Why I’m Not Attending SFContario or Sasquan (Worldcon 2015) – Hydra’s Hearth Part II

I was thinking about not following up on yesterday’s post right now. Principally because it’s Remembrance Day. But it’s going to be Remembrance Day all day, and this isn’t going to take long.

Now, some background, and why that background matters: This is a very low traffic blog, and the activity here yesterday was way above the daily norm. Yesterday’s post about the Hydra’s Hearth reading series, and related matters, garnered more attention than when I post about anthology ToCs (which are usually what garner higher views here).

At the time of writing this post, there’s been a little over 350 individual views of yesterday’s post about why I’m not reading at the Hydra’s Hearth series (if you’re coming here and you’ve not read that yet, do so first; it’s short, and it’ll give you the ground for this). And just shy of 100 clickthroughs to read Derek Newman-Stille’s blog post about the events at Ad Astra in April. Nothing on this site gets that many clickthroughs. Nor that many views in less than 24 hours. That’s tiny for most websites, but around here that’s unheard of.

Except the problem is that though people are reading about this, pretty much no one in the Canadian community is talking about it. (Or the conversations are getting backchanelled again. Though I will note that the people who did speak up in response are who I expected to do so, and they are awesome.)

Oh there’s some activity on facebook. Primarily on the facebook pages of people who’ve shared the blog post. Very little (and in some cases nothing) on my updates directly. And when I shared it on Twitter there was a long, unfortunately expected silence (again, discussion elsewhere, but almost nothing through my own direct sharing). Yes, I shared the blog on a Monday evening (didn’t have a chance to write it earlier in the day), the evening before Remembrance Day. Yes, I have limited reach on social media, and of the few people sharing, some of them had distinctly wider reach and followings.

But the silence from all but a very small number of the Canadian SFF community is DEAFENING.

Shall we tie this into larger context?

What we’re talking about is the widespread core of Canadian SFF who don’t speak up about harassment issues. It’s not that we don’t name the people responsible. There’s a small group of missing stairs the bulk of the community backchannels about routinely. I can think of six people talked about at the head of that list, for varying reasons and some more frequently than others, off the top of my head. The only one of whom has been outed being René Walling (who is pretty much batshit fucking crazy given the fact that he’s been spreading stories about Valentine after being thrown out of Readercon over harassing her). But we don’t discuss it publicly. Canadian SFF buries its head in the sand and waits for people to stop talking about it.

Why we’re afraid of talking about it, I don’t know. It’s not like there’s actually any power to be had in Canadian SFF. No one wields anything appreciable. (Though several of those six think they do. It’s adorable, really.) We exist in a culture of fear where there’s no bogeyman to warrant it. There is, I suppose, the possibility of being sued for libel, or slander. But that’s really the only repercussion hanging over anyone’s head.

Also, what, some of those six people might not ever talk to us again if we name them? Oh, yes, a mighty repercussion indeed…. [/snark]

Now, I’m not just out here saying “Oh, I said this yesterday, and no one’s talking about it. Woe unto me.”

I have been shouting about the SFContario things (there are several to choose from) off and on since April of this year. Perhaps not publicly enough, and not loudly enough?

The thing not mentioned last post is that at the last SFContario, I, Leah Bobet, and Simon McNeil jointly took two harassment issues to the SFContario ConCom. Those complaints went undealt with. (That’s in case you were wondering why the three of us are boycotting the con this year.) And you know what the real kicker is? How SFContario fixed the problem with their Anti-Harassment Policy (which they were ignoring)? They stopped having one.

Let me say that again: THEY STOPPED HAVING ONE.

This is what their revised “Member Behaviour Policy” looks like: http://sfcontario.ca/member-behaviour-policy.

And this is not just a local issue:

The two people I named yesterday: Marah Searle-Kovacevic and Alex von Thorn? They’re ConCom at Sasquan (Worldcon 2015 in Seattle). Alex has multiple positions on the ConCom, and Marah is the fucking Social Media docent and the Hospitality Division Head for Christ’s sake. (http://sasquan.org/committee-list/) That’s not counterintuitive, that’s fucking Dadaist.

Given their involvement in Sasquan, I absolutely will not attend. Because I signed Scalzi’s Anti-Harassment pledge. (That’s me, right there: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/07/03/my-convention-harassment-policy-co-sign-thread/#comment-488056) Which is also yet another reason I’m not attending SFContario. If you signed that pledge, you should absolutely not fucking be going to either event until these issues are fixed/addressed. I say this noting that some people who did sign that pledge are going to at least one of those cons (I’m going with obliviousness of the issues as a reason, rather than malice; I choose to be charitable this afternoon).

And this speaks to a larger problem. The problem that keeps cropping up when I see a lot of people online asking why none of the women Ghomeshi assaulted/abused/violated reported him to the police. (Or any similar instance.) Or when I see a lot of people wondering why women who are assaulted/harassed/or otherwise violated at cons and other events don’t report to ConComs.

This is why.

The silence.

Also the disbelief. The victim-blaming. And the continued support of harassers.

Yes, some harassers get kicked out of cons. And some lose their communities. Not all. Hell, René got booted from Readercon, but he’s still extremely well-liked in the Canadian SFF community. Not by me, admittedly. But then both times I’ve dealt with René in person he’s been a raging asshole–and the second time, in a setting where there were no women to overhear, wildly sexist, which never flies with me–so small surprise there.

Also because many of the harassers in the community are in perceived positions of power. And it’s incredibly hard for most people to come forward when no one has their back because their friends/community members are afraid of losing whatever they think they’re going to lose by supporting the people who speak up.

And, you know, I get that because so much of this is backchannel and insider baseball that a lot of people simply don’t know how bad it is … really across North American SFF, rather than just Canadian SFF.

And we’re all busy. We’ve all got lives. And we’re all dealing with other issues in the community right now.

But that doesn’t change the fact that when a bunch of us know, we still don’t speak up about it. And we’re hurting others by not doing so.

Every day I debate making that list public.

It would be awesome to be part of a community where there wasn’t a list.

[Edit: It was pointed out to me that I’ve been misspelling Sasquan on this post, and that’s made it harder to search for it. I’ve amended that in the title and in the text, but I’m leaving the link with the original misspelling so that all existing links to this post are unaffected.]

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16 Responses to Why I’m Not Attending SFContario or Sasquan (Worldcon 2015) – Hydra’s Hearth Part II

  1. Penn says:

    Wow, that “Member Behaviour Policy” really isn’t anything enforceable. It basically says don’t do bad things, but if you do it’s not their problem.
    Personally, as someone moving from going to gaming cons to more general SFF cons, I’m always glad when someone speaks up, it lets me know what’s going on in the backchannels that I don’t have access to. I’m also glad because I know just how hard it is to do so.
    This has re-confirmed my commitment to check out the policies of any cons I go to, but there’s not a lot else I can do as a random attendee. I usually don’t hear about this stuff.

    • Penn, I find that’s the problem with backchanneling in general. Unless you’re in the right place at the right time, you never get to be part of that warning. I’m still not saying everything I should, but not all of these stories are mine to tell. Just trying to get the ball rolling, and warn people where I can right now.

  2. Michael says:

    Have you tried reaching out to Scalzi regarding his policy? He was GOH at SFContario not so long ago. It would be nice not to have to bring in big guns from south of the border to handle this, but it might help to spread the word.

    • Given that I was talking about his anti-harassment policy on Twitter, I did tag him there. But I’ll not bother him more directly than that. I’ve only met Scalzi a couple of times and I dislike running to people I only marginally know and saying “Do this thing for me.”

      Also worth noting that while I would certainly welcome Scalzi’s (and, really, everyone’s) aid in spreading the word around this, we really need more of the Canadian community to step the fuck up on this one as well.

  3. Karl-Johan says:

    Good of you for speaking up. I think a problem fandom have is that harassment policies aren’t the start. They’re the beginning.

    Getting harassment handled at cons is 10% harassment policy, and 90% execution. A decent policy will help in execution, but won’t magically perform it, or make people behave. The most it can hope is to make enough people start thinking.

    • I agree. And I’ve heard tell of some really excellent and immediate responses to harassment complaints at cons where the anti-harassment policies were well written and clearly outlined. In the end, yes, the people implementing the policy are where success or failure lies in that regard :)

      • Karl-Johan says:

        Yeah. That’s why I was so happy with the harassment support unit at Loncon 3. I know of no other person within fandom (granted, my network isn’t that large) that has better qualifications for the task, in integrity, experience, training, or impossibility to intimidate her.

        Too bad we can’t use her in that role in Sweden.

  4. Crystal Huff says:

    Can I hear more about the problem reported at SFContario last year, any response they did have, and do you happen to have a copy to their policy at the time? The archive of their site doesn’t work the way I think it should…?

    At any rate, bookmarking to come back to after more sleep. Thank you for writing!

    • Hi Crystal,

      I don’t think I do have a copy of the policy at the time. Though I can ask around and see if anyone I know does? I can think of a couple people who might still have a written copy of that from before it was posted. It’s a long shot, but I’ll check :)

      Re the events at SFContario last year (two different issues reported), since it involves more than just René and not everything around that is public yet, I’d prefer to discuss this via e-mail for the moment, if that’s all right with you. You can reach me at mathesonfreelancing@gmail.com.

  5. Disgruntled washing says:

    Two things, and I’ll put the important one first: I’m already boycotting WorldCon 2015 for personal reasons, and I’ll definitely add what little boost I have to your signal. Thank you!

    Less important: WorldCon 2015 is organized by a group in Seattle, but the con will be located in Spokane, WA (where I live). Spokane is ~285 miles east of Seattle, on the other side of the Cascade mountains, in a completely different climate, physically and socio-politically. (I think it’s closer to Alberta here policitcally, from my limited understanding of Canadian politics.) I was already boycotting Sasqucon because they decided to bid here with very little interaction with the existing convention fandom in Spokane. Our local con is held in August, you see… I hope it survives, but I don’t think it likely.

    • Re your follow-up: Yes, my phone and I often end up in the same situation :)

      Re the above: You’re very welcome. I recalled that Sasquon was in Spokane, but I wasn’t aware of the existing issues with that con overlap. Though I will note that that is actually interesting to me (I am also deeply sorry that that is the case) in light of the fact that the organizers of SFContario 3 in 2012 (I’m not sure who among the ConCom was responsible for the following decidedly poor decision) thought it would be a good idea to hold the con a week after World Fantasy in Toronto. Because they would pick up additional members who had been at WFC, of course, by gum! Predictably, they halved their attendance because everyone was burned out after WFC, and SFContario is a fan convention, WFC a professional networking con, so they have totally different audiences. But I see shades of that same poor decision making about the ecosystems and overlap of and between local cons and major cons in the decision you’re talking about.

  6. I don’t think it’s fair to ban someone from your con because of what happened at another convention. I do think it’s fair to no longer offer that person a position of power and influence (program participant, volunteer, etc.). Unless, of course, there’s a criminal claim…

    I agree the SFContario policy is lacking.

    There are many reasons not to go to Sasquan.

    • Re the first point. If someone is a known harasser who should not be in a space where they are in a position to harass other people, then a con is entirely within their rights to refuse entry to that person. And there are a lot of reasons people can’t or won’t make criminal claims against a harasser. I’m very uncomfortable with the suggestion that only a criminal claim should be enough to bar someone from a con entirely as that devalues the safety of other attendees. Also, cons are usually nonprofit corporations, and as such are (unless they don’t include the language in their charter) allowed to deny attendance to anyone for any reason. Sometimes that power is abused for petty reasons. And (ideally) people speak out against that. But people forget that cons are private function space administered by a convened body and volunteer staff aiding the ConCom. Cons aren’t public spaces, and they get to define and enforce the rules of their private space.

  7. Pingback: Another year, another Con: SFContario 5 | Rati Mehrotra

  8. Kelly says:

    I agree with cogitationitis that to carry forward an issue from one convention to another is not fair, unless there is civil or criminal litigation pending or that the accuser has a valid restraining order (from the country they are in) against the accused and contacts the chairs and board of that convention with all valid information.

    I am not speaking to any individual case here, nor am I victim blaming, but fandom has had a long history of cliques and fall-outs. With an instated blanket policy of the accuser is assumed right, and the accused is assumed wrong which now seems to be promoting an ongoing trend of zero tolerance policies in conventions.

    Zero tolerance policies have historically never worked in any organization or government. This type of policy opens the doors for the cliques and the ‘mean girls’ high school mentality to shift into power and oust people they don’t like for whatever reason. Salem witch trials anyone?

    Let’s promote safety at cons, let’s educate our attendees with well defined (not blanket) policies, let’s promote accessibility, education and understanding of the issues that affect the differently abled Let’s let the cosplayers know that the guy staring fixedly at them may just have social or mental health issue, and might stare at guy in the fully covered Transformer costume in the same way. Just because you can’t see a disability, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    Let’s have conversations! If you don’t feel comfortable saying, ‘your staring at me is making me uncomfortable’, ask someone on concom to do it for you. See where that conversation goes before putting in a complaint.

    I wonder how different your friend’s experience at Ad Astra would have been if a conversation could have been started between him and the owner of the fan table. If a simple, “Excuse me, may I put my coat here, I’m in pain” was the start of their interaction

    I think fandom as a whole needs to communicate more and legislate less.

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