One of the posted panels at WindyCon, a Chicago convention that took place this past weekend, was called “Tutti Frutti Literature.” The panel description read, “With changing social norms and lifestyles, how is this affecting our literature?”
Annalee Flower Horne tagged the convention about this on Twitter, saying this was not okay. A number of people agreed, including WindyCon attendees and former guests of honor.
When I saw the panel write-up, my mind went to the anti-gay slur. The reference to changing lifestyles also made me think this could be a panel about how “the gay” was getting all over our books.
I knew one of the listed panelists, Chris Barkley, and tagged him to ask if he knew what was going on here.
Barkley ended up posting his thoughts on the matter at File770. He spoke with Louisa Feimster, who explained:
“We were under a lot of pressure to come up with titles for panels and we kinda finished up in the middle of the night. Really, we didn’t mean to offend anybody, we were just tired.” She also went on to explain that in her end of the BDSM world, “tutti frutti” does not have a negative connotations and she thought it would be an interesting way to title a panel on the changing forms of literature.
Fair enough. I’m glad it was a mistake, as opposed to a deliberate slam on the LGBT community.
However, Barkley also calls this a witch hunt, and gave a statement at the panel (reproduced in the column), saying, “The main point is that damage has been done to the honor and reputation of Windycon because someone was offended. To which I respond : BIG DEAL!” Basically, if I’m reading his statement correctly, people were offended over nothing, and should save their energy for real injustices.
Panelist Mari Brighe ended up walking out of the panel after Barkley’s statement there. She’s written a blog post about what happened. She says about the panel title and description:
“My general assumption with this panel is that it had been proposed by a queer and/or trans person who was couching their language to make the panel sound more widely applicable, and that the panel title was something of an attempt to reclaim some previously hurtful language.”
She also explains her reasons for leaving the panel:
“Mr Barkley’s egregious tone-policing of queer concerns made me feel quite unwelcome. As a young queer trans woman on panel of unfamiliar older men who clearly had some anger at my community and were predisposed to thinking we were overly-sensitive, I did not feel especially safe. I’ve been in similar panel situations before (including one at Windycon several years ago), and the usual result is me being shouted down by men until I’m nearly in tears. Given that I already had one clearly angry, hostile panelist harboring very negative beliefs about someone like me, I made the decision that I would recuse myself from the panel for my own safety and emotional well-being, and in protest of the kinds of over-the-top tone-policing and complete dismissal (and denigration) of the concerns of queer folks that Mr Barkley had engaged in.”
“Now that the convention is over, we have had the opportunity to read through the many posts and comments on the subject. We have taken to heart the hurt and anger caused by the poor choice of wording used in the title and description of this panel. We are very sorry we offended. While this was not our intention, it was the result, and for this we sincerely apologize. We will be working to ensure this does not happen in the future. These are some specific steps we will take moving forward…”
Speaking as someone who was not at this WindyCon, but who has attended many of them in the past (including as a Guest of Honor), I’m impressed with the convention’s apology. I believe the offense was unintentional. I appreciate that they recognize unintentional hurt is still hurt. There are no excuses, and they give concrete steps they’ll be taking in the future to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
In an age of excuses and fauxpologies, I thought this was very well done.
I’m disappointed by Barkley’s response. As he says:
“[T]here was no grand conspiracy to offend the gay community. While the choice of the term ‘tutti frutti’ may be regrettable, it was NOT done in any sense of malice, at least from my point of view.”
I believe him. But he seems to presume that because no harm was intended, no harm was done, and therefore everyone should just STFU about it. He acknowledges being angry and enraged, while telling people who were offended to save their anger and rage for bigger targets.
Of course, it’s possible to be angry about big issues like national politics and also be angry about things like a convention panel description at the same time.
Nobody was calling for WindyCon to be burnt at the stake. They were calling out a panel description which, intentional or not, came off as hurtful, insulting, and dismissive.
I’m glad it wasn’t intentional. I would have been much more pissed if this had been a deliberate thing. But we’ve got to stop thinking “I didn’t mean to hurt you” is some kind of magic eraser. “I told you I didn’t intentionally run over your goat. How dare you continue to be upset!”
While I understand the convention was this weekend and everyone was hellabusy, I wish WindyCon had posted their apology sooner. I wish Barkley hadn’t attacked people who were upset about the panel title/description.
I also feel like my tagging Barkley into the conversation on Twitter was one factor in this becoming a larger blow-up than it needed to be, and for that I apologize.
Personally, I appreciate people calling out problematic and troublesome stuff like this. And I very much appreciate WindyCon’s apology. This is how we grow and do better.