The thread on anti-harassment policies is collecting some useful ideas. This post is not about that. It is about illustrating some of the complexities of the issue.
I’d like to start by addressing the idea, expressed in many posts on the subject, that people, specifically women, have the right to feel safe at conventions. I certainly support that, but at the same time I’m rather sanguine about it as a target because, to a certain extent, I stop feeling safe when I get outside my front door.
I say “to a certain extent” because as trans women go I am very lucky. I’m not pretty enough to have ever suffered from sexual harassment — I’m much more likely to be told I shouldn’t be allowed out without a paper bag over my head (and indeed have had comments of that type from men) — but at the same time I’m not often followed down the street by people yelling “freak” and “weirdo” at me, though it has happened. I’ve never had any trouble using public bathrooms, or changing rooms in clothes stores. I do tend to avoid places like pubs unless I’m with friends, which is true for many cis women as well. But I do have specific events that make me nervous.
Ironically the worst types of events for me are public LGBT-focused events such as Pride days. That’s partly because people tend to go to them hoping to find some freaks to abuse, and partly because people seem to think that Pride is an excuse to ask people all sorts of intrusive questions about their private lives. Conventions, in general, are not a problem, but fear for my personal safety is the main reason why I have never attended the SFX Weekender.
As I noted in my previous post, there is a potential issue with RadFems. I didn’t stop going to WisCon over that. While there are (or at least used to be) people who attend the convention who hold such views, the WisCon committee generally gives them short shrift. If I had any qualms of that sort it was more along the lines of not wanting to be the person who was the cause of Great Drama at WisCon, even if things turned out in my favor.
A more pressing issue for me was potential trouble with trans activists. WisCon has many of those attending, and it became clear that some of them felt that I was Doing Trans Wrong. I had no particular desire to spend my convention being lectured by such people. Judging from what I have seen online, at least one person of that ilk now attends Eastercon, which is one of many reasons why I no longer go to that event.
Of course being lectured on one’s lack of gender correctness is a minor issue compared to sexual harassment or fear of being beaten up. The reason I bring it up is to illustrate that there are things that might make me uncomfortable at a convention, even to the extent of causing me to stop attending, that don’t amount to abuse and shouldn’t result in anyone being disciplined. If Kevin had been able to attend WisCon with me, rather than needing to be at BayCon that weekend, I may have kept attending as I would have had emotional support.
In a way this is a type of cultural issue. There was a prevailing culture at WisCon that made me feel uncomfortable. But even greater cultural issues can arise when you travel to non-Anglo countries.
Finncon, as you should be aware by now, has a sauna at the dead dog party. The Finns, as is traditional, do sauna naked. Most of them have been doing so with their families for years, and are very used to mixed gender naked sauna. For Finncon, because of the presence of foreign guests, a slightly different pattern has been adopted. There is a women-only sauna, followed by a men-only sauna, followed by an open period when anyone can go in. This allows foreigners to enjoy the naked sauna experience without being exposed to mixed-gender groups.
This year one of the Finnish men managed to miss the instructions and joined in the women-only sauna. Most of us were in the lake swimming when he arrived. I wasn’t, because I would have been bitten to death by mosquitoes had I gone outside, so I saw him walk in. He looked harmless to me, so what I did was wait in the ante-room for the others to come back and let them know what was going on. No one had any objections, so we got on with the sauna.
I want to stress that there was no question of any voyeuristic intent on behalf of the interloper. He sat there and chatted amiably with us, then went on his way. Most of the women involved were Finns and unfazed. Liz Williams is a practicing druid and probably used to mixed-gender nakedness elsewhere. And speaking for myself I’m just hugely grateful that I’m allowed in, rather than have someone complain that I’m “really a man” and should be excluded from the women’s sauna.
Sometime later Finncon staff had a quiet word with the interloper who was mortified at having made such a mistake. At the post-con debrief a new policy was adopted to make sure that, in addition to announcements at the event, notices would be posted on the sauna door making it clear who was allowed in and who wasn’t.
Of course it could have been very different. There might have been women involved who objected to a male presence, in which case I would have let my friend Karo quietly take care of the matter. She was head of convention security, after all, and she was right on the spot. And had it not been a mistake on the bloke’s part I have no doubt he would have been dealt with sternly.
So culture and intent play an important part on what can and can’t be done. The important part is that people should agree on what is acceptable behavior, and that those limits should be enforced. Where things go wrong is when one person engages in activities that others find threatening, and when that person is allowed to continue with their behavior despite clearly stated desires and rules to the contrary.