February 28, 2014

Personal Statement on Harassment, FOGcon Safety, and Personal History

I am working on the committee for FOGcon 4, being held in Walnut Creek, California on the weekend of March 7-9 of this year. As I have done since FOGcon's inception, I am running the department called Safety, whose volunteers are intended to be among the first responders to problems that arise for convention attendees. Among the potential problems I might have to deal with is an attendee experiencing unwanted attention or contact from someone else. Debbie Notkin and I together wrote the convention's harassment policy.

On February 9, the convention received an email that reported a statement I made at a panel at last year's WisCon, in which I said I been a harasser in the past. The email's author said that they thought that because I had disclosed this, it was inappropriate for me to run Safety at FOGcon, that harassment victims would be uncomfortable reporting an incident to me, and that I should step down or be removed from this job.

The facts detailed in the email are true. I did disclose my identification as someone who has harassed at conventions.

This is a challenging statement for me to write. As an able-bodied, white, college-educated cis man born to parents who were property-owning professionals, and as someone who has participated in SF fandom for four decades, I carry a lot of privilege, in many dimensions. It is hard for me to write about this while trying to avoid being defensive about my past bad behavior or inappropriately defending against attacks on my privilege.

My harassment behavior was more than thirty years ago, when I was eighteen years old or a little older. I made unwelcome passes at people, followed them around, and made lewd innuendoes in their presence.

I brought this up at the panel at last year's Wiscon to state my opposition to "zero-tolerance" harassment policies at conventions. I think there is a continuum of possible behaviors ranging from subtle microaggressions at one end to violent attack at the other without a bright line where we can agree that what is on one side is intolerable and on the other acceptable. I also personally believe that zero-tolerance policies are an obstacle to official reporting of troublesome behavior, because the social consequences of following through on a report are so high that the temptation is to sweep the issue under the rug or otherwise ignore it. I can elaborate on this, but that would be beyond the scope of this statement.

People are complicated and multidimensional. Nobody is any single thing; we wear multiple hats and play different roles in different contexts. I am not simply a harasser then, now, and forever. I am also (among many other things) a survivor of childhood trauma and sexual abuse. And I have myself been the target of unwanted sexual attention, at conventions. To deal with the long-term effects of my childhood experience I have worked a lot on myself, in therapy and elsewhere. It has been through that work that I have gained enough self-awareness that I can name my earlier behavior as harassment. Without that work, I don't think re-evaluating my behavior would ever have crossed my mind.

As a harassment target, I would personally much rather report a new incident to a person who had done similar work of self-examination and was open about whatever their history might be. But everyone is different. My triggers are not another survivor's triggers, my fears are not their fears, and my comfort zone isn't theirs.

I cannot tell you what you should be comfortable with: that is yours and yours alone to judge. If you aren't comfortable reporting a harassment incident to me in my capacity as Safety leader at FOGcon, I think I understand that, and I'm confident that you are likely to find someone you would be comfortable with.

And if you are sufficiently uncomfortable with me in the role of safety coordinator, I will understand that too. I will be sad if you choose to stay away from FOGcon as a result, but I respect your choice to find your comfort and safety zones.

FOGcon Committee official statement on this issue

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Posted by abostick at February 28, 2014 11:04 AM
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