Saturday, July 6, 2013

Solidarity Link! Order of the White Feather

Some of you may know, or may not know, that about slightly over a year ago, steampunk authoress O. M. Grey was subject to harassment, followed by sexual violence, both physical and emotional. Instead of rallying to support her when she came out of the shock of it all, many people rallied around her attacker, the well-esteemed Professor Elemental, further driving her towards the fringes of the community.

In response, some members (plus her) have started the Order of the White Feather, the website which she built, to support members of the community and display solidarity by wearing a white feather.

One could say our entire community is made out of fringes, but I think this incident, as well as others, demonstrates just how entrenched most of us in the community are within the larger society; we even swallow their norms and values. Let's be honest, most of us are in for the shiny. Women still cannot escape rape culture even in steampunk. We may feel slightly safer because we can wear underwear on the outside without necessarily subjecting ourselves to objectifying repercussions and because our men for most part wrap themselves up in the costume and mannerisms of "gentlemen". 

But let's not be complacent about the fact that we are safe. Let's not pretend that we are in an alternate dimension where predators don't exist. 

At SPWF 2011, when I arrived at the Newark airport, I was tired enough that I let a creepy taxi driver (who I now recognize as not really a taxi driver, just one of those guys hanging around offering their services for income without being attached to a company) persuade me to take me to the con, and we had a decent conversation, but it was pretty clear he was hitting on me and I was just too damn tired to care. I told him about the con because I am naturally chatty and cheerful. Over the weekend, I saw him at the con, haunting the alleyways, possibly looking for me, possibly looking for lone women to chat up. 

At SPWF 2012, there was a dude checking out the con, and apparently checking out the ladies especially; he even came to one of my panels. It was clear he had no idea what he was doing, and although he was snappily dressed (maroon and black pinstripes y'all), further conversation with other women of my acquaintance showed that he'd been trawling the con hitting on women and just kind of not leaving them alone if he could help it. He tried to entrap a vendor friend into conversation with him, and because she had to tend to her stall, she couldn't just up and walk away. 

Neither of these men escalated, of course, but if you can see how outsiders to our community are trawling us and ours for prey, why not our own? People who can get away with it because they are so entrenched, and so esteemed, that we'll forgive them "indiscretions" of violence?

Do not mistake my condemnation of Professor Elemental as some sort of career jealousy or random naming because I am a self-proclaimed feminazgul. He is extremely talented (and if you ask Olivia, she'd agree) and I have heartily enjoyed his music. I've had pancakes with him while he talked about his work with disabled children and watched his eyes sparkle while he talks about hip hop. I've no doubt he is capable of great good, but that doesn't cancel out his capacity for great evil, and what he did to O.M. Grey was unconscionable. To defend him is to look at O.M. Grey's pain and say, "nope, not important." By no means is he the only one. 

Jeff Lilley, General of the Wandering Legion of Thomas Tew, has in public violently assaulted a con attendee, a young man, at TempleCon this year. A young woman has also told several people, in confidence, that he sexually assaulted her. At SPWF 2010, I remember having a conversation about his conduct at a late-night event in which he got super-drunk, and super-threatening, and even though everyone was technically in steamsona, he was obviously out of control and unsafe to be around. (He gets defensive of himself in this Steampunk Chronicle article; I have an abrasive personality, and I am memorable as a result, but when you are remembered for making people uncomfortable because they can sense you are violently dangerous, that is quite another matter.)

Note that both people are incredibly different. With the one, it was simply people noticing him hooking up before what he did to Olivia (note the escalation of "celebrity hooks up with people, slowly becomes entitled"), while with the other, it was people noticing how incredibly explosive he could be but figured his friends would keep him in check, all the while alienating various people around him.

Small things? Sure. But small instances of disrespect do escalate. 

"But Jha," I hear you cry, "it was just--"

WHATEVER! DO NOT LET IT ESCALATE. For all of you starting your own con, for all of you starting your own communities, put in place an anti-harassment policy and stick to it. Make it visible you'll be there to help people out of awful encounters

There is currently yet another discussion about sexism in SFF (seems like one crops up every few weeks these days). Pro after pro after pro  have come forward with their stories of being devalued, harassed, diminished, disrespected at conventions. Even steampunk authoresses Delilah Dawson and Cherie Priest have stories of their own about being roundly dismissed by men, though fortunately not assaulted/harassed. Women upon women are articulating their thoughts., a good and great thing, that. 

But never think that it could not happen in our community. Until we are able to consistently demonstrate that this disrespect is unacceptable and has tangible consequences, we are not safe. I've demonstrated the different kinds of abusers we have in our own community: people who are so outwardly charming that one could never suspect them of anything, people who are so outwardly violent one has to wonder why he's even allowed out, people who are alternately charming and insouciant. The first we may never be able to spot (and they are many) until he has done something, after which the only right thing to do is name him and alienate him out; the second we possibly need to simply ban from our presences or at least need to leash, because his presence signals to others in the community that disrespect of women is perfectly acceptable within certain bounds. 

We are not safe. We need to help each other be safe. We need to help each other be able to walk the hallways of cons and streets without fear. Watch out for each other, because we are not safe.

EDIT: For everyone's edification, a follow-up post has been written.


  1. While I agree with every fiber of my being that the Order of the White Feather is a very necessary movement,

    I am distressed that you are making accusations that may or may not be substantiated. .You have to give facts. Not RUMORS!

    By altering your 1st blog to remove names, you are, in my eyes admitting guilt that you did defame someone. I am not saying this person did or did not do what you claim, What I am saying is that you must have proof. Otherwise you are harming people, their businesses AND harming the movement.

    This can not be tolerated.

  2. It's my understanding that she removed his name because she didn't have the victim's permission to post it and it could have placed the victim in more danger. JHA didn't have my permission to name my assailant either, but I'm rather glad it's out there now. I thought it was incredibly brave of her, considering who he is.

    As for proof, what is the minimum amount of proof you, personally, would need to take the rumored accusation seriously?

    Secondly, since it's been altered you can't see it, but JHA didn't accuse the person in question. She said she *heard someone name him* and that she *wouldn't be surprised* because of her own dealings with him. That's not an accusation. It's saying she heard an accusation and based on her experience with him she wouldn't be surprised if it was true.

  3. Having read this, as well as your follow up climb down and retraction of accusations, may I suggest that you remove all links that you have posted here about the so-called attacker.

    You have damaged yourself and your cause, not only in the eyes of the people you were trying to impress, but also in the eyes of THE LAW.

    You have make false and extremely flammable accusations of which there are no proof. There is no proof because these things are not true. As you well know. I hope it was all worth it when your actions inevitably catch up with you. That isn't a threat, it is simply a reminder of the law when it comes to defamation of character.

    Good luck.

  4. The link to the article about Lilley seems to need a "www." inserved in order to function.
    I had wanted to work with the Wandering Legion up to this point (if ever we had found ourselves on the opposite coast that is). They are one of very few groups around that do something similar to what we do. Here's hoping they wise up and eject the General.