Almost a month has passed since WisCon, but I still can’t write a review. Those four days were too full, too intense and too personal to reduce to a travelogue. I’m not ready to frame the experience in the forms and structure of an objective analysis.
That said, and to preface my point, I would summarize WisCon like this: a small convention full of big ideas. It has deep roots in the traditions of prose science-fiction fandom, but it has grown and stretched to great heights since its founding in the 70’s. The atmosphere was intimate, but every circle in the intricate overlapping Venn diagram of modern SFF/graphic novel/manga/TV/Movie fandom was well represented.
Representation was a recurring theme, in fact. Representation, inclusion, diversity, privilege & power, acceptance, alliance, breaking barriers, giving voice to the voiceless, questioning authority, and challenging the status quo. Those concepts are the shining stars of WisCon. They sparkled.
That brings me to the point I want to explore: my deep discomfort with social justice topics. (If anyone actually read this blog, I would worry about the sticky swamp I’m wading into, but most of my pageviews come from referral bots, so I think I’m covered.)
I am a bad ally. In an army of progressive warriors, I am a sniveling coward. There. I’ve said it. My experiences at WisCon reinforced this shame even while it inspired me to stretch and improve myself.
When I read essays about or listen to discussions of oppression and discrimination, I end up feeling frustrated and guilty more than anything else.The negativity arises from a deep divide between my visceral defensive reactions and my intellectual agreement. The outrage of the dispossessed and discounted is justified, and it enrages me to learn of it. Personal accounts of mistreatment and violence horrify me, and they stoke my determination to make the world a better place for everyone in it.
I don’t get a voice. I’m hardly oppressed at all. (cue audio clip from Monty Python & The Holy Grail) The burden of my ancestors’ advantages outweighs my personal history, and my cultural privilege is written all over my white skin and on my marriage certificate. I can never have the same exclusionary experiences as those who have been erased and silenced by society, so I can never truly understand. I don’t get to stand on the stage when the oppressed are speaking. I can only contribute to the cause with my support from the sidelines.
I agree with those statements, without reservation, without hesitation. It’s true. I know it. I accept it with every working cell of my forebrain.
But. Oh but.
Emotions rise from a darker, deeper, less logical part of the mind, and that part of me writhes in pain when my race, my class, my relationship choice–my very existence–is demonstrated to be the root of so many evils, when I am lumped into The Problem Population due to attributes that I cannot change.
No one is deliberately invalidating my life, my pains, my wounds. These are not personal attacks. It isn’t about me. (See the above paragraph regarding who gets to speak.) I know all this, but knowing and feeling are not the same. Damage can be inflicted without intent. Broad sweeping assaults can hit more than the expected target.
I see myself reflected in the crimes of others. The anguish and guilt I feel is as reflexive as the lurch of panic when I see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Even when I know I’m not speeding, I get that rush of fear. Even when I try my best to be inclusive–and to learn from my failures– but I end up second-guessing my every word and action, and I am paralyzed by fear of being revealed as just another bigoted, insensitive, disgusting object of loathing.
Worse: I know in my heart of hearts that however hard I try, I am doomed to fail in my efforts.
If I were to express this pain, if I were to say, “Please, am I really so bad? Are all people like me awful?” then I would be told to check my privilege, as if my slip was showing or my fly was open. I would be dismissed as a derailer. I’m not so daring, but others have been, and the responses terrify me.
It isn’t about you, defensive souls are told. Don’t take it personally. Don’t expect a cookie for being decent. It’s not your turn to speak. You are part of the power structure. When you talk about your feelings, it’s turning the discussion about us into one about you. Sit down and shut up.