“….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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Cadigan, Kathryn 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.
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.