I attended WisCon 38 this weekend and had a fabulous time. Some highlights:
I watched a young woman of color, a self-described fangirl, meet a hero. Shivering, eyes welling with tears, she introduced herself to NK Jemisin, who responded warmly and graciously. Though I could not hear their conversation, I saw that it NEEDED to happen. This young woman needed to meet Jemisin, needed to tell her how much her work meant, needed to have her hero-worship met with respect and thanks.
Think back on all the stories we've heard of young women approaching their favorite authors in other times and places, only to be condescended to, brushed off, or sexually assaulted
. The SFF community needs to be different, and better. WisCon tries and often succeeds.
I watched the Tiptree award winner, Nike Sulway, struggle through tears to tell the audience about how many times her book, Rupetta
, was rejected before Tartarus Press came to the rescue. Sulway mentioned her other life as an academic, and I imagined what it must've been like, to carry on professionally while her heart was aching, maybe breaking, on the long road to Rupetta
's publication. Sulway really NEEDED to hear the silly, celebratory song written for her and Rupetta
, to be welcomed into the Tiptree community, to be cheered by an entire ballroom audience.
Think about other venues, where tears would've been unseemly. Think about Sulway moving forward on her next projects with the knowledge—not hope, but knowledge—that there is an audience for her work, people who live and breathe with her characters, fans ready to devour her next literary feast. Her future will be different, and I hope, better because of WisCon.
I listened to the tremulous emotion in NK Jemisin's voice as she related her trials of the previous year, the defiant calm as she restated and refined her case, the awesome power as she called us to arms and the implacable righteousness as she urged us to fucking FIGHT—for our lives, for our art, for our future. We NEEDED to hear that speech
, all of us
, not just the POC in the audience. And, given Jemisin's comments right before her speech, that she wasn't completely sure what she was going to do until she heard co-Guest of Honor Hiromi Goto's speech
, Jemisin needed a boost of inspiration, too.
Think about other venues, where Jemisin would've been booed and heckled, where people would've walked out, where she would have been confronted, attacked, assaulted, for speaking Truth to Power. WisCon can be different, better. In this case, I think it was.
I sat in a mostly white audience that was listening (and hopefully learning) from a panel composed entirely of black women. Where else would that happen?
But for all the good WisCon 38 achieved, for all the happiness it gave me and others, more needs to happen.
We need to revise and/or ENFORCE the WisCon harassment policy.
It is inexcusable that a known serial sexual harasser (James Frenkel) would be allowed to attend WisCon the year after abusing two women and being fired from his position at Tor as a result. [Scroll down to the Frenkel discussion in this storify, "WisCon and Harassment
" (the Bergmann discussion is relevant, too, and I'll get to that in a minute). See also Lauren Jankowski's reaction
to discovering Frenkel was attending.] ETA: Note that Ms. Jankowski has revised her statement since I initially posted. Please take that into account when referencing/reblogging. ETA2: Lauren's followup post is here. Thanks to Elise Matthesen for providing that link.
What a slap in the face to women who endured Frenkel's abuse to see this unrepentant offender all over the con! What callous disregard for newcomers and those who cannot identify Frenkel on sight so as to avoid him! What a thoughtless decision to allow this offender to volunteer in the consuite, thus endangering some of our most vulnerable guests!
WisCon needs to be different, and it needs to be better. There are several members on the concom who want to fix the Frenkel fail. Folks who attended WisCon can help by filling out the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/YJTNMMZ
. Even if you didn't attend this year's con, you can express your dismay at Frenkel's inclusion by emailing the concom: firstname.lastname@example.org
. (ETA: This email address is the one provided on the survey. On Twitter, I was informed by the WisCon38 account that they prefer to receive general feedback at email@example.com .)
Frenkel is not the only problematic guest attending WisCon. Another documented case of harassment
, that perpetrated by FJ Bergmann against Rose Lemberg, has apparently been ignored by WisCon organizers. [see also the references to Bergmann in the "WisCon and Harassment" storify] Perhaps because Bergmann is local and a long-time attendee? Whatever the excuse, because of Bergmann's behavior at WisCon 36 and WisCon's failure to address the matter, Rose Lemberg, an editor, publisher, and author crucial to the new wave of intersectional speculative SFF no longer feels safe attending WisCon. And several of the authors Lemberg has mentored and championed, who could contribute valuable new voices to WisCon, do not feel safe attending, either. What a trade-off we have made! This is another matter to address when you give feedback to WisCon, whether via survey or email.
Other authors and editors who could offer valuable insights to WisCon programming have given up after years of their panel ideas being ignored, misunderstood, or mishandled
. I believe the variety of panels has improved to include more traditionally marginalized voices, but panel assignments still need to be vetted more carefully. For example, why were the "How to Ally" panelists all white, while the moderator was a WoC? Was the "Escaping the Hair Police" panel as representative as it could have been? If you found fault with any panel's composition, be sure to include that info in your feedback.
I'm told the concom is looking to improve panel assignments, by letting those of us who suggest panels flag ones that need special attention. In the meantime, we can help ensure parity and the best-informed participants by including notes when we suggest panels: "PoC only," "needs non-US participants," "trans person should be on panel," "must be moderated by a WoC," etc. We can also name specific people we'd like to participate, although they are of course not obligated to do so. And if you fall into a traditionally marginalized group, consider volunteering to moderate or sit on panels, if you can. It's easy for folks to burnout if they always have to act as spokesperson.
A few more thoughts for making WisCon different, better, safer for everyone:
Moderators should avoid assuming gender when calling on audience members. Rather than "First the woman in red, the man in the back, then the woman with long hair" the moderator could say "First the person in red, you standing in the back, then the person in the kilt." No one wants to be misgendered, least of all at a con that purports to care about gender and trans* issues. (I was on a panel where the moderator made this mistake, and I felt bad but failed to speak up. I might need to rehearse a quick interjection for that scenario.)
Folks, don't go up to a stranger and ask them if they are "so-and-so." If you're the person asked, it's hard to answer in the negative without feeling like a disappointment. And if you're asking a POC, you give the impression that you think all POC look alike. Instead, introduce yourself, wait for the person to reciprocate, and be prepared to chit-chat whatever their response. And, for goodness sake, do not inquire as to the origin of someone's name or whether it's a family name or married name. Just, no.
And a last request: Many of the folks I've quoted or linked to in this post are DONE and DONE talking about WisCon.
They've said their piece, documented it, and are not up for reopening old wounds. Please be respectful of them.
Don't drag them into these discussions yet again. Instead, learn from what they've already said and fashion new solutions with their experiences in mind.
I really do love WisCon, but I would love it even more if ALL my friends felt safe, welcome, and valued there. We have made progress. We can make more.