So this morning I was on a 10AM panel at WisCon 42, and it was called The Desire for Killable Bodies in SFF. I’d been very much looking forward to the discussion, even though we’d had little pre-panel discussion about it. It’s a topic that deeply interests me, and that I strive to think deeply about while consuming and creating narratives and characters. The panel was staffed by myself, one other panelist, and a moderator. I was familiar with Molly Aplet, our moderator, who very appropriately made the call to act also a third panelist, because there were just the three of us. Lisa Freitag, my fellow panelist, I knew from one email before the start of the convention, and from a brief conversation in the Dealer’s Room on the Saturday before the panel, when we chatted about texts to bring up. My biggest fear before the panel started was not getting to bring up all the things I wanted to talk about, or not having intelligent responses to the inevitably brilliant audience questions.
Turns out I should be more creative with my fears! As was reported live via Twitter, and then on the WisCon blog, Lisa repeatedly made statements that expressed a desire to sympathize with both individual Nazis (in this context we would be talking about, I believe, Third Reich-era Nazis), and later also individual Confederate soldiers. That this happened once was confusing, surprising, and alarming. That this happened multiple times as the panel went on was flabbergasting, frightening, and finally just damaging.
A lot of people have checked in on me since the panel, making sure I was doing okay, and I appreciate all of you so much. However, I was absolutely not the most affected by what she said, and what she brought into that room. Most saliently, I’m not Jewish. I want to apologize to everyone who was there who was justly rattled, afraid, saddened, or made to feel unsafe. While I gathered myself enough to push back ideologically while on the panel, I didn’t take the step of directly turning to Lisa and saying, in however many words, “That was a fucked up thing to say, and it’s not okay.” The person who did eventually do that was an audience member, who I won’t name here without their permission. (Panelist and moderator names are, of course, public knowledge.) The onus for directly confronting those statements should absolutely not have fallen on the audience, particularly on those most directly and historically affected by the views expressed. That was my failure, and I am extremely sorry for it. So, again, to everyone in the audience who helped to push back, I’m sorry, and thank you.
I want also to expand on something I bought up during the panel, and to make explicit a point that I was too thrown-for-a-loop to really drive home at the time. It was my understanding that Lisa was saying she felt, because her ancestors were Nazis, that she was then obligated to empathize with them. I brought up in counterpoint that my ancestors were slave owners. And I mean this in no distant, impersonal way– my father, a white man, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, a town that still sustains its economy via tourism of the plantation houses and estates where untold thousands of people were enslaved, tortured, raped, killed, their families irrevocably torn apart and traumatized. The fact that I am in part descended from people who enacted these heinous cruelties does not obligate me to empathize with my slaver ancestors. It obligates me to empathize with the people that my ancestors enslaved. That is a serious ethical obligation, and it is non-negotiable.
Thank you also to WisCon and particularly Safety, who I understand received a report shortly after the panel, and took quick and appropriate action. And, finally, if anyone who was at the panel wants to reach out to me for any reason surrounding all this, please feel very free to do so.