This isn’t about me. This isn’t about you.
And it is about me. And it is about you. And it is about all of us.
I’m one of the people who thought Requires Hate’s reviews sometimes had a point. Her rhetoric rode the barest edge of arguably acceptable, and crossed over that line as often as not, but anger is a powerful tool. And often, a useful force for change.
I didn’t know, then, the history of her trolling, or the extent of her abusive behaviour.
Anger is a tool, but it is also a trap.
Even advocacy in good faith cannot justify abusive behaviour.
It may surprise you, but I don’t want to believe the worst of anyone. Except, maybe, at this stage Benjanun Sriduangkaew (and perhaps Nick Mamatas). It is very tempting to believe the worst. It’s easy.
I distrust easy things. But what appears from the public evidence* is that the person presently published under the name of Benjanun Sriduangkaew has engaged in trolling, abusive, damaging behaviour online under a variety of handles for a long stretch of time, and has manipulated the narrative to deflect blame and avoid taking responsibility for doing much, if not all, of that harm.
Some of that harm was done in the guise of advocating for social justice.
*Informational note: Comments at link contain language ascribing RH’s behaviour to mental illness and occasional dehumanising language, which the moderators attempt to shut down.
In some ways, life was easier before I had friends.
I consider Alex Dally MacFarlane a friend.
She has hurt people whom I respect.
These statements exist together. Both are true. I cannot reconcile them.
It is our responsibility, as human beings, to act to minimise harm.
This is one reason why social justice advocacy is difficult, because harm happens across multiple axes and is often invisible to people who aren’t affected directly. (And often, addressing those harms causes perceived loss – of status, of benefits, of self-image – to people who benefit from the existence of said harms.)
Abusive behaviour is often invisible to people who aren’t its targets.
As human beings, we ought not let abusive behaviour go unmarked and unchecked.
As human beings, we ought not let ourselves become complacent in addressing systemic abuses.
The language of social justice advocacy has been used to harm and to manipulate.
It isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. In some form, in some measure, it happens every day. Whenever advocacy fails to acknowledge and address the intersectional nature of harm and prejudice, for example; or when someone uses past behaviour as a shield for present wrongs, or holds out present behaviour as a reason to forgive past sins.
Good acts and ill ones don’t cancel each other out. It’s not a matter of addition and subtraction. The scales don’t balance that way, if they balance at all. People can learn and people can change. People do good things and bad things. People are complicated.
This does not prevent us, as human beings, from carrying on in working for more justice. Building better and more welcoming communities. Deconstructing our assumptions. Acknowledging abuses wherever they happen. Looking beyond ourselves.
Trying to be kinder, better people.
I want to add my voice to Elizabeth Bear, when she says:
What I would like is for our community to take this opportunity for positive action. I believe that the people Bee/RH has harmed should be given as much support and aid in healing as practicable. I believe that potential future victims should be warned. I believe those who may feel trapped by her should be protected. I believe those whom she has abused should be helped to connect with one another as they desire.
I believe their voices should be listened to, if and when they choose to come forward. I believe that the people who have been silenced by this campaign of bullying should be given as much space to speak as they would like.
I believe that, on an ongoing basis and pursuant to our dawning understanding as a community of the need for harassment policies and a pro-active stance against bullying, we–the established members of the science fiction and fantasy community–need to make safe spaces where people who have been bullied and harassed can come forward and find strength and solace, as well as safety.
I believe we need to respond to this series of events in our community by making more space for marginalized voices, and promoting young writers, women writers, and writers of color.
… Moreover, we owe it to our emergent writers to create a space where bullies cannot silence them, police their writing and their identity, and make them feel unsafe. I’m not just talking about the RH/Bees of the world here, but the Jim Frenkels as well.
We need those safe spaces. And we need that space for marginalised voices. And we need to build communities that refuse to participate in systemic abuses, and that do not welcome people who engage in abusive behaviour.
That’s hard work.
But we need to do it.
Acknowledge the past. Live with the present. Work for the future.