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Rachel Swirsky is one of the founding editors of PodCastle, served as Vice President of SFWA, and is a prolific author as well. She’s twice won the Nebula award, and has also been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, Sturgeon, and the World Fantasy Awards. Her second Nebula win was for her story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” which was also nominated for the Hugo.

Like every other award-winning story in existence, you had people who loved this story, and others who didn’t. And just like the rest of us, when faced with a story they didn’t like getting such honors, everyone calmly accepted that different people have different tastes, and looked for worthy work to nominate and support for next year.

Yeah, not so much. A small group set out to harass the hell out of the author, up to and including “jokes” about killing her.

Swirsky responded with a fundraiser, “Making Lemons into Jokes,” which has so far raised more than $700 for Lyon-Martin health services, one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the LGBTQIAA community — especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. As part of the fundraiser, she’ll be writing a new story that riffs in part on this year’s Hugo Award mess, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

I asked her to talk a bit about coping with this kind of harassment. Read on for her thoughts.

Also — and this should go without saying — if you start trolling or bullying in the comments, my web goblins will ban your ass so hard you’ll spend the next month farting through your nose.


My warm thanks to Jim for letting me come into his space to talk a bit about the fundraiser I’m doing for Lyon-Martin health services through my Patreon. We talked a bit about what subjects I might want to discuss. For Ann Leckie, I wrote about why advice to ignore the bullies misses the point. For Mary Robinette Kowal, I wrote about a few of the many threads in my life that make advocacy important.

Jim asked me to write about how to cope with harassment. That overlaps a little with what I wrote for Ann, but on her blog, I wrote about how to be part of a community that was coping, not how to be an individual who copes with being a target.

A few years ago, there were a lot of pieces circulating about how hard it could get for women online. The VOLUME of hate and harassment; the INTENSITY of it; the terrifying PERSISTENCE. It spoke not of ordinary road-rage-type flame outs, but of something with more emergent structure. Not just drivebys, but pack hounds, stalking victims.

I wrote to a woman who had published such an article. “I so admire your courage,” I told her. “I don’t think I could stand up to it. I’m a weak person.”

It’s strange, I suppose, to identify yourself as a weak person. I am, though. A long time ago, I was on a panel about apocalypses, and someone (I believe it was the keenly insightful Eileen Gunn) said that viewers and readers always identify with survivors, assuming they too would survive.

I don’t. I’d die.

That’s fine. There are zombies or there are Rachel Swirskys and the twain shall not meet, except for the bloody moment of skull-breaking and brain-scavenging. I hope the zombie comes out of it with nagging depression and Star Trek pedantism.

I could write a whole essay interrogating the concept of weakness as I’m using it, of course. But that’s not this essay. I want to talk about how I feel about myself, not culturally critique the feeling.

I am weak because I am vulnerable. It’s dangerous to admit being vulnerable. Bullies go for the vulnerable. That’s one of the things they do.

When I wrote to the woman mentioned above, to tell her that I admired her courage, she expressed concerns. In retrospect, I think she meant that it does not take unusual courage to stand up to harassment. The women who stand up to it are not superhuman. They have done and are doing a difficult thing that no one should have to do, but they undertake that labor as people, with their own strengths and stresses.

I do not need to look at that woman and think, “You are brave. I am not.”

I can look at her and think, “Courage is work you do, not who you are.”

(A complication: Some people really are less vulnerable and more buoyant than others. Often, they’re the ones who speak more, which is perfectly natural.  They do everyone a great favor by using their resources and energy to speak out. But it can feel intimidating sometimes, which is no one’s fault.)

Personally, I complain to friends a lot. I really, really like listening to the audio recording of Alexandra Erin’s John Scalzi Is Not a Very Popular Author, and I Myself Am Quite Popular. I subtweet; over time, that’s mostly become overt tweeting. I suspect specific solutions are very personal.

This I’m sure of: for me, it feels better to talk than stay silent.

If you’re vulnerable as I am, and you become a target as I have, this is the best I know to give you: You’re not alone.

Don’t count yourself out.


Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2016 12:11 am (UTC)
The zombies would get me too. But I've got your back against the trolls.
May. 27th, 2016 10:55 am (UTC)
Beautiful and thoughtful post. :-) Thanks very much to Rachel for this post, and to Jim for hosting it.

P. S. The zombies would totally scare me too.
May. 28th, 2016 01:23 pm (UTC)
“Courage is work you do, not who you are.”

Love this sentiment.
May. 30th, 2016 10:02 pm (UTC)
There is a point in my life I can remember watching an apocalypse movie and thinking for the first time : welp... I'd be dead.

HIV positive. Only movie that I'd survive is World War Z. Maybe.

I recently had a moment with a student at one of the talks I was at. She came up all excited and happy and wanting to thank me for being brave. I stopped her and said pretty much the above.

I don't live like that all the time, I save up the energy to do those talks and be that wide open and up front. Five minutes before, five minutes after? Nope. No way in hell do I have it to be like that. I save UP for that kind of moment.

Bravery it aint.

The only thing, the ONLY thing that gives me energy in some of these talks is knowing that I'm being that voice to someone somewhere. Whether they come up to you after or not, there is a moment in their life when you just being you is a revelation.

My all time favourite example was the t-shirt story. Back in the 90s I'd just come out. I was in my 20s and still hadn't settled into my own skin yet. So more often than not I met people with an outstretched hand and "Hi, I'm gay and my name is..."

One day I wore my then favourite shirt. Queer By Nature, Out By Choice. I wore it out on the street while with some friends, shopping in a part of the overall metro Vancouver area (PoCo... small city that got swallowed up by the larger metro area). And in those days I actually stopped traffic for wearing that shirt in public. There was a debate for a few minutes (twice) with my friends as to whether I should cover up or not.

Fuck it, I thought as only a newly out 20 something year old could in those days and environment. I'mma be me.

A couple of hours later I drove to a friend's drop in centre. He and his partner had started a GBLT youth group for those under 21 to drop in and be safe. As I rolled into the parking lot a kid was talking to my friend and gesturing a LOT. Clearly agitated.

As I walked over I heard him speed talking about this guy, see, who was on the streets of PoCo, see, and he was WEARING this T-SHIRT...

"It was so... so... there was someone else, like ME. There."

And he turned around and freaked out all over me. I'd completely and utterly changed his mind and views of things. Because I chose a t-shirt that day.

That's all it took. I chose a t-shirt. And wore it.

Never, ever, EVER think that the little things don't resonate somewhere with someone. They do. That little bit can be so much, even when it might take all of "it" out of us to do. Or. It might be nothing in our day that changes a person. You'll not always know.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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