Rax E. Dillon (rax) wrote,
Rax E. Dillon

Readercon: This Isn't The Only Reason Not To Go.

If you don't care about Readercon, you can safely ignore this post. If you're not sure if you care, Readercon is a small books-focused convention held in the Boston area that I used to attend and spent a year on the committee for. They are currently getting a lot of negative publicity because of a sexual harassment case that they chose to violate their policy in handling. You can read their statement here and the comments have most of the context. If you want more context, there's plenty out there on the Internet; you can start from this great summary.

A few of my friends and a bunch of strangers have been posting about how this makes them unwilling to attend, or deeply conflicted about attending, Readercon. I've felt that way for multiple years at this point, but haven't said anything publically, both because I didn't want to start drama and because it just felt like too much to actually talk about this shit. I think it's important to bring this up now, not because the sexual harassment and safety issues aren't more important --- they are --- but because I know some of you are on the fence about attending Readercon, especially a Readercon organized by the current board. I am telling you this story because I want you to get off the fence, and not attend a Readercon organized by the current board.

And here is why:

I think it was 2006 when I first attended Readercon, tagging along with Cassandra, and met a bunch of people with whom I am still friends/friendly. I wasn't a reader of speculative fiction barely at all, but I found the discussions exciting and the people exciting and really I had a basically great time. If anything I was nervous at how unmoored in a productive way I was around these people --- I didn't know any of the books they had read, and I was thrown into this exciting and intimidating new world of stuff. I started reading science fiction! This was largely not a thing I had done since I was quite young, and at the time I didn't much care for it.

The next couple of years I attended the con I also had a great time. There were some issues with the con even then --- issues of privilege, issues of access, issues of elitism --- but they didn't affect me so much, and I also think they weren't quite as bad as they got later? But overall I had a great time, and it was a thing I looked forward to every summer. You can probably even go back and look at old LJ entries of my writing up panels if you care to --- I didn't agree with everything everyone said and was sometimes upset but ultimately found it awesome.

Then there was 2009's con. I was invited to participate as a "pro" --- that is, get free attendance, sit on panels, contribute to the program book --- and was on two panels and gave a solo talk for an hour. I'm not a professional writer, which most people who are "pro" at Readercon are. [0] What I am --- sort of --- is a professional academic, and as they had been criticized in past years for having too many older cis straight white guys, bringing in a younger trans queer white woman (how I identified at the time) was politic. I also was doing a bunch of work at the time on apocalyptic fiction, and one guest of honor's recently published work was an apocalyptic piece of sorts, and I had done detailed reading of it. So it was a good fit. I think I did reasonably well at it --- I'd do better now, but if that weren't true I'd be unhappy --- and I was really excited to contribute to making the con a more awesome time, since it had been awesome for me in the past.

Immediately after the con there was a pretty major fight about whether or not this upcoming con would be "your father's Readercon," and some folks who came forward about racism/sexism/ablism at the con. The con organizers, online, complained about how they were doing what they could with the peple who were participating, and that if people wanted the con to be different, they should step up and participate. Being one of those idealistic people who takes that sort of thing seriously, I did --- I joined the con committee, started participating in the program committee, and took on secretarial duties: attending meetings, taking minutes, that sort of thing. I'm not sure what if any confidentiality policy I agreed to when I joined, because I deleted my email archives about this when I left and couldn't stop re-reading them in anger, so I will be vaguer than I would like in some places here, and not talk about some of the instances of explicit racism/sexism/&c. I observed when in committee meetings. What I do feel comfortable talking about is my own emotional experience, and what other people said to me directly, and that was bad.

Looking at old notes, I find things like this: "Seriously the first four committee meetings had someone making fun of a different minority group they apparently didn't realize I was part of." One of the major issues that we argued about back and forth was providing a gender-neutral restroom at the hotel. This was brought up as something "some weirdo" (or "some crazy person" or some such dismissive term) brought up on the website, and people laughed at it. I had to say "the person who submitted that is my fiancee, and that's also something I want." [1] They still dug in about how stupid it was! It took like six months of meetings to convince them to put a note in the program book that while the hotel only had two restrooms and they wouldn't let us remove the gender markers, there was a single-occupancy restroom in the con suite that was available to anyone regardless of gender/identity, and all of the arguments against it felt belittling and uncomfortable.

There was a bunch of privileged shit going down in committee meetings. Everyone told me that it would be bad and I said "It can't possibly be that bad, if I sit down at the table with these folks, I'm sure I will see where they are coming from." It wasn't that bad; it was worse. Honestly, if there's anything good I got from the experience, it was realizing that some of the shit I was thinking and suggesting was busted based on arguments I got into with the program committee. There were also some really cool people involved, and I certainly wasn't the only one dealing with this kind of issue. Some of those people are still there, and I am sure they are a big part of why it's still such a fun con for a lot of my friends to attend.

The thing that broke me was when something really busted happened in a meeting, and I talked to the person who ran the meetings (a current board member), and said "hey, I want to talk about this, I know that you don't want to do it at the end of this meeting when everyone is already tense and wants to go home, can we put it on the next meeting's agenda?" They said yes, and that I was right to bring it up, and we'd get it on the agenda, and they'd have my back in trying to have a reasonable discussion about it. Awesome! Except at that meeting, they denied that I'd done that and then admitted they had but said we shouldn't discuss it anyway, I didn't get any support, and the meeting ended with another board member all up in my face about how I was being mean to them and they weren't a bigot because they had trans friends. Literally! They told me they had trans friends! I was in shock, and basically just left at that point. The board member who got all up in my face ragequit the con, and then after people sent supportive emails ignoring what they had done wrong, they unragequit and resumed control. [2] I then resigned. The other board member called me up and attempted to convince me to come back, but I had already made my decision, and I'm glad I did.

I asked to be removed from the list of people involved in running the con. They told me they would if that's what I wanted, and that they wanted me to continue to come back as a pro to be on panels. What actually came of this:
  • My name was on the con and program committee listings in the con book.
  • I was never invited back, as a pro or otherwise.
None of this is the end of the world. And indeed, particularly for people who don't know me who got linked to this post or saw it on a friends of friends page or what have you, this is far less important and far less of a good reason to avoid Readercon or call for new management than the busted decison about Rene Walling. But it's pretty bad, and it's another piece of evidence that these people have been consistently bad about making con space safe and supportive, not just bad in this instance. (There are other pieces of evidence that make this decision woefully unsurprising, but they aren't my stories to tell, and this one is.) The board members are not (necessarily) bad people, nor were they wholly bad to me. In some cases they invited me into their homes, prepared food that I could eat (to me more than a small kindness), and performed various kind and generous acts to me and to others while I interacted with them. At least one was genuinely remorseful about the way my time in the concom went down. But just as a harasser's remorse does not mean they should be welcome to a con at which they've harassed others, a board member's remorse does not mean they should be encouraged to serve the con despite a series of bad and harmful decisions. Even if the Readercon board changes their decision about Walling, they should step down and allow themselves to be replaced by a new set of concomm members. For many, it's been a wonderful con to attend. A new board and new directions would help it continue to be so and hopefully expand the set of people who could safely enjoy and participate in discussions there. Certainly, right now, it doesn't include me.

If nothing else, it feels really good to get this off my chest. If you've been wondering why you haven't seen me at Readercon in years? This is why.

[0] I've never had fiction or poetry published; I have a handful of rejection letters, but for the most part studying writing for a number of years taught me that other people were better at it than I was, and that that was okay.

[1] Friends I've made in the last couple of years: Yes, I was engaged for a long time. Long story. Not this story. Please ask about it some other time.

[2] One or two of them might have been supportive emails that didn't ignore that the person had done things wrong. That would have been entirely possible, and even called for. I do not have them to go and check; this is more about my emotional response, anyway.
This entry was originally posted at http://rax.dreamwidth.org/105421.html.
Tags: drama, hopefully this is productive, readercon, ugh
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