content warning: homophobic slurs, street harassment
Last weekend in Kansas City, at the 74th WorldCon, women swept the fiction categories of the Hugo Awards. Last weekend in Kansas City, at the 74th WorldCon, Dave Truesdale clutched his pearls.
As part of his apparently-prepared plan to hijack the panel he was moderating, “the state of short fiction,” Truesdale said that “science fiction is not for snowflakes.” He said that those of us critical of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. suffer from “microaggressive disorder, or MAD.”
With an admirable dedication to a visual metaphor, he pulled out a string of white beads and placed it around his neck. He said that those of us who are easily offended should clutch our pearls instead of saying anything critical, apparently ever.
* * *
I’ve thought about this long and hard over the weekend, and today I came to a conclusion: yes, I am a snowflake. I am capable of fragility. I’m proud of this.
* * *
Thirty minutes before the aforementioned panel discussion, as I walked back to the convention center from lunch, a man called me a faggot. I have a beard and wear women’s clothes, so this happens to me on a semi-regular basis. Rarely do encounters like these escalate to violence, but they always carry that threat.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard the man correctly, though. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I looked for the source of the yelling and saw a group of four men walking parallel to me on the other side of the street. They didn’t appear to be part of the convention. One of them was staring at me, angry at my existence.
“Did you just call me a faggot?!” I asked. Well, I shouted.
He stared at the ground, intimidated. Yes, yes he had called me that.
I shook it off. That day, I didn’t let it get to me. That man, after all, is frankly my enemy.
* * *
I can’t speak for other people, but I have a thick skin on the street. I have emotional walls and emotional armor (and a more literal knife, if it comes to that) ready to deploy against harassment from strangers. I’ve found that—again, for me—meeting aggression with aggression has kept me safer and been kinder on my emotional state than meekness has.
But one of the many things I’ve learned from a lifetime of playing Dungeons & Dragons is that you can’t wear your armor all the time. You need to take it off sometimes, lest you become fatigued.
To our enemies, we need thick skin. To our allies, we need to learn to be more sensitive. A criticism like “you’re a faggot” is not criticism I need to waste my time considering. Criticism like “you are misrepresenting the trans-male experience in this story,” or even “you are straw-manning fiscal conservativism in your novel,” however, I need to take to heart and consider. Maybe I’ll accept the criticism. Maybe I’ll reject it. But I’ll consider it.
For that, we need thinner skins, not thicker. So that we can hear one another as we address our concerns. Hearing criticism can only make our work stronger and our community more inclusive. It’s taken long, hard, and conscious work to be able to bare my thin skin to my peers, but it’s been worth it.
If that makes me a special snowflake, then so be it.