A few post-Wiscon thoughts on being an ally

I’ve had a week or so to process some of the events at Wiscon. I’ve read a few posts from other people, I’ve listened to folks chatting on Twitter. And I have this to say about who is or is not welcome at Wiscon.

It’s change.

Change is complicated.

A few points, as I’ve been pondering them:

1. I, personally, did not feel unwelcome at any point at Wiscon.

1a. That’s not to say I was always welcome! I may not have been! But, if so, I did not notice. Erm. My apologies, here, then, to anyone’s conversation or gathering I crashed when you would have preferred I did not.

1b. I am white! And I’ve been going to Wiscon for ages! And I have some publishing credits! I am, in short, just about the exact template of People Who Have Always Gone to Wiscon. So of course I’m welcome.

1c. But what I mean to say is, at no point did the presence of people of color and genderfluid folks cause me to feel that I was not welcome.

1d. What *did* happen, though, is that I was excrutiatingly aware of who was speaking and whose literal voice was given privilege in panels and discussions. I scrupulously followed my mods (thank you Tanya!) when they told me to hush. When I was a mod I worked very hard to call on listeners without using gendered labels (and I noticed when I screwed it up, sorry to the “gentleman in the back” I called on!) and to give speaking time to all panelists. I may have audibly shushed a fellow audience member who was talking over a panelist.

1e. Awareness is not bad. Self-awareness is good. Awareness of my privilage in the spaces of Wiscon is good. Awareness means I then get to choose what sort of person I want to be — will I be a person who shares, who ceeds space and platform, who listens actively, or will I be a massive failbot of temper-tantrum? I strongly prefer to be the former, not the latter.

2. What the HELL is this nonsense about treating the hotel staff poorly?

2a. The Concourse runs a unionized shop, yo. If we keep treating them badly, I fully expect our room rates to go up. Act in your own self-interest if for no other reason, and treat the staff well.

2b. This includes the all-volunteer staff running the convention. I am so peeved about the treatment on the ConSuite staff and space that I am mildly tempted to volunteer for ConSuite next year JUST SO I CAN SHAME ALL Y’ALL WHO DID NOT CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELVES.

2c. Everyone. Working. At. The. Concourse. Is. A. Human. Being. If that’s not a sufficient reason for you to treat them decently, then kindly get the hell out of a convention devoted to intersectional feminism.

3. I was so glad to hear the Wiscon is treating all attendees better than we once did.

3a. Of course there is room for improvement. Of course.

3b. But reading reports about the PoC dinner made me so happy. And hearing that Mark Oshiro had a pretty great con made me so happy. And being on panels with PoC coming to their first Wiscon made me so happy.

3c. And hearing Justine Larbalestier say that she enjoyed the con, when she had stopped going in the past because she wasn’t welcome, made me feel good.

3d. I look forward to the further improvements we make!

*

And this brings me to the rough part. The part that is as-yet not fully formed in my head.

I was watching the NetFlix series Grace and Frankie, and it made me think about Wiscon. See, the characters of Grace and Frankie were feminists in their young and middle adulthood. They were progressives. They were even a bit radical. Grace started and owned a successful business. Frankie explored other people and cultures. They were strong, independent, successful women.

By the time the show comes around and we meet them, they are out of step with today. Grace’s feminism looks shrill and hateful towards other women. Frankie’s progressive politics look like condescending cultural appropriation. Frankie and Grace have not changed; they world has moved on.

And they are angry about it.

Watching these tv characters rail at their lives, I thought of my fandom elders. People ten, twenty years older than me. People who raised me in fandom, people I have looked up to my entire adult life.

Some of them have evolved, have stepped along with the moving standards of progressive intersectional radical politics.

Others have not.

I feel for the folks who find themselves condemned for holding the same views they have always held. How bewildering, how enraging! How fucking FRUSTRATING to be told what was okay five years ago is not okay now! And how bitterly painful to be told that all the work you did, all the fights you won, are just not fucking good enough anymore!

Here’s the thing: if the fates are kind, all of us will one day be old in fandom. Two, three, four generations will pile in after us, building on what we have fostered. We, too, will be pushed to the margins and passed by.

Yet my heart and head are with the youth. With the future. I cannot bring myself to condemn change that spreads power among more people. I cannot argue against hearing more people tell their own stories. I cannot stand against representation, inclusion.

And yet, and yet, and yet …

What I want, what a crave, is for people to LISTEN to each other. To empathize. I want the young’ns to thank those who came before for their victories, however incremental. I want the founders and established folks to respect the anger and impatient demands for change. I want the next generation to not throw out everything just because it was done before. I want the previous generation to avoid “because we always do it this way” as a reason.

When I hear some Old Fart say something dismissive and intolerant, I wince. I want to prevent my respected elders from showing their ass in public, I want to cover for them, I want to protect them from being overheard.

When I hear some Young Turk calling to burn it all to the ground and start again, I wince. I want to run interference, I want to soften their demands, I want to compromise and meet them halfway.

I love the rage and fearlessness of those a generation or two behind me.

I love the knowledge and accomplishment of those a generation or two ahead of me.

What I want, what I need, is a fannish community that values both.

*

*

7 Responses

  1. This is pretty much everything I’ve been thinking about this whole ‘welcome’ issue. Thank you.

  2. Some good thoughts here, but I have to take issue with this for a few reasons:

    I feel for the folks who find themselves condemned for holding the same views they have always held. How bewildering, how enraging! How fucking FRUSTRATING to be told what was okay five years ago is not okay now! And how bitterly painful to be told that all the work you did, all the fights you won, are just not fucking good enough anymore!

    1) “Holding the same views they’ve always held” is not necessarily a good thing. Having the capacity to question and adjust the beliefs one holds is something that I’m okay with expecting adults to do. And what if those “condemned” views are actively harmful to other people? Being told that this is the case might make one feel embarrassed, or upset — if you’re bewildered by this, ask questions; if you’re enraged, then that doesn’t seem like a terribly mature response, to me. (And, “condemned for their views” — I’m curious about examples of this. I’ve seen discussion of people being called out, or of people’s actions being condemned, but in this context… who’s been condemned for their views? A respectful call-out is not condemnation.)

    2) Just because nobody told someone that something was not okay five years ago — or because one didn’t hear someone saying it wasn’t okay — doesn’t mean it was okay. Racism/sexism/ -ism wasn’t okay five years ago, and it’s not okay now; the only thing that’s changed in the last five years (at WisCon, at any rate) is how likely someone is to hear and take in that message, and how likely they are to be held accountable for bad behavior.

    3) Doing hard work (or even good work) in the past doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep working. Winning fights in the past may have helped to get us to where we are now, and I’m certainly grateful for that, but there is still work to be done & fights to win. This is work that is ongoing; the work of intersectional feminism, anti-racism, ally work, etc is ongoing.

    Here’s the thing: if the fates are kind, all of us will one day be old in fandom. Two, three, four generations will pile in after us, building on what we have fostered. We, too, will be pushed to the margins and passed by.

    I’m really puzzled by this narrative that “older” members of WisCon are being “pushed to the margins and passed by” — by whom? In what way? With one exception, everyone who stepped away from the concom did so of their own accord, and in most cases we are still hearing from them, taking their advice, and they are attending WisCon. At what ages do people actually see this happening in fandom (in general) or at WisCon (in particular)? There were speakers at Opening Ceremonies who’ve been attending & working with WisCon for over 3 decades — I don’t understand where this idea that older folks at WisCon are marginalized is coming from.

  3. Hi raanve! I’ve seen you around the internets!

    I hear you.

    1) I, speaking for ME, completely agree with you! But I also understand the sense of bewilderment and anger from people not expecting to be called out on things. I have felt that from time to time. I, personally, have not always responded the way I now try to respond! I have sympathy for the *feelings*, the *emotions*, of anger and shame.

    What I want is for folks who feel that way to learn and grow and change.

    2) OF COURSE.

    But I was at Wiscon during some pretty peak times of biphobia, transphobia, racism, and overall ignorant or deliberate intolerance, and a lot of folks — myself included — tolerated it. It was just .. normal harassment, to be expected. And now, being called on those unacceptable behaviors can feel to some folks like the rules changed, not merely their awareness of those standards.

    I am so pleased that accepting intolerance is no longer considered normal! And I am personally ashamed of my past behavior of acceptance. I feel I have a lot of debt to work off.

    3) The work is OBVIOUSLY ongoing. I am so pleased with the transformations at Wiscon and in fandom overall. I look forward to more change. I try to be an aware part of those changes, however imperfectly I may execute that intention.

    It is my devout hope that everyone can learn to acknowledge both the achievements of the past AND the need to continue the work. And I intend to continue the work in my own life. (Part of that is me posting things like this; imperfect, listening, thinking.)

    As for the marginalization narrative, well, it’s something I hear from some people. Not Wiscon specifically, but at Wiscon, sure, there are some folks. I think maybe I hear if from people who understand that I … I am in the middle, I suppose, of the cultural shift. Folks who remember me as a young pup, and hope that I remember them well. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think “oh my GOD whatever gave you the impression I AGREE with what you are saying and what can I say to ensure you never think that again!!!”

    I’m not talking about The Wiscon ConComm, or The Founding Mothers, or any specific group. Just, a few quiet conversations over the last few years at a few different conventions.

    Mostly, though, I just watched the “Grace and Frankie” NetFlix series, and it made me think differently about things. A little more empathy for everyone, a little less of my internal narrative being super-quick to judge and dismiss.

  4. “I love the rage and fearlessness of those a generation or two behind me.
    I love the knowledge and accomplishment of those a generation or two ahead of me.
    What I want, what I need, is a fannish community that values both.”

    I am so glad to hear you say this.

    Fandom should value both because Fandom NEEDS both in order to grow and thrive.

    Knowledge and experience from the past is always valuable, even if it is only a litany of the mistakes that were made (and the corrections applied). Fearlessness and the ability to remain plastic and interested in taking new approaches, of being willing to question the status quo tempers and refines that earned knowledge and allows fandom to adapt.

    What Fandom needs, I think, what sums up what you are getting at, is that we should all extend respect to each other along with a willingness to genuinely listen to each other.

    When that young whippersnapper says “why don’t we…?”, lets drop the knee jerk responses of “that has never worked” or “we just don’t do things that way”; when that old fart says “we’ve tried that already and it didn’t work”, how about if we ALL respond with “lets put our heads together and see if we can improve things together”.and lets remember, as you pointed out, this is a constantly evolving, protean process that has largely managed, over the past 8 decades to harness both youthful exuberance and mature experience successfully because in the long run, everyone wants the same thing – a community that they can feel they are a welcome participant.

  5. Hi, I came here via a link at File 770. Very well said!

    I have one small quibble with 2a: treating non-unionized staff badly is just as likely to raise your rates as treating the staff badly at a unionized hotel. (Or to get your event not invited back to that hotel, and make it that much harder to move because people in the hotel industry talk to each other.)

  6. Hey, S Klein, I deleted your comment because it was off-topic and hostile. You can try again if you like!

  7. I really liked this essay.
    There is a thing that people should know about Wiscon, and that’s that has a thousand people at it and you only see your own slice of it. I am now hearing stories about Wiscons from some time ago that I had no idea about — just as an example, I met Justine Larbelestier at Wiscon 20, thought she was awesome, and was pleased to see her later. And in 2006 she wrote “In Praise of Wiscon” on her blog (http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2006/05/13/in-praise-of-wiscon/). So sometime after that, she obviously had a less-good Wiscon experience — and I’m very sorry to hear it — but I had no idea. So I am very happy she could come back as a GoH and feel good about it.
    I think this is an excellent lesson in realizing that the person right next to you is not having the same con experience you are having.

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