My thoughts on attending WorldCon parts 1-2

Posted: September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

My thought on attending world con:
For the most part I’m still processing the experience.
The positive far outweighed the negative, yet there was some negative, and if I give a clinical recounting of the things I witnessed the negative would eclipse the telling.
So, I’ll stick to telling about the positive, give reference to the negative, and walk away.
I was on a panel titled “Visible Diversity in Current SF” with Arthur Chu, Mark Oshiro, and Cynthia Felice. I’m really glad I was invited to sit at the big kids table for this panel.. I feel strongly that creating diverse characters aren’t nearly as important as encouraging diverse writers.
My second panel on Saturday was “Creation Stories” and I think the biggest compliment I received all weekend long was the cluster of ten to fifteen people who followed me from the 1st panel to the second. This panel wasn’t in the program books so the audiance was drawn in by previous interactions with myself, Robbie Paul, and Mir Plemmons. Mir was sick and missed the panel, so I got to listen to Robbie Paul tell stories while interjecting little bits of Choctaw history and personal anecdotes. I told a short version of how the diamondback lost his feathers and why he snapped at eagle.
My third panel was “Costuming with elements of other cultures” was moderated by Mir Plemmons and included Gregg Castro, Tanglwyst de Holloway, and Bobbie Benton Hull. The panel opened to audience questions at the start and we spent a lot of time saying “Just don’t do that.” “No, you really can’t make a nun headdress” “No, really. Bad taste” but it was fun and things stayed light hearted, so I’ll count it as a win.
My last panel was on Sunday afternoon and I really expected a light turn out. “Realistic Journeying before (or after) motor travel” was packed. Susan Bolich, Jason Hough, and one other gentleman whose name I missed were great. Jason Hough was our impromptu moderator. I’ll admit to soft-selling my background and credits when the introductions started. Psychologically I can come up with a dozen reasons, but the fact is my anxiety meds weren’t cutting it for the number of people in the room and I ducked. As the panel warmed up I relaxed and contributed.
Three panels because of I’m ndn and one panel on merit. I’m okay with that.
I sat in the audience on a couple of good panels, a few miss titled and miss described panels, one blatant promotional panel, and another panel so unfocused and shrill that I wasn’t the only one walking out.
I got flea bites, lots of fleas bites…. I don’t care if you got the vest and the card to bring your dog with you, I love dogs. Be a responsible owner and go to the vet. Flea bites.
I saw two incidence of blatant bigotry and/or intolerance.
One was a panelist who interrupted another to insist that his/her visible appearance (as interpreted by that person) defined her/his cultural reality. I got news for you – just because someone is passing doesn’t mean they are white. And boobs do not make you automatically female. It was tasteless and rude and I won’t name those on either side of the exchange – but wow that was an eye opener and a reminder that cultural panels are very needed.
The second incident was on a diversity panel. When the panel on writing diverse characters begins on a sour note it affects the whole hour. Walidah Imarisha and Mary Soon Lee were great, Randy Henderson was gracious in ignoring the blunt insult thrown at him, and the other two on the panel did not impress me.
And I had several incidents where people walked up, grabbed my arm, and inspected my henna without asking permission or even realizing that it might be a problem. It was a problem.
I missed the parties for lack of spoons, but I did notice that if we had worked a table there is no way I would have had the energy or focus for panels. And having a room in the Doubletree was a god send that I owe a favor for….. I’ll have to think about dealers room versus panels going forward.
That’s all for part one of my recap, I’m sure I’ll post more as I think about it.

Part 2

Continuing my thoughts on Worldcon…
I was on three panels that were for and about diversity. I also sat in the audience on five other panels that had some catch phrase in the title to say “This is about diversity in fandom or writing”.
The first diversity focused panel I sat in the audience of was titled “Writing Diverse Characters” so you can see where I got the idea that it would be about under-represented voices.
From left to right the panel was one white self-identified lesbian, one asian woman, one black woman, one white gay male, and one white straight male.
Here’s the thing – at a glance the panel was 3 white 2 not-white. In the puget sound region of fandom I don’t see gay/lesbian as a minority any more than I see disabled as a minority – in fandom. I suspect that one of the dynamics that gets lost is that under-represented voices in the mainstream can in fact be over-represented voices in a genre. I welcome gay/lesbian voices, I wish someone from Old Growth Northwest was on the panel. I do not think that having 3 white to 2 notwhite is balanced on a panel about diversity – the convention had notwhite gay, bi, trans, and ace pros available. And I think that writing a gay/fluid character is a completely different topic than writing a diverse character. Yes, diversity includes sexuality – that’s not my point – but a white gay male still had childhood exposure to main stream culture and usually speaks with the same authority as every other white male writer. I think gender and sexuality should be separate tracks from ethnic and cultural diversity.
And in the end, little was discussed about diversity re: LGBTQ.
The panel room was large and it was overflowing. There were people sitting in the aisle and lining the walls. Mostly white people.
I would like to see a convention panel titled “How to write white men” and have it be open q&a.
Snark aside, the panelists started their introductions and when it came to the white straight male he said “I’m a straight white male, I questioned why I was on this panel, tried to give my spot to someone else, and was told no.” The moderator cut him off with a snidely said “And off course the cis white male has to insert himself.” Only he didn’t. It was introductions, he was deferring his very presence on the panel, he could have simply named his publishing credits and let the audience ascribe ethnicity to him. The moderator took a cheap shot for laughs and about half of the room chuckled. I glanced around and saw as many frowns. He was mostly silent for the rest of the panel.
Walidah Imarisha carried the panel. She was smart, she spoke to specifics, she talked about if you’re just writing an ethnic character for the sake of having an ethnic character then don’t.
And that sums up my feelings about so many writers racing to master writing the Other. Don’t.
One: by having established writers fill the market with diverse-seeming characters it creates an illusion of diversity.
two: by encouraging new writers to submit diverse characters it fills the slush piles and the novice slots with an appearance of representation.
three: when you write a character from a culture you took months to thoroughly research you displace the writer who lived it.
four: the only people who believe your diverse character are other non-diverse people who spent less time researching the culture than you.
We do not need more diverse characters.
We need more diverse writers.
Because when I write a character there are echoes of my Japanese aunt trying to cope with my grandmother’s foster home and all its chaos. There are echos of my dad telling racist jokes. There is bit of my uncle Jim after Vietnam. And there’s going to be -ish dredged up from my surviving sexual violence.
When I write a character there are stories and memories that filter in from my subconscious and bubble out without me even knowing.
When I write a character it is by its very nature a diverse character even if I don’t tell you her skin tone or describe his hair.
The same way a sexually tense scene between two women is automatically lgbtq without my having to hit you over the head and say Sally is a lesbian and Sheila thought she was straight.
A character written by a diverse writer will be diverse regardless of the scene or setting.
Culture is not something you can research, oh you might get the surface right but culture lives in the subconscious. You can research the words, you can research the stories, but you can’t find the tears in a book and you won’t understand a lot of what you are reading for the filter of time.
If you want to write a diverse character – go be diverse. Go to burning man, rainbow family, join a buddhaist temple, join doctors without borders, join the military, become a Maker, volunteer at a homeless shelter for years not months, hang out under bridges, sleep in the rain, or marry into a large ethnic family.
Be diverse. Not different. Not unique. One of the things about romani – the four leaf clover isn’t lucky, it stood out and it got killed. Diversity isn’t about learning a new thing, it’s about time and family and being a part of your culture.
You won’t find a diverse character in a book, and you won’t learn how to write one by sitting in on panels at a convention, be diverse.
Or don’t. Let us write our own characters. We got this.

Another perspective:

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