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Well, this has been quite the week.

On Wednesday, I posted an essay from Dennis Upkins titled “The Double Standards of Diversity,” as part of my guest blog series on representation in SF/F. Shortly thereafter, I began receiving comments and emails from people who were uncomfortable with Upkins’ history of violent rhetoric, particularly against women.

I haven’t made a habit of doing background checks on potential contributors. But as the complaints, links, and screenshots came out, I started looking into them. I also emailed Mr. Upkins about the concerns and asked him for his thoughts. He posted a response on his own blog yesterday.

For myself, there were several things I needed to sort out.

1. Complaints about Upkins’ tone. Some individuals were upset about the angry, aggressive tone of Upkins’ post. I’ve received similar comments on a few other posts. This isn’t a concern I’m worried about. Sometimes people get angry. Get over it. People have every right to be angry, resentful, bitter, and so on, especially when they’re dealing with systemic imbalances and prejudices.

2. Violent threats/rhetoric. Where’s the line between the tone argument and harassment/threats/abusiveness? That’s something people have been struggling with for a long time. Is a comment about visiting heterosexist women “with a lead pipe in tow” an actual threat or just blowing off steam? What about choking female slash authors with piano wire? Forcing birth control down a woman’s throat? In this case, the comments I was seeing from Upkins definitely crossed the line.

That said, while there was a pattern of this sort of comment, most of the links and screenshots were from 3-4 years ago. Upkins said he’d apologized, though I haven’t seen that link. He also said two friends pulled him aside and explained why that sort of comment was f**ked up. His New Year’s resolution of 2011 was to be more thoughtful and do better.

I think it’s important to be open to the possibility of growth and change. We all screw up sometimes. Some of us worse than others. Recognizing mistakes and trying to do better is both difficult and important.

3. Personal issues with Steve Berman. Part of Upkins’ post involved criticism of Lethe Press/Steve Berman as homophobic and bigoted, based on an interaction over a story Upkins submitted to a Civil War anthology  Berman was editing for Prime Books. I don’t know what actually happened here, and I think it’s totally valid to complain about being asked to “remove the gay” from a story. At the same time, multiple others who were involved with the same project have said what happened was more along the lines of the publisher deciding they already had several stories with gay protagonists, and didn’t want to add more. While I think that’s still worth discussing, that expectation came from the publisher–Prime Books, not Lethe Press–and Berman was simply working within the publisher’s guidelines. It also sounds like there are personal issues between Berman and Upkins that go beyond this anthology.

4. Upkins’ response to these concerns. When Upkins blogged about these things, he said, “It’s one thing to dislike someone. It’s one thing to have issues or concerns with an individual. It is more than fair to voice said concerns. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” So far, so good. But he also characterized complaints as coming from white trolls who were afraid of the Big Scary Black Man. He referred to them as losers, sociopaths, and thugs.

The people voicing their concerns and discomfort are not all white, as it turns out. Nor is it just a handful of “stalkers” following Upkins around to harass him.

I get that it’s hard when you’ve got a lot of people posting negative comments calling you out for your behavior. It’s not fun. In fact, it sucks. If people have, as he claims, stalked his blog looking for dirt on his loved ones, then yeah, those people have crossed the line. But while Upkins did seem willing to listen to his friends and change his behavior at least somewhat back in 2011, he seems unwilling to acknowledge that there could be any validity or anything worth listening to from these comments.

#

I emailed Upkins to say that while I didn’t plan to pull his guest blog post, I wasn’t comfortable including it in Invisible 2. (I had held off sending a contract to him while I tried to sort through this mess.) In response, he asked me to immediately remove his post from my site, which I’ve done.

I’m disappointed in all of this, to say the least. I still believe Upkins brought up some excellent points about double-standards, and the expectations more marginalized writers are held to compared to their less marginalized peers. However, at least part of that essay seemed motivated by personal vendetta, and others with first-hand experience with the same project contradicted Upkins’ account. To my mind, that–combined with a tendency toward derogatory dismissal of criticism–significantly weakens the essay as a whole.

I’m sure I’ve made mistakes in my handling of all this. I’m still working to figure out where those mistakes were, and how to best avoid them in the future. I apologize to everyone who got hurt with all of this, including both Mr. Upkins and Mr. Berman.

I do have one more guest post coming, after which I’ll turn to putting Invisible 2 together, hopefully for a mid-May release. In the meantime, however, I think I’m gonna walk away from the internet for a little while and go play some Mario Kart.

My thanks to everyone for their patience while I worked through this.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
deborahblakehps
Apr. 4th, 2015 04:16 pm (UTC)
I don't think you have anything to apologize for. You are doing your best to create a space for open dialogue on a difficult subject. Not your fault that someone abused your hospitality.

*hands you a cookie* (Girl Scout Thin Mint, in case you were wondering.)
reedrover
Apr. 4th, 2015 05:24 pm (UTC)
This kind of thoughtful presentation of the facts as you see them is one of the reasons why I follow your blog. You acknowledge all sides as you know them, and all hurts as you hear them. Your actions are clearly presented, and your motivations examined. I think you have given Mr. Upkins a fair chance at presentation and at explanation. I don't know anything about him besides his post here, and so am inclined to acknowledge his withdrawal of his post as a fair request. What I see from this is that you asked him about his habits of making people uncomfortable by his presence, and so he withdrew himself from your party. That is the best answer to the short term. It does not address his spectrum of presentation nor relationships with the world at large (as you've documented here), but honestly, that's not your lookout. It is Mr. Upkins' choice in how he presents himself in conversation, both here and elsewhere, and whether he learns or grows through the discourse is, in the end, his choice as well. I like to think I've learned at least a little from reading your post.

I also have to thank you for giving Mr. Berman a public voice in this conversation. I don't knew anything about him beyond his comments under (not particularly to) Mr. Upkins' post. From the back and forth, I think that you treated him with public respect/courtesy, and I think that he reciprocated with equal straightforwardness and level statements. You two may have personal conflict, and it showed, but there was no direct insults or degradation of the conversation. That was... impressive for an Internet forum.

Edited at 2015-04-04 05:33 pm (UTC)
swan_tower
Apr. 4th, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
It's really the "dismissal of criticism" angle that rubs me the wrong way, personally. I'm glad I read his essay, because as you say, it brought up good points -- but the surrounding context does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I'd also love a clarification about the Prime Books/gay characters thing. As it's currently phrased here, it comes across as a blanket policy of the publisher that gay protagonists are allowed, which I sincerely hope isn't the case. If it is . . . that would be newsworthy.
mroctober
Apr. 4th, 2015 06:11 pm (UTC)
Prime
Prime was excellent to deal with and encouraged me as an editor. Every book I published with Prime had gay stories in them (and I think, stories from POC).
swan_tower
Apr. 4th, 2015 07:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Prime
I was going to be very surprised if they did have a requirement like that -- especially since I'm a couple of pages into Elizabeth Bear's One-Eyed Jack, and my impression so far is that the protagonist there is gay.

Jim linked to your conversation on the other post, which has clarified a lot.
jimhines
Apr. 4th, 2015 06:17 pm (UTC)
Did you see Steve's comment here?

My sense from what I'm reading is that it's not a blanket policy against gay protagonists, but a marketing choice about what "balance" was right for the audience they were aiming for.

And Steve replied to you while I was writing this, so I'm gonna go read that now.
swan_tower
Apr. 4th, 2015 06:59 pm (UTC)
I didn't see that, no -- I had (wrongly) assumed that you hadn't just removed the text of the post, but the post itself, so I didn't go back to look at the conversation.

Having read it: that sounds much more reasonable. Still a little iffy, simply because "we've got enough queer stories for this anthology already; we need more het stories" isn't quite on par with "we've got enough stories about vampire detectives; we need more stories about other kinds of detectives" -- but I can see what's going on there, and trying to get the right balance of content for an anthology isn't the same thing as "we can't have gay in this book, because it might drive our readers away."

Might I suggest rephrasing what you've said in the post above? The combination of "remove the gay" and "that requirement came from the publisher–Prime Books" makes it sound like Prime had a no-gay requirement, which casts them in a very bad light.
jimhines
Apr. 4th, 2015 07:08 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean. Just tweaked that section. Does this rephrasing work better?
swan_tower
Apr. 4th, 2015 07:11 pm (UTC)
That fits better with how I understand it now, yeah. Which is all I can really judge it against, since I wasn't involved with the anthology and can't speak to what exactly went down there.

Thanks!
green_knight
Apr. 5th, 2015 11:56 am (UTC)
what "balance" was right for the audience they were aiming for

That's a conversation worth having, I feel, because it's fucked up in so many directions from where I'm sitting. (I don't feel I have all that much in common with people who are nominally in my demographic, and I certainly don't want to read about them to the exclusion of people whose experience differs).



ethelmay
Apr. 4th, 2015 07:51 pm (UTC)
gay protagonists are allowed, which I sincerely hope isn't the case.

Speaking of hoping things aren't the case, I'm quite sure you meant AREN'T allowed. :-)
swan_tower
Apr. 4th, 2015 07:54 pm (UTC)
<headdesk>

I usually proofread my comments! What a dreadful time for me to slip up.

Sadly, I can't edit the text after someone replies to it. (Jim, if you can fix that, please do.)
ethelmay
Apr. 4th, 2015 08:10 pm (UTC)
No worries! It was a minor slip such as everyone has, and very clear what you meant.
filkferengi
Apr. 11th, 2015 01:15 am (UTC)
Dear Jim,

Thank you for starting and sustaining some much-needed conversations. It's tricky to do well, but you handled it with honesty and with as much grace as anyone could.

You rock!
cissa
Apr. 12th, 2015 03:45 am (UTC)
I appreciate your thoughtfulness in such situations.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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