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Detcon1 and Diversity

In talking about diversity in SF/F fandom, I’ve pointed before to convention committees and staff that are mostly or exclusively white, and often male-dominated. This isn’t uncommon, and it’s part of a larger systemic problem with fandom and genre. Recognizing that your favorite con isn’t as diverse and inclusive as you thought doesn’t mean it’s a Bad Con, or that the people running it are Horrible People. What’s important, at least to me, is to recognize and work to change things for the better.

Detcon1 has gotten a lot of things right on that front. They established a Diversity Advisory Board, consisting of Muhammad A Ahmad, Anne Gray, Mark Oshiro, Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Mike VanHelder, Pablo Vazquez, and Sal Palland. They chose to honor a range of guests that acknowledges the broader scope of the genre. They established the FANtastic Detroit Fund to help provide free memberships to fans who might otherwise be unable to attend.

What follows is a video discussion between Pablo Vazquez and Anne Gray about the work Detcon1 has been doing. I’m also including a transcript of the conversation. (But the video is better, because it has music and special effects and stuff!)

Michigan is my home base, so I’m biased, but I think Detcon1 has been doing some awesome things, and I’m really looking forward to the convention.

Detcon1
North American Science Fiction Convention

Renaissance Center Marriott
Detroit, Michigan

July 17 through 20, 2014

[Welcome to Detcon1.]

PABLO: Hi. I’m Pablo Vasquez.

ANNE: And I’m Anne Gray.

PABLO: Yeah, we’re part of the Diversity Committee, and also doing work with the Afrofuturism programming at Detcon1. And we’re really excited about it.

ANNE: Yeah, we’ve – Right from the first, Detcon1 has been dedicated to having a diverse group of attendees – and, when we started inviting our guests, for example, we really wanted to have a diverse group of people so that it was, I think as you said, “representative of the modern world.”

PABLO: Yeah, of Modern Fandom.

ANNE: Yeah

PABLO: Detcon1 has definitely diversified and found absolutely quality people for their guests.

ANNE: For instance we have people of color…

PABLO: Yeah, like John Picacio and Steven Barnes.

 John Picacio, Artist Guest of Honor

Steven Barnes, Author Guest of Honor

ANNE: Yeah, including Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor, YA Author Special Guest

PABLO: mm-hmm.

ANNE: Which is also part of our reach out to young people, cause she’s our YA Author. Our Scientist Guest of Honor is a woman. Helen Greiner. She’s a roboticist.

Helen Greiner, Scientist Guest of Honor

ANNE: Musicians are a couple, a man and a woman. Bill and Brenda Sutton.

Bill and Brenda Sutton, Music Guests of Honor

ANNE: And you were really excited about our Fan Guests.

Bernadette Bosky, Arthur D. Hlavaty, and Kevin J. Maroney, Fan Guests of Honor

PABLO: Yeah! And I like that our fan guests, I mean, it’s the first time that I’ve seen, like, a polyamorous triad as a fan guest. And as a polyamorous person myself, I was, you know, exceedingly happy to see that. And I’m sure a lot of other people like me will as well. Lifestyles or racial diversity or gender diversity. We also reach out to typically ignored parts of fandom, like the video game fandom, by having our video game guest Jon Davis, who’s worked on, like, Titanfall and other popular video games.

Jon Davis, Video Game Special Guest

PABLO: We have outreach to those communities. We reach out to tabletop role players; we reach out to video gamers; comic book fans. So on and so forth.

ANNE: Steampunk

PABLO:  Steampunks, you know.

ANNE: Afrofuturists…

PABLO: Exactly.

ANNE: I mean one of the things – We’re in Detroit.  I mean, we are the North American Science Fiction Convention, but we’re in Detroit. So we wanted to make sure that Detroit fans, even if they’ve mostly gone to a comicon, or they’re just readers, or something. When they find out about us, they wanna come, and when they come—

PABLO: mm-hmm.

ANNE: They feel welcome. We want everybody to feel welcome and included.

PABLO: By making Detcon1 diverse, we’re introducing fans who have never, like, met each other, or knew about their specific subsects of  fandom, to be able to connect with one another, and share their love of, you know, what makes them a fan within greater fandom as a whole.

ANNE: mm-hmm.

PABLO: So, you know, I can’t wait to see that, to see all these different people actually connecting with one another, on, you know, our greater love of science fiction and fantasy; of speculative fiction.

ANNE: Yeah. Science fiction conventions are where we come together, we have great conversations, and then we take that out into the rest of our lives, and … this should be exciting.

PABLO: Yeah!

Repetitive Stress Injury

I’ve heard it said that if you’re a writer, it’s not a matter of if you’ll develop a repetitive stress injury, but when. Looks like 2014 was my year.

I’ve been getting pains in my shoulders for months now. In the beginning, it was little more than a twinge. I assumed I’d pulled something at karate, and then when it didn’t go away, I thought maybe I was sleeping on my arm wrong, or I needed a different pillow. It was annoying, but not incapacitating.

But it didn’t go away, and it gradually got worse. If I used my right hand and tried to reach around to touch the back of my left shoulder, pain jabbed through the core of those upper arm muscles. If I used the left hand and reached for the right, it was worse. So I finally headed over to the friendly neighborhood Doctor-Man, who had no problem diagnosing me:

Chris Rock

Wait, what? No, that’s not– Stupid random Dogma references sneaking into my blog post!

Anyway, the doctor diagnosed me with biceps tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the long head — get your mind out of the gutter — of the biceps tendon.

The good news is that it’s not terribly severe. He put me on anti inflammatories, told me to try icing the shoulders, and talked about the kinds of thing that can cause this injury to develop, and what to do about it. This talk can be boiled down to, “Whatever you’re doing to mess up your shoulders, stop doing it!

As far as I can tell, the problem is that the arms of my desk chair at work were a little too low. This means the tendons were strained by holding my arms up all day while I’m typing. Why was the left shoulder worse than the right? Because I mouse left-handed.

It’s been about a week, and my right shoulder is noticeably improved. The left … that’s going a little more slowly, but hopefully it will catch up.

Ah well. If all else fails and my left arm never heals, there’s always this option from He-Man…

prosthetic08

Unbound Cover Reveal and Libriomancer Giveaway

I had another blog post all ready to go today, but this was far more exciting :-)

Last night, SF Signal revealed the cover for Unbound, the third Magic ex Libris book. They’re also hosting a giveaway of three autographed copies of Libriomancer, the first book in the series.

Here’s a small view. Like the other books, the cover for this one was done by Gene Mollica, and I love what he’s come up with for book three. Click through for the full-size cover and to enter the giveaway.

Unbound will be out on January 6, 2015. But you can pre-order now at: B&N | Indiebound | Amazon.

My thanks to Gene for the great cover, and to SF Signal for doing the reveal and giveaway!

Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley

My very first rejection letter was from Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was both harsh and helpful. So I was thrilled when, years later, I made one of my first professional sales to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I was even happier when I sold a story to her anthology Sword & Sorceress XXI.

I’m proud of those stories. I believe the Sword & Sorceress series was important, and I’m grateful to Bradley for creating it. I believe her magazine helped a lot of new writers, and her books helped countless readers. All of which makes the revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley protecting a known child rapist and molesting her own daughter and others even more tragic.

Here are some of the relevant links.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s testimony in defense of her husband, Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile.
  • A blog post from Deirdre Saoirse Moen, in which Moira Greyland, daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, states that Bradley molested her starting when she was three years old and continuing until Greyland was twelve and able to walk away. Greyland also describes Breen as “a serial rapist with many, many victims,” but says Marion “was far, far worse.”
  • The “Breendoggle” Wiki. Much of fandom seemed to know about the allegations against Breen. The documentation includes eyewitness accounts of Breen molesting children and discussion that even if Breen was indeed an active pedophile, that doesn’t mean he should be expelled from fandom.
  • Silence is Complicity. Natalie Luhrs talks about Breen, MZB, and the damage done by prioritizing silence over safety, complicity over acting to protect the vulnerable members of our community.
  • On Doing a Thing I Needed to Do. Janni Lee Simner talks about having written for some of MZB’s projects, and her choice to donate her income from those sales to RAINN.

There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.

I disagree.

To begin with, while Bradley and Breen are both gone from this world, their victims survive. The damage they inflicted lives on. Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? To hell with that.

Second, as Luhrs and others have pointed out, many of the same behaviors that allowed this abuse to continue for so long are still present in fandom and elsewhere today. We excuse sexual harassment as social awkwardness. We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.

I’m not going to say that people should or shouldn’t throw all of MZB’s books away. There are authors whose careers might not have happened without MZB’s help, and our genre is better for many of them. But it’s also important to acknowledge that predators exist. They may be in positions of power and influence. Sometimes, they’re people who have done good work for a community. They often have very smooth, well-practiced tactics for defending or excusing their actions.

When we ignore ongoing harassment and abuse, when we belittle efforts to create harassment policies, when we respond to people speaking out about their own abuse and harassment by accusing them of starting “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts,” we’re teaching predators that fandom is a safe hunting ground. We’re teaching them that they will be protected, and their victims will be sacrificed so we can cling to an illusion of inclusiveness.

We need to work on teaching a different lesson.

Doctor Snoopy

I decided to go with a lighter blog post for today. Feel free to debate and discuss.

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Proposal: Snoopy is actually a Time Lord. Probably the Doctor.

Evidence:

  1. Snoopy was first sighted on Earth in October of 1950, and was around for far longer than any known beagle. Also, his appearance changed over time. (But he’s always been a white male!)
    Snoopy 1950Snoopy Modern
  2. His dog house is canonically bigger on the inside.
    Snoopy Doghouse
  3. And it flies. (Though it doesn’t always take him where he intended to go.)
    Snoopy - Lost
  4. He is known to have traveled in space.
    Snoopy - Moon
  5. He has a companion, one he understands and communicates with despite their different languages. (TARDIS translation circuit?)
    Snoopy + Woodstock
  6. He owned a Van Gogh. (The link between Van Gogh and the Doctor has been well-established.)
    Snoopy Van Gogh
  7. He’s been known to wear bow ties.
    Snoopy - Bow Tie

Conclusion: Time Lord!

Doctor Snoopy

Snoopy as Doctor Who, by Kieron O’Gorman. Click the pic for the original artwork.

LC on Rape and Self Defense

ETA: Conversation seems to be going nowhere, with people repeating the same points, desperately trying to get the last word, or just insulting people they disagree with. I don’t see much in the way of productive comments/discussion at this point, so I’m turning off the comments. There may be a follow-up post if I have time, or there may not. Depends on deadlines…

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So apparently Miss Nevada said something about the importance of awareness and self-defense for women, some people responded with varying degrees of anger on Twitter, and Larry Correia chose to respond with a blog post called “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not To Rape.”

I’m not gonna waste a lot of time here, and I’ll preface this by noting that as someone who studies and teaches self-defense, I have nothing against people learning to protect themselves.

  1. Self-defense isn’t and can’t be the only answer. If it is, we’re basically telling everyone who isn’t physically or emotionally capable of fighting off every attacker, no matter how much power that attacker might have over them, that they’re on their own. Sucks to be them, eh?
  2. How many self-defense courses teach that you’re vastly more likely to be raped by a friend, acquaintance, or loved one? How many courses actually prepare you to use the kind of force you need to use against someone you like or love?
  3. To LC’s claim that rape culture is a myth and we’re just dealing with individual, isolated criminals, and that all of those studies have been debunked (in which he omitted any links or citations to the alleged debunking … strange, considering how grumpy he is about people supposedly “ignoring reality”):
  4. Finally, on the “naive idiocy” of teaching men not to rape, I’m gonna just quote from an old blog post:

Correia is right that there are a lot of different kinds of predators out there. When it comes to sexual assault, the majority of them are men, and they’re far more likely to be someone the victim knows. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, yet for as long as I’ve been working with rape survivors and speaking out about rape, there have been countless people insisting that the Only True Solution is to turn all women into gun-toting ninjas.

I don’t understand the fear some people — again, this seems to be primarily men — have when it comes to looking at other solutions. Instead of reading the research, they just proclaim that education will never work, because reasons. They ignore the pervasiveness of rape myths, the myriad approaches to things like bystander intervention, the utterly broken way our legal system treats rape, and all of the other factors that contribute to the prevalence of rape in our society.

There’s nothing new in LC’s rant. It’s the same attitude we’ve seen for ages, an attitude that conveniently puts the burden on victims to end rape, oversimplifies the problem, and allows the rest of us to look away and pretend there isn’t a real or widespread problem here, despite countless studies showing otherwise.

Some of you are aware of the current conversation in SF/F fandom about several Big Names who sexually assaulted hundreds of children, and how fandom stood by and let it happen, despite there being multiple eyewitnesses to these assaults. Call me a naive idiot, but I wonder how many children would have escaped those assaults if others in fandom had intervened or reported them or enforced any kind of consequences, anything to teach the perpetrators that this kind of behavior was unacceptable.

I wonder how many victims we’re continuing to turn our back on today because we assume there’s no point in doing anything to intervene.

Continuum Pics and Links

I’m still working on catching up on everything after Continuum and Australia, starting with getting my brain back from jet lag and con crud.

I had an absolute blast, both with the convention and sightseeing with my daughter for a few days after the con. I’m hoping to have a better write-up soon, but in the meantime, here are a few links and pics to keep you busy.

Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy: This is the story I chose for my reading. A few days later, it went live as a full-cast recording on Podcastle. The story is about a superhero with cancer. I originally wrote it for the humorous anthology Unidentified Funny Objects 2.

The Writer and the Critic invited me and fellow Guest of Honor Ambelin Kwaymullina to join them for their podcast. We talked about our books, then discussed The Curse of Chalion and The Lives of Tao.

Cover Pose-off: I was invited to help run and judge a cover pose-off, and Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter Zine has pics and commentary. It was … something.

My Guest of Honor Speech: For anyone who missed it yesterday.

I have a gallery of about 60 photos, both con-related and general sightseeing, over at Flickr. Photos are from Continuum, Phillip Island, Maru Koala & Animal Park, Fitzroy Gardens, Federation Square, Birrarung Marr, and Carlton Gardens. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Continuum GoH Speech

This is my guest of honor speech from Continuum 10 in Melbourne, minus the parts where I stumbled over my words or misread anything…

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First of all, I want to thank Continuum for inviting me, and to thank all of the volunteers who have been working so hard to put this event together.

I grew up in the dark ages, before the internet. I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t discover fandom when I was young. The closest I came was when my father took my brother and me to a Star Trek convention for an afternoon. There were some awesome (and too expensive) toys, and I got to listen to George Takei and get his autograph, but that was it. I didn’t get a sense of community or belonging. It was more like being in the world’s geekiest toy store. So, you know, still an awesome way to spend the day.

And then, years later, I started writing. This was in the late nineties, which meant I could now dial out on my 56K modem to connect to the World Wide Web and check out the bulletin boards where other newbie writers hung out. I learned how to avoid writing scams, where to find markets for my work, and so on. I also learned about this phenomenon called conventions, where writers and fans got together and did stuff. As a wannabe writer, it sounded like something I should do.

My very first convention was just ten minutes from my house, in Michigan. How had I never heard of this? I signed up for a one-day membership and even got scheduled a reading and a couple of panels.

It went … badly. I showed up at the Holiday Inn, got registered, looked around at the strangers swarming through the halls, and asked myself what the hell I was doing here. I’ve always been an introvert, and this was too much. I remember going to my very first panel, introducing myself, and then not saying a single word for the rest of the hour. My reading had two attendees: my wife, and the author who had been reading before me and stuck around, I’m assuming because he felt bad for me.

What I don’t remember is what made me try again, but I did. Maybe it was stubbornness. Maybe I’m just a masochist — actually, those are some of the same reasons I ended up becoming a writer, now that I think about it. Anyway, I ended up going to World Fantasy Con next … because apparently a little local con wasn’t overwhelming enough for me. Once again I showed up, got registered, and wandered aimless and lost. I sat in on a few panels, because panels were both informative and safe. And then a little later, I found my way to the con suite, where I spotted author Jay Lake and artist Frank Wu, two people I had heard of from those online bulletin boards.

It took an absurdly long time for me to work up the courage to go introduce myself, but eventually I did. They were kind enough to invite me to sit down and join them. We chatted for a bit, and they asked if I was new to the con scene. And then they did something I’ll never forget. They took me around and introduced me to some of the other fans and writers at the convention.

I remember that day because it was the first time I started to feel welcome in fandom. I don’t know that either one of them would remember that day, but I will always be grateful to them for that kindness.

Fast forward to 2014, and I’m attending at least a half-dozen conventions a year, and loving it! I’m the freaking Guest of Honor at Continuum 10 in Australia. How the heck did that happen?

It happened in part because people made me feel welcome. They invited me into this big, geeky, snarky, Monty Python-quoting, book-loving, cranky, wonderful family, and I discovered I wasn’t alone. I found people who loved the things I loved. Who introduced me to new stories and new authors and new shows. Over time, I began to feel at home.

There’s been a lot of discussion and debate about inclusion in fandom and genre. For me, it goes back to that World Fantasy con twelve years ago. Because it wasn’t enough for me to know conventions existed. I needed someone to welcome me in.

How much harder must it be for people who feel actively unwanted? Nobody ever asked me to prove my geek cred, but women are challenged because everyone knows those “fake geek girls” girls don’t belong in science fiction and fantasy and gaming and so on. The day I wrote this speech, award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal did a Q&A online and had to deal with another guy explaining how he didn’t read books with female protagonists.

I’ve talked about the lack of racial diversity at conventions and in the makeup of con volunteers, only to be told that the real problem is that black people don’t read science fiction and fantasy. Or in one case, to be told that “those people” just don’t read, period. I’ve been accused of pushing a political agenda for including characters whose sexuality isn’t “normal.” (Though, oddly enough, nobody ever tells me I’m pushing an agenda when I write about straight, monogamous characters.)

People ask to see characters like themselves in our stories, and to judge from the backlash from certain folks, you might as well have asked them to pass a porcupine. Apparently, talking about diversity and representation is a secret plot, masterminded by people who want to DESTROY THE GENRE!!!

I wish I was exaggerating.

I’ve rarely seen anyone deliberately posting “no girls allowed” or “whites only” signs on the clubhouse, and that’s a good thing. But it’s not enough. We send messages about who is and isn’t welcome in a thousand other, subtler ways.

It’s not enough to passively sit back and hope more people will somehow, magically find their way into fandom. I know how hard it was for me at that first convention. How much harder is it for people who never see themselves in our stories? For fans who pour so much time and money and work into cosplay, only to be harassed and groped and told they’re just looking for attention? For authors who write amazing stories that are dismissed and ignored, because the author happened to have girl cooties?

It’s easy not to see these things when they’re not about you. I’ve never felt discriminated against for my race or my gender or my sexual orientation, so it’s simple for me to assume that sort of thing doesn’t happen to others. Or yeah, I guess it happens occasionally, but it’s not that big a deal, right? Those people are just blowing things out of proportion, or looking for things to be offended by. It’s so easy for me to dismiss other people’s pain.

Maybe that one joke on Big Bang Theory about how no one has ever seen a pretty girl in a comic book shop isn’t, by itself, a big deal. But it’s not just one joke. It’s a constant flood of messages whispering about who does and doesn’t belong. It’s cover art that reduces women to sexual objects, helpless to do anything but thrust their butt and boobs at you. It’s stories that treat rape as a mandatory plot twist for female character development. It’s the ongoing practice of using white actors to play characters of color vs. the hurricane-strength crapstorm that rolls in the moment someone casts a black actor to play Johnny Storm. It’s editors saying they’d be happy to buy that book, but only if the author makes the gay character straight.

When I get a paper cut, it stings, but it’s not the end of the world. I might swear a bit, but I grab a band-aid and I get on with my life. And then someone else goes online to write this big, long blog post about their own paper cut, and maybe I’m thinking, “Why are you making a mountain out of a molehill?” Because I ignore the fact that for them, it isn’t just one paper cut, but one of a thousand they’ve suffered this week. A single paper cut is annoying. A thousand, and you’re being flayed alive.

I love fandom. I love this community. And I want other people to find that sense of coming home. I want them to feel a part of our stories and our celebrations. I want them to feel welcome.

If this is your first convention, or if you’re feeling as overwhelmed or out of place as I did all those years ago in Michigan, I want to invite you to please come and say hello. We’ll talk about why David Tennant is the best Doctor, or geek out about Avatar: The Last Airbender, or just grumble about the fact that DC still won’t give us a Wonder Woman movie because it’s “too complicated,” when Marvel’s busy promoting a raccoon with a rocket launcher.

And to those of us who have been a part of the community for a while now, I want to remind us all how large our family really is, and how important it is to listen to other voices. I’d encourage us to actively expand our fandom, to explore new stories, to seek out new films and new novelizations, to boldly go—

Wait, sorry. That’s Star Trek.

My point is, there are a lot of people standing near the margins and feeling unwanted or excluded or invisible. Fandom is amazing, but we also have a lot of work to do. You and I may not be able to change the world, or to single-handedly fix the various systemic and cultural inequities that play out in genre and publishing and fandom and everywhere else.

But we can listen. And we can choose to actively reach out and welcome people into our community.

Believe me, it can make all the difference in the world.

Thank you.