The following is an open letter to my friends and colleagues who are established members of the science fiction and fantasy community.
It's easy to lose control of a narrative. It's a little bit harder but not all that difficult, if you have the skills for it, to seize control. To construct a convincing narrative--whether that narrative happens to be true or not--and manipulate your audience into investing in it--into believing it--whether that narrative happens to be true or not.
It's not even that much harder to create so much social pressure, to engage in so much goal-post shifting, that the very target of your narrative begins to believe it herself. This is one of the ways in which sick systems work: we impose a narrative on someone else, and then force them to conform to it.
When one individual does this to another, we call it emotional abuse.
Isn't it curious how often someone who is attacked by the wielder of an abusive narrative is held accountable for everything they may have ever done or said--whether in anger, or in their cups, or just in a moment of carelessness? Editing blog posts, taking down twitter feeds or websites, scrubbing the past, apologizing--all of these are cause for redoubled vituperation. Anything the victim says can be spun, questioned, deconstructed using opaque logic to create any sort of hammer the abuser wishes to swing.
And yet, there are abusers who consider their own right to edit to the narrative sacrosanct. What is past is past; what is true today is only true so long as it facilitates the abuser's narrative. The goalpost shifts and the gaslight flickers.
On the internet, we call those people trolls, but--colorful as it is--the word is a euphemism. What we are really talking about here is predators. Abusers.
Whether they're in it "for the lulz" or for the social capital, they're there to exert power and cruelty over people. They're there to justify their own existence by making others pay for theirs.
To an abuser, motive--which normal people who are not writers call, "What I actually meant, not what you are twisting my words to mean."--does not matter. All that matters is that the abuser finds a way to control the narrative, to control and hurt the victim, and to "win" the engagement. Winning, in this case, means the other guy experiences pain. And then gives up, gives in, lets the abuser have their own way.
It saddens me deeply that some people within communities I consider essential to the health of my industry and my social group (they're largely the same thing, that being how both publishing and the internet work) use those communities as camouflage to hide abuse, as springboards to facilitate it, and as cheering sections, god help us all, to reward them for their most violent behaviors.
You can often spot them because, instead of going after people with a great deal of social capital and perceived strength, they go after those who are marginalized, young, at the cusp of their professional careers, or struggling with a setback. They go after people who would seem natural allies, who would trust them, who would take their violence much more personally than somebody who actually despises them or to whom their opinion means nothing.
These predators gaslight; they reversion the truth; they have an explanation for everything. And all of it piles up to make you feel as if you've lost your grip on reality. As if nothing you perceived was the truth. You think their narrative doesn't make sense, but other people buy it, and because memory is fallible, you start to buy it too.
They're not there to teach, to elevate, to change the system. On some level, they don't want the system changed--because if it were, where would they go to get their kicks?
You can see 'em leading the pitchfork-wielding mobs in Gamergate. And right now, you can see 'em attacking a group of predominately new, predominately less-established, predominately female, predominately brown members of the science fiction and fantasy community.
I am not saying that internet social justice work is inherently abusive. I've engaged in a certain amount of internet social justice work myself. I'm not saying that it's wrong to confront people, or to be angry about injustice.
I'm pretty angry about a repeated pattern of injustices myself right now. And I'm sad. And I want the abuses to stop. I've been holding my peace to allow the victims to come forward and make their own statements, because I believe it is my place to speak out in support of them, not to influence what they might say.
That has begun to happen.
That is why I am going to directly address the actions of three colleagues who, to my knowledge and from firsthand accounts, have been colluding to behave in an abusive, unprofessional, gaslighting fashion against vulnerable people.
I have considered Alex Dally MacFarlane a friendly acquaintance and a respected colleague, and I am most upset to learn of her part in bullying Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and others. (Among other things, she's released private emails between Tricia Sullivan and RH/Bee without Tricia's permission.) I'm saddened, and I'm tempted to defend her; we've been internet acquaintances for years. And yet, I must choose to believe the victims.
Tori Truslow I met for the first time this summer in London and exchanged a few words in passing. Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Bee) I have never met, but I knew of her as a friend of a friend and somebody whose work I'd encountered and thought well-written but as yet unformed. We participated in an online round-table on food and SF together.
Requires Hate never got a lot of consideration from me. I don't think she ever came after me personally, and while I knew she was awful to a number of friends, well, sometimes people are awful to writers. I will totally cop to having made fun of her as a sad little troll on more than one occasion, but my general attitude was "haters gonna hate."
I knew she was an abusive person. I didn't know how abusive, or how long it had gone on, or in how many forums. I didn't know how many people she made complicit in her abuse, or tried to. I didn't know about the chilling effect her abuse has had on the art and discourse of women and people of color, of whole communities. And I certainly didn't know about her association with Alex and Tori, and this summer when the rumors started flying about Bee I was one of the people who defended her, because the evidence presented at that time basically amounted to, "They're both Thai and both activists."
I thought it was racist and ridiculous.
I was wrong.
I also happened to speak with several friends, about half of them women of color, at Loncon and 9 Worlds who each independently told me that they had had a miserable summer. None of them mentioned why. I had been traveling and largely off the internets since May, and I did not make the connection that they had been having the same miserable summer for the same reasons.
I was wrong about that, too.
I am not an expert on the subject but I certainly believe, from reading Bee/Rh's work and from talking with people who are experts on the subject, that she has an intimate knowledge of Asian cultures and certainly lives or has lived in Hong Kong and Thailand--or has access to people who have.
I am, however, an expert on the subject of abusive relationships, of abusers, and of drawing boundary lines around them. I know that Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a pseudonym. Why should we believe that the Bee persona is any more authentic than the Winterfox one?
Can we believe any single thing Bee/RH tells us? Bee's claimed to be in her thirties; now she claims that her RH behavior was teenage malfeasance. She was talking about Tolkien on yuku.com in 2001 under her Winterfox identity, and yet she claimed as Bee that she hadn't read any fantasy before 2011.
She's laid claim in various incarnations to a variety of backgrounds. She works pretty hard to erase her backtrail, but this is the internet and traces remain.
Small inconsistencies are human. Not knowing who the hell you are from day to day is a sign of a constructed persona.
I am curious: has anyone in the community ever met a person who identifies themselves as Winterfox/Requires Hate/Benjanun?
I know it's weird and rare, but this sort of thing does go on. Predators exist. Con artists exist. Abusers exist. People pretend to be other people. Sockpuppets proliferate. They fact that most of us wouldn't actually consider it--or wouldn't do it in a concerted manner with intent to harm--doesn't mean that it doesn't happen.
Bee/RH has moved from internet community to internet community for the past ten years or so, starting fights, preying on people, abusing and threatening and gaslighting people, getting people to confide in her and then using their private confessions of anger to control them. She claims to punch up; what she has really done is grind already marginalized writers and fans into the dirt so she can hop up on their heads and elevate herself a little.
At this point, I think it's an open question whether the individual known as Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate/Lesifoere/Pyrofennec/ValseDeLaLune/W
I would not be surprised if "something terrible" happens to "Bee" soon, given the failure of the unconvincing victim narrative she's been attempting to build. Munchausen's By Internet ("pseudocide") is a frequent outcome in cases like this.
Whatever her background, the fact remains that this individual has had a major chilling effect on discussion and promotion of works presenting diversity in our genre.
She's not the victim. She's an abuser.
I know Requires Hate has apologized. I know that the narrative she's spinning is that she was young, that she's changed, that she's seen the error of her ways.
I don't believe her.
They blame others for their actions, too, or claim that they'll change. And that's why I don't believe in these sudden, convenient, alleged "impersonators" who perpetuated her worst abuses. I do believe that people with a pattern of multiple abuse in multiple venues gonna sock, and gonna troll.
I believe that she is a abuser, and a bully, and that she shifts the narrative to protect herself and continue her abuse. I have spoken with a number of people I trust, including women and people of color, and I know for a fact that her bullying and vituperation continued in back channels into the summer of 2014. I know that she has engaged in whispering campaigns including character assassination and false allegations, some of them provided to editors or convention organizers. I know this because Athena Andreadis told me, in specific, and Athena's story is supported by the pattern of events and by conversations I've had with people who were inside Bee's circle of influence.
I know (because the stories of Athena and Rochita and Tricia Sullivan and Rachel Brown and other women who have chosen to remain anonymous match up with evidence still available to anybody with Google and some patience), that definitely Alex and possibly Tori supported this, and that everyone involved did and said some really unprofessional things--to and about other women writers, and to women writers of color, in specific.
I know, because of the sheer number of people who have come forward with substantially similar stories, that the evidence supports the idea that RH/Bee has exhibited a pattern of abuse entirely above and beyond her vituperative reviews, a pattern that continued at least into the summer of 2014 and quite probably to the present day--long beyond when she claimed she had reformed in her apologies.
I can't say what her motive might be, but a couple of obvious options do present themselves. The writers that Requires Hate went after were predominately women, predominately early career or midlisters, predominately women of color. People she might perceive, frankly, as competition. Or as potential allies insufficiently toeing her party line.
She policed their behavior. She told them how to write, and what to think, and what to say about books in reviews. When they did not conform to her demands, she set out to make them miserable or damage their careers. She intimidated marginalized writers into silence--on topics they had every right to speak out about, topics relating to their own identities.
It is worth noting that one of her tactics is to (personally or through intermediaries) attack readers and reviewers to suppress conversation about books of which she does not approve--such as works by Cindy Pon and N.K.Jemisin. It is worth noting that these works are disproportionately by women, people of color, and other marginalized writers. And that these writers were disproportionately early-career or emerging.
Those readers and reviewers must be considered her victims as well. Many of them are likely to have been people of color, given the nature of the communities she damaged. It becomes painfully obvious that her goal was never to support a diversity of voices, but suppress and suborn it.
That speaks to me not of activism but of a desire to police and control through intimidation.
I believe she, Truslow, and MacFarlane are and have been working together as a sort of Mean Girl Posse to control and intimidate others, and that MacFarlane and Truslow are currently playing Bad Cop and letting... I don't even know what to call her... play Sadder But Wiser.
They've never come after me, to the best of my knowledge, so I feel comfortable standing up and saying all of this.
Of course they wouldn't come after me. I wasn't vulnerable to them.
Nick Mamatas (a true chaotic neutral, and one of the internet's great drama farmers) has been positioning his defense--if you can call it that--of RH/Bee as a defense against her inevitable blacklisting.
Let me make it plain: I'm pretty plugged in in this community. The only place I have heard of this alleged blacklist is as a talking point raised by RH/Bee, Nick, and RH/Bee's other defenders. I have certainly heard of one or two people saying, "She was awful to me or someone I care about and I won't work with her." I have even more frequently heard of people telling other people the truth--that Bee is RH and RH is Bee.
Telling the truth about somebody is not blacklist, libel, or slander. Deciding you won't work with somebody is not a blacklist. A blacklist is an organized effort, with threat of consequences, to keep somebody from ever working in this town again.
Sort of like the abusive treatment RH/Bee was leveling against reviewers who reviewed books of which she did not approve, or that she and Alex were bringing to bear against Athena Andreadis for the crime of telling RH/Bee that Athena thought her best course of action was honesty.
It's curious how, again and again, this person levels accusations against others for doing exactly what she herself has done.
Likewise, where's the proof of the alleged doxxing against RH/Bee? The only place I have heard of it is from her and her supporters. A cursory Googling suggests, in fact, that her real name is still not a matter of public record.
So it seems unlikely to me that anybody has released her address and other private information publicly, which is the definition of doxxing.
I am not willing to say she can't reform, but I think a continued long-term pattern of obvious change is necessary before I am willing to trust the apology of a person who has literally lied to everyone about everything for literally thirteen years. Especially as she has apologized before, as Winterfox and as Requires Hate, and it doesn't seem like those stuck.
So let me make it even more plain: I'm not calling for a blacklist of Benjanun Sriduangkaew. I'm not calling for a blacklist (like that would even work in SFF, where we have as a community inherited a kind of weird pride in stubborn idiosyncratic wrongheadedness we call "contrarianism" from our forebears) of Alex Dally MacFarlane, either, or of Tori Truslow.
I believe their work should be published as it merits, and as editors see fit to pay them for it. I believe that they should be eligible for award consideration as they deserve it in the eyes of those who select for awards.
And while I also believe that the community I belong to should know that the person publishing under the pseudonym Benjanun Sriduankaew has behaved in an abusive and predatory fashion, I have no interest in focusing on her--or in centralizing her redemption narrative.
What I would like is for our community to take this opportunity for positive action. I believe that the people Bee/RH has harmed should be given as much support and aid in healing as practicable. I believe that potential future victims should be warned. I believe those who may feel trapped by her should be protected. I believe those whom she has abused should be helped to connect with one another as they desire.
I believe their voices should be listened to, if and when they choose to come forward. I believe that the people who have been silenced by this campaign of bullying should be given as much space to speak as they would like.
I believe that, on an ongoing basis and pursuant to our dawning understanding as a community of the need for harassment policies and a pro-active stance against bullying, we--the established members of the science fiction and fantasy community--need to make safe spaces where people who have been bullied and harassed can come forward and find strength and solace, as well as safety.
I believe we need to respond to this series of events in our community by making more space for marginalized voices, and promoting young writers, women writers, and writers of color.
My concern lies in protecting the vulnerable. We, the established members of the science fiction and fantasy community, owe a debt of care to emerging writers and marginalized voices, and those are the people who have specifically been targeted by this predator. We owe them shelter and consideration. Frankly, we need them more than they need us, because they represent our future as a genre and as a community.
Moreover, we owe it to our emergent writers to create a space where bullies cannot silence them, police their writing and their identity, and make them feel unsafe. I'm not just talking about the RH/Bees of the world here, but the Jim Frenkels as well. We need to let our emergent writers know that the Benjanun Sriduangkaews and Alex MacFarlanes of the industry have no power over their careers--really, functionally, literally no power.
To do this, we need to be willing to shine some light in dark corners and to slap some bright paint around the predators and missing stairs. We need to make space for the voices of those writers and the readers who wish to engage with their work.
To those emergent writers: If you are bullied, harassed, abused, or threatened, there are people in the community who will believe you, and who will stand up for you.
Basically, I believe Requires Hate should be treated the same way we as a community treat Theodore Beale/Vox Day: as a dangerous missing stair whose abuses and bullying should be taken seriously, and not justified by the fact that either or both of them may be covering their pathological behaviors under a veil of ideology.
But I also believe that we can use this opportunity to uplift the marginalized and the victimized, and that is where our future as a community shines.
*Blog comments will be closed. I will not respond to messages regarding Winterwhatever, because she's her own problem now. I don't want to talk to her or about her.
All of my available energy for this subject from this point forward is going to signal boost writers, editors, and readers of diverse backgrounds and diverse books.
A safe, moderated space open to the victims of bullying has been provided at Laura Mixon-Gould’s blog.