On WFC, and doing what you can when everyone thinks you’re wrong

Once again. the 2016 World Fantasy Convention is on the horizon, and it’s plagued by the same sorts of problems it’s had for at least the last several years. The big issue this time is the programming and the programming head, Darrell Schweitzer, who’s online in various places doubling down on the racist, sexist, ableist, old fashioned, and out of touch panel descriptions people have been arguing against since they were first announced. #SFWPro

Some people have pushed back against this, in various ways. The fabulous Ellen Datlow has stepped in to create a couple of new panels (2 YA, 1 MG, and one on contemporary Asian authors) but that’s all she can do, since she wasn’t on programming in the first place. Fran Wilde put herself in the bullseye, using her position as a well-liked and popularly-selling author to force a change in the worst panel descriptions by refusing to be on programming, and didn’t agree to be on one of Datlow’s panels until those changes were made public.

We had already bought our memberships, when they first went on sale in 2015 and we could get 2 for same price as 1 would be later — entirely because it was in Columbus, and my partner was from there. Wanted to show me around. We can’t afford to take the time/money for a “vacation” but combining it with a convention, where we could see friends and do some business… That made sense.

After talking it over with him, I publicly announced that we weren’t going to attend WFC 2017, and wouldn’t buy a membership to 2018 (or any other year) until we saw real change in the con. And then I went to work figuring out how to use my attendance this year to make the most difference.

Which is when I ran into the same problem I see time and time again: When issues arise in the genre community, there’s no right answer. For a lot of us, situations like the current WFC drama are unwinnable. Someone — that you care about, or work with, or need to not piss off because it affects your career or your personal life — will announce that you’re wrong no matter what you do.

For example, here’s my possible choices and what I’ve already been told about them:

  1. If I participate, I’m “committing to a terrible con”.
  2. If I don’t, I’m throwing away the money I paid to go, without it affecting the con runners in any way — I’m not important enough for them to care, and they already have my money.
  3. If I sell the membership, I’m giving up my spot to someone who wants to be there enough to buy a membership, so who probably won’t stand up for what’s right the way I am/would.
  4. If I don’t go, and make a big public point of why I’m not going, I get drama from people who like the con as it is, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.
  5. If I go, appear on a panel, and use that time to broaden the panel description, point out that the original was wrong and why, help enlighten the audience as to the bigger picture they may not be aware of, I’m “showing the programming head he was right to have that panel in the first place, by being on it”. I get drama from people who want the con to change overnight, exactly their way, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.

I want to do what’s right, make the con better, support my friends who are doing the same, and not let the bad parts slide. My decision was to:

Let everyone know we’re not attending 2017 and possible skipping future years too, unless there’s a concrete and visible improvement. Keep reminding programming that I suggested other ideas which were ignored, the panels don’t have a single 100% great topic/description, and they need improvement. Go this year (I have the memberships), be on one panel only, do item #5, and educate people as much as I can. Not buy new memberships until change happens. Keep talking about this issue. If there’s an opportunity to be more involved and fight for more change from the inside, I’ll take it.

And yet… that’s not good enough, or it’s too much, or I’m not being enough of an activist, or I’m causing trouble for no reason. I don’t mind causing trouble, good trouble, when I’m standing up and pushing for change. I can handle the people that don’t like my SJW ways; I am willing to risk my career over doing what I think is right.

But the folks who say they’re allies and activists and then get dismissive and rude because I’m not doing *enough* or “other writer” isn’t? You’re ignoring the emotional effort it takes to do this work in the first place. The people who hadn’t bought a ticket and weren’t going anyway but expect those who were to just drop out now? That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? You already weren’t invested.

The truth is that big, old fashioned, institutions like WFC can stand to lose a couple of dozen left-leaning people who don’t attend regularly; they can ignore the people who aren’t buying memberships. Readercon and Wiscon didn’t change because people stopped going — they changed because people who cared enough to GOT INVOLVED and made those cons better. We need bloggers and Twitter shouters and people who’ll stand up and say, “This is wrong and it needs to change,” but we also need the people who’ll draft the programming and be on accessibility committees and show up. The people who sit on those panels and bring something new to the audience, rather than the stale and repetitious same old.

To those who want to keep things rooted in the past, in some imaginary world where white men were the bestest most influential writers, and women and PoC and queer folk only had a few good books or stories so we don’t need to talk about them much: you’re missing out on unique, beautiful, entertaining and moving and memorable stories by those people you’re ignoring in favor of your long-dead heroes. You’re missing out on the way the genre community is changing now, growing and evolving and becoming something amazing to be a part of. If you insist on fighting against the tide, we’ll eventually drown you. I welcome you to get on the boats with us, though. Make a place for all of us, and we’ll ensure there’s still a place for you.

To those who care more about being able to say that they are right than actually doing right: You’re not just tearing down the institutions. You’re tearing down the people who are working to make bring those institutions into the 21st century. You’re making it harder for people to stand up; you’re wearing on us, just the same way the folks on the other side of the fight are. If you want real change, support everyone who’s making an effort, at least a little, and save the derision for the ones who stand in our way.

To those who are taking heat from both sides to make WFC — or any other part of the genre community — a better place: I love you, and I’m with you, and you’re going to make a difference. Don’t give up.

Even when it feels like everyone thinks you’re wrong.

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