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WisCon Report Rebuttal
The tl;dr version seems to be that 1) I did nothing wrong with respect to the complaints being investigated; but 2) I should be punished anyway. To which my response is 3) this is both unethical and batshit crazy.
I consider this report to be in the true spirit of Requires Hate, about whom it was said “Every time she viciously insulted an author or a fellow community member, she framed it as bravely speaking out against racism and other injustices” and that she “plays the game of projecting interpretations onto things people say and then denouncing them” (comments from “A Report on Damage Done by One Individual”, November 6, 2014)—and macro-aggressive, and will treat it as such.
This report clearly states that the committee either found me innocent of the charges against me or was unable to prove that I intended any harm; therefore, it has no grounds upon which to penalize me in any way. The fact that the decision-making process dragged on and on until it was too late (I have subsequently discovered from the WisCon website that the deadline was extended from March 22 to March 29; while I received two e-mail reminders of the March 22 deadline, I never received any notice of the extension) for me to sign up for panels this year is not lost upon me, and I consider that a deliberate—and unjust—surreptitiously administered additional penalty. It seems that, faute de mieux, given the specifics of the added criticism, I am being penalized for allegations that have nothing to do with WisCon, which I was not given the opportunity to refute, as I understood that I was being investigated specifically for reading my poem at the Moment of Change open mike. Like many WisCon attendees, I am passionate about many things—“caustic” seems an exercise in Shavian declension—and I challenge the committee to give specific examples with respect to WisCon.
Some of us are grammarians by nature, and some aren't. Some folks appreciate this and some don't. I owe my three main freelance positions and a number of other short-term jobs to having volunteered to proofread for periodicals, including Star*Line, and subsequently being highly recommended. It should be obvious that nothing in my statements about editing was directed toward any poet, editor or publisher in particular; indeed, I was careful not to do so. A quick glance through the poems I have published in Star*Line (which I am willing to make available) and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change should demonstrate that I am perfectly familiar with the concept of deliberate stylistic variations in poetic language; this is so obvious a concept in poetics that I didn't feel that it was necessary to mention it. For those interested, Sam's Dot, now defunct, which as non-immigrant and non-ESL (to the best of my knowledge) has no excuse, towered above all others in spec po publishing in terms of editing errors and generally horrible production. I did not name them at the time because so many poets I knew personally had published books with Sam's Dot that it was too late to fix. As I stated in my earlier reply to the committee's questions, I have a lengthy, pre-Rose history of complaining about the abysmal editorial standards in the SF community.
Of course this isn't a court of law, and conventions of justice and fair play obviously don't apply, but I am indignant that the committee would introduce unattributed allegations with no details that would allow me to refute them. I did not “derail” Shira Lipkin's panel, and would be happy to discuss what occurred there in much further detail; and the statement that “Bergmann does change her tone slightly for more well-known authors” is a sly aspersion that I completely deny; I would be interested to know to whom it refers—I doubt that the committee or my accusers are sufficiently knowledgeable about my circles of acquaintance or professional interaction. Finally, to even mention that I am supposedly going to be investigated for another incident of which I have no knowledge, without giving any particulars that would enable me to disprove it, is exceptionally shabby behavior.
The committee has unaccountably omitted from their report one of the most important reasons (certainly not limited to “only Bergmann's word”) why I read that particular poem at the Moment of Change reading—unaccountably omitted in its report, despite having the e-mail in question in their possession: that Sonya Taaffe, the editor at SH who rejected the poem immediately before the 2012 WisCon, specifically recommended that I submit it to Stone Telling, Rose’s speculative poetry journal (as well as Mythic Delirium and Goblin Fruit). Sonya Taaffe has been frequently published by all three publications and has been published by them in turn, and is widely praised for the cultural richness of her poetry—presumably she is aware of Rose's editorial tastes and background, as she has apparently interacted with her extensively. At the time, I respected Sonya Taaffe’s judgement as a poet and an editor and valued her recommendation as to where to submit my poem—it is ironic that I thought, in view of her suggestion, that Rose might like it. Despite her subsequent unethical behavior, I doubt that Sonya deliberately set me up—there are limits to my paranoia—therefore I believe that she found no “micro-agression” in my poem when she made those recommendations. To claim to find these qualities only after one’s clique has taken a stance is stunningly dishonest. As is the committee, to omit such a strong piece of evidence supporting my statement that I did not read the poem to harass Rose.
The Toast is a highly regarded feminist, social-activist and literary venue. Does the committee really believe that the editor there who accepted my poem and another editor who subsequently requested it as a reprint for Enchanting Verses were indulging in “micro-aggression”? Many, many people have told me how much they enjoyed the poem; people who are progressive, socially aware, and knowledgeable about poetry. And they have done so subsequent to its publication, with full knowledge of the accusations against me.
This reinforces my feeling that perception of “micro-agressive” anti-immigrant or anti-Russian content in my poem is solely dependent on personal hostility toward me and/or anal-retentive nit-picking at the nano level. I not only intended no harm, I intended the opposite of harm. It is unconscionable that the committee is brushing away the damage I’ve experienced as the result of misinterpretation of my poem and my subsequent, widespread demonization.
It seems to me that the subtext here is that anyone who makes social-issues accusations automatically gets respect and credibility and is instantly and permanently empowered by this community, regardless of actual circumstances or lack of evidence, and that any harm done by the accusations is of absolutely no consequence, or even justified, simply because it is assumed from the get-go that any accusations must necessarily be true. I cannot begin to express the level of my dismay, here: the committee is saying that a) I was not guilty of these charges, and b) I deserved what I got, plus additional penalties? What is going on?
Rose and her cohorts were determined to continue viewing the poem “Green Reich” as an “odious” poem despite the fact that, as in my case, the poem was provably, unequivocally not written about Rose, as she claimed. In order to continue her victimhood status with respect to the poem, the discussion is simply kept in venues where no one is willing to question such assertions. Nor has she ever apologized publicly to its author or the then-editor of Star*Line for the barrage of hate that her ridiculous accusation put them through. I’m certainly not holding my breath in that regard.
Since my poem had nothing to do with Rose (and therefore cannot be “hurtful to Lemberg”), the idea that Rose, WisCon, or anyone else should be be given the authority to limit its publication is ludicrous—and I certainly do view attempts to do so as censorship.
Rose, it is now apparent in retrospect, has a spectacular and habitual level of grudge-holding that it never occurred to me to expect. I have already indicated to Rose in the plainest possible terms that I meant her no harm. I repeatedly offered to prove—as I have done to the committee—that the poem could not possibly have been about her, as she claimed. (She and her cohorts have been very careful to not take me up on that.) I have offered to meet with her to try and resolve our differences. I am not willing to apologize for an offense that I did not commit—I consider that the equivalent of apologizing for making the voice of Satan come out of someone's dental fillings. Regardless of what her supporters may think, Rose does not own poetry about birds.
Moreover, procedures like this give Rose, ADM, or anyone else acting from urges that span from narcissistic paranoia to self-serving malice the power to disrupt another person’s life for years, socially and professionally, solely on the basis of idiosyncratic interpretations of creative work. Do you all really feel that you are above such accusations? That others in your coterie won’t turn on you the moment it becomes advantageous to represent you as an enemy? I'm experiencing a horrified fascination that you are ready and willing to carry on Require's Hate's ostensible—and deplorable—mission.
The committee and those accusing me seem to be going out of their way to frame the most uncharitable interpretation possible. The poem is not about immigrants (and I would like to mention—again—that both my husband and I have immigrant parents); it is about SPAM. Specifically, Russian-bride spam, its tropes, and the experiences of the sort of individual who succumbs to its lures. The money-sucking variety are as likely to be from actual Russian women as from Martian women; the predatory aspect, as shown by the man’s behavior, is exploitative and dangerous to the actual women hoping to emigrate from desperate circumstances. Baba Yaga’s role here, as in many stories about her and similar characters, is as dea ex machina. The committee seems to have no understanding of irony or humor.
The supposed anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant interpretation of the “dollar-store bra” reference is similarly preposterous: the woman is still in Russia, buying the bras available there. Not “thriftiness," but poverty: the horrendous quality of lingerie available for purchase in the former Soviet Union is legendary and was at one time widely mentioned in the media. It's possible, I suppose, to assume that the man has sent his intended the dollar-store bras, in which case the reference would be a comment on his “thriftiness.”
If we are to apply the same logical inferences (the committee stated in an earlier report that “we feel this would be out of character for her,” with respect to the idea that I read the poem “with malicious intent”) that “cleared” me with respect to the accusation that I deliberately chose the poem I read in order to harass Rose, Alex Dally MacFarlane, my chief accuser, has both colluded in and initiated on her own behalf a consistent pattern of covert behavior designed to destroy other writers. I refer you in particular to http://www.starshipreckless.com/blog/?p=9077 and various entries at http://laurajmixon.com/2014/11/pdf-record-of-a-report-with-comments/. Note that Laura Mixon specifically asked for testimonies against Alex MacFarlane to be withheld for a subsequent separate report—which I hope is yet forthcoming, although there is already enough evidence to damn her utterly. And will you be banning her from WisCon? I strongly endorse that policy.
I have been told that “Saira Ali” (a pseudonym, I understand) is also one of Requires Hate’s inner circle, and I don’t doubt, if that is the case, that she is well aware of ADM’s machinations. To the best of my knowledge, I had never interacted in any way with either of these persons, other than to submit to an anthology edited by ADM, at a time when I had no idea that this crap was going on in the background. (I have recently found it necessary to interact with Saira Ali [and Rose Lemberg, for that matter] with respect to SFPA’s Rhysling Award, on a purely organizational level.)
It is obvious that I will no longer be safe at WisCon—and I know that I speak for others. I thought I was a part of the WisCon community and sympathetic to its agenda of promoting women and their writing, but I am apparently mistaken. What I’m not part of is a dwindling, vociferous clique with axes to grind, who distort evidence to fit their ideology. And the idea that, should I attend, everything I say and do will be surveilled and interpreted in the most negative way possible is nauseating. Fortunately, I've found that many people in the larger SF community listened to what I had to say, believed me, and supported me; I am not dependent on the approval of what WisCon has become.
In general, and in this instance specifically, I am not “abrasive and confrontational” without cause. Like many WisCon members, there are issues about which I feel strongly. I was publicly defamed without recourse—privately, it would seem, for a year beforehand and then publicly for another year and a half, nor does it seem to be ameliorating in certain circles, given the tone of the report—by a host of people, most of whom I’d never met or interacted with, who anticipated and circumvented due process. Exactly what is the WisCon-endorsed behavior under these circumstances?
First, covert defamation; and now, being spoken down to as if I were some kind of closet redneck. I have no intention of coming to WisCon under these constraints and negative misperceptions, much less volunteering in any capacity. “… feel comfortable at WisCon should they choose to attend,” my ass.
The committee gives ADM and Saira Ali a pass despite them being known participants in the macroagressions of RH, one of the nastiest and almost certainly the most treacherous individual in the SFF community. How can anyone possibly trust a word they say, or believe that their testimony can have no underlying motive? Occam’s Razor, anyone?
If the “Green Reich” episode is anything to go by, the folks who have defamed me will never let go of their accusations and never admit they were wrong—and via your attempt to penalize me, they have been legitimized. I certainly won’t accept any of the conditions herein cited and will not participate at WisCon as long as there is any attempt to impose them.
By implication, in the collective view expressed here, no odium or responsibility should attach in any way to those who defame or who call for attacks on another person based on imagined slights, hearsay, or their own advantage. Apparently, not only should WisCon attendees feel welcome to make accusations as they please on flimsy—or no—evidence, but those accused should be penalized simply for the temerity of having been in a position to be targeted. I’m calling out that bullshit. Fix it, or you will eat each other alive. Not that WisCon hasn’t pretty much already eaten itself.
What WisCon has become is not for me.