bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

In one of the early years that I attended WisCon — I want to say that this is something like 2003 — I proposed a panel: Trans Feminism. Aaron L. had volunteered to moderate, but the panel almost didn’t make it through the panel vetting process. Basically, not enough WisCon attendees expressed interest in the panel. I think the panel was saved fairly late in the process by Debbie, who agreed to be a panelist.

For a few years after that, I kind of thought to myself: “okay, there’s room for exactly this much transness at WisCon.” I thought, y’know, maybe a trans panel every few years. Maybe panels about speculative treatments of gender could include a token trans person. This much, I thought, but it’s unreasonable to expect more.

This past WisCon, I was thinking about the trans and genderqueer contingent. I was picking and choosing which of the several T/GQ panels I was gonna attend. And at times, I hung out in the trans and genderqueer safer space, now in its second year. And I think, “huh. I had such a meagre vision about what trans inclusiveness could look like at a place like WisCon.” I remember, for example, having thinky thoughts about a Fat is not the Enemy panel at WisCon in 2008: the thing I thought, then, was maybe the message of “love your body the way it is” sounds a bit suspect to my trans ears, but that thought was immediately followed with, “it’s a derailment (or at the very least, uninteresting to most attendees) to throw transness into this unrelated panel…”

Part of the way WisCon has changed over the years is that there’s just more trans folk at the con. There’s a trans/genderqueer posse. And more folk means that more trans/genderqueer content gets on the programming schedule. More consideration goes in to making the space welcoming. When the trans/genderqueer safer space was proposed, the con ran with it in a way that was amazing.

These changes are good. I like them; I support them; I’m glad for them. But a remaining problem is me. I think that I really need to own the idea of raising my expectations.

Mirrored from Under the Beret.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I was sitting down, getting ready to start my first panel of the weekend, when the panelist beside me asked, “Are we crazy about using microphones, or can everyone hear me?” I quickly asserted, “We’re crazy about using microphones.”

And immediately after that, I thought: Damn. She tricked me into saying ‘crazy.’

This thing about ablist language is tricksy sometimes.

Mirrored from Under the Beret.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I drove for eleven hours yesterday (including through some construction-site nightmares in Illinois — Hey, Illinois: your tolls are out of control. You expect me to pay those price to drive such terrible roads?) and finally arrived in Madison, WI, where I’m now hobnobbing with some of the most awesome people on the planet!

Mirrored from Under the Beret.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

What do people think of the Writer’s Workshops that take place at WisCon? Has anyone on my friends list tried one? Impressions?

Mirrored from Under the Beret.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

The first panel I got to on Sunday was at 10. By Sunday morning, 8:30 is too hurtin' for me. Zowie, this is long! )

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I think that the only thing left for me on Saturday was the panel I was most excited about:

Untangling Class
What do we mean when we talk about class? Is it about how much money we have? How much education? How we grew up? Our position with respect to a global capitalist world system? There have been a lot of WisCon panels in the past focused on speculative fiction that "does class well" — but how can we know whether something's being done well if we don't even know what it is? This panel brings together WisCongoers with expertise and experience in talking about class to hammer out (if not actually decide upon) some definitions.

M: Jess Adams, Chris Wrdnrd, BC Holmes, Alexis Lothian

I didn't take notes because I was on the panel, but I was pretty happy with the way it turned out -- I really do think that you get a different conversation when you know the other panelists well enough to know what they're going to say and you can really have a conversation that deepens each other's points. Anyway, [personal profile] firecat has a pretty good write-up of the panel with more details about who said what.

I think I might have monopolized too much of the conversation, though. Bad me. I'm also kind of in awe about some of the amazingly good and insightful stuff that Alexis said. For example, her discussion about consensus models versus conflict models of class. A consensus model might be, for example, the view that we're all playing different roles in an enterprise (labourers, managers, etc.) for the collective good -- she quickly suggested, though, that this is a bit of an idealized view of the class system. She also really simply and coherently talked about the way some people (who we're not going to name) misread Marx when they say "it's all class" -- instead the capitalist system constructs classes of people with an eye to answering the basic question, "who does the work?" And in some cases, that "class" is "women" or what have you. She was absolutely excellent about articulating this so clearly.

After the panel, I went to a room party and had a good time until I could feel my eyelids openly rebelling against me. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Immediately after the WisConDB panel, I headed up to the green room to catch up with my other panelists for:

Who Owns the Spoons?
How appropriate is it for able-bodied people to use the metaphor of "spoons"? Does anyone (trans people, people of color, etc.) own the concept of "passing"? What happens when terminology used by one minority gets adopted by a wider audience?

M: BC Holmes, Andrea Chandler, Magenta Griffith, Criss Moody, Keith Willenson

I confess that I was a bit nervous about the panel. We hadn't managed to get much conversation going in email beforehand, so I wasn't sure what it was that we were going to say. For my part, I was interested in the "meta" conversation -- the conversation about exploring when it's okay or not okay to cyberpunk terminology (can the street find its own use for metaphors and labels?) For my part, I certainly haven't run into conflict on the discussion of passing, so I wasn't sure what I could meaningfully say, there.

In the end, we spent most of our time talking about the spoons metaphor, about invisible versus visible disabilities and a little bit about passing. I was okay with this, and I decided to just play the role of traffic cop in the discussion, keeping track of who wanted to talk and whatnot. There was a lively discussion and I think it turned out okay. [personal profile] jesse_the_k kicked off a good, initial question about why we need something like a spoons metaphor? What's wrong with "I'm too tired" or "I'm in too much pain"?

Keith did an exercise where he brought out cold, very hard ice cream and gave it to the panelists. Some people got able-bodied spoons (nice, metal spoons) and the rest of us got plastic spoons. I thought it was cute (and delicious), but I think that the exercise's depth was eluding me.

There was an interesting contrast about trans passing and passing as able-bodied. One panelist talked about trans passing as "being seen for who you really are" whereas passing as able-bodied often results in people expecting that you can do certain things that you can't. I tried to problematize this view of passing in trans communities. Passing is the closet at the other end of the rainbow, and all that.

After that, it was off to:

You Got Race On My Class! You Got Class On My Race!!
Race and class are two identities that exist in tandem, one never really trumping the other. What are the ways they intersect, diverge, conflict? What happens when our internal race/class state differs from an external race/class assignment—and what factors go into forming internal/external states in the first place? This panel will look at the realities of how we exist within and negotiate race and class without privileging either concept.

Saladin Ahmed, Eileen Gunn, Nisi Shawl, Chris Wrdnrd

[livejournal.com profile] lcohen made the comment that this panel lacked a moderator and that it showed. I think that she's right. The discussion bounced around a lot, and seemed to lack focus. I really liked Saladin's comments that his class background stays with him. That because he grew up as a kid in a working-class, Arab-American community with relatives involved in legally-sketchy stuff, everything he sees and reacts to is as that kid. The idea wasn't new, but he captured the essence of it so nicely.

Someone (I don't remember who) made the comment that if you don't know what class you are, you're probably middle-class. Chris told a good anecdote about how her co-workers expect her to share a sense of humour about certain things that she doesn't think are funny. There was also a comment about how Facebook is way more class diverse than either Twitter or Google+.

After that, some of the best contributions came from the audience. Isabel Schechter made some interesting comments which she elaborated on in the "Passing Privilege" panel later in the con.

The last panel I caught before dinner was:

Intersectionalism: It's Not the Oppression Olympics
Many of us experience discrimination and oppression of many kinds, often concurrently. These create unique circumstances that can put individuals and allies in oppressed communities at odds with the goals and experiences of their comrades. Intersectionalism seeks to create awareness of how different oppressions inform each other and how we can seek broader understanding of them. Greater solidarity would be the ideal outcome, avoiding the pitfalls of factionalism and fragmentation. If time allows, discussion of SF that reflects intersectional awareness can provide useful investigations.

M: Ian K. Hagemann, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Beth Plutchak, Julia Rios, Vanessa Vega

By this point, I'd been in panels pretty-much non-stop, and didn't take any notes. I remember a few items from the panel. First, this was the interesting panel in which Beth talked about daytime talk shows that hype books that discuss the "conflict" between working women and stay-at-home mothers. She suggested that these conflicts are largely manufactured. In truth, the books don't really have large sales. It's as if the media wants people to focus on rifts between communities of women, rather than, say, on rifts between rich white cis guys and anyone else.

This is also the first panel where I heard Keffy and Julia, and I though both of them had interesting things to say. I particularly liked Julia's understated way of making her points.

I do remember a lot of talk about "liberals" and feeling my now-usual annoyance about the way leftists use "liberal" as a synonym for "left wing" or "progressive". Gyan made the comment that "liberal" doesn't mean "open minded". There's something annoying about the whole binary view of the political spectrum. Grrr. Me, I like Phil Ochs' line: "Ten degrees to the left of centre at the best of times; ten degrees to the right of centre if it affects them personally."

Luke McGuff has a longer review of this panel.

After that is was off to the Trans and Genderqueer dinner.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I got out of bed around 8, and I went to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. After breakfast, I arrived at one of the early morning panels, already in progress. I think the panel was about half-done by the time I got there, but I got some notes:

The Feeding and Proper Care of Your Underclass: How a Society Maintains Poverty
We all say that we want to abolish poverty. But we all know that our society works very hard to maintain its poverty class. Let's talk about some of the practices that are inherent to Western society that keep the poverty class poor and hopeless. And since this is WisCon, let's talk about the books/stories that examine this issue.

M: Beth Plutchak, L J Geoffrion, Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey, Karon Crow Rilling

At the time I arrived, there was a conversation going on about moral hazard w.r.t. notions of debt relief. The argument that the panelists were parroting was the idea that providing relief to people in debt might lead to people not working. A number of months ago, I quoted a report the suggested that Canadians would rather spend twice as much money on services for the poor than it would cost to just give poor people enough money to raise them above the poverty line. I think this is related.

Shortly after that, Beth talked about an interesting contrast between state universities and private universities. She said that when she was a first-year student, she was told by her professors to look left and then to look right and that one of the three people involved in that looking exercise wouldn't finish the program. By contrast, she said that her partner (I think?) went to a private, Ivy-league university and was told to look left and look right and that they were the people who would rule the nation.

After that, the conversation bounced around a lot -- because I missed the beginning, I'm not sure how a lot of these points fit together, but they were all roughly tackling the nature of wealth and poverty. There were a number of book recommendations, including Gladwell's Outliers and a documentary called Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders. Someone referred to an Elizabeth Warren quotation that suggested that the average person who declares bankruptcy already owes 3 times the amount that was originally borrowed and they've already paid back the originally borrowed amount.

One last point the I thought was interesting: Beth referenced the Women Don't Ask thing and talked about the way that the media fixated on the finding of the original study that women didn't negotiate higher salaries (which provided a neat explanation for why women earn less than men). What was almost-never reported, she said, was that the other finding was that, in the few instances when women did ask for higher salaries, they were invariably viewed as "trouble" and were slapped down for asking, in contrast to the men who were just negotiated with. As Beth pointed out, if you have no resources, you can't afford to be slapped down.

Like I say, it was hard to get a coherent picture of the whole panel, given that I missed about half of it. After that it was on to:

Imagining Radical Democracy
The General Assembly has become a familiar practice since the growth of Occupy Wall Street. Anarchistic and radically democratic organizing processes have a much longer history, though, including the Zapatistas, the Spanish student movement, and movements in the history of feminism. For WisCon members, a familiar feeling might have bubbled up in watching, reading about, or participating in Occupy: wasn't this a bit like what they did on Le Guin's Anarres, or in DuChamp's Free Zones? This panel will discuss the possible growth of a kind of democracy other than our current party-based political systems, using the ways it has been prefigured and imagined in feminist science fiction to help make sense of radical histories and futures.

M: Alexis Lothian, Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Liz Henry

Wow. This was my favourite panel from the entire WisCon, and I doubt that I can capture its full awesomeness. There is, however, a really good transcript of the panel. It was one of the first panels that broke from the WisCon-standard format of "first the panelists are going to talk for about forty minutes, and then we'll take questions." In the end, the panelists spoke for most of the allotted time, and I was okay with that because the panelists were awesome!

Timmi introduced herself, referring to The Marq'ssan Cycle, and the key thing that she used the writing process to teach herself was that utopia was a process. She also talked about being disillusioned by working with NOW -- that all of the hierarchical organizing just seemed to feed a fundraising process. She also went on to say that bad experiences create low expectations and that results in political apathy. Her last point was a bit subtle: that the kind of political apathy she's describing isn't a passive thing. That there's an active form of opting out.

Later in the panel, she recapped her experience being arrested and going to trial -- a bit of a circus of a trial in which she and 17 other people had to defend themselves (most of them declined public defenders) and how she responded to this as "an oceanic merging with the universe" and really understood through that process why people throw themselves into civil disobedience.

Then Liz introduced herself and described talking to a variety of journalists regarding the occupy movement. The point she stressed was that these journalists were incapable of writing about a movement that wasn't hierarchical and had no leader. She argued that something like occupy can't really be reported on from the outside, and yet the media is kinda constrained in the way it can conduct journalism. She also related this to the Riot Grrl movement and their idea of killing all the rock stars: we don't need rock stars to have a revolution.

Later, she talked about working in hackerspaces, and the sometimes difficult relationship between her hackerspace and occupy. She also referred to her article about using pattern language to talk to computer types about sexism in geek spaces. Some of this stuff went by really fast, but it's nonetheless full of awesome.

Then Andrea provided her intro, talking about how her family was full of organizers -- union organizers, civil rights organizers, etc. -- and that she was a much more artsy person. But she said, "I could organize -- I was just slower" and that her style of organizing had always had art woven in. She also told a story about the Igbo people and how the women had this form of performance/protest called "women's war" in which they would object to something. They'd perform their anger, insult the men, demand change, threaten to leave with the babies (leaving the men to take care of other childcare), and strip down. This kind of performance/protest was well-understood in the community and it could powerfully effect change, but when the British colonized, their way of reading this behaviour was that the men didn't have their women under control. At times, this would end with the British firing upon the Igbo women. She also talked about how colonialism fundamentally stamps out these narratives, replacing them with Victorian standards of behaviour.

She continued to talk about the narrative of anarchy as relying on metaphors and language such as chaos and disorder, but never as ecosystems or biological or diversity. Or even, for that matter, fun.

At one point, Liz was talking about Internet Drama and Andrea (a theatre person) wanted to know what "drama" was describing. She ultimately offered "melodrama" as a replacement term. Much of her conversation was about the relationship between art/performance and activism. She said "the fascists get the trains running on time, but the trains don't go anywhere." They're just rules.

In contrast, she says, theatre is about preparing you to be ready in the moment. She talked about the experience of things going wrong during a theatre performance and she said that audience loves it when you solve the problem. She didn't quite use these words but I think it was clear that she felt that these are great tools for anachistic activists. She finally ended with the idea that "social drama" is essential to humanity, and that that's fundamentally a slow process. And many activists seem to want fast processes. "Slow money. Slow food. I think we need to have slow anarchy -- enough change to develop new processes/ideas."

A great, great panel, full of many, many, many nuggets of gold.

After that, I was off to a panel about the database project, but I didn't have much to contribute:

Open Source WisCon DB
WisCon continues to develop and refine an open-source application to handle convention programming, registration, and administrative tasks. We're just finishing year 4 of the effort and getting ready to work on the list of tasks we have for year 5. Want to talk to the developers? Find out what's behind the code? Get involved in improving the User Interface? See if you can use it to plan your convention? Come talk to us! We need your feedback. Suggestions for new features, questions about existing ones, and offers to write documentation, test, q/a, manage(!) or join the coding team are all very welcome. You can look at our source code and see our issues (bugs & new features) list at http://code.google.com/p/wiscondb/ for a preview of under the hood. Pizza will be served.

Piglet, Jim Hudson, Emily Jones, BC Holmes

It was mostly a talk about code I didn't touch, so I didn't have much to say. There was some "compare and contrast" with other tools used by other cons. And we ate the weirdest flavours of pizza.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

App improvements to consider:

  • Search bar to find a particular program item
  • iPad version (make use of the iPad form factor)
  • Android version
  • Restaurant guide
  • Different colours for highlight function
  • More data in calendar API (e.g. location)
  • Integration with other data sources -- e.g.: Cloud integration so that panels I mark on the phone are similarly marked on my iPad. Alternatively, stronger integration with wisconDB, so that the things I marked as interests there are marked on the phone.
  • [personal profile] redbird reminded me:
    • Include lunch breaks, and let people add notes, like, "dining with Ursula" to keep track of meal plans
    • Add, for example, "I'm volunteering in the green room at this time"

I'm also pondering:

  • More cosmetic improvements
  • Possibly download Momentary Taste of WisCon
  • Better automation of the "panel updates" feature
  • Downloads for other content? (imagine if we needed to publish WisCholera notices?)
  • Images/Avatars for bios

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I really only caught one panel on Friday:

"I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and all I got was this chip on my shoulder": Uplift, Downsizing, and Other Changes of Class
In the US, everyone is expected to want to move up in class—but if we do, we are likely to find that we can't leave our former experiences behind and we might not want to. Similarly, many formerly well-off people have slipped down the class ladder in the economic downturn, but may not realize the kinds of privilege they maintain or the kinds of survival knowledge they lack. In this panel, we'll talk about the challenges we've experienced in changing class in any direction, and work to build narratives that fit our lives better than the standard ones.

M: Alexis Lothien Lothian, Julie Hayes, Kiini Salaam, Fred Schepartz, Vanessa Vega

Earlier in the day, I'd had lunch with Alexis and Jess and Chris, and we talked about our own class panel the next night. So my mind was full of thinky thoughts about class. This panel ended up being more of a "telling our stories" panel than a structural analysis panel. At some level I was disappointed in that, but Alexis quite rightly tsk-tsked me, reminding me that the panel description clearly situated it in people's experience.

Nonetheless, there were some interesting ideas that came out of the panel: I think it was Julie who raised the idea of three types of capital:

  1. People/Social capital -- who you know, informal support networks, etc.
  2. Cultural capital -- specific knowledge or skills that can assist you: anything from reading to knowing which side of the plate the fork goes on
  3. Economic capital -- moolah.

Julie also raised comments about hipster classism, talking about colleagues who'd say things like "My brother is in jail -- oh, of course I meant Yale." Julie commented that these people would act like it was obviously a bit of a joke, but she knew people who had relatives in jail, and it didn't seem funny to her.

Kiini also raised a number of good comments, remarking that class is, in many cases a weapon (in the sense of "which drugs do people go to jail for", etc). Toward the end of the panel, she also talked about the Freedom Riders, and phenomenon of people coming from the north to help register voters of colour in the south. Her comment was about how people would take these actions to help the people who were "down" but not really work to stop the "down-ness". (I liked this comment because it reminded me of that Dom Hélder Câmara quotation I'm fond of: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.")

Fred, sadly, tended to drift off-topic a bit, or would raise certain comments that didn't seem, to me, to be grounded in lived experience. Alexis was good at reining him in, though.

I also enjoyed Alexis' comments about the cluelessness of white Marxists in the academy, and how she tends to avoid having certain types of class discussions with them. It was kinda clear to me that she didn't say that every person who is white and Marxist is clueless, but I'm not sure that that was clear to everyone in the audience :-)

This was the first panel of the weekend where the quotation came up that "America's new favourite pasttime is judging." There was also an audience comment in which one woman mentioned how some of her class history stays with her -- that, for example, although she started out poor, and did manage to make her way into middle class, she's still incapable of throwing away leftovers. Julie made a similar comment about being obsessive about having a fully stocked pantry ([personal profile] the_siobhan has made similar statements in the past, relating it to her time as a street kid).

There was also talk about different attitudes about social safety nets in different states. Julie talked about how, if she lost her job in Massachusetts, there were better support systems than if she lost her job in Wisconsin. [livejournal.com profile] orangemike commented, wistfully, that Wisconsin used to have those, but that Republicans were systemically disassembling them. And this brought us around to the crucial (and yet, unsurprising) point that this stuff isn't an accident. That social safety nets, and the public education system, and all these other things are under attack because rich people have no interest in more equitable wealth distribution.

Other comments: Diantha mentioned, from the audience, that you have to have boots to pull yourself up. Alexis also talked about the changing meaning of her accent when she moved from Scotland to the States. In the U.S., her accent marks her with "white privilege plus," giving her special cool points, whereas in Scotland... kinda not.

A good panel; I probably undervalued it at the time, but re-reading my notes, I think a lot of interesting stuff came out of it.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I'm gonna write more about panels soon, but I want to talk about various non-panel things going on.

Cut. 'Cause of the long. )

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

This con has been everything I've been wanting it to be. It's a great change of pace for me after months of too much work; I've felt really great about the panels I've been on; and I've loved most of the panels I've attended. I've welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with people I only see every year, and I feel like there are a lot of friendships that grow deeper with each WisCon.

Our guests this year are great: I really valued the way that Andrea Hairston discussed the relationship between theatre and radical democracy -- that's an angle on the conversation that really illuminated some lightbulbs in my head. And Debbie Notkin's whole life resonates with the kind of generosity and support that her marvelous acceptance speech could only describe the contours of.

Wow. What a great con!

Arrival

May. 25th, 2012 12:26 am
bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I'm now in Madison. It is officially WisCon in my books.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I haven't figured out my "communication plan" for this (but I will): I just got approval from Apple on my first app submission. If you're going to WisCon this year check out this free app.

I just got some more content from the publications person, so I plan to get another update in the app store before the con. Now to see if I can get the Android version done in time.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Sunday, I had my traditional breakfast with Alan, where we got caught up on each other's lives. Then I went off to see "The Personal Is Political Revisited":

"The Personal is Political" Revisited

The title of Carol Hanisch's 1969 essay "The personal is political" became one of the best-known slogans of the feminist movement. Women were challenged to see their life circumstances not as individual situations of choice, but within a broader context of gendered oppression and societal structural inequalities. The panelists will look at the intersections between the personal and political in their activist work, and will examine the meaning and relevance of the slogan today.

Susan Marie Groppi, Susan Simensky Bietila, Alan Bostick, Karen Ireland-Phillips, Pamala K. Taylor

The panel had a lot of different things to say, although the relationship back to the original essay was often tenuous. Pamela had a lot of interesting things to say about her relationship to her headscarf -- that she'd recently started removing the hijab as she entered menopause and was frequently felt odd not to have this element that had been a big part of her identity. She commented about how, because her name isn't obviously middle-eastern, without the headscarf, she's just "American", whereas with the headscarf, she's Muslim.

She also had a lot of interesting things to say about work that she's done to oppose gender segregation in mosques, and create alternative spaces where women can lead services. She also talked about how imposter syndrome factored in there for her: when she was asked to lead a service in Toronto (?), she was deathly afraid, and doubted that she was really the right one to do so. Then she thought: she has a degree in theology, and has been on the forefront of the issue. If she wasn't qualified, then no one was.

Both Karen and Susan talked about being a part of feminist organizing in the 60s and 70s. Susan, in particular, talked about meeting Hanisch and knowing about being exposed to the essay very early. There were things that were interesting to hear them talk about: Susan talked about working in the schools and being confronted with young women who she described as aggressively anti-feminist. And also how that's internalized by the young women in question as "that's just what I like."

Karen talked about identifying as a "political lesbian" and her transition as someone who wore the official uniform of lesbianism -- plaid shirts and corduroy -- into someone who wears dresses. I also enjoyed hearing Karen talk about consciousness-raising groups -- there was some discussion about the extent to which one dimension of big Internet discussions (such as Racefail) use many of the same practices of consciousness raising. We didn't get too deep into that, but I enjoyed it. One thing that was said, though, was that consciousness-raising needs to happen in the context of a larger movement, and I idea that I enjoyed.

My favourite part of the discussion was a bit relating to burn out. One audience member -- Valerie Aurora -- talked about working in FOSS, and about how most of the FOSS women she knows have burned out and are backing away from the environment. How do you combat burnout? Some members of the panel suggested that the idea of burnout was a myth, an idea that I don't agree with.

Some of the interesting parts of this conversation related to being supported by the community around you. Ian offered, from the audience, that sometimes having a really good ally was better than having another person who was experiencing the same persecution. (Someone mentioned that "networking" is not a tool reserved for yuppie scum... we should all build up our own personal networks). Pamela talked about the times when she was close to burn out only to recall the people who came to her to say that some thing that she'd done had really changed someone's life. Moments like that fed her reserves, and helped her keep going.

But, in the end, as someone commented, "you put on your own oxygen mask, first."

There was a long conversation about housework... much longer than I thought it needed to be. Essentially, the question is "how do I get my partner to see that they're not doing their fair share of the housework?" The longer the conversation went, the more it was awash in gender essentialism, which, oh joy. Various options were offered: fill out timesheets, hire a (fellow member of the working class) housekeeper, or just mutally agree to do less housework. I'm always a bit surprised that nobody suggests "don't live together" or "buy a duplex." Book suggestions: Wifework and The Politics of Housework.

Afterward, I chatted a bit with Valerie Aurora -- I wasn't familiar with her or her work, and I was interested in hearing what she did in the FOSS world. Moments after I started talking to her, a guy from the audience came over, interrupted me, and went on and on about how awesome it was to run into Valerie Aurora. It was the kind of "oh, cool, I just rubbed elbows with a celebrity" kind of one-sided conversation. And, I confess, I was pretty annoyed, given that he interrupted a conversation already in progress, and didn't give any indication of even noticing that he'd done so. And what a statement that made. It's almost as if the personal is political. Or something.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I'm totally mistaken. It turns out that I didn't miss a panel just after lunch on Saturday: looking over my notes, it turns out I went to Vigorous Debate or Harassment:

Vigorous Debate, or Verbal Harassment?

One of the strengths of the SF community is that it's almost always open for discussion and debate. Unfortunately, when discussions get intense, the line between "vigorous debate" and "verbal harassment" can go from blurry to invisible. How can we tell when a discussion has crossed the line? What do we do if we're the one who's crossed it? How can we step in to call back a friend who's crossed it? Let's discuss how to recognize verbal harassment and brainstorm strategies for addressing it within a community where everyone is a friend of a friend.

Jess Adams, Andy Best, Michelle Kendall, Kate Nepveau, Maevele Straw

I enjoyed this panel, although I don't think it quite stuck to its panel description. A lot of people debated responding to fail.

Kate recommended "A themed summary of Racefail" as a good resource for understanding one of fandom's most famous fails. She also cautioned about two key phrases that might be warning signs that you're about to comment fail. One is "I don't mean to sound like a [racist|sexist|homophobe|transphobe|whatever] but..." I *think* the second phrase was "This may offend some people but..." I didn't write the phrases down, so my memory may be failing me.

Jess made a comment about using "active listening" techniques -- "It sounds to me like you're saying <this horrible thing> -- is that really what you mean?" She argued that it gave people the opportunity to weasel out of the implications of their words, which sometimes helped diffuse the situation. (She also commented that most people recognized weaselling for what it was).

One woman in the audience ran with that comment, saying that, in the workplace, negative feedback is always given to someone in private which allows people to save face. Me, I'm deeply suspicious of people's need to save face. I think that the whole "let me save face" reaction leads to tremendously fucked up behaviours.

Maevele bemoaned the fact that it's impossible to make the "OMIGOD I can't believe you just said that" face on the Internet.

There was also a bit of a conversation about what it means to "take it to email." It seems that sometimes people feel like public conversations should stay in public spaces, and that suddenly continuing the conversation in email can be seen as a hostile act. Some people seem to feel (especially with private mailing lists) that once something is off-topic, it should go to email. And an audience member talked about the difference in attitudes between, for example, Dreamwidth, where comments are threaded and, say, Disqus, where the comments are all in line. Interesting stuff.

Some points that came out of audience participation: one woman mentioned Charles Rules of Argument. The original site that these were on is having some problems right now, but I ganked this from Google cache:

Seeing as arguing is largely pointless, one of the best things to do is to severely limit what you end up arguing about:

  • Never seek out things to disagree with. There are too many of them out there, and correcting the ills of the world just isn't your job.
  • If you come across something you disagree with while randomly browsing, let it pass without comment (see rule 1). If it's truly frustrating, write a reply, then delete it without sharing it with anyone else.
  • Even in the limited scope remaining, it is not your job to correct everything you find that you disagree with. Try to limit yourself to things where the subject is at least something that makes some practical difference to your life.
  • Do not argue about politics, religion, or matters of personal taste or comparative morality.
  • DO NOT argue with Lisp programmers, believers in the Semantic Web, or furries.
  • Saying something controversial in your own space (i.e. your weblog) is only arguing if you directly reference somebody you are disagreeing with (or it is clearly understood in subtext who you are disagreing with), and that person is likely to give a shit about what you said.
  • If someone disagrees with something you've said, you're already in an argument. See below.

Once you find yourself in an argument, your job is now to make your point clearly, and then leave. You are allowed two passes:

  1. State your case
  2. Clarify any misunderstandings

Having read that, I can't say that I fully agree with it.

Another recommendation for making argument go a bit more smoothly was to make your case much more concrete.

I asked a question about looking for strategies when discussing oppression with other minority groups. I specifically commented that some of the worst, ugliest conversations about racism I've had have been with white trans women. And, y'know, that is sadly true. The panelists started to talk about the dynamic of "more oppressed than thou," but that wasn't actually the dynamic I saw. It was more, "I know what oppression is that that's not it." I probably have to add this: many of the white trans women I know are perfectly lovely and I can't imagine them ever being the kind of doofus that I'm describing here. A number of white trans women I know (especially on the internet) have been actively involved in promoting anti-racism. And yet, I know a lot of white trans women, and they are diverse in their attitudes.

(I did not complicate the question by raising the other point that frustrates these kinds of discussions: the way that "privilege" discussions are often used to try to exclude trans women from women-only spaces resulting in, I believe, a knee-jerk reaction to conversations about privilege.)

Later, one woman in the audience made a comment that I took to mean "we really need to inculcate an Internet-wide notion of etiquette" which, I confess, made me anxious. The history of etiquette, I believe, is that it has long been a weapon to browbeat people who are not like you. I think Kate made the comment that etiquette can be enabling as well as restrictive, and I agree with that.

The last part of the panel talked about, basically, when it's okay to warn people that certain folk are creepy debaters. One particular name was attached to this conversation -- for the sake of anonymity, I'll call that person Phil Betterly. At what point is Phil enough of an asshat that it's okay and meaningful to post preemptive cautions about how creepy, vile and/or intellectually dishonest his debates are? Is it bad to agitate for his shunning? I think that this part of the conversation really touched on the whole, "when does it become verbal harassment?" question. Or maybe it's just trying to overcome the Geek Social Fallacy that ostracizers are evil? No clear answer came to this question -- people acknowledged that Phil has kinda-sorta taken his ball and gone away for the time being, so it's not a pressing concern. But it's the sort of question that probably needs to be pondered.

Edit: One of the audience contributions, here, that I should have mentioned was the discussion of predator theory -- the theory that some really icky people (such as, for example, rapists) constantly test pushing other people's boundaries. Also: book recommendation for The Gift of Fear.

It was a good panel. Also: Jess was a really good moderator.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

My first big debate with myself about which panel I was going to see was Saturday morning. I couldn't decide between an Intersectionality and Feminism panel, and a Class panel. Both had good lists of panelists. I ended up going to see the class panel:

Class Issues in Science Fiction and Fantasy

It's not been easy for the SF community to come to terms with class. In a society where the working poor and the unemployed are growing in number, and the middle class is being destroyed, it's vital that we discuss class. Let's build on our discussions of class at Wiscon 34, which included a powerful Class Basics panel, to discuss class and class warfare in SF as well as the real world.

Eleanor A. Arnason, Jess Adams, Beth Plutchak, Fred Schepartz, Alexis Lothian

This panel was the first panel in which I started to develop an opinion about a dynamic going on at this year's con. I feel like we have an interesting influx of people who've become politicized by the protests in February/March. And I don't want to sound as if I'm saying, "oh noes we're totally being invaded by people who are not us", but I do feel like the content of their contributions has been much more "worker power rah rah rah" and not quite in the geeky analytic way that I'm accustomed to.

I mention this because I feel like the panel was very divided in the way it wanted to explore the panel topic. One part of the panel very much seemed to want to voice this idea that something profoundly important was happening in Wisconsin at the moment, whereas the other part of the panel wanted to analyze the nooks and crannies of class hierarchies, looking to expose how the operate. These two halves of the panel, in my opinion, often didn't seem to be talking to each other.

Eleanor opened the panel with two different ways of "defining" class. The first was a traditional Marxist categorization: worker, capitalist, and petite bourgeoisie. The second seemed to be a more modern Western categorization. You're poor if you fall below the government's definition of poor. There is no government definition of rich, but we all know that the rich are up there. And everyone in-between is middle-class. Eleanor clearly did not want to get too mired in definitions and wanted to move quickly away from that part of the panel, but I think that it deserved some thought.

Alexis did a good job of trying to broaden the definition. She talked about a few things: the expectation that, in the US, education was often perceived to be a way to move up the class ladder, whereas in the UK, people retained their identification with their class background even if they went on to higher education. Some groundwork was laid for viewing class as multidimensional.

(Note to self: think about the relationship between the multidimensionality of gender and the multidimensionality of class. There are many axes of gender: presentation, socialization, bodies, etc. Why am I not better versed in language to talk about class similarly?)

I particularly like where Alexis was going with this. I think there is something to the US/Canadian (I think they're more alike than dissimilar) view of class that is bound up in valuing "skill" rather than "work". Most criticism of unions seem (in my opinion) to have, at their root, a belief that there are people who do certain types of jobs don't deserve to make a decent wage because they're the jobs that people with choices don't choose. Education/skill gives you choices ("I had to spend 4 years in university getting drunk and partying a lot so I deserve a white collar job!") whereas people who pick up the garbage... well, that can be done by anyone.

One exchange that was in equal parts hard to watch and hilarious was observing [livejournal.com profile] orangemike trying to educate Alexis on how, in the US of A, simple things like one's accent can be a very strong class marker. Because Alexis, coming from the UK, must clearly have no frame of reference for this. Alexis responded kinda sharply, and understandably so in my opinion.

Then the panel moved on to writing about class, and I can't say that I loved any of this analysis. Except, maybe, for the way that Jess really pushed for more concreteness. It's one thing to say, "I address a bunch of class issues in my latest book," and quite another to elaborate on what "address" looks like. I don't feel like we got a good example of "address", but I really liked the way that Jess tried to push the question.

There was a very brief discussion about agitprop. I wish we could have pursued that more. It occurred to me that if one is looking for somewhat bolshy SF, one kinda has to find some good recommendations from people. There are certain subgenres that lend themselves to a particular political viewpoint: if you pick up any military SF, you probably have a good idea about what political viewpoint it'll echo. Is there any subgenre that is more obviously aligned with any leftist political position? ("China Mieville" is not a subgenre) Jess made a funny comment about how she reads fantasy, liking to identify with characters that seem a bit more like her crowd of people, except that occasionally the main characters are secretly the king.

Pretty much by this point, we were open to questions, and a lot of the questions were grounded in the recent protests. There wasn't much more geeky analysis in the panel. Which kinda saddened me. I'm reminded of a panel, oh, four years ago, I think, at which Eleanor said: "A rally is an action that is lacking in analysis." That comment went through my head a lot during the panel in a way that was probably not particularly useful.

A few times, I considered asking a question, but was half-hearted about it. I'd put up my hand for a while, and then drop it, and then put it up for a bit again later. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get called. I was waffling between asking the question about bolshy subgenres and asking about how one looks at the way average people react around things like "unions" and not conclude that people have been persuaded to act against their own class interests. I hadn't fully figured out the wording -- I didn't want the question to essentially argue that people are dumb. Like I said: half-hearted.

It wasn't quite the class panel that I wanted, but I appreciated it for some moments.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

Things I've forgotten to mention. I went to a bit of the Gathering this year. There's something about the Gathering that often brings out the worst of my social anxiety; I can't explain it. But I went to the Tea and Zines table and chatted with [personal profile] wrdnrd, [personal profile] raanve and [personal profile] littlebutfierce. I got to hear some interesting talk about zines (which, I confess, I've never really had much exposure to). Plus, [personal profile] raanve caused interpretive jazz to happen. Um. On the subject of mortality. So, that was interesting.

On Friday night, I had a fun dinner with [personal profile] erik at the little Nepali place that I like so much. Then I came back and attended a panel:

Where are Your Gods?

Where are your gods? On or off the page? Do you choose to publicize your beliefs or do you keep them private? Do you choose to risk alienating more traditional readers by an alternative spiritual path or do you stand up as an example? Do you feel ostracized for holding more traditional or conservative beliefs? Does your spirituality inform your writing? Can you be a monotheist but build a world of many gods? How important is it that your audience knows where you are coming from? Join us for a discussion of the role of personal religious belief in your writing.

P.C. Hodgell, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Suzy Charnas, Moondancer Drake, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Pamela K. Taylor

They covered a lot of ground in the panel. I especially enjoyed Pamela Taylor's and Moondancer's contributions. There was some discussion about cultural appropriation, and a lot of talk about fictional pantheons. There were some angles that I would have been interested in hearing about. Like, for some reason, I really enjoy films about the Catholic priesthood. Priest (1994) and The Order and The Rite and films like that. Some of these films are supernatural films that accept that Catholic doctrine seems to be the truth. I've never been Catholic, but I nonetheless enjoy the films, and am willing to just take the theology at face value. So I wonder: how comfortable can a writer be writing about an existing religion as if it's real. (I've only read one of the Archangel books by Lyda Morehouse, but I suspect that's a similar example).

She was never posed this question, but Moondancer's responses seemed to suggest that her sense of authenticity seemed to come from keeping the stuff that's true in her life true in her books. Others described saying what they wanted to say about religion in one book, and then never really going back to that for fear of seeming like they had a particular bugaboo.

Eventually, though, the panel mostly devolved into a bunch of book recommendations.

Immediately after that panel, I went to do a quick volunteer job, and then hung out on the party floor for a while before heading to bed relatively early. I've been fighting a cold for a few days, and thought that an early night would be a good thing.

bcholmes: I poison you! (Circe Invidiosa)

I made it to two panels on the first day. The first was:

Immigration, Fictional and Non-Fictional

People have moved around this planet since there's been people and since there's been a plant. However, since this newfangled "nation-state" invention, it's gotten a little more complicated. Come talk about both fictional and nonfictional examples of people emigrating from one nation-state to another nation-state, remembering that immigrants aren't an abstract construct, but real people.

Mary Anne Mohanraj, Ay-leen the Peacemaker, Suzanne Alles Blom, Amal El-Mohar

There were snippets of really good stuff in this panel, but I kept imagining all the things that the panel could be, and getting a bit wistful about that. [personal profile] badgerbag has posted a bit about this panel -- mostly, she was annoyed about the metric ton of manslaining that was taking place. And, yeah, there was that. I'm especially annoyed at the (immigrant) guy who maintained that immigrants did have a debt to the great country of America that let them in, and opposed the bad guys in their homelands and is making the world a better place for all humanity.

The stuff I did like about the panel involved discussion about the nature of nation states (Mary Anne recommended Imaginary Communities). I also enjoyed hearing Mary Anne's introductory story about how she finally got her American citizenship because if she were ever convicted of a crime, new laws in the PATRIOT Act would see her immediately deported.

I was also glad to hear some non-American framing -- Amal was Canadian, and talked about interesting topics such as official languages and how unwilling Canadians are to learn "the other" language. Amal also talked about a series of ads currently running in Canada (I haven't seen them: no TV) promoting the idea of recognizing foreign training for, e.g., doctors, etc. The cause is reasonable, but frames the conversation in terms of the immigrant's usefulness to us.

I appreciated one comment from the audience about how the term assimilation seems to come with built-in blame. And a binary choice: you assimilate or don't. If other members of the community made a different choice, they're somehow wrong. She says that this stuff breaks up families, etc.

We briefly -- briefly -- touched on the language issue of "illegal" immigrants versus "undocumented" immigrants. But what I wished could have been discussed were the more radical questions: must we have immigration? Why can't we let people move to wherever they want? Why does that idea challenge so many people?

Fictional immigrants got short shrift in the conversation. Amal suggested two stories from Strange Horizons: "The Red Bride" and "Household Spirits".

Mary Anne also recommended the non-fictional Leaving India.

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March 2017

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