Wiscon 39

If you read through all of the following essay, you’ll see how I got to this point. Think about what I’m saying here, you writer types who used to go to Wiscon. Just sayin’.

And a final note to the folks who have left Wiscon: we talk A LOT about supporting diversity in fiction on the Internet. A LOT. Hell, entire Hugo slates have been jiggered because of this subject. If you are one of those people who support diversity, and you’re an author, why aren’t you there? Sure, the con comm fumbled. I almost didn’t go because of that, because I would have been a conscientious objector, but new people picked up the ball and did the right things in the end. Some other folks on the con comm reformed, and learned something new.

This con needs your help if it going to live up to its potential, a place where ideas of the newest sort can take seed, a place where authors, both women and men, can discuss intersectionality and improve their speculative fiction, a place where you can learn and grow, a proving field for new ideas regarding what the nature of SF/F is for fans of all sorts.

Okay. I see I that I should put this first. I also see that I’ve answered my own question. The issues isn’t that I shouldn’t go to Wiscon next year. The issue is that I should get more of you to go. Let me cut this, move it up, and get on with my work day.

Now, the rest of the story.

First of all, let me say that it has been a tumultuous year for Wiscon. I am not an insider. I do know that there was a lot of eyebrow raising in the community over the handling of a harassment case which I’ve commented on in the past. I’ve also commented on the Elizabeth Moon debacle, and both of those issues have lost Wiscon a lot of attendees. Whichever side of the line on those issues you fall on, many of you have found a reason not to attend the convention. I worry that this sends an unfortunate message for a couple of reasons. As one of our Wiscon guests suggested this year, Wiscon has one of the highest concentrations of People of Color of any SF convention. I hope that the migration of attendees away from the convention doesn’t suggest that attendees find this problematic.

I did attend a panel about the transparency of decisions made by Wiscon this year, and in addition to some conversation about the Frenkel incident, as well as another conflict of harassment, there were many issues centering around a Wiscon staff member with whom new members were feeling uncomfortable for a wide variety of reasons. Again, not an insider and not qualified to talk too much about this, but the problem hinged on a classic fan response to someone who is behaving less than well to certain members of a community.

I want to reiterate that the job of a con comm is to make its constituency feel safe. Guests at the con should feel they are in a safe space. Staff members should also feel that they are in a safe place. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t come back. Staff members who feel uncomfortable or discriminated against won’t help. People who put cons together can have friends who are socially awkward. But as is the case in the creeper chronicles of Readercon, the excuses of, “He is a creep, but you have to understand, it’s not personal. That’s just the way he is.” or “He/She has done good things for the con too.” , well, those are really, really flimsy excuses in the cases of sexual harassment or racial discrimination. You know, socially awkward is interrupting a conversation where you are not wanted. Hate crime is what we call it when someone tells you that the safe place for POC is racist. One wonders why someone couldn’t see the irony of that statement.

That’s a tiny glimpse of some of the things that we discussed on the transparency panel about Wiscon’s recent troubles. Many staff members resigned. Many stepped up to take their place. There were a lot of hard feelings, although they were tamped down at the disclosure panel.

So, good on you, Wiscon, for dealing with some of these issues in your microcosm of SF fandom. Unfortunate, however, is that Wiscon had to have these issues in the first place, more so than any con, given its reputation and its burden as the premier Feminist SF convention. Honestly.

Usually, I give Wiscon a loving entry where I talk about many of the panels I’ve gone to, and I share the writer education I’ve received with you. I’m not going to be able to do that this year, because there were few writing panels about the art and craft of writing. There were fewer writers there than in the past. There were readings, and some writing panels, but nothing that made me stand up and say hallelujah! The closest panel was on Making a Character Come Alive.

The extracurriculars (dance, dessert salon, and karaoke party) were extremely awesome this year. Social justice and fan programming was up. But right now I am trying to decide if I should return to Wiscon. You might find that ironic, given that I highly approve of the shake up and the positive move of acceptance, and I criticize the exodus of writers away from the convention. But the rub, the serious rub, is this:

I go to this con as a writer and an academic. As an academic, it is easy for me to attend The White Privilege conference (whose name belies Nazis, but is quite the reverse). I find that I can get a lot of cool, informed opinions about these various, serious issues from some of the most noted figures in the land. I don’t attend every year, but I do know in my capacity as a coordinator of English Language Acquisition, I gotta keep my ally skills and do the best I can. Similarly, TESOL and other conferences where we talk about language, neo-colonialism, third-world English tiers and that English no longer belongs to we white folk. It’s cool, and I love doing research about it, and talking to my students about it (and you, if you want to hear about it sometime in the old journal).

As much as I support these explorations and discussions at Wiscon, I go to Wiscon to be a writer, to read my writing, to develop what I know about SF writing, to hear from and about awesome literature, to continue my knowledge of publishing as a neo-pro (you need to hear from the more experienced to do this, and they come less and less), to hear some cool research in feminist SF/F, and lastly to geek out about stuff I like as a geek. AND perhaps I should have said this first, it’s a standing date between three of my best friends in the universe, two of whom like the con as well in this incarnation, and one who like me is considering whether she will continue attending or not for similar reasons.

I sense that Wiscon is no longer the best use of my career dollars, and while I support everything that Wiscon is becoming, I need to make sure I go to the con I want to go to. I’m not asking for Wiscon to turn back into what it was. I would hope that some more writers might consider getting there, or perhaps that we find a way to integrate writing track with some of the new writing themes. Maybe more intercultural integration how tos for our fiction. Something. However, I didn’t find enough programming this year. On the good side, I actually wrote and exercised at the con. I had a good time. I just want more of what I go for to be there. And if it’s not, I’ll go looking for it elsewhere, because I think that’s what I want to do.

So. Good job Wiscon. Thank you for working so hard on making a safe space. Thank you also for your support when I told you at your disclosure panel that as someone who had suffered sexual abuse as a child that the idea of being able to handle abuse myself, as someone else on the panel indicated she did at your very con, is not my best option. Someone else I can defend like a lion, but the shock of harassment personally always make me revert to the same horrific feelings I had as a child. So kudos to making it safer for people like me. If I do decide to come back, it might be interesting to see how many adult survivors there are, and seeing if we’d like a panel dealing with our specific issues, which aren’t exactly the same as those of other assault, but then again, without psychological supervision, that could be a really bad idea. 🙂 I am a great believer in professional help.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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