Quick-ish notes on Readercon; I meant to do this Sunday night when we got home and it was all still fresh and timely, but the only energy I could drum up was for angsty booklogging, and then work resumed. (And is still there, but I'm writing this up in time that would otherwise be unproductive.)
I had very little free time this con because the hotel room situation meant I was in the room with the Pip after 8:00 p.m., and because programming/safety committee/family demanded a lot of my daytime. So I didn't ever really feel like I'd gotten immersed in the con, if that makes sense.
Anyway. Saturday morning we got the kids up and herded them to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There we bumped into oracne who joined us, but I barely spoke to her because I was busy chasing the Pip all over the place. (He's not a huge breakfast eater and there was stuff to explore. Stairs! Windows! A ramp!) Then the kids & Chad went off to the beach, and I took a shower and went to my first panel, A Visit from the "Suck Fairy": Enjoying Problematic Works.
Encountering problematic elements within fictional works isn't uncommon. As readers develop awareness of racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism—development that occurs on both a personal and a cultural level—they may be appalled to stumble across bigotry in childhood favorites or long-lauded classics, or struggle to appreciate a book that everyone around them is enjoying. Can you still love a work after you've seen something horrible within it, or does continuing to enjoy it mean tacitly approving of not only that specific work but problematic works in general? How can we make room for complex reactions in conversations among critics and readers?
John Benson, Cathy Butler, Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Yoon Ha Lee, Adrienne Martini, Kate Nepveu.
I think maybe I've been doing too many of these panels (the original Suck Fairy panel, Suck Fairy revisited, the one where I shouted, two different panels at this year's Arisia, problematic things revisited again--whoa, that is more than I remembered), so I was sort of tired and jaded at the end of this one? Or maybe because I've done a lot of them I should keep doing them because I'm practiced at responding to the things that will come up. I don't know. Though I did forget the most important thing, so maybe I'm overestimating my competence, as you will see.
Anyway. Some things I wanted to talk about here:
yhlee told a story I thought was really powerful and brave, about acquiring Chalker's works three times, the last as a deliberate statement along the lines of: these stories about characters changing sex are terrible and exploitative, but they meant a lot to me when I didn't realize I was trans, and while there are better things available now, I want to keep these as a reminder of the crumbs I was grateful for. [ETA: now expanded upon in a separate post by yhlee.]
I picked up this idea of underrepresentation later, in a classic lawyer trick of answering the question you want to answer rather than the question that was asked. Someone on the panel had previously brought up "Uncle Jack," the older relative who is lovely 90% of the time but get a few drinks in him and out come the racial slurs. An audience member asked if SFF was depriving itself of the full range of protagonists by not having Uncle Jack-types as protagonists. (Actually it may have been John in the example, but I have an Uncle John.)
Which I chose to take as a question about creating characters who've been influenced by structural oppressions, even if they don't realize it, which is really great and realistic but only works if you put that protagonist in contact with lots of different people so they can realize and confront the unconscious attitudes they hold. So I used it as a pitch for more characters from underrepresented groups, especially more than one from any particular group, so that what happens to any one character is not taken as a statement--the only black guy dies, etc.
(But if the question was, as I suspect was actually the case, why can't we have Uncle Jacks who just ARE racist and that's what they're like, oh well, moving on? Well, as I said throughout the panel, people have to make their own decisions and there are lots of factors, so yes, of course, you can have that, no-one's going to stop you. But personally? I'm not interested in reading about that kind of protagonist. I've had those kinds of relatives and I could never fully relax around them for wondering what awful thing they might bust out and what I'd do in response. That doesn't sound like a fun reading experience to me.)
For a lot of the panel, I felt like I was the designated bomb-thrower or harsher of squees or something, just because everyone seemed to be talking about "getting past things" and such and I thought someone needed to say, "but you're not OBLIGATED to 'get past' anything, it's okay to say that this is not something you want to like or accept!" Which I found a little unusual for me, but I guess this is where past experience comes in, that I could do it? So I ranted about the overuse of the "historical context" excuse, and disagreed that racist / otherwise oppressive writing is also lazy writing and so easy to discount (sloppy stereotypes etc.)--I used The Blue Sword as an example a lot, and one of the strengths of that book is that it's a power fantasy of the misfit teenage girl finding her place and saving the day . . . except that power fantasy is also at the same time a "what these people need is a honky" story, and those aren't separable.
Finally, the thing I forgot was the Magical Minority Fairy speech, that is, there IS no Magical Minority Fairy, no-one can bop you on the head with a wand and officially designate you A Good Person despite liking X work. I really found myself wanting that speech as the questions period went on. I thought it was implicit in what we'd been saying all along, about individual choice and different factors weighing more or less for different people, but apparently not. At the very end, someone asked (at some length) about a reading group they were participating in, where it seemed all the works had some small problematic element, and shouldn't readers be given credit for being able to put that aside and have it not influence them? (Not clear who was supposed to be giving credit in this scenario.) My response was, "That's between you and your conscience." Which was a little curt, but was also genuinely the best answer I could give at that point in the panel.
(One of the reasons why sparkymonster is awesome, by the way, is that I mentioned this to her as I was leaving and she started thinking about a similar panel she was going to be on . . . leading to the item in the first picture in this post.)
Other people who haven't been doing this panel repeatedly would probably have a better sense of how it went. And it's probably a conversation that's always useful. But like I said, it just made me kind of tired.
Then I had a restorative lunch with yhlee and spouse at Legal Seafood, where I had my traditional lobster bisque and crab cake and enjoyed it very much. Then I took a nap, because His Pipliness slept really poorly the night before and I'd also been awake longer than I should have been wondering if my phone was going to ring with a safety committee call. (It didn't on any of my shifts, but I know other reports were received, and I'm hoping we'll be able to share some general data on the safety committee's activities in due course.)
Next I went to a panel that I was on because I was on the safety committee, Making Readercon Safer.
In the best of all possible worlds, Readercon would be confidently safe and welcoming for all. What can each of us do, in our different roles, to get closer to that state? Join members of Readercon's concom and safety committee as we talk about safety and safe spaces. We invite you to share your concerns and suggestions in order to make Readercon 25 even better.
Rose Fox, Crystal Huff, Kate Nepveu, Kim Riek (leader), Veronica Schanoes (also Steve Huff and someone else added at the last minute I'm forgetting).
Haters did not come to this, which I'd been braced for, so yay. Though obviously sexual harassment was much on people's minds, we also talked about making the con safer and more welcoming for people of color: Readercon's efforts to get more POC on programming (*waves*); the possibility of a designated "quiet room," which among other things could be used for people to decompress after micro-aggressions that didn't rise to the level of reporting to the safety committee; down the road, possibly POC safer space a la WisCon. Someone suggested a panel next year on making Readercon more accessible to people with disabilities, which would be great but I'm sure that people with suggestions need not wait until then. Operation Hammond talked about its operations, including its access to space for people needed emotional downtime--they're not just for first aid!
Then I rushed off because Chad and the kids were back, and I chased the Pip around as SteelyKid & Chad swam. We rode the elevators for a while, played "Help, help, I'm being oppressed" on the floor of the indoor pool (I sit down, he stands behind me and presses me forward, I bend at the waist and say "Help, help, I'm being oppressed" in the world's least convincing voice, he laughs and either tugs at my shoulders to make me sit back up or drapes himself over my back so I can gently shake us from side-to-side), and generally bopped all around the pools and accompanying area.
Then I took the kids into my hotel room while Chad showered and decompressed and saw them off to the mall for dinner. This was poor planning on my part because it left me way too little time to get dinner in the hotel restaurant before my next panel, so I made do with snacks I had on hand and found in the green room.
My last panel of the day and the con was Women's Bodies, Women's Power.
In many times and places, cisgender girls and women have been evaluated by their bodies, including their choice of dress, sexual behavior, virginity, and fertility. Juxtaposed with this are the mystification and taboos surrounding menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. This outlook has migrated wholesale into speculative literature. It's still standard fare in fantasy for women to lose (or be thought to lose) any extranormal powers they possess when they first have penetrative sex, menstruate, or become pregnant, from André Norton's Witchworld adepts to Zamia in Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon. Athena Andreadis will explore the tropes and assumptions around this issue, including variants applied to trans* and non-binary characters.
Athena Andreadis (leader), Alex Dally MacFarlane, Kate Nepveu, Vandana Singh, Sabrina Vourvoulias.
This was frustrating because (1) it's much too big a topic to be adequately addressed in 50 minutes and (2) despite the nods in the description and the presence of a trans person, Alex Dally MacFarlane, on the panel, I still felt like a lot of the discussion excluded non-cisgendered people. I know that I have not eradicated all my harmful reflexes in this area--I did my best to follow the example of that great kids' book people recommended here that talks about reproduction in terms of "some bodies have uteruses" and say things like "pregnant bodies" [*] or talk in the first-person about pregnancy, but I am sure that I committed erasure at some point in my comments. I am also sure that I am at that stage of learning about a social justice topic where I'm hyper-sensitive to potentially harmful statements (as opposed to reasonably sensitive based on a solid and long-term understanding).
All that said, much of the panel was still uncomfortable for me and that feeling cast a shadow over my enjoyment of the panel. I would love to see a panel about gendered bodies and magic and ways of challenging, deconstructing, and revising gendered categories, but only if most or all of the panelists did not identify as cisgendered.
[*] I know at least two people who have given birth who do not identify as female.
And then, bed. Well, cross-stitching instead of the work I really should have been doing to decompress, then bed.
Sunday morning, same breakfast routine, then sent the family off to the Museum of Science while I had a visit with glvalentine and then packed up our remaining stuff before yhlee's panel on writing the Winterstrike browser-based game, which I'd promised to attend as one of the game's beta testers. I enjoyed this and learned stuff I hadn't known about writing the game (the fledgling ironbird was once a giant robot!), and the other audience members also seemed engaged and interested, though I regretted that the panel necessarily spoiled part of the game for those who hadn't played it. The Storynexus platform is free for anyone who wants to try designing their own narrative game, though I believe there are hoops if you want to try and make money off it. (The game is also free to play, though you can buy in-game currency to speed things up.)
And then I had the pleasure of having lunch with Chad, the kids, and prince_eric and kids, who'd gone to the museum too; I'd not met his kids before and they were delightful. And then the drive home.
So that was my Readercon. In a way, this was a good one to have such little free time at, because the hotel renovations meant that the spaces for casual hanging were so limited. How was your Readercon, if you went? Oh, and if you have comments about safety committee-related stuff, you can feel free to contact me privately and we can talk about how I pass on your feedback. If we put out a report/summary/whatever, I will try to remember to link it here.