Producer’s Guild of America Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines (and Me)

An email just showed up asking if I’d seen to the new Producer’s Guild of America anti-sexual harassment guidelines, and whether I’d endorse having them implemented on any film/TV production I’d work on, or which was based on my work.

For reference, here are those guidelines.

My thoughts: The guidelines seem reasonable and to the extent I will have any say in these things, I’d endorse them for any production I work on or which is adapting my work. I don’t think it’s onerous from an implementation point of view, and bluntly I don’t think it’s too much to ask for that any production of my work be as harassment-free as possible. So, yes, I’ll bring this to the attention of my current production partners (particularly those who are in the PGA), and any future ones. Given who I’ve chosen to partner with, I don’t expect much in the way of push-back.

Also, you know. Apparently Wonder Woman 2 is going to be the first production to adopt these guidelines. If it’s good enough for Wonder Woman, it’s good enough for me.

Here’s the Egregious, Mealy-Mouthed Clump of Bullshit That is the 2015 World Fantasy Convention Harassment Policy

It is thus, complete with shoddy copy editing (which I learned about via this tweet by Natalie Luhrs, and subsequently confirmed via two WFC members emailing me copies of the program they had been sent):

As a compare and contrast, here’s the New York City Comic Con policy on harassment, which for the last two years has been visibly and prominently featured on six foot-tall banners at the entrances of the Javits Center, among other places. Note well that NYCC exists in the same state as this year’s World Fantasy Convention, and is subject to the same state laws:

I am not a lawyer, but I expect that ReedPOP, the company that runs NYCC (among many other conventions around the US) has maybe a few lawyers on its staff. If NYCC is utterly and absolutely unafraid to promulgate a harassment policy even though there is a legal statute defining what harassment means in the state of New York, I expect it might have been possible for World Fantasy to have done likewise, if they chose to do so.

Now, over on the 2015 World Fantasy Convention Facebook page, there’s an argument that WFC calling something harassment that is not exactly in line with the legal statute exposes the convention to the risk of libel. One, see the NYCC policy above — either all these things are covered under the NY harassment statute, or NYCC/ReedPOP’s phalanx of lawyers determined that it’s actually okay for a private entity to state that for the purposes of their own private event, the definitions of harassment for that event are thus, and that those found violating those definitions would be tossed from the event, even if the legal standard of harassment was not met.

Two, if you’re absolutely paranoid that calling harassment harassment is libel if it does not meet a certain statutory bar? Then fucking call it something else. And indeed in its statement the WFC already does: “incorrect/uncivil behavior.” Dear World Fantasy Convention: if you cannot or will not create a harassment policy, why won’t you create an “incorrect/uncivil behavior policy?” That almost certainly will not leave you open to a libel lawsuit! And as a template, please see the NYCC policy above.

This also, incidentally, solves the appalling and utterly pathetic rationale the 2015 World Fantasy Convention gives for punting on having an actual and useful harassment policy, i.e., that the staff isn’t trained on recognizing the legal definition of harassment in the state of New York. Leaving aside the cogent point that the staff had most of a year to get up to speed on the matter, if they so chose, especially considering that they were apparently already consulting with the county district attorney and the local police on the harassment policy, if instead there’s an “incorrect/uncivil behavior” policy, the convention can define that behavior however it likes. It’s a private event which can define what it deems incorrect and/or uncivil behavior without referent to the legal statute on harassment. And it can very easily train its staff to recognize and act upon those examples of bad behavior, and it can likewise very easily communicate to convention goers what that inappropriate and uncivil behavior is.

Let’s call the World Fantasy Convention’s decision to hide behind the legal statute of harassment for what it is: Cowardly bullshit. The convention is abdicating its responsibility to provide a safe environment for convention-goers by asserting that it can’t do anything to deal with harassment unless and until it reaches a specific legal definition of harassment — which the convention doesn’t even bother to fucking cite in its material.

When your convention harassment policy boils down to “don’t bother us until you have to call the cops,” you have completely failed. The World Fantasy Convention should be embarrassed and ashamed to have let down its members this way. I’m not a member this year, but if I were, I would cancel my membership. I’d have no interest in attending a convention that decides the best course of action when it comes to the safety of its members is to punt.

(Update: Natalie Luhrs, whose tweet was the means by which I found about this, has thoughts on the matter here. She’s not happy either.)

(Update, 10/28: Via Jon Meltzer in the comments, WFC is attempting to improve its policy. Let’s see what it says when it’s finally published.)

A Note on New York Comic Con’s Anti-Harassment Policy

First, you literally cannot miss it — it’s on several human-sized signs right at the entrances to Javits Center (the other side of these signs say “Cosplay is not consent.” Second, the examples are clear and obvious and the policy is not constrained to only the examples — but enough’s there that you get the idea that NYCC is serious about this stuff. Third, it’s clear from the sign that NYCC also has a commitment to implementation and execution of the policy, with a harassment reporting button baked right into its phone app. This is, pretty much, how an anti-harassment policy should be implemented.

And as a result, did the floor of the Javits Center become a politically correct dystopia upon which the blood of innocent True (and Therefore Male) Geeks was spilled by legions of Social Justice Warriors, who hooted their feminist victory to the rafters? Well, no. The floor of the Javits Center looked pretty much like the floor of any really large media convention — people wandering about, looking at stuff, wearing and/or admiring costumes and generally having a bunch of geeky fun. Which is to say that as far as I could see the policy didn’t stop anyone from enjoying themselves; it simply gave them assurance that they could enjoy themselves, or get the problem dealt with if someone went out of their way to wreck their fun.

It’s well past time that every large convention had an anti-harassment policy that offers specific examples of what forms harassment can take, and yes, I’m talking to you, San Diego Comic-con. New York Comic Con is run by ReedPOP, one of the largest convention organizations in the world; these are people with an acute sense of what their liability issues would be with regard to their anti-harassment policy. The fact that NYCC, which is the same size as SDCC at this point, in terms of attendance, has no problem offering up examples while SDCC continues to take the public position that doing so would somehow tie their hands to address issues of harassment, points out that SDCC’s position is, to put it politely, nonsense.

There is no penalty in letting attendees know some of what you consider inappropriate behavior — indeed it makes them safer because when examples are offered, they don’t have to question whether they have “really” been harassed, and they don’t have to worry whether the convention will agree with them. Information is power, particularly when some asshole is trying to assert their power over you by making you feel unsafe in a place where the whole point is to enjoy yourself with others who share your enthusiasms.

That SDCC (and Comic-Con International, its parent organization) continue to refuse to offer these examples at this point is confounding. I don’t doubt that Comic-Con does not want harassing behavior at its conventions; I don’t doubt that they would try to stop it if they knew of it. But that’s just it: No one knows what Comic-Con International considers harassing behavior. No one knows if it’s a consistent standard; no one knows if it’s always a judgment call on the part of whoever deals with the particular issues; no one knows if a harassment claim being taken seriously is down to one person’s political opinions, mood, or blood sugar level. We just don’t know, because it’s not spelled out. We don’t even know if they know. And that’s no way to run a convention in 2014 and beyond. San Diego needs to expand its anti-harassment policy. Simple as that.

I’m very pleased New York Comic Con, for its part, has decided to be on the forefront of anti-harassment policies. It’s smart, it makes sense, and it makes me, for one, inclined to come to it again. There are other conventions at this point that I can’t say the same about, and that’s too bad for the both of us.

What Happened After I Reported: Elise Matthesen, WisCon, and Harassment

My friend Elise Matthesen last year filed a report at the WisCon science fiction and fantasy covention, because she believed that (then) Tor editor Jim Frenkel had sexually harassed her. Harassment policies are not only about what those policies say, but how those policies are administered and those reports handled. Here’s Elise telling you how WisCon, which identifies as the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, handled her report. The short version: It did so very poorly.

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Last year at WisCon 37, I told a Safety staffer that I had been treated by another attendee in a way that made me uncomfortable and that I believed to be sexual harassment.  One big reason I did was that I understood from another source that he had reportedly harassed at least one other person at a convention. I learned that she didn’t report him formally, for a lot of reasons that aren’t mine to say. I was in a position where I felt confident I could take the hit from standing up and telling the truth. So I did.

I didn’t expect, fourteen months later, to have to stand up and tell the truth about WisCon’s leadership as well.

More than a year after I reported, following an outcry when WisCon revealed that they had lost other reports of misconduct — and after the person in question had not only attended WisCon 38 but had been one of the volunteer hosts in the public convention hospitality suite —  WisCon appointed a subcommittee to investigate my report, along with others they had received about the same person, and to determine what action would best benefit WisCon.

That subcommittee made their statement on Friday, July 18.  Their decision seemed to focus on the rehabilitation of the person, and to understate the seriousness of the conduct. I found their decision inadequate and troubling, and could not understand how they had arrived at it. A week later, on Friday, July 24, I compared notes with Jacquelyn Gill, a member of that subcommittee. (I am incredibly grateful that she made a public statement about her experience on the committee, which allowed me to reach out to her.) We discovered to our mutual dismay that WisCon leadership never gave her all the details I had reported as evidence upon which she could make her decision. Instead, WisCon leadership gave her a version that watered down my account of the harassment, including downplaying the physical contact significantly enough to make the account grossly misleading.

I don’t know whether the relevant details were removed or summarized away from the report I made, or were never written down in the first place. As yet I have seen no evidence that the safety logbook itself contains them. I wonder whether the chairs at WisCon 37 were ever even given the details.

When the subcommittee was formed this year after WisCon 38, Debbie Notkin chaired it. While I can see the sense of having the Member Advocate – which was also Debbie — participating in the subcommittee, I was shocked to learn after the decision that the Member Advocate was also the chair of the subcommittee.  To my way of thinking, that was a clear conflict of interest which I would have balked at, had I been informed. Still, since she was present when I reported in detail, I can’t imagine why she didn’t see that the watered-down summarized version presented to the subcommittee was materially different than what I reported. Despite that knowledge, she allowed the subcommittee to base their decision on inadequate and frankly misleading information. And the subcommittee cooperated with that. The subcommittee performed no follow-up with me or the witnesses, or with other reporters and their witnesses.

What has happened here is beyond my comprehension.  People other than me will have to figure it out and do whatever needs to be done. I hear Ariel Franklin-Hudson has built improved systems for collecting information on incidents, and that’s needed, but what went wrong here is deeper than that.

A proper harassment investigation takes some thought and training, but it is well within the abilities of a good-faith WisCon committee to conduct one.  Experts who train people on harassment investigations emphasize the essential elements of an investigation:

(1) act promptly,

(2) gather all existing written information and reports,

(3) based on those, thoroughly interview the complaining witness, the accused, and any witnesses to the complained-of conduct,

(4) ask those witnesses for other witnesses or evidence (like documents) that might help illuminate the situation;

(5) document what you learn and maintain control and privacy of the documents, and

(6) make a decision based on all of the information that you’ve gathered in a methodical and effective way.

WisCon, instead, lost reports of complaints, selectively interviewed only the accused, failed to conduct follow-up interviews with complainants and other witnesses, and failed to probe whether the reports on which they relied were complete or accurate.  In other words, in addition to disputing the result, I think that the process was haphazard.

I will not blame Debbie for everything that went horribly wrong, because this isn’t just one person. Debbie made a grave error of proper investigation and decision-making, but this is not just Debbie. This is the safety chairs who didn’t investigate further. This is the con-chairs who didn’t follow up and didn’t ever interview me and Lauren. This is the subcommittee members who didn’t push further and contact me and Lauren and Mikki. This is lots of people, some unwitting, some just preferring not to look at the ugly stuff, not to learn something that would require that they confront someone — or confront their principles.

This is a system. And it is fucking powerful and it is fucking broken. I’m not the only one who’s said so. I don’t like putting these details out here. But this is all I have left to do, at this point: stand up and tell the truth.

I would prefer that what this has cost all of us not be wasted. If you care about WisCon, rebuild it. I wish I knew how. I’m at my limits. But as Kameron Hurley said,

“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?”

A Convention Harassment Policy in Action

Arisia is a convention with a harassment policy. So what happened when a woman quite reasonably felt she was harassed, and complained to convention about it? Why, it was handled quickly and efficiently, of course, because there was a process in place to handle it, and that process was followed.

Read about the event here.

Shira Lipkin has further thoughts here.

Good on Arisia for being a convention where someone who felt they were being harassed knew how, and felt comfortable with, reporting the event.

Notes on Harassment Policies, 1/20/14

Convene magazine is the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association, i.e., the people who actually organize and run conventions, and its December 2013 issue had a long piece on why harassment policies are a good and intelligent thing to have (pdf link). I’m quoted in it quite a bit, but the article also features quotes and comments for several professional convention runners, as well as lawyers, discussing liability, setting and managing expectations, and what conventions and conferences can do and can’t do with regard to attendee behavior. For the folks who are interested in this particular topic, it’s well worth the read.

(As noted above, the link is to a pdf of the magazine, and note that the article is bisected by an insert on another topic entirely; just keep turning pages.)

Among other things, the article answers, rather more comprehensively than I could, this hand-wringer from Michael Kelley in Publishers Weekly, concerning the ALA posting a statement of appropriate conduct for attendees of its conferences, starting with Kelley’s sensationally leading opening sentence and going on from there.

I will say, as someone who was ultimately responsible for a small convention for three years (and who was incredibly fortunate to have seasoned convention runners at the tiller to ensure things ran smoothly as possible), that when I see people thumping about on how harassment policies are a threat to free speech, I see them as naïve at best and disingenuous at worst. Leaving aside (yet again) that conferences and conventions are almost always private events by private companies in private spaces, and that each of these private entities is able to set its own policies and expectations, in the best traditions of free enterprise, the sort of person who conflates “free speech” issues with a convention or conference rightly deciding to set attendee expectations as regards reasonable behavior and limiting its own legal liability should an attendee decide to do something stupid, is someone whose understanding of any of those concepts is simplistic or at the very least blinkered to the point of uselessness.

Tangentially related to all this is the ruckus that went down this weekend regard in the Chi-Fi Convention, in which the organizers cancelled the event, claiming the hotel was unwelcoming and that it disapproved of the convention’s harassment policy. The hotel replied rather strongly to the assertion, flatly calling the claims “false”; subsequent investigation suggests that at the very least lots of details were elided, regarding Chi-Fi’s initial statement.

There’s a lot I don’t know about the details of the Chi-Fi ruckus, so I’m going to offer what follows here as a general comment, not tied to any specific convention or hotel, regarding harassment policies. And it is:

If a convention wants to have a harassment policy and the hotel hosting it disapproves of the convention having such a policy, it’s possible that the hotel is staffed by assholes. However, if a convention decides to publicly and falsely (or at least so incompletely as to effectively falsely) claim that a hotel did not support its desire to have a harassment policy as a way to deflect attention from the convention’s other organizational issues, then it’s not the hotel staff who are being assholes.

A harassment policy should not be used as a shield to deflect attention or legitimate questions with regard to the organization of a convention. Aside from any other problematic issue with such a maneuver, doing so has the potential to make it harder for other conventions who wish to implement harassment policies to do so, or for other conventions to work with hotels at all — now hosting hotels may be concerned that such a policy might be used as cudgel, i.e., “if we don’t get our way, we’ll use the harassment policy to drop the Internet on your head.” The short-term (and very temporary) ass-covering for one convention has long-term implications for every other convention.

So let’s hope that never actually happens.

Convention Harassment Policy Follow-Up

Interesting responses and questions out there to me announcing my new personal policy of requiring the cons who want me as a guest to have (and actually be willing to enforce) harassment policies. No harassment policy, no John Scalzi as a guest (nor am I likely to attend as a fan).

One very positive response, in my opinion: As of me writing this, nearly 500 other creators, fans and humans have co-signed onto this policy, including but not limited to writers, editors, publishers, con-runners and con staff (update, 7/6, 11:00pm: Now it’s well over 700). This is encouraging, especially because many of these folks signed on during a holiday here in the US. We’ll see where it goes from here. If you are one of the people who have co-signed: Thank you. I’m glad to have written something worth your participation.

Apropos to this policy, I was asked how one might go about implementing it. Well, here’s how I am going to do it, and all y’all can adjust for your own potential needs from there.

1. If I get an invite from a con to be a guest, or otherwise decide I want to attend and/or participate, I’m going to go to the con’s Web site and see if I can find their harassment policy. If I can find it, then hooray! That makes everything a lot simpler.

2. If I can’t find it, then I would write back to the con and say something along the lines of:

Hi there —

I am interested in attending your convention. However, it’s important to me that I attend cons I know have policies to prevent harassment of guests and con-goers, and it’s important to me that those policies are enforced. It’s important enough that I choose not to attend cons without such policies or the commitment to enforcing them.

I’ve looked on your site and I can’t find any information on your con’s harassment policy. So, let me ask: Does your convention have a harassment policy? If you do, is it something that you make sure those attending your convention are aware of? And will your convention assure me that this policy can and will be enforced?

Let me know, so we can move forward from here.

Thanks,

JS

3. If the con responds with “why yes, we have one, and we’ll happily publicize and enforce it,” then, again, hooray! Easily sorted. If they don’t but say they will, then I’ll tell them to let me know when they have and I’ll be happy to consider them then. If they don’t and don’t know where to start, I might point them at some examples of current con harassment polices: Here’s one that’s fairly involved, for example, here’s one that’s a little more compact (scroll down a bit) and here’s a general resource on such policies. Then I’ll tell them to contact me again when it’s all sorted. If they don’t have a policy and don’t want to create one, then we’re done and I won’t go.  I’ll note that I’ll reserve the right to note publicly that, look, here’s a convention that not only doesn’t have a harassment policy but refuses to create one.

So that’s how I am going to do things moving forward.

And now, some responses to questions/comments that have been asked of me or that I’ve seen online about or relevant to this new policy of mine. The comments/questions will be paraphrased/condensed/etc because they’re all over the place and I want to get through them.

You can’t do this.

Sure I can. I just did. And, incidentally, I got almost 500 people so far to agree with me.

No, I mean you can’t expect conventions to make changes just because you say so.

Conventions are entirely free to do what they want. What I am doing is setting conditions for my participation in their convention. If they want me, this is what I require. Other guests might have other requirements: For example, some guests might require business class air travel rather than economy. They might require that they only have to do two events a day. They might require a room with handicapped access and an aide to help them navigate the convention. And so on. This is something I now require. And for me it’s a non-negotiable.

You might now not get invited to some conventions.

Oh, well.

Lots of conventions already have harassment policies, so you’re just grandstanding on a non-issue.

Indeed many conventions do have harassment polices, because a) they want to be places where people feel safe, and b) they understand they have liability issues and they want to have their asses covered. However, some don’t, and in some cases conventions with harassment policies are hesitant for whatever reason to adequately publicize those policies or to enforce them. A convention with a harassment policy that no one knows about is little better than one without one; a convention that will not enforce a harassment policy you could argue is worse, since they’ve assured its con-goers that it has their backs and doesn’t. So I’m happy to grandstand on this one a bit longer, thanks.

You’re just doing this for the feminist cookies and/or to suck up to the women and minorities and/or to get laid. 

Toward the latter, I trust most rational people will understand why “I have asserted you have a right not to be harassed at a convention NOW IN EXCHANGE YOU WILL DO ME LIKE A FEVERED STOAT” is actually not a winning strategy.

Toward the former, I would be perfectly happy if women/minorities/queerfolk of all sorts feel like I fully support their right to go to a convention (and, in general, go through life) and not get harassed for it. The problem is not that I would be happy about this. The problem is the people who think being happy to be seen that way constitutes “sucking up.”

For the record, the reason I’m doing this is that I know too many people who have been harassed at conventions, and who, if they want to go to a convention, have to factor a certain amount of harassment into their day. For every person I know who has to do that, there are twenty people I don’t know who have to do that too. That’s complete bullshit, and I want it to end. I can’t easily stop every single harassing asshole at a con from being a harassing asshole, and when I’m at a convention, that’s not my job anyway. What I can do — and am delighted to do, by the way — is make it more difficult for them do it at a convention I am part of. I can also encourage others — creators and fans — to do the same, so the harassing assholes have less and less cover at a convention to do their thing.

Also, you know what? Fuck these assholes. I’m sick of politely sharing cultural space with the sort of pissy lump of a human who sees nothing wrong with being a racist and/or sexist and/or homophobe, who attacks and harasses people because they feel they have a right to, and who goes out of their way to make the places I work and socialize in uncomfortable and even threatening for too many of the other people I work and socialize with, and for so many others as well.  Having robust, visible and enforced harassment policies at conventions will go a long way to making these assholes behave, or making them go home. Either is fine with me.

But free speech!

Spare me. Conventions are private entities that have every right to put conditions on attendance, including on conduct, including harassment. Conventions also typically take place in private property (i.e., hotels, convention centers), so that’s two layers of private entities you’re dealing with.

But political correctness!

Leaving aside that there’s a high correlation between the sort of person who uses the phrase “political correctness” and the sort of person who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the next thing coming out of their mouth or fingertips is going to make most everyone else in the room cringe in embarrassment for that person, and then look for a way to gracefully exit the conversation: Why, yes, it is politically correct not to harass another human being at a convention. It’s also, without any additional modifier, correct not to harass another human being at a convention. This should not be difficult to grasp.

But oversensitive people!

That’s why you have a policy and a process, quite obviously; to allow the con to sort out the genuine problems from the misunderstandings. Likewise there are some people who genuinely don’t know they’re doing something that’s making other people uncomfortable and will happily attempt to correct their behavior when it’s pointed out. Good for them, and that should be allowed for. On the other hand, when you don’t have a policy and process and an institutional memory for these things, a harassing asshole can play the “oh, I didn’t know” card multiple times. That’s no good for anyone but the harassing asshole.

Back in my day, a man could go up and would graphically proposition every woman at a convention! As a way of saying hello!

And? You used to tool around without seatbelts in a car filled with leaded gas, too. You don’t do that anymore. You used to smoke on planes, too. Another thing you don’t do anymore. You used to listen to Edgar Winter on your 8-track! Seems doubtful you do that anymore, either. Wide lapels! Medallions! Sansabelt pants! Members Only jackets! Polack jokes! Tab! And, I don’t know. Maybe you miss the days. That’s fine. But you’re probably not under the illusion Sansabelts and 8-tracks and leaded gas are suddenly going to come back.

Also: the dude back in the day, going up to every woman at a convention, saying hello by asking them if they want to fuck? Harassing asshole. Mind you, back in the day apparently no one was going to call him on his shitty harassing actions. Now they would. And they should. Because they are. Welcome to the future!

The corollary to this is the handwringing that now the sort of awkward people who go to cons won’t ever be able to meet people/you can’t talk to people without worrying that you’re going to offend them/no one will ever get laid at a con again. Jesus, people, have you been to a convention lately? The kids are doing just fine. Also, of course, if your flirting strategy is indistinguishable from harassment, it’s not everyone else that’s the problem.

Let’s also be clear that this mindview is not about how old you are. There are older people who are appalled at harassment; there are younger people who don’t see what everyone’s complaining about. Likewise there are people of good will who are used to particular approaches and attitudes that worked perfectly well at one time that don’t any more — dealing with harassment through “back channels,” rather than making a public deal about it, as an example. I’m all for good, constructive conversation there. It can be had.

You have no right to lecture people about harassment when you harassed that woman when you were on Oprah!

This is the latest stupid dude attack on me. They’re talking about this clip, and specifically me briefly touching the upper back of the woman I’m sitting next to, at about the two minute mark. For the record, if my memory serves, she and I had a perfectly nice chat before the cameras went on, and I let her know why I was there and what I might be doing, so she was neither surprised nor upset with me. I think that’s fairly obvious, but then I’m also not one of those people who believe a robust and enforced harassment policy means no one will ever touch at a con again, ever, so.

I will apologize for the sweater. It was 1996. Like Sansabelts and leaded gas and (hopefully) harassment as an acceptable convention tradition, that sweater is never coming back.

How do you feel about N.K. Jemisin’s amendment to your Convention Harassment Policy?

I agree with it entirely. I’ll note that with this policy of mine, I intended to speak to harassment as a general thing, not just specifically relating to sexual harassment. However, at the moment, thanks to Elise Matthesen’s choice to report her harasser, sexual harassment at conventions is at the forefront of people’s minds. Ms. Jemisin’s comment is a reminder that the harassment issue is larger than that.

Do you really think this will make a difference?

It makes a difference to me. That’s a start.

My Convention Harassment Policy Co-Sign Thread

I’ve been asked if I would add a thread for writers/editors/artists/fans/human beings to co-sign my recently-announced convention harassment policy. Well, sure. Here it is. If you’re a writer/editor/artist/fan/human being who wants to adopt my convention harassment policy for your own, put a comment in the thread here. Just a simple “co-sign” will suffice, if that’s all you want to say.

My New Convention Harassment Policy

So, I’ve decided something. I am often asked to be a Guest of Honor or a participant at conventions, which is nice. I also have a number of friends and fans who go to conventions, which is nice too. When my friends and fans go to conventions, I would like them not to have to worry, if they are skeeved on by some creep at the convention, that the convention will take the problem seriously. I would also like them to be able to know how to report the problem, should such a situation occur. 

That being the case, moving forward from this very instant, the following will be a hard requirement for my being a panelist, participant or Guest of Honor at a convention:

1. That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.

2. That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.

3. In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.

Why? Because I want my friends and fans to be able to come to a convention and feel assured that the convention is making the effort to be a safe place for them. I want my friends and fans to know that if someone creeps on them, there’s a process to deal with it, quickly and fairly. And I want my friends and fans to know that I don’t support conventions that won’t go out of their way to do both of these things. I want them to know that if I’m showing up as a guest, it’s at a convention that has their backs.

So, that’s my plan. If you’re running a convention and you want to have me show up, now you know what you have to do for me to consider your invitation. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. If you think it’s too much to ask, you can go ahead and skip the invite. We’ll both be happier.

If any other author, artist, editor, fan or human being wishes to borrow this policy for their own: Be my guest. The more of us that make something like this a hard requirement for participation or attendance, the better.

Update, 7/3/13: Want to co-sign onto this policy? I’ve put up a co-sign thread here.

Update 7/5/13: Additional thoughts on the policy.

Reporting Harassment at a Convention: A First-Person How To

My friend Elise Matthesen was creeped upon at a recent convention by someone of some influence in the genre; she decided that she was going to do something about it and reported the person for sexual harassment, both to the convention and to the person’s employer. And now she’s telling you how she did it and what the process is like. Here’s her story.

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We’re geeks. We learn things and share, right? Well, this year at WisCon I learned firsthand how to report sexual harassment. In case you ever need or want to know, here’s what I learned and how it went.

Two editors I knew were throwing a book release party on Friday night at the convention. I was there, standing around with a drink talking about Babylon 5, the work of China Mieville, and Marxist theories of labor (like you do) when an editor from a different house joined the conversation briefly and decided to do the thing that I reported. A minute or two after he left, one of the hosts came over to check on me. I was lucky: my host was alert and aware. On hearing what had happened, he gave me the name of a mandated reporter at the company the harasser was representing at the convention.

The mandated reporter was respectful and professional. Even though I knew them, reporting this stuff is scary, especially about someone who’s been with a company for a long time, so I was really glad to be listened to. Since the incident happened during Memorial Day weekend, I was told Human Resources would follow up with me on Tuesday.

There was most of a convention between then and Tuesday, and I didn’t like the thought of more of this nonsense (there’s a polite word for it!) happening, so I went and found a convention Safety staffer. He asked me right away whether I was okay and whether I wanted someone with me while we talked or would rather speak privately. A friend was nearby, a previous Guest of Honor at the convention, and I asked her to stay for the conversation. The Safety person asked whether I’d like to make a formal report. I told him, “I’d just like to tell you what happened informally, I guess, while I figure out what I want to do.”

It may seem odd to hesitate to make a formal report to a convention when one has just called somebody’s employer and begun the process of formally reporting there, but that’s how it was. I think I was a little bit in shock. (I kept shaking my head and thinking, “Dude, seriously??”) So the Safety person closed his notebook and listened attentively. Partway through my account, I said, “Okay, open your notebook, because yeah, this should be official.” Thus began the formal report to the convention. We listed what had happened, when and where, the names of other people who were there when it happened, and so forth. The Safety person told me he would be taking the report up to the next level, checked again to see whether I was okay, and then went.

I had been nervous about doing it, even though the Safety person and the friend sitting with us were people I have known for years. Sitting there, I tried to imagine how nervous I would have been if I were twenty-some years old and at my first convention. What if I were just starting out and had been hoping to show a manuscript to that editor? Would I have thought this kind of behavior was business as usual? What if I were afraid that person would blacklist me if I didn’t make nice and go along with it? If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all?

Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either. There are lots of reasons people might not report things, and I’m not going to tell someone they’re wrong for choosing not to report. What I intend to do by writing this is to give some kind of road map to someone who is considering reporting. We’re geeks, right? Learning something and sharing is what we do.

So I reported it to the convention. Somewhere in there they asked, “Shall we use your name?” I thought for a millisecond and said, “Oh, hell yes.”

This is an important thing. A formal report has a name attached. More about this later.

The Safety team kept checking in with me. The coordinators of the convention were promptly involved. Someone told me that since it was the first report, the editor would not be asked to leave the convention. I was surprised it was the first report, but hey, if it was and if that’s the process, follow the process. They told me they had instructed him to keep away from me for the rest of the convention. I thanked them.

Starting on Tuesday, the HR department of his company got in touch with me. They too were respectful and took the incident very seriously. Again I described what, where and when, and who had been present for the incident and aftermath. They asked me if I was making a formal report and wanted my name used. Again I said, “Hell, yes.”

Both HR and Legal were in touch with me over the following weeks. HR called and emailed enough times that my husband started calling them “your good friends at HR.” They also followed through on checking with the other people, and did so with a promptness that was good to see.

Although their behavior was professional and respectful, I was stunned when I found out that mine was the first formal report filed there as well. From various discussions in person and online, I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.

Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.

I asked whether people who had originally made confidential reports could go ahead and file formal ones now. There was a bit of confusion around an erroneous answer by someone in another department, but then the person at Legal clearly said that “the past is past” is not an accurate summation of company policy, and that she (and all the other people listed in the company’s publically-available code of conduct) would definitely accept formal reports regardless of whether the behavior took place last week or last year.

If you choose to report, I hope this writing is useful to you. If you’re new to the genre, please be assured that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable business-as-usual. I have had numerous editors tell me that reporting harassment will NOT get you blacklisted, that they WANT the bad apples reported and dealt with, and that this is very important to them, because this kind of thing is bad for everyone and is not okay. The thing is, though, that I’m fifty-two years old, familiar with the field and the world of conventions, moderately well known to many professionals in the field, and relatively well-liked. I’ve got a lot of social credit. And yet even I was nervous and a little in shock when faced with deciding whether or not to report what happened. Even I was thinking, “Oh, God, do I have to? What if this gets really ugly?”

But every time I got that scared feeling in my guts and the sensation of having a target between my shoulder blades, I thought, “How much worse would this be if I were inexperienced, if I were new to the field, if I were a lot younger?” A thousand times worse. So I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders and said, “Hell, yes, use my name.” And while it’s scary to write this now, and while various people are worried that parts of the Internet may fall on my head, I’m going to share the knowledge — because I’m a geek, and that’s what we do.

So if you need to report this stuff, the following things may make it easier to do so. Not easy, because I don’t think it’s gotten anywhere near easy, but they’ll probably help.

NOTES: As soon as you can, make notes on the following:

– what happened

– when it happened and where

– who else was present (if anyone)

– any other possibly useful information

And take notes as you go through the process of reporting: write down who you talk with in the organization to which you are reporting, and when.

ALLIES: Line up your support team. When you report an incident of sexual harassment to a convention, it is fine to take a friend with you. A friend can keep you company while you make a report to a company by phone or in email. Some allies can help by hanging out with you at convention programming or parties or events, ready to be a buffer in case of unfortunate events — or by just reminding you to eat, if you’re too stressed to remember. If you’re in shock, please try to tell your allies this, and ask for help if you can.

NAVIGATION: If there are procedures in place, what are they? Where do you start to make a report and how? (Finding out might be a job to outsource to allies.) Some companies have current codes of conduct posted on line with contact information for people to report harassment to. Jim Hines posted a list of contacts at various companies a while ago. Conventions should have a safety team listed in the program book. Know the difference between formal reports and informal reports. Ask what happens next with your report, and whether there will be a formal record of it, or whether it will result in a supervisor telling the person “Don’t do that,” but will be confidential and will not be counted formally.

REPORTING FORMALLY: This is a particularly important point. Serial harassers can get any number of little talking-to’s and still have a clear record, which means HR and Legal can’t make any disciplinary action stick when formal reports do finally get made. This is the sort of thing that can get companies really bad reputations, and the ongoing behavior hurts everybody in the field. It is particularly poisonous if the inappropriate behavior is consistently directed toward people over whom the harasser has some kind of real or perceived power: an aspiring writer may hesitate to report an editor, for instance, due to fear of economic harm or reprisal.

STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them. Me, I’ve had a bunch of conversations with my husband, and I’ve had a bunch of conversations with other people, and I hate the fact that I’m scared that there might be legal wrangling (from the person I’d name, not the convention or his employer) if I name names. But after all those conversations, I’m not going to. Instead, I’m writing the most important part, about how to report this, and make it work, which is so much bigger than one person’s distasteful experience.

During the incident, the person I reported said, “Gosh, you’re lovely when you’re angry.” You know what? I’ve been getting prettier and prettier.

Readercon, Harassment, Etc

While I was in LA, doing Wil Wheaton-related stuff and largely staying away from the Internets, the fandom-related portion of Teh Intarweebs exploded with events surrounding an incident of sexual harrassment at Readercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention. And when I say exploded, I do mean exploded; here’s a long list of blog posts related to the event, starting from the first post by Genevieve Valentine, who was the one harassed, about the incident. That list should keep you busy for a while.

For those of you who don’t want to wade through the list, the short form is this: Valentine was sexually harassed at  Readercon by a fellow named Rene Walling. Readercon has a “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policy, which means anyone who is found to have harassed someone is meant to be permanently banned from attending the convention. In the case of Walling, however, he was banned from the convention for two years, an amount of time which is less than “permanently” would be. Said eruption of the Internets ensued, because the stated policy wasn’t followed, because there is the belief that Mr. Walling was let off easy because he’s a well-known fan who has run Worldcons and other conventions, and because there is the belief that Readercon has ultimately sided with a harasser rather than the harassed.

Understand I am conveying only the bare bones of this whole event; you really should check out at least some of the commentary compiled in the piece I’ve linked to above.

I’ve gotten e-mails and tweets from all over the place wanting to know my opinion of the thing, both as myself and as President of SFWA. Toward the latter, I am going to remain silent for now, because as I am fond of reminding people, I Am Not SFWA, I’m just the president. This is something for board discussion, something we haven’t had yet in part because I was away from the Internets for several days. Moreover, per my standard policy, I am loath to discuss SFWA matters here at Whatever in any manner other than the most basic. I can point you to SFWA’s statement regarding Sexual Harassment, posted last November, however.

Personally speaking? It’s probably easier to present my thoughts in a brief list.

1. No one should have to fear sexual harassment at any science fiction or fantasy convention. The fact people still do — the fact women still do, let’s not dance around that little fact of life — is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this community.

2. It doesn’t matter whether the person sexually harassing someone else is a big name in the field or is well-liked or is otherwise a decent human being or feels really bad about it in retrospect.

3. Conventions should have policies and procedures in place to deal with sexual harassment. Those policies should be unambiguous and clear. They should apply equally to everyone.

4. If a convention has a policy on sexual harassment which it then does not follow, then it has failed — failed the person who was harassed by not living up to its obligations to them, failed its guests by not following the rules by which it purports to run, failed the community at large by continuing to allow exceptions and exclusions and excuses to those who harass, and failed itself by not being the convention it claims to be.

All of this seems pretty straightforward to me.

And all of this seems pretty distanced from events, so let me also say this: I’ve been at conventions where I’ve seen a guy zoom in for unwanted physical contact and seen the woman flinch back, dreading what was about to happen. I’ve been the guy who’s told some dude hovering over a woman made visibly uncomfortable by him to back off. I have friends who have been harassed (or worse) at conventions by men. Some of these men were clueless, for whatever reason, about the fact that they were being harassers. Some of them almost certainly were not.

It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, everyone at a convention should be free to enjoy themselves without being sexually harassed. At the end of the day, everyone who goes to a convention has to be assumed to understand basic concepts like “no means no,” and “leave me alone.” At the end of the day, a convention is responsible for being a place where those who don’t get those concepts — or choose to believe they do not apply to them — find themselves on the other side of the door. All of them, equally and without exception.

Update, 8/5/12: Readecon has essentially reversed its earlier ruling and apologized to Ms. Valentine.

SFWA Statement on Sexual Harassment

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has released a policy statement regarding sexual harassment, which you may find here.

My High School Gets It Right

The Webb Schools of California, which is the high school I went to way back when, has updated its handbook with a section for “Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students” and as far as I can see it gets it right — establishing explicitly that Webb students have a right to identify their own gender and to be called by the names and pronouns they choose, and that the school will work with them to accommodate their choices with dignity and respect. The relevant section of the handbook is here (and is immediately followed by a robust harassment and discrimination policy, which I also applaud). Note I am a cisgender hetrosexual so there may be things I miss, but to the extent I know about about this stuff, this is pretty great.

It makes me proud of my school, and it also shows the distance it’s come since I graduated there more than 30 years ago. In 1987, the gay students in our school were not out, and would not have been comfortable being out; likewise being trans or otherwise non-conforming would have been difficult. 1987 was a different time, which is neither a defense or an excuse, but is a small part of an explanation. I was mostly oblivious at the time to which schoolmates of mine were gay or non-conforming, and these days it makes me sad to think that their experience with our high school, which was positive and life-changing for me, was not everything it should have been for them.

I like the fact my high school now recognizes that not every one of its students is going to have an identity that fits comfortably in a box, and is willing to work with them so that their high school educational experience is fulfilling to them. I don’t expect Webb to execute on this perfectly at all times — my high school is full of people, and people are fallible on a daily basis — but the policy has been set, and people now know what they’re expected to live up to and work toward. That’s a good place for my school to be. I’m glad it’s there, now, for its students today.

An Addendum to An Addendum

(Looks on the Internet)

Huh, seems some Harlan Ellison fans are very angry about this addendum to my piece in the Los Angeles Times about his passing. Well, fair enough; so, let me offer up some further points about it.

1. Why is it an addendum here rather than in the LA Times piece proper? Mostly because I asked what length the piece should be and was told it should be 900 words, and decided this bit was cuttable there and postable here. The piece was always intended for print as well as online, so writing to a specific length was a thing.

As someone who worked at newspapers before online versions of papers were around, writing to length is fun and a challenge I don’t usually have anymore (save for hitting a contracted length for a novel, which is a very different dynamic). Part of the challenge is self-editing, i.e., deciding what parts to keep and what parts to trim. This addendum was trimmable, but still said something I wanted to say, so I said it here. This is why the blog is here in the first place.

2. If it made you angry: That’s fine. To paraphrase another writer on a similar matter, hate to shake you up, but I write to suit myself.

3. Likewise, for those complaining that I did it to “virtue signal” or appear “woke”: lol, okay there, friend. Bear in mind I did this five years ago now — literally five years and a day ago — and I didn’t do it to for any other reason than I was sick of friends being harassed at conventions and having to put up with bullshit. I have a long history of writing things like this. And yes, as it happens, Ellison groping Connie Willis was on my mind, among many other incidents involving harassment at science fiction conventions over the years, when I made that my official convention attending policy.

And when people mewled that I was doing that to be seen as virtuous and woke, this is what I wrote:

I would be perfectly happy if women/minorities/queerfolk of all sorts feel like I fully support their right to go to a convention (and, in general, go through life) and not get harassed for it. The problem is not that I would be happy about this. The problem is the people who think being happy to be seen that way constitutes “sucking up.”

To the extent that my public opinions and personal ethics make other people happy, that’s great. To the extent they irritate or annoy other people, that’s their problem, not mine. In neither case do I have public opinions and personal ethics for those reasons. I have them for me.

4. I do think some Ellison partisans are not aware — or possibly don’t want to be aware — how significant and fundamentally damaging to Ellison’s reputation that the Connie Willis incident was to much of a generation of science fiction and fantasy writers and fans. Regardless of Ellison’s reasons, rationales or intent, it came across to a whole group of people as I get to do this, in front of thousands of people, and you have to take it. It would have been bad enough to do that to anyone, but to do it to someone as personally and professionally admired and beloved in the community as Willis gave it an extra dimension. It made the point that no woman, not even a best-selling, multiply award-winning, brilliant and beloved woman, could expect more from her male peers, publicly or privately.

But that’s not why Ellison did it! Well, I’ve heard lots of reasons why Ellison did it, but no matter why he did it, a lot of people took away something else from it.

But he apologized to Willis! As he should have, and good for him. But other people, including the literally thousands of people he did it in front of, get to decide for themselves how to feel about the incident. Lots of them are still angry about it.

But Ellison was a feminist! Sure. And also, he groped Connie Willis on stage in front of thousands of people. And that moment goes on the permanent record, along with all the other good and bad things he did over the course of a long and interesting life. People get to decide for themselves what it means, and what he means, to them.

5. Now, some of you may not like that some other people in your opinion overweight that single incident. That’s fine, and be aware there are plenty of people who don’t like that you in their opinion appear to want to dismiss it as inconsequential. For me, it was literally my first encounter with the man, so, you know what? It looms large in my memory and it colors my thoughts about him. Harlan Ellison was a brilliant, argumentative, cranky, romantic (in the Byronic sense of the word) volcano of a writer and person, and I loved much of his writing, enjoyed speaking to him, and admired much about him. And also, the very first time I saw him in the flesh, he groped someone I like and admire, personally and professionally, in front of an audience. I laughed when it happened because I thought it couldn’t possibly be serious or unplanned. I was wrong about that, and wrong to laugh.

And for better or worse, that moment — that action of Ellison’s — was a signal moment for me. Both in thinking about how men treat women, and also, how women were treated in a community I had started to call my own. It helped to define me, and who I wanted to be in relation to this community. I don’t want to overstate things here, and there were lots of other moments in terms of my own relationships with women and my community that mattered as well to get me where I am today (and I’ll be the first to note I am a work in progress). But this was one of the first, and it sticks out in my brain. And it sticks out in my perception of who Ellison was. You can like that or not, but it doesn’t change the fact.

6. So, here’s the important thing about all of the above: You don’t get to tell me how to feel about Harlan Ellison or what he meant to me. You also don’t get to tell me how to write or talk about him. Or, more accurately, you can, but I’m not obliged to listen or care. You can complain all you want about what I say and think, of course. And I happily acknowledge that your own personal thoughts on Ellison may be different than mine, and substantially so, based on your own experiences with him. I don’t pretend Harlan Ellison and I were great or even good friends; I was someone he called when he wanted to complain about things, and I was happy to be so. But I do get to take the sum of my experiences with him, and with them craft a Harlan Ellison in my brain, consistent with those experiences and my other knowledge of him.

This version is necessarily incomplete in terms of the whole of his character, but that’s the case of anyone who was not him (and note well that in general, our own versions of ourselves have massive gaps and elisions, because ego is a hell of a drug). This version of Harlan Ellison did any number of things I deeply admire, and also a number of things I don’t, and, obviously, one thing I consider very bad which sticks with me. The Harlan Ellison in my head is complicated, and I am content to let him be so.

7. Corollary to this, you don’t get to tell other people who are not me how to feel about Ellison, either. They’re going to have their own version in their head as well, and you are unlikely to change that. Speaking as someone who gets to see all sorts of fantasy versions of me out there in the world — I particularly enjoy the fantasy version of me who is a failed writer, propped up by my publisher, which is itself on the verge of imminent implosion, for byzantine reasons that would confuse even the Illuminati and the Bilderberg Group — raging against these various homunculi does little good. They scurry about anyway.

What you can do, and what I actually encourage you to do, is speak about the version of Harlan Ellison (or indeed any other person) that you know. Your testimony in this regard is almost certainly going to be more persuasive than yelling at another person about their version of Ellison. If you make a good case, what you know of the man may be incorporated into that other person’s view of them. Certainly, my version of him has been influenced by those who knew him who have written about him, both before and after his passing.

I’m glad to know about these other Ellisons I did not get to meet, and now never will, except through other people’s eyes. He’s not boring, that’s for sure.

A Q&A For the Post-Weinstein Era

(Note: this piece contains general discussion of sexual harassment and assault, so heads up on that.)

Hey there! As most of you know, I’m a dude. And like most dudes, I’ve been watching this whole post-Weinstein era we’re in with some interest. And because I am reasonably well-known on the internet for talking about things, I’ve had people, mostly dudes, contact me via social media and email with various questions about what’s going on and my opinions on these topics. So, let me go ahead and address several of them at once, with the help of my fictional interlocutor. Say hello, fictional interlocutor!

Uh, hello.

Let’s get started, shall we.

I… I just want it on the record that I’m deeply uncomfortable with these topics.

Of course you are! You’re a dude! What’s the first question?

I’m worried that someone might call me out for having been a harassing piece of shit at some point in my past.

Well, let me ask you: Were you, in the past, in fact, a harassing piece of shit?

Maybe?

I’m gonna take that as a “yes.”

I wish you wouldn’t.

Too late! And here’s the thing: If in fact at some point in the past you were a harassing piece of shit to someone, probably to a woman but really, to anyone, then you deserve to be called out on your actions.

But I hardly even remember the incident!

Ah, but the question is not whether you remember it, but if the person you harassed does. And you know what? When you’re harassed, it kinda sticks in your brain. For example, did I ever tell you that some dude once pinched my ass when I was in the supermarket? When I was, like, 11?

What? No.

God’s honest truth. I was standing at the supermarket magazine rack, looking at a video game magazine, when suddenly I feel my ass getting pinched. I turn, and here’s the creepy old bald dude, who must have been like sixty, walking by. And he turns around to see me looking at him, because clearly he’s the only one who could have pinched my ass, and you know what that creepy chucklefuck does? He winks at me. And then he goes off and he does his shopping, or whatever.

What did you do? 

I didn’t do anything. I was eleven at the time, it didn’t occur to me that there was anything to do. So I thought “what a creepy old dude” to myself, and went back to reading my magazine. As far as sexual harassment involving an 11-year-old goes, it really was — well, I don’t want to say a “best case scenario,” so let’s call it a “least damaging case scenario.”

But here’s the thing about that: Even now I remember the event, in detail, from where I was to the creepy wink and smile that dude had on his face. If I can remember that, for an event that took all of three seconds and otherwise hasn’t had a substantial impact on my life, you better goddamn believe anyone who you did worse to remembers what you did. They remember. In detail. Read the accounts of those coming forward with their stories. There’s often a lot of specificity in them. There’s a reason for that.

If you don’t remember (or barely do), it’s possibly because the event wasn’t trauma for you. The person you harassed almost certainly has a different perspective on the event.

But it was a different time!

Ah, yes, the Harvey Weinstein defense of “I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was a different time then.” I mean, it didn’t really work for Weinstein, now, did it? Partly because in his case claiming that things were different then doesn’t excuse being an assaulting piece of shit now, and it’s clear he was harassing and assaulting women right up until everything blew up in his face. But also partly because, who gives a shit if it was a different time? If you raped someone in 1973, you still raped them, you asshole. Or in 1983. Or 1993. Or 2003. Or 2013. Or now. There’s never been a time that rape and assault and harassment haven’t been rape and assault and harassment.

Yes, but now there’s consequences!

Well, yes, there are. There’s no statute of limitations on consequences, which apparently comes as an unhappy surprise to a lot of dudes. A lot of the mewling about this is, “well, it was so long ago.” It might be! But your actions almost certainly had consequences for the person you harassed (or assaulted, or raped) and may have altered the course of their life — caused them to change their career or quit a job to avoid you, or given them psychological or physical damage.

There were always consequences to your actions. It’s just that now you might have to share in them.

I’m a better person now!

Great! Did you ever make amends to the person you harassed or assaulted? Apologized, publicly or privately? Taken responsibility for your actions in some way? Worked to make right the trespasses you have made against others, to the extent that they wanted or allowed you too? Spoken to others, particularly those who love/like/are in business with you, publicly or privately, about your past transgressions so they aren’t blindsided by your past?

Not as such

Aaaaah, so you were just hoping it would all just go away and you would never have to think about it again.

Pretty much.

Well, surprise! You’re certainly thinking about it now.

Let’s say that before someone else outs me, I decide to out myself and admit I was a harassing piece of shit at one time in my life. What then?

I don’t know. Try it and find out. I mean, I’ll applaud your honesty, as long as it’s backed by actual repentance and effort to change and make right what you’ve done in the past. But, you know. Unless you’re that creepy chucklefuck who pinched my ass 36 years ago (and you’re probably not, I’m guessing he’s dead by now), I’m not the one to be asking about this, because I’m not the one you’ve wronged.

Can’t we have, like, a truth and reconciliation commission? 

Pardon?

You know! Like they did in South Africa, where everyone admits the horrible things they did and everyone gets amnesty.

What an interesting idea. Now, you do realize that particular commission was created after the fall of apartheid, by a government largely constituted by the victims of apartheid, yes?

I’m not following you.

What I’m saying is that before we get to a sexual harassment truth and reconciliation committee, basically the patriarchy will have to be dismantled and then it will be up to those running the new system to administer such a commission. How does that work for you?

Uh…

Dude, I’m totally ready to ditch the patriarchy if you are!

Let me think about that for a while. 

Do that. In the meantime, yeah. You’re not getting off the hook.

So if I come out and admit to being a harassing shit, I’ll likely get thumped on. But if I don’t admit it and it comes out anyway, I’ll likely get thumped on.

Sounds about right.

Neither of those really sounds appealing.

Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to be a harassing piece of shit.

I will say this: sorting out your own shit is always existentially better than waiting for other people to sort it out for you. There’s a small but telling difference between “I did this shit, and I was wrong, and I want to do better” and “Now that you’ve found out I did this shit, let me just say I was wrong, and I want to do better.” Neither is going to be cake walk, I expect. But then, you were a harassing piece of shit. You don’t deserve cake for that.

Can I change the topic, a bit, please?

Sure. What’s up?

Let’s say I that I didn’t mean to sexually harass anyone, but someone says I did or said something that made them feel harassed and uncomfortable. What then?

One, an actual apology is good. Two, don’t do it again to them or anyone else.

But why should I apologize? I didn’t mean to do it!

Okay, and? Look, let me be blunt with you: That person calling you out on a behavior that made them feel unsafe? They’re doing you a favor. If your behavior, intentional or not, is creepy enough that someone was compelled to say something to you about it, there are probably others who thought the same thing but didn’t say it — or didn’t say it to you. So the person actually saying it is like a person who pulls you aside and says “Dude, your breath smells like a cat shat on your uvula, maybe partake in a mint,” except instead of halitosis they’re talking about you skeeving everybody out with your words and/or actions. Thank them! In that context, a sincere apology is an excellent thank you, followed by adjusting your behavior.

But why should I change the way I do things? If they have a problem with how I say or do things, it’s their problem, not mine. 

Fine, don’t.

Wait, what?

Dude, I’m not the boss of you. If you want to continue to make people uncomfortable with your presence and actions, then follow your bliss. Just don’t expect to have a whole lot of friends who aren’t complete assholes. Also, be aware that if you keep that shit up, there’s an excellent chance that sooner or later five or six people are going to speak out about you and your asshole actions, all at the same time, and then you’ll be in the same boat as the “actual” harassers, i.e., being an actual harasser, because you didn’t think you had to learn.

Which is fine! Really, it’s fine. Go ahead, do that, it’s fine. Totally fine.

Okay, but what about if I’ve never done anything bad to anyone and I still get accused of harassing someone?

Well, either you did it and you didn’t know, in which case, see above, or, rarely, the other person is lying.

Yes! They’re lying! Yes! That!

My dude, aside from the actual fact that a woman accusing a man of harassment has her life turned into such a shitshow that the bar for her choosing to tell her story is almost unspeakably high (and therefore not fertile ground for lying), I want you to consider a singular and depressing fact, which is that nearly every woman you know has actual dudes who’ve harassed them. They will go after them, rather than outright lying about you. I’m not saying that people don’t get falsely accused of sexual assault and harassment. I am saying it’s pretty rare. Rare enough that when someone comes forward with a harassment claim, it’s worth taking seriously.

But still —

Also, you know? As someone who (still) has jerks falsely calling him a rapist for purely malicious reasons, allow me to suggest that people see through bullshit pretty quickly.

Fine. But I’m worried that I will try to let someone know I’m interested in them and they’ll think I’m harassing them.

So you’re saying your dating strategy is indistinguishable from harassment?

Dude, I don’t even know anymore.

Maybe it’s worth the time to find out and fix it if it is. I’m not, shall we say, active in the dating scene, but it seems to me that communication, consent and the active ability to take “no” for an answer will go a long way.

I’m just worried that every woman defaults into thinking I’m a creep until proven otherwise.

They might! Not just you, to be clear. Every dude.

Doesn’t that bother you? That every woman might start off thinking you could be a creep?

Well, you know. Pretty much every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted or been the recipient of unwanted sexual attention from dudes simply for existing. I know a fair number of men, mostly gay or bi but some not, in the same boat. I know relatively few trans and non-binary folks (although I suspect I know more than many folks), but I know sexual harassment and assault, primarily by men, is a huge issue in that community. Not only men sexually harass and assault, and as they say, not all men sexually harass and assault. But men are the large majority of those people who do sexually harass and assault. And, alas, the ones that do that shit don’t walk around with a neon light saying “Harassing chucklefuck” blinking over their head for easy identification.

So in point of fact I’m fine with women (and others) who I meet for the first time holding in their mind the idea I might be a creeper. I might be! They don’t know! I’m fine with doing the work to make them comfortable with me (the “work” in this case generally meaning “being respectful and kind,” which honestly isn’t that hard), and with the idea that they might never be entirely comfortable with me in this respect. I’d like to live in the world where every dude is not seen as a potential harassing creep, but we’re not there yet, because, as the events of the last few weeks have made abundantly clear, there are still a shitload of harassing creeps out there.

You want not to be seen as potential creep right off? Great! Do the work among men to bring the ratio of harassing shitheads way down. Don’t ask others to do the work that you want to see the benefit of.

One last question.

Sure.

What do you do when a friend or someone you admire, or whose work you admire, is outed as a harasser or abuser?

You mean, besides be sad and probably very pissed off at them?

Yes.

With people I admire, I think it’s obvious that I would probably stop admiring them. With regard to people whose work I admire, it would put the work in a different context and at that point I’d have to see how I felt about it. I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist. In both cases, I don’t find it difficult to hold two thoughts about someone in my head — that someone can be an admirable talent in their field and a harassing piece of shit, or that a particular book/movie/song can be amazing and the person who created it a terrible human.

With that said, someone being outed as a harassing/assaulting piece of shit makes it much less likely I will support their future work, since I generally prefer not to give money to people who sexually harass and assault people. To be blunt, there’s a category of work I file under “to be enjoyed after the creator is dead.” That’s where a lot of work is being sent these days.

With people I consider friends, well, look: I have standards for friends, and one of those standards is treating other people with basic human respect. Sexually assaulting or harassing other people is a pretty solid indication that you don’t respect that person, or the group of people they are a part of. My friends are all grown ups and they live in 2017; they should know better. If they don’t, well. That’s a problem for me.

People I know as acquaintances or casual friends I don’t have a problem casting off; I have lots of other, less problematic acquaintances. I am fortunate that none of my very good friends has been shown to be an assaulter or harasser. If one ever is, that’s going to be a thing. One because they managed to keep it from me for so long, which calls into question the nature of our relationship. Two because I’m going to have to ask myself if there’s anything there in the long path of our friendship that will make it worth salvaging. Maybe there is, although at the moment I don’t know what it might be. I’m not in a rush to find out.

So, this has been a long entry.

Yes it has. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I want to note that some of the ground I’m covering here has also been covered by women (like here and here and here), so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. And if it’s all new to you, maybe you should read and listen to more women, my dude.

Any last pieces of advice?

Sure. Dudes, don’t be a harassing piece of shit, don’t accept other dudes being harassing pieces of shit, and when women (and others) tell you that someone has harassed or assaulted them, believe them.

This is all pretty simple. And yet.

Weinstein, Ratner, Toback, Etc

Another day and another dude in the entertainment industry accused of sexual assault and harassment: Today it’s Brett Ratner, who six women accused of impropriety in a Los Angeles Times article, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who recounts an encounter two decades ago that basically amounts to rape, and Olivia Munn, toward whom Ratner has been pretty much a horny shit for more than a decade now. It’s been a pattern that once a few substantive accusations are out there more come forward (see: Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby), so I don’t expect the next several days are going to be very happy ones for Ratner. Nor should they be.

I imagine it’s likewise a very uncomfortable time for a lot of men in the entertainment industry right now, as they search their own pasts, recalling incidents that they are probably hoping to God are not dredged up toward the light of day by the women (or men! Or non-binary folk!) they’ve been horrible to, as the “whisper network” stops being whispery and starts talking out loud and unafraid. Ratner is the most recent powerful man in this particular barrel, but it’s deeply doubtful he’s going to be the last.

I don’t doubt it’s uncomfortable for everyone else in the industry, too, for all sorts of reasons. Let me explain it in personal terms: Currently I have several projects in various stages of development for television and film, mostly with people I’ve met with and liked but fundamentally know very little about except through the scope of their work. I am praying that none of them has been carrying on as a creepy, harassing piece of shit. Because, aside from all the very serious problems with that, there’s the extra added concern of what it will mean for the aforementioned projects, which would then have a radioactive person attached to them who no one will want to do business with, if not for ethics then for optics. I have ethical and also purely business-related reasons for hoping my associates are not fucking creeps. Multiply my position by everyone in entertainment right now, and you see the problem.

(And to be fair, the problem is in both directions: The people I have my options with know me mostly through my work, too. They don’t know what I’m doing in the rest of my personal and professional life, either, or whether or not I’m a creepy creep who creeps creeptastically, and my creepularity has simply just not been revealed to them — the “whisper network” doesn’t reach to where they are. I’ve not been asked to attest that I’m not a harassing piece of shit. They’re taking it on faith that I’m not.)

So basically everyone in entertainment right now, you could say, has the smallest inkling of what it’s like to be a woman in the entertainment industry, and not to know whether the person you’re meeting with will blow up your project or your career because of their behavior. Let’s not overextend the simile — the chances I or lots of other dudes will face a “casting couch” situation to get a project made approaches zero, for example — but certainly the question of “who are you really and how will who you are hurt me and my goals?” is one lots of people are asking in a different way these last several weeks.

On a vaguely-related note, someone sent along a bit from a detractor of mine who was hoping that I would be outed as a harassing creep because wouldn’t that be perfect, ha ha ha. Which will tell you two things: One, I don’t need to seek out people saying awful things about me because people feel free to send those along, so I have a crowd-sourced clipping service of people being shitty to me; and two, my detractors are terrible people.

This fellow is going to be disappointed, I think. Consent is important to me, and historically speaking I’ve been able to take “no” for an answer. Likewise I make an effort not be a harassing shithead of a dude (spoiler: It’s not that difficult to make that effort). I try to live my life so that people don’t feel like I’m just waiting for the right moment to be a creepy fuck to them.

With that said: Are there times I might have made someone uncomfortable, or said or did something they found creepy? Yes, probably! I’m not perfect and as I’ve written about before, the decision as to what’s creepy rests with the other person, not me (or you). So it’s certainly possible something I’ve done or said rang some worry bells in someone else’s head, and they prefer not to be near me or have anything to do with me. In which case a) totally fair, and b) I’m sorry.

Which is all easy to say, mind you. One of the things that the recent weeks has done is to cause me to go back and really look at how I have interacted with people, particularly women, over the years. I can think of times now where I’ve revised my opinion of my past actions downward (how I dealt with my long-term crush in high school is one example — I used to think it was puppy-dog swoonish and now I think it’s a little sad and creepy), and others in more contemporary times where I feel like I can do better and will try to. I think at least some of my detractors are of the opinion that I hold myself up as a paragon of perfect behavior and thought, and, well. Let’s just say I live in my own mind and know it better than they do. Trust me, I’m so not perfect. But I do try to be decent to people, and that’s a constant process.

(I do have a useful rule of thumb, with my actions toward other people and with life in general, which is: Is this something I’d tell Krissy about? If this answer is anything other than “yes, of course, unreservedly,” then there’s a problem, which, incidentally, is a cue for me to talk to her about it right then. You would be surprised — or possibly you wouldn’t — at how useful this rule has been over the years. You may also assume that there’s very little my wife doesn’t know about me.)

To go back to the entertainment industry, none of this is done yet: More people (mostly dudes) are going to be exposed for their harassing and assaulting actions, and even more people are going to have their lives and livelihoods thrown up in the air because of the fallout. It’s necessary but it’s going to be a mess. And it all could have been easily avoided. All it takes is not harassing, assaulting or treating other people like shit. Try doing that, entertainment dudes! You’ll be (tragically) surprised how effective it is.

Harvey Weinstein and Other Abusers

(For those who need it, a warning: I’m talking rape and sexual assault here today.)

First, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse of women, from the New Yorker and the New York Times. There are more news stories out there — lots more — but those two cover a lot of ground on the present state of things.

And now, some thoughts, not necessarily in order of importance.

1. Harvey Weinstein is by all indications a rapist and general piece of shit. Just to put that out there up front, so there’s no confusion. He deserved to be fired by his company (as he was) and should almost certainly be in jail.

2. He’s also solely responsible for his own actions. Which apparently comes as a shock to the scads of people who, when the news got out, started wanting to blame prominent film people who knew him (particularly women) for their silence, and the people who worked for him for not taking a stand against him. I’ll get to both of these things in a minute, but look: Harvey Weinstein intentionally and systematically sexually abused women, sexually harassed women and targeted them for sexual coercion. He promised professional advancement and threatened professional oblivion in order to compel sexual compliance, and bribed and threatened women for their silence. And he did this, it appears, over three decades. He owns it.

3. But what about the systematic problem of harassment in the film and television industry, you ask? Well: Yes, it is there, and yes, Weinstein both participated in it and furthered it for his own pleasure, and yes, it needs to be addressed and rooted out, and anyone who sexually coerces another person should be punted hard on their ass. But let’s be clear that Weinstein was not compelled against his will to participate in it and to further it. He did that on his own. He was the author of his own moral story, and his moral story sucks. Acknowledging that Weinstein is solely responsible for his own choices neither ignores or exculpates the systematic issues of the entertainment industry. He raped and assaulted women. He owns that.

4. While we’re on the topic, let’s dispense of some other nonsense. Weinstein tried to imply that coming of age in the 60s and 70s meant his moral compass was pointed a few degrees off true. Well, that’s bullshit; I know lots of people who came of age in the 60s and 70s who know perfectly well sexual coercion and rape is immoral. Pretty much all of them, in fact. Donna Karan (who is apparently one of the few who does not) just made news by sort of airily suggesting that issue with Weinstein was more that he was a symbol of various sexual issues than a real live man who raped and sexually assaulted numerous women, and well. No. It’s possible he is both, but any story framing that attempts to keep his personal actions from being front and center is crap. He wouldn’t be a synecdoche for these issues if he wasn’t a coercive assaulting piece of shit. Any explanation of Weinstein’s behavior that does not center his own choices is a bad one. He’s a grown man. He knew what he was doing, and he knew what he was doing was wrong. He did it anyway.

5. What about the staff at Miramax and The Weinstein Company who knew — or at least could guess — what their boss was up to but did nothing about it? I’m not here to excuse them, and we are all responsible for our moral choices. I am also aware it’s easy to judge when your career and income aren’t riding on the necessity of not looking too closely at what your boss is doing. Bear in mind that the film industry is the industry that perfected blacklisting — one day you’re fine and the next no one’s returning your calls. At the height of his powers there’s no doubt Harvey Weinstein could make working in the industry very difficult, and the further down the food chain you were, the more difficult he could make it.

I am fortunate that when I was working for others, I never had a boss whose moral baseline (as far as I knew) substantially conflicted with mine. I was never put in a position of having to cover for, or look away from, a bosses’ actions. I would like to think that if I had been, I would have done the correct thing, even in the face of losing my job. I’d like to think that, but it’s easy to think about what you would do when you’ve never been confronted by that actual decision point.

Again, I’m not here to excuse the moral choices Weinstein’s employees made — or didn’t make — and they’ll have the burden of their choices for the rest of their professional lives. I do know that the burden of their choices was placed on them because Weinstein chose to sexually assault and coerce women. His actions had consequences beyond him.

6. As for the issue of very famous people apparently not knowing what Weinstein was up to, I’m going to tell you a story. In my line of work there was an editor named Jim Frenkel, who worked for Tor, my publisher, and who as it turned out was a harassing piece of shit. It also turned out that he was very good at hiding that fact from his bosses and fellow editors and from authors, like me, who did not fit the profile of the sort of person he liked to harass. I was male, I was already published and successful, and I suspect Frenkel knew I would talk if I found out anything. I found out because Frenkel finally harassed a person who was more than happy to talk out loud about it, and who had people who would amplify her voice. Lots of people lateral to or above his status were shocked. Lots of women below his status asked how the hell the rest of us did not know.

We didn’t know because we didn’t see it personally; we didn’t know because the “whisper network” didn’t reach us. And why didn’t it reach us? Maybe because the women were scared about what Frenkel could do to their careers. Maybe because they assumed some of us already knew and were doing nothing about it. Maybe because some of us were men and the women didn’t want to have to deal with the emotional burden of trying to make us believe harassment was a real thing. “Whisper networks” can be useful, but as my friend Naomi Kritzer noted on Twitter, they’re full of holes. And more than that: They propagate downward and attenuate upward. After a certain height, you don’t hear many whispers.

No one knows a food chain better than a predator. Harvey Weinstein was not going to prey near or above his station; doing so served none of his purposes and represented risk. He wasn’t going to prey on (say) Meryl Streep or Hillary Clinton, and the chances that someone he would prey on would be able to tell either of those two women — or other women of a similar stature, or men on the same level — was pretty slim, and what reaches someone at that level is often spotty and inconclusive, for all the reasons noted above.

(Please note I’m not originating these observations; check out this Twitter thread yesterday from a woman screenwriter which makes basically the same point. It’s not the only thread like it out there.)

This doesn’t mean no people above certain level didn’t know. But it does mean predators are good at hiding their tracks, or at least making their path confusing. It also means that predators know how to leverage their power — and in the case of Harvey Weinstein, he was very powerful indeed.

And for the women of power who did know and who kept quiet, or at least quietish: Surprise! This is where the systematic sexism and harassment in the film/TV industry raises its head. You knew it would show up sometime!

7. Anyone who voted for an admitted sexual predator for president who is now blaming women for not knowing or not confronting Harvey Weinstein: Sit the fuck down. You don’t even have the veil of plausible deniability to cover the fact that you helped make Mr. “Grab ‘Em By the Pussy” the President of the United States. You knew and you didn’t care. To go after Clinton because she knew Weinstein after you cast your vote for Trump, well, shit. Got a Bible passage for you, son.

And, not that I’ve seen it, but in case it’s out there (and it probably is, somewhere): Anyone defending Weinstein on the basis of his ostensible politics or because of the great art he’s helped produce, you can sit the fuck down, too. The correct politics and the ability to spot good films and filmmakers isn’t a pass for being sexually coercive and a rapist. I’m happy to cede this piece of shit human has very fine taste in cinema. He’s still a piece of shit human.

8. I’m all for condemning both Trump and Weinstein, and any other man who uses his power to sexually coerce other people. Weinstein is a liberal and Trump is, well, whatever the hell he is (white supremacist authoritarian populist masquerading as a conservative), but both are men who have decided that they get to force themselves on women, and women should be happy or at least quiet about it. There’s no political angle to it; or more accurately, certain men of any political stripe seem happy to be predatory pieces of shit. Nor should there be any political separation to the solution to this problem: Kick all that shit to the curb.

9. And of course some of the backlash from this is that some men in corporate settings are now avoiding women, which makes me want to smack my head and wonder what the fuck is wrong with my sex. The solution is not to cut women out of your professional life, you assholes. The solution is to fix your goddamned corporate culture and root out the sexual harassers and predators so neither you nor any woman have to worry that a closed-door meeting means a quick two-step to the HR department. Redlining women from professional advancement because you don’t know how else to deal with the issues of harassment and predation means you are the problem, not them.

10. Harvey Weinstein is a piece of shit, but he’s not the only piece of shit out there. The film/TV industry has a sexism and harassment problem, but it’s not the only industry with a sexism and harassment problem. Today is Weinstein’s moment in the barrel, and he should be shot to the moon for it. But there’s a whole line of dudes waiting after him, starting from the president and working on down.

All of which you would know already, my dudes, if you listened to women and believed them. I’ve been working on that one myself a lot recently. I’m not perfect, but I like to think I’m getting better at it. We’ll see. Maybe you should make an effort at it too, if you’ve not done so already.

The Big Idea: Catherynne M. Valente

And now, some of the most famous authors in the English language show a side that you probably never knew about — and Catherynne M. Valente uses that side to build up her latest novel, The Glass Town Game.

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE:

So let’s say you’re a geeky kid, like any other geeky kid. School sucks, your siblings range from pretty okay to deeply annoying, everyone’s always telling you what to do and when to do it when all you really want to do is read your books and play with your action figures and maybe log on to your favorite multiplayer game.

Now, let’s say you’re a geeky kid who’s going to grow up to be one or two or three of the greatest geniuses of English literature, and you live in a Yorkshire village in 1828, and electricity is only a thing inasmuch as some American fooled around with a key and a kite awhile back. What’s a precocious, highly competitive pre-teen to do?

Welcome to Glass Town, perhaps the world’s first massively multiplayer offline text adventure. Meet the mods: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell. You may know them better by their last name: Brontë.

You see, when the Brontës were kids, and not yet idols of literary fiction, they were exactly like nerdy kids are today, and invented a huge fantasy world together, complete with every worldbuilding cliche we know so well: every prince’s lineage was meticulously recorded, every horse had a backstory, every villain had an ancient grudge to twirl his mustache around, every city had a precise encyclopedia entry listing population, imports and exports, historical battles, and famous citizens. There was even a magic system worked out, invented and curated, naturally, on the monasterial Island of Philosophers. It may be strange to think of the writers of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as your average Dungeons and Dragons playing adolescents, but they were exactly that—except they did it long before you ever heard of it. Long before it was cool.

The four of them, not only Charlotte and Emily, who you will have heard of, but Anne and Branwell, who you may not have, created the fantasy worlds of Glass Town, Gondal, and Angria, and peopled them with a cast of thousands. (Anne also wrote excellent books, but they are less blusteringly romantic and more iron-jawed feminist, and so do not get gushing film adaptations. Branwell, unfortunately, went down another, yet tragically traditional hipster route—he got fired from his job for sexual harassment and ended up having to move back home, where he became addicted to heroin and died quite young.) They wrote hundreds of stories in their private universe, full of a child’s understanding of British politics, Yorkshire fairy tales, Shakespearian plots, an obsession with Arctic and African exploration, and, growing up in the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars, battle after battle after battle. The main players in these sagas were a set of wooden soldiers their father bought Branwell for Christmas, which his sisters immediately claimed as communal property and used to act out their sagas, much as children today can play with their Skylanders aciton figures, then plug them into their consoles and watch them have adventures onscreen. But of course, the Brontës had no screens beyond pieces of paper. It hardly mattered. Geeks are geeks, and geekery is timeless.

Being the geniuses they were, however, these geeks took it a step further. Their fantasy world was downright postmodern. They invented in-world publishing houses and made two of the wooden soldiers into editors that printed magazines for the people of Glass Town, magazines that the Brontës completely laid out and wrote themselves under a number of different bylines, even going so far as to have inter-columnist rivalries. When 11-year-old Branwell invented an obvious Mary Sue by the name of Young Soult the Rhymer, the greatest poet of all time, 12-year-old Charlotte immediately began a brutal sniping campaign, writing scathing reviews of Young Soult’s work, calling it rubbish and analyzing it mercilessly line by line. They wrote histories of Angria, and then created other historians to contradict the “accepted” narrative.

And when Branwell, as young boys love to do, got tired of his poetry being trashed and turned to his favorite games, gleefully blowing up castles and forts and ships and camps, murdering every main character in a daily bloodbath worthy of George R. R. Martin, Emily and Anne invented an elixir of life to bring everyone back to play another day, virtually inventing the Continue screen long before Atari was a pixel in the mainframe’s eye.

In a small playroom in a Parsonage at the top of a hill in Yorkshire, four children created an utterly complete universe to rival any speculative fiction writer working today. You can’t even call it just fantasy—some of their characters go to space.

I was captivated by this, not by how cute it is that such fancy famous people made up stories about their dolls, but by how incredibly modern the Brontë children really were, when we think of them as these miserable Gothic maidens on the moor, never cracking a smile. We have so much of their Glass Town writings, still, today, available to read at the click of an Amazon button, and it truly is extraordinary work. I doubt any MFA program would turn down what Charlotte and Emily produced before the age of 13. You can see the beginnings of the writers they’re going to be, the characters they’re going to create, little baby Rochesters and Heathcliffs and Berthas and Janes. You can see them struggling against the women and men they knew they’d have to be when they grew up. You can see them trying on the adult world for size.

But I saw in them what I see in every kid I’ve ever met—the fierce loyalty and obsession to the games they play, online or offline, the imaginative hunger for other worlds. I wanted to make Glass Town a real place, that they really traveled to, and had adventures in, I wanted them to confront their creations, not least because the Brontës are so bloody post-post-modern that they actually did write about visiting their world and confronting their creations in 1828. Charlotte even wrote about dreaming that she herself and all her siblings were just characters in a novel someone else was writing.

I have loved the Brontës since I was a child, and when you love someone, you want to make their dreams come true.

But more than the Brontës dreams of visiting their fantastical universe, I wanted to make every child’s dream come true. Because there are moments, when you are young, and up in your room playing and thinking and imagining and wishing, when there is nothing in the world you want more than for the world inside your head to become the real world that you live in.

Hell, there are moments when you are old when you feel that way.

I didn’t want to write one of those novels where famous writers didn’t actually write their work, they just went to a magical place and recorded it. I know all to well that making worlds is hard work, and those plots always bothered me. I wanted to write a novel where somebody made a world so well, worked their toys so tirelessly, that it became real. And that’s what this book is.

The Glass Town Game is my gift to any kid who played so long and so hard that it felt more real than real life, to anyone who used to be that lonely, nerdy kid at the top of the stairs, making their action figures have epic adventures day after day that they could never hope to have. The history doesn’t matter. The famous name doesn’t matter—it’s never mentioned in the book. What matters is what every kid knows matters—the game, man.

So suit up, log on, and press start. Glass Town is about to get real.

—-

The Glass Town Game: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (scroll down). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

The Rest of MidAmeriCon II

Now that I’ve opined about the Hugos, how was the rest of my MidAmeriCon II?

I had fun! My schedule was relatively light: Two panels, a reading, a signing and a kaffeklatsch, which left a lot of time to do fun things with fun people. The panels — one on moderation (with Teresa Nielsen Hayden) and one on social media — went off without a hitch and with good crowds and questions. The reading went especially well; I read a chapter from The Collapsing Empire which was well received (the audience actually clapped at a moment of climactic action, which made me squee inside), and then after that the short story I read from Miniatures, my upcoming collection, was interpreted by an ASL speaker who did an amazing job keeping up with the made-up alien words in the story. She really took it over the top and I was delighted she was there.

Aside from that Krissy and I hung out with friends, ate a lot of barbeque, went to a ton of parties and then slept in the next day. It was everything I like about a Worldcon.

Also, it turns out that Kansas City is quite a congenial place to have a Worldcon-sized convention (which is one that’s about 4,000 – 5,000 members, usually). There are a number of really excellent restaurants, the square around the convention center is filled with hotels, and everything was walkable. A+++ two thumbs up, would Worldcon there again.

(Actually, this is the fourth time I’ve been to Kansas City for a convention and each previous time was also really excellent. Kansas City: A tragically underappreciated convention town.)

I also give MidAmeriCon II high marks as a Worldcon. As with any convention, I’m sure behind the scenes there were people running around with their hair on fire, but from my point of view everything worked like it should, which I think is the point. Also, MAC II did a fine job with harassment and consent policies and with the Incident Response Team tasked with taking reports — I know people who had to avail themselves of them (alas), and the IRT came away with high marks. This is important; until we’re at a point where harassment/consent policies aren’t need (which will be never), the next best thing is a responsive convention at that addresses problems quickly.

(I’m also aware of at least one person getting booted from the convention; the short version of that story as I understand it is that someone decided to be a raging dickhead in an overt and premeditated fashion, and as a result was invited to be a raging dickhead on his own time, elsewhere. Seems fair to me. If you want some details, here’s a more detailed write-up, and feel free to leave comments about it there, not here.)

The basic gist of this Worldcon is that I got to spend with people I really like, and had fun in a cool place. Thanks, MidAmeriCon II — you were just what I needed.

A Note On a Jackass Getting Booted From Twitter

Milo Yiannopoulos, aka Nero aka some real basic garbage in human form, got the boot from Twitter last night as a result of encouraging his racist and/or sexist and/or alt-right pals to go after actress Leslie Jones, who starred in the new Ghostbusters, aka the film sexist manboys wailed was ruining their childhood. Jones was subjected to more than a day of appalling abuse, Yannopoulos chortled about it like the troll he is and cheered his minions on, and Twitter finally decided he was a liability and permanently dumped his ass.

So, some thoughts on this:

1. Yiannopoulos and his party pals are now mewling about this being some horrible violation of free speech, so let’s recall that a) Twitter is not the US or any other government and b) is a private entity and c) essentially reserves the right to boot anyone from their service for whatever reason, so, really, waaaaaaaah, and also, no. Yiannopoulos still has a platform for his nonsense on Breitbart, aka where journalism goes to drill holes in its temple and then cover itself in its own poop, so anyone who wants him can go there (Please go there. Please stay there). He hasn’t been censored; he’s just been told to take a hike.

2. Yiannopoulos and his party pals will also want to claim this is about him being conservative, and again, no. There’s nothing inherent in holding to a conservative philosophy that requires one, in their interactions with others online, to be a raging shithole, or to encourage others to be the same. Millions of conservatives use Twitter every day without being raging shitholes. Conversely, there’s nothing about a liberal philosophy that means you can’t be a raging shithole; I just the other day muted a liberal turd over there because I didn’t want to be bothered with his smug dickery any further. Being an asshole is orthogonal to political philosophy. Yiannopoulos’ public persona is centered on being an asshole in order to serve a market of assholes. That’s pretty obvious.

3. When Yiannopoulos was booted off of Twitter, some folks wrenched their hands and said “But that’s what he wants! It’ll just serve his narrative of persecution!” Well, one, no, it’s not what he wanted. This is a fellow who, when given an opportunity to ask a question in the White House press room, querulously whined about losing his “verified” checkmark on Twitter. Being booted from the service is not an actual win for him. Two, of course he’ll spin it like a win anyway, because as with other dipshits of his sort, everything must always be spun as, not only a victory, but as a victory that is unfolding exactly to plan. Yiannopoulos could trip down a flight of stairs mouth first and he’d crawl himself up a wall at the landing, turn to you with a mouth full of broken teeth and try to convince you that he meant to do that. If you know that about him (and other dipshits like him), it becomes easy to ignore the “that’s what he wants” aspect and do what you need to do.

4. “But he’s gay!” Yes, Yiannopoulos is gay. He’s also an asshole who points other assholes at people to harass and terrorize them. He got booted off Twitter for the latter; the former doesn’t excuse it. Being an asshole is orthogonal to sexuality as well as political philosophy.

5. It’s good that Twitter punted Yiannopoulos, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t look like Twitter did some celebrity calculus there. Yiannopoulos and pals had a nice long run pointing themselves at all other manner of people they didn’t like, for whatever reason, and essentially Twitter didn’t say “boo” about it. But then they harass a movie star with movie star friends, many of whom are Twitter users with large numbers of followers, and whose complaints about Twitter and the harassment of their friend get play in major news outlets, and Twitter finally boots the ringleader of that shitty little circus.

So the math there at least appears pretty obvious from the outside. You can punch down on Twitter and get away with it, but don’t punch up, and punch up enough to make Twitter look bad, or you’ll get in trouble (after more than a day). Is this actually the way it works? I’m not at Twitter so I can’t say. I can say I do know enough women of all sorts who have gotten all manner of shit by creeps on Twitter, but who weren’t in a movie and had movie star friends or got press play for their harassment. And they basically had to suck it up. So, yeah, from the outside it looks like Twitter made their decision on this based on optics rather than the general well-being of their users.

6. Which is a recurring theme with Twitter (and other social media services, but also, of Twitter): Not much gets done until the service looks bad, and then what gets done is cosmetic rather than useful. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter punting Yiannopoulos is a good thing; he deserved it and has done for a while. But Yiannopoulos didn’t get to the point where he needed the boot all by himself. He happily exploited the weaknesses of Twitter — weaknesses Twitter could have dealt with years ago — to become one of the service’s leading shitlords. And getting rid of the shitlord doesn’t mean the shitty little minions he gathered to himself still aren’t on the service and happy to continue their shitty ways. Which is fine if they keep to themselves; less so when they’re shitty to others, as they are likely to be.

Twitter can do more to make it easier for users to route around awful people and to get them off the service if they won’t let themselves be routed around. Twitter’s been promising for years that they’re going to make better strides in this department — and is promising more in the coming weeks — and yet here we are in 2016 and still it takes someone with a number two box office film to her name and all her famous friends to get the service to do something it should have done long ago. Yiannopoulos is giant turd of human, to be sure. But Twitter did its part in letting him get that way. Maybe they should do more to avoid let turd buildup happen from here on out.

They say they’re going to do it. Prove it, Twitter.