Okay. I'm ambivalent about speaking on this topic for a variety of reasons: I have for years had a personal policy that I don't touch most contentious SFFdom issues in an online format, for a variety of reasons that also don't need going into right now. That's been the right decision, personally, for me. It still is.
But I'm going to give this one a go because there's something, complex and convoluted, that's worth saying here. Please lend me some forbearance for how I get that convolution and complexity on paper. I'm tired, and a little upset, and I'm at work besides.
In brief: novelist and SFF critic glvalentine was followed and sexually harassed at this year's Readercon
, and posted about this series of incidents, and reported them to Readercon's convention committee under their zero-tolerance policy. The convention issued a two-year ban instead of the policy-mandated lifetime ban
, which is upsetting a large portion of the SFF fan and pro community.
They also identified Rene Walling as the harasser. He's a Quebec-based conrunner, micropress publisher, and bookseller. He's very supportive of Canadian authors, and has been supportive of me and my work in a genuine and enthusiastic way. He's someone I quite like.
This is...well. It doesn't need saying that this is a problem.
We have, I think, largely two modes for people in our heads a lot of the time: People we like are good people who do good things -- important to our own sense of identity, because if we like bad people, well, it says something about us. People who do bad things are bad people, and we do not like them. And I think a lot of the community conflict around cases of boundary violation, whether they be sexual harassment, or to do with sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, and so forth, stems from the idea that the violation of those kinds of personal boundaries is classed as one of the worst Bad Things, and so we get emotionally a little stuck. It's either consign (and yes, the word I want is consign
) someone we like to Bad Personhood, or find some way to lessen the act: minimize, deny, excuse. Say that no, they're remorseful; or it wasn't so bad as all that. Prevent the alternative.
To the recipient of the harassment (and no, I do not want to say victim
), that reaction is a lack of support. It's I don't believe you
. It's the violation of your boundaries doesn't matter
Either way, something rips in the community. Either we're turning on someone previously liked and respected, or we're perpetuating a truly awful victim-blaming culture that rots the community on the inside.
I am not excusing this dynamic. I am not saying those choices and consequences are weighted equally, by any means. But I'm saying I understand how it is that people get stuck.
Last night I had a long discussion with Dr. My Roommate about this article on how we socially categorize rape and react to rape victims
; or, more to the point, on how other people in the conversation where it was linked found it a hard and unnerving read.
I didn't find it unnerving in the slightest; I couldn't understand why other people did. Being an awesome Dr. My Roommate devoted to the pursuit of science, she read it to see, and did find it disturbing, and tried to describe that reaction for me. Her best guess: it unnerved not just because it talked about terrible things happening to people who weren't, in the end, able to effectively prevent them, but because of the last few paragraphs, describing a sexual assault on the author:
Nothing about the act was violent. I wasn’t afraid of him. I wasn’t in pain. It was terrible nonetheless.
I fled into the bathroom and locked the door. He knocked and told me to come out. He asked what was wrong. There was a large, long mirror above the sink, and I had to see myself in it, crying and pacing, until I finally sat down to escape it. I tried to hide the tremors in my voice. I said I was fine but could he please leave? No, he would not. No matter how many times I asked or told him to leave, he would not. I had to come out of the bathroom and I had to be with him, let him hug me and hold my hand. I had to play the part of the consensual lover, the girl who had some type of flighty breakdown but allowed herself to be comforted by the older man.
"It really throws me," she said, "that people who might rape you or hurt you are not necessarily people you can see coming. They might be really pleasant and charming and blend into the social group. They can play by the rules to everyone else's eyes. You can get blindsided."
This didn't bother me. It didn't unnerve or upset me. Because, well, of course
people can be perfectly charming and wonderful and valuable in one element of their lives and inflict horrific damage on others in another part. I grew up around someone who was exceedingly affable professionally and the worst kind of horrible to their family. It's not good
; to me it's just not news
"People are complicated," I said, trying to get this out. "And bad things happen. That's part of the world."
So, this morning I'm in a position to eat those words, or stand behind them, although standing behind a statement like people are infinitely complicated
is not really a thing that comes with instructions and an allen key for easy assembly.
I'm not going to take the position that I will stop attending Readercon if this decision isn't reversed. Realistically, that would be an ultimatum for me, and not a statement of boundary. Readercon is still my favourite con, with my favourite conversations, full of many of my favourite people. I'm going to keep attending. That's a given.
I am not going to take the position, even inside my own head, that I hate Rene. I don't. Maybe that reflects poorly, or weirdly, on my moral structure. I have not for a second disbelieved
that the actions happened as reported; people don't make this shit up. I am disappointed and thrown and chagrined and hurt by his actions, but there's a lot of mileage between like and hate. People are capable of being simultaneously a positive force in certain people's lives and an exceedingly negative force in others', because people are complicated
. Our reactions to them should maybe not be expected to be binary either. This is not about teams
I find that like vschanoes
said about her own experience with convention sexual harassment, what I ultimately want is for this not to have happened
. I want the orderly emotional house of two weeks ago.
And I'm not going to get that, because Rene harassed Genevieve, and that's just kind of how it is. While I sympathize with the desire to make decisions on the basis of what was, and how much we liked it, and how maybe that world could exist again, I don't feel like I can. We live in this world, not the what-if one. We have to set our personal boundaries, and our community standards, based on here
So all that being said? The position I'm taking is this:
Rene is someone who has done good things in my corner of the world and been good to me. In this case, he has done a very bad thing -- an emerging string of them. The fact that I am not willing to label him A Bad Person at this time does not negate the fact that the things he did are not acceptable in our community, by convention policy and social agreement, or negate the fact that other members of the community deserve to have the violation of their boundaries taken seriously.
So as much as it upsets me to lose the conversation of someone I have in the past enjoyed, and as much as I wish this wasn't so?
I think Readercon needs to extend that lifetime ban. And I hope sincerely that they do.