Crawford v. Games: The People’s Case for Siboot

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Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 6.48.17 PMRight now on Kickstarter, a nerdy little pitch is sweating it out against the clock, trying to raise money for an independent science-fiction game called Siboot. The creators are a small international team headed by a guy named Chris Crawford. They want $50k to finish developing their game, and with less than three days left as I write this, they need to raise another $34k fast, to make their goal and get funded.

I’m writing this last-minute plea because Crawford’s game Siboot is WAY more important than it might seem at first glance, and it really, REALLY deserves to be funded. This post is all about why. I hope you’ll hear me out, and consider making a pledge, yourself. It matters for reasons that may surprise you—one of which is GamerGate. (yes, I’m serious.)

Thanks, but I’m not into videogames *shrug*

Then you are exactly the target audience for this project. Because Siboot does something traditional videogames not only don’t do, but can’t do: give you access to characters who have real personalities, feel true emotions, and change their opinions and feelings as you interact with them. It’s a much more living, human experience than traditional games are.

Thanks, but I like videogames just the way they are.

Hmmm. If you think games are just perfect, frozen in time, and should never ever change—no new ideas or ways of playing, no changies, no erasies—then you’re right. Siboot isn’t for you. And I’ll go even farther. If you think GamerGate is all about ethics in journalism and you’re mad at Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu and Zoe Baird for trying to take away your naked babes and other (frankly) boring clichés, this is not your gig. You’ll hate Siboot, too.

But if you are tired of being handed the same old mannequin dressed up in different clothes, and you occasionally wonder if there’s something else out there—something new and different that takes a sharp turn offroad and heads out into uncharted territory, à la “Mad Max: Fury Road”—if you’re curious to see games that spark your imagination about what computer games could be, if only someone would risk breaking new ground, you should care about Crawford’s big idea.

First with the background.

Chris Crawford has been around since the early days of computer games. Though his name is not as well-known outside the games industry as guys like Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Sid Meier, he is an industry heavyweight, with several commercial hits under his belt, from back in the late eighties.

He is widely regarded as the dean of computer games for his critical contributions and has published a number of important books on game design. He’s also a leading light in the younger field of interactive storytelling (which is different from interactive fiction). That massive convention they hold all over the place, Silicon Valley’s version of ComicCon, known as the Computer Game Developers’ Conference (CGDC), started as a get-together in his living room.

OK, so he’s pretty smart and used to be a big shot in games. So what?

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, computer games were a baby industry, with some early successes under their belt and an expanding number of people who were buying computers. A growing market, in other words, with a big upside but a lot of uncertainty. They had to figure out where to put their juice.

The people with the bucks made a crucial choice at that time, to take the basic designs that were popular with their existing customer base—shooters (Galaxian, Asteroids, Wolfenstein’s Castle), platform/level games (Donkey Kong, Lode Runner, Pac-Man), and puzzle (Tetris, Minesweeper) and strategy (Balance of Power, The Art of War, Sim City) games—and sink all their money into improving the graphics. That trend has continued ever since.

Pretty much everybody loves great graphics (including me)! But because graphics are so expensive to make, over the past twenty years or more, game companies have dug themselves into a very deep trench. A box canyon of sorts. It takes upwards of $10 million to make something that will satisfy players’ expectations with regard to the graphics, and this makes game company executives very nervous. Unwilling to try anything new or irritate the people they view as their core fan base—many of whom are the spiritual descendants of those eighties and early nineties gamers, the nerdy young men we always hear about, who are more interested in guns and cars and technology than they are in other stuff. Women, people of color, and others who have been there from the beginning, who may not fit those narrow demographics, but regardless of those little checkboxes, who want to do more innovative work, struggle hard to be seen and heard in the games industry—perhaps more so even than in other creative spaces.

There is an indie presence in computer games, where you see a great deal more variety in developers and innovation. But indie developers struggle to survive financially. Very little money is made available to them for experimentation; the cost of developing the big, flashy games sucks all the oxygen out of the room. Indies and their concepts rarely make the transition to the mainstream. Meanwhile, mainstream developers quickly get bored and frustrated, tired of doing the same things over and over. The slope from the margins of game development to the center is a cliff face.

As a consequence, the games industry is languishing, in a creative slump. They’re in a rut and need a reboot. Crawford’s technology might just be that reboot.

That’s a mighty big claim you’re making, there, Laura.

It is. And there is sound reasoning underpinning it. Read on.

Crawford’s Rule: “People, not things!”

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s time for full disclosure: I worked with Chris Crawford on his technology, intensively, on and off for more than six years over a twelve- or thirteen-year period. I’m intimately familiar with what the technology can do, better than almost anyone but Crawford. We cofounded a startup, Storytron, to commercialize it, back in 2007.

I’m no longer with the company and am not benefiting financially from this endorsement, nor will I benefit if the game is a hit. I haven’t been involved in Storytronics for several years. I’m speaking up because I believe in what he is doing and think his big idea of putting people first in computer games has huge potential.

Crawford once half-jokingly granted me paternity rights to his creative baby, Storytronics, and I proudly claim it. Siboot is Crawford’s creation, but the underlying Storytron technology has a lot of my DNA, too, right down in its bones. (OK, now I’m having this twisted image of a gender-swapped Mad Max/ Imperator Furiosa team-up, with me as Max and him as Furiosa, racing across the desert in a war rig…. Heh.)

Crawford’s own “war rig” is Storytronics: the technology he has spent the last twenty years building, after he left the games industry and struck out on his own in the early nineties, fed up with the narrow constraints imposed on game developers. (You can watch his “Dragon Speech” here, by the way, in which he “resigns” from the industry. It’s an hour long, and is a thing of beauty—well worth your time.)

All computer games have a software engine at their center, which sets up and runs the rules on how the characters and objects respond to your choices. The engine at the heart of Siboot has very different rules than traditional games do, and this creates a radically different experience for the player. Unlike nearly every computer game in existence, your primary interactions in a Storytron-based game are with characters and their emotions in a virtual social space. Not objects and their traits in a virtual physical space.

But all games have characters and emotions!

Not like this, they don’t.

You really just have to experience it for yourself. My talking about Siboot can’t do it justice, because it’s so different from what you’re used to with games. We don’t have a good frame of reference for describing what it’s like. But think the baby Holodeck—only focus not on how the Holodeck looks, but rather how it feels.

The characters you interact with using Crawford’s technology feel real, in a way you haven’t felt before.

I know this is true, because I’ve experienced it for myself. I have both created and played with earlier prototypes. (Yes, the Storytron “war rig” has been built and fully tested, across multiple generations. Siboot is Crawford’s first commercial run with it—he’s taking the tech out for a spin.) The way the characters acted, and made their own decisions, and were obviously sizing me up as we interacted—it made my hair stand on end.

This is what makes Siboot, and Crawford’s plans to commercialize the engine that drives it, so disruptive and exciting.

How can one indie game really be so important?

I mentioned that fork in the road for the games industry, over twenty years ago. What Crawford believes, and I believe, is that they missed a big opportunity back then, by sinking all their money into graphics instead of investing in more stuff like character interaction and human emotion. Now we have a chance to revisit that decision. To start fresh with a new paradigm—one that elevates people over things. We have a chance to create a new kind of player experience that will have broader appeal.

And Siboot is just the beginning. If it’s a commercial success, as I believe it will be, if it’s funded; it will be only the first of many more character-based games built using Storytronic technology. Crawford intends to open-source the underlying technologies for other developers’ use, in addition to his own further efforts to commercialize this new approach.

But seriously now, what does this really have to do with GamerGate?

The problem many women have with traditional computer games is that games, especially first-person shooters—if they even have women in them—often objectify them. They’re merely present as eye candy, fridgification for hero motivation, damsels-in-distress useful only for rescuing, or offered up as relationship/ sex cookies as the male hero’s reward after completing a difficult battle.

It’s a lot easier to objectify female characters in games when they actually are objects, and not characters with real feelings, who can tell you you’re full of shit when you do shitty things. Storytronic characters—of every stripe—have a much easier time getting uppity. I’m just saying.

Mind you, I’m not saying that Siboot is a feminist game. That’s my schtick, not Crawford’s (though like me, he is very excited about new types of game design and technology that make women and their concerns more central to games and game development). Nor am I claiming that more games built with Crawford’s Storytronics will bring about a feminist techno-topia (though a woman can dream!).

The Storytron engine can be used for any kind of interactive entertainment that involves character interaction and human emotion, including reflections on fatherhood, brothers, war, and other concerns typically associated with men. It’s up to the person who creates a game with the Storytron engine, as to who the characters are and what the core conflicts are about. But either way, people and character interaction will always be central. Not guns, collectible objects, puzzles, and so on. This is built into the technology’s essence. And it’s a tectonic shift.

Hmmm…the “baby Holodeck,” eh?

Come on, admit it; you’re at least a little curious about whether what I’m saying could possibly be true.

Dream big. Buy a piece of the game and see for yourself. Help Crawford transform the games industry into a more human-centered enterprise and get in on the ground floor with a nifty social-intelligence-strategy game, while you’re at it.

Seriously, it’s a good deal for you, and it’s a big deal for the advancement of games.

I’m in! Where do I sign up?

Yay! Good decision! Go here and make a pledge. You’ll be kickstarting something cool—a game that will be a kick to play, and a technology that could make a real difference.

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I stand with Irene Gallo, and I stand with Tor

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I was deeply distressed to learn of the Rabid Puppies’ campaign against Irene Gallo, and the fact that they’re now calling for Tor to fire her. I’ve sent a letter to Tom Doherty. Here is a copy.

Dear Tom Doherty,

First, Tom, I want to extend warm greetings and sympathy to everyone at Tor, for the difficulties that you all have had to contend with over the past couple of weeks. I am sure the situation has created a huge strain on everyone there.

I am writing to you because I woke up Monday morning to discover to my dismay that Theodore Beale, a/k/a/ “Vox Day,” called for his Rabid Puppy supporters to write Tor and Macmillan, en masse, and demand that you fire Irene Gallo for her remarks on her personal FaceBook page on May 11. I’m writing to ask you to resist their demands for further reprisals against her. I stand with Irene.

My apologies in advance for the length of my letter, and for the unpleasantness of the content I’ve excerpted and linked to. I feel it’s important for me to provide context to help show where I’m coming from with all this.

Beale has been pursuing a personal grudge against several people, including Tor author John Scalzi and the Nielsen Haydens, for years. The reason he has targeted them is that they have stood up for those who have been bullied and harassed by Beale and his supporters.

Beale was booted out of our professional trade organization, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), in 2013, after using official SFWA channels to promote a series of deeply offensive, blatantly racist remarks against SFF writer and SFWA member N. K. Jemisin. He has a long history of horrific reactionary public statements, not only against people of color, immigrants, and non-Christians (including citing Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who gunned down 77 people, mostly teens, as a national hero for his acts, and suggesting that we look to Hitler to solve our immigration problems [he has since deleted the offending paragraph from his article, but the original pro-Nazi text appears here]). His views on women (“a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages,” “[A] purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable”) and gays (“Correcting the gay defect;” “How ‘gay marriage’ harms you”) are equally repugnant.

The National Criminal Justice Reference System, a federally-funded organization that provides justice-related information to support worldwide research, policy, and program development efforts, defines hate speech as “the use of speech attacks based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.” There can be no doubt that Beale’s public statements fall into this category. His actions and words have gone far beyond the bounds of reasonable political dissent.

Bullies and abusers rely on the larger community’s desire for comity—our willingness to live and let live—to impose their will and silence dissent. In such a case, it’s incumbent on people with standing in the community to speak up against them, providing a counterweight to their destructive ideas. By speaking when she did, in my view, Irene was doing what other thought leaders in our field like N. K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, and the Nielsen Haydens have done: guarding the health and well-being of our SFF community by standing up against hate speech.

Some feel the stark terms Irene applied to the Sad and Rabid Puppies movements in her FaceBook post—racist, misogynist, homophobic, neo-nazi—were too harsh and too broadly applied. That she spoke out of turn and had no business criticizing the Sad and Rabid Puppies campaign while promoting a Tor book. They protest that their views are not extreme, and using such terms unfairly maligns them, by lumping them in with someone they don’t support. Some members of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns have indeed distanced themselves from Beale, and perhaps they were initially unaware of just how extreme his views were. 

I believe that communities can grow and change. People can learn; viewpoints can shift. I have a seed of hope that someday, through continued dialog and education, we can find a way through this and mend some of the rifts that this conflict has exposed. 

But there is no getting around the fact that a misogynistic, homophobic white supremacist, who has spoken approvingly of shootings and acid attacks on women, and of Hitler and the Holocaust, who has called a respected SFF scholar and popular writer an ignorant, “not equally human” savage, stands at the heart of this conflict. Beale’s followers and fellow travelers may not themselves hold all the bigoted views he does, but information on who he is and how he feels about women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and others has been widely shared by now. If people are emailing you calling for Irene to be fired, they are unavoidably supporting Beale’s hate-filled agenda.

In short, the campaign they are pursuing against Irene, the Neilsen Haydens—and in fact, against Tor itself—has a deep taproot in values not reflective of a tolerant and diverse society. Those of us speaking up against this campaign are doing so not because we want a fight, but because if we stay silent, the deeply offensive views of a destructive individual will be further elevated, driving away many, many people from our field.

It boils down to this. There was truth in Irene’s words. It took courage for her to say something. She has my respect.

For me, this is not a matter of politics. I took a public stand last fall against Requires Hate, a serious cyber-bully on the left. This is about standards of discourse. It’s only a noisy and obnoxious few who insist on making trouble. Our broader SFF community recognizes that we can have political disagreements—even heated ones—without resorting to hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric, threats, and social-media shaming campaigns against people whose views we dislike. In fact, for the continued health and well-being of our field, I believe we must.

Now that Irene has apologized for any confusion or upset that her remarks may have caused among well-intentioned Puppy supporters, and now that you have publicly clarified Tor’s position and your reasonable desire to continue as you have been, grounded in your company’s commercial mission to provide SFF readers with a wide and enjoyable range of good fiction across multiple political and other perspectives, both Irene and Tor have amply satisfied their professional obligations to your customers and the community at large. I believe that neither you, Irene, the Nielsen Haydens, nor anyone else at Tor or Macmillan, has a further obligation to respond to the demands of Theodore Beale, John C. Wright, or their supporters.

I want to support Tor and Irene publicly as well as privately, and will be posting a copy of this letter on my blog, laurajmixon.com

In closing, I am proud to call myself a Tor author, I’m deeply sorry that your company has been targeted like this, and I wish you all the best. 

 Sincerely,

-l.

My letter says just about everything I feel the need to say about the matter. But in case it isn’t clear, I am opposed to boycotts of Tor’s books. Tor is also a target in this campaign, and I’m not interested in giving Beale what he wants.

Yes, I believe Beale’s targeting Irene was part-and-parcel with his own misogynistic views, but I believe Tom’s intent was to be even-handed. I know him to be a community-minded man who is deeply loyal to his staff and his authors.

I stand with Irene Gallo, with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and I also stand with Tor.

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Double Vision: Our Conflicting Nerdish Legacies

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“At its best, activism is not merely opposition to what is, it is also constructive of what will be.”

—Katherine Cross, Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism, 2014.

___________________

Stained glass bird designI’ve heard from a couple of people regarding my “Yes, But” post, which addressed criticisms of my report on Requires Hate/ Benjanun Sriduangkaew/ Winterfox last fall.

They’ve told me I missed the point of the objections people have raised to my Hugo nomination, due to the support of people from the wrong side of RaceFail. I’m grateful to them for opening their hearts to speak to me. Talking about all this can be very stressful.

I wasn’t around for RaceFail, and I have consistently underestimated the trauma caused by that rift. People have told me that they were “RaceFail babies” who entered the field around that time, and that the blowup shaped their entire perception of the field. To paraphrase something Rochita Loenen-Ruiz[1] has said to me, RaceFail has cast a long and deep shadow over SFF. Little trust or hope has been able to grow in its shadow, between many people of color and many in the white community.

RaceFail and other –Fails have become embedded in our history. They’re a deeply rooted, painful part of our SFF legacy. And perhaps we can’t heal those rifts right now. Perhaps some of those scars will never fully heal. What I am hoping for is that we can grow new connective tissue beginning in the here and now. New bridges to healing the rifts between us… recognizing that all of this will take time.

In the meantime, to be honest, what I’m looking for is not an award—as cool as Hugos are! If people feel in good conscience that they can’t vote for me, I respect that. What I am seeking is discussion—and I hope some eventual rough consensus—around a few key concepts.

Here is what I believe.

On discourse:

  • Threats of harm, stalking, blackmail, and other acts of bullying—online or off—are out of bounds, no matter who does it, nor to whom. This I consider a moral imperative. What Requires Hate did was wrong.
  • It’s equally important that we not use her actions, or activist critiques of toxic online activism, as an excuse to ignore the problems of inequity that remain in our communities, nor allow ourselves to be manipulated as social-justice clickbait. Activists put their hearts and bodies on the line, every day, to fight for equality and justice for marginalized peoples and ecosystems. We wouldn’t have open and democratic societies, worker and environmental and indigenous population protections, nor civil rights, nor the seeds of marriage equality, without their sacrifices.
  • No one view or voice can reflect the huge variety of opinions and feelings on any important topic. And no one person or group can be the sole or final arbiter of opinion. Discussion by many viewpoints is needed, from across the spectrum: center, margins, all around.
  • Criticism—while it can make us uncomfortable—is not harassment. It’s one of the few means of redress for people whose voices have been silenced.
  • People need to be able to express themselves without fear of retribution or harm. That’s why it’s so important that—while not denying our own truths—we take care with each other, and show each other kindness, as we process this. Otherwise, we end up in a downward spiral of pain and tit-for-tat abuse that creates the frozen, blasted wasteland of a hostile status quo.

On our SFF heritage:

  • Nerd culture, at its best, is all about belonging and welcoming—about excluded others finding a community of fellow travelers with a shared passion. For us in SFF, we celebrate stories centering the strange, the wondrous, the weird, the fantastic.
  • Our SFF history is rich and complex, with many works and traditions we treasure, contributed by writers and fans we hold dear. It’s not a perfect legacy; it’s not without its flaws. But it’s still precious. That heritage belongs to us all.
  • Whether intentionally or not, some works and words by writers who have shaped our legacy, and some of our community’s fannish spaces and practices, have harmed people of marginalized status, such as women, non-white people, non-straight/non-binary/transgendered people, people with mental or physical differences or disabilities, and/or those from non-Anglophone and/or non-Western countries. That harm can be invisible to people not belonging to those groups, and it can be devastating. The pain of finding ourselves further marginalized—misrepresented, maligned, or erased—within a nerdish community that belongs to us, too, is almost indescribable.
  • For those near the center of the field, it can cut deep when people criticize elements of the field’s core: the writers, voices, and fannish traditions that form our SFF legacy. This is not just venality or selfishness. Many near the center are at there precisely because they have spent their life toiling on that legacy, building it from scratch, and have often devoted years of their lives and buckets of sweat and heart’s blood to make it what it is. It’s understandable that they cherish what they’ve built, and want to protect it.
  • It can be hard for us to hear our friends and idols criticized. They are and have been mentors; their words and actions have comforted and succored us in our own time of need. This is true on all sides of the debate.
  • For all of us, sharp words can take us back to those times we were isolated in our pasts—shamed and excluded by non-nerds for our weird passions and ideas.
  • These complex and contradictory truths force a kind of double vision on us all. A cognitive dissonance. They form the heart of the conflict we need to bring into focus to resolve.
  • If we can find ways to hear each other and see each other’s visions of what might be, we can harmonize that fractured vision into a mosaic.

Summing it up:

  • Times change. Awareness grows. Challenging with a clear eye the attitudes and structures in our SFF legacy that have harmed people or outgrown their usefulness will renew our community. Resolving these conflicts will help keep SFF vital, relevant, and flourishing well into the 21st century.
  • I believe in us, as a nerdish community of storytellers and story-lovers. We are smart and resilient. I believe we can find a path, and come to a new understanding and sustained appreciation of our SFF history. We can find enough rooms in our house for all people of good will to belong as equal beneficiaries of our SFF legacy.

Building the foundations of trust, stone by stone, can be an important part of resolving some of these conflicts. We can pitch in to grow new, more inclusive communities and paths to publication. There have already been many terrific efforts along these lines, by many people. Check out the numerous diverse/ diversity-in-SFF hashtags on Twitter, as well as the Women/ Queers/ Et al.-Destroy-SFF anthologies, and The Other Half of the Sky.

Looking ahead, I know Rochita is working with some folks on ideas that will expand access and inclusion for and by people from marginalized communities, and I plan to wholeheartedly support those efforts. I hope you will, too. I’m noodling around with one or two possibilities, myself, that I think might intrigue people, once they’re ready to go public. More on that soon.

Si, se puede.

________________________

[1] Who has been a fucking hero in all this and deserves her own Hugo nomination for her passion, patience, courage, and voice.

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Yes. But.

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At the risk of yes-butting people over my report on Requires Hate/ Benjanun Sriduangkaew/ Winterfox, I want to respond to a few points that have been made in recent posts or in their comment threads regarding my Hugo nomination.

Kate Nepveu:   Yes, but (1) my statistics were poorly supported or cited, and (2) the wrong people commented on and/or supported my efforts.

Abigail Nussbaum:  Yes, but (3) perverse pie charts! plus (2) the wrong people commented on and/or supported my efforts.

Shaun Duke:   Yes, but (4) Requires Hate has stopped her abuses, apologized, and deserves forgiveness. [UPDATE: while I was adding links to this post in preparation for uploading it, I saw that Shaun Duke has apologized. I’m leaving my response to point #4 up, because I have heard others raising the same point, and I want my position to be clear.]

Geoff Ryman:   Yes, but (5) racism! The Sad Puppy/ Rabid Puppy attack on the Hugos is a much bigger problem than Requires Hate.

(1) About the reason and basis for my statistics.

I went for a statistical approach, rather than an anecdotal one, for two primary reasons.

  • I sought a way to show what was going on with clarity. Without the details, people couldn’t understand exactly how serious the problem was. But dragging the specifics of what had happened in individual cases into the main body of the report held the risk of re-traumatizing and humiliating the targets. I wanted to find a way that preserved a certain amount of dignity for the people who had been targeted.
  • Using statistics made it clear that Requires Hate’s “punching up” rhetoric aside, the majority of those harmed were vulnerable or marginalized in some fashion (though to be clear, the abuse she heaped on her targets was wrong, no matter who they were).

Here are some facts regarding the basis of my statistics:

  • Four-fifths of the targets I used for my analysis, or 24 out of 30, were named.
  • For 23 of the targets whose attacks I documented, or more than three-fourths, I had at least two independent sources of documentation. For most, I had more, despite RH’s attempts to scrub the evidence[1].
  • Regarding the 6 anonymous targets, the use of confidential sources is standard practice in investigative journalism. For these, there was one documented source for five, and two sources for the other.
  • Appendix A was clear and transparent with regard to which targets’ attacks I had multiple confirmed sources for, and which I did not.
  • I didn’t publish all my documentation but I published a significant amount of it, via links and screencaps—most of what wasn’t confidential in order to protect people who provided personal emails and/or asked to remain anonymous. The links are in Appendix B. (Some of these links have been subsequently scrubbed by Requires Hate, which as E. P. Beaumont has pointed out, is in itself a huge red flag).
  • I saw criticism regarding the target sample size. Performing a statistical analysis on a sampling of a population is a standard method. (It’s not uncommon in auditing to use a 5-10% sample size, for example.) There are drug trials with fewer people in them that appear in peer-reviewed science journals all the time.
  • I saw criticism about what I counted as abusive behavior. I recognize that others may draw different boundaries than I did on certain kinds of incidents. A reasonable person might look at a single incident, or even a single kind of incident, and conclude that, while they might not like it, it doesn’t rise to the level of abuse that deserved someone like me writing a report about it. This argument misses the point. While some of the actions may not have risen to the level of severity as others, they contributed to a larger pattern of destructive behavior.
  • The only reason there were 30 targets rather than, say, 45 or more, and that a handful of them lack a second source, is that several people were under attack continuously during my research, and were in a great deal of anguish. Those supporting me insisted my report had to be done within a few weeks—or at most, a month, to effectively protect the community. To fully research her prior actions, fully document, and report on them would have been a multi-month project, as she left a long and wide swath. And I doubt whether Requires Hate or her supporters would have been more persuaded by it or grateful to me for going to that extra effort.

Before moving on…are people seriously arguing that whether Requires Hate is a serial abuser rests on the question of whether, e.g., she abused 23 people rather than 30, or 45; whether non-white targets were 40% or only 30% of her target population; or whether abuse should be defined as threatening people with explicit murder, rape, or maiming threats, versus mounting extended shunning campaigns, efforts to suppress publication of their works, and stalking or blackmailing them? Really?

(3) About the data presentation choices I made.

I admit I got a chuckle out of the fact that Abigail Nussbaum found my pie charts perverse. I’m not quite sure what that means. Info management graphics like pie and bar charts, being much easier to read than tables of data, are a standard way of presenting statistical data. Did she take issue with my statistical choices? In which case, see my response #1 above. If not, are statistics used to report on, for instance, disproportionate incarceration and early death of black men in the US and its horrendous impacts on black families—or on the disproportionate and unjust effects of climate change—also perverse? Or was it that she didn’t like what the pie charts were saying?

(2) and (4) Regarding those who supported me, their impact on the report, and forgiveness for Requires Hate

I addressed my feelings about Requires Hate’s apologies, her continued abuses, and forgiveness and redemption back in February, in my follow-up report. As I’ve said before, I have no desire to see her receive the same treatment she’s meted out for so long; not from GamerGaters, Vox Day, PuppyGaters, her own stalkers, nor anyone else. No one deserves that kind of treatment. I don’t call for her to be blackballed. I believe individual editors and publishers have a right to make their own decisions to publish whom they choose.

The truth is that I would like to see Requires Hate find her way back into the community, somehow—as long as she can let go of her need to, e.g., call for people’s death, genocide, dismemberment, or acid maiming, and begin making real amends. And despite her protestations, I’m still getting reports of further attacks. I’ll post a followup on these with more details shortly. Furthermore, those under blackmail threat remain so, until she explicitly and publicly agrees not to act on her threats toward them.

She is a grown adult and has been for years. There is a fundamental unfairness in the notion that her rehabilitation should take precedence over the many who have played by the rules, and were brutally harassed and attacked by her. Forgiveness can’t be demanded by the abuser (nor her supporters). It can only be granted by the people she’s harmed.

As for the people who supported me while I was working on the report or who commented on it, a couple of points.

First, while the words and analysis were mine, my report was the point of a wide wedge. It was the result of a major, nearly-six-week-long effort and I was supported by dozens of people. Those I named in my acknowledgments post were only a subset of those who helped me investigate, gave me editorial feedback, and put out the word to make the SFF community aware of what was happening. I respect those who felt they needed to stay in the background—they had good reasons. But it took real courage to publicly cosign my efforts. I honor those who did.

In her comment on Abigail’s post, Rachel Manija Brown made another important point. SFF is a small world. There will always be people you dislike commenting on any high-profile issue. If your support for the targets of abuse is determined by whether or not you approve of their other supporters, this conflates the individual targets with the sum total of everyone who has commented on a current event. This is cruel and unfair to the actual victims. It’s erasing real people for the sake of old feuds they weren’t even involved in.

In the final analysis, I felt that this was a time when we needed to set aside our disagreements and political arguments, and come together as a community to support people who were in real pain.

Friends of mine in the community of color have spoken to me before about how much more heavily a white person’s words can fall, when they speak angrily or disrespectfully to a person of color. In Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s case, she was specifically referring to what happened to her with Requires Hate’s white defenders, who used some harsh words with her. I have heard some similar words from other people of color who were targeted by or stood up to Requires Hate. But I know that it applies in any conflict.

This article by writer Lo Kwa Mei-en on how silencing works on immigrant women of color is just lacerating, and it reminds me of exactly where the rage can come from, in an argument, which to someone like me might seem as if it comes from “nowhere.” SFF writer Saladin Ahmed recently described on Twitter how he got racially profiled on a recent domestic US plane trip ([1] | [2][3]). Tobias Buckell talked recently about how he has never felt safe in SFF conventions and fandom, due to his race. A lifetime of these kinds of incidents, large and small, can pile up on a person; I know this from my own experiences as a woman in a technical field. They become an invisible added burden people must carry around.

This added weight that lies on the shoulders of people in a power-down social position calls all of us in any power-up community to take an extra moment to consider the impact of our words, when we’re in a dispute.

I have heard the criticisms of my report by people including not just Kate Nepveu, but also Tessa Kum and Jaymee Goh, of Djibril al-Ayad, FanGirlJeanne, and Tempest Bradford, among others. I acknowledge that my being white does make a difference—that it is essentially impossible for me to talk about this topic without that racial power dynamic and potential for bias echoing between us—whether or not that’s my desire or intent. I disagree with some of the things they’ve said, but I want to stress that their voices matter.

And of course, this is also happening when white supporters of or apologists for Requires Hate talk sharply to, or make blanket public statements that erase the experiences of, people like Rochita, E. P. Beaumont, Jintian/ Hesychasm, and M Sereno/ Likhain. It is happening along other social power axes, as well—for instance, for Requires Hate’s targets such as Rachel Manija Brown, Athena Andreadis, Liz Williams, Colum Paget, and Tricia Sullivan, among others. They are all feeling the added burden and stress, I’m certain, of having to contend with the more influential, high-profile people in our community dissecting and opining on how much the targets’ experiences matter.

While we’re on the subject of identity and social privilege, it also seems fair to me to point out that Requires Hate rarely if ever discusses the aspects of her own demographics that are less advantageous to her identity-policing rhetoric—such as the fact that she is wealthy, and enjoys her own brand of racial privilege as an ethnically-Chinese person living in Thailand. That matters, too. Privilege is always relative, and people’s identities are complex.

(5) On weighing racism and the Sad-Rabid Puppies, versus Requires Hate.

You won’t get any argument from me that structural racism and white supremacy are a much bigger problem than the actions of any one person. The legacy of oppression we live with means that we all live on a power gradient, in which the words and actions of people with greater privilege fall with heavier weight on those lower on the privilege slope. And I know the kind of pain this can bring, which can lead someone to want to stomp the world down to flinders and dance among its bones.

But Requires Hate is a textbook example of why the tone argument can’t be used as a panacea for society’s ills.

I imagine our SFF community as a forest, an ecosystem burgeoning with living beings—one that I want to see thrive in all its complex interdependencies.

If so, the PuppyGaters’ bloc-voting slate on the Hugos comes across to me as a direct attack on our community’s well-being. It’s as if they are wielding flamethrowers. If they can’t have the forest to themselves, they want to burn it down. Requires Hate’s attacks, on the other hand, occur more insidiously, mostly out of sight. The hurt she has caused spreads more slowly like a poison, through streams, soil, and tap root, to kill the forest’s heart.

It destroys trust, when people know there is no true fairness in the accusations and threats being leveled against them, but that those around them, those who have the ability to defend them, either think the attacks are justified strictly on the basis of identity, or that they somehow don’t matter. And this damage also degrades our community’s health. It makes us all the more vulnerable to the flames.

I agree with those who say we need to send a message to the PuppyGaters by voting No Award on the SP/RP works[2],[3]. I also believe we need to make it clear as a community that we stand by the people harmed by Requires Hate.

Social-justice concepts have moral heft, and are themselves a form of power. They should be wielded with due care. With anger, yes, of course. Anger is an understandable and appropriate response to abuse.

But social-justice rhetoric should not—must not—be put to cynical and self-serving ends. These concepts were developed to eliminate injustice—not to create new unjust acts! I believe this down to my very bones.

Believe me, I wish I could stop talking about this. This isn’t about me, and I’d like nothing more than to leave the whole Requires Hate mess behind. But I feel I have a responsibility to our community. Until I am convinced that she has truly changed her ways, I will continue standing up for the people at risk of harm. (And this, by the way, was the advice of the expert I spoke to, regarding this matter.) If you truly care about the health and well-being of our community, I urge you to stand with me.

#RequiresLove (h/t Nalo Hopkinson)

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[1] For the others, I confess, it was my heart, not my head, that called me to include them. Follow the links as you are able, read their words, and apply your own conscience, as to whether you agree.

[2] Though I intend to consider and vote on the non-SP/RP works on the ballot, as they are there by the will of the community. There are always plenty of great works that never see a Hugo ballot, and no award process will ever be perfect. Let us not punish those who are on the ballot despite the PuppyGaters’ efforts.

[3] I also want to give a shout-out to Annie Bellet, Marko Kloos, and Matthew David Sturridge, who declined their nominations when they discovered they had gotten onto the ballot due to the PuppyGaters. I urge everyone to read their works and consider them for a Hugo on the 2016 ballot.

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It’s Tonka Toys! All the Way Down!

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I keep pondering Tade Thompson’s recent post at SAFE: “I Own SFF Fandom (and so do you).” He cuts to the heart of something that has been very much on my mind.

MysticMountain_HubbleForteza_1564The Sad/Rabid Puppies claim a moral basis for their attack on the Hugos. They say that identity-based politics have polluted our storytelling traditions. They long for a return of the good old days when SFF stories were not about race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or cultural appropriation, or all those other pesky social-justice matters, but instead favored just-great-romps, without all the politics injected into them. And at this point my Spock ears appear and my right eyebrow floats up. I think, Fascinating.

You know what? When I read a story about a woman, especially an older woman, kicking ass and taking names in an exciting space opera or fantasy setting, I certainly don’t see politics. I see an exciting space opera or fantasy with characters I can really relate to. And I’m willing to bet my friends in the LGBTQI, dis/ability, and POC communities don’t see politics, either, when they read a story that has someone whose demographics match their own. They see that person who, like them, is fighting to find their way in the world, despite all the obstacles they face. (Obstacles that can differ, based on who we are and what we’ve encountered in our lives.) Who struggles to hold onto their humanity in the face of implacable hostility. Of denial of who they are.

The Sad/ Rabid Puppies seem to think of themselves as the true descendants of the grand masters of our modern pulp SFF tradition. I find this…interesting. The idea that stories about white guys overcoming obstacles—struggling to hold onto their humanity in the face of implacable hostility and denial who they are—is somehow less political than anyone else undergoing all those struggles—is simply so illogical to me that I can help but shrug and go, whaaaa? Because you know, the Grand Masters of SFF are my forebears, too.

Seriously, dudes. What would Spock say? (WWSS???)

I wrote recently about how the books of SFF writers like Heinlein and Silverberg and Simak and Asimov and Vance and Bradbury and Tolkien saved my life, when I was young. I was an abuse survivor (post1 | post 2), not to mention a really weird kid who didn’t fit in, and those science fiction stories I found in Prospect Branch Public Library saved my life. I didn’t care if they were written by a bunch of white guys. I cared that, like me, they spent all their time gazing at stars and poring over old tomes, dreaming up all these wild tales. Connecting our future with our past. Imagining all these different rich, complex, beautiful, scary worlds. Showing me that I wasn’t the only person who thought that way, and that my life wouldn’t always be crabbed and limited as it was then.

Speaking of Spock, I had the great good fortune of being around when the original Star Trek series ran, in 1966-1968. Only my parents were really strict about bedtimes. I was too little for ST seasons 1 and 2—my bedtime was 7:30, and the show came on at 8. By the time it started, sleep had gotten hold of me. But by the time the third season came on, my bedtime was bumped up to 8 pm!! So they would send me to bed, and turn out the light, and I would crawl into the hall, creep into the living room behind the couch, and watch the show—terrified of being discovered, but unable to resist the pull. And so I had the great good fortune to watch the last season of their original run.

I loved Star Trek. And when I discovered the written works, I loved Lord of the Rings. I loved Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Ring Around The Sun. I, Robot and Tau Zero. I loved all those books I discovered in the library that had been by old white dudes. I didn’t care who wrote it. I cared about the stories they told. It was my legacy, too.

To my fellow SFF siblings who are white guys and don’t understand this: you know, most of the time, anyway, I’m not mad at you. For one thing, anger takes a lot of energy. For another, #NotAllStraightCisWhiteGuys—there are lots of guys out there who get it. And for another, frankly, I quite fancy straight white guys. I married one. He’s brimming with awesome sauce (just saying).

Even so. Your demographics don’t give you first dibs on our SFF forebears. We are our ancestors’ children. All of us. Even if the field was mostly straight cis-gendered white guys back then (which, I honor their contributions, but btw, there were plenty of women, queers, and POC back then, too), the world has shifted. SFF is a powerful meme that has spread far beyond its origins, and will continue to do so.

We’re all part of the human race. We all descended from mitochondrial Eve. Someday, our descendants will be on that bus to Tau Ceti.

So now I’m going to put on my mom face and say boys, you need to share those Tonka Toys. Stop with the defensive clutch. Share the sandbox. Because it’s the right thing to do.

And you know what else? When we let more writers with various points of view in, they’ll bring more readers with them. And that means more readers for you, too, you know. Because lots of people will want to read your stories, if you’re a good enough writer, regardless of their demographics (or your politics). I promise.

And maybe, if you get a good close look at the sand castles the rest of us build with those Tonka Toys, you’ll come to understand that you are part of a much bigger universe than you seem to realize right now.

‘Cuz, you know. Sensawunda, and all that.

 

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Standing in the Borderlands of Discourse

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First of all, I want to thank Rochita Loenen-Ruiz for standing up in favor of my Hugo nomination. Rochita, I know that wasn’t easy. I am proud to know you, and humbled by your friendship and support.

The rest of this is a post I started when I heard about the nomination, after writing my acceptance post. A lot of other things have happened since then, and I had a set of links I’d been noodling around with, which isn’t complete yet, but let me get this up and I’ll deal with the rest later.

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I want to draw people people’s attention to a post Rochita wrote recently at her own blog. It’s a must-read, heartbreaking essay about her fear of attending Dysprosium, the 2015 national British SF convention. Her encounters with Requires Hate & Co. have wounded her spirit in a profound way. How can anyone read her account and say it doesn’t matter, that we shouldn’t say anything that might hurt RH’s feelings—that we should take RH at her word that her abuses are all in the past and anyway, I was just picking on her and being racist and mean?

And it’s not just Rochita. SFF writer Colum Paget’s pain, when RH went after him for winning the James White award in lieu of her friend Tori Truslow (which, WTF? His story hadn’t even been published yet, and RH was trashing it and calling for him to be decapitated, based on a short excerpt of his story on the awards website) was as real and profound as Rochita’s. The harm done to him lasts to this day. I fear we have lost his writer’s voice, and I’m deeply sad about that. I have a serious disagreement with his political views, but he obviously has real talent and I don’t believe that the way to win an argument with him is to crush his spirit and silence his voice. He has the right to contribute his own stories to our community bookshelves, to find his readership.

While researching RH’s abuses, I heard stories like theirs over and over, day after day. If you weren’t the right demographics—the right ideology—if you didn’t toe the line—if you even looked at RH crosswise—then you were in for it.

The truth is, I have also been afraid. I’ve feared an attack, online or yes, even a potential real-life attack. Most of all, I’ve feared that speaking publicly about all this again could ignite a conflagration that makes RaceFail09 look like BakeSale09.

Some people have told me that for them, RH calling for people to be murdered or assaulted or mobbed was just hyperbole—performance art, in essence, and not meant to be taken seriously.

[Trigger warning: racial violence; homophobia]

I had a friend in college, a fellow engineering student. She was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and her brother had been murdered in broad daylight in front of her eyes by a classmate of his, for dating the classmate’s sister. Because he was black and she was white. And the classmate was never even arrested, let alone prosecuted. I can’t even imagine what she and her family must have been through. How must they feel, to this day, wondering what her brother’s life might have been, had he lived?

And I have some close friends, a lesbian couple, who have been together for decades. When the marriage equality laws were passed in California they were finally able to marry, but I see them brace themselves, whenever I introduce them as a couple to others. They still feel that lingering fear, that need to be wary, because there are those who might attack them for openly wearing their sexual orientation in public.

In light of the severity and pervasiveness of these kinds of prejudice, it can be easy, I think, for activists to view social-media shaming campaigns, or political-purity checks at cons and publishers, as trivial in comparison, or as somehow worth the price. But the harm of online assaults is real and lasting. And unjust. Using your influence to have people barred from convention events or constrained from publishing their own works, as punishment for disagreeing with you, is both unethical and in some circumstances illegal.

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I have had numerous people say to me that as a result of what RH has done, concepts of social justice and intersectionality have been tainted for them. They have been used as a cudgel and thus devalued. This saddens me.

A lot of people already know what I’m about to say—many advocates have been writing about this since forever, and scientific studies back them up, time and again. But for those who doubt it, the science is in, and prejudice, stereotyping, bigotry, and unconscious bias are all very real. People are dying daily because of the color of their skin, their class/caste, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity. Women of equal capability have a harder time finding employment, and are paid less, than men for the same work—and for people of color here in the US, it’s harder still. People get erased from awareness due to their disability or differences in neurology. In other words, if you are straight, white, male, of middle or upper class, and able, then (on average) you’re playing life on an easier setting than others. (Mind you, it doesn’t necessarily mean things are easy for you; it just means it’s easi-er than it is for your peers whose demographics differ from yours.)

It’s a kind of cosmic cruelty that those who can most clearly see the damage done by prejudice and discrimination are the people who receive that damage, and that thus the primary burden falls on people experiencing oppression to speak out about it, if they want things to change. (And we have to do it over, and over, and over… which is deeply wearing.)

Because this fundamental unfairness is baked into our social structures, it’s much easier for people in a position of greater privilege to speak “reasonably” while denying the impacts of discrimination, to tune out or discredit the words of people who are speaking from a position of social disadvantage. I have always felt that because of this, it’s the responsibility of the person with the greater structural advantage to make room for the person who has been harmed or marginalized to speak.

It’s a kindness, in other words, to give people the benefit of the doubt when they speak about a form of discrimination or bias you have never experienced—to assume good intent, despite any exasperation or frustration they might express.

It’s as if you are inside the building and one of your colleagues has been locked out. Maybe you even accidentally locked them out. Maybe not, and it’s just a big misunderstanding. Either way, it’s the courteous thing to do, to open the door. To make room for them. Apologize for inconveniencing them, if you find you inadvertently made their life more stressful. (And avoid embarrassing or patronizing them, of course, or acting like you’re doing them a big favor. It’s their building, too.)

It’s this very sense of courtesy, of social obligation, that RH has exploited.

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Since social-justice concepts are true, they are a form of power. As with any sort of power, they need to be wielded ethically, or they can do a great deal of harm. People don’t control how much privilege, how many unearned advantages or disadvantages we are born with. What we can control is how we use the power we do have. For every one of us in this community, I would be willing to bet you that I could find someone who has greater systemic privilege than you, and I could find someone with less. (And you know? A person can be as oppressed as hell, and still be an asshole.)

It becomes much harder to talk about bias or prejudice, after what RH has done. We’re all too easily accused of hypocrisy, or assumed to be tainted by political association. Yet the injustices persist, regardless of whether we speak of them. Distrust and disbelief put locks on our mouths, our minds, and our hearts. We can’t build a community together unless we can speak honestly to each other.

And how do we distinguish RH’s actions from words spoken by people who are simply angry and hurt, in the heat of the moment? Or who use humor—snark and exaggeration—to make their point? Sometimes, sarcasm and gallows humor are all people have to keep them from falling into despair. Sometimes people need to put their foot down and say irritated or angry things. Because they have their own lived experience, that others can’t know, unless they speak, and anger is an appropriate response to abuse.

What are good rules of the road for how negative or sharp criticism can be, without going over the cliff edge? How can we preserve the good in our SFF legacy, without clinging to the aspects that have caused harm?

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In short, this is an awful situation we’re in. It sucks, that our community has been hacked in this way. It sucks, that someone who could have been an important voice for positive change has turned out to be someone very different.

And it’s not just RH. The Sad and Rabid Puppies’ attempt to sweep the ballots comes across to me as a blatant backlash against efforts to expand our field and increase diverse voices. Their poison-pill attack on this year’s Hugo ballot reveals contempt for the very spirit of our community. However flawed and clumsy its implementation might be at times, the Hugo awards process seeks to receive and amplify the relationship that each reader has for their favorite writer, their favorite artist, their favorite editor or work, in order to sum things up: to encapsulate the field’s zeitgeist for that moment in time. SFF as a form seeks room for different voices, for the Other. For tolerance and diversity. It’s part of our tradition. It’s in our DNA.

As I mentioned in a recent follow-up post to my report, internet trolls are by-and-large sadistic, manipulative, narcissistic sociopaths, who torment people because they like it. They enjoy the feeling of power it gives them to make others suffer. That fear and isolation many of us feel, that associated anger, even rage, at those we disagree with? The trolls among us stoke it. They feed on it. It’s what gives them their power over us. Are we going to allow that pattern to continue? Are we going to keep dancing to their tune?

What RH and the Sad/ Rabid Puppies have in common, in other words, is not their politics, but their hate.

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We in SFF have an obligation as a community not to collude in bullying through our silence. Cyber-bullying, like its real-life equivalent, knows no gender; no class; no race nor ethnicity nor culture; no political nor religious affiliation; no sexual orientation nor dis/ability status. A community can’t thrive if it allows abuses of its members to continue unimpeded.

I haven’t missed the painful fact that RH is not the only one who abuses others, some of whom are of greater status in our field. Even if we discount those who have miscast people’s efforts to expand SFF readers’ access to new, diverse voices as attempts to chase them, the self-styled successors of the old guard, out—oppression itself is a form of abuse that bears down on people of marginalized status. We live in a poisoned pool of unfair bias. The fact that RH wields as her weapon the prejudice people from marginalized groups face, when they are accused of being abusive for speaking uncomfortable truths, simply makes her own abuses that much more cruel.

I’ve spoken to an expert in the matter who has studied our case, who tells me that RH’s abuses (like Vox Day’s) are highly unlikely to stop by themselves, if she follows the trajectory of other people who act as she has. Over and over, for more than a decade, she has blown up communities by positioning herself as a victim and finding people to cover for her, who either feel they don’t have a right to criticize her, or are willing to overlook her behavior for the sake of other concerns.

That’s why I accepted the nomination, and why I continue to speak. The community is still at risk. I believe we need to find a way to send a clear signal* that the community stands firm on this basic principle: that our politics can’t outweigh our humanity. That everyone has a fundamental right to be here, to engage in online and in-person discourse without being threatened with annihilation. We have to find a way—not to deny our own beliefs and experiences—but to talk across the divides.

I don’t have good answers for how we can help the center hold, but I do believe we need to rally as a community around a set of norms. A covenant of sorts. An agreement that, whatever the fractures in our community—whatever our disagreements—whatever personal circumstances brought us to this genre in the first place—at its heart, SFF has room for all of us.

Every era has its defining challenge. Ours is to do the messy, difficult work of giving birth to that reality, by not giving in to the voices of hate, from without or within.

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*22 May 2015 Update: The original words were”A vote for me sends a clear signal….” I’ve edited them to acknowledge the concerns of those who have criticized me for campaigning. That’s not what this is about for me, and I’m on board with however people need to vote. What I’m looking for is for acknowledgment of the harm of abusive practices, and the importance of recognizing everyone’s right to be heard. #RequiresLove

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About that Hugo Nomination…

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hugo_smAcceptance

So yeah. Wow. I am gratified—and stunned—to have been nominated for Best Fan Writer Hugo for my November, 2014 investigative report on Requires Hate/ Winterfox/ Benjanun Sriduangkaew (HTML | PDF). If you’re wondering why I was nominated, that’s the place to start.

Hugo nominators, I’m humbled by your vote of confidence. I’d be glad to win the award. I value the good opinion of my peers, but more importantly, being on the ballot sends a clear signal to the people who’ve been targeted by Requires Hate & Co. that the SFF community has their backs. Still, I’d trade a hundred Hugo nominations for an alternate version of our fannish history—one that didn’t include damage done to our people or our communities by those hiding self-serving agendas behind high-minded rhetoric.

I have accepted the nomination, to raise awareness regarding those who have been harmed, and those who have stood up against the harm Requires Hate has done. Again, thanks to George RR Martin for his signal boost of my report, as well as the other pros and fans who nominated me.

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bespinduel3

A Sad-Rabid-Hateful State of Affairs

An existential struggle is underway for the heart of our SFF community. The field has been battered repeatedly by ideological contention and controversy, as evinced by the bigotry-driven Sad-Puppies Hugos campaigners, who have infected our awards process with an astro-turfing virus. My own feelings about the matter are expressed better than I ever could by Abi Sutherland and Elizabeth Bear (EB1EB2).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has also brought to people’s attention the fact that Matthew David Sturridge, reviewer for Black Gate, made the very difficult decision to turn down his Hugo fan writer nomination, as a protest against the fact that he was on the Sad-Puppies slate for bloc voting, when he opposes everything they stand for. It may well have been this act that led to my name ending up on the final ballot. I also want to give a nod to the other SFF fans and pros who would otherwise have made it onto the final ballot, if not for the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaign. You deserved better, and I would have been proud and honored to share a Hugo nomination with you.

Against this backdrop (“it’s all about ethics in Hugo voting”), Requires Hate’s long-running pseudo-social-justice-inspired campaign of hostility and aggression toward fellow SFF writers and fans has made it that much harder for our community to deal in a unified way with attacks from the extreme right.

Requires Hate’s attacks on fellow writers and fans, under the guise of social justice, have been happening under the radar for most people in the SFF community-at-large, but the impacts are far-reaching. The attacks have had a serious and demoralizing impact on a range of people who either are themselves vulnerable or marginalized, or else who read and/or write stories in diverse settings or with characters from diverse communities. In other words, the people harmed have been the very ones we want to nurture, promote, and elevate—and note, who often share the views and are even some of the same people as those under attack by the Sad Puppies.

As a result of Requires Hate’s actions, valuable members of our community have been silenced, harassed, even chased out of the field—people whose voices we need as we respond to campaigns like Sad Puppies. And Requires Hate’s attacks are still ongoing. If we are committed to protecting our community from assault by haters, in other words, Requires Hate’s actions matter just as much as the Sad Puppies’ do. Her situation is just a lot messier than theirs.

With Vox Day and his ilk, it’s not hard for decent, caring people to figure out where they stand. That’s not as true of Requires Hate. For me, her situation is more complicated. It’s awful and icky and sad, and raises all kinds of challenges and questions about how we engage with each other and how social-justice concepts should be applied in the real world.

But as hard as it is for us to wrestle with this—and as unnerving as it is to have this conversation under the gaze of the Sad-Puppies’ militant allies, the GamerHaters, who’ve done horrible things to people in the gaming community who are seeking to expand diversity in their own field—we have an obligation not to avert our collective gaze. People are still being targeted by Requires Hate, and the community is still at risk.

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Acknowledgments

I take full responsibility for the content of my report; however, numerous people gave me crucial input and support during my investigation, such  as pointers to other targets and documentation, feedback on my drafts, suggestions for significant improvements, and signal boosts during its release. Without them, there would have been no report. You all have my heartfelt gratitude. Some who helped have asked to remain anonymous, but for those who were willing to be named, I want to recognize their individual contributions.

For me, this all started with a Twitter argument late last September that I happened to spot in my feed. It seemed off, somehow. People I knew and respected were making serious allegations of lying—doxxing—collusion with bullying—against other people I knew and respected. Metaphorically, fists were flying, between people from whom I’d never have expected it.

When I reached out via email to some of the parties involved, I had no idea what I was in for. Initially, even in private conversations, those caught up in the blowup were reluctant to provide names or details, despite the fact that they were clearly deeply distraught. This was not a normal personality conflict or garden-variety fan-wankage.

As I dug further and spoke to more people, the matter began to take on ever larger and twistier proportions.

Death threats? Blackmail? Blackballing? People terrified to leave their homes? Online communities obliterated? Since 2003? WTF???

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Tricia Sullivan each had to make a tough call, in those first days. They were really on the firing line, with Requires Hate and her supporters leveling all kinds of false accusations at them.

Back then, it was hard to believe that anything could change Requires Hate’s trajectory, and from Trish’s and Rochita’s perspectives, sharing details of what had happened must have seemed most likely to just make matters worse. Feed the flames. Draw more people into what was already an ugly conflagration that had damaged personal and professional relationships. But they made a decision to trust that I would treat their information with care, and find a way to get the truth out there that the community could grasp fully.

They answered my questions in depth about the actions Requires Hate and her primary supporter Alex Dally MacFarlane had taken (buckle your seatbelts; even the condensed version is convoluted):

  • First, to (ultimately unsuccessfully) suppress publication of Trish’s book Shadowboxer, and when Rochita refused to knuckle under by pre-emptively trashing Tricia’s book in public;
  • To attack Rochita’s career through attempts to shut her out of convention events and have her blackballed by publishers (RLR1, RLR2); and
  • Last fall, to publicly attack both Tricia and Rochita for supposedly outing the Requires Hate as also being her new ingénue persona, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, as a means to deceive the community about the connection.

I’m deeply grateful for the trust Rochita and Trish both placed in me.

SFF writer and editor Athena Andreadis’s contributions were pivotal. It was in speaking to her only a day or so later—seeing the emotional toll it took to tell me her story, when I knew Athena to be highly intelligent, accomplished, and well able to handle adversity—that I began get an inkling of the scale of destruction Requires Hate had wrought. That took great courage.

SFF writers Rachel Manija Brown, Kari Sperring, and Liz Williams also showed fortitude and integrity. Each stepped up very soon thereafter, when they heard I was looking into the matter. They told me their own stories. They helped corroborate or correct key details of what had happened to them and others they knew. They identified prior blow-ups, targeting, and so on, which enabled me to begin fleshing out the prior history. Their insights and contributions were critical.

Numerous other targets and witnesses began coming forward to share their stories with me, as well, and/or provide important documentation, and I honor their contributions. For targets, it’s hard to speak your truth, when you fear (with good reason) that people either won’t believe you, or just won’t get why something that happened online could be so icky, so traumatic, so terrifying. For witnesses, the very real fear that cooperating or speaking up will put you in the line of fire next can paralyze your vocal chords.

In addition to the targets, other people early on made a conscious decision to step up, even though they didn’t have to. Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden were the first to sign on to help me wrestle with everything I was uncovering. Their moral support, strategic thinking, editing skills, and willingness to help get the word out were a godsend.

I reached out to Nalo Hopkinson after uncovering some evidence she might have been targeted. I learned she hadn’t been, but once she found out what was going on, she believed me—believed the targets—and provided important insights and suggestions for how to help the community. She showed clear-eyed kindness, love, and clear ethical boundaries that kept me grounded. She also supported me publicly when the report was released, which I know has strained relationships that are important to her. It calls me to show the same integrity. She was the one who came up with the Twitter hashtag #RequiresLove, which I think beautifully captures what our focus must be, to recover and right our fragile relations. I feel so fortunate to have her friendship and support.

Pat Cadigan, not a target at that time, had the titanium ovaries necessary to insist publicly on accountability and truth-telling, and behind the scenes provided moral support to several people who had been targeted. (Though she became a target after my report came out, for calling out a man on Twitter, who turned out to be a GamerHater, for pretending he hadn’t seen my report when he clearly had.) Sherwood Smith also provided moral support and wise counsel behind the scenes to some of the targets, and I know it meant a great deal to them.

Up-and-coming SFF writers Tade Thompson and Victor Fernando R. Ocampo responded to Rochita’s call to support writers and fans in the SFF community of color, helping them process what was happening, and—along with other people of color behind the scenes who prefer to remain anonymous—gave me a clearer perspective on some of the important inter-racial, -ethnic, and -cultural undertones of what was unfolding around us. This, and their willingness to be visible on the SAFE blog in a racially-fraught conflict, showed tremendous grit and compassion.

As I mentioned above, several who prefer to remain anonymous also provided support and information behind the scenes. Throughout my investigation, they demonstrated deep love for the field by uniting in purpose to protect those who were harmed, despite their personal and philosophical differences. You know who you are, and you have my undying thanks.

And for those who, however conflicted your feelings may be about my report or my nomination, and how it might affect our community—how it might be used cynically, for instance, as a tool by bigots to tear down the social safety net that progressive advocates have poured so much sweat and blood into—or who have seen personal and professional relationships disrupted, harming innocent parties—but who still made a decision to believe the targets, I want to honor you as well. I understand your concerns and thank you for supporting the people harmed despite your reservations.

I get why this is so hard to talk about. We are fragmented, as a global community, even within the progressive community, with many unresolved grievances in our past and no easy way to talk about them with each other. But we have to find a way, somehow. I have some more thoughts on this, which I’ll post in coming days.

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Postscripts

  • Comments will be closed. Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light, has mad mod skillz that extend back to the early days of the internet. She has agreed to sponsor a discussion on community standards and how to create safe and productive online communities in a stormy political environment: how to maximize light and minimize heat. It should go up soon, so keep an eye out. I’ll post a link as soon as it’s up over there. Tade Thompson also invites people to discuss the situation at his blog SAFE. There are already several open threads there, and if he posts an additional one, I’ll include a link here.
  • Self- and other-care stuff, in case it’s needed, this Hugos season:
    1. (hat tip to Nalo, for inspiring this one) If you receive hate tweets by GamerHaters or RequiresHate, or anyone else, you can use Nalo’s #RequiresLove hashtag to make a commitment to donate to whatever cause they are hating on you for espousing. For instance, for every hate-tweet you get, you would donate $1 to a cause that fosters diversity in publishing or computer gaming. Whatever is affordable for you. Though I don’t FaceBook or Tumble, there may be ways to adapt this to those media as well. Be sure to ask your followers for support as needed! (And give a count of your progress! >:) )
    2. Don’t panic if people you’ve always been cordial with temporarily block or unfollow you, or take their account private for a while. Sometimes people are upset and need to create an extremely safe space around themselves, while they sort out conflicting feelings. This is all really difficult stuff to deal with. I believe that eventually the dust will settle and we’ll be able to look at each other with a clearer gaze than we can right now. Meanwhile, it’s better not to burn bridges or assume the worst of people who are simply freaking out.
    3. One successful method I’ve seen used to help protect someone receiving hate tweets, after of course screencapping (for PCs | for Macs) (Pro-tip: be prepared with the right software and practice a couple of screencaps before you dive into discussions, if you haven’t done it before), blocking, reporting, and muting, is for concerned friends to send the person under attack a load of fun and loving stuff—kitten gifs or friendly silly jokes, etc. It helps move the offensive stuff off-screen and remind them they are valued.
    4. If you see someone else come under attack by threats or slurs, I recommend screencapping anyway, even if it’s not you being attacked. Multiple copies don’t hurt. It’s not uncommon for a person under attack to feel overwhelmed and freaked out. They may click away or log out just to get away from the ugliness without capturing it. Picking up some of the slack for them, if you’re a bystander, can really help.
    5. For those who want to help out on their blogs by fostering discussions, preserving offending comments in the trashbin with their IP addresses intact would be helpful.
    6. Zoe Quinn, who was targeted by GamerHaters in the games community, has created Crash Override, an online anti-harassment website, to help combat cyber-bullying. The instigation was GamerGate, but targets of other online harassment can reach out to them for support on an individual basis, as well.
    7. I can be reached at loudly sing cuckoo at gmail dot com (without the spaces, and with the other obvious modifications). Response time can sometimes be slow, so please bear with me. <3
  • Several people have created lists of links to stories and books by people who were targeted by Requires Hate. One great way to support the targets would be to buy, review, and discuss their works with fellow readers (Pretty Terrible; Dangerous Jam. I’d really love for Tricia’s fantasy novel Shadowboxer to get some extra reader love—she got hammered hard last fall, and it’s a great book).

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2015 Philip K Dick Award Winner Announced!

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Now that it’s official, I can finally talk about this! Being on the Philip K Dick jury last year, for paperback original works, was a terrific experience for me, enabling me to discover numerous talented writers whose books I would otherwise not have read. And the ballot this year, in my opinion, was exceptional. I’ve been wanting to talk about the great books we read for ages. Once we had settled on the final ballot, even before our final deliberations, I knew I could feel confident that we had done our job well, if any one of the candidates had won.

Here are some brief reviews of the winner and the special citation, but you should definitely also read the other books that were nominated. It was a really tough call this year, to settle on just one.

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WINNER: THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE by Meg Elison

From the Amazon book page:

The apocalypse will be asymmetrical. In the aftermath of a plague that has decimated the world population, the unnamed midwife confronts a new reality in which there may be no place for her. Indeed, there may be no place for any woman except at the end of a chain. A radical rearrangement is underway. With one woman left for every ten men, the landscape that the midwife travels is fraught with danger. She must reach safety— but is it safer to go it alone or take a chance on humanity? The friends she makes along the way will force her to choose what’s more important. Civilization stirs from the ruins, taking new and experimental forms. The midwife must help a new world come into being, but birth is always dangerous… and what comes of it is beyond anyone’s control.

My take:

A brilliant book. I found myself sucked into this book right away and it pulled me all the way through… dare I say by the short hairs??? I loved Elison’s unflinching look at what the world might look like, in a world traumatized by mass deaths–one starved of women and of new life.

This book begins as a plague ravages the world in a matter of weeks–and women are ten times more likely to die. And it renders surviving women sterile. I loved the idea of the Unnamed Midwife helping give birth to the new civilization to replace the old. I found the protagonist’s resourcefulness, vulnerability, and mental toughness convincing and ultimately very moving. The author’s reflections on loneliness, loss, and sexuality, and on the multitude of ways sexualized violence might erupt–not only into slavery, horrific abuses, and the like–but also into creative recombinations like the Hives, that enabled people to find a way to bond and connect when there are 10 men for every woman, were gut-wrenching. I enjoyed how she used a multitude of journals and the varying of voices to give a broader perspective on events. The ending delivers a hopeful and powerful closure that left me satisfied and wanting to see more from this writer.

SPECIAL CITATION: ELYSIUM by Jennifer Marie Brissett

From the Amazon book page:

A computer program etched into the atmosphere has a story to tell, the story of two people, of a city lost to chaos, of survival and love. The program’s data, however, has been corrupted. As the novel’s characters struggle to survive apocalypse, they are sustained and challenged by the demands of love in a shattered world both haunted and dangerous.

My take:

This book was my personal favorite. I LOVE this book. Brissett presents a disturbing, powerful story of love, loss, and a slow and inexorable genocide. Impressively, she uses a complex spiral format and does it so seamlessly that she makes it look easy. This book evoked strong resonances for me of Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt and Crowley’s Engine Summer, with a side order of Catch-22. Beautifully crafted and powerful.

The fractious, loving, and passionate relationships between Antoine/Antoinette, Helen/Hector, and Adrian/Andrienne won my heart. The nature of their relationships was in constant flux, as their world transitioned to new expressions–lovers, friends, parents and children and adult siblings–but they always found a way to connect, as they sought to understand what was happening to them and around them. Beneath all this Brissett weaves a deepening mystery: what are the strange, hyper-intelligent animals that presage a transition? What is the dust and how is it connected to the fraying program that seems to control their lives? The glimpses we get of repeating yet contorted imagery and events begin to unveil the truth: that Earth has come under massive assault from an alien invasion and the characters’ lives are not their own. The reader’s horror grows as we realize the sheer scale of destruction. This is a very fine book, and it’s even more impressive to me that it’s a first novel.

 

Here are the other nominees. All really wonderful books–go and read them as well.

THE BULLET-CATCHER’S DAUGHTER by Rod Duncan (Angry Robot): A Steampunk mystery. Elizabeth is clever, slippery, a total illusionist, and at heart, deeply honorable. The book’s settings felt very real to me–from the greasepaint to the lion’s cages, to the dirty crowded colorful streets of London. I also loved the caper/ cloak-and-dagger plot, the circuses and gypsies, and the big reveal at the end, which I did NOT see coming and which really delivered. Lots of lovely stuff in this book. Good commentary on the human condition, and some nice touches on how power differentials across class, gender, and race both constrain people and can be subverted.

MEMORY OF WATER by Emmi Itäranta (Harper Voyager); This is a haunting post-apocalyptic tale of a world in which fresh running water is scarce, and a dictatorship that controls access to it. In our climate-change-threatened world, this book is very timely. The writer’s focus on the young women caught in a web of political powers far beyond their control, and their struggles to retain their dignity and to fight back was a unique take, and her prose is powerful and evocative.

MAPLECROFT: THE BORDEN DISPATCHES by Cherie Priest (Roc): Great trans-dimensional SF horror inspired by Lovecraft, the second in a trilogy. In book one, Lizzie Borden managed to singlehandedly save her town (and the world), by killing her father and stepmother with an axe. But that was only a temporary fix, and the monsters are finding their way back into our dimension. Yikes!

REACH FOR INFINITY edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris): It’s hard to weigh an anthology against a novel, but this is a stand-out space-faring anthology, chock full of original stories of the future by both well-known pros and newer voices. Writers featured include Ian McDonald, Ken Macleod, Pat Cadigan, Aliette de Bodard, Karl Schroeder, Hannu Rajaniemi, Karen Lord, Adam Roberts, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter Watts, among others. Pick it up.

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Filed under Fiction

Requires Hate Follow-up, Three Months Later: Are We Past the Winter(fox) of our Discontent?

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“….If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Here’s a response to some recent events relevant to my report last fall on Requires Hate/ Winterfox/ Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

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Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s recent post on resisting silence and the importance of speaking up moved me deeply. I’m grateful to her. Her words, as well as those of Rachel Manija Brown, Athena Andreadis, and Liz Williams, have inspired me to speak again. In their different ways, they remind me that when people do harm to each other, the harm doesn’t go away when the abuse stops. The damage has been done. The pain—the loss of innocence, the realization that the world is not safe—lingers, and continues to do harm.

Some of those who were targeted by Requires Hate have been able to move on. Some are processing and looking for ways to fuel a broader, constructive discussion. Others’ struggles to come to terms with what happened are still challenging for them.

I was deeply grateful for the supportive response of the community to my report. It was a good first step in enabling those who were harmed by Requires Hate’s actions to begin or continue their own healing. Because that sense of being completely alone—of your peers backing away and remaining silent in the face of attacks on you—does a great deal of collateral damage.

As much as I would love to move on from this topic myself, I am concerned now when I see signs that Requires Hate is accusing FailFandomAnon1 of issuing a rape threat. As before, I have no difficulty believing that a woman could be stalked and receive rape threats. But given the mountains of evidence I found last fall of Requires Hate accusing people of horrible things (often, the very things she had in fact been doing to them), and manufacturing reasons to publicly position herself as a victim, I confess I’m dubious about the provenance of this particular incident. I wish it weren’t so—women are far too often falsely assumed to be lying about these kinds of things. But given her history, I fear that this is merely more of the same: that Requires Hate has no intention of reforming and may simply have been biding her time till the latest public reaction to her activities died down.

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It has been months since my report came out and it still makes me sick at heart to think about the tactics Requires Hate and some of her inner-circle members used. By deploying social-justice memes in such a cynical way, they besmirched those concepts—one of the few tools that we women, people of color, the dis/abled, and other marginalized people have in our hands, to help us show those higher on the privilege slopes the systemic obstacles and biases that hold us back.

I’m also disappointed that there are those who profess to care about social equity and progressive causes, but are still willing to excuse, ignore, or defend her earlier actions, knowing what we now know about the harm she wrought.

At the same time, I have deep empathy for those, especially in the LGBTQI community and the community of color, who have been harmed by the reinforcement of ugly stereotypes—most notably the man-hater lesbian and the angry, abusive woman of color—that this conflict engendered. Those stereotypes reflect harmful attitudes, phobias, and biases that—whether unconscious or not—make people less safe. That’s been one of the most difficult aspects of this conflict for me.

I also get why people who have lived with race-based, sexuality-based, or other structural abuse might be skeptical of my intentions, when I haven’t shared their lived experiences.

Lastly, some recent attempts by social-justice opponents to use RH&Co.’s actions as a means to discredit social-equity concepts in general, I’ve found to be both repugnant and laughable—as transparently self-serving and disingenuous as it’s possible to be. For reference, here’s a quick recap on the demographics of trolling. Internet trolls are nearly all men, who ferociously and endlessly attack mostly women and people of color. Guess who gets it worst? Feminists and women of color.

(We in the SFF community can take a sort of sick pride in the fact that at least some of our trolling comes from people who are less clichéd than those in, say, the videogames and atheist communities. Just saying.)

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Here’s the thing. Our community doesn’t kick people out. Ever. People can decide to leave—and part of my distress last fall was learning that numerous talented writers, editors, and engaged fans had decided to leave the field rather than face further death threats and stalking by Requires Hate et al. But if a person decides to stay, however controversial and destructive their actions have been, they’ll nearly always find someone ready to listen to them.

It’s a salient trait of our community to be tolerant—to a fault—of difference, of clueless behavior, argument, and dissent. It can be a bad thing, when we find ourselves tolerating abuse. But tolerance can also be a good thing, when it’s used to give people we disagree with the benefit of the doubt and to create a space for debate and reform.

Dividing people into camps, branding those who disagree with us (or whose religious beliefs (or lack thereof), skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. offend us in some way, for that matter) as The Enemy—as irredeemably evil—and appointing ourselves and our friends as the sole arbiters of Truth, is a destructive practice. No matter who does it. That was why I wrote my report. I wanted to alert people to what was happening behind the scenes with Requires Hate—to give people the basic facts so they could make an informed decision on where they stood.

If we believe that creating a more inclusive community is a good thing—which I emphatically do—then we need to have the courage to speak out against divisive and harmful tactics, even of those in our own political “camp.”

And we also need to leave our hearts open to the possibility that the people we criticize are capable of learning from their mistakes—of growth, of reform. Of change.

I don’t kid myself that someone with the profile of an internet troll is likely to change their ways readily. Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism—the hallmark traits of people who engage in online trolling behavior—don’t lend themselves to self-reflection. People who live in that psychic space tend to be master manipulators, and in my experience, they are very dangerous people to be around.

But as a community—while still speaking our own truths—we need to somehow find a way to start building trust with each other so we can discuss the broader issues more safely. I have a hope that somehow, someday, we can find a path to a place where we can hold conversations around some of the conflicts we’ve had in recent years regarding race, culture, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, and so on—conflicts that have had us so fraught. It’s a conversation that is badly needed. I would love to see us begin to mend some of our differences.

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I don’t know what it would take for us get to a place where more people feel safe talking about these matters, but I do know that trust can’t precede the cessation of abuse. Forgiveness can’t come at the expense of basic fairness. Reconciliation can’t precede regret.

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Requires Hate has not yet responded to most of the people who spoke up last fall about her attacks against them. If she wants to be seen as reformed, and to participate in the public sphere without criticism popping up in her wake for her past acts, I believe it would make a difference in people’s attitudes if she were to demonstrate that she is willing to change her ways.

In a comment to my report, last November, Rachel Manija Brown posted about her own encounters with Requires Hate, and what she wanted, if Requires Hate feels true regret.

Here’s the relevant text:

Requires Hate, if you are genuinely remorseful and honestly intend to change, here’s what I want from you: I want to have no contact with you ever again, and I want you to have nothing whatsoever to do with me. That means that you never contact me in any way, online or offline. It means that you never discuss me or even mention me online, in any persona and for any reason, whether directly or in veiled references. It means you never link to anything I post. It means you don’t harass me, and you don’t send your friends to abuse or harass me.

If you are willing to agree to this, please copy the paragraph above and post it on both of your blogs, attributing it to me under my full name and promising to abide by its conditions. And then never say anything else to me or about me again.

With Rachel’s permission, I’ve used her words here, and I’m inviting Requires Hate’s other targets to cosign it, if they want to participate. I’ll add others’ names here who ask to be included in this petition. Requires Hate’s targets can email me at loudlysingcuckoo@gmail.com.

I spoke recently to Rochita, Athena, Rachel, and Liz about my plan to do this. Athena and Liz told me that a public apology or promise is not what they desire from Requires Hate, and have written posts discussing where they stand on the matter. I respect their choice and appreciate their willingness to speak. I hope Requires Hate will consider offering amends to those who ask her to, however, by acting on Rachel’s proposed response. It would make a difference, and would show real moral courage.

A caveat. Taking the opportunity above wouldn’t make Requires Hate immune from further criticism or distrust. None of us are. She has a long path ahead of her, if she wants to mend her credibility within the community. But it would be an important start.

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Whatever Requires Hate and her supporters decide to do, the truth is that the divides in our community run deep. As united as we are by a common love of the genre of imagination, of fantastic and science-fictional visions of other worlds, we’re also divided. We’re divided not just by generation, but by gender, gender identity, race, culture, nationality, sexual orientation, dis/ability status, and in other ways. RH&Co. didn’t create those divisions; they merely exploited them.

As I mentioned earlier, some have used my report to argue that social-justice memes themselves are the problem—that to solve the conflicts and controversies roiling our global community, we should do away with identity politics altogether. But assuming social-justice concepts create divisions between us is a logical fallacy—akin to assuming that if we speak someone’s name, they’ll magically appear: if we just don’t talk about stereotyping and bias, it won’t get us! Except that this only works for those not harmed by those stereotypes.

Those of us on the receiving end don’t have the luxury of ignoring how others’ attitudes hold us back from achieving our potential. Social-justice and social-equity concepts merely enable us to understand and discuss how those intersectional prejudices and biases work.

To deny the reality of harm done by structural power imbalances merely shifts the burden onto those who have been harmed, in the exact same way that ignoring Requires Hate’s abuses shifted the burden of harm onto her targets.

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I could prove all this to you, using the same kind of statistical analysis I did for my Requires Hate report last fall. But that work has already been done. There is a mountain of data out there—a cornucopia of case studies and analyses that prove over and over that the arguments about bias and oppression made by social-justice activists are real.

The truth is that women, people of color, non-Westerners, LGBTQI, and dis/abled people are less likely to be given opportunities in the public sphere than white, cis-gendered, straight men, and more likely to have violence perpetrated against us. At this point, if you are in the “bias and stereotyping don’t exist | don’t harm people” camp, whether you like it or not, you are sharing a paddleboat with the anti-vaxxers, climate-change denialists, anti-evolutionists, and Flat-Earthers.

A call to jettison social-justice concepts is nothing more than a call for those suffering the effects of bias and oppression to be silent, to avoid discomfiting the rest of us.

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Rather than dump a bunch of facts and figures on all this—which is a lot of effort and can get rather dry and didactic—I wanted to share a bit about my own journey.

The words nerd and geek didn’t exist for me, growing up in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. But I definitely thought the wrong sorts of thoughts. I was interested in the wrong subjects. I wanted the wrong future for myself.

I didn’t want to be fed comforting lies: I wanted to know why and how things ticked. I was obsessed with what if?

The last thing I wanted was a June Cleaver life. I wasn’t about to simply settle down and marry some guy, resigning myself to a lifetime of catering to his whims, raising his babies, and cleaning his house. I wasn’t cut out to be somebody else’s extra rib. I wanted to be a crime fighter, an astronaut, an inventor, or a spy! If I had a life partner, it was going to have to be a comrade, a fellow explorer, an equal. If I had babies, they were going to come with me on those adventures, slung on my hips like super-baby laser-ray gunslingers.

I was told over and over, every time I confided in anyone—adult or peer—what I wanted to do with my life, that my ideas and thoughts were abnormal, and that the life I wanted for myself was the province not of women, but of men. It’s no surprise then that the books I discovered in the science fiction section I discovered in Prospect Branch Public Library at age 11 ½, saved my life.

Those books and stories gave me permission to imagine a different life for myself.

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This, as I mentioned, was in the late 60s, 70s, and into the early 80s, when Golden Age SF was battling it out with New Wave for supremacy in our little corner of the literary universe, and then Cyberpunk started heaving rocks at the other two.

And yeah, the field was totally a white male bastion back then, but they were as geeky as could be, and I loved them for it. I loved their nerdy passions, their exuberant word slinging, their vision. Frederik Pohl, Poul Andersen, Philip Jose Farmer, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Harlan Ellison, and Clifford D. Simak; Damon Knight, Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, and Alfred Bester; Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury; J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I gobbled it all up.

Like many young women, POC, and others, though, I wanted to see myself reflected in the genre I loved. Many in our field have already talked about the fact that most characterizations of women (or lack thereof) in SFF were, let’s just say, problematic. Never mind people of color or people from other cultures! Those kinds of works were out there, but they were harder to find, in my corner of the world.

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In short, we found our nerd fix in SFF, we nerdy non-nies2 . And that was so important. What we didn’t so easily find were characters and settings that accurately reflected who else we were.

Why does this matter? It really does. Most of us who read SFF, regardless of our demographics, know that feeling of displacement, of alienation. We grew up feeling not-quite-right, among our more mainstream peers. That’s our shared bond. SFF is the fiction of the Other. If we can’t find room for all the Others here, where can we find a space?

And good news! Even back then a few women, people of color, queer folk, and other Others’ works had found a space in SFF. I fell onto their stories as I came across them, with an urgency, a hunger, I hadn’t known I had: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, C. L. Moore, Thomas Disch, James Tiptree Jr., C. J. Cherryh, Judith Merril, and Kate Wilhelm. And there were men who did women especially well: James Schmitz’s Witches of Karres and Telzey Amberdon, for instance, were favorites of mine. Later, in the eighties and beyond, the works of Pat Cadigan, Melissa Scott, Lisa Tuttle, Vonda McIntyre, Jo Clayton, S. N. Lewitt, and R.A. MacAvoy fed my spirit, along with awesome male writers like George R.R. Martin, George Alec Effinger, and William Gibson.

All those worlds of science fiction and fantasy, built by these writers and others, provided me with oases of belonging I had been so desperate to find. They gave me not just a place to escape to—they opened my heart to a panoply of possibilities. Futures I could believe would be different, better, more accepting, more inclusive than the world I was living in. A knowledge that somewhere out there in the world were others like me. A reassurance: I wasn’t alone.

Many know this story; in some sense, we’ve all been there.

______________

The conflicts we are having right now over matters of diversity are real and important. They reflect differences in people’s lived experiences and beliefs. They’re affecting people’s lives on a daily basis, and shouldn’t be minimized or swept under the rug for the sake of appearances.

I don’t know whether we are ready to have the difficult and honest conversations we need to have about diversity and representation, in order to help our community heal. For many, the harm hasn’t yet stopped. Damage is still being done. The pain—the loss of innocence, the realization that the world is not safe—still lingers in the hearts of many of those targeted for prejudice and abuse. Oppression continues to do harm to women, people of color, queer people, the dis/abled, and other Others across the globe.

Some of those harmed have been able to move on. Some are processing and looking for ways to fuel a broader, constructive discussion. Some have fallen silent or left the field. Others’ struggles to come to terms with what happened are still challenging for them, and they have strong and sometimes uncomfortable words to say about it.

I also think that some people are not ready to forgive: the history of abuse is too long and harsh. And some of us are not ready to be criticized—some may feel misunderstood and misrepresented, unfairly blamed. We writers know well how hard it can be to hear criticism—especially public criticism—of our words, even without the added shame and fear we might feel when told that our works have problematic elements such as racism, misogyny, ableism, cultural appropriation, homophobia, and the like.

What is easy to forget when we’re not on the receiving end, though, is that it’s very easy to propagate stereotypes without even being aware of it. It bears repeating again and again that our identities are much more complex than the demographic boxes we are shoved into. Right now we live in a time of rapid and sweeping transition, where new technologies are enabling many voices to be heard who have traditionally been shut out of public discourse. This is a good thing! The boosting of new voices gives us an opportunity to build an inclusive, fair, and just community together.

It’s true that social-media technologies have come with a huge price tag, though, and we are still struggling with a way to hold a dialog that dissolves these barriers, without tearing us apart. Change is messy. Like many other communities nowadays, we’re a work-in-progress.

Still, I am optimistic. Studies show that while we all have biases and, despite our best efforts, do and say racist, sexist, homophobic, or ableist things at times (and when we do, we really need to be OK with having it pointed out, if we want to be fair), that the vast majority of people really want to overcome those biases and seek ways to be more inclusive. It’s worth the effort to do this work. People can change.

I believe we can apply our skiffy/fanty skills toward expanding our thinking as a community. Ursula K. Le Guin’s story “Nine Lives” remains as relevant now as it did when I first read it 45 years ago. SFF is the genre of big-picture thinking and a love of the unfamiliar. I remain hopeful that someday we can open our hearts wide enough to see each other standing in the margins and gaps.

Not right this minute, perhaps. The winter of our discontent, I think, is still upon us. But summer will come.

______________

Meanwhile, I stand in support of people who have been and still are working hard to make a difference. People like up-and-coming SFF writer Tade Thompson, who stepped up to create SAFE, a POC-centered (though not POC-only) space for discussion of topics around SFF, race, marginalization, and appropriation. People like Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who speaks of the importance of not giving up our voices, and Athena Andreadis, who calls for accountability, professionalism, and fairness as we attempt to navigate a path to discussion of the broader issues. They, along with people like Rachel Manija Brown and Liz Williams, and the many, many other people—for instance, Nalo Hopkinson, Pat CadiganKathryn Allan and Djibril Al-Ayad, Malinda Lo, Ronni Dolorosa, E. P. Beaumont, Kari Sperring, Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Jose’ Older, and Natalie Luhrs, just for starters—who actively write, seek out, promote, and discuss diverse works. These people and others are working every day to improve inclusion and representation in fiction and on the web.

In short, I am deeply grateful for all those who love the genre of science fiction and fantasy, and who resist ceding the public space to voices of provocation, trolling, and flame-throwing—of any political persuasion.

We may not all agree on the nature of the troubles we face, nor what to do about them. But where many of us are closely aligned is on a love of the field of SFF, and the value of signal-boosting a diverse range of unique, talented voices. I am thankful for my fellow SFF-lovers’ efforts on behalf of the community.

__________________________

Endnotes

1FailFandomAnon, for those unfamiliar with it, is a fully-anonymous pan-fandom site whose primary purpose is to track and discuss assorted fan-wankage online. Requires Hate (a/k/a/ Winterfox) has been a topic of discussion there.

2I.e., non-cisgendered, non-hetersexual, non-white, and/or non-abled, non-men.

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A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names

 

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