It looks as if the long-running “Moongate” saga is coming to an end at last. From today’s World SF News I learned that Wiscon has decided to rescind their invitation to Elizabeth Moon to be one of their Guests of Honor for next year on account of the bizarre Islamophobic blog post she made earlier this year.
From a con-running point of view, this is a highly contentious issue. I don’t think anyone who has been involved in running a convention, or being a Guest of Honor, will be entirely comfortable about this. From one point of view it seems very much like a witchhunt was launched against Moon, and that the convention caved in to pressure. Exactly the same tactics could be used to force another convention to rescind an invitation to a guest because she is lesbian, or a feminist. Indeed, I’m sure someone out there in fandom is just itching to launch such a campaign.
But no decision takes place in a vacuum, and this one has taken a long time to happen. I’m sure that much discussion took place, both in public and in private. At least some people claim to have talked to Moon. Possibly they hoped she would issue some sort of retraction. Obviously she hasn’t done so, or we would have heard about it.
The public reaction has included discussion of the most suitable response, should Moon stay as a GoH. This has, to some extent, had the beneficial effect of putting the issue in the limelight. All sorts of people have written excellent posts challenging what Moon wrote. But at the same time Muslim and PoC fans were unhappy that they were being, as they saw it, required to defend their right to be at Wiscon. And many people simply didn’t want the atmosphere of the convention ruined by demonstrations. I suspect that quite a few people simply decided not to go this year. Membership take-up comparisons with previous years would be interesting.
It is worth noting that the decision to rescind Moon’s GoHship appears to have been taken by Wiscon’s parent organization, not by the convention committee itself. This is exactly the sort of thing that parent organizations are for. A convention committee is almost certainly personally invested in the decisions it has taken. They may see the attacks on Moon as personal attacks against themselves. The parent organization is not so closely involved. Also it is less interested in the current year’s event, and more in the long term health of the convention. You have to assume that they felt the affair was doing Wiscon a lot of damage.
My own feelings on this have been very conflicted. As a Director of an organization that runs conventions I find the whole thing very scary, and I quite understand that many authors feel that a bad precedent has been set.
I’m also generally opposed to the whole “with us or against us” attitude that seems to have driven much of the debate. Moon’s comments might have been abominable, but I’m sure that there are very many Americans, and indeed British people, who think pretty much the same things. They have all been listening to the nonsense pumped out by the popular media over issues like the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, and now apparently a new panic about Islamic superheroes. Had this turned into an opportunity to get Moon to change her mind, it would have been a good thing. That hasn’t happened, and possibly the ferocity of the original response played a part in that.
Mostly, however, I don’t go in for confrontation on issues like this because I don’t expect to win. I’m so used to being patted on the head and told that the concerns of trans people are not a political priority, and that complaining will only make us more unpopular, that I have internalized that idea. I tend to opt for consciousness raising rather than confrontation. Why jump up and down and yell and get people hating you if you are only going to lose?
Look, for example, at what happened last year when Stonewall chose the rabidly transphobic Julie Bindel as their Journalist of the Year. My friends in London demonstrated outside the award ceremony, but the British LG community closed ranks and thumbed their noses. So much so that they have nominated another transphobic journalist this year: Bill Leckie, who has even drawn criticism from Stonewall Scotland for one of his offensive articles.
Given the way that feminism goes, I’m sure that Wiscon has had transphobic GoHs in the past. I suspect it will in future. One of the reasons I stopped going to Wiscon was that it became clear to me that I was the wrong sort of trans person for them. If I wanted to be more open about myself, Wiscon would not be a safe space for me. So I stopped going, rather than complain.
But you know, strange things happen. Because also in my morning blog feeds today was this article from Pink News. What do you know, Stonewall has caved too! Maybe yelling does work after all.
So where are we? Have we found ourselves in a world of mob rule where anyone with a following on the Internet can hound innocent writers and convention committees into doing their bidding? Or have we found ourselves in a world in which the ignorant expression of hatred for people you have defined as different, and therefore inferior and immoral, has become socially unacceptable?