Broken antique stairs - by Simon Agozzino

Not Everyone Can Skip That Missing Stair

I posted a version of this a year ago on Facebook and, a few days ago, it came up in my On This Day. I decided to refresh it for the blog because this issue continues to be a problem.

Last year, author Jon Del Arroz was banned from the 2018 WorldCon for reasons. Previous to this, I’d been aware of him and that he was Sad/Rabid Puppy-adjacent, thus probably someone I should avoid and block where possible. As the news spread about this banning, I came to understand that he had, for several years previous, been severely harassing several people in the SFF community. I knew about one of them, I didn’t know about the many others.

The reason I didn’t know is in part because of my scattershot participation on social media and also because the events in this community over the past few years have made it so my anxiety is often triggered by reading about the actions of the folks Del Arroz admires and rolls with, so I tend to just not keep up.

Thing is, it’s really easy not to keep up.

A few years ago I was telling a friend (I’ll call them D) about my issues with a dude who stalked and harassed me and some of my friends post RaceFail. That dude’s name rhymes with Hill Fetterly. Anyway, when I mentioned him, D said: “Oh why don’t you just ignore it? There’s no reason to even think about him.”

She said this not because she regularly minimizes harassment, but because she had no idea the depth and breadth of what Hill did to me and others. She hadn’t seen, had not looked deeply, just thought he was a garden variety harmless jerk.

In the weeks that followed D got more information about what was going on from me and other folks. Once she did, she apologized to me.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when several people came forward to report that a person in the SFF community–someone I considered a friend–had been engaging in harmful behavior for quite a long time. I had no idea. Not because I wasn’t looking, but because the people affected hadn’t been public about what was going on for a variety of reasons. Not until the situation reached a boiling point. This is, sadly, not the first time this has happened in the community in the past few years.

These incidents have taught me how possible it is to miss things happening in close proximity to you. Sometimes not because the issue is happening in private–Hill certainly didn’t hide anything he was doing–but because the people affected aren’t constantly talking about it (to avoid fueling the harasser’s fire), or it happens in private spaces you don’t have access to, or happens in a pocket of the Internet you don’t happen to hang out in, or you have your own shit going on, or whatever.

It upsets me that this stuff happens over and over. The only silver lining I can see is that people seem more willing to finally talk about what’s going on in private when they’re being hurt or abused or gaslit, and the response from the community at large trends toward the supportive more often than not.

However, there are some lessons from this that I want to hammer home as hard as I can.

First, even though my friend D apologized to me and I harbor no bad feelings toward her, I am begging all people everywhere to just not do what she did. If someone you know has a real problem with another person, even if the person you know is always “angry” and “unreasonable” and “hates everyone”, take the time to listen to the reasons why. You might discover that your friend has been dealing with some real intense shit and could use some comfort and support.

Second, if you keep hearing that a person in the community–Jon Del Arroz, for instance–is engaging in unacceptable behavior, I urge you to be curious about why. If it isn’t immediately apparent to you why they’re being called out, look into it. Someone you care about may be affected.

That said: Third, don’t be too hard on people who don’t know the story. The Internet is vast. As much as we talk about there being An SFF Community, there are several communities and sub-groups and Twitter pockets and etc. No one can keep track of everything going on.

Fourth, if something is happening with you and another person and you’re being harassed, abused, or otherwise really uncomfortable or unhappy and feel alone and like no one cares, reach out to someone close to you and straight up tell them that. Or reach out to someone who has been through shit like this and may understand what you’re going through. This can be scary, I know. It’s so, so important. There are people in this community who care and want to help.

Fifth, if someone reaches out and the person they have a problem with is a person you know or consider a friend or friendly acquaintance, please remember to keep an open mind and heart. The person in question may have not exhibited the offending behavior to you; that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t act that way toward someone else.

Image Credit: Simon Agozzino