The Vampires of New England Series--Inanna Arthen

Rewriting The Rules

October 23, 2010

Conceding with Grace

Filed under: convention — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 9:14 pm

I have many thoughts about the controversy involving feminist science-fiction convention Wiscon and its decision to rescind its Guest of Honor invitation to Elizabeth Moon. I’m not going to discuss this topic directly right now–it’s much too large and tangled an issue to address simply, and I do not have the investment in Wiscon that others do. I have never been to a Wiscon and never plan to attend one.

However, the controversy has made me reflect on my own recent decision to recuse myself from an organization which I realized I had been taking advantage of–more thoughtlessly than dishonestly, but it still presented me with a small crisis of conscience.

In early 2008, I joined Broad Universe, an organization that was founded at Wiscon in 2000 and which, to quote its website, “is an international organization of women and men dedicated to celebrating and promoting the work of women writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror.” Note that it says, “women and men.” The FAQ further explains, “Anyone — man, woman, transgender, people of color, people of pallor, cats, Martians — anyone who shares that interest is welcome to join us in the bright circle. We are not a women-only organization.”

I joined at Level One membership, and I participated in Rapid Fire Readings, book information and/or sales tables at conventions, and the members’ book catalog. When I say, “participated,” I mean that I pitched in as a volunteer, almost immediately. I organized and emceed the first Rapid Fire Reading I took part in because there was no one else to do it, and I helped staff the tables at conventions. I sold an article to the Broadsheet newsletter, and I volunteered to do a fairly large research project, going through issues of Locus magazine collecting statistics on male and female writers who were listed and reviewed in the magazine.

I’d read the membership information, but I didn’t really think about it. I had lots of friends in Broad Universe and I volunteered to help out with their work because when I join an organization or group, that’s what I do. I think it’s accurate to say that, entirely aside from dues, I put as much into Broad Universe as I got from it. I’m even part of the informal local chapter, New England Broads, which does local group readings and other events.

Then, last year, Broad Universe hired me to redesign its three-fold flyer. In the course of doing that, I went over the website and printed materials very carefully–much more attentively than I had done before. At that point, I found myself with a moral dilemma.

The membership page of the website says, “Anyone can become a Level One member, but because of BU’s mission, only women may participate in the BU catalog, group readings, BU book-launch parties and similar marketing efforts. The rest of the Level One benefits are accessible to all Level One members.” In the section about eligibility for the book catalog, it says, “We jokingly say that if you use the women’s bathroom, you’re automatically in the catalog, but of course, that’s too facile and not entirely accurate. Still, if you self-identify as a woman, this is the place for you.”

That’s the phrase that jerked me to a dead stop. I don’t self-identify as a woman. Not at all. In fact, I identify so strongly as non-gendered that I refuse to answer gender questions, or lie, have written letters of complaint to companies that made gender information mandatory, and refuse to wear certain female clothes, like skirts or high-heeled shoes. This is a huge matter of principle for me. Certainly, life has denied me most of the “universal experiences” which are considered part of being female, and which are a source of bonding for nearly all women.

So I wrestled with this question: was it fair for me to continue enjoying the benefits of an organization founded specifically to support women writers, just because I can “pass” as female? Wasn’t it hypocritical of me to deny a female gender identity and yet quietly allow others to assume I had the same rights that they have? Whatever the reasons (and I’m sure they’re complex), I haven’t experienced most of the negative effects of sexism that so many women have suffered. I didn’t need Broad Universe–not the way real women writers do.

I pondered this for several months, and I almost resigned from the organization. But I value my friends there, and I still wanted to support the work it does. So, I renewed my membership at “Level Two,” which only includes the benefits which are open to non-female members. I no longer read in RFRs, although I’ll organize and emcee them, and I don’t put my books out for sale on the Broad Universe table. I’m not entitled to do those things. Broad Universe is for women writers, and I can’t insist that I’m not female and then conveniently pretend I am whenever I can get something by doing so. I’m a slave to my principles. It’s a horrible curse.

It’s a small thing, compared to what’s been going on with Wiscon and Elizabeth Moon. But some commentators have raised the question of whether a person with opinions so strongly at variance with the stated mission of Wiscon should, in all honesty and integrity, accept a position of honor from them. I can’t go so far as to say, “Elizabeth Moon should have had the grace to withdraw her acceptance as Guest of Honor, when it became apparent that her sincere views conflicted so violently with purpose of the convention and the feelings of its members.” That decision is between Ms. Moon and her own conscience.

But I know what I would have done.

(Crossposted from In Common with Humans)

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