TWITTER, I JUST WATCHED A MAN TELL A WOMAN AT A GAS STATION TO SMILE AND THEN IMMEDIATELY WALK INTO A GLASS DOOR.
My experience as a guest of honor at a con, being harassed, and having nothing done about it: facebook.com/markdoesstuff/…
TRIGGER WARNING: For extended, detailed talk of racism, sexual harassment, abuse This has not been an easy post for me to write. I'm keeping the introduction of it relatively short because I've got a lot of ground to cover. Over the past nine months or so, the events of my weekend at ConQuesT 46 have haunted me, and recent events inspired me to finally talk about my experience. I have spoken to nearly fifteen people, most of whom are a part of the SF/F community, about what happened to me so that I could get some insight. Was what I experienced wrong? Was I imagining the intensity of the weekend? Is it wrong for me to publicly talk about it? In light of what I'll reveal at the end, I find it more important than ever to talk about the persistent and pervasive racial and sexual abuse/harassment I was the victim of at ConQuesT because I did everything I was told to do in the event that I was harassed. I reported most of the events you'll see described below, and I did not do so anonymously. I stuck my name on every incident report, partly because I was not afraid, but mostly because I wanted things to change. If putting my name on a report ensured that a better community could be built from my actions, then I felt it was worth it. Alas, that does not seem to be the case. * I was invited to be the Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT 46. (From here on out, GoH will stand for Guest of Honor.) I was thrilled to take part in it, not just because I'd attended ConQuesT 45, but because George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson would be guests alongside me. Hey, for my first GoH gig, that's a pretty spectacular line-up! I arrived to Kansas City on the Wednesday before the convention, and my friend at the time (now partner) Baize was my guest. We headed to the con hotel and, upon check-in, discovered that we were placed in the secondary tower of the hotel, not the main one; the room was also not paid for, so I had to put my own card down. This was fixed by the time dinner was over, but it was a disconcerting start to a bad weekend. On Thursday evening, I was driven to Jack Stack BBQ for the guest of honor dinner, which Baize and I were quite excited about. We are both fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books and the show, so it felt like a very special occasion. We were ten minutes or so late due to going to the wrong location first. When we arrived, all of the guests of honor were present with their own guests, and they were all seated at the table. There were two open spots next to George R.R. Martin, so I gestured to them as I arrived, and Baize and I moved to sit in them. The con chair, Kristina Hiner, stopped us. She told us the seats were for her and her husband. She then gestured behind us to an empty table two tables away from the main one, and told us we could sit there. By ourselves. I am certain she saw the glare of anger on my face and the confusion on my guest’s. We were so shocked that we couldn’t even say anything. She then quickly suggested that we sit at the table with the staff members, and we took the only two spots left at said table. They were literally the farthest point away from the Guest of Honor table. If it were not for our friend Jesi and two other staff members who briefly greeted us, not one person at that table would have ever said a word to us. We were ignored and segregated from the main table the entire time. (As a brief aside, I wanted to provide some emotional context to this. Baize and I were the only people of color in this entire group, and both of us are gay. I've struggled my whole life with reading situations to see if I'm actually being discriminated against, and the fear that that had happened to us was particularly strong that whole dinner. We are both part of marginalized communities that had very little representation in this group, and it became impossible not to consider the possibility that we were treated differently because of it.) At the end of the meal, I was asked to pay for mine and my guest's meal, unlike the entire guest of honor table. This was rectified after I told the server to please tell Kristina to include us on the main bill, which had nearly been paid for without us on it. After the meal, Kristina finally spoke to me after our initial confrontation, and I told her that we were in the wrong hotel, that my room had not been paid for, and that I felt weird about the evening. She assured me that everything would be taken care of and that my guest and I would be treated well. I'm including this at the start of this because I want everyone to have context. While I didn't make a report about this or opening ceremonies, I thought it relevant to include it here. It is necessary to help explain the atmosphere of this convention. When it wasn't outright hostile to Baize and I, we were utterly invisible. Mistakes happen at cons, and by no means do I think that ConQuesT or ANY convention should never have anything go wrong ever. However, this was the start of an unnerving pattern. By the time I got to programming on Friday afternoon, I felt deeply uncomfortable about my experience at ConQuesT thus far. I had two panels that I was on prior to Opening Ceremonies. I was moderating a panel titled, "Are Fans More Open Minded?" The panel progressed wonderfully for about ten minutes before it was derailed and then never made it back to normal. Early into the panel, someone in the audience made a joke about the panelist Selina Rosen, who sat next to me on my left and was ALSO a Guest of Honor at the convention. They called her a princess, and in response, she stood up and pulled her pants down to her ankles. For the next few minutes, Selina, wearing nothing but men’s boxers, proceeded to periodically rub her bare leg against mine. At first, I thought she was merely bumping me, but she kept doing it, over and over, and if I looked at her while she was doing it, she would make a face at me. I texted Keri O'Brien, the Vice Chair for the convention, and told her that Selina had taken off her pants again. (She had done so at ConQuesT 45.) Within a few minutes, Selina had pulled her pants back up and Keri arrived and pulled Selina out of the room. Selina returned, and she made the bulk of the remainder of the panel about how fandom was NOT open-minded because someone had reported her for removing her pants. Multiple things happened in response to this. In a strange sign of solidarity, another panelist, Robin Wayne Bailey, removed his OWN shirt and kept talking about his nice body and his big muscles. Selina tried to grill multiple members of the audience to determine if they had been the ones to report her, even going so far as to yell at anyone who chose to leave the room, accusing them of being a "rat." Near the end of the panel, an audience member asked the panel if fandom could be considered open-minded when it clung to so many of its own racist/sexist/homophobic heroes uncritically. Specifically, I addressed this in the context of the World Fantasy Award and brought up the fact that many people do not think we should criticize H.P. Lovecraft. Robin Bailey then responded by saying that anyone who spoke about Lovecraft's racism should be considered "human garbage," and said that Lovecraft was just a product of his time. Following this panel, I went to opening ceremonies, where I once again felt invisible when Selina Rosen skipped introducing me. It was not until people in the audience yelled this out that they came back to me. On Friday night, at a room party in the main hotel, my partner Baize was sexually and racially harassed by someone attending the same dance party: Liz Gooch. At multiple points during the evening, she gestured behind him as if she were going to grab his butt. She kept referring to it as his "juicy booty." She danced around him and told me to "not let this sweet piece of chocolate go." Despite that our body language clearly showed discomfort, Liz would not stop harassing either of us. We had to move to another side of the room, and we eventually told the person running the party what she was doing. We both considered that perhaps she had been so forward and gross because she was drunk, but I had multiple interactions with Liz Gooch when she was sober following that night. The next morning, she was leaving an elevator as I was getting in a different one. She turned around and made a number of sexual gestures while pointing at Baize, which including kissing faces, winks, and licking her lips in an exaggerated manner. On Sunday afternoon, I was the moderator on a panel titled, “Erasure is Not Equality.” This panel was specifically about the erasure of people of color in historical fiction, fantasy, and other genres. I was the only person on the panel who was not white. Furthermore, not one person on the panel seemed to understand the point of the panel, which was to talk about erasure. Instead, the conversation teetered between self-righteous back-patting and flat-out racism. Within the first five minutes of the start of the panel, I brought up a topic for us to discuss: how “historical accuracy” is often poorly used as a defense of the erasure of people of color. One panelist, Chris Gerrib, then began to talk about how people misunderstood history. The “Indian” people in Central America were already busy “killing each other” by the time the Spaniards arrived. When I asked for clarification, Gerrib confirmed that he believed that the Spaniards were “unfairly blamed” for the genocide of the indigenous cultures in Central America. I was so horrified by his continued talk of this ahistorical point that, after very little conversation, I asked that we change topic. This set a tone for the remainder of the panel, which was easily the worst panel I have ever been a part of. All three of the white panelists confidently stated things that were simply not true; each of them kept saying “Indian” when they actually meant Native American or indigenous; every few minutes, more than half the audience was viscerally horrified by what the other panelists said. At one point, Jan Gephardt derailed the panel into talking about women instead of race and said that she was “happy to see any sort of women, like black or white or green.” Gerrib then chimed in with, “Or purple.” She also responded to a lengthy point that myself and an audience member made about the physical and emotional injury that can come from experiencing racism by reminding us that “racism is not real” because race “is just a social construct.” During a different conversation about how many authors mistakenly blur the line between different cultural groups, Chris Gerrib jokingly said, “Did you know that the Japanese aren’t the same as the Chinese?” Jan’s response? The Japanese and Chinese just think they’re different in their heads. She heavily implied that they were mistaken in this belief. Holly Messinger, a ConQuesT staff member, was also on the panel. She spent a great deal of time talking only about her own work, repeating the message that she had read “five books on Indians” and that she had written her first black character, who kept the white character “sane.” She stated at one point that she was “terrified” about the response her book would get because people would get “mad” about her writing an “Indian” character. When I asked for clarification – specifically, was she worried about getting representation wrong? – she told the room that she had no concern about that. She’d read five books about “Indians.” She was concerned that people of color would misinterpret her. There were many more incidents on this panel, and I could not recount them all here. The panel ended on a sour note, too. Baize spoke up and pointed out that part of the problem with erasure was that there was only one person of color on a panel about race. Holly Messinger shot back, “Well, we’re in the Midwest.” I left the panel feeling drained and numb. If you were at ConQuesT that weekend and you wondered why Closing Ceremonies started late, it’s my fault. I dashed up to my hotel room to cry because I felt so triggered, rejected, and alone. I’ve been on uncomfortable panels, but this was unique. The entire panel was argumentative; my questions as moderator were constantly avoided or ignored; anything I tried to state was fought or dismissed or contradicted. It was exhausting. Sunday night, at the viewing party for the fireworks display, someone accidentally sat on a remote and turned off the live news broadcast. A man behind Baize and I yelled out, “Cocksucker!” at whomever made the TV go off. We were both holding hands at the time, and while we didn’t think the expletive was directed at us, we still turned around and glared at the man. After the fireworks, I left the room quickly because… well, I’d heard so much nonsense all weekend that I needed to get out of that space before I lost my temper. The man sent his friend after us – some young woman whose name I did not get – who then harassed us for nearly a minute by repeatedly telling us that her friend was sorry and that we “needed” to know that he was a nice person and not a bigot. When I told her that I didn’t care, she actually said, “But I need you to know he’s a really nice guy.” It took me telling her, “Please leave me alone right now” for her to leave the hallway. That night, I reported all of these incidents in one long session with Keri O’Brien and Jesi Pershing. They were both incredibly professional and sympathetic to myself and Baize, and I have nothing negative to say about that specific experience. They did exactly as they should: they made the two of us feel better, and they were very thorough in getting details about all of the above experiences. I was asked what I wanted done. I did not recommend that anyone get kicked out or un-invited for future years. I simply wanted two things: 1) That those I reported not be allowed on programming that triggered such a terrible response in them. (That was mostly in regards to the “Erasure is Not Equality” panel. A panel about race should not have one lone person of color on it.) 2) That someone tell these people that there’d been a report made about their behavior and that they should not behave in a way to make people feel so upset and unwanted. I was realistic about what I wanted. You can’t make everything a teaching moment, and some people might not want to learn. But I needed someone to tell each of these people that their actions made someone else feel terribly unwelcome at the convention. I just wanted the conversation to be started. * I moved on. It’s now been nearly nine months since this happened. Why did I wait so long? Why didn’t I say anything earlier? Initially, it’s because I believed the process would work. I completed about seven incident reports total, as far as I can recall. I put my name on them, and I signed them. I was told that the concom would discuss them, and that, at the very least, some action would be taken, either a notification about their behavior and a warning, OR people would not be invited back for programming in the future. Months went by. Jesi Pershing, in her official capacity as part of the concom, would give me periodic updates. Sometimes, if I saw her at another con, I would ask her what the status of my reports were. She had recommended specific courses of action in response to my incident reports, and Kristina seemed to agree to them. But last month, she finally told me that, nearly eight months after I’d reported multiple people, ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner had done absolutely nothing with my reports. I’ll reiterate that. No one was contacted. No one was spoken to. As far as I know, none of these people even know that they harassed me or my partner. Neither Kristina Hiner nor any of the Board ever took the steps to make any sort of follow-up happen. When Jesi realized that there was not going to be any movement whatsoever on this, she decided to step down from ConQuesT as a staff member. She could not, in good conscious, continue to work for an organizing that refuses to take action. Harassment is unfortunately a part of my experience at SF/F conventions. Not at all of them, but at most of them, something happens to me. I’m an outspoken queer Latinx, and it’s inevitable. However, since ConQuesT, every con staff that I’ve had to make a report to has dealt with my report quickly and fairly. At ConFusion this year, the concom dealt with my incident report in two hours. Meaning they spoke to the person and that person apologized to my face within two hours. At that point, it almost seemed comical that over half a year had passed, and both ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner did nothing at all. That’s why I’m talking. I did what I was supposed to. I kept quiet, I trusted the system in place, and it completely failed me. I will not be attending ConQuesT this year or for the foreseeable future. (I’m going to WisCon for the first time instead!) I don’t feel safe there, and ultimately, that’s why this bothers me so much. There are people who are part of that community who were actively hostile to me, and when I reported them, the message was sent loud and clear: We don’t care about you. At all. You have my permission to share this post on your own pages or outside Facebook.
I just need y'all to know there is an older woman on my train with a shirt on that says: MY NECK MY BACK MY NETFLIX AND MY SNACKS
I am at a diner and the woman across the way from me is on a horrible date where she has eviscerated this dude for the following things:
As promised, I wanted to make a post to update everyone on what sort of response I've gotten in the wake of my report about ConQuesT 46. I wanted to wait a few days to make sure that some people and organizations HAD a chance to respond if they wanted to. Here's what I know so far: 1) Firstly, I wanted to thank the unreal number of you who have responded to this, boosted it elsewhere and given me support. I'm not naïve enough to think this wouldn't go viral, as I have a decent-sized readership and friends in this community. But the response to this has been way, way bigger than I expected, and the overwhelming positivity and support from many folks who are total strangers is heartwarming and empowering. I really do appreciate it. This was something I ached over for months, and in the weeks leading up to posting my story, I was an endless ball of anxiety about what would happen. Y'all made it worth it in that sense. Thank you. 2) It is very surreal to have think pieces written about it. But my post started a very necessary conversation, and it is one thing I'm very proud of. I want people to talk about this topic, and it's happening all over the Internet and offline, and goddamn, that's really cool. Super huge thanks to Diane Duane, Tamora Pierce, Jim C. Hines, Mike Glyer, Mikki Kendall, Mary Robinette Kowal, Keri O'Brien, Jesi Pershing, Natalie Luhrs, and the many, many people who have helped signal boost this and start conversations elsewhere. I appreciate you. 3) MidAmeriCon II was the first to make a public statement, which you can find on their Twitter account. I wasn't expecting a response from them, so I appreciated a very direct message about their commitment to safety for this year's WorldCon. I *am* going to be at WorldCon, even if some of the people who were responsible at ConQuesT are on staff/the board. WorldCon has become a tradition for me because it was my first introduction to this community, so I will be there and be on programming. Say hello if you like! 4) Chris Gerrib was the first to apologize to me, and I appreciated and accepted the apology. I respect that he did so without being asked to. 5) Yesterday, Kristina Hiner sent me an apology. I am keeping it private because I see no reason to publish it. It is a *very* good apology, and I accepted it, too. I am very thankful for her response, and more so than anyone else, she was the only person I really *wanted* an apology from. I have also informed her that at this point, I actually don't need each of the complaints followed up on at this point. It seems redundant to me. Everyone knows about the post now, and I don't need an apology from anyone else. I just wanted someone to inform these people that their behavior was unwelcoming, rude, or hostile. I've now done that, so I think the board and ConQuesT can devote time and energy to future conventions instead of last year's. 6) The Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (KACSFFS), who are the board responsible for ConQuesT, have posted…. well, I don't know what it is. It is a saccharine, vague, and laughable attempt at… I don't even know. The post seems to immediately shift the blame to the "volunteer chairs and convention committee, who change from year to year." Not only that, but the person who posted it? LITERALLY ONE OF THE PEOPLE I MADE A REPORT ABOUT. The board itself is comprised of the person who was responsible for programming last year (Earline "Cricket" Beebe), Kristina Hiner, Jan Gephardt, Keri O'Brien, and Diana Bailey, Robin Wayne Bailey's wife. The only believable person on that board who could have said that they didn't know of any problems is the president, Margene Bahm. So to immediately try to make it seem like they're ~just finding out~ about what happened is offensive and hilarious. The message itself makes ambiguous references to what happened to Baize and me, but addresses absolutely nothing. Nothing! It's like someone felt compelled to respond with ANYTHING rather than something thoughtful and meaningful. I still can't get over the fact that Jan posted it. Lord. 7) No one else has apologized. Selina, Jan, and Robin have all claimed I'm lying, despite multiple people witnessing what they did. (With one exception, and this detail was left out of the first post: There was a long table-to-floor tablecloth on the tables for the panels, so no one could see what Selina did to me, which made the moment so much more terrible. Imagine everyone is laughing at something, unaware of what was really happening. UGH.) I've heard nothing from Liz Gooch or Holly Messinger. I anticipated a number of people disagreeing with what I did, telling me that it wasn't important or necessary, or even disagreeing with the meaning behind much of what was posted. I also expected the gaslighting, too. And there's been a lot of it. I appreciate the friends and strangers who were there who have spoken up in my defense and told some of these people that no, you absolutely did what I said. Thank you for that. 8) On that note, I'd like to thank all the people who have defended me from a particular person "in" this community who goes by the initials VD. I've never done anything to this person, but they posted about me, hosted a character-assassination free-for-all, and sent countless people to my Twitter and Facebook to say terrible things to me. It was very cool to see people acting as allies in this context. I saw you, and I appreciate you. My block/ban buttons on both sites have been seeing a lot of action these past few days because I have no interest in engaging with these people. But I will say that it has provided me much amusement to know that those folks have been sent into a frenzy because they can't figure out my race/ethnicity. It's hilarious. Also, someone called me a "trans-POC SJW," and I'm going to be endlessly pleased at how clueless they all are. 9) More people than I can count have written me privately to let me know that some of these people have harassed, abused, or bullied them before. It is not comforting to know that this has been going on for so long, but as a victim, it makes me feel less isolated and alone. This is deeply important to me because unless we do something to combat this kind of behavior, this fandom won't grow or sustain itself. Thank you if you have written me specifically about this. I'll support you if you ever feel like you need to speak out about this, too. So, what does this all mean for me and this community? Well, my phone has never been so active in my whole life, first of all. LORD, THERE ARE A LOT OF YOU. I've got two months off until my next con (HI PENGUICON!!!), so I'm just gonna finish my novel and keep posting reviews and videos. But I wanted to add one last bit of context for all of you. The post you got on Saturday had been edited a number of times, but every version of it kept two elements throughout: I never once called a person racist or homophobic, and I never once demanded anything of anyone. I have been writing about race and homophobia and many other social issues since I was a teenager. If you look hard enough, you could probably find the pro-choice editorial I wrote as a junior in high school that nearly got my school's paper shut down. None of this is new to me, despite that a great deal of people seem to think I am a social justice warrior who found out about oppression from Tumblr last year. I learned a long time ago that you can write about these issues without calling people anything. I didn't do that here, and it is unsurprising to me how quickly people have claimed that I've done a terrible thing by "judging" people as bigots in this manner. I don't call anyone a bigot in my post. I don't say people are racists, either. I described their actions, and apparently, that's all anyone else needed to connect the dots. The same goes for all the boring, meaningless commentary about how my post is demanding and entitled, despite that I also don't once ask for anything. I never required an apology for anything, I never told anyone to *do* anything, and I never violated someone's free speech. So it's fascinating to me that people seem to think that I'm what's wrong with fandom at large. At what *exact* point was I the person who ruined fandom? Was I ruining fandom in the nine months I kept quiet? Did I not even KNOW that I was silently poisoning this community while attending FenCon or as Toastmaster at WindyCon or at Arisia or at ConFusion or as GoH at Capricon??? Or was I suddenly toxic when I chose to defend myself and my right to attend a convention without being harassed? Was it when I called out longstanding members of a community whose presence is more important than someone else's safety? I'm glad that this is being discussed, and I'm thankful for all the conrunners who have reached out to me to let me know that they're using this as a chance to re-think their own communities and conventions. I'm going to continue attending them, I'm going to continue trying to improve the SF/F fandom through my own efforts, and I'm going to (hopefully) make it harder for conventions to treat marginalized people like tokens who only exist to make their organization *appear* accepting. Again, I can't thank y'all enough.