Short version: I liked it!
( details under a cut to spare the uninterested )
( and one brief vague-but-technically-spoilery comment on the end of the season )
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On Friday, WisCon posted a statement that read in part:
The WisCon committee has completed our harassment review process with regard to Jim Frenkel, who engaged in two reported violations of WisCon’s general and harassment policies at WisCon 37, in 2013 … WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.
Natalie Luhrs has posted a roundup of some reactions. There’s a great deal of anger and frustration over poor communications, procedural failures, and more. I’m still reading, but my initial reaction is that the whole thing has been a mess that went rolling down a hill of mistakes, snowballing into a giant boulder of crap.
I’m still catching up on the conversation, and a lot of people have weighed in more thoughtfully and eloquently than I could. (See Natalie’s roundup for links.) One thing I wanted to talk about, however, was the “provisional” aspect of WisCon’s statement. Because my initial gut-level reaction was that it seemed reasonable to allow for the possibility of growth and change.
A little while back, I responded to an article titled, “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not to Rape.” The thing is, rapists can learn not to rape. People can and do change, especially when they’re confronted with consequences and forced to look at their own actions.
I’ve worked with college students, mostly men, in an early intervention program where we tried to help people recognize and change their own aggressive, boundary-crossing, harassing behaviors. I’ve sat in on batterer’s groups. I’ve spoken with pedophiles after their release from jail. My wife has designed and run domestic violence groups. My father spent much of his life working with juvenile offenders who had committed assault, robbery, rape, and more.
People can change. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Our behavior changes throughout our lifetime. We learn new habits, new values, and new choices. I’ve said and done things in the past that I wouldn’t dream of doing today, because I’ve learned better. We all have.
Does that mean all rapists and harassers will come to see the error of their ways if we only give them another chance? Of course not. Some people go right back to the same pattern of hostile behavior. But others can and do come to recognize the harm they’ve done to others, and find a new path.
I believe very strongly that there should be consequences for our actions. But I also believe in education and rehabilitation.
I don’t know if Jim Frenkel will ever truly accept responsibility for what he’s done, or if he’ll change a pattern of harassing behavior that goes back decades. He seemed genuinely remorseful when he spoke to me about this several years ago, but his behaviors didn’t change.
I hope this time is different. I hope the consequences of his loss of employment and being banned from his local convention force him to confront his choices, and that he comes out a better man.
The problem is when we choose to make his growth and change more important than the safety and security of his victims and potential victims.
When you’ve wronged someone and they throw you out of their life, you don’t get to force your way back in to prove that you’ve changed. You don’t get to violate their boundaries because you want to apologize. If the wronged party chooses to forgive and to allow you back into their lives, that’s one thing. If they choose not to, then you need to accept that loss as a consequence of your actions.
WisCon banned a known serial harasser on a relatively short-term “provisional” basis. While I share the same philosophical hope and belief for change, they’ve taken the choice away from his victims.
WisCon is not a judicial body. They are not a rehabilitation program. In my opinion, they are not qualified to judge the sincerity of serial harassers, many of whom have spent years or decades learning to hide their behavior behind the mask of the “nice guy.” Their job is to investigate complaints, and when those complaints are found to be valid, to take steps to protect their membership.
Protection for Frenkel came in the form of WisCon’s investigation process. I believe every complaint should be investigated and decided based on evidence and testimony. In this case, there have been multiple people reporting incidents, with multiple witnesses backing them up. According to the WisCon Harassment Policy, Frenkel also has the right to appeal the decision. Again, I think that’s reasonable.
But throughout this process, despite what I believe to be the best of intentions in a difficult and ugly situation, WisCon has failed to protect its members.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
There in the dim light of the candles, he was settled atop the stairway banister, hunched in on himself, his eyes bright and fevered. She remembered, unwillingly, disbelievingly, what Prasit - Prasit, the were-betta, the ancient enemy of Egberd's clan, had told her:
"Beware the midnight screeching," he had said.
"It's super annoying."
Being chronically ill is like having a part-time job you hate but can’t quit. It’s a constant suck on your resources that healthy folks don’t understand – overseeing the never-ending battle between your insurance and the pharmacy and the doctor who forgot to call in your fucking scrip again, finding a physician who actually listens when you tell her there’s something wrong, a rocky employment record because on any given day you might collapse.
Dating while being chronically ill? Even harder.
It takes a special kind of partner who’s going to be okay when you’re too sick to go to that fun party, to drive you to the doctor’s office six times a month because the medications make it dangerous for you to take the wheel, to deal with the fact that sometimes you’d like want to do the kinky-kinky but dammit your legs just aren’t up to that today.
So a lot of sick and/or handicapped people are also terribly lonely. You have to find a partner who fits the craggy edge of this life you didn’t choose, and hunting down someone that generous is difficult at best.
If you’re dating someone who is sick like that, and are sticking by their side when the “in sickness” part consistently outweighs the “health,” let me offer you a personal word of thanks: you’re on the side of the angels, here. Your empathy is an inspiration.
Make sure to take care of yourself, too.
See, the reason I say this is because sick people can be jerks, too. It’s not like the doctor comes along and says, “You’ve contracted a case of lupus and also, sainthood.”
Sick people are, well, people. And some folks who get sick were abusers before they got ill.
And in the very rare circumstances when a chronically ill person is an abuser, they can do a lot of damage. The guilt-hammers they can drop are devastating, because yes, they’re dependent, and yes, they’re often needing other people to help them along…
…but most chronically ill people don’t use that as a way to shape your life to their convenience.
I say this because I’ve watched some friends who stayed with someone ill, a person who was actively corroding their self-esteem and taking advantage of them – and yet didn’t feel right about leaving this clearly toxic environment because “S/he needs me.”
So they stayed while their partner cheated on them, and spent their money, and dispensed their affection in carefully-calculated slot-machine doses of “neglect today, insult tomorrow, but maybe a sweet word this weekend.”
But they couldn’t leave, because that would make them a bad person.
So let’s be clear here: There’s no reason to endure constant abuse. Ever. You’re not a bad person for leaving someone who treats you badly. Even very sick people don’t get a “get out of responsibility free” card which enables them to treat you like shit all the time.
…which is not to say that the chronically ill won’t snap at you, from time to time. I think of my Uncle Tommy, a hemophiliac with such terrible arthritis that if you listened to his shoulder you could hear the bones rubbing against each other like stale crackers – and while I loved him dearly, he was not always a ball of fun. He had really angry days. He had surly days. He had withdrawn days.
The difference was, he didn’t justify his angry and surly and withdrawn days by telling me they were my fault. He had them, but never blamed me for them or used them as an excuse to take out his frustrations on a nearby target. He apologized, when he was in a better place – and sometimes when he wasn’t. And even towards the end of his life when he was in constant pain, he still devoted what limited resources he could towards worrying about my well-being, making sure I took care of myself, squeezing my hand to let me know that he loved me.
My Uncle Tommy, in the middle of all that pain, wanted me to be happy.
Sometimes, someone’s just depressed or chronically ill or handicapped, and yes, they need your support. They don’t mean to be a pain in the butt – and they’re doing their best to be functional human beings despite some soft spots.
So you should not be too eager to pull that switch. Sick people need love, too, often much more of it.
Yet some sick people chew up love and spit it out, always expecting more and not caring how they get it. (Or, more accurately, some people do this, and some of those people happen to be sick.) Some segment of the depressed and the chronically ill and the handicapped will callously treat you as though you were a medicine-and-money-and-support-dispensin
And when you hit your limit, they’ll jam hard on the “But what will happen to me if you go?” guilt button.
Yet again: It’s not wrong to leave someone who abuses your kindness. Even caretakers get to set proper boundaries. And if someone keeps violating your trust in ways that hurt you, then they’ve sent you a clear message: I don’t care about you.
In which case – sadly, tragically, and hopefully avoidably – you are not required to care for them. It’s kind if you do, of course. (And slightly different if you’re dealing in terms of end-of-life care, of course, which is brutal but at least has an end date baked into it somewhere.)
Yet if you’re consuming your own mental health in order to take care of someone who doesn’t give a crap about how you feel, then remember that your kindness is a gift. You deserve to give that kindness to someone who genuinely appreciates it on whatever limited level they can.
There’s one person you must be kind to above all others, in the long run – and that’s you.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.