Jun. 21st, 2017

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At Fourth Street Fantasy Convention, this year, Steven Brust, from the dias, delivered a speech about safety and free speech that made me so angry I had to leave the room. Since then, various people have talked about the issues of safety, harassment, and free speech, often as a response to that situation, but sometimes as a continuation of other conversations. I have some very specific issues with the things Steven said, but I don't want to write about them at this moment. Instead, I want to address something that comes up over and over in these conversations, and always from men. "What are the rules?" "How can I know how to behave if you won't clarify what you want?"

Dear men, please do not ask me to provide to you something that I have never had. I cannot provide you the rules. I do not know what they are, and I never have.

I have spent my entire life, my personal, professional, educational, social, and romantic life, navigating the complexities of human interaction without rules. There has never been a point at which my exact decibel level was approved, the exact number of square inches of skin I can expose has been acceptable, a precise hairstyle I could wear that would clearly communicate who and what I was. I have spent my entire life being judged by a set of shifting rules. I have spent my entire life being lied to about what those rules were. If I talk too softly, no one listens, but if I speak more loudly, I am bitchy and dismissed. If I am clear and logical, I am mocked for inadequately mimicking maleness, but if I am emotional, I am mocked for being too feminine and not worth paying attention to. There is no level of dress that does not open me up to either being a prude or a slut.

The penalties for transgressing these ever-shifting "rules" vary. Sometimes, it's just being unpersoned. Sometimes it is getting a bad job-performance review. Sometimes, it's unwanted and uncomfortable conversations. Always, at the back of my mind, has been the knowledge that if I girl wrong at the wrong guy, I might be physically assaulted. And if that were to happen, my entire girl-ness would then be on trial. What was I wearing? What did I say? How did I say it? Was it my fault? Oh, yes, some percentage of the population will assert, it was totally my fault. Because I didn't follow a rule that, you know, doesn't actually apply all the time, isn't written down, is entirely contextual, and nobody every told me in the first place.

Rules are a luxury that I have never had. The only way rules have ever applied to me is as a stick to beat me with. They are a shifting landscape of horror. I don't know if all-male spaces have clear, comfortable rules that everybody knows and the penalties are clear. I rather doubt it, but I don't know. What I do know is that to be a woman in this culture is to be constantly moving through a space where expectations are variable, and are rigidly enforced on a whim, and can dramatically affect my life.

When we talk about harassment, safety, and safe spaces, stop asking me for rules. You never gave me any, and so I have none to give you. All I can offer you is this shifting, difficult, dangerous, ambiguous space that I live in. If you want to be an ally, if, indeed, you want to be my friend, you must learn to inhabit this uncomfortable space with me. You must accept that there aren't clear rules where you can know that you are right.

You get upset that I am enraged over how you say something rather than engaging with what you "actually" said. You are ignoring the fact that I have spent my entire fucking life trying to divine what is really meant by so-called innocent words. I have never been able to take at face value a compliment, an invite to drinks after work, a comment about my clothing, an inquiry into my health. I have spent my entire life carefully navigating the unspoken, because the penalty for getting it wrong was my reputation, or worse. Again, always, I worry about violence. Because that is life, for me, as a woman. And you? You reveal much more than you know with your word choice, and your demand to be taken literally is a cowardly retreat from what we both know you said.

If you truly want challenging conversations where people tell you things that you have never heard, before, the very first thing you must do is shut the fuck up. You cannot hear me when you are talking. And if you truly want to have your mind blown by concepts and ideas that are new to you, you must at least make sure that the conversational space is comfortable enough for other people to tell you the truth. If the only reason you are talking is so that you can argue, you aren't listening. If you aren't listening, why should I talk? There is an issue of volume. If you and people like you are shouting the same thing over and over, then people like me, with a smaller platform and a softer voice, are drowned out. If you care about free speech, then you should care about the voices you are overwhelming. If all you care about is talking, you can do that without me.

I invite you to be with me in my discomfort, my uncertainty, my highly contingent and contextual life. I invite you to talk with me, and help me navigate these shifting sands of changing expectations. But I also suggest that you pay attention, because I have lived here my entire life, and near as I can tell, this is a landscape entirely new to you.

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lydy

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