August 4th, 2012


Readercon and me

This is the full text of what I wrote to the Readercon concom today. It's a long story, and one which many people who know me closely have heard the vague outlines of, but which I have not told to anyone in detail. Even the person who figures largely in the second piece of the story, the friend who helped encourage me back into fandom in the late nineties, doesn't know the details of the first part; only the outline. The details are here. They are here because I felt it was important for the concom to know it; and because I am learning many things lately about coming out of the shadows; about not allowing the predators who attack me to control the truth I speak. The header to the email was, "An outsider's inside story."

To the Readercon concom,

I've been following the story of what happened at this year's Readercon, involving Rene Walling, Genevieve Valentine, and the Board's decision regarding discipline of Mr. Walling. I understand that the concom is in the process of deciding what to do in the wake of the outcry which followed the Board's decision. I understand and sympathize with the difficult position the concom is in here, and it's not my intention to try to pressure a decision of any kind. Because I wasn't able to attend this year's Readercon, I don't feel I have a right to do that. Rather, I want to tell you a story which may be relevant in deciding for yourselves what you want to do, and realizing what implications that decision may have in the long term.

In 1986, I was a sixteen-year-old girl. I'd been involved in SF conventions since the age of 13, and even though I was a shy child and a little nervous of the exuberant culture, I loved it. I had a lot of somewhat older friends in fandom, or people I considered friends; and I loved the excitement of conventions even while remaining a bit of a quiet observer there.

Then there was one particular convention. Not Readercon, as it happens -- I was from New York and I'd never heard of Readercon yet. This was a Lunacon -- Lunacon 1986. There was a man there whose name I will not reveal, except to say that I've heard nothing of him in twenty years, and have no idea whether he is still involved in fandom, but have no reason to believe he has anything to do with Readercon or this incident. He was in his thirties in 1986. He was well-known, he was popular. He had a certain cachet of sympathy because he claimed (I do not know whether it was true) to be fighting cancer. And he decided that he was interested in me.

I was completely panicked. I tried to avoid him and he stalked me throughout the convention, following me from room to room, calling in favors from friends to switch seats with him to be next to me. Eventually, my fear and anger overcame my shyness and I told him directly that I wasn't interested in him and I wanted him to leave me alone. He smiled broadly and told me that of course he would. Then he left the room, winking at me from the doorway as he left. I thought the wink was merely his exuberant personality, or at worst a sign of one-upmanship, his pride not letting him leave without a last sign that he was in control after all.

Late that night, I left the open filking and went up to my room. I was alone and expected no harm; my roommates would be at the filk till dawn. I found him in the otherwise-deserted hallway outside my room, and the elevator door closed behind me before I could turn around and go back into it. In several long strides, he bounded down the hall to where I was and seized my arm.

"What's wrong with you?" he demanded. "I only want to talk to you."

"I told you I didn't want to talk to you. Leave me alone."

"Don't talk to me like that. You know I like you. There's nothing wrong with a man liking you, little girl, and you'd better get used to it!" His anger was starting to show, now.

I didn't keep trying to argue. I tried to wrench away. He grabbed me tighter and forced a wet kiss on me, and sheer rage (combined with some gymnastic talent) let me yank myself free and run down the hall to my room. My hand shook as I put the key in the door and I barely got it open by the time he got there. He jammed his foot in it, trying to force it open and yelling through it that he was out of patience with me and I'd fucking well better get onto the goddamned bed with my legs open because he was sick of waiting.

I reached one skinny leg through the door and stomped on his foot as hard as I could. He howled and pulled it back reflexively. I slammed the door and it automatically locked, as hotel room doors do. I fastened every additional lock that door had and then I fell to the ground, sobbing hysterically. I don't know when he left. I didn't hear anything except my own tears.

The next day, shaken and terrified, I sought out my friends. They were mostly adults in their early twenties and I counted on their protection. I was stunned at what I received instead. There were a few who thought that he'd been obnoxious in his pursuit; one who even said she'd tell him to back off. But the general consensus was expressed by the leader of the pack, who drew herself up coldly and informed me that his behavior had been exclusively my fault. Why? "You shouldn't have said 'no' without a good reason.'

At the time, I was too young and startled to say what I should have, which was, "'I DON'T WANT TO' *is* a good reason!" I simply made my way back to my room, gathered my things, and left the convention early. I didn't return to fandom for twelve years.

Fast-forward to 1999. I'm a grown woman now, 29 years old, and more confident in handling myself. My good friend Josh, a decent man who's also active in SF fandom and not at all like the people I knew when I was an adolescent, starts trying to lure me back into fandom. Josh persuaded me that Readercon was a "safe" SF con. Serious, focused on the written word, and with a deep commitment to making sure that people are safe there and that the "party atmosphere" doesn't get out of hand and hurt people, he said. I agreed, fear making me nearly sick to my stomach, to go.

The con, bless it, was as uneventful as advertised. I stuck to Josh like glue. He promised me he'd keep me safe, and was as good as his word. For the next five years, as I slowly eased my way back into fandom, I refused to go to a convention without a male escort who was committed to sticking close to me and protecting me. Eventually, I found my niche at filk-only cons, which are small enough that I know so high a percentage of the attendees as to feel confident that at any given time, if I scream for help, there will be *someone* within reach who cares enough about me to help me. I do attend a few gencons, but for those, I still ask a friend to stay close to me. I don't trust the environment, and I probably never will.

I want you to think about several things from my story as you make up your mind what to do about the incident which happened at Readercon this year. I want you to think how long the pain and the terror lasts in a woman who's faced the kind of treatment from a man which makes her fear for her safety. I'm 42 years old now, and shaking as I type this. I will probably never feel entirely comfortable at a con again. I want you to think about the way it might have gone if my friends, the people whom I deeply believed would help me and protect me, had chosen to fulfill that obligation instead of supporting my assailant and betraying my trust. Would it have made things easier to cope with? I think so. I would still have been upset and frightened and sick, but I would only have mistrusted one man, not the whole culture which I had previously felt was mine.

But most of all, I want you to think about the reputation that Readercon had in 1999. The reputation of being the convention at which a traumatized young woman could feel safe -- so safe that it made the ideal place to test the waters, the place where she could regain her courage before going on to find, in a renewed acquaintance, the best of fandom instead of its worst.

Do you think it will be considered so ten years from now? That depends on what you do.

Thank you,

Naomi Rivkis

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