Conventions, missing stairs, confidentiality, reporting

What’s the difference between gossip and informing communities of potentially hazardous individuals?

When do I have responsibility to share what I know about boundary violators, harassers, and sexual predators with the community?

When does silence become protecting harassers?

When does community protection trump the confidentiality rights of the victim?

What is the obligation of a convention in dealing with third-party reports of harassment?

Think on it:

You, reading this, right now — do you know of any unreported instances of harassment, assault, rape, or boundary violation among people you know? How many friends-of-friends in your social circles are known to you as committing acts of questionable judgment and motivation? How many people do you see at every convention who you know to have committed rape or assault?

What do you do with that information?

Do you know all the facts?

Do you know whether they’ve been reported or not?

Do you know who the victim is, and what they want?

Think on it:

Does the victim’s right to privacy trump the safety of future victims?

Does the safety of future victims trump the privacy of those victimized in the past?

If you have all the facts, all the knowledge, do you get to make that decision? Do you get to tell the concom, the police, the internet?

Are you responsible for the publicity horrorshow that happens to the victim when her or his name and story become public because you said something?

Are you responsible for the next victim’s pain down the road because you said nothing?

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Home dental surgery is typically not recommended

Hello new followers!

While I do address issues of feminism, community, and geek, I also blog about my life, my work, my pets, and my kids.

It’s always unfollow amnesty ’round these parts!

So, last night, as the kids were going to bed, they were studiously trying to get various loose teeth out. K had one, and M had one, and they were working diligently. We sent them to bed, and told them to go to sleep.

Forty minutes later the kids, doing grand impersonations of a herd of wildebeest, came thumping down the stairs. I was in bed. J was in bed. We were in bed, reading quietly, nearly asleep. The kids come into the bedroom triumphantly.

“It took kleenex, a bobby pin, and a LOT of pulling,” K said with satisfaction, “but M’s tooth is out.”

M pops his head in around the doorframe. “Can I have some tylenol?”

I start laughing wildly.

J groans and looks at the kids. “Can the Tooth Fairy come tomorrow night?” she asked plaintively.

M and K look shocked and horrified. “No!” Miles says, and draws breath for an argument.

I interrupt. “Okay, I see, since you guys did all this hard work, you really want the Tooth Fairy to come tonight, is that it?”

“Yes,” the chorus.

We groan. “Fine,” J says. “Go back to bed. Go to SLEEP. The Tooth Fairy will be by after you are ASLEEP.”

“Thank you Tooth Fairy!” K says to us, as she ducks back out into the hallway.

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Wiscon, Policy, Feminsim, Change

[ETA: I am leaving in all the typos, because this is getting linked and re-tweeted. My apologies. Now you know why Apex Magazine has a copyeditor who is not me.]

[ETA 2: DAMMIT, I am correcting Jacquelyn Gill's name.]

Part 1: The Background

On Friday the Wiscon subcommittee on Jim Frenkel made their statement.

I had some things to say about it and Storified the resulting Twitter-stream.

And then I blogged a bit more about it.

And then a Wiscon Disciplinary Subcommittee member, Jacquelyn Gill, blogs about her experience and her assessment of the process.

I specifically want to quote Gill here:

“Clearly, by trying to think about this in terms of a judiciary board, we let down many in the broader membership who don’t feel safe because they know that Frenkel isn’t permanently, unequivocally banned. In that case, we didn’t need a disciplinary board; we needed something else, like a ConCom or membership vote on whether he be allowed to attend. Procedurally and philosophically, those are two different things.”

And she goes on to say:

“As Frenkel’s disciplinary sub-committee, we tried hard to set a clear precedence in terms of our procedure. This was the first trial run of such a disciplinary board, and in the aftermath, I am realizing that there are weaknesses in this model. I do think that the decision we made was fair and just from the perspective of our Code of Conduct, but it’s become clear from the community reaction it’s not what the membership, or even many of the members of the ConCom, wanted.”

This morning, Kameron Hurley posted Burn It All Down: Wiscon’s Failure of Feminism. I’d like to quote a couple of passages from her post as well:

“How in the fucking world did a feminist convention come to value the hurt feelings of a serial harasser over the safety of its membership?”

And:

“[Y]ou shouldn’t purport to be a fucking feminist fucking science fiction fucking convention if you can’t even uphold the basic tenants of feminism and provide a reasonably less sexist environment for discussions to take place. You can point out sexism when it exists, and remove people from conversations and spaces who are derailing those conversations and actively endangering the women whose voices you say are so equal. Like, you can do that, because you’re a private event and you can set a code of conduct that is, you know, not sexist.

Fascinating, I know. Fucking miraculous.

You can even kick people the fuck out who’ve been a problem for twenty years.”

What I saw yesterday on Twitter indicates that the preponderance of folks talking right now agree with Hurley. That Wiscon, as a private space, gets to do what it wants, and that the decision of the Subcommittee is therefore a failure of will and intention. The decision is taking Frenkel’s side. The decision is a failure to defend women.

This post is not about that. This post is about process. It’s about policy. It’s about doing better going forward.

Part 2: The Judicial Model and It’s Problems

I have a few issues and concerns with Gill’s depiction of events. NOTE: I am not criticizing Gill, here. I think that her rendition of events sounds exactly like every sort of concom decision of moderate complexity I’ve ever witnessed. Better than a lot of them, to be honest. I’ve served in Ops, I’ve seen how decisions get made in the moment, and then how the ball gets dropped afterwards. This whole process sounds … about average for how a decentralized group decision gets processed.

[Digression: conventions don't do a really good job of talking to each other AS INSTITUTIONS. We rely on bar conversations and smoffing -- in itself a word opaque to newcomers, it means "secret masters of fandom talking" -- to transmit good ideas and warn against bad ones. This is, frankly, insufficient for the needs of the day. CONvergence, Wiscon, Geek Girl Con, I care about y'all. Get your shit together and start sharing policies and procedures with other conventions. Stop struggling along, work together.]

I do wish that, under the judicial board model used, the Frenkel Subcommittee had interviewed victims and witnesses. I wish that an open statement had been made pointing to the Code of Conduct, his violations of it, and where the subcommittee’s decision fell on an openly known schedule of penalties. I wish that the evidentiary bar was openly discussed and known.

If you are going to use a judicial model, commit. Dammit.

Yet one of the primary concerns of concoms in general in all incidents of conflict is to preserve the confidentiality of the victims. In a court- or trial-based model in the U.S., by-and-large the accused gets to know who their accuser is. The defendant gets to hear all the evidence and know where it originates. Can we use the judicial model AND preserve victim confidentiality? Can we give statements anonymously? How do we design a system that protects the rights of the victims and the accused? (NOTE: Protecting the rights of the accused is NOT THE SAME as defending the ability of harassers to harass. Not at all.)

As it stands, I have seen people angry that Frenkel was so severely punished based on “hearsay” and “one incident.” This is the consequence of keeping information secret, hidden, and confidential. I have ALSO seen people angry that all the reports against him from other conventions and conferences was NOT held against him, angry that decades of systematic abuse of power wasn’t being considered. This is the consequence of attempting a model of trial for one crime at a time.

Are we trying him? Was this a trial? Was he charged with one incident of harassment? A dozen over many years? No-one outside of the subcommittee knew what the subcommittee was intending to do before it was done. If we are to be courts, let us make proper courts. Elise Matthesen pointed out (in a private email, and I have her permission to quote her,) that what we have here is not a judiciary model, but judiciary model cosplay. All the seeming, not enough function.

What we have re-created is secret tribunals, in which people are accused secretly, the evidence and witnesses are secret, and the punishment is meted out according to unknown criteria.

I am strongly reminded of the fact that revolutions are by-and-large run by very smart people, dedicated to strong principles, with all the good intention in the world.

Part 3: Systems Questions, Analysis, and Procedures

But, on to my main point.

The Wiscon statement is not merely about Jim Frenkel. It’s about policy. It’s about establishing a precedent. Institutions need to not respond to Just This One Case, they must respond to the cases that follow.

I urge all of you reading this to ponder your best convention harassment policy. Now imagine that your enemies, the people you distrust, those who have harmed you, are running the con next year. Do you want them implementing the policies you just advocated?

Consider — harassment does not merely mean sexual harassment. Imagine you are talking at a con and I find your views threatening. I feel unsafe. I feel attacked. I report you to the convention for creating an unsafe space. Do you want to be the recipient of this?

Consider — have you ever had a relationship end poorly? Romantic, familial, friendship, whatever? Have you ever witnessed the end of a bad breakup? Do you recall the back and forth as people advocated different versions of events? Does your policy withstand accidental manipulation from well-intentioned people who strongly advocate a single recollection of events?

NONE OF THESE QUESTIONS are doubting the reports against Frenkel. I am not saying that the people who reported him for harassment are wrong, or exaggerating, or melodramatic.

NOR am I saying that what you are proposing — yes you, there on Twitter and on your blog, talking about this issue — is stupid or misguided or doomed to fail.

Not.

At.

All.

I am saying we need to think about it. I am saying we need to know our goals as organizations. I am saying the establishing policy is difficult. That institutional policy needs to take into account ethical agents, and misinformed agents, and malicious agents. Policy needs to examine power differentials, it needs to have standards for what constitutes harm, standards for what constitutes report or rumor or fact.

This conversation needs to be about making conventions welcoming, safe, fair, and just. If a policy rests on “but everyone knows I’m a good person, and we all know that guy is a creeper,” that is neither fair nor just nor safe.

Rose Fox said yesterday on Twitter, quoting from Gill’s blog post, “‘I am starting to think that a judicial model is not actually what the community wants.’ Where have you BEEN. Of course it’s not.”

I am not certain I agree with Fox. I am not certain I disagree, either.

It cannot be the job of a convention staff to weigh five, fifteen, forty years of backstory, personal reputation, and hearsay in order to assess each report. Institutions need a standard that is clear to everyone when they first attend a convention. “These are the rules; here is what we will do if you break them. Here is our Standard of Conduct; here is the schedule of penalties for violating it.”

It IS a convention’s job to create clear policy that gives attendees the reasonable expectation that they will be free from verbal and physical harm and intimidation, and that violators of these expectations will be dealt with in a way that ensues the behavior will not be repeated at the convention. It IS a convention’s job to inform specific, named individuals of the guidelines for implementing those policies and endow them with the authority, knowledge, and skill-set to do so.

[Digression: And that's a whole other thing. The knowledge and skills. Who is qualified to investigate a report of harassment? How do we separate victim advocacy from fair and just investigation? Do we train a pool of people internationally to be experts in these matter? Who pays for that? Do we rely on new, and presumed impartial, volunteers in each case? How do we retain the VITAL institutional memory and knowledge base without creating institutional parties of power with vested interests in their own success?

Dear Reader, dear, dear Reader, I beg of you -- if you know how to solve these problems, please let the U. S. court system know. Please.]

Is that a judiciary model? Is that a disciplinary model? Is it an arbitration? Are conventions run by concom fiat? Are they run by hereditary councils? Is it nepotism and favor? Do those who do the work earn the right to speak? They are NOT democracies or representative democracies, and never have been. Is the model for conflict resolution to be one of consensus building and mutual understanding? Are we to take South Africa’s reconciliation boards as our method?

Part 4: Questions Going Forward

I’m going to quote Kameron Hurley again:

“And I look forward to the day, in 30 years, when young women come by and burn out this new crop of feminists for being too backward and conservative.

I look forward to that day for myself, too. I look forward to being held up by radical young feminists as all that’s wrong in the world – because then I’ll know I’ve done my job in helping to nurture folks far braver than I.

People who are so fucking done with my bullshit.

So, now it’s in your hands, my friends. You can volunteer to become a member of Wiscon, take up the fight from within with the volunteers inside fighting the good fight, or go start your own truly progressive cons, and support those working to become more progressive.

Some of you, I know, will do both (bless you).

There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

Is it you?”

I am reminded of Babylon 5, of the Shadows and the Vorlons.

Who are you?
What do you want?

As communities we need to answer these questions. What sort of institutions do we want to be? How will we make ourselves into those things? How will we face the unintended consequences?

I urge you all, reading this, to genuinely think about what you want to see done. At Wiscon, or, if you have had enough of that, at whatever convention you hold dear. Talk about your position openly. Stand by it. Listen to others. Ask hard questions. Respond thoughtfully to challenges. Think about it carefully. Think about how you want the future to unfold.

Which way to you want to fuck up? Do you want to get an innocent person banned from a con and blacklisted elsewhere? Do you want to allow a sexual predator to volunteer at a con? Do you want the ill-informed and uncertain deciding the fates of other people? Do you want power concentrated in the hands of an unelected and un-removable elite? Do you want a bland, middle-of-the-road position that screws up a little bit in every direction and makes everyone angry with you all the time?

Think about it.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

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You’re going to fail no matter what. Make your damn choice.

So, this ate my morning:

Storify my conversation on Twitter.

Tl;dr, Having a harassment policy is a basic first step. IMPLEMENTING it is going to be harder.

Conventions are fan-run, volunteer things. We have the problems of a conference AND the problems of a family. We are not trained detectives, or judges, or victim advocates, or forensic investigators. (Most of us.)

Do banning policies work? What is the goal? Life-bans inhibit reporting, we KNOW this. No bans leave harassers free to continue. Partial bans force conventions to be parole boards.

Here’s the takeaway, and I truly want you all to take this into your hearts:

Every convention EVER from here on out will piss people off with their harassment policies and enforcement.

EVERY ONE. ALL OF US. ALL OF YOU.

We have to decide which way we want to fail.

Do we want to allow probable harassers in our conventions, and defend everyone’s right to presumed innocence and evidentiary rules?

Do we want to blacklist and ban people on hearsay and rumor, and protect abused victims at all costs?

Do we want to strike a middle ground of calm reasonableness, and offend everyone on every side through milquetoast half-measures?

Take your pick.

No, I mean it. Choose how you are going to proceed and fucking proceed.

Someone will rake you across the coals no matter WHAT you do. So pick a damn position.

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What sticks with you

It’s funny, what sticks with me from the books I read when I was younger.

I ponder this as I watch what fiction my kids take in. J and I have talked about this, about how there’s no way of knowing how kids process stories. I, for instance, read a lot of things as prescriptive when they were probably meant as descriptive — and descriptive of dysfunctional or terrible things, at that. Observing my habits, no-one on the outside could know that understood the Little House on the Prairie television series to mean “conform at any cost, lest the entire town know and shame you,” but that I found Stephen King’s IT to be inspirational literature.

Tl;dr, people’s heads are complicated.

I digress.

The point I set out to make, however, is that sometimes the oddest little things stick in my head. There’s a series of books, the Fifth Millenium books, jointly written by S.M. Stirling, Shirley Meier, and Karen Wehrstein. They are post-apocalyptic fantasy, full of cultural mashups and depictions of women, queers, and people of color that were liberating to teenage-Sigrid, but are, um … more problematic, now.

(Still. I can’t slam those books entirely, even though I wince at many bits. First portrayal of lesbian and bisexual women who actually had sex I had ever read in my life.)

Hm. I digress again.

ANYWAY.

The bits that sticks with me the most comes from Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul, the two books by Karen Wehrstein that tell the life of Chevenga, leader of the army that destroys the evil Arkan Empire. In them, at some point Chevenga is pondering something he calls the size of his shadow. How we go through our lives and we do things, and we cannot predict how those actions ripple through people’s lives. We can’t predict or control how our shadow falls. Yet, we owe it to others and to ourselves to be aware of our effect in the world. We need to remember to look behind ourselves and see if we have thoughtlessly caused harm or offence. And, if so, we need to turn around and go try to repair the damage.

I think about that, when I look at human systems. The actors, in these systems, do they know where their shadows fall? Do they care? How much of a given mess could be fixed by someone stopping to turn around and check the path of their actions, to reach out and help someone back up?

It’s funny what sticks with you, in books. Knowing where your shadow falls.

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Poison dart frogs!

This weekend, J got a pair of poison dart frogs!

The FIRST thing you need to know is, poison dart frogs raised in captivity are not poisonous. The toxin they excrete comes from insects in their diet in the wild. In captivity, they don’t eat those specific insects, and hence are not poisonous.

Phew.

The upside is, they are cute and adorable and fun!

The downside is, they eat specially-bred flightless fruit flies. This in-and-of-itself would not be a problem. However, the flightless sort are cross-fertile with the flying sort, and we have a localized population of those in the tank of giant millipedes. So the odds of an explosion in the household fruit fly population are … unfortunately quite good.

So.

We shall see!

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Well, that’s a diagnosis of sorts

For those of you following along at home, I have some sort of ongoing throat … issue. For a terrible week in February of this year I was diagnosed with throat cancer. (Which I don’t have, as it happens.) The last … year, more or less, has been an effort to figure out what’s wrong with my throat.

The latest throat biopsy results came in, and I have …

… da-da-daaah! …

… reactive lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate.

I recommend you don’t google it. All the results come back “sqaumous cell carcinoma,” which is the cancer diagnosis I had in February.

Which, I don’t have.

So, barring cancer, what “reactive lymphoplasmacytic infiltrate” means is “there’s weird gunk in your throat and the cells keep bursting and we don’t know why and it’s EVERYWHERE.”

So.

That’s a thing.

The next step is go talk to a rheumatologist. I’m not sure why? Possibly because they are simply out of ideas …

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