if every angel's terrible why do you watch her sleep?
- A lot of folks--some of whom I know and respect, a few I consider good friends, and many of whom who have never been to a Readercon--are swearing never to attend, denouncing the convention broadly, or calling it an awful con. While I would never encourage anyone to attend a convention at which they felt unsafe, those last two arguments are, I think, a misreprentation of the facts and unfair to the Readercon community. Whereas the fact of the matter is that this is an unhappy turn of events in part because Readercon has dealt with similar cases much better in the past. Because Readercon is in general a progressive convention, with a focus on exploring the boundaries of the genre... because Readercon has promoted awareness of science fiction's diversity and literary merit by honoring guests such as Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nalo Hopkinson, Geoff Ryman, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Hand, and Greer Gilman... that is why this is a terrible disappointment.
- I believe that the Readercon Board has made a serious mistake in their handling of Valentine's harassment claim. It seems--and my information has all come secondhand!--that the Board may have honestly believed that the perpetrator, René Walling, was contrite and horrified by his own behavior, and so they felt it was appropriate to make an exception. Of course I was not in the room or privy to any of these discussions, but I do not believe that this was an appropriate choice. People who push other people's physical and sexual boundaries in that manner--he put his hands on her uninvited, and ignored repeated requests to back off!--may not believe they mean anything by it, and when it's called to their attention they may be tremendously contrite--but it's my experience both as a former domestic violence counselor and as a survivor of abuse that contrite or not, such people are recidivists, that the behavior will reoccur, and that in many cases it will escalate. People who abusively violate other people's boundaries in this fashion are never safe to be around.
- It is my understanding that the re-writing of Readercon's harassment policy was in part driven by the urging of Rose Fox, a member of the concom who was opposed to the board's decision to be lenient. If my understanding is correct, it was her position that if they weren't going to apply the zero-tolerance policy, they needed to revise it. (ETA: Rose explains in detail in comments.)
- I think normally it would have been inappropriate for Readercon's Board to change their decision at this point (but in this case there is a detail that makes me feel differently--see below). That does not mean there is no ameliorative action that can be taken. For example, Readercon could issue a public apology to Valentine. They could also take the opportunity to create a holistic and sensible harassment policy that they are willing to commit to adhering to. I also think it would not be inappropriate, in the light of this failure, for further such decisions of the board to be made in a manner more transparent to the Readercon community.
- However, there is another pending harassment claim against Walling, filed by Kate Kligman, which the Board, to my knowledge, has not yet responded to. This claim does not involve Readercon, per se, but it is evidence of the pattern of Walling's behavior. If this claim is supported (as, I admit, I expect it will be), I believe that the Board must, in order to regain any credibility, consider it as additional evidence, reopen proceedings, and extend the ban on Walling to a lifetime suspension of his membership. This is a serial pattern of behavior, and my experience and training tell me that it is very unlikely to cease.
- If Walling wishes to truly demonstrate contrition and make some amends for his action, some of the steps he could take might include issuing a public apology to Valentine and to the Readercon community. He could likewise voluntarily choose to ban himself from Readercon for life. He should understand that Valentine has no responsibility to accept or even listen to his apology, or to interact with him further in any way, shape, or form. The only possible amends he can make at this point is to leave her strictly alone from this point forward. Respecting those boundaries would be the beginnings of corrective action.
At this point, I am not making any sweeping claims about my own future participation in Readercon. I am not about to toss my hair and stalk off in a huff; Readercon has always been a good con for me, and I am committed to the New England fandom community it (along with Boskone and Arisia and the smaller local cons) represents.
My feelings on the subject of Readercon may change depending on the Board's actions over the next few weeks, however.