After the Hugos (or: Did I Hear You Say That This Is Victory?)

Last week, fans in Spokane, Washington and around the world gathered to watch the presentation 73rd Annual Hugo Awards, one of the greatest and most notable honors bestowed for achievement in the genre of science fiction. It’s been a tense year. Two separate but linked reactionary movements, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, made substantial gains in the nominations, successfully crowding out the sort of nominees that would generally be selected by the community at large. The Rabid Puppies enjoyed particular success due to a cult of personality centered on Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, who encouraged his followers to vote in lockstep. This practice was meant to counter the machinations of an imaginary cabal of liberal elitists who had been corrupting the soul of science fiction. In fact, it succeeded so dramatically because most fans not involved in the slates were already voting their conscience and nominating works they simply liked. Against this scattershot approach, lockstep voters were bound to succeed.

But the practices that allowed the Puppies of both houses to overwhelm the nominations could not allow them to carry the voting on the awards proper, particularly not after a record number of people bought supporting memberships in Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, and voted according to their consciences. For some, this meant ranking No Award – always an option, in ANY year – above nominees placed by the Puppy slates, whether because they disagreed with the reactionary politics or because they disliked slate voting on principle. For others, this meant reading all the works and judging them on merit. For myself, it meant rejecting some works that stank of particularly odious politics and personalities, or of obvious self-promotion (I rejected nearly anything published by Castalia House as Vox Day leveraging his political rhetoric to feather his own cap, for example), while attempting to review the rest fairly. I covered the nominees I considered worthy of consideration in The Dogcatcher Post, though due to limits on my free time and revised opinions on some of the nominees, I did not live up to my own standards as set out there.

In the end, No Award was given in five categories, doubling the number of No Awards given out in the entire history of the Hugos. The tension between the Puppies and the community at large did not abate. Victory was declared by some, defeat by others, and bad feelings continue to simmer all around. I have a few thoughts on how things shook out. The short version is that I’m not pleased, and worried about the short term, but optimistic for the long term. I’ll get into more detail, but before I do, I’d like to share my own final Hugo ballot, as registered on July 31st, noting the nominees in the order of my ranking (top to bottom) and the winners in bold.

Best Novel

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu; Ken Liu, translator
  2. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  3. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  5. The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

Best Novella

  1. No Award

Best Novelette

  1. “Championship B’Tok” by Edward M. Lerner
  2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra
  3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart
  4. “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; Lia Belt, translator
  5. No Award

Best Short Story

  1. “Totaled” by Kary English
  2. “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
  3. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond
  4. No Award

Best Related Work

  1. No Award

Best Graphic Story

  1. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  2. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  3. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  4. Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  5. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  4. Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  5. Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  1. The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  2. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  3. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  4. Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  5. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  1. Jennifer Brozek
  2. Mike Resnick
  3. Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  4. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. Sheila Gilbert
  2. Anne Sowards
  3. Jim Minz
  4. Toni Weisskopf
  5. No Award

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Kirk DouPonce
  3. Nick Greenwood
  4. Alan Pollack
  5. No Award

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  2. Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief
  3. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
  4. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  5. Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher

Best Fanzine

  1. Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  2. No Award

Best Fancast

  • Did not vote in this category, as I did not have time to properly listen to the nominees.

Best Fan Writer

  1. Laura J. Mixon
  2. No Award

Best Fan Artist

  1. Spring Schoenhuth
  2. Elizabeth Leggett
  3. Steve Stiles
  4. Brad Foster
  5. Ninni Aalto

The John W. Campbell Award*

  1. Kary English
  2. Wesley Chu
  3. No Award

*The John W. Campbell Award is, as has been repeatedly mentioned, not a Hugo, but it is awarded with them and selected by Hugo voters. The nominees must be writers who have enjoyed their first professional publication within the last two years.

So. What have I learned? Well.

Lesson One: The Puppies Nominated A Lot Of Garbage

All right: it would, perhaps, be fairer to say they nominated a lot of material I simply didn’t care for. Not for political reasons, mind. What I read was simply…not enjoyable. I ranked plenty of their nominees in many categories regardless, because I wasn’t really thinking in terms of anything beyond the pool of nominees I was given, to be quite honest. But the best I can say about the majority of the slates’ nominees is that they were competently written. I had an awful time even attempting to read through most of them, and while the reactionary politics do them no favors, at this point, I’m mostly angry with the Puppies for making me read that dreck.

The bright spots were the Best Dramatic Presentation categories. Even the Puppy nominees in those areas were generally pretty good, and I actually think both The Lego Movie and the pilot of The Flash were excellent and deserving of awards. I am not terribly broken up about Guardians of the Galaxy and Orphan Black winning, though I don’t feel the episode nominated was the most Hugo-worthy of the lot.

The low point was Best Novella. By a long shot.

Lesson Two: I Should Not Have Given Lou Antonelli The Benefit Of The Doubt

Between harassing a critic of his actions at his workplace, writing the Spokane police about David Gerrold, setting his fans on Carrie Cunin, and generally whining and complaining in the aftermath of Sasquan (surprisingly, if you go into a convention where everyone thinks you’re an utter prat, you should not expect sweetness and light from those around you), he’s shown himself to be an absolute ass who cannot be trusted to conduct himself in polite society. This post goes into more detail on his rather disturbing pattern of behavior. I actually thought his short story mildly interesting, if not the best I’ve ever read, but now that I see him revealed for the bully he is, I shan’t be ranking him again. If he’s nominated in the future, in any category, I will rank him below no reward. Someone who goes around trying to call hell on other members of the SF community does not deserve one of its highest honors.

Lesson Three: I’m Mostly Happy With The Results…

I’m glad that Best Novel went to a worthy author, and that it was a historic award to boot. I’m absolutely stoked that Lightspeed Magazine took Best Semiprozine (and “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” was one of the best lines of the night). I can’t tell you how happy I am that Ms. Marvel‘s first volume took Best Graphic Story, in part because it’s a genuinely good book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and in part because I hope John C. Wright’s face looked like he’d just eaten a whole raw lemon. If anyone happened to snap a photo of him in that moment, I’d pay good money for it.

I love Orphan Black, I love its writers, I love its cast, I especially love Tatiana Maslany, and the show deserves a Hugo, even if that specific episode wasn’t my favorite. Guardians of the Galaxy was, while not my first choice, a great, fun film, and the fact that it won despite being a slate nominee shows that the voters were willing to set their feelings aside to reward quality work. At least in one case. More on that in a second.

The No Award to Best Novella was well deserved. I think the No Award to Best Related Work was, too. The No Award to Best Short Story was, perhaps, slightly less so, though I can see how many voters thought the quality of the nominees sub-par compared to the stories pushed off the ballot by the slates.

Lesson Four: …Except When I Wasn’t Happy At All

In retrospect, I think Best Novelette should have been No Awarded. I hate to say it, because Thomas Heuvelt is clearly so happy about his victory, but I didn’t think The Day The World Turned Upside Down was very good at all. As I look back on the nominees, none of them felt like the best work of the year. There were differences in their relative quality, but I wasn’t thrilled with the choices I was given. That’s my personal opinion, of course, and hindsight is 20/20, but in future years I think I’ll put a lot more thought into whether or not nominees deserved to be on the ballot in the first place.

But the hardest blows of the evening were, to me, the Best Editor awards. I don’t think either of them deserved to be No Awarded, and here, I think, the Puppies have a point about voters voting for political reasons. That said, there were a lot of new voters this year, and Best Editor is a tough category for the layperson at the best of times. It is somewhat easier with short form editors, because they are not only responsible for helping an author improve a story, but (perhaps more importantly) they are curators, assembling material into anthologies and magazines. A short form editor can be judged by their good taste.

In the long form, an editor’s work is invisible to the reader (at least if they’ve done a good job), and they may or may not have been responsible for selecting material for their publisher. The nature, level and impact of their input can vary widely. I make a point of reading authors’ acknowledgements, so I knew that Sheila Gilbert (my first choice) had edited Seanan McGuire’s work, and Seanan had expressed her deep gratitude…but not everyone bothers to read such things. I’ve seen a couple proposals to remedy this, and a couple calls to remove the Best Editor (Long Form) category altogether, but I haven’t made up my mind on the issue yet.

Regardless, though both categories were filled with Puppy nominees, they were worthy nominees who do excellent work. It is not just that no award was given in either category. It reflects poorly on the community. I do not celebrate these results.

Lesson Five: No One Likes Sore Winners Or Sore Losers

I think the cheering and applause for No Award was out of line.

I was shocked the first time I heard it, and mortified as it happened again, and again. I can understand the instinct to applaud each announcement on general principle. I can understand getting caught up in the moment, the feeling of victory as the voters rejected the Puppies’ agendas again and again, and breaking out into cheers and applause. I can’t honestly say that I would have resisted those impulses entirely. But it was obnoxious. It was rude. There were nominees sitting in the audience who, rightly or wrongly, believed in their work, hoped for a win. They did not need anyone to rub their losses in their face.

And, more to the point, I do not see a No Award as a victory. I see it as the least objectionable outcome under the circumstances (with the exception of Best Editor, as noted above). The appropriate response feels like a somber silence.

Fortunately, the Puppies have conducted themselves abominably in the wake of the Hugos. Mike Glyer at File770 has been rounding up a lot of it. Let me address a few arguments.

  • The Asterisks were a slap in the face! So, riffing off remarks that this year’s Hugo winners would have asterisks next to their names due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the nominations and voting, ‘official’ Worldcon asterisks were made out of wood and sold at the con for charity. In addition, each Hugo nominee got their own wooden asterisk. Was this in poor taste? Perhaps. But David Gerrold made some beautiful remarks at the ceremony that turned them into more of a tongue-in-cheek symbol of pride at being part of SF history, and fandom has a long and distinguished history of taking the piss out of things, lightening the mood when tension is hanging in the air. This was just another part of that tradition.
  • How dare Robert Silverberg joke about Hare Krishnas when ‘offensive’ jokes made by the ‘wrong’ people are roundly scorned! Robert Silverberg spoke near the beginning of the ceremony about a similarly tense Worldcon back in Berkeley, and fondly recalled stepping outside now and then to seek peace by listening to the soothing Hare Krishna chant. He then produced a tambourine and led the audience in said chant, urging serenity and patience for the night ahead. It was an amusing and oddly reassuring experience. Was he insulting the Hare Krishnas? Maybe. I’m not a Hare Krishna, so I suppose I wouldn’t know. But then, I don’t think any of the people crying foul (particularly the Puppies) are among that distinguished number, either.
  • George R.R. Martin rented a mansion for an exclusive party and left out Hugo nominees and gave out the ‘real’ awards and conspiracy robble robble robble. George R.R. Martin is entirely within his rights to throw any kind of party he likes. He frequently threw parties for those who were nominated but failed to win Hugos back in the old days; these parties, as he himself has explained, eventually turned into a formal reception that he found rather stuffy. In the wake of the Puppies’ giant stinking mess, particularly in light of the people pushed off the ballots by slate shenanigans, he decided to resurrect the losers’ party, and to give out tongue-in-cheek awards named for Alfred Bester (the Alfies) and made quite literally out of hood ornaments of various rocket-like shapes and sizes. It was a way of honoring friends and colleagues he felt had been shafted. It’s true that some Hugo nominees were not invited to the party, that he had a list of ‘assholes’ he left out, but then, at least one of said assholes has demonstrated repeatedly that he is highly deserving of the label, and again, private party. So I can’t fault George there. It wasn’t a conspiracy. They weren’t the ‘real’ Hugos as awarded by the Secret Liberal Cabal of Social Justice. It was George R.R. Martin demonstrating the sort of kindness and good humor that lures you into a false sense of security before he brutally kills off characters you truly, desperately liked, George R.R. Martin, you unforgivable wretch.
  • No Award invalidated my vote! I’m launching a class action suit! I don’t…but…elections don’t work that way…
  • THIS WAS A SECRET VICTORY FOR THE PUPPIES! WE GOT THEM TO BURN IT ALL DOWN! Wiser people than I have already compared the Hugos to the climactic scene of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, where Christmas comes without presents, et cetera and so forth. Yeah. It’s a lot more like that. A couple significant bumps in the road, but quite a lot like that.

Lesson Six: It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn

The Puppies, both Sad and Rabid, have already promised to pull their crap again next year. They will probably succeed, to be honest. There may be more categories going to No Award. More unworthy contenders. More garbage I’ll feel honor-bound to read. The only effective way to counter them would be an anti-Puppy slate nominated in lockstep. I refuse to do that. I won’t take part. I will nominate stories I enjoyed and editors my favorite authors have praised. I will not vote in lockstep with anybody. Because lockstep slate voting is a repugnant concept to me. It ignores everything that makes the fan community great. It replaces word of mouth and the cultural zeitgeist with an organized political movement.

I will not abuse the spirit of the Hugos on a misguided quest to ‘save’ them. Even if it means I have to vote No Award in every single category next year.

But I’m not going away. I’m grabbing a supporting membership for next year’s Worldcon. I’ll be participating in nominations and in final voting (and in site selection, as I’d quite like a New Orleans Worldcon in 2018). I’m just one person with one vote, but I can be part of the effort to resist the Puppies.

Here’s the thing: I agree with many of the Puppies’ most superficial stated goals. I want science fiction to be fun again. I am tired of dystopias, tired of endings, tired of the apocalypse. I want hope for the future. I want inspiration. I want fun. I want the fandom of today to look to science fiction and see ideas they can incorporate into the solutions of tomorrow. I want us to dream of turning our world into a paradise and sailing outward among the stars. We have never needed the hope and promise of science fiction more than we do now. It is as Isaac Asimov said:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

The problem, of course, is that few if any of the Puppies’ nominees offered that promise – and that my idea of the utopia we can and should build here on Earth is a place where everyone is allowed room to grow and change as they must, and pursue what happiness they can find in this life, provided they do no harm to others. I don’t think the masterminds behind the Puppies of either camp want a world where I would belong. And so they fight to drag SF back into their idea of a golden age, while the rest of us fight to expand its boundaries into a new one of limitless promise, endless challenges and infinite opportunities. The culture war goes on, and this is just a minor skirmish.

Still. There is hope everywhere, and the Hugos are no exception. Two proposals to change the nomination system were ratified at this year’s Worldcon. If they are ratified again next year, they will be implemented. One, E Pluribus Hugo, creates a multi-round system which should diminish the impact of lockstep nominations. The other, 4 and 6 (sorry I don’t have a link), creates a system where each voter selects four nominees, but six finalists are selected; this could still be exploited by some mildly clever maneuvering, but combined with EPH, it might be quite effective. Though Vox Day in particular insists he has enough support to overcome any effort to block his slates, preliminary data crunching on EPH alone indicates that it would limit the damage lockstep slate voters could do. Data on EPH combined with 4 and 6 is not yet available.

So, in the short term, none of us are going anywhere. We’ll all be watching the entire Hugo process, not to mention next year’s Business Meeting, with great interest. We’re in for another tense and difficult year full of rhetoric. Many suggestions have been made to the Puppies of both camps as to how they might make more reasonable arguments and avoid alienating Hugo voters; I expect them to take none of those suggestions. The new leaders of the Sad Puppy crew seem even more reactionary than their predecessors. This will be unpleasant.

But science fiction is all about the future just beyond our grasp. The best of it is about finding hope there. And I think there’s reason to hope here. The reactionary elements of our community may gain some traction. But, to quote Angels In America, the world only spins forward.

And to paraphrase Firefly, no power in the verse can stop us.

The Dogcatcher Post

It’s been nearly two years since my last post here. Sorry about that. Every time I had an idea and thought about getting back into the swing of things, something came up to distract me. I have lots of updates and lots of ideas for posts, and all of that will follow, but this particular post needs to come first.

In the wake of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns, I’ve gone ahead and purchased a membership to Sasquan, the 2016 Worldcon, so I can vote in the Hugo Awards. I’ll be doing this with every Worldcon I can support from now on, because if I have the ability to raise my voice and be heard, I should probably do it. With a bit over a month left before the voting deadline, it’s time for me to decide who I’m going to vote for…and that’s a problem which has required a certain amount of research and soul-searching.

It would be easy for me to vote NO AWARD in every Puppy-influenced category, in protest. Some have called for this. It would be just as easy for me to eliminate all the Puppies’ nominees and vote only for those who were not on the slates; some have called for this also. But I don’t in good conscience feel that I can do this. Not everyone on the slates knew they were on them, or knew what they were getting into. There are works that were on the slates which I personally find worthy of consideration despite the ugly politics behind their nomination. (Skin Game comes to mind; while the Dresden Files books can be problematic, I am a fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed Skin Game and thought it was a real return to form for the series.) So I have settled on threading the needle, and I’ve found a distinct lack of resources geared toward voters interested in that strategy.

I’m a documentation nerd, which has been a useful trait in my professional endeavors. If a document doesn’t exist, I’ll dig in and create it. So here it is: my attempt at a guide to threading the needle. The Dogcatcher Post. An attempt to point out Hugo nominees who actively participated in Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, or (in the case of works from Castalia House, Theodore “Vox Day” Beale’s publishing house, especially) whose publishers did, as well as nominees who are thoroughly morally repugnant due to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Anyone highlighted in bold is someone I urge you to eliminate from your consideration, and I’ll explain why at the end of each category. Of course, if you want to use this list to vote only for the nominees I’m calling out for elimination, I can’t really stop you.

This list is constructed based on two principal rules:

The Card-Wright Rule

This is a long-standing personal rule of mine. Simply put, I don’t give money or support to living authors who hate me or mine. I will absolutely not consider people who have engaged in virulent bigotry, called for violence against me or people like me or people I care about, called for us to be openly oppressed and rounded up, and so on and so forth. Am I eliminating all problematic creators under this rule? No. I won’t even pretend to try. This is intended for the worst of the worst, those whose bigotry cannot be ignored or dismissed.

The Beale-Torgenson Rule

This rule is a new one, and in direct response to Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. I don’t think people who actively campaigned for these slates and used political ideology to get themselves or creators they publish or profit from nominated should be rewarded. Period. It’s one thing to offer up a list of works you were involved with that are eligible for Hugos – many authors have done this, many publishers have done this – but it’s quite another to incorporate your own work into a moral panic and deliberate crusade. Torgenson gets a little credit for treating the Sad Puppies slate as a set of suggestions…but not enough to escape this rule. Beale told his followers to vote in lockstep. No Hugo for him.

Obviously, there may be information I don’t have. If I come across any new information regarding the character (or lack thereof) of certain nominees, or their participation in Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies, I’ll update this post accordingly.

Now let’s look at the nominees by category.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor, and The Three Body Problem were not on either the Sad Puppies slate or the Rabid Puppies slate. This leaves Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson.

I cannot find any evidence that Kevin Anderson directly endorsed the Sad Puppy slate. He is acquainted with Brad Torgenson and has published some of his work, but I’m not going to base my decision solely on guilt by association. I don’t think I agree with Anderson on everything, but that’s not a prerequisite either. I can see no compelling reason to exclude him from consideration.

Jim Butcher does not seem to have been an active participant in S/RP either. He did call Irene Gallo unprofessional for her personal comments on the S/RP crowd (and, well, she was, a bit, but I don’t feel she deserved the goddamned Sword of Damocles crashing on her head), and he’s not without his problems. But I enjoy both the Dresden Files series and the Codex Alera, and I quite liked Skin Game, so I’m going to keep him on my list.

Best Novella

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

All of the nominees in this category were on the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slate. Most of them were published by Castalia House, which seems like a blatant grab if I’ve ever seen one, and John C. Wright is just absolutely awful. However, I can find no evidence that Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr. was involved in campaigning for either slate, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. Through SIGMA, he’s associated with many people I admire. “Flow” should be read and considered.

Best Novelette

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
“Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)

Gray Rinehart did accept a place on the Sad Puppies slate and appears to be connected to members of the S/RP community; that said, he does not seem to have campaigned on the slate’s behalf, he did not nominate according to the slate himself, and he does not seem particularly repugnant. I do not believe his work should be rejected out of hand, and I will be considering “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” in this category.

Edward M. Lerner appears to be casually acquainted with Brad Torgenson and gave his assent to a recommendation. However, he does not seem to have known what he was getting into, he had nothing to do with Rabid Puppies, and, once again, he does not seem actively repugnant. “Championship B’tok” should, in my view, also be considered.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” was not on either slate.

I haven’t quite worked out where Michael F. Flynn stands, except that he seems to view the whole brouhaha as a conflict between a ‘settled’ SF community and outside underdogs who have just realized they can buy memberships and vote, and his sympathies are somewhat with the underdogs rather than those who want to condemn Puppy-nominated works sight unseen. Again, however, he hasn’t set off any alarm bells for me. From reading his blog, I doubt I’ll enjoy his work much, frankly, but I’ll read “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” nonetheless.

I’m not sure where Rajnar Vajra stands on any of this. I will note that he’s one of the diverse writers the S/RP crowd are using to counter claims that they were interested in nominating only white, straight, heterosexual men. Nevertheless, I will be considering “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”. I quite like golden age SF, actually.

Best Short Story

“On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
“Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

All nominees in this category were on one or both slates. “Turncoat” and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” were both published by Castalia House. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” was written by John C. Wright, who is a proud and outspoken bigot and has attacked (among others) Marvel for introducing Kamala Khan, the new, Muslim Ms. Marvel, and the creators of The Legend of Korra for making a same-sex relationship canon within the series.

Lou Antonelli has defended the slate, describing himself as proud to be on it, and stating that he doesn’t see any problem with it. He has also characterized critics of S/RP as hateful, scolds, Nazis, and claimed that the S/RP crowd has only been vicious in its own defense. He has described the slates and their supporters as a peasant revolt against an SF elite. Prior to the official release of the nominees, he appears to have plugged only his own work (as is fair), but did mention that he was part of the Sad Puppies slate in at least one context. Frankly he’s raising a lot of red flags for me. That said, he has also criticized those elements of the Puppy crowd who want to destroy the Hugos, and his story “On a Spiritual Plain” has been praised by people outside the Puppy community. So I’m still deeply ambivalent on the man himself, and disagree with him on many of the arguments he’s made, but I personally am going to read his story and give it due consideration.

I cannot find any indication that Steve Diamond campaigned for either slate. He seems like an okay guy. I’ll be reading “A Single Samurai” with pleasure.

Kary English agreed to be part of the Sad Puppies slate. Prior to the official release of the Hugo nominees, she did connect Sad Puppies to her discussion of her own nominated work. I disagree strongly with her characterization of the genesis and intent of the slate and with her continued defense of it. However: she seems like the sort of person I would like very much (even if we might disagree on certain points). She does not appear to be a virulent bigot. Her work seems interesting. So I will be reading “Totaled” and giving it my full consideration.

Best Related Work

“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

All nominees on this category were on one or both slates. “The Hot Equations” and Transhuman and Subhuman were both published by Castalia House, and there’s our friend John C. Wright again. Hi there, John.

I’ve discussed Lou Antonelli above. He’s an S/RP defender but doesn’t seem as virulently awful as some others (though I disagree with much of what he’s said, and strongly disagree with his characterization of a woman who kicked him off her blog as a Nazi).

Tedd Roberts has defended the slate and attacked its critics (to be fair, he seems angriest at the most outspoken and strident people, the ones calling for categorical rejection for all nominees on the slate). Once again, though, he doesn’t seem awful. He seems angry, and justifiably in my view, that people would reject him for his association with controversy, that they would immediately judge and dismiss him out of hand without even reading his work. Fair enough. “Why Science is Never Settled” is on my reading list.

Michael Z. Williamson seems entirely irreverent and snarky toward just about everyone. I suspect I’d find prolonged contact with him infuriating. I don’t think I’ll like his book very much. But he’s not awful enough for me to strike him from consideration, and he doesn’t seem to have actively campaigned for Sad Puppies – as he tells it, Brad Torgenson asked if he wanted publicity, Williamson said yes, and then he promptly forgot about the whole thing. So I will give Wisdom from My Internet a chance.

Best Graphic Story

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)

In this category, only The Zombie Nation Book #2 was on either slate. As far as I can tell, Carter Reid was not involved in campaigning and is not an awful person. I’m not going to endorse him over the other nominees, but don’t feel he should automatically be eliminated from consideration.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Captain America, but maybe it’s more subversive than I realized.

The rest…look. Films involve a lot of people. Actors, directors, producers, writers…Brad Torgenson, at least, claims he contacted everyone on his slate and included those who gave him an affirmative response. I don’t know whether or not that’s true (there has been at least one nominee who refutes the story, but Torgenson claims that was an oversight), but I find it difficult to believe that he managed to reach out to everyone involved. And a lot of these movies were very, very good. The Lego Movie was better than it had any right to be. Interstellar wasn’t my favorite film, but it was very well made. Guardians of the Galaxy was tremendous fun. I haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, but I will. And I’ve heard surprisingly good things.

So I’m not striking any of them. They’re worthy nominees. All of them.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

“Listen” and “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Doctor Who, but I guess it’s gotten a bit too socially degenerate for the Puppies. Lesbian lizard women and all.

Again, I find it difficult to believe that everyone involved in these productions gave their permission to appear on the slate. At most, maybe the director or a publicist was contacted. And again, a lot of these episodes were quite good. (I don’t watch Grimm. I suppose I’ll be watching one episode, anyway.) So I’m not striking any of them out without giving them a shot.

Best Editor, Short Form

Jennifer Brozek
Vox Day
Mike Resnick
Edmund R. Schubert (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider him)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Jennifer Brozek did not campaign for either slate. She seems like a cool lady who does a lot of great work. I will happily consider her.

Mike Resnick, as far as I can tell, only plugged his own work, as you can expect authors and editors to do. I have my issues with him, but do not feel strongly enough to strike him from my consideration.

Edmund R. Schubert withdrew after the ballot closed. He has asked that people refrain from voting for him. I will honor that request.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt seems…all right. He has stated that he was unaware of his presence on the Rabid Puppies slate and would have demanded his removal if he had known. He was aware of his presence on the Sad Puppies slate, but does not seem to be wrapped up in the politics of it. Bit of an asshole and perhaps unprofessional, at least according to Jim C. Hines (who, to be fair, has butted heads with him), but if I refused to have a thing to do with common assholes I’d never get anything done. So, again, I’m going to consider him in this category.

Best Editor, Long Form

Vox Day
Sheila Gilbert
Jim Minz
Anne Sowards
Toni Weisskopf

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Sheila Gilbert has been highly praised by authors I like rather a lot. She has worked hard at DAW and doesn’t seem like a bad person in the slightest. I can’t find her own take on the S/RP brouhaha but I feel she is worthy of consideration.

Jim Minz has edited a wide range of authors and also done fine work.

Anne Sowards edits Jim Butcher and Kat Richardson, among other people. That makes her pretty okay in my book.

Toni Weisskopf has been a consistent Sad Puppy nominee but, again, a fine editor and Jim Baen’s heir over at Baen Books. I’m not going to dismiss her either.

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Kirk DouPonce
Nick Greenwood
Alan Pollack
Carter Reid

Julie Dillon was not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the other artists’ views on S/RP or, really, anything else. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Best Semiprozine

Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief

Beneath Ceaseless SkiesLightspeed Magazine, and Strange Horizons were not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the views of the Abyss & Apex staff in general or Wendy Delmater in particular on the S/RP kerfluffle, so once again, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The people behind Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine have stated that they were unaware of their presence on the slate until the last moment, and would have asked to be removed if they had known. Therefore, I am happily including them in my consideration this year.

Best Fanzine

Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider the magazine)
Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
The Revenge of Hump Day, edited by Tim Bolgeo
Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale

John O’Neill withdrew Black Gate after the Hugo ballot closed. He has asked voters not to consider him. I will honor his request.

I’ve already addressed Steve Diamond above. In short, I don’t think I’ll end up caring for him, but I’m going to give Elitist Book Reviews my consideration.

Journey Planet was not on either slate.

Tim Bolgeo has been at the center of at least one convention controversy when he was invited and then disinvited as Fan Guest of Honor at Archon. The Revenge of Hump Day is reportedly full of racist, sexist and generally offensive humor. I’ll take a look at it but I don’t expect I’ll like it one bit. I haven’t been able to find anything from the man himself on this or other matters.

Dave Truesdale seems quite clueless, frankly. He circulated a petition against ‘censorship based on political correctness’ in the SFWA Bulletin last year, following its suspension in the wake of a controversy over some problematic language and a problematic cover. He claims that he’s never seen an incident of sexism or racism in the SF community. But he doesn’t seem to be terribly malicious, and he’s well respected. Tangent seems decent. Truesdale described himself as flattered that Tangent was on the slate, but doesn’t seem to have campaigned for the slate at large. So I’m giving it a shot.

Best Fancast

Adventures in SciFi Publishing, Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
Dungeon Crawlers Radio, Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
The Sci Phi Show, Jason Rennie
Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman

Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Tea and Jeopardy were not on either slate.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing was knowingly included in the slate and had Brad Torgenson and Larry Correia on the podcast to discuss Sad Puppies prior to the release of the Hugo nominees. That said, they seem to have done their best to prevent all sides of this and many other issues in the SF community. I’m going to give this podcast all due consideration.

Dungeon Crawlers Radio was included on both the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slate, but I haven’t found anything regarding their views on the matter. Plus their podcast seems pretty cool. I’ll be listening to a sample.

Can’t find a thing on Jason Rennie’s views regarding The Sci Phi Show‘s inclusion, either. I will note that he put the podcast on hiatus earlier this year. He has promised to return, but hasn’t yet. Frankly, this makes me less likely to vote for it. but I’ll try an episode or two.

Best Fan Writer

Dave Freer
Amanda S. Green
Jeffro Johnson
Laura J. Mixon
Cedar Sanderson

Dave Freer called for people to put pressure on Tor and its parent company to discipline or otherwise ‘address’ Irene Gallo for her (admittedly inflammatory) personal comments against the S/RP slate. He also called for a boycott of any Tor author who was not either a Sad Puppy or speaking out against Tor’s inaction if they did not respond. This is the tip of the sword. I’ve been reading through his posts on the subject and find his strident defense of S/RP and his refusal to see the slates’ problems absolutely repugnant. So I’m refusing to consider him. I do not believe he has conducted himself well and I have little interest in handing him any accolades.

Incidentally, Freer is also part of the Mad Genius Club blog collective, which also includes Brad Torgenson, and the next nominee on the list, Amanda S. Green. Who wrote her own open letter to Tor, criticized them for keeping John Scalzi (a ‘straw man’) in their stable apparently based not on the artistic merit of his work but on his personal views, said much the same about N.K. Jemisin, and also called for a boycott. I also find her conduct repugnant and her association with Sad Puppy Central suspect. I will not be considering her for an award.

Jeffro Johnson writes for Castalia House and has been pretty goddamned outspoken against critics of the S/RP slates. He does not appear to have called for boycotts, however, which is a point in his favor. His obsession with File770 and his critics there puts me off, but I’m going to read his material in the voting packet and try to judge it on its merits. I will, however, note that he is just barely on the ‘will consider’ side of the line for me, as Freer and Green are just barely on the other side.

Laura J. Mixon was not on either slate.

Cedar Sanderson is associated with the Mad Genius Club, endorsed the Sad Puppies slate (even as she qualified her statement by urging voters to vote for the BEST works and use the slate as a guideline), and chose to highlight some posts by other writers seemingly calculated to piss off the left wing elements of fandom while endorsing the slate at large. I don’t really care for any of this.

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto
Brad W. Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

This category was not included in either slate.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo but administered alongside the Hugos)

Wesley Chu
Jason Cordova
Kary English
Rolf Nelson
Eric S. Raymond

Wesley Chu was not on either slate.

Jason Cordova is affiliated with the Mad Genius Club, helped campaign for the Sad Puppy slate, and has been laying on some serious denial about what the slate actually entails. Some of his anger is justifiable. But I just can’t get past his involvement with core elements of the Sad Puppy effort. So I’m not going to consider him.

I already addressed Kary English above, but in short, I do not find her ties to S/RP deep enough or her personal views repugnant enough to strike her from consideration.

Rolf Nelson is a Castalia House author who participated in the call to boycott Tor. Frankly, I consider his nomination to be a direct result of Vox Day’s self-interest and tendency toward self-promotion. I am not going to consider his work.

I have not been able to find anything on Eric S. Raymond’s views regarding Sad/Rabid Puppies. While I do not find his libertarian politics repugnant (though I would certainly disagree), he, too, is a Castalia House author. I’m just not giving Vox Day the satisfaction.

*****

So that’s this year. What comes next?

Well, like I said: I’m going to buy a membership to every Worldcon moving forward, as long as I’m able, as early as I can, so I can participate in the nomination process. I’m going to recommend works and creators that I consider worthy of an award, for whatever good that will do. I’m going to share the recommendations of others. I’m not interested in slate voting. I’m not interested in agenda voting. I’m just interested in good SF. And I’m interested in not rewarding people who grab at political zeitgeists for their own gain, or who want me or mine to suffer.

Look, I agree with some elements of the Sad Puppy crowd on one thing: SF needs to be about optimism again. It needs to be about a brighter future, a better future. Our world sucks. We are murdering it. It may be too late to save it. But science fiction has inspired so much already. Isaac Asimov put it best:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.

I love dystopian fiction as much as anyone. But I’m tired of washed-out grays and browns. I’m tired of oppression and depression. I’m tired of antiheroes and moral ambiguity and shellshock. I want to dream. I want to blast off. I want to soar into an infinite universe full of possibility. And I want the next generation, and every generation after, to dream just as freely.

It’s just that I reject any future that clings to racist, patriarchal standards, and I reject anyone who wants such a future. The world only spins forward. And it should only spin forward.

Next Week: The Random Fangirl Live!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, mostly because I’ve been plugging away at the job search and working on various other projects. Among those projects, however, is a little talk I’ll be giving at Women in Games Boston next week. I already wrote up a description for WIG, so I’ll just repost it here:

In recent years, the transgender community has become increasingly visible, with singers, soldiers, journalists, game designers and more coming out as trans, and trans activists of all ages crusading for equal rights around the world. With numerous trans people involved in the geek and gaming communities, you may easily find yourself interacting with members of this diverse community as co-workers, employees and fans.

This month’s talk will offer a basic overview of transgender identity and a primer on preferred terminology (as well as a few words you should avoid like the plague) before explaining how you can help support your trans co-workers, how you can be the world’s best boss to trans employees, and how you can build trans-friendly and trans-inclusive games. We’ll also touch on games and blogs that can give you some insight into trans identity and the struggle trans people face every day before moving on to an extra-long Q&A to address any lingering questions.

Last I checked, there were still tickets available, and the event is free, so if you live in the Boston/Cambridge area and want to come see me speak, reserve your spot today. We’ll be downstairs at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square from 7 to 10 pm next Tuesday, July 30th, and I’ll be going on at around 8. WIG Boston is a safe, open, accepting space that welcomes women and allies of all backgrounds, whatever their connection to the video game community (developers, students, journalists, fans, you name it), so as long as you conduct yourself according to the party policy, you’re more than welcome to attend.

Want me to speak at your event? Feel free to e-mail me at cassandra dot lease at gmail dot com and I’ll be happy to discuss the details.

The Ranting Fangirl: Women’s Space. Some Restrictions May Apply.

The concept of women’s space is a recurring theme in trans circles: what it means, who should be included, who (if anyone) shouldn’t be included, and whether it’s okay for our allies to respect, support and/or actively participate in those women’s spaces that include some women (generally cisgender women) while excluding others (generally transgender women). I personally value inclusion, and fundamentally believe that women’s spaces should include anyone who identifies as a woman. This can get tricky where those who do not identify with the gender binary are concerned, of course, though my gut tells me that genderqueer or non-gendered people should absolutely be included in women’s spaces if they want to be. I would also extend that principle of inclusion to trans women who have not yet begun their transition or altered their outward appearance, but nevertheless identify as women, and to trans men who may still face women’s issues (i.e., sexism based on being ‘read’ as the gender they were assigned at birth, and so forth). This is because I’m basically that girl from Mean Girls who wishes she could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat it and be happy.

But there’s always someone waiting to point out that I don’t even go there, or rather, that I don’t belong there, for one reason or another. I have been fortunate to find women’s groups and women’s spaces that were happy to include me, from my college’s student feminist club (which has undergone some name changes, I believe, since my time there; when I was a student, it was Womyn’s Action Group, and I actually helped design our t-shirt for Take Back The Night one year) to the Boston Dyke March (which is explicitly inclusive and trans-friendly) to Women in Games Boston (which welcomes male allies, so it’s not strictly women’s space, but it is safe space designed for women) to the annual ladies’ brunch/girls’ meetup at PAX East. That’s partly down to luck, and partly down to conscious efforts on my part to avoid places where I would not be welcome. I’m a bit of a coward, really. I don’t like confrontation, and I have to force myself to speak out at all – that’s partly why I retreated into ‘stealth mode’ for so long and refused to discuss my trans status at all. So, as a rule, if I’m unsure about any given group’s policies, I politely inquire as to whether or not I’m welcome, and if I’m not, I’ll generally stay away. And if everything happened in a vacuum, I suppose that would be the end of it.

Spoiler alert: nothing happens in a vacuum.

Everything comes with a bright, shiny context all its own. And so, whether it’s the recurring controversy around the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (or MichFest), the trans-exclusive Dianic rituals held at PantheaCon in 2011 and 2012 (though it appears that there was not a similar ritual this year, or if there was, it was not listed in the program guide), or the debate over whether or not trans women should be admitted to women’s colleges, or the RadFem 2013 conference over in the UK, these issues keep cropping up again and again. Everyone, in my view, has the right to free assembly and association. Everyone should be welcome to gather in any kind of group they want. But when you exclude people, there are consequences, and there should be. And here’s why.

Trans-exclusive events should not be held in public venues. This is why I don’t really have a problem with MichFest in principle, though I do have problems with it in practice. MichFest is held on privately-owned land, and it is organized by a specific group of people with a specific intention. Their trans-exclusive policy is fairly well established and well known by now, though it was not always so. Now, because they sell admission fairly freely, MichFest may technically qualify as a public accommodation (remember that phrase, we’ll get back to it), and I do believe, as a rule, that trans people should have equal access to all public accommodations under the law. If that became national law tomorrow, then I don’t know how the festival would change, though I’m confident that the organizers could find a way to keep going with the trans-exclusive policy intact if they so desired. I’m not a lawyer, but there are lots of organizations and events that have managed to keep going despite policies that explicitly exclude an entire class of people, so I have to believe there are loopholes to spare.

On the other hand, you have Z Budapest’s rituals at PantheaCon. I am absolutely for freedom of religion, and I rarely feel the need to step into anyone else’s rituals, particularly when I’m not wanted. My own religion is, as I’ve said, a very private thing, though I do consider myself part of the pagan community and I have taken part in open rituals in the past. I do not believe, however, that it is appropriate to exclude an entire class of people from a programmed event at a convention open to a diverse population of attendees (as opposed to, say, a convention that is only open to women, trans women excluded – but I’ll get to that). I do not believe it is appropriate to advertise a ritual that celebrates women in their infinite diversity and then exclude trans people – certainly not without explicitly saying so in the event description. I would personally never do anything of the sort at a convention. I have organized events targeted at specific groups during conventions, but I have always chosen to hold them off site, and I have never sought to list them in a convention program. I could not find any similar events in the PantheaCon 2013 program offhand, and I sincerely hope that the PantheaCon community has reached a similar conclusion: attendees are free to hold private parties or rituals in their suites and invite whomever they like, but the con cannot put its stamp of approval on exclusive events. However, I have not yet had the opportunity to join the PantheaCon community (though I would like to, when money and time allows) and cannot speak to that particular matter.

As for RadFem 2013. Conventions are by their very nature exclusive events, and while I find the conference policies and the viewpoints of many of the participants repugnant, they were at least clear about their rules and their intentions. However, after assorted messages of protest, the venue they had chosen reviewed those same policies and the rhetoric surrounding them, found them troubling, and told the organizers that the conference was no longer welcome there. The venue’s operators were well within their rights to do so. We reap what we sow. The conference’s proponents have tried to claim that men’s rights activists and trans activists colluded to get them thrown out (never mind that men’s rights activists tend not to like trans people very much, either, and the feeling tends to be mutual…though I suppose that hasn’t stopped certain ugly elements of the feminist movement from working with certain ugly elements of the religious right when it suited them), but it’s fairly clear from the statement issued by the venue that the protests merely caught their interest, and it was the trans-exclusive politics surrounding RadFem 2013 that got them booted.

Trans-exclusive policies attract and encourage transphobia and naked bigotry, particularly when challenged. The rhetoric surrounding these events is absolutely repugnant. I know, or I would like to believe, that the most vocal, most obviously bigoted defenders of trans-exclusive policies are in the minority, and there’s a much more reasonable majority that simply hasn’t been moved to speak. But we don’t excuse men for their failure to stand up to misogyny, even if they themselves aren’t actively misogynistic. We don’t excuse heterosexual people for their failure to stand up to homophobia, to so much as say ‘hey, that’s not cool,’ even if they’re not throwing around slurs. And we should not exclude cisgender people for their failure to confront transphobia and naked bigotry. It is not enough to maintain an uncomfortable silence. It is not enough to believe, in your heart, that whether or not trans women belong in women’s spaces, they still deserve respect. All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

I have seen defenders of MichFest, RadFem 2013, and other trans-exclusive events throw slurs around like they’re snowballs on a schoolyard. I have seen them say deliberately hurtful things which not only deny the identities of trans people, but our very humanity. I have seen minor incidents like glitterbombing (immature, but ultimately harmless) or a little ink from a marker smeared on someone’s skin blown entirely out of proportion, characterized in some cases as the acts of extremists or even outright assault. I have seen trans people accused of hideous crimes with no justification. I even vividly recall one particularly horrible anti-trans bigot questioning whether a horrific car accident in which lives were lost might not have been a terrorist act committed by trans activists – a baseless accusation, to say the least, and if anyone had been explicitly named as a ‘suspect,’ it might well have qualified as libel.

When the Indigo Girls decided that this year’s MichFest would mark their final performance at the festival until the trans-exclusive policy changed, and announced that they would campaign for trans inclusion during their time on stage, they and the trans community at large were met with ugliness that still hasn’t entirely abated. This for voicing an opinion, and exercising their right to choose where they will and will not perform. Some of the rhetoric put me in mind of the controversy surrounding the Dixie Chicks when they openly criticized President George W. Bush a few years ago. There, too, artists were told that their opinions were offensive, that no one wanted to hear them. Shall the Indigo Girls shut up and sing as well?

I do not believe that going to MichFest, as an attendee or as a performer, necessarily makes anyone a transphobic bigot or a bad person. But, given the negativity surrounding the event, the ugly and sometimes terrifying rhetoric of those who defend its policies, I do look askance at those who go to MichFest without questioning or even thinking about its policy of trans exclusion. I do feel that participation in the event can be a slap in the face to the trans community. And I think the event is irrevocably tainted, at this point, by an aura of bigotry and negativity. If the policy changed tomorrow, I don’t think I’d go. I wouldn’t feel safe there.

And that aura of negativity leads me to say this, too. The Indigo Girls made, or at least announced, their decision regarding MichFest in the wake of a petition asking a number of MichFest performers to reconsider their participation in the event. One of the other artists named in the petition asked for her name to be removed because she didn’t want it affected by the negative energy surrounding the issue – but unlike the Indigo Girls, she plans to continue supporting the event. I am honoring her request to leave her name out of this, but respectfully, I think that if you want to avoid negative energy, you should avoid participating in events rooted in exclusion and surrounded by bigotry and fear.

Trans women are women. There are two arguments that those in favor of trans exclusion love to trot out when explaining why we shouldn’t be a part of women’s spaces. First, there is the privilege argument – the idea that trans women still carry male privilege, behave in typically male ways, and have not faced sexism. Second, there is the socialization argument – trans women were not raised and socialized as women, and so do not fully understand women’s experience.

The privilege argument is ridiculous on the face of it. As a trans woman, I am not a member of the boys’ club. Truthfully, I never was – even when I outwardly presented as male, I was considered a wimp, a sissy, or not really a boy in any number of ways. Certainly I never felt like one. I am viewed either as a woman or a freak. Neither position is privileged. When I began my transition and chose to present as my true self, I surrendered my male privilege, my straight privilege and my cis privilege (which, I assure you, does exist: cis people don’t have to worry about being assaulted for choosing the ‘wrong’ bathroom, for example, or losing their job if they’re ‘read’ as the gender they’re assigned at birth rather than the gender that agrees with their identity and presentation). I promise you, I’m either treated the same as any other woman, or I’m treated like shit for ‘trying’ to be one.

As for typically male behavior? Wow, that’s a fuzzy line, isn’t it? And it sure seems like I can’t win for losing. If I’m outspoken, I’m dominating the conversation, which means I’m not really a woman. If I’m quiet, shy and soft-spoken, I’m behaving according to female stereotypes, which means my gender expression is all artifice and I’m not really a woman. If I’m open about being trans, then I’m not even trying to ‘pass’ as a real woman. If I stay in stealth, then I’m a wicked, horrible deceiver. If I date men, then I’m some kind of artificial woman designed to replace real women and destroy feminism. If I date women (as I strongly prefer to do), then I’m a faux lesbian just trying to get in innocent women’s pants, and really, what is the point of this whole gender identity thing anyway, right? (Never mind that gender identity and expression are not necessarily linked to sexual orientation, or that I prefer to date bisexual women in a desperate effort to avoid offending sensibilities – it doesn’t always work, and plenty of women who identify as gay would be fine with me, but like I said, I don’t like confrontation.) I am who I am: the quiet, shy wallflower who gets really excited and talkative once she’s comfortable with you or you’ve got her on a subject she’s passionate about. The geek girl who can’t get enough baby doll tees, adores Victorian and steampunk styles, and loves to cosplay, but spends most of her days in jeans and glasses, with little to no makeup on, to the point where people express open shock when she shows up in a skirt or a sundress. The trans activist who would really prefer not to have to discuss any of these things, but feels a moral compulsion to do so. The lesbian feminist Amazon who doesn’t quite fit into everyone’s definition of any of those groups.

I don’t know if my behavior is typically male or typically female. I think the range of human personalities is so broad that you can’t really define those traits without resorting to stereotypes, and isn’t feminism about rising above stereotypes? I’m tired of walking this tightrope. No one should have to do it. I am myself. But for the record? I’m rarely read. Even with my horrible, awful voice, which I absolutely hate. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Then there’s socialization. This much is true: most trans women were not raised as girls. This is beginning to change, to some degree, as trans children begin to reject their assigned genders at younger and younger ages, and with the help of accepting parents, begin the journey to their true selves in childhood. But I, for example, did not begin my transition until I was nearly 20 years old. I had a very strong sense of my gender identity and preferred gender expression from a young age, mind. I always preferred the company of girls. I begged my mother to let me go out for Halloween as Babs Bunny (we ultimately compromised on Buster; I remember her outright refusing to let me go out as Babs, while she, the last time we discussed it, thought I’d simply changed my mind), I was insanely jealous of my little sister’s American Girl doll (though she had Kirsten, and I wanted Samantha), I campaigned for years for a doll of my own (and eventually got a Princess Jasmine doll, just as I was growing out of them), and so on. My mother, a feminist in her own right, involved both me and my sister in baking, cleaning and various chores. I was bombarded by the same media images, and even before I had a word for what I was, I knew I wanted to be like the girls and the women, not the boys and the men. Funny thing: I never even quite got the hang of peeing standing up. I just wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. I told my mother at the age of twelve, just when I’d learned that there was such a thing as sex change operations, that I wanted one, that I thought I was meant to be a girl. (She got very quiet; later, when I asked her about it as an adult, she didn’t remember it at all, though she was very supportive when I did actually begin my transition.) And I spent night after night praying at my bedside, begging God to make me a girl.

It wasn’t a typical girl’s childhood, no. Maybe it wasn’t a typical trans woman’s childhood, not entirely. My parents resisted some things, but I was never forced into explicitly masculine pursuits, and I was encouraged to express myself. The thing is that I’m not sure I believe there’s any such thing as a typical childhood. We start in so many different places, in so many different ways. We all have different experiences. But even if we assume that there are childhood experiences that those raised as girls will always have, and those raised as boys never will…does it matter? We socialize as women now. Assuming we are accepted as women, we have to deal with many of the same issues of sexism and harassment. And where our experiences differ, we can still be allies, just as those women who have never experienced abuse can still support those who have, or those women who have never felt attracted to other women can support their lesbian friends. I still find it helpful to get away from a society dominated by straight white Christian men and seek the company of other women from time to time. In my experience, my presence does not in and of itself destroy the sanctity of women’s space. I’ve never tried to insert myself where I’m not wanted, of course. But I do feel that you get out what you put in. If you bring bigotry, fear and anger to a space we share, you’re bound to have a bad experience. If you come in the spirit of friendship and compassion, you’re likely to have a better one. I do not believe the mere presence of a trans woman is a pox upon women’s spaces, and I do believe that we need them just as badly.

At least some of this is a load of hypocritical bull. Consider, if you will, the currently ongoing exclusion of trans women from Smith College and other women’s institutions. Yes, yes, socialization, privilege, please see above. As I said, I believe that trans women can benefit from women’s spaces just as much as cis women can, and I do not believe that our presence will ruin everything and destroy feminism forever. Here’s the thing, though: many of these women’s colleges are perfectly all right with the presence of transitioning trans men on their campus. So we’re talking about institutions that exclude an entire class of women, but welcome students who explicitly identify as men. Regardless of what you think about trans women at women’s colleges, doesn’t that seem like hypocrisy?

Now, I don’t want to see trans men kicked out of school, whether or not trans women are allowed, particularly if they started their transitions during their college careers. I started my transition at the end of my freshmen year. I know how hard it can be to do that under the best of circumstances. Forcing students to drop out or transfer doesn’t feel right to me, either. But I do think that policy carries some ugly implications. It implies that biology is destiny – that it’s all that matters – which is directly contrary to the ideals of feminism. It calls trans men’s manhood into question as much as it questions trans women’s womanhood. And it feeds into the mistaken notion that trans men really are ‘still’ women, that they’re just an extreme form of butch identity or some such.

Above all else, I simply believe that students’ gender identities should be respected, and that their needs merit close consideration. It’s true that our government tends to be less than enlightened with regard to gender identity, and it’s possible that women’s institutions could face legal trouble, at least in some jurisdictions, for admitting students who were assigned male at birth. In that case, I absolutely believe the law should be changed. There should be stronger protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression nationwide, and I concede that these schools’ policies probably shouldn’t change until those protections are in place. But that change needs to happen, and those who sit idly by cannot be excused for their ignorance or their inaction.

All of this trickles down. Lastly, I’d like to talk to you about public accommodations. Public accommodations cover a wide variety of businesses and public facilities, from theaters to restaurants to restrooms. My home state, Massachusetts, passed a law some time ago which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, education, and housing. This law very explicitly excludes public accommodations, and it does so thanks to rhetoric familiar to pretty much any educated trans person: the Bathroom Bill meme.

The idea behind the Bathroom Bill meme is that we as a society cannot afford to let people use the restrooms associated with their gender identity and presentation. After all, a man could just dress up as a woman, claim to be trans, and go into the ladies’ room, where he would be free to peep and install spy cameras and God knows what else! Besides, trans people should just use the toilets corresponding to their genitals. It doesn’t matter that toilets are unisex by design (urinals are not, sure, but only men’s restrooms have them and no one is required to use them), or that most public restrooms are either single occupancy (usually with locking doors) or have toilets inside stalls (also generally with locking doors). It doesn’t matter that we have laws against voyeurism and sexual assault that could be used to prosecute anyone who went into a restroom with malevolent intentions, regardless of their assigned sex or gender identity. It’s a shame, really, but think of the children. A lot of those trans people are perverts anyway.

I bring this up because it did in fact come up at a public dialogue on trans inclusion that I attended at Simmons College some years ago. One of the women in the audience stood up to proclaim that she would not be comfortable seeing a trans woman in the women’s restroom, though, when asked, she admitted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing a trans man in the women’s restroom, either. While the Bathroom Bill meme is often invoked by conservative (or simply transphobic) politicians, it also comes up in the discussion surrounding women’s spaces. And, once again, we can’t win for losing. Trans people have been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our gender identity, to be sure, but we’ve also been arrested for choosing the restrooms that agree with our assigned sex at birth. If I’m ‘read’ in the women’s restroom, depending on exactly where I am, I could be arrested. Or I could simply be harassed, or assaulted. If I go into the men’s restroom, on the other hand, the very best I can hope for is surprise; harassment, assault or worse could swiftly follow. The only absolutely safe choices are unisex restrooms, but not all places have them, and when they are present, they’re often intended as handicapped or family restrooms, and I don’t want to use a facility that someone else might genuinely need.

So I use the women’s restroom. Because this all comes down to unjustified fear which has been fed deliberately through naked bigotry by people who, ultimately, just don’t like trans people, and prefer to believe the absolute worst of us. Because, as bad as things could get for me in the women’s restroom, I’m quite sure they could get much, much worse in the men’s room. Because I present myself as a woman and am generally seen as such, and only rarely ‘read,’ so the risk to my personal safety is much greater in the men’s room. I’m fortunate to spend most of my time in what we call ‘protected jurisdictions’ – cities and towns where municipal laws offer greater protection to trans people, often including access to public accommodations. But there are places, even in my home state, where I could be arrested just for using the restroom where I’m not as likely to attract attention, where I’m not as likely to face harassment and violence.

That is what exclusion does. It leaves people on the outside. And the outside is a scary, horrible, dangerous place to be.

I face discrimination, naked bigotry, assault and worse every day because of my womanhood. My experiences are not always identical to those of other women. I have concerns that other women may not share, and other women have concerns that I may not share. But I think this is true of any two women you might choose to compare, not just trans women and cis women. My mother always believed in the value of community, and she taught me by example. Time and again, I saw her join with other like-minded people in common cause, whether they were feminists, homeschoolers, or activists of any kind. Our similarities are more important than our differences, and we are stronger together. There should be room in women’s space for all of us.

Sex, Gender, and D&D

UPDATE: Wizards has now posted an updated version of the poll which does not include gender-based ability caps. They have also stated that they did not intend to implement “such a pointless rule” and that they never meant to present it as a serious option. While I appreciate their efforts to set the situation right, the conversation’s been started, and my opinions on the matter stand. My original post follows.

Some time ago, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were officially putting D&D 5th Edition into development – and, moreover, that they were appealing to the fans to help them shape the new generation of their classic role-playing game. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been following the development process too closely. The announcement prompted me to officially sever all ties to 4th Edition, as I hadn’t run the game in months and didn’t really expect to run it again in the foreseeable future, but I’ve had my own projects to deal with, and I didn’t really want to spend all my time debating the finer points of D&D with the fan community. I’d see what WotC came up with, and if I didn’t like it, I’d happily stick to running the many, many other RPGs weighing down my shelves.

Sadly, in the immortal words of Veronica Mars, every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

(Yes, people, I do know that’s actually a line from The Godfather: Part III. I just prefer Veronica.)

Let’s flash forward to today. Monte Cook posted an article discussing the process of unifying the various editions of D&D – figuring out what they should bring with them and what they should discard. Now, to Monte’s credit, he started the article by saying that it was difficult to imagine certain things – including gender-based ability score maximums – making a comeback. But ‘difficult’ does not actually equal ‘impossible’. To make matters worse, someone at Wizards decided to go ahead and post a poll at the end of the article asking fans which features they’d like to bring back to D&D. And gender-based ability caps were among the poll options.

Which I checked the results earlier, something like 350 people had voted for the return of gender-based ability caps. That was just a small fraction of the people who had voted on the poll overall, and most of the votes were going to the other options. I can’t tell you what the results are now, because WotC has hidden them away. What I can say is this: it’s insulting that Wizards of the Coast even put this up to a vote. As Logan Bonner pointed out, the other options – THAC0, saving throws, feats, etc. – do not make half the population feel excluded from the game. They are not rooted in bullshit ideology or long-standing social prejudices.

Mr. Bonner’s own short opinion on the subject agrees with my own. Simply put, these rules have no place in D&D. Most of us know they have no place in D&D, and most of us know they’re not going to make a comeback. Opening them up to a public vote just opens a big sexist can of worms. It invites misogynists back into the conversation and that’s not going to be pleasant for the game’s more enlightened fans. It’s already been distinctly unpleasant.

We’ve all heard horror stories of groups that decided to penalize female characters’ Strength or Constitution or even Intelligence, throwing them a bone by perhaps boosting their Charisma in the process. (Because women are pretty, of course; this is our sole purpose, and women who are not attractive to men are useless. Oh, my, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.) There are gamers who will happily argue that women cannot be soldiers, cannot be knights, cannot effectively fight. There are others who will argue that women are inherently bad at math or science, indicating an inferior intellect, meaning they can’t be wizards or scholars. Some of these people might turn around and penalize men’s Charisma or Wisdom or some such, to try and ‘accurately model’ the differences between the sexes, but more often than not, these ridiculous little rules apply only to women.

I’ve made a joke of that, in the past. Because it’s simply ridiculous on the face of it. If you were to look in the bottom of my t-shirt drawer, you’d even find an old -1 STR, +1 CHA shirt that I used to wear all the time. But the more I interact with these people, the more I realize that, no, they’re actually serious, the more I realize it’s not all that funny.

A lot of these folks try to back their points up with science. Let’s be clear: there are differences between the sexes, though these differences are not always as clear-cut as people like to believe, and arguably we may need to reconsider the man/woman dichotomy and admit the possibility of additional sexes. More importantly, however, we do not yet understand what the actual differences between the sexes are – and we don’t know how many of those differences are due to nature and how many are due to nurture. For a great deal of our history, women were not encouraged to pursue careers in math or science. Women were not encouraged to engage in athletic pursuits. Women were not given the same advantages as men. And, even today, women are still treated differently, still burdened with profound disadvantages in pay, education, and career opportunities. Despite claims to the otherwise, we still live in a male-dominated world. So until we have complete social equality, until women and men are able to seize the same opportunities and compete on truly equal footing, don’t tell me that ‘science’ has proven women to be inferior. Science relies on repeated observations under controlled conditions. Our society has yet to eliminate all the many, many factors that impact our physical, social, mental and sexual development and send us spinning off into a myriad of directions.

And yet, despite these problems, extraordinary women have found their way into a variety of traditionally male careers. Are you seriously going to tell me that women can’t excel in math and science? Why don’t you tell that to Augusta Ada King, a.k.a. Ada Lovelace, arguably the first computer programmer? Or Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, United States Navy, creator of the first program compiler and the first person to come up with the very concept of programming languages? Or poor Rosalind Franklin, robbed and slandered by James Watson? Or Marie Curie, or Lise Meitner (blatantly robbed of her Nobel Prize), or Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (who thankfully did get the credit and the Nobel Prize she deserved for her research, in 1995), or Harriet Brooks, or Jane Goodall? In fact, why don’t you take a look at this whole damn category? If these women are outliers – and in some cases, they certainly are – then I would argue that it’s because it’s really damn hard to make it as a woman in the sciences, or in any male-dominated profession, and that’s only starting to change.

Women can’t fight? Well, it’s true that there are fewer female warriors than scientists in our history – but nevertheless, they are there. There’s Renée Bordereau, for example. Or Julie d’Aubingny, the French duellist better known as La Maupin. Or the numerous women who disguised themselves to serve on both sides in the American Civil War. There’s Princess Pingyang, who led an army against the old Chinese capital of Chang’an and played a key role in conquering China for the Tang Dynasty. Then we have the ancient Norse Shieldmaidens, and the Dahomey Amazons. And that’s just scratching the surface. The role of women in war continues to expand.

But hey – let’s ignore all that. Let’s pretend for the moment that women can never be as strong or as resilient as men. Let’s assume there really are physical differences that no amount of social equality, athletic training, or physical conditioning can overcome. (I will not for a second concede that women are less intelligent, because even I, dear reader, can only put up with so much bullshit.) Here’s the thing: that should still have no bearing whatsoever on any tabletop RPG.

Here’s the thing. RPGs are escapism. While I sometimes enjoy exploring difficult themes and concepts in the course of my escapism, I generally prefer to, well…escape. To leave all the shit I have to put up with day after day behind me and enter a world where none of that matters. As I said on Twitter, the great promise of D&D – the great promise of all RPGs – is this: you can be anyone. You can do anything. You can reshape the world. When you inject sexist preconceptions into your game, you break that promise.

And that’s something I cannot abide. As a GM and a game designer, my philosophy boils down to three words: maximum player agency. Yes, sometimes you have to tell the players no, but I don’t like to start from that position. I certainly don’t want to tell them they can’t play ass-kicking female paladins or supergenius gadgeteer superheroines or female space marines fighting hideous alien bugs. And I don’t want the rulebooks we’re using telling them any differently. No, not even as an optional rule. Sexism has no place in a game intended for general release. None.

The people who want to see these kinds of rules restored to D&D are a tiny, tiny minority. I firmly believe that. I also believe they’ll never go away. That’s fine. They have brains, or so I’m told. If they want to spew their sexist bullshit around their battered tables or in their horrible little chatrooms or on their awful little forums, they can go right ahead. That’s what house rules are for. But D&D itself should not – cannot – embrace that kind of utter crap. This is WotC’s world. They have the ability to make it a world free of the sexism that plagues our own. And they should never hesitate to exercise that option.

When you’re writing a period game that clings tightly to historical accuracy, sure, there’s a place for sexism and social pressure – as a setting detail, and one that can be resisted, albeit with consequences if you’re discovered. But D&D is not a period game. It is, by default, a fantasy world with little or no connection to Earth’s history. We can accept elves and magic and dragons. We should be able to accept women who can do anything men can do.

Sexism has no place in D&D. Period. And I do not want to have this conversation again.

Local Scene: Women in Games Boston

I ended up giving my first Local Scene post over to the GLBTQA Gamer Meetup I’m currently organizing, but I’ve actually been planning to talk about interesting Boston-area events for a while now, and the Local Scene category was pretty much invented so I could talk about Women in Games Boston. Organized by the amazing Courtney Stanton, WiG is a monthly event at one of my favorite local pubs, The Asgard, designed as a safe space for women and allies connected with the game industry to get together, talk about games, and share news about job openings, upcoming events, and various other social groups. In practice, it’s really open to most women and allies of women, whether they’re actively employed by the game industry or not – developers, testers, writers, community managers, and other game company employees, yes, but also students and people in between jobs. In fact, I’ve met a few people at these events who aren’t really in the gaming industry at all, but nevertheless share an interest in gaming and women’s rights and women’s issues and make for perfectly lovely company.

My friend Katie and I have been attending these meetings since September, and just a couple days ago, Women in Games Boston made its triumphant return from the 2011 holiday break with a fantastic night of good food, good company and great conversation, as well as a full presentation from Heather Albano, author of Timepiece and game designer for Choice of Games, a company that makes wonderful interactive fiction adventures. (Honestly, Choice of Games deserves its own post, but I have to say I’ve been trying out all their products and I particularly enjoy Choice of the Vampire and Choice of Romance/Choice of Intrigues, recently collected in an omnibus edition for the Kindle.) Ms. Albano had quite a lot to say on the way gender and sexuality impacted their game design, and their struggle to balance maximum player choice with the demands of the genre, and her notes on the design process and the revisions they made based on feedback from beta testers and active players were absolutely fascinating.

From the relative gender neutrality of Choice of the Dragon, to the decision to allow a complete gender swap in the C.S. Forester/Jane Austen-esque Choice of Broadsides (in brief: you play an up-and-coming naval officer fighting wars and seeking romance, but you can choose to play as either a male or female character; if you choose to play a woman, the Navy is exclusively female, and the men of this world occupy the domestic sphere), to the creative substitution of gender roles with a completely different array of social roles in Choice of Romance and Choice of Intrigues, the solutions were inspired and intriguing but far from perfect. Ms. Albano was perfectly willing to admit as much, and showed good humor throughout, even as she pointed out areas in which the team had, perhaps, failed somewhat and areas in which players perceived failure due mainly to their own assumptions. As an example of the latter, she recounted player feedback from Romance and Intrigues pointing out that, male or female, your character predominantly plays the ‘woman’s’ part, just as characters in Broadsides predominantly play the ‘man’s’ part, regardless of sex. In Romance and Intrigues, though you can act boldly, though you can scheme and manipulate, you are the one who is courted, not the one who does the courting. You are the consort, not the queen, nor the lord, nor the wealthy merchant. You can have a profound impact on society, but you hold little tangible power. Some players objected to that, feeling that they should be allowed to go courting. Other players have commented in the case of this game and others that there is little to no substantial difference between the male and female roles in Choice of Games’s offerings – and to an extent, they are right, though I honestly prefer it that way. Maybe I’m saying this because I’ve been spoiled by Mass Effect, but with some exceptions, I play games to escape the pressures of gender roles and other societal constraints, not to suffer those constraints all over again.

And, of course, there were players who complained about the ability to play a gay character in all those games, arguing that there ought to be social consequences to such relationships, up to and including execution. Again, I prefer games that allow me to escape that grim reality (which is, sadly, still a reality in some parts of the world – the storm raging in Uganda springs to mind) rather than games that force it upon me once more. There is certainly room for games that explore these topics, that educate players on the real horrors of homophobia, misogyny, separate spheres and other social constraints, but I don’t think we need to address them whenever women or gay people or minorities are involved, and I am glad to see that the people of Choice of Games apparently feel the same way. (The exception to the rule is Choice of the Vampire, which is written with historical authenticity in mind – it begins with the Battle of New Orleans and currently carries the player through the Civil War, and the credits for the game feature a bibliography! Naturally, if you pursue a same-sex relationship in the 19th century, you must keep it hidden; but even in the case of Vampire, there is no risk of discovery and summary execution. The dangers are noted, but the game assumes you take certain precautions. Choice of Broadsides, based as it is on Regency romance and Horatio Hornblower novels, takes much the same approach; homosexuality is frowned upon, but the game assumes a certain amount of discretion.)

I won’t try to sum up the whole presentation – if nothing else, I certainly don’t remember all of it! Hopefully Ms. Albano will put it online in some form at some point. I will instead say that this is exactly the sort of thing you can expect from WiG guest speakers: a thorough yet entertaining exploration of a truly fascinating topic. In October, Matthew Weise from the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab spoke about gender politics in horror/slasher games; later this month, Alexander Sliwinski from Joystiq will be offering a crash course in handling interviews and getting coverage for your game. And, of course, there’s also the awesome people, the good food, and all the conversation and networking you can handle. If you’re a woman in the gaming industry in Boston, or a friend of women in gaming, I seriously recommend this event.

I’ve already reserved my ticket – make sure you reserve yours.