WorldCon has some Happy Things Plus Some Problems

It is very clear to many folks that there’s a problem with WorldCon. (Here is Chuck Wendig writing the thing many of us authors were saying over and over to each other all weekend: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/03/the-worldcon-youth-problem/)

The good:

Meeting all of you lovely people. It was like a mini-Stonecoast Reunion, at the bar, followed by my house. ‘Tis a very good thing. I missed you guys, and then you came, and some of us had CHEESECAKE-CAKE! Also, meeting so many of y’all in person that I’ve only known on-line is awesome. What a great con, for that!

I would like to add that there were wonderful things at WorldCon, even in this situation. First, Scott Cupp has the best book table in the world. From his table I scored a signed first edition of Maureen McHugh’s NEKROPOLIS. I also scored a first edition of Lloyd Alexander’s TARAN WANDERER (which was a Holy Fuck moment for me, as I was so heavily influenced by this man, and this book, in particular. It was easily the 2nd most influential book I ever read as a young person, following only THE FIRST TWO LIVES OF LUKAS KASHA, also by Lloyd Alexander, and the first edition is *gorgeous* *so pretty* *ohmygodohmygodohmygod*)

I would also like to add that Combat Writing panel was entirely female, and there was absolutely no doubt that every single woman on that panel was overqualified to be there, the room was packed, and the information was good. Between Elizabeth Moon, Elizabeth Bear, Martha Wells, Lois McMaster-Bujold, a Military SF author whose name escapes me… Look, woman also get in fights. Some of them fight in wars. Plus, they write. I had no doubt every woman on that panel could have pounded me into a squishy mass without breaking a sweat, plus they write well about it. So, yay feminist progress.

I would also like to add that it pleased me greatly to see a Chinese-American author in a Japanese-American anthology win a Hugo, because it’s about time, and yes, more of that, please. Yes. Good. Yes.

The bad:

So, Mari Ness, who is a very smart person that I would love to listen to about many, many things, is in a wheelchair, and she couldn’t get up to the panels where she was on, because there was no way for her to get a ramp up to the same level as the rest of the panel, had to spend her panels down below everyone else, on a lower level than them. That’s not cool. It was an oversight in a huge, fan-run convention, so it’s not worth a rage-fueled rage. But, do please fix that at every con, everywhere, forever, right now, please. Are you a Con? Include ramps to the panels. Thanks.

Let’s talk about the bad. The youth issue has been discussed. Many others are talking about that. Good. Yes. There’s another issue to discuss that is related.

So, there were not a lot of people of color. Like, hardly at all. To put it in perspective, I am white. I often wandered into the mall for cheap food next door, and once there I became the minority. Which is good and correct in San Antonio, a beautiful patchwork of cultures that is a lovely place to live and meet people of many races, colors, creeds. Once back into the Con, it was like stepping into a portal into a whitewashed world, with so few people of color that one of my friends from grad school (who is Caribbean) started counting on her hands the African people. We met an excellent, excellent Chinese-American author, who lives in the states, and she and he traded numbers they counted of their race, and both numbers were shockingly low, in the single digits, at the largest fan-run con in the World.

Is this a WorldCon or a WhiteCon? I’m going to have to get italics and bold on this because if you were here in my living room I’d be shouting with spittle.

Where is the World in WorldCon?  We write about our future, not yesterday’s tomorrows. The future is not a place where exclusion is permitted or desired. If WorldCon becomes a Gernsback Continuum, we are all poorer in literature and life because of it.

The True Golden Age of SF is always the one that is coming, not the one that has passed. 

More bad: When Paul Cornell stepped away from the microphone and Robert Silverberg stepped up to the microphone, Robert Silverberg said something that made me want to leave and never read anything he has ever written, ever. Connie Willis deserves to be talked about as if she were actually an equal, because she is more than a match, as a writer, to anyone in that room, and does not deserve to be joked about like that at the very same time that so many wounds are aching and raw. It wouldn’t matter if it has happened before. I thought we were past that. No? Well, that was the moment I decided I was not going to go back to a WorldCon, even if it was in town, because for all the rhetoric, the old-timers that are running the show and demand our respect clearly don’t care about giving other people respect. You have to give respect to get it, guys. There doesn’t come a moment where you don’t have to give respect. You are never so famous, so well-known, or so old that it is okay to stop giving respect.

I looked around, and I was trapped in the middle of the aisles and it would have been really hard to leave the room where I was sitting, and it was almost over and Paul Cornell would be back, but I still regret not getting up and just leaving. Angie says she would have stood up and shouted BOO at the top of her lungs if she were there. (And, maybe that’s the thing we should start doing. An immediate, visceral disgust in our ceremonies should be followed by an immediate and visceral BOO.)

The Worst Thing That I Have Ever Witnessed Personally at a Convention: My friend Jenn and I went to a Teaching SF workshop the next day after the Hugos. During the day, during a break, Robert Heinlein came up and the people in attendance in our little group (who were 3 older men, Jenn and me who might be the youngest person in the room) talked about how badly they wished Heinlein was taught in schools. Jenn, who actually teaches 5th grade reading [ETA: Oops – She teaches Creative Writing as an Art] in a very difficult place, tried to mention that she would never bring Heinlein to her Hispanic and African girls in Red Hook, because not only would they not like it, but the message about women in Heinlein is not a good one. Jenn was literally ignored and steamrolled as if she was not there by the men, and I had to stop the conversation they were having and say, “Hey, actually, can you say that again, Jenn, because I think that’s a really important point you just made and we should all hear what you just said and maybe talk about it.”

It was not something that made them happy to talk about.

One of the men grumbled away the discussion and tried to dismiss the criticism by pretending that the sexualization of all teenagers is so much worse now than anything Heinlein wrote and can be summed up by Miley Cyrus, and so Heinlein is wonderful for them. Apparently “But these kids today…” is an argument worthy of a rational response among educators of SF. So Heinlein’s problematic female characters are great subjects for the classroom because these kids today are all hypersexualized. All of them. Without exception. One of the other gentleman was even worse, and I had to wave my hands to stop Jenn from entering into a passionate conversation that would lead nowhere for anyone and only anger us all and change nothing.

A man (who was a climate change denier and suggested that prejudice against his true awesome facts that he could prove kept him out of academia) said that Heinlein was excellent explicitly because of the women role models, because, and I will quote the most troubling and chilling thing I heard directly that I can still hear in my mind, verbatim, “Some women need to learn to be submissive.” [ETA: Jenn is saying what he said was “Some women WANT to learn to be submissive.” which is somehow, not better. I recall the former, though.] He talked about marriage and gay marriage and I’m sure you can already imagine what he was saying about it all, and society so I’ll just skip this part.

Let me repeat what panel I was at, to make the awfulness of everything even worse: How To Teach SF in the Classroom, an all day workshop for educators and aspiring.

An older woman defended the second gentleman, the climate-change denialist, with the argument that because that was the way things were, it should be taught in schools and accepted as okay [ETA: I think she might have said something about framing it carefully? Memory is fickle, particularly when it comes to disgusting. I still don’t think it matters how you frame it when there’s plenty that doesn’t need a frame.]

Jenn’s very excellent point was “Is this what you want your daughters to read and internalize?” Why should we spend so much time building context to protect our daughters from the bad things in Heinlein when we could be teaching Nnedi Okorafor, or Nalo Hopkinson, or Octavia Butler, or Ursula LeGuin, or any number of other authors that will speak of a future that includes the girls in Red Hook, Brooklyn that watched their neighborhood flooded out bad, that live in an educational and political system that marginalizes them, stops them, frisks them, arrests their family and friends, and excludes them every step of the way. If you brought Heinlein to those kids, as Jenn stated very clearly, the kids are not stupid and they would know exactly what they were reading regardless of the frame a teacher might spend precious class time building up for them, and the material would only alienate them more.

One of the moderators of the panel was a young woman who saw an embrace of queerness in TOS Commander Spock, and an older gentleman in the room tried to shut that down without any understanding of the queer/feminist issue at all beyond his own visible discomfort with the mental image of “Spock was secretly gay”. (And, in case you didn’t know, she was absolutely right about the queering of TOS Spock. I’ve read that before, agreed with it heartily, and a quick google revealed this about the subject, and there’s more if you can find it past the google spider slashfic love: http://fandomsandfeminism.tumblr.com/post/55934047636/star-trek-was-supposed-to-be-different)

Apologies to Jenn, and I know I am really looking forward to her version of events. Jenn, I hope I did not mangle your message, and I hope you can correct me where I was off in my description of events.

I do not want to be the guy who is silent when this stuff is done right in front of my face, and I encourage you to do the same. The reason I blog about it is because these were aspiring SF educators, and this is not the way to teach SF.

I did want to blog about this before I fell asleep, because I go back to work in the AM, in every manner of meaning that word contains, and this is a conversation the world should be having right now along with the problematic age demographic issues of WorldCon that others elsewhere discuss.

I have no desire to return to WorldCon. If you want to have that conversation about the golden age and nothing but the golden age and the golden age forever, don’t count me in on that. That is not what I write, nor where I like to think I work.

My proposed solution is a very simple one. Extend voting memberships, with the packet, to Dragon*Con memberships. I think that is the easiest and fastest way to fix this crap. Have whatever conversation you want to have, wherever you want to have it. But, everybody votes.

PS: Angie, who was working that weekend and couldn’t come, says that awards ceremonies are supposed to be uplifting and encouraging and make people want to aspire, and this weekend she’s hearing about was all just not. I agree with her. How do we make an award that people actually aspire to achieve at an event that is supposed to be an honor to attend?

So, I’m stepping into the snakepit, a little bit, in the annual ritual of complaining about grave injustice at WorldCon, and I have turned off comments because I won’t be able to even look at them until next weekend and there must would need to be moderation. Copy and discuss wherever you like.

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