Being an itemised list of disagreements

This is a post inspired by Likhain‘s Letter to Apex Editors Re: The Intersectional SFF Roundtable.1

CONTENTS
Introduction: Why I am making this post
The facts as I saw them: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates
Commentary: Speaking of opinions …
Conclusion
Footnotes

INTRODUCTION: Why I am making this post

I have asked myself why I am making this post, given that the actions of Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew have been extensively recorded.2 I don’t mean to kick the Apex editors when they’re down. I don’t even think it’s right to kick RH/BS when she’s down. It’s always seemed to me that the best contribution I could make was by supporting the people RH/BS targeted. Saying anything seemed like it would be kepoh lagi boliao.

So who and what is this post for?

I am writing this for two sets of people. One set is the people who were targeted by RH/BS and friends or were otherwise made to feel that fandom was a hostile place because of her conduct and that of her friends and supporters.

The second set is the people of colour/non-white people who continue to interact with RH/BS. Those who participate in roundtables with her, include her stories in their anthologies, and boost her work and opinions as though she is a totally normal, OK person who has never indulged in public, worryingly detailed fantasies of violence against other human beings in her life.

To this second audience: you can talk to and work with anyone you want. We need to talk to people we disagree with, and hanging out with a person online doesn’t of itself mean you condone their behaviour. However, I want you to make sure you have thought carefully about what you are doing, for two reasons:

(1) The main reason RH/BS was able to bully people with impunity for such a long time was because it looked, from the outside, as though the SFF community condoned her behaviour. You’d see a Known Cool Person chatting with her on Twitter as though it was OK for RH to chase people around on the Internet having a go at them, and you’d think, gosh, maybe it IS OK. Maybe that IS how to support the cause of diversity in genre fiction!

I believe this made things more difficult for the people RH/BS targeted. They didn’t feel they could speak up because not only would RH/BS harass them if they did, they thought everyone would be on RH/BS’s side.

(2) I knew what sort of person RH was before Benjanun Sriduangkaew had ever published a story. When BS started befriending people in my social circles, I thought, well, live and let live. Everyone has the right to have that one jerk friend. And everyone deserves a second chance. I didn’t say anything.

It subsequently became apparent that I should’ve said something. So I’m telling you now. Be careful.

But you’ll have heard this before. What can I add to what’s already been said?

It might make a difference who I am. I’m a writer of Chinese extraction from Southeast Asia. I do what I can to serve the community and I believe in diversity. I only watched Racefail ’09 from afar, so I feel no need to re-fight that battle. And I have no personal reason for resenting RH/BS, since until she figured out I thought she was a troll, she was always friendly to me, and as far as I know, to the extent she ever reviewed my work, she was positive about it.

In an ideal world this post would be concise, accurate and comprehensive; unfortunately, in our workaday world, you can’t do all three. It is neither comprehensive nor concise. I have tried to avoid reciting things that have already been posted about in detail, but it’s still bloody long. It is as accurate as I have been able to make it, given that the events span a long period and many comments have been deleted or are contained in ancient chat logs or emails. Among other things, I’ve tried to use the right pronouns for everyone I talk about, but please let me know if I have got any of them wrong.

I name names, because there are probably enough vagueposts in SFF. Some of the named people have reviewed this post and confirmed that they have no objection to its being published.

THE FACTS AS I SAW THEM: An account of various encounters, direct and indirect, with RH/BS and her associates

Winterfox

When you’re around in a community for a while, you get a sense of the people in it, and you become aware of certain people it’s wisest to avoid. I had been in media and anime/manga fanfic fandom since I was a teenager, and after Racefail ’09 I got to know lots of people, especially fans of colour, who had overlapping interests in geeky shit, books and diversity.

Around this time, among these circles, I became aware of RH/BS as winterfox (her LiveJournal handle). I was not acquainted with her, but I saw comments from her that I fundamentally disagreed with. Two stick out in my mind (both appeared in the comments of LiveJournal posts):

(1) Winterfox relied on the fact that she was “Asian-Asian” to dismiss the opinion of a commenter of Asian heritage who liked Asian American YA author Cindy Pon’s writing. I saw this sort of power-grabbing, identity-policing move all the time growing up, and it has nothing to do with social justice. There is plenty of space in the world for every kind of Asian. It’s particularly cruel to throw authenticity in the face of people from the diaspora, who will often have struggled with their connection to their own culture.

(2) She challenged an Asian American commenter who disagreed with her, not by addressing any of the commenter’s arguments, but saying “are you white”. The commenter said, rightly, that this had nothing to say to anything. The thread is here, though winterfox’s comments have been deleted.

I’m not saying these were the worst things she ever said — they are not. I suppose they stuck in my head because I am “Asian-Asian” (ptui) myself and they seemed really obviously wrong to me.

This was around the time that RH/BS started harassing my friend Rachel Manija Brown, who has posted about her experiences here: Not a fun post to write. I was not aware of this and only discovered it had been going on three years later in 2014. I understand that RH is still doing what Rachel describes in her post, at least as of around six months ago — for details, see Rachel’s recent post, A More Specific Grievance.

Requires Hate

Winterfox subsequently set up a blog on which she reviewed books as Requires Hate. I did not have much, if anything, to do with her, though I was starting to get published in a small way and was aware that she’d reviewed some of my fiction favourably.

It must have been some time in 2012 that I was added by a friend to a private chat group of non-white/non-Western SFF writers. These groups are common and are often a nice source of conversation and support. Though I appreciated that friend’s intentions, however, I didn’t know most of the people in the group and one of the few people I was familiar with, RH/BS, was someone I didn’t want to have anything to do with.

Awkwardly, RH/BS seemed always to be online whenever I popped into the chat group to have a look. We ended up having a couple of exchanges, during one of which she mentioned that she was going to have a story out in Giganotosaurus. She was wary of sharing the pseudonym under which it would be published, however — in the group we knew her only as RH. (If you’re wondering if it’s awkward chatting to someone called Requires Hate, yes, it is. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if people started shortening her handle to “Hatey” or something.)

I logged out of that particular chat early, because I didn’t feel like shooting the breeze with a known troll. Our mutual friend subsequently emailed me to say that RH was very anxious that her fiction-writing pseudonym should not be linked to her RH persona, because of trolls (!!), and would I please be sure not to reveal the connection.

I said yes. I kept my word. I left the chat group.

I think the Giganotosaurus story might have been this one: Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Anyway, that’s how I knew.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

From 2012 onwards, I continued to have nothing to do with BS, though I think it’s fair to say that she was cordial to me and if I had wanted to be friends, we could’ve been. I tried to be civil but distant, though I believed (incorrectly) that the RH identity and blog was effectively defunct and that BS was engaged in nothing more objectionable than writing fiction and being nice to people she considered important.

I think I linked to a short story of hers in a guest blog post I did once. I wish I had stuck to my guns and not done that. I felt at the time like I was just being ungenerous about a rising genre star from Southeast Asia, since even people who knew BS was RH seemed to think that her behaviour was OK. People talked about her “performative rage”. It looked like standard toolery to me, but what did I know?

What happened in late 2014, when editor Nick Mamatas revealed to SFF at large that BS was RH, has been better chronicled elsewhere. I’ll stick to telling you what I experienced, just before the online blow-up happened.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s friends

I met writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz at the Nine Worlds convention in 2013, when we were on a panel together.

In 2014, I attended Nine Worlds again and then WorldCon, which took place in London on two successive weekends. So did Rochita. I didn’t know Rochita well then, but I liked what I knew of her. She seemed interesting and kind.

WorldCon was stressful for me: I was on about 8 separate programme items over 3 days and this was the weekend right after Nine Worlds, where I had helped organise the first Race & Culture programming track. (This was really only a half-track: it shared a room and schedule with the LGBTQAI Fandom track.)

One evening at WorldCon, I was with Alex Dally MacFarlane and their partner Tori Truslow, writers/editors whom I’d met at Nine Worlds the previous year, and I mentioned that Rochita was doing a reading. I wasn’t sure where.

Alex said, “I can’t talk to Rochita right now.”

I must have looked taken aback. I probably said, “Oh!”

Alex continued, “I know, it’s sad. Maybe it will change in the future.”

We then went on to have drinks with a friend of Alex.

This exchange made me feel anxious and unhappy, at what was already a stressful con. It was, like nearly all WorldCons, overwhelmingly white. At this stage I had only published short fiction; Alex Dally MacFarlane was a short story editor; and their friend we had drinks with was a Tor.com editor. None of this was consciously on my mind, but I wonder whether I would’ve been more willing to go “fuck all of this shit” if it happened now, instead of hanging around for drinks, feeling miserable and uncomfortable.

The next time I was able to speak to Rochita, I asked her what was up between her and Alex. She told me the details she later recounted here: Standing Up and Speaking Truth. In summary, RH and Alex had put pressure on Rochita to publicly denounce her friend Tricia Sullivan for racism. RH didn’t want to do it herself because she didn’t want to taint the BS identity. Rochita had refused and Alex and RH had cut ties with Rochita.

Rochita was very upset; she cried telling me about it, and I bought her a baked potato. At this time I did not know either Rochita or Alex especially well, but I believed Rochita. What she told me was consistent with what Alex had told me and with the little I knew of all parties involved.

Among other things, Rochita explained that at Nine Worlds the previous weekend, she had tried to speak to Alex and Tori and they had blanked her. This had made her feel, as she has said, anxious and fearful — not unlike how I had felt when Alex told me that Rochita was persona non grata for unexplained reasons. Funny, it’s almost like random ostracism of people from underrepresented backgrounds makes fandom a hostile place for them!

I was shocked, especially because Tori ran the LGBTQAI programming track at Nine Worlds in 2013 and 2014. I valued the Queer/LGBTQAI Fandom programming at Nine Worlds very much, and Tori had been hugely helpful with the new Race & Culture half-track. In particular, she had shared the budget allocated to her track to help fund the attendance costs of certain Race & Culture guests, and she spoke to the Nine Worlds organisers with the result that they donated 10 free memberships to Con or Bust. I had even said to Tori, among others, that I wanted Rochita to be on Race & Culture programming; she had said nothing for or against the idea.

It was really upsetting to me to know that a white organiser of a con that prided itself on its inclusivity — again, a very white con in terms of attendance — should have treated a non-white guest in this way. Let me be clear: I believe that what Alex and Tori did to Rochita was bullying, and given the circumstances and their respective positions, it was racist bullying.

What was particularly painful for Rochita was the fear that RH/BS — who was by now embedded in Rochita’s online and meatspace SFF circles — would turn her friends against her. RH/BS did in fact email Rochita’s friends to demand that they denounce Rochita publicly. Rochita said she was relieved when I greeted her warmly at Nine Worlds. (Author Tade Thompson, who’d also been on the Nine Worlds 2013 panel Rochita and I were on, has confirmed that Rochita was hesitant about approaching him in 2014 and wasn’t sure if he’d talk to her either.) As I recall the story, Tori was not involved in the RH and Alex vs. Rochita disagreement online, but her behaviour when Rochita saw her at the cons seemed to bear out Rochita’s fears.

The actions of RH/BS and her friends broke trust. The conduct of those who supported her when her activities began to be revealed also damaged trust.

COMMENTARY: Speaking of opinions …

I made some friends and I lost some friends in the course of this blow-up. I know it hurt a lot of people in different ways. I’m sorry if this post adds to that hurt, or causes new and exciting kinds of hurt.

But I want to say some things.

What RH/BS and her mates did and at times continue doing to Rochita and others was and is racist bullying. It was not “punching sideways”.3 As far as I know, RH/BS is a person of Chinese ethnicity and Thai nationality who at the time lived in Hong Kong. Rochita is a Filipina who lives in the Netherlands. Chinese racism against darker-skinned people is almost cartoonish — here’s a true story about an Indian Malaysian lawyer who suffered what was likely an unnecessary death in a Hong Kong hospital. As for the position of Filipinos in Chinese-dominated Hong Kong: they are the largest ethnic minority in Hong Kong; the majority work as domestic helpers; and exploitation is rife. I do not believe you can consider RH/BS’s behaving as though she was entitled to get Rochita to do her dirty work in isolation from this context.

I know people like RH/BS in real life – well, I don’t, because nobody I know in real life has her particular combination of free time and ill intent. But I know well-off Chinese people in the diaspora. At the lower end of the high-income scale, they form a large part of my social networks. For all that anti-Asian and specifically anti-Chinese racism exists, such people are not particularly victimised on a day to day basis, and they/we can be terrible in all kinds of ways. All people of all backgrounds can be awful. Things are simultaneously complicated and very simple. Don’t just put people in the “good box” and the “bad box” based on their background/identity and turn your brain off.

It is not OK to bully people. It does not advance the cause of social justice or diversity. This is not the tone argument. There is a difference between making emphatic statements to which the privileged object because these hurt their feelings or they (consciously or unconsciously) wish to preserve the advantages of their privileged status, vs. chasing people around on the Internet having a go at them.

I believe RH/BS targeted women and specifically women of colour disproportionately. However, it’s not like I kept watch on her activities — rather the reverse — so I don’t know for sure. But it is not even OK to bully straight cis white men. I KNOW, WHAT A WILD IDEA.

That said, I noticed the white people who sought to take advantage of the blow-up to get on their hobbyhorses about SJWs or how unjustly they, a White Progressive, were treated in Racefail ’09. Not that you care for my opinion, but I’m not impressed by you either.

Finally, this really is boliao but I have to say it, tolong lah stop saying RH/BS is a master manipulator. Here are merely two things she did which were unnecessary and stupid:

(1) She disclosed her identity, unasked, to me, a person who had no reason to keep her identity secret. I did it anyway, but she lucked out if you ask me.

(2) She got people to go around saying the rumour that BS was the same person as RH was hateful, racist, etc. To this day I don’t understand what she thought she would achieve by this. It wasn’t like she was especially careful about keeping the different identities separate (see (1) above), so it was bound to come out, resulting in the people in question feeling embarrassed and betrayed.

Acting like RH/BS was some sort of mastermind excuses those who continue to support her and condone her behaviour. I don’t blame the people who didn’t cotton on straight away. RH/BS exploited people’s best instincts — their desire to be kind, to welcome creators from underrepresented backgrounds, to give others the benefit of the doubt.

But the information about her conduct is public now. And I do blame the people who, once it all came out, identified more with RH/BS than the people she targeted. I know where that feeling comes from and it’s not a feeling to be proud of. Work on yourselves and become doper people, please. And I will do the same.

CONCLUSION

I considered the risks of making this post given that (a) I haven’t attempted to shroud my identity across the different worlds I inhabit in layers of mystery, used six different pseudonyms, etc. and (b) I have connections based in Southeast Asia. I think, hopefully, the risks are relatively low. If my assessment proves to be wrong, I will take appropriate steps, including making reports to the authorities as necessary.

Please do not send or link me to any response from RH/BS or people who think her conduct is acceptable, unless they suggest a real risk of harm to me or my friends and relations, which I should be aware of. (Twitter disgruntlement does not constitute harm worthy of informing me of it, unless it includes threats or fantasies of violence directed at real people.) I am not interested. I will delete all such communications and report any that are abusive.

I am hoping that my reputation will be safe with those who know me – who have worked with me, talked with me, met me in person, chatted with me online, etc. If you are disappointed by this post, or no longer feel safe with me, I’m sorry. If I actually like you, I hope you’ll give me the chance in future to rehabilitate myself.

Since I’ve said my piece, I may not respond to any communications about this post in a timely fashion or at all.

Thanks for reading.

FOOTNOTES

1 Apex editor Jason Sizemore has taken down the roundtable and posted a response: Intersectional SFF – Response.

2 I have linked to Laura J. Mixon’s post about RH/BS’s activities: A Report on Damage Done By One Individual Under Several Names. There are valid complaints to be made of the post and particularly about some of the comments. That said, I believe it is broadly accurate and I nominated and voted for it in the Hugos. A primary complaint I’ve seen about the post is that it was made by a privileged white woman with connections in SFF fandom that shield her from negative consequences. My view is that these are the very reasons she was able to make the post, and speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves, or won’t be believed when they do, is one of the things privilege is for.

3 The whole “punching up” metaphor was for JOKES, people. It was supposed to help comedians understand whether they’d gone too far or not, not whether it was OK to bully some groups of people because they have more privilege than you according to a checklist you found on the Internet.