Regarding Missing Stairs

[cw sexual assault and harassment]

If you are a member, big or small, of any international SFF fandom, you’ve either already met Crystal Huff, or would benefit greatly from doing so. I met her at my local literature festival, Bocas Lit Fest, in April of 2016 while she was pushing the bid for the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) to be held in Finland in 2017. She has consistently advocated for fandom to be inclusive, representative, and accessible, and has on more than one occasion gone to bat for internationally visible, safe, and respectful SFF fandom wherever she goes. She was one of the folks who encouraged me to seek publication and would, in the year leading up to some of my first non-commissioned poetry sales, personally let me know when SFF outlets were about to open for submissions, ask about my progress, and encourage me to attend cons. Her motivation to make fandom an international space is what got me to my first con – unsurprisingly, WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, which was one of the highlights of my short SFF journey and my even shorter international travel history. She is one of the many new friends in the field that I know I can rely on to take me to task when my language isn’t inclusive, but also be there in the little moments when I or someone else could use a hand, like when she literally helped me find somewhere to sleep for my first night in Helsinki because I got in much earlier than I needed to be. 

What I’m saying is, Crystal Huff is a saint of fandom. Fandom can never have too much of those.
It can, however, have far too little, and be in the habit of mistreating the ones that it does have. 

Earlier this evening, Crystal wrote this absolutely upsetting blog post about her experience with Arisia, her former ‘home convention’, after it placed her rapist in a position of power at the con for another term. 

Read it. Then, read it again. If you’re engaged in that space, there is more than one call to action there specifically for you. 

I really just want to add one thing, without the desire to speak over anyone: if we really want to do justice by more fans like Crystal, we have to consider these things before anyone should have to write a blog post, or make a second complaint, and every time that we don’t, we have already let our communities down. 

It seems at this point that missing stairs exist in every community of this kind, and there is an urge to defend our spaces from the negative effects of that without actually making any steps forward. A lot of what Crystal documents in this post mirrors things that I’ve seen elsewhere. They excuse those missing stairs’ behaviour by minimising and dismissing it: ‘what they did wasn’t a crime, just creepy’, then ‘what they did wasn’t creepy, just strange’, then ‘what they did wasn’t strange, why are you making a big deal out of this?’. They insist that the person’s contributions to their community, their brand, or their art form is greater than the hurt they may have caused to one person. They even argue that, so long as their actions didn’t take place in their capacity as a member of our community, it isn’t even their business. 

All of those aren’t just signs that they aren’t thinking about the victims that have come to them. They’re red flags that the process of unlearning and consciousness-raising that those communities need in order to serve their entire congregations is missing, and without it, they underserve every single person who associates with them in any capacity. The metaphor is ‘missing stair’ for a reason – not only because encountering one without warning, when it could have been adequately repaired, puts the person about to step there at serious risk, but because the idea that it’s just there without any work done to reduce its harm puts a non-zero amount of other potential lives at risk in perpetuity. 

Worse still, is that in a lot of those situations, metaphor does us no good. Staircases, after all, aren’t sentient. A lot of people take advantage specifically of the fact that we’re willing to tread lightly around them for one reason or another. The same reasons you don’t want to lose them – their expertise, their brand, your good favour with others – are the same things they use, even inadvertently, to leverage power over potential victims. 

And that fact – that while one organisation’s lack of process is now in view, others may still be mired in the same issues – troubles me. 

Folks like Crystal deserve much better from fandom. And that means we not only ask questions about Arisia, but we ask questions about every fandom space we create, enter, or help to nurture, so that we don’t risk even more communities. If we can’t do that – if we need survivors to make noise about our repeated inaction in the first place, and even then we struggle to do the right thing – then not only have we already failed a non-zero amount of fans we haven’t even met or hurt yet, but that pain will persist and exacerbate for every moment that we refuse to right ourselves. 

Every call to action Crystal has left on that post is a framework for how we can keep any and every fandom space accountable. Unfortunately, I can promise you that this is an awakening that someone you know or a space that you are deeply invested in sorely needs, and especially if you want to believe that it has good work to do and you want that work to continue, you have to be willing to stand up and take those organisations to task, even if that means no longer engaging with them. 

Because every fandom space needs more people as kind, as warm, as eager, and as committed to diverse and healthy space as Crystal. Because nowhere deserves to suffer what she has suffered. And because creating safe fandom means taking stories like this absolutely seriously, and any space that would so much as lapse in the face of that decisiveness is prolonging the pain of its current victims, and promising a non-zero amount of potential fans that, Heaven forbid those abusers ever victimise you, they will not offer you anything. 

Read Crystal’s words again. If Arisia is a space you’re in, or want to be in, consider her terms. And always, always endeavour to make or participate in spaces that never treat their fans, and especially their saints, this cruelly.