MoonFail: Safe Spaces Made Unsafe

MoonFail: Safe Spaces Made Unsafe

There’s a lot to talk about regarding the WisCon concom’s response to the Elizabeth Moon thing, but I am going to start with something that’s been brewing in my head for a while and this issue has crystalized it a bit. It’s to do with feeling safe and safe spaces, conventions, and individual effects on such.

I don’t think I have it in me to be really elegant about this right now, so I’m just going to lay my brain out on a plate and hope it makes sense. Okay? Here we go.

Remember right after this year’s WisCon when there was much discussion on the meaning of safe spaces instigated by Jay Lake’s statements and the reaction to such (including mine)? You may also remember that in the wake of that other Wiscon attendees also emailed the concom about their feeling of unsafeness and Debbie Notkin wrote a passionate response to them here.

I happen to know one of the people who wrote to the concom, and in a discussion with that person afterward ze told me that hir unsafe feelings came not from physical discomfort (obviously) and not from fear of POC ganging up on hir. The fear was that ze would say or do something hurtful, or clueless, or whatever, and then would be talked about on the Internet. It was the last part – that people would talk about hir on the Internet – that was of most importance. Because once it got to the web it could hurt hir tangibly (this person is a published writer).

At the time, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that fear. And I’ve been chewing on it over the last few months. And I’ve finally come to realize why I can’t really sympathize with that fear, nor sympathize with the feeling of unsafeness it gave this writer. Because, truly, where else are we supposed to discuss these issues but on the Internet? Yes, we discuss them at conventions, or in person at other gatherings, or amongst friends. But we’re a community spread out across the country. And we come together on the web to do many things, including to discuss that which harms us. The unspoken desire here is that this writer would rather people just not bring up hir problematic behavior in public.

This is also what’s behind the “unsafeness” Jay Lake was on about. He doesn’t want people to bring up his problematic behavior to his face. There appear to be several people who feel this way. It all comes down to this: Don’t bring up my problematic behavior in venues where it will make me feel uncomfortable. The writer I spoke to seems to be comfortable processing her problematic behavior in person, which is fine. That’s a step up from people who don’t even want to acknowledge they might have problematic behaviors. But still, it’s a riff on that whole attitude where people who are hurt by this problematic behavior should kindly, quietly, take the person aside and have a closed, private discussion in order to make the perpetrator comfortable.

Making the perpetrator comfortable is not the goal here. It should never be the goal. When you engage in hurtful actions or speak hurtful words, your comfort is not of prime concern.

And that brings me back to Elizabeth Moon.

What the concom has done is to make the prime concern NOT the people who are hurt by Moon’s words. Instead, they’re asking them to once again to step into the role of educator to the ignorant, the hurtful, the actively prejudiced. Yes, it is hard work erasing prejudice in society and in individuals. And yes, those who are most hurt are often the ones who have to do a lot of the erasing. But, you know what, good allies would recognize that this is not how things should be. And instead of putting the onus on the hurt, they should be taking up that burden for the good of everyone.

Instead we have some bullshit about teachable moments. I’m sorry I can’t be more delicate than that.

As much as people tied themselves in knots over those few (probably) white folks feeling unsafe because someone might call them on their unexamined privilege, their hurtful words, their clueless actions, I don’t see many of those same people getting upset that the concom has done quite a thorough job ensuring that Muslim attendees really will feel unsafe. Not because of some feared encounter that may never happen, but because of a person who has baldly stated their views and is coming to this con to be honored.

This is what it means to feel unsafe at a convention. This.

I’m bothered even more by this whole situation because WisCon is not supposed to be the kind of con I skip over stuff like this. Other conventions have truly despicable people as GoH1, but then you just don’t go. You don’t support. You go to WisCon, instead.

Now what do we do?

That’s another post. In the meantime, read these things:


  1. Looking at you, Orson Scott Card []