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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WFC Saratoga Springs: Schedule and a Few Notes

I’m on one panel, Thursday afternoon at 3 PM:

“Postmodern Fantasy: Experiments in Fantasy Literature”

Room: City Center 2B

It is not all about quests, magic rings and dragons, the panel will discuss some of the less well known texts that stretch the limits of Fantasy as an experimental form of storytelling. John Barth’s The Sotweed Factor, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and Beloved by Toni Morrison come to mind.

Delia Sherman (mod.), Siobhan Carroll, Carrie Cuinn, Jeffrey Ford, Howard Waldrop (Note: Charles E. Gannon is still listed as being on the panel, but due to his travel schedule, can’t make it.)

Unfortunately, this conflicts with Don’s panel, so I’ll understand if you go to that one instead… But they’ll both be great!

“Real World Nomenclature, Taboos, and Cultural Meaning”

Room: City Center 2A

The panel discusses the thorny issue of real world terms that often bear loaded meanings and concepts being transported wholesale into Fantasy worlds. Swearing, cursing, and racial epithets can cause controversy and out-cry. Commonly accepted terms change meaning over time and become taboo. As the politics of the real world change, is there a concurrent transposition into Fantasy worlds?

Alyx Dellamonica (mod.), Didi Chanoch, Steve Erikson, Don Pizarro, Mark van Name

I’ve also got a reading on Friday morning at 11 am! Room: Broadway 2

I’m not certain what I’m going to read yet, but I’ll have snacks for the audience that are probably inappropriately sugary for that early in the morning. I’ll also have a few copies of my 2013 short collection, Women and Other Constructs, if you don’t yet have a print copy but want one.

And if you’re looking for something to do Saturday night at 5 pm, I’ll be in the audience, watching this panel:

“Bibliofantasies”

Unaccountably, there is no entry for Bibliofantasies in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant [Orbit 1997]. Your intrepid panel will attempt to remedy that lacuna by discussing bibliofantasies with a view to creating an entry.

Michael Dirda (mod.), John Clute, Robert Eldridge, Paul Di Filippo, Don Pizarro, Gary Wolfe

* At least two of these panels will be somewhat different than what appears on the label. Come and see!

Boskone Recap: So You’re on 4 Panels and No One Knows You’re Going Deaf

Two weeks ago, I attended my first Boskone, and I had a great time. It was the best mix of fun and friends and panels – four of which I was on as an invited panelist – and there was really only one big “oh hell no” moment of the whole convention (more on that later). But before I can talk about the drive, the food, the hotel, the wonderful people, I have to talk about something I’ve been avoiding:

I’ve lost a lot of my hearing in the last few years and I can’t hide it anymore.

To begin with, I wasn’t purposefully hiding it. A few years ago I’d noticed that I wasn’t hearing as well as I thought I should, and had it checked out. After a hearing screen revealed a significant amount of loss, I had more tests, saw specialists, had an MRI, and was diagnosed with otosclerosis. I looked at the treatment options, which basically consisted of surgery, and decided that I could live with where I was. Rather than have someone stick a scalpel into my ear and wiggle it around, I’d just accept and adapt.

That worked fine for a while. I learned to take seats up front in class, make sure I was facing someone when they spoke to me, and got much better at reading lips. Compared to the disabilities many people have to live with every day, this seemed like an annoyance but not truly disabling. Except that otosclerosis doesn’t get better over time, or even level out. It gets worse, and mine got worse faster than I was hoping.

I’ve lost 70% of the hearing in my right ear and 40% in the left. I’ve lost mainly low tones – which cuts out people speaking, especially men. I’ve lost enough that I can’t play the violin anymore, and after it sitting in my closet for a year, I donated it last week. I can still hear my son speaking (his little kid’s voice is high-pitched still, and he tends toward being loud anyway) and music when loud enough or I’m wearing headphones to cut everything else out, but I get startled easily because my boss has walked up behind me and I didn’t hear it. I have to say, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Are you talking to me?” on a regular basis. I’m starting to speak too loudly or too quietly because I can’t tell the difference; in my head I’m still the same volume as before. It’s difficult for people to tell how much I can hear when they can see that I still notice higher pitch sounds coming from the other room, but don’t always understand what they’re saying to my face. In addition to all of this, I get intermittent ringing in my ears as I lose new tones, and the fuzzy white noise of my own blood moving through my head can be very loud at times, and sometimes I lose all sound/sense of space on my left entirely.

Having people assume you’re not bothering to pay attention is hard enough when it’s coworkers and friends. What about when it’s late at night and you have to ask someone sleepy to repeat what they just whispered, and what you missed was, “I love you”? My persistent (but totally unfounded, I know) worry is that someday they’ll get tired of saying it twice.

Boskone really brought the depth of this problem to the forefront. Being on panels meant I had to position myself at the far right of the table, so the other panelists would be on the side most likely to be audible, sometimes after other panelists had already taken their seats. (Everyone was very nice about moving once I explained.) I didn’t hear the entirety of the conversation up at the panelist table, and I didn’t hear almost any of the audience questions, because there wasn’t a mic for the audience members. I smiled at more than one person, when hanging out in a group of friends, hoping that was a suitable answer to what was probably a comment aimed at me. I participated in the Sunday morning flash challenge, but lost points when the judge on the end couldn’t hear my reading since I’d spoken too quietly without realizing it. A man standing next to me on an escalator said something I couldn’t hear, and when I said, “I’m sorry, what?” his response was “Don’t worry, it wasn’t sexist.”

He’d assumed I’d heard him and just didn’t like what he’d said. That happens a lot.

So. Now what?

I’ve told my work that I have this issue, and we’ll see if that helps there. I’ve started the process to schedule the surgery, which scares me but at the same time I no longer feel that I have a choice. The surgery isn’t guaranteed to fix my hearing, by the way. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but if it’s successful it will most likely only stop (for now) or slow the progress of my loss. I’ve started telling people what’s happening with me, so that at least I’m not offending people who don’t understand that no, really, I’m not ignoring you on purpose. (Those who know and choose to be jackasses are not my problem, but so far, that’s not been many.) I’ll continue to work to make it easier for me to understand others, including moving my work desk this week, making sure I’m facing people when they speak to me, and being honest about what I can hear and what I can’t.

What can you do?

If we’re at a convention and you’re on a panel with me, sit on my left. If you’re moderating the panel, please repeat an audience question before any of the panelists answer it (not just for me, but for the rest of the audience, too). If I’m speaking too loudly or too quietly compared to the rest of the people in the conversation, assume I don’t realize it and let me know. Move to where I can see your face if you’re speaking to me, or do something to make sure I know you’re speaking to me (instead of someone else in the group) before you address me. Saying my name works just fine, and so does tapping me on the shoulder or arm.* Know that listening to one person in a quiet room is vastly easier for me than listening to one person speaking as part of a group of five or twenty people speaking all at once, or in a crowded bar or hotel lobby. This means that you might not have to make any adjustments when we’re hanging out alone but suddenly have to be more conscious of how you speak to me in a restaurant.

Remember that I want to hear you, I don’t mean to be ignoring you, and I don’t mind putting effort into making our conversation easier, if you just let me know that you want to be heard.

I hate the idea that I’m making anyone go out of their way for me, and if it only impacted what I heard/understood, I wouldn’t be publicly saying this at all. Unfortunately, my hearing loss has started to affect what others think of my opinion about them, and I don’t ever want to make a fan or friend feel that I just didn’t bother to listen.

Thank you.

* I know this opens me up to being touched by strangers, which isn’t ideal at all, so please use your best judgement about whether tapping me on the arm is really the only way to get my attention at that moment. If it is, and you’re polite about it, I’ll understand.

Edited to add: Someone mentioned this on FB, and I agree. Please do not say, “Oh it wasn’t important,” when I ask you to repeat yourself. You’re assuming that I didn’t want to listen the first time, and you’re feeling slighted when in fact I just couldn’t hear you and actually want to know what you said. And then you’re making me do even more work to coax it out of you, because I don’t want you to feel slighted, and I do want to be a part of the conversation. Plus, refusing to repeat it means you’re excluding me from being able to continue as a part of the discussion, and deciding for me what is and isn’t important to me. You’re important to me, and I wouldn’t have asked you to repeat it unless I did really want to hear it the first time.

#SFWApro

Where to find me at Boskone

Attending Boskone this weekend? Here’s where to find me:

Saturday

Gender Roles in Doctor Who (1 PM to 1:50 PM), Harbor III

From the description: “The characters (Companions, foes, etc.) in TV’s Dr. Who have included men, women, and “other.” How have they all conformed to “expected” gender conventions? Discuss notable breaks in tradition, giving examples (this will not be graded.)” With LJ Cohen, Max Gladstone, Julia Rios, and Laurie Mann (M).

Capes, Canes, and Superhero Comics (3 PM to 3:50 PM), Burroughs

From the description: “How we treat our superheroes and villains provides a unique view of our own culture’s beliefs and values regarding ability and disability. Panelists explore the complementary and conflicting nature of superpowers and disabilities. What do the cane bearers and cape wearers from comics reveal about ourselves, our health concerns, and our treatment of those with permanent disabilities and chronic conditions?” With Dana Cameron, Christopher Golden, Brianna Spacekat Wu, Daniel P. Dern (M).

Warning: I have to run after the end of this panel if I’m going to make it to the next one, so I won’t be available to talk immediately after.

From Pixels to Print: The Challenges of Running a Magazine (4 pm to 4:50), Harbor I

Note: I’m moderating this.

From the description: “Got a great idea for a online magazine or podcast that will feature exciting new content, authors, and artists? How do print versus online models compare? Figuring out what you want to do may be the easy part. Now let’s talk about funding, staffing, and managing your organization, and then printing (or enpixeling), distributing, and publicizing your precious products. Successful magazine and podcast veterans tell you how they do it all!” With Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld Magazine), and Shahid Mahmud (Galaxy’s Edge).

Sunday

Flash Fiction Slam (9:30 AM to 10:50 AM), Burroughs

Performing a never-before seen flash fiction story, in under 3 minutes! I may write it the night before! Who knows? Come and cheer me on as I compete against several other authors, some of whom may even be prepared and/or awake!

Writers on Writing: Sex Versus Romance (1 PM to 1:50), Harbor II

From the description: “Authors share ideas and experiences about writing scenes that are erotic as compared to scenes that are romantic. Which is harder? Which is more fun to write? Does your protagonist’s gender or preference make a difference? How do you accommodate audiences of different ages or sexual orientations? Is romance just sex in soft focus?” With Anna Davis, Nancy Holder, and Darlene Marshall (M).

And then I run away home.

The rest of the schedule is online here.

#sfwapro