Well, this has been quite the week.
On Wednesday, I posted an essay from Dennis Upkins titled “The Double Standards of Diversity,” as part of my guest blog series on representation in SF/F. Shortly thereafter, I began receiving comments and emails from people who were uncomfortable with Upkins’ history of violent rhetoric, particularly against women.
I haven’t made a habit of doing background checks on potential contributors. But as the complaints, links, and screenshots came out, I started looking into them. I also emailed Mr. Upkins about the concerns and asked him for his thoughts. He posted a response on his own blog yesterday.
For myself, there were several things I needed to sort out.
1. Complaints about Upkins’ tone. Some individuals were upset about the angry, aggressive tone of Upkins’ post. I’ve received similar comments on a few other posts. This isn’t a concern I’m worried about. Sometimes people get angry. Get over it. People have every right to be angry, resentful, bitter, and so on, especially when they’re dealing with systemic imbalances and prejudices.
2. Violent threats/rhetoric. Where’s the line between the tone argument and harassment/threats/abusiveness? That’s something people have been struggling with for a long time. Is a comment about visiting heterosexist women “with a lead pipe in tow” an actual threat or just blowing off steam? What about choking female slash authors with piano wire? Forcing birth control down a woman’s throat? In this case, the comments I was seeing from Upkins definitely crossed the line.
That said, while there was a pattern of this sort of comment, most of the links and screenshots were from 3-4 years ago. Upkins said he’d apologized, though I haven’t seen that link. He also said two friends pulled him aside and explained why that sort of comment was f**ked up. His New Year’s resolution of 2011 was to be more thoughtful and do better.
I think it’s important to be open to the possibility of growth and change. We all screw up sometimes. Some of us worse than others. Recognizing mistakes and trying to do better is both difficult and important.
3. Personal issues with Steve Berman. Part of Upkins’ post involved criticism of Lethe Press/Steve Berman as homophobic and bigoted, based on an interaction over a story Upkins submitted to a Civil War anthology Berman was editing for Prime Books. I don’t know what actually happened here, and I think it’s totally valid to complain about being asked to “remove the gay” from a story. At the same time, multiple others who were involved with the same project have said what happened was more along the lines of the publisher deciding they already had several stories with gay protagonists, and didn’t want to add more. While I think that’s still worth discussing, that expectation came from the publisher–Prime Books, not Lethe Press–and Berman was simply working within the publisher’s guidelines. It also sounds like there are personal issues between Berman and Upkins that go beyond this anthology.
4. Upkins’ response to these concerns. When Upkins blogged about these things, he said, “It’s one thing to dislike someone. It’s one thing to have issues or concerns with an individual. It is more than fair to voice said concerns. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” So far, so good. But he also characterized complaints as coming from white trolls who were afraid of the Big Scary Black Man. He referred to them as losers, sociopaths, and thugs.
The people voicing their concerns and discomfort are not all white, as it turns out. Nor is it just a handful of “stalkers” following Upkins around to harass him.
I get that it’s hard when you’ve got a lot of people posting negative comments calling you out for your behavior. It’s not fun. In fact, it sucks. If people have, as he claims, stalked his blog looking for dirt on his loved ones, then yeah, those people have crossed the line. But while Upkins did seem willing to listen to his friends and change his behavior at least somewhat back in 2011, he seems unwilling to acknowledge that there could be any validity or anything worth listening to from these comments.
I emailed Upkins to say that while I didn’t plan to pull his guest blog post, I wasn’t comfortable including it in Invisible 2. (I had held off sending a contract to him while I tried to sort through this mess.) In response, he asked me to immediately remove his post from my site, which I’ve done.
I’m disappointed in all of this, to say the least. I still believe Upkins brought up some excellent points about double-standards, and the expectations more marginalized writers are held to compared to their less marginalized peers. However, at least part of that essay seemed motivated by personal vendetta, and others with first-hand experience with the same project contradicted Upkins’ account. To my mind, that–combined with a tendency toward derogatory dismissal of criticism–significantly weakens the essay as a whole.
I’m sure I’ve made mistakes in my handling of all this. I’m still working to figure out where those mistakes were, and how to best avoid them in the future. I apologize to everyone who got hurt with all of this, including both Mr. Upkins and Mr. Berman.
I do have one more guest post coming, after which I’ll turn to putting Invisible 2 together, hopefully for a mid-May release. In the meantime, however, I think I’m gonna walk away from the internet for a little while and go play some Mario Kart.
My thanks to everyone for their patience while I worked through this.