November 7th, 2014

crossed heart

bullies and stifling multiculturalism

Originally published at Cassie Alexander. You can comment here or there.

Ah, here we go, another late Friday night confessional post, which likely no one will see.

Once upon a time, many moons ago, in 2002, there was a Worldcon in San Jose, prior to which I had made a terrible enemy.

A person I thought was a friend, because they acted like one, and I tend to take those sorts of things at face value, decided to unfriend me. As this was in the time before facebook, she couldn’t just unfollow or block me, heh —  so rather than telling me or just ignoring me thoroughly, she and a cadre of people went around telling everyone they knew that I was crazy and a bad writer. Did I mention she was low-level famous? Because yeah, she was, she was a famous TV writer’s assistant and everyone, I mean everyone, groveled to her. She was a big important fish in our very shallow pond.

The whole experience was shattering. I didn’t understand why she’d decided to stop being my friend, muchless why she’d decided to spread spurious lies about me to all sorts of writers I knew and didn’t know. Her friends went out of their way to approach editors to ‘warn’ them about me, and tried very hard to poison SFF’s rather inbred social well.

Luckily for me, I’d been around for awhile by then — I’d been attending cons regularly since 98, and was active on SFF.net, then the hip-SF nerd place to be. And because I knew people in person, and they knew me in person and online, most of the gossip was quickly stopped, because people would hear it and say, “Cassie? Really? Nahhhhh, that doesn’t sound like her.”

(In addition, at the time I was a shitty writer still — so it’s not like I had mss for consideration on many people’s desks, heh.)

But the whole con was like a strange test on a cruel reality show. You — contestant #1! — Try to spend four days among your peers acting with impeccable grace and manners as other people flounce away when you join group conversations! Try to ignore when people haul other people you’ve just met aside to ‘warn’ them about you before you’ve even say a word! Pretend you are made out of ice when people make a show of skipping your elevator because you are in it!

It was lovely, let me tell you.

I realized all I could do was concentrate on what I could manage — my attitude, and how I reacted to the frequent snubbing, and how often I could nervously put lip gloss on in an attempt to look professional at all times, heh. (God bless you, MAC lipglass. Never change.) And by the end of it, I managed to have a good time with my friends who knew better and who mattered — many of whom still matter in my life today.

Now, I already had an unnatural affinity for the underdog in things prior to that — but that experience pretty much sealed it, and turned me into the person I attempt to be today.

Forgive me this digression, but it ties into this: Laura Mixon’s Report on Damage Done By One Individual Under Several Names.

I’ve been aware of Requires Hate and her bullying reviews for some time. She’s taken apart friends of mine, and whatever valid points she might have made were completely lost inside her vitriol. I have met acid attack survivors. You do not get to threaten acid attacks on anyone, in any context, ever. There is no, ‘Oh, I was just joking’ with acid attacks. It is a hard line in the sand.

And I personally know what bullying in the writing community is — but what she did to other people was a step far, far beyond. Goading people into overdoses? Stalking them with a cadre of cronies and sock-puppets, always ready to attack? I cannot even begin to imagine how bad that kind of bullying would be. At least I was insulated by a prior reputation and friends. How many people did she attack that didn’t have any protection? Reading the comments at the end of that post — it turns my stomach to think on how many people she hurt, who all thought they were alone — which was precisely what Requires Hate wanted.

Apparently I was never on her radar because I was white (if you read the report you’ll understand) but she was definitely on mine. I was worried about her and people like her would come at me with pitchforks if they ever read my books — namely, Shapeshifted.

If you’ve read my books, you know I’ve gone way-way out of my way to create a universe that is multicultural — because I want it to reflect the world in which I live in and the places that I work. In addition to being tired of the normal skinny half-this, half-that PI littering urban fantasy, I was tired of the books I read being entirely full of white people — so I wrote against that as well, from Nightshifted on out.

Shapeshifted in particular though — I knew it would be a dangerous book. It’s set in a Latino community and while I may work with that patient population, and I was raised in Texas — I knew I didn’t know enough. So I spent three months of the six months I had to write it studying up on culture, Santa Muerte, girl gangs, curanderos, etc, in a desperate attempt to Get Things Right. Not only because I wanted to get them right for rightness’s sake — but because I didn’t want to be swarmed by an angry mob if I got anything wrong.

And there’s a little something wrong with that.

I knew that if I did screw up something worth mentioning, someone would tell me, and I would have to accept that I was wrong, no matter what I did. I definitely did not become a culture master in my three months of cramming. I would have to be gracious and considerate and try to do better next time out. I was totally prepared for that boom to drop — and grateful when it never did.

But it would have been way, way, way easier for me to not even to try to write another culture in the first place. Lord knows thousands of writers do it. Hundreds of thousands, more like.

I have to say it’s frustrating to make a good faith effort to try to do something right and know that even with the best of intentions it might explode on you (especially at the time when RH was at her most active) like a fumbled hand-grenade.

And there’s something sorrowful in that. Because the more examples of multiculturalism you get out there, done right, even by white people, the better things are going to be in the world. The more opportunities we’ll have to understand each other, to see one another working together for the betterment of all. I’m not saying that people who screw things up shouldn’t be told that — they should, and I would hope they’d be gracious and be given time to reflect — but that’s clearly not going to happen when they’re being threatened with acid burns simultaneously.

In writing Shapeshifted, I took a chance. Most people don’t know what it’s like to sit down and really write a book — with the power in them to actually finish one, one under contract that will see the light of day — and know that every choice they make in it could be held up for scrutiny later. It’s like trying to do a perfect run on a video game on the hardest setting.

I know I’m not a demon for trying to do something out of my comfort-zone — and neither were the multitudinous other writers that Requires Hate hunted down to mock and belittle mercilessly.

If we don’t try to change, and change better, change will never come. But I guarantee you no positive change has ever come from cruelty, bullying, intimidation, stalking, or threats of acid.