WorldCon 2016: Badass Ladies & Bros Who Want Blood from a Stone

Last day of WorldCon. I keep thinking “Saint Louis” but it’s Kansas City and that just goes to show how much I’ve been paying attention to the world outside my very narrow focus for the last five days.

Of course, a lot happened, some of which I had to be reminded of the following day. But the theme of the week for me was powerful women.

I realize now I didn’t have many strong female role models as a girl. I was taught that women were wives and mothers, and of “pretty” and “smart” the priority was by far to be pretty. Doing well in school, having hobbies and skills, these were important, but too much intelligence was confrontational. It was my job to pose for photographs, not argue politics with my father or ask questions about our religion.

Speculative fiction is still a battleground, like all of popular culture seems to be, where some with privilege are throwing shit-fits about having to share. I’m not entirely unsympathetic. I, for example, do not believe that we can tell people what they are and aren’t allowed to write and talk about. I believe that skill, quality, and a good, thoughtful heart guide a writer through all kinds of difficult territory. I don’t think that’s what the argument is about.

I got to witness—well, I guess it’s a small part of WorldCon controversial history happening. I was in the now-infamous panel where the Pearl-Clutching Incident occurred. Neil Clarke was so angry he turned ashen and physically moved his chair so he would not have to see this bullshit; Jonathan Strahan and Gordon Van Gelder just seemed to think this was an utter waste of their time. It was Sheila Williams, a woman I already admired quite a bit, who took the reigns of the panel.

Firmly and gently she talked circles of reason around a small, angry man who shrank further and further into himself as he seemed to realize that his political screed was not going over the way he hoped it would. Sheila was gracious, patient, and never unkind, but she was so obviously smart and… I think the word I’m looking for is righteous. I was so impressed with her, so touched by her generosity of spirit in simply handling the absurd accusations of an obvious misogynist and returning bombproof answers of why he was, I’m sorry, wrong. She didn’t take it personally. She kept the room calm, kept things from escalating, kept the world turning slowly on its axis.

And then Liza Trombi taught me how to whistle, and we started a gang and flipped a table (carefully). She won an Alfie Saturday night for her work on Locus. I got to hold it for a minute.

I also owe a constant debt of gratitude to Eileen Gunn, who has been such a force of good for my career. She makes sure I get to the right places and meet the right people. She believes in me. It means so much to have someone whose work is so weird, so true, so unsettling, talk about your writing to other people. Eileen is generous with many young writers but I feel like she has bent backwards to make time for me, and I can’t express enough how inspired I am by her. She’s just badass. She’s smart, she doesn’t pull punches, she has fantastic taste and esoteric knowledge. She fits in anywhere. She manages to sit right at the edges of the center of attention; she doesn’t need to be the focus. She doesn’t need her ego petted. She knows who she is. There is no better role model for a young woman hungry for success.

Strong women are the bones of speculative fiction. It’s absurd to pretend that our contributions are less, or somehow bringing the genre down—we aren’t new here. But whatever. We are living through the death throes of a cabal nostalgic for a world that never actually existed, and their power over us is weaker every year. They can shout and whine and stomp their feet but I can’t wait to ruin science fiction for them.

On a more personal note, I’m grateful to have these women in my orbit. I was taught to define myself by the men in my life; I’m only now learning how fucked up that is. Watching smart, accomplished women be generous and strong and funny and take no shit, being on the receiving end of their advice and kindness–I know I am fortunate. My community is remarkable.


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