathing, belittling comments just for admitting to like something deemed “unworthy” by the person(s) hurling insults. I could not imagine what it would be like to actually be trying to create science fiction content, even as a straight white male, and find a welcome place in this community, let alone being a person of color, a female, a homosexual…it is just beyond sad.

    Here you have this group of people who are highly intelligent, can talk science and theory, can imagine the unimaginable and write it in ways that engage the reader, can envision futures both bright and scary and yet do not have the common sense to be decent to their fellow human beings, don’t have the intelligence to acknowledge the simple truth that humans are humans, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, age, etc, etc and should be viewed as equals, and don’t have the social graces to keep any opinions contrary to those things to themselves.

    I don’t get it. It really is unfathomable to me that people will actually email, phone, mail or even in-person get so heated that they will threaten lives and hurl filthy vile words at someone just because they are a woman. Or gay. Or whatever. We are talking about a community built around telling stories?!?!? We don’t to agree with one another, but shouldn’t we as culture (or sub-culture) have evolved beyond this at this point?

    Glad you are speaking up. Even more so given that it appears you are being treated terribly irregardless. Might as well try to be a voice of reason in the madness rather than sitting quietly and taking it.

  3. I’m so sorry for all the crap you’ve had to put up with, and thank you for your efforts to make things better. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!

    • Thanks, but I’m okay. I’m not scared, threatened, worried about my career, offended, or taking any of this personally. The people insulting me aren’t talking about who I am as a person, because they don’t know me; they’re reacting to what I’m saying, and that’s what they don’t like.

      As far as how to help: if you have an opinion, say it. Speak up for what you believe in. Be part of the discussion. That helps everyone.

  4. Inside of this we see the left/right split, the widening crack in the culture brought about by our inexplicable, schizophrenic Zietgeist. I’m not a big C conspiracy theorist (I believe in the little C conspiracies, the ones that tend to end up the history books when everyone of power who might end up in jail has been safely buried.) but it is truly hard to understand the current climate without coming to the conclusion that a small, vocal, reactionary segment of the populace is enjoying a kind of undeserved support from an infrastructure composed of the usual suspects; Murdoch and his ilk, the right wing think tanks, hate talk radio, etc.

    They are amplified, emboldened, and frankly, they are terrified. In ways our brains are simply not wired to empathize with.

    It started, for me, with some on the rights attempt to justify the internment of the Japanese as a Good Thing, now that Everything Had Changed. As if, those on the right knew in their bones, the things we were doing in the dark, and how we’d need to rethink things like pre-emptory interment, in the new cold light of day.

    It continues, to the present, in the War on Women, the pillorying of the Food Stamp President, and in the pages of the SFWA bulletin.

    We are the genre, of Ursula K, Leguin, and E.E Doc Smith. Of Kim Stanley Robinson, and Jerry Pournelle. We take the existing political spectrum, and stretch and twist it until right wraps around itself and becomes left–twice.

    We’re a genre which includes utopian polyamouran collectivist hippys and angry libertarian button and patch makers living tax-free, camping out in conventions, preaching to all who can hear of the coming anarcho-capitalist Utopia forming before our very eyes, if we have the strength to grasp it.

    We embrace and include middle aged virgins, prudes and those with the most sex-positive identities imaginable.

    We are the people of the weird, and some of the weirdness that is us, is detestable, to some of us.

    I’m glad that people are speaking out, taking a stand, doing something, and the sniping and carping and muttering and nastiness is I think, the inevitable price of change.

    Just remember, that the reason we come to fiction, mostly, is for the idea of change, character change, and societal change, and so be prepared, be hopeful, that you are in fact slowly changing even the Intolerable and insufferable Other.

    I’m a white straight het white guy who just hit 50. I have a gender queer child, a teen. I was a guy who thought himself enlightened and progressive, 14 years ago, when this child was born. I wasn’t. I had a lot to learn. I still do. Absorbing the breadth and depth of my privilege is I think, a life long task. I’ll always struggle to imagine, the experiences of those not born my enviable station. Adolescent struggles with mental illness gave me my first taste of what it might be like, to be the Other. Sometimes I feel lucky to have had them.

    Anyway, your piece was moving, your struggle is just, I’m as behind you as I can be, having rejoined SFWA after a 15 year hiatus.

    We live in interesting times.

    Rock on. And forgive us poor old fools, a little bit, even as you make things better. Because we do share a Book, a body of thought, a literature, which is bigger than all this. Or is trying to be.

    • Being old makes no one a fool; I’m almost 40 this year, and while that isn’t old, it definitely makes me “older”. Refusing to consider that other people might also be capable, intelligent, civilized, human beings–that’s foolish, at the very least. I’m glad you’re open to change. We all should be.

      Thank you for stopping by.

      • I’m with you, and I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. You’re right, you’re completely right, and I’m sorry SFWA has idiots in it. Smart idiots, but idiots nonetheless. It’s a kind of calculated ignorance, cultivated by the privileged; a kind of studied sociopathy. It is self-serving to the core, and it says, in a nutshell, that those who have always deserve it, at some level, and those who don’t really, are doing something wrong.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear people are treating you this way, Carrie. I know you aren’t the only one, but it books my blood just the same. Thank you for your risk in working the front lines of this atrocity.

    You did a great job on the Functional Nerds podcast, by the way. Not sure I ever commented on that.

    • As I said to A.C. above, I’m okay. I’m not scared, threatened, worried about my career, offended, or taking any of this personally. The people insulting me aren’t talking about who I am as a person, because they don’t know me.

      I wanted to say something because if I’m getting flak for the very little that I’ve done, imagine how much worse it is for people who spoke out earlier, who don’t have the luxury of being white or relatively unknown. What I’m facing is nothing compared to what Jemisin is dealing with now. This post is the least I could do.

  6. “Yeah, maybe it’s giving the trolls attention for a few minutes, and maybe people like Beale revel in the muck they create. But on the other hand, that’s a convenient excuse to ignore it, isn’t it? You can tell yourself you’re doing the right thing by taking away Beale’s power over five minutes of your time, but you’re also saying that you’re not willing to spend five minutes to find out how NK Jemisin is being attacked, how women and PoC are being characterized and treated in the genre community, and you’re not willing to get angry for five minutes.”

    THIS x a jillion.

    Thank you, Carrie.

  7. Very well said, and thank you for working so hard, Carrie. I wish I were still on the board as I would absolutely vote to expel the “lifetime member.”

  8. Thanks for this. I just read all the posts linked as well (and the comments) and I can tell you that I’ve been angry for a lot longer than five fucking minutes. Polite discourse and disagreement are one thing – no two humans alive are going to be in complete concurrence on every topic – but this is something else entirely.

    There have been too many straws on this proverbial camel’s back this week. I love SFF, I’m not going anywhere, and I’m through with having to prove the humanity, worthiness, and dignity of myself and others, through with having it questioned based on skin color or lack of a penis, through with being casually treated like less of a person. This kind of garbage needs to be actively fought, because it’s not enough to hope these are the vestiges of a dying generation – there have been similar comments made across many mediums, and too much of it has been from the 35-and-under group. True and terrible words: wishing never changed a damn thing.

  9. This non-member supports you 100% and says thank you for trying to make the SFWA a better place for those of us who might be eligible to join one day.

    As for Beale: I concur with Amal — if the rules are in place, I think she should be booted. The SFWA isn’t supposed to be a political space. It’s basically a union for writers, and so its primary function should be to represent its writers. It cannot do that when some of its members clearly wish to disenfranchise other members based on sex, race, etc. Honestly, if he hates these people so much, I don’t know why he’s even part of the SFWA. He’s a minority and I don’t think that will ever change. Clearly he doesn’t agree with the SFWA’s mission and, in my mind, seems to stick around for the express purpose of trolling the organization.

    Cut him loose and let him start his own organization.

  10. Thank you for donating to the Carl Brandon Society! And thank you for speaking up and speaking out. The Carl Brandon Society was responsible for allowing me to attend Clarion last summer. Through their Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship and their Con or Bust initiative, they strive to enrich the field.

    Your donations will help other writers like myself to come aboard knowing that people support our voices.

    Thanks again for your support!

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