Monday, July 8, 2013

Con Moments: "What Are Your Credentials?"

Aetherfest was by and large pretty fun. I would have to say that the most successful panel was the "Mad Science!: Mental Illness in Steampunk" one: we had a full house of people who were probably expecting us to talk about mad scientists. My co-panelists were the wonderful JoSelle Vanderhooft and O.M.Grey, who I specifically picked to be on the panel because they both also had issues with mental health and would be able to speaking truthfully to the matter. I know some people dislike the tokenizing thing where venues will have black people talking about black issues and a gay person writing about gay issues, but for something like this, in this context, where often people with mental health issues are sidelined in favour of psychologists treating them (because we can't be trusted to talk about ourselves, I guess), it was very important that my panel be peopled ONLY by people who live with mental health problems, chronic ones, not things that can be easily fixed.

Afterward though, O.M. Grey told us that apparently, some big dude, all white-haired and bespectacled, walked up to her and practically demanded, "Excuse me but I would like to know your credentials for speaking about this subject."

Why on earth do you even need credentials to talk about something you experience in your very life? 

Oh but you see, this guy was a doctor. He dealt with mental health patients all the time. And he blustered at O.M.Grey for a while, indignant that someone would carelessly talk about mental health in public without proper study of the subject. 

"You have no idea what kinds of buttons you're pushing," he angrily told O.M.Grey, as if she had no conception of mental illness despite having spent the last hour talking about her experiences with mental illness.

Basically, he used his size, his seniority and his speshul doctor's credentials the best he could to make her feel small and apologetic for speaking openly and frankly on the panel. The same panel on which we covered topics such as stigma and its effects on our self-esteem, how it intersects with gender and class, gaslighting and ways of dealing with it. People from the audience even spoke up to talk about their experiences with it. Everyone looks very serious. We got huge applause. Lots of people came up saying, "it wasn't what I expected, but it was amazing and I learned so much." The panel after a man approached me to tell me of his experiences at a wonderful mental hospital that took great, delicate, practical care of him and taught him how to function again, the panel after which some of us went to the bar, talked about issues surrounding mental illness some more. We damned well pushed a lot of buttons that day, and we got people thinking and talking.

Somehow, we're supposed to feel bad about this, because we don't have the appropriate credentials for it. 

As O.M. Grey told us this anecdote, JoSelle and I were galled. Not particularly surprised, but galled anyway, because how dare someone demand paper credentials to talk about something we personally experience as significant parts of our lives? What makes the book-learning and hospital-experience trump our daily dealing with chronic mental illness? And why is this attitude so common, especially regarding mental illness? Because crazy people are damn easy to dismiss, that's why. 


  1. Dude was probably pissed-off that the panel speakers were not only discussing *his* turf, but were bringing up issues/perspectives that he might never have contemplated on his own. And they were rightfully treated with the respect they deserve for being brave and honest. All too often the people who most NEED to listen are the ones who won't admit this.

    And, don't ya know, people with penises and grey hair know everything about everything!!! Or want to think this at least. :-(

    I made a *serious* dent in the smugness of one such idiot a few years ago when, after multiple attempts to put me in my place, he told me "you are cuckoo!" I screamed (because I was really, really angry at this point) "HELL YES, I'm cuckoo, so DON'T MESS WITH ME!" Not the response Mr. Arrogant was expecting. In the past 3-4 years I've heard other women mention this jack-ass and how he put them down and they are always very happy to hear that someone finally put him in his place.

  2. This sounds like a great panel. And yeah, the backlash some Experts have when the objects of their benignant domination actually speak up . . . damn. Last year at the Society for Disability Studies a Professor talking about autism was asked by a bunch of autistic folks whether she'd actually read the work of any autistic people, and it made her feel Oppressed.

    1. I think I heard about that! Poor thing, cry moar.

      It was a pretty great panel indeed... I'm very honoured to have had both JoSelle and Olivia on it with me.