I’ve been going over and over the events that occurred at Readercon in my head since I returned from Budapest. (In short, author glvalentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by former Worldcon Chair Rene Walling, she reported it, and instead of enforcing their stated zero tolerance policy which had been in place without question for four years and necessitated a lifetime ban from the con, the Board, almost certainly bowing to Walling’s SMOF status, told him he could come back after two years. Even after it became clear that this was a pattern and Walling had harassed others.)
This disturbs me on the plain level of someone whom I consider a friend being harassed at a convention and the Board cavalierly ignoring their own policy (whatever the wisdom of zero tolerance policies, that was the policy in place) because Walling, who used his own “need” to apologize to Valentine as an excuse to follow, grab, and further stalk her, apologized while being a friend of the Board. This is, honestly, exactly why harassment continues–everyone thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that they are special, that their friendships and power in their communities will allow them to do whatever they want.
In this case, it looks like all of that is right on the money.
But it further disturbs me because this is an incident of an author, an invited guest to a convention, being harassed by, no matter the super-awesomeness of his fanhood, a fan. If that cannot be taken seriously, how can any author feel safe at a convention? Because let’s be honest, authors who harass women are already welcome at many conventions, not policed in any way, and those who once harassed and no longer do because they are dead often have their “exploits” extolled with affection and nostalgia at con parties. Big men act with impunity, are even praised for it. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus ’twill be.
So, from whom is an author safe? The answer seems to be no one.
I love fandom. Fan activity and fans are wonderful and valuable. But we all know that fans can go sour and get extremely dangerous in their attachment to authors and books. It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. We all try to guard ourselves and our personal lives against the possibility of a lone fan cornering us. And now we are being told that as long as the fan has done enough cool things for fandom, the rules will not apply to him. If you are a good enough fan, you can grab authors you like and violate their physical safety and it’s A-ok. Just say you’re sorry and it’s cool.
Did you get the banhammer when you did it? Well, I guess you should have been a better fan. A more important fan. Or maybe you were just mentally ill and no one liked you so the policy was drafted specifically to ban you forever because you were Harassing While Being a Nobody and it was never intended to be used on anyone else.
And hell, one of the other people Walling harassed was also a SMOF. And no one even investigated or followed up on that incident. So it’s just a naked hierarchy of power. It’d be nice to know what level of BNF one has to attain to earn the rights and privileges Walling enjoys. His Tor.com column will continue. EDIT: I have been corrected. He is no longer writing for Tor.com and his last column was taken down over the weekend. I am very glad of this. He is part of the Kansas 2016 Worldcon bid committee. He is involved in the New Zealand 2020 bid. He is, like most harassers, entirely undiminished by this. It’s not really just the Readercon Board. The community as a whole is not holding him responsible.
I’m not sure there is a high enough prestige level to have complaints taken as seriously as Walling’s apology has been.
Here’s the thing. I’ve had issues at conventions. Some people have noted that I tend to travel with a pack at events. I have good friends around me most of the time. Some of this is social and some of this is protective. I feel safe in a pack. I look young, I present as very feminine, and I started publishing at 25, when the likelihood of not being taken seriously or respected was very high.
And both of the most serious things that have happened to me at conventions have happened at Readercon.
Please do not ask me to discuss these events. I will not. I did not report them at the time and see no purpose in dragging them up now. It is not the fault of anyone at Readercon or involved with it that this happened or that I did not report it. Both men were in positions of power over me, (people in positions of power do tend to do this kind of thing–it’s almost like they know they won’t be punished like a mere plebe), both would almost certainly say it was a misunderstanding–because that’s pretty much what people do when confronted. I decided long ago not to have the conversation that attends reporting incidents. I am not as brave as Genevieve Valentine. And since both situations occurred before the famous zero tolerance policy was even in place, I think I can be fairly sure that I made the right decision in keeping them to myself.
I have also had, somewhat infamously, my share of problems with the Readercon Board, most particularly one member who felt a proper response to disagreeing with me on the Internet was sending private, threatening emails and behaving in an insulting and aggressive fashion toward commenters to this journal. (I also did not post publicly about the emails, which I now regret. I was not brave enough.) I have been nervous about attending the convention ever since my own Internet dust-up with that Board member, because his social and physical behavior I find intimidating and I am well aware that to say he dislikes me is an understatement. I was told by the Chairs of the convention that his involvement would be phased out due to his unacceptable behavior–but that has clearly not happened at all as he is still instrumental on the Board and Committee, and thus, in this decision. That is not why I’ve not been able to go for the last two years–I was GOH at another convention in 2011 and traveling to Budapest this year–but avoiding him has become a priority when I do attend. For the last three years I have been, quite simply, afraid.
And what do you know? It IS Your Father’s Readercon, after all.
Which brings me to the point of this post, which is that I cannot in conscience continue to attend Readercon.
If the Readercon Board (which is different than the Committee, and I have nothing but respect and sympathy for the terrible position the Committee is in at this point) cannot bring themselves to care about the safety of its author guests, then I, as an author guest, cannot entrust my safety to Readercon. Everyone’s safety should be of utmost importance, of course. Valentine is not more important than a fan who is harassed. But in the status Olympics in which the Board is trying to medal, it has become clear that the only thing that protects me even a little as a female author, the fact that I am well-known and active in the community and if fucked with can make a lot of noise, is irrelevant if a harasser is sufficiently popular in the Big Boys Club. And of course, it never did protect me very well. Genevieve is also well known and active online. She can, and has, made a big noise. What has occurred was highly predictable. If they do not care about her, they will not care about anyone. If neither authors nor SMOFs can be ensured of their safety and that their violations will be taken seriously, how can any lover of books who just wants to go listen to some panels and get a first edition signed feel safe? And this is borne out by the large number of people crossing Readercon off of their calendars for the forseeable future.
Which means that the Board was fully willing to sacrifice significant portions of attendance, revenue, reputation, and possibly the con itself as it has been known, to protect a single man with a long track record of harassment.
How can I support this convention while this decision stands? I love Readercon–I used to drive 12 hours to attend. Now it is my local con. Despite my fear and nervousness, it is a place I want to be. But cons are working spaces for authors, as squirrel_monkey has pointed out, and I cannot expose myself to a workplace environment where harassment is tolerated if everyone likes the harasser a whole lot and he says sorry when caught.
This is pure nepotism and it is ugly as hell. He’s one of our own, don’t inconvenience him. Nevermind that the whole welcoming geek community thing we’re all so proud of should mean that everyone at a con is one of our own.
But what this should tell us is that the geek community–or at least Readercon–is just like everywhere else. The rules do not apply to the higher-ups.
If the policy is reconsidered and Walling banned, I, too will reconsider. But only reconsider–this is an issue of the culture of Readercon, the memes at work within it, and though I thought that culture had come a long way, it clearly has not, at least with regards to the Board. I cannot speak for anyone else, I only speak as an author and a member of the community. I have, however, certainly never run a Worldcon, so feel free to disregard my concerns completely.
The Board stated the following:
In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 we will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in his [Walling's] behavior. It was made very clear to him that if we receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at any venue – during or after the suspension period – his suspension will become permanent.
And to that I say:
In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 I will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in the Board’s behavior, policies, and the environment created by both. I hope I have made it very clear to them that if I receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at this venue – during or after my hiatus – my hiatus will become permanent.