I really need to think of a better title for the guy, but this one captures it pretty well. It’s taking me a long, long time to pull everything together on this incident, and I’m discussing specifics with a few people who have been in the business for a long time, and stories keep pouring in. The full event will be up later.
For now, there are a few things I think we really need to emphasize:
1.) Please do not go to this person’s blog, FB page or anywhere else to post comments about his behavior. The last thing we need is for him to have even the slightest grounds that we are harassing him.
2.) Don’t let this incident overshadow all the good things about the convention. WFC was amazing, and the chairs did take steps to resolve the issue and ensure the safety of the members.
3.) It was not only women who were affected, nor only women who responded. It isn’t men who are the problem, it isn’t white men who are the problem, it isn’t white, socially-awkward men who are the problem. Predators are the problem, and they come in every single shape, size and color.
4.) And, finally, silence is the enemy. If you’ve been attacked, harassed, made to feel uncomfortable, touched inappropriately, or threatened and don’t feel safe talking about it, please email me at jaym.gates at gmail (for reporting an incident that you don’t want made public) or pax (dot) valkyrie at gmail if you want it posted. For Pax Valkyrie, please include: name of con it happened at, link if you blogged about it or know someone else who did, the action you took, what action was taken by the concom or other authority figures, and a write-up of the incident itself. Please remember: we’re at the disadvantage here, and will be best served by being mature, dignified and thorough.
*EDIT* I finally have written up the entire thing!
“Some bitch got a bee in her bonnet”*
Before I start, let me make some disclaimers: I am not, nor have I ever been, officially involved with World Fantasy Convention. I don’t work with them, and I have no official capacity to speak for them. I got involved with this situation because I have experience dealing with similar issues, and with security and safety at large events.
Furthermore, I have no previous history with this person, only meeting him at the 2011 World Fantasy Convention. I have no vendetta, no grudge, and completely understand that he could very well be suffering from mental illness.
The point of this post is not to shame, antagonize or stir up trouble. If he wishes to engage in civil conversation, I am very willing to do that. If he attacks or harasses me, I will take steps to defend myself.
Equally, this post is not about the individual, but about the overall problem. As such, I will not name the creeper. If you are a publisher or convention organizer and wish to know his name in order to prevent future issues, please contact me at jaym.gates at gmail.
My part in this story started on Saturday morning. “Did you hear about the creeper?” In theory, it ended Saturday night, when a man was stripped of his membership and evicted from World Fantasy Convention.
In reality, that’s all just the start of it.
Other people, the direct recipients of 3 days of harassment, threats, abuse and fear, have written about it at length. I see no point in rehashing those incidents, and have merely excerpted them below.
“A person I had met at a previous convention said hello to me, I said hello warmly in return and as we struck up conversation the person next to him (I assumed his friend) asked for a hug.
So I decided I shall give this guy a hug. I said something like, “Why not?” hugged the guy and then went back to chatting to his friend. The guy I hugged just sort of stood there for a while before wandering off.
Later I discovered the exact same guy had then followed an escalating path of abusive behavior and unreasonable demands. He also believes that he has magical powers and can spell people into following his commands.”
“On Thursday night a man groped my breast during one of the parties. Of course, he was drunk, and he did it in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether or not it was done on purpose. (That’s how these assholes work.) I didn’t report it at the time.** These things happen. You just learn to avoid the man in question, which I did.”
“Holly eventually had enough and told him to get the fuck out and that no one wanted him around. He tried the “I was just being nice ploy” again which, when it didn’t get any traction, quickly moved to aggressive and belligerent.
He stood and I think most of us thought he might try to hit Holly but instead he announced that he was a witch and was going to curse Holly and her entire family. Also, he was going to astral project into Holly’s dreams and turn them into nightmares.”
Brooke Bolander: (her site won’t let me in!)
“He wandered into the Nightshade party and decided to regale my boyfriend with tales of how he was TOTALLY a witch and could totally gives ‘bitches’ (all women were bitches, apparently) nightmares about spiders coming out of their nethers. Also how Lemmy from Motorhead taught him how to control strippers with his mind.”
“And when told that he actually wasn’t charming or appealing and that in fact he was bothering us, he got more stubborn and more determined that he would only leave on his own terms. Eventually Jonathan got him to move to the other side of the patio but he did yell out at us 15 minutes later “I’m still he-re.” Like it was some principle of his freedom and had no idea that he was more than quashing our own right to stand in our own space and not be harassed or that we even had the right to choose who *we* wanted to talk to. He had become the victim in his own mind. But eventually, Chris and Jonathan escorted him off the premises. It was both a very beautiful moment and also deeply sad because he left because two big guys showed him the door and not because five women had asked him politely, and then more bluntly, to leave us alone.”
My personal experience:
Friday night, two of my friends were approached by this guy. One of them came to me, asking to have someone play interference. I had the briefest of interactions with him, but he declined to harass me. (He seemed to target women who were inclined to being too polite to tell him where to go, and I fail to have that issue right about now.) However, I frequently do this for my friends at conventions, so I thought nothing more about it. My bad.
Saturday afternoon, the first tweets and blog post about the creeper were brought to my attention. I tweeted about it, asking how wide-spread the problem was. At that point, I heard from Deb Kalin, who ran the Aussie party, as well as several other people. I called the con-com, asked them to deal with it before more issues cropped up.
They asked for a picture of him. He was sitting on the lawn, facing me, and I was unable to get a picture because he quickly saw me and started watching me warily. Not wanting to spook him, I literally sent a Googled picture to Val. I was assured that Ron Ontell was on the way with several ‘big guys’ he’d rounded up. Unfortunately, the guy in question bolted before they got there. I started seeing reports that he had been escorted from the convention, and erroneously RT’d the comments.
An hour later, I walked into the dealer room, where I saw him speaking with Rina Weisman and Brian Hades. At this time, he was apparently put on notice and told to be on his best behavior. He has had one story published by EDGE, so he was at the reading. For some reason, he decided to stay for the Inkpunks reading, and tried to stay after we shut down the suite for an hour to set up for later.
This was his biggest mistake. I had rented the suite for the entire day, meaning he was technically in my room. I had to leave for a while to take part in the Inkpunks party, but came back down around 10:30. Literally the minute I walked into the room, Jeremy Lassen came to me and said Stina Leicht had gone to get her friend. We went out onto the patio, where the women told me their stories. They were rightfully angry, and I decided it had gone far enough.
I called the front desk and asked that they send security to deal with a problem. When they got up there, I had to pull them aside and explain the issue. They removed him from the room while Val Ontell was called by Rina so that there would be an official presence.
When everyone got there, I was hoping that it would be clear that the issue had gotten out of hand and that we wouldn’t have to do any more arguing for our comfort. Instead, I had to bring out Jeremy and Brian Hades. We finally had enough information to convince them, and the member was stripped of his badge and escorted from the convention.
I spent the rest of the night finding people and assuring them that the issue was resolved.
Well, the rest of it except for the bit I spent literally crying on Cliff’s shoulder. I was exhausted before this started. I don’t like confrontation. I was opening myself up to repercussions from not only the member, but, based on the response to previous incidents, potentially from the community at large. He may not have harassed me directly, but he ruined my evening none the less.
So, there you have it.
It’s Halloween, it’s my birthday tomorrow, I just got back from an exhausting con, and I’ve spent 12 hours tracking down the incidents, planning how we can use this to improve the safety and comfort of the conventions, and talking to people about the proper response. My hands hurt, I spent my ‘down time’ Saturday night in dealing with this creep, and I sincerely just want to be done. I want to write it off, and not be responsible for it any more.
But this issue won’t be done. Ever. Every convention I’ve been to, I have either heard stories, or been directly subjected to harassment of some sort. I’m always on guard, always keeping an eye on the situation, always second-guessing the people around me.
In the past 3 days, I’d estimate that I’ve seen at least 100 people have spoken up about this issue. The number may be double that, in reality.
Right now, we have anger, frustration and fear building up. The report of a rape that was allowed to slide at Swancon should have been enough, but it wasn’t. (*EDIT* I’ve spoken to someone from Swancon, and this person is no longer allowed at Swancon. The rape also did not occur on-site. I am VERY happy to make this particular edit!!) Even here, with multiple reports of escalating harassment, it took 3 days and multiple assaults and complaints for action to be taken. This was someone who had no power, no influence, and so there were no repercussions to reporting him, but I’m sure we can all remember things like Harlan Ellison publicly groping Connie Willis.
I was, at one point, told that ‘we can’t handle this issue if people don’t report it’. But who do you report these incidents to? The police? The hotel security? The con-com? How do you get hold of them? Where are their numbers posted? What’s to ensure that you don’t suffer from repercussions? What if it was just ‘maybe accidental’? How do you track if something else, something ‘worse’ has happened? There are so many variables, so many loopholes.
In addition, it is all too easily attributed to alcohol. I kept hearing ‘oh, he was drunk’ as an excuse for why he acted this way. It is often the way to excuse bad actions.
THAT has to stop, now. Can’t hold your liquor? You’d better stop drinking. It is absolutely no excuse to make someone else’s life miserable.
“She was dressed/asking for it/drunk” isn’t any excuse, either. Nor is “she didn’t say no”. As I have often said: a woman should be able to sit, naked, in a room, and not be subjected even to off-color comments. It isn’t us. It’s the predators.
Where to, from here?
I’ve had quite a few people thank me for handling this mess. But I have experience. I’m a manager for a fetish performance company, where we’re all too aware of how quickly something can escalate. I have, though I often forget it, some measure of influence. I know people.
What about someone who is brand new to SF? How long until a minor is assaulted? How long until this blows up in our faces?
As we stand now, there’s no way to track incidents. No governing body to report incidents to, no place to collect reports and discover patterns. No one with the power to go to a publisher and officially solve a problem.
I have been sending emails, direct messages and tweets all day. As things stand now, I’m working on a Grievance Committee. I believe that we will be able to find support for this effort.
So, if you support the opportunity to change the business, to start rooting out the problem and creating a safe space for everyone, please get noisy. Talk to your friends. Encourage people to send stories of harassment or assault to Pax_Valkyrie. We’ll post them anonymously, or, if you don’t want them posted, we’ll compile them to get our data started. If you have time or expertise, please contact me for information on how to help. If you know someone who has legal, business or non-profit experience, or is active in the SF community and knows con organizers and publishers, please have them contact me, too.
Because if insisting on safety, dignity and peace for us, our friends, our friends’ children, and our colleagues means we’re bitches, I think it’s a pretty good sign that I’m right, and there are problems that need to be fixed.
*Title comes from a tweet sent to me by a friend who had quite a bit of interaction with this guy over the weekend:
@jaymgates David was rather dismissive of the allegations. His comments at the airport. “Some b!tch got a bee in her bonnet” #wfc2011