Saturday, July 12, 2008

modified in the guts of the living


Thomas Disch killed himself July 4. Reportedly, he'd been suffering from health issues, depression, the death of his partner of thirty years, financial straits because of the cost of his partner's final illness, and a threatened eviction from his apartment (because the lease had been in his partner's name). I have read a very odd selection of his work, not the novels or the short fiction or even the poetry, but The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars, and a peculiar and delightful fable called "The Happy Turnip," which no one else seems to remember, but which I would snatch up in an instant if someone put it out as a children's book. I have several of his novels, and have been planning to read them; I have been planning to read them, and sometimes I would pick them up and look at them and put them down again.

Because I found his LJ, you see. I found his LJ, on which he published much excellent and bitter poetry and, on one of the days I happened to check, a rant against Muslims. I decided I didn't need to read his books just then.

I decided I didn't need to read his books just then, or his LJ at all; but I didn't respond to his posts, either in his LJ or mine, and I didn't decide I'd never read his books. I still haven't made that decision. I still haven't sold them.


Maybe Disch would have killed himself anyway, but he shouldn't have had to worry about eviction in the meantime. It is unjust. It is laughable, almost, in New York City, the city with the most tenant-favorable rent laws in the entire country; laughable, with the kind of laughter that hurts.

Heterosexism: if Disch had been married to his partner, if Disch had been able to marry his partner, he would have automatically inherited all his property, including his lease. This is why marriage equality is so important.

Classism and capitalism: Regardless of marriage, regardless of income, no one should have to beggar themselves to provide medical care for themselves and their loved ones. This should be treated as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the middle class, the propertied, those employed by large corporations. No one should have to fear losing their home. This is why marriage equality is not enough.


I've loved so many things that hurt me: so many books, so many TV shows, so many stories. So many things that tell me women don't count or brown people aren't human or Jews are disgusting. I love them still. I take what I can and leave the rest, or I try to; the hurt is hard to leave behind. But I do get how reasonable people can hate what William Sanders said and still support the magazine he edits, why people of conscience were still considering submitting new work to Helix yesterday, why I'm still reading John Milton and Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats, not to mention watching rather less transcendental TV shows about ghost hunting brothers, not to mention keeping Thomas Disch on my bookshelves and planning to read his work sometime.

But. But. I am so tired, people. I am so tired of the hatefulness, the racism and sexism. I am so tired of looking in the Asimov's forums being a slap in the face because all the decent people in there can't drown out the racism and sexism spewed by S.F. Murphy and David Truesdale. I'm tired of having to forebear it.

Look, I understand why people have published with Helix in the past, especially people who were unaware of Sanders' history. But if you know and you continue to publish there, then you're continuing to support Sanders' racism. I really can't separate the personal from the political support aspects of this--I'm not sure I should, but it's an irrelevant question, because I can't. Sanders didn't separate the personal and the professional. He sent out a piece of professional correspondence with a racial/religious slur in it. Even ignoring the implications of his comments on the types of fiction he'd be willing to buy, what this says is that he expects people to accept and support his racism/religious bigotry during professional interactions. What this says to me is that supporting his business transactions is supporting his behavior as acceptable professional behavior in the sf/f field.

I won't do that. And, to be honest, I don't think other people should, either.

And also -- and this is a lot scarier to write, because it is a much bigger bridge to burn -- I do not think people of conscience should be supporting The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as long as Dave Truesdale's columns continue to be published there, either by buying the magazine or submitting stories to it. It would be another thing if he were publishing fiction or even if he were publishing nonfiction unrelated to his sexist and racist behavior on the Asimov's forums. But he's not. The same venom and prejudice displayed in his attacks on K. Tempest Bradford are displayed in his columns about science fiction, both as a literature and as a community, and clearly and demonstrably affect his reviews of books and short fiction.

[ETA 7/12 11:55pm: After I posted this on my blog, Gordon Van Gelder informed me that David Truesdale has one more column to write before the end of his contract. It doesn't sound like the contract is going to be renewed. This makes boycotting F&SF for Truesdale's presence irrelevant, although the general issues for sf/f described by N.K. Jemisin, among others, are still pressing.

I'm wondering if it makes sense to request that genre editors in general shift to identity-masked submissions, at least for slush; it's customary for scientific papers, and I think editors at Strange Horizons have said it's their standard practice. {eta to eta: I've been corrected on both points; Strange Horizons doesn't do anonymous submission sorting, and the practice is not universal among science journals.} I don't think it will be as simple for fiction as it is for orchestra auditions, since gender and racial bias affect the judgment of content as well as technique; but it might be a place to start.]


I'm afraid to post this, honestly. I'm afraid people I respect will think I'm being rigid and inhumane for suggesting a boycott; I'm afraid people I respect will think I'm inethical and uncaring--that friends will think I'm not giving enough weight to their oppressions--for not feeling able to support a boycott for all cases of bigotry.

I don't think it's an easy call, or a simple call. I'm not planning to shun people who disagree with me on this, or argue against them or their work. But I am asking them, publicly and plainly, to reconsider what they're doing and whether their actions are contributing to the kind of community and literature they want sf/f to be.


Josh said...

Brave decision/declaration, Micole. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Micole, for your courageous post. Not having heard about the Sanders outrage, I checked out the links in your post and was appalled at the way Truesdale and his ilk conduct themselves in a public forum. It is interesting to see the naked and ugly face of racism and sexism --- one is much more used to seeing it in subtler forms. To me it shows that for all the rightly celebrated achievements of the American spec fic field in terms of both writing and culture since the 70's, there's still a long way to go. My personal experience of the field has been both wonderful (thanks to some really special people) and alienating, the latter being why I only go to one or two cons a year.

But all this is also a reminder to me why publishers like Aqueduct are so valuable, both in their support of diverse and interesting voices that may otherwise be lost in the wilderness, and in their creation of communities like this one.


Cat Rambo said...

Thank you, Micole.

Micole said...

Thanks for the support. I'm sorry I didn't include more background info; it'd been all over LJ and other portions of the sf blogosphere for a day or two, which in Internet time feels like an eon of global coverage.

Speaking to Vandana's point: I'm a little worried that the overt bigotry of Truesdale and Sanders obscures the severity of the problem elsewhere; it's very easy (especially, I think, for white male sf readers/writers) to dismiss them as extreme and crazy and still remain unconvinced of the effects of racism and sexism elsewhere in the field. In the post of hers I linked, N.K. Jemisin speaks of the difficulty of introducting a young student of hers to science fiction.

Josh said...

William Sanders update. Guy's got problems.

Ashok K. Banker said...

Let’s talk about the Invisible Big Brown Bear in the Editorial Conference Room…