How To Interpret All This Angry Shouting

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“These science fiction conventions must be terrible places to go,” a friend of mine said.  “All I ever see is you posting articles on women getting harassed, on the crudely expressed racism that emerges there, the unwashed geeks who ruin it.  I can’t see why anyone would attend.”
Which took me aback, because I love going to cons.  It’s where I make a lot of new friends, and have the fine and absurd conversations I can’t have in the “real” world, and unite with kindred spirits who we can geek out about wonderful things.  My life is enriched by people I met at cons, who I then friend on Twitter and deepen the friendship, so by the next time I go to that con, hey!  I have transformed a “shared a drink with one night” into “Ohmygodit’sYOU!  Gimme a hug, you big lug!”
And yes, I’m a white dude.  But I have a lot of female friends and non-white friends who also go to cons, and continue to go to cons, and they’re all willful enough that if cons were really no fun for them, they wouldn’t go.  Yes, into every con a dash of jerk must fall, and I’m not saying my women and non-white pals experience no harassment or annoyance at cons – but considering many of them go to four or five cons a year, and squee about the upcoming cons on Facebook and blogs and whatnot, the good sides must outweigh the occasional “Jesus, really?”
Which is not to perpetrate the shielding illusion that all my friends do go – some are in fact so put off by the ugly shenanigans that they don’t want to deal with it.  And their opinion’s not to be washed away, since like all things, geek conventions have serious problems that could be bettered.
Still.  If cons were such a universally terrible place, they wouldn’t attract any women.  They’d all be like that awful comics shop staffed entirely by neckbearded mouthbreathers who post posters of women in refrigerators on the walls, and the female quotient would be next to zero.  Which it ain’t.  The cons I attend have a lot of women, and a fair number of non-white people (though efforts like Con or Bust always help that).  Cons are, in general, a fun place to be.
So why do they look so terrible?
Likewise, there was an essay on FetLife posted by someone who said, essentially, “There are a hundred posts on rape and consent and weeding out the troublemakers at fetish events, since there are Doms who are basically abusers in disguise.  But do you realize what all this talking about the problems in our community looks like to outsiders?  Hell, I don’t want to go to an event, because all I hear are all the terrible things that happen, and the tales of the psychodramatic people who tear communities apart, and all I can think is Jesus, why would I want to go there?”
Which is true.  All this airing of dirty laundry makes our fun world look terrible to outsiders.  If you’re dropping in on the conversation, it must feel like the world’s falling in on our heads, and you’d be best served by getting the fuck out, quickly.
But I read a piece today that talked about a place that had perfect silence.  All of the problems were resolved cleanly, neatly, behind the scenes, and the place remained as welcoming as ever.  The silence was resounding… mainly because it was about priests abusing deaf children, because the deaf kids couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
Now, I am a Christian, but this is why I don’t belong to an organized religion.  Andrew Sullivan wrote a stunning and horrifying piece explaining just how the church, fearing that they’d look bad to outsiders, swept it under the rug… and I’d suggest you all read it right now.  It’s a very good example of what a nice, quiet place looks like – and the effectiveness!  After all, people kept coming to the Church.  They didn’t lose faith.  The Church didn’t lose donations, or have to deal with any ugly questions.  Quite a benefit, and all it cost were thousands of abused children and a ticking time bomb that would explode decades later.
If the Church had handled it honestly, as Christ would have, then we would have had an ugly discussion in the 1970s.  The Church would have looked like, well, what it actually was – a place where a young boy could potentially get hurt by a pedophile in clergy clothing.  And many would have reacted negatively.  But in actually addressing the problem, fewer boys would have been hurt, and the problem would have actually been addressed, and there would be much shouting and angry discussion on how could this have happened, and what the right way to handle it would be.
Yet that angry discussion would help ensure the problem – which could never truly go away entirely – would be as minimized as possible.  That it would be fixed to a human extent.  Because there’s always going to be some scummy guy in a priest’s cloak, or a predator pretending to be a friendly Daddy Dom, or a grabby jerk at a con.  We can shield as much as possible, but unfortunately such wastes of human skin exist and the best we can do is to establish best practices to identify and then remove from our good places as much as possible.
So yes, these noisy discussions about the Church, and harassment at conventions, and violation of safe space at dungeons?  They’re all ugly.  But that’s because the problems are ugly, and we’re trying to face them head-on.  And yes, we could and should do a better job of promoting the good times we have at Church and at con and in the dungeon… but part of the solution has to come from people growing up and understanding that justifiably angry discussion about real problems does not mean that “Wow, what a terrible place this is.”  The solution comes from realizing that fixing a house is going to involve some noise as the hammers and saws do their work, and that noise is not an evil but rather the sound of progress taking place.
You can hear the badness, of course.  But when you assume that’s all there is, what you’re telling people is that if you want us to come, you should be silent.  Silent as deaf children.  And in encouraging organizations towards suppression as opposed to discussion, you create a place where monsters feast.

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