In support of Mark Oshiro: my shit experience at CONQuesT 2013

This is in response to Mark Oshiro’s harassment at CONQuesT, described here

***

I was unlucky enough to get tapped for a self-pub panel at CONQuest (Kansas City 2013) that consisted of me and two gatekeepers who bloviated the entire time, talking over anything I had to say. Lawrence M. Schoen was the moderator who opened his introductory email to me with a declaration that nobody should self publish unless they’d already been vetted by the publishing industry. He also used the term “politically correct” which prompted the following response from me:

“Please do not use the term ‘politically correct’ in my presence. My colleagues and mentors include survivors of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Soviet GULag. Current American usage of this term trivializes these mass atrocities in the service of defending lazy-minded reflexive bigotry.”

In response, he doubled down on his insistence on right to say anything he liked.

On the panel, Silena Rosen was particularly notable for her crude, hostile manner as well as rant about how self-pub was shit, fanfic was public masturbation, yadda yadda yadda. Schoen wasn’t so much a moderator as a partner in the pile-on. I had quality assurance experience from multiple industry jobs, and a whole list of suggestions for editorial collectives and the like. They talked right over me as loudly as they could. None of that stuff even got said.

I felt the whole time as if I were fighting with both hands tied behind my back. I was there to give the audience new ideas and perspectives and to present myself with courtesy and professionalism; they were there to beat me up in public.

It cost me and my buddy some serious money to take an eight-hour road trip to Kansas City and stay in a convention hotel. Why were we there? We were invited by convention organizer Kat Donovan who cited interest in “new blood.”

“New blood,” yeah, in the sense of throwing newbies into the gladiatorial ring.

At the post-con (“dead dog”) party, I told the person who invited us about Rosen’s extreme rudeness and she shrugged, “Oh, she’s just like that.” With a shrug, like oh, local eccentric.

Let’s be clear: I have a couple of decades on Mark Oshiro, I’m White-passing, and I have decades of experience in negotiating hostile audiences, and this was still a grossly unpleasant experience. I’ve survived full-on, many-on-one onslaught in more than one graduate seminar. But I was tired of this bullshit when I was twenty, and I’m approaching three times that now.

I didn’t bother answering the follow-up survey about my con experience. Why bother? I wasn’t going to be back, and that particular adventure was sandwiched in between an ER visit for major health problems and coming home to a fire scare in my apartment. It was really clear to me that the SFF con scene was just as ugly and abusive as it was when I left it in 1989.

***

Not that I didn’t meet some decent folk, but they weren’t locals. John Picaccio stands out as a positive, generous professional whose book-cover slide shows featured more of other people’s work than his own; he gave kudos to the art directors, editors, and graphic designers who combine efforts to make great covers.

Funny thing, Picaccio was a first-generation college student, and he’s in the first generation of artists who could make a living without moving to a major industry center like New York City. Our conversations were brief, but he set an example of the kind of community member I want to be: intellectually venturesome, excited about new talent, in word and deed inviting all the new kids to the neighborhood.

Picaccio got his start showing portfolios of his work to pro writers. That particular strategy wouldn’t work so well for a woman, given that one of those was troll and harasser Harlan Ellison (and yes, I have eyewitness accounts of his assholery, from decades before he publicly groped a colleague on stage).

For those of us whose bodies are All Wrong, who are marked as invisibles or prey, no amount of “leaning in” and patiently waiting is going to get us jack in SFF as it stands. The system is rotten to the core and beyond reform.

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8 Responses to In support of Mark Oshiro: my shit experience at CONQuesT 2013

  1. wendyzski says:

    The idea that fandom is “rotten to the core and beyond reform” makes me sad. I know you’re tired, but there are those of us who are trying and who need to believe that we can hope to make things better.

    I just joined the concom of a local con considered to have a major Old White Dude Problem – I’m a cis het white female but also one locally known for Taking No Shit and getting more diverse voices is something I’m already stepping on toes about and I intend to keep doing so.

    I have gotten so much out of fandom, and I want to make sure it can be better for everyone who wants to be a part, and am disappointed in myself that it took me this long to figure out that it’s not going to happen without a metric fuck-ton of work by those of us with credit and privilege to leverage. We should have done better.

    I’ve been a casual fan of Mark’s for years and really enjoyed meeting and being on panels with him at Capricon – and I was appalled at the way he was treated – and the way you were treated as well.

    I know you’re tired, but please don’t give up on us entirely.

    • epbeaumont says:

      I’m a SF/F pro writer, and I will confess I wept when I realized I was going to have to deal with the same bullshit I had left 20 years before. The con-based and workshop-based fan culture is geared to White fanboy stank of the upper-middle-class heterosexual variety. It shuts out too many people. See the gross hypocrisy of conversations on #AccessibleCons and other “diversity” measures.

      I’ve been watching very closely on Twitter and following the field and I’m just disgusted at the number of abusive people in gatekeeping positions. A very strong reason to go independent was not only predatory long-form publication contracts, but avoidance of the sleazeballs whose predations go unchecked for decades.

      • sschwartzoak says:

        As a conrunner, who’s trying really hard (albeit in one of those relatively-easy pockets of diversity in the country) to bring a more diverse con experience, I am curious: “See the gross hypocrisy of conversations on #AccessibleCons and other “diversity” measures.” — what do you mean by this?

        (Speaking as a (formerly upper-class) (white) (non-heterosexual.)

        If youv’e written extensively elsewhere and I’ve missed it, I do apologize, and hope you could point me where it is.

      • epbeaumont says:

        You can check out the #AccessibleCons hashtag on Twitter; there are a lot of folks working on this. There’s also an AccessibleCons pledge which some SFF professionals put their names on, not to attend cons that weren’t accessible — but starting in 2017. Which basically boils down to a gesture, a fairly self-interested one, since these people attend a lot of conventions. After the accessibility screwups at the Arisia con (check hashtag #arisia) all the Big Progressive People dropped the #AccessibleCons hashtag like a hot potato.

        Folks in the romance community have been talking about this with respect to their major conventions as well. Most of those conversations I encountered on Twitter. Note also that there was a recent case of romance con attendees harassing a hotel employee. As in Mark’s case, the issue is not gender but power, and in both cases it’s a matter of someone with more power bullying someone with less.

        See also conversations around the Clarion workshop, as that’s another example of a structurally inaccessible professional venue. Neil Gaiman’s ill-worded promo of the workshop kicked off a strong negative response from people who could never in a thousand years either afford the workshop or be able to go (due to job, accessibility, life constraints).

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  3. Lurkertype says:

    So glad I live in my little SF Bay Area bubble. We still have problems, but they’re less overt. Sadly, bossy asshats are everywhere. Did what’s her name at least keep her pants on for a change while she was dissing you? Small favor and all that.

    Avoiding the Midwest seems pretty darn smart for anyone who isn’t SWM, doesn’t it? No point in going somewhere where prejudice is likely.

    I wish you’d come to Westercon in 2013: it was chaired by a gay married couple and it was so welcoming to everyone. Fully wheelchair accessible. A mixup meant that a new self-published author thought she was scheduled for a reading at the same time and room as Kim Stanley Robinson. So Stan did his reading and then turned over the rest of the time to the self-pub lady.

  4. John Seavey says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope that the system isn’t beyond reform yet, but the only way to reform it is to listen when people tell their stories and accept the validity of what they’re saying. I know it takes courage to make a post like this, and I appreciate you doing it.

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