Sometimes an Organization Breaks Your Heart [Updated]

Update: the entire ReaderCon board has resigned.

Update 2: the Con Committee has released an official statement reversing the board's decision and committing to future action. Guess I was wrong about the ConCom having no real power.

ReaderCon is the only science fiction convention I make a point to attend every year, despite it being a five hour (or more) journey by bus, train and bus again. Longtime readers of this site will remember when I discovered it and loved it. For the past two years I've even hosted a reading event there with the great Brian Francis Slattery.

But the problem with loving anything is the risk that it will break your heart. At the last con, writer Genevieve Valentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by fan notable Rene Walling. Valentine reported this to the Board of Directors expecting that Walling would be banned for life, since ReaderCon policies state that there is zero tolerance for harassment and harassers will be banned for life. However, Walling was merely banned for 2 years. Lots of people are speculating that this is because he is friends with members of the board and a high profile figure in fandom (former WorldCon board member, former Arisia fan guest of honor, blah blah blah). You can follow the various reactions from the round-up here and here, but the basic point is that if you don't enforce your own policy then that policy has no meaning, and further, especially since Walling has a history of harassment, giving him a slap on the wrist makes ReaderCon feel like a less than safe and welcoming place. Con Committee member Matt Cheney has resigned in protest, and at least one other key member of the Con Committee has objected. (The Con Committee is a group that helps the Board with organizing and putting together the event, but has no formal power.) Writer Veronica Shanoes has put together a petition demanding Walling's permanent banishment and the resignation of the Board of Directors, or else the signatories will no longer attend. Over 300 400 people have put their names down, including notable figures like Catherynne Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Ekaterina Sedia, Ted Chiang, NK Jemisin, Kelly Link, former ReaderCon Guest of Honor Ellen Datlow, editor Liz Gorinsky, editor John Joseph Adams, SFWA publicist Jaym Gates, radio host Jim Fruend and many more. I've put my own name down.

Frankly at this point, if the Board does not cede to the demands in the petition, ReaderCon will almost certainly cease to exist.

A few people have accused the undersigned of overreacting, mostly anonymous cowards in the comments section.

This is not overreacting.

We men may sometimes find it difficult to imagine what it's like for women at an event like this. As a man, I've never gone to a con (or any event) wondering if someone's going to follow me around and make inappropriate comments or touch me in unpleasant ways. I ride the subway every day and never wonder if I'm going to get groped. In my life I've gone to parties and gotten passing-out drunk and never had to worry about getting raped. These aren't things I have to deal with, or think about. My personal security is almost never on the line. But women have to think about these kinds of things all the time.

If the predominantly male Board of ReaderCon says that people who behave this way are allowed in, it sends a message to women: your personal security is at risk here. Your personal security is not that important to us. And it implicates the convention-going public in that sentiment: it implicates us all, and it says to the world, this is what science fiction and fantasy conventions are like.

Which sort of goes back to the objection that JF Quackenbush lobbed at sf conventions, that they're places for people to go to behave badly. Specifically, he called them "a building full of adults who have failed to figure out how to live like grown ups." I don't think that's true, and my experience at ReaderCon has been the opposite of that, but sometimes the haters are proven right. And sometimes an organization breaks your heart.

Considering Fandom

One thing I seem to have gleaned from the flurry of comments to Tuesday's post about Arisia is that I went to the wrong convention. In the words of one of the commenters:

Arisia started as a "reaction" to another more literary "Con" - Boskone. To make it short, Boskone was trying to focus more on literary works, and in short become more "serious". Arisia was started as a "fun" con. There was a very specific focus in the early days on - Costuming (in the halls and masquerade), Parties, and an openness to movies/anime/"whatever". (Please be aware that I am simplifying grotesquely here) But the basic idea behind Arisia fundamentally is that it's a less "serious" con, even though there's a strong contingent of interest in literature & Science/Science Fiction.

Looking at the schedule for last year's Boskone and the guest list for this year's, I see none of the "alternative lifestyle" material of Arisia and quite a lot more writers I enjoy and topics that look interesting to me personally. Had I done any research whatever, I might have discovered this and saved myself a lot of bother. I won't be going to Boskone next month, for a number of reasons not the least of which is I'm a little conventioned-out after Arisia, though I may go next year while I don't think I'll be attending another Arisia. (I do wonder if I'll find myself something of a pariah at conventions from now on because of my posts. I suppose I'll have to go and find out.)

Fan Service

"When I moved here from the west coast," said Marlin May, a black, homosexual SF fan who I met first on Twitter, and who compared "coming out" as an SF fan to "coming out" as gay, "I didn't know a lot of people. But when I started going to con[vention]s here, I felt like I was home. I was back where I belong."

It was a sentiment I heard over and over again from people at Arisia, New England's Largest Science Fiction Convention (attendance: about 3,000). On one panel, the moderator opined that cons are “where we seem to fit. In other places is where we're playing roles,” with the deliberate irony that the convention was full of role playing games. One woman I talked to referred to Arisia specifically as a “lifestyle con”. This was a convention run by fans for fans to come and hang out and play and fuck. Which helped explain the lack of corporate presence that one finds at your average comic book convention. There were no booths for major publishers here, no b-grade sci-fi actors being paid for autographs, no developers giving advanced previews of their latest video game offering. A panel on the future of Doctor Who, which at New York or San Diego Comic-Con would have been made up of writers, producers, and/or stars of the TV show, was instead made up entirely of fans. The moderator began “Well, we've only got fifteen seconds of footage to go on, so I'm not sure what we're going to talk about,” and then the panelists started talking about their favorite episodes of the show instead. Most of the panels were simply manned by other fans, who didn't seem any more qualified to talk about a given subject then those in the audience, which was probably why the audience felt so entitled to give their own opinions at length whenever the mood arose, as if everyone was part of the panel.