Another rambly post with a word for the journey

This is a rather rambly and somewhat personal post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things and I’m remembering a day conference I attended where one of the women leaders reminded us that if we’re going to be engaged in social change, we need to bear a number of things in mind. One of these things is a word that I think we all need to carry in our backpacks.

Watchfulness.

We already know that in life, there will always be someone waiting to bring you down. When we’re starting out on the journey, we’re all eager and full of faith. It’s real easy to be made to believe that everyone who claims to be on our side really stands on our side, when the truth of the matter is that each and every person has an own agenda and that agenda may not be the same as the one you carry. I’ve learned the hard way that just because a person uses the right words and claims to stand on the same side, it doesn’t mean that person is someone you can open your heart and your soul to. It doesn’t mean that person is someone who wishes you well.

The thing is, when you’re engaged in struggle, you’re vulnerable too. It’s easy to get sucked into the kind of talk that will derail you from your original purpose. Because we long for companions in the struggle. Because it’s lonely out in the field and it’s hard. It’s even harder if you feel like you’re struggling all alone–like you’re a voice shouting into the void

Watchfulness.

Some people can’t conceive of success that makes room for others to enjoy greater success alongside of you. Some folks can’t understand the joy that comes from seeing people you love receiving praise and accolades. Some folks don’t see how the success of someone else does not diminish your own success. But we who are working for change must keep our eyes focused on the goal. Don’t be distracted by folks to the back or to the front or the side of you. You might share a goal with some folks, but in the work of change, in the work of creation, it’s not a competition as to who gets to reach the goal first.

When you have your eyes fixed on that goal, accolades and praise diminish in importance. What becomes important is that the mission gets accomplished, that we reach change, that we achieve that hoped for state. And maybe you won’t get awards for the work you do, but in the work towards change, awards aren’t a proper measure for the work that is done.

The true measure, the true reward comes when you see change taking place for real.

I keep my eyes fixed on the goal.

Sometimes, when the darkness crowds around me and I’m tempted to lay me down and not rise up again,  I think of all the hands that have lifted me up and of the folks who’ve gathered around me and chanted a mantra of love telling me to keep on writing and I know, I cannot give up. Not ever. I won’t give up until I see each and every one of those I love blossom and reach their full potential.

I don’t know when, I don’t know how the dream of proving Filipinos can write well enough in English morphed into a dream to witness how those who travel alongside me come into their own.

I don’t know when I started dreaming of a future that’s different from the present we occupy. Perhaps it was always there, lurking at the back of my mind, perhaps that dream just blossomed into maturity as I experienced what it’s like to be held up and given wings to find my dream.

My dream is to see more voices rising. To see a field occupied by a multiplicity of voices to see a field where there are no minorities.

Watchfulness.

We move through different stages in life. From not knowing, to slightly knowing, to full knowing. From apathy, to fear, to outrage, to anger, to compassion and understanding what it takes to truly work for change.  Not caring about others that is the most deadly state of all. It means, you lose your ability to feel with, to empathize, to feel deep down to your bones–you lose your soul.

Be watchful of your soul. Be watchful of your heart. No matter how hard or tough or how angry-making the struggle becomes, remain watchful.

When you’re doing the work, you need to accept that not everyone will love you. You need to accept that more folks will hate you than love you. Because who wants the world shaken up and changed? Who wants the world order to be turned upside down on its head?

Working towards change is terrifying work because it can at times feel so gigantic and overwhelming and if you’re invested in it, there will be moments when you’ll go: Oh shit, what was I thinking when I said I would do this? When you work towards change, you need to put your hands to the ground and do the dirty work. You need to invest your time and energy in creating and bringing into being a new world order. That’s not easy work. It’s an investment of time and energy and other resources and you won’t even get headlined or praised for that kind of work.

We’ve been taught to be modest, to erase ourselves, to downplay our ambitions, to keep our heads down. Don’t rock the boat.

So we don’t talk about the vision we hold in us because talking about that vision is terrifying. It’s baring your soul and making yourself vulnerable to arrows and spears. I say: We must not be quiet about the future that we want. We must not be afraid to rock the boat or to put ourselves at risk. Because without vision–without taking that risk, we don’t have a future.  And if we don’t share the vision inside us, we can’t blame folks if the world goes on as it’s always gone. Rock the boat, I say. Do it to the rhythm that beats inside you–to the tune of that song that says: we have big dreams and our dreams have a place in this world. We’re not waiting for permission, we’re taking hold of it. We’re shaping the future we want to see, marching to the tune of a song that belongs to us.

When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it’s much more than paying bucks for merchandise. When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it means we invest time, effort, resources in cultivating, nurturing and making sure there are no minorities in the field.

James Baldwin talked about the need to create a country where there are no minorities. We need to do that in this field. We need to show that we stand on the same level–equals in every discourse and we won’t let ourselves be treated as less than equal.

When we talk of change, we’re talking about a vision we share. A vision we want and we need to see become reality. How hungry are we for change? Are will willing to put our money where our mouths are? Are we willing to invest ourselves? Are we willing to put ourselves at risk?

It’s a fearsome thing to propose an end to hierarchies and pyramid structures. It’s a fearsome thing to say, let us all realize the power we hold inside us. It is a fearsome thing, but it is not impossible.

Instead of traditional hierarchies let us bring in horizontal fractals where a multiplicity of voices and a multiplicity of stories abound. Set up institutions with built-in nurturing and supportive systems, install programs that will encourage instead of discourage, invest in the development of multiple voices, reinstate the chains that bind older generations to younger ones. It’s a giant endeavour. It requires investment of time, energy, economic resources; it requires willingness to take the risk and it also requires a hell of a lot of love.

**Tade Thompson made a series of tweets on diversity which I’ve storified. Do take the time to check it out.

Standing Up and Speaking Truth

I believe that no one has any right to dictate to me when I should speak, where I should speak or how I should speak on any given subject. I also believe that questioning a person on the choices they make is breach of personhood. In matters pertaining to decisions about one’s profession, that questioning is a clear breach of professionalism. I also want to reiterate that if the work under discussion is a work that I have not read in its completed form, it is not right for me to criticize the work or condemn it.

I write the above because this was at the heart of the conflict that took place between Alex Dally MacFarlane and myself on the 19th of July and it was also this conflict that led to Requires Hate breaking all ties with me.

Alex has spoken in public of a conflict that took place between her and myself over Tricia Sullivan’s book, Shadowboxer. I had clearly stated my position on the work. In separate emails I clearly told both Alex and RH that I had no intention of passing judgment on Shadowboxer. I did not feel it was my place to criticize Shadowboxer on the basis of its Thailand setting as I was not familiar with Thai culture and if any public criticism of this aspect of the work should arise, it should come first from Thai readers.

Because of my position and because I had publicly supported Tricia Sullivan, I was accused of being complicit in racism and transphobia.

Regardless of this accusation, I continue to stand by what I have said. I cannot condemn a work based on a manuscript that has since been rewritten.

I am aware that things have been said about me. I am not sure what has been said and I do not know with how many this conflict has been shared. I had, at first, made a decision not to talk about this conflict as I valued Alex Dally MacFarlane’s work.

Tori Truslow who is one of the Nine Worlds organizers is Alex’s partner and it was clear that she was aware of what had taken place between Alex and me. I did hope that she would keep an objective position on this matter. It will seem illogical to many, but the position Alex and Tori occupied in UK fandom made me anxious and fearful when I went to Nine Worlds.

At that time I was afraid of Alex. I did not know what to expect of her and I did not know what to expect of her partner, Tori. I hoped that the issue could be resolved in a professional manner. At Nine Worlds, Alex gave me the cut and I realized that this issue was not going to be resolved. I later heard that a number of people had been made aware of this conflict. Again, I do not know what was said or how it was framed, but I am now in no doubt as to Alex’s and Tori’s hostility towards me.

How does this all connect to RH?

After the conflict between Alex and myself, I sent RH an email telling her of this and saying that she should feel free to cut ties with me as I had burned bridges with Alex. In response, RH clearly questioned my decisions on my friendships and my refusal to condemn those who had supported me and those who I counted as friends. She then cut off ties with me.

In all our communications, I had always supported RH in her desire to build a career as a writer. I respected her descision to maintain secrecy and her choice to take on a writing pseudonym. I do not know what RH’s real name is. I also do not know Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s real identity. I do know that Benjanun was a persona that RH donned in order to achieve her desire of being a published writer.

After Worldcon, I was aware that something was going on, but not exactly what. There was talk of whisper campaigns, but I paid no attention to that as I did not have the energy to deal with controversies. I do remember Rachel Swirsky asking me about Benjanun’s identity and I told her that if this had already been confirmed by others I did not see why she felt the need to ask me for confirmation.

After that, I was even more sporadic online as we were switching servers and access to the internet was quite spotty.

On the 14th of October, I was surprised to find a message from Nick Mamatas on my blog. He wrote that if I wanted to know what the latest controversy was about, I should get in touch with him. I wasn’t too keen on controversy, so I told him that I didn’t have regular net access but I would get in touch as soon as I could. I was also surprised to find a number of hostile messages from people who told me they were disappointed or disgusted with me.

When I got back online on the 16th of October, I got in touch with Nick Mamatas and asked him what he knew. I told him I had received a number of angry messages and I was confused as I was completely out of the loop. Did he know anything?

I had heard that Benjanun had been outed in public by Nick Mamatas, but Nick told me that Benjanun was spreading the rumor that I was the one who had outed her. I told Nick that this was an untrue accusation. I thanked him for taking the time to ask me about this and tried to think of what I could do.

I will admit that I was quite disheartened. Among the messages I received was one that accused me of sabotaging and destroying Southeast Asian writers. It is an accusation that has no ground in truth. My work has always been directed towards creating more visibility for writers coming from the margins. That these kinds of lies were being fed to the vulnerable is a deed that I consider unconscionable.

It was then that I decided that I couldn’t just wait for things to die down. There was much more at stake than myself. I reached out to people I trusted and decided to write this post.

I’ve heard that Requires Hate a.k.a. Benjanun Sriduangkaew has tendered two apologies and that she has apologized to those who she has harmed. More than two weeks have passed since then, but I have yet to receive an apology for the untruths she spread about me and her attempt to destroy my reputation.

There are those who say that we must forgive and forget and move on, but this is one case where we cannot simply forget. In the time since I learned of the accusations that were being leveled against me, I found out that this was not the first time RH had tried to destroy someone’s reputation. I also found out about her long history of abusive behaviour carried out under a variety of names.

Finding out about the stories of other victims has made me realize that to keep silent would be to do them a great disservice. The incident that took place between Alex, RH and myself was not pleasant, but there are those who have been silenced far longer by fear, there are those who have been ostracized and left out of conversations, there are those who have been shoved aside, dismissed and devalued.

I consider myself very lucky. It is with great thanks to friends and fellow travelers that I am still in the field. It is with thanks, first of all to Elizabeth Bear, that I found the courage to tell my story. It is with thanks to the work of Laura Mixon-Gould that I was able to see that I was not alone and that what happened to me was not a random individual incident. It is with thanks to Nalo Hopkinson’s words that I was able to start healing. It is with thanks to many in this field that I was able to keep hold of hope and belief.

To say that all RH did was to utter words is a complete denial of what we are as writers. Words have power, and words wielded in hatred and violence are just has harmful as violence dealt out with fists.

It is clear to me that RH has made use of her words to create schisms and divisions. She created an atmosphere of distrust and fear. By her actions, she has harmed many who chose to put their trust in her.

I still have no wish to harm RH. However, I do believe that it is only right that people be warned. I don’t doubt that RH has herself been a victim of stalking, but this does not excuse her harmful behavior. That she has tendered her apologies does not mean that she can be so quickly absolved, neither does it mean that we do not need to warn others about her.

I also believe that our duty is first of all to her victims. We need to respect the rights of these victims to a safe space where they can speak out and finally find healing.

**Again to be clear, I am not interested in a blacklisting of RH. The facts speak for themselves. RH has apologized. If writing gives her joy and fulfilment, I think she should continue to do so.

**I do call out Alex Dally MacFarlane for her actions. Social justice is not carried out by tearing down people or passing judgment on others. Social Justice is carried out in public spaces where open and free debate may take place.

**It’s also been pointed out to me that it’s racist for a white person to call out a brown person on how they deal with racism.

 **Comments on this blog are closed. Those who do wish to speak in support of those who have been at the receiving end of RH’s actions may do so at Laura Mixon-Gould’s blog.

Angry Brown Woman Mode

Recently, I’ve been the recipient of confusing messages telling me I’ve disappointed people or they’re disgusted with me and all sorts of rot. Perhaps the message that takes the cake is the one where I’m accused of wanting to ruin the careers of SEA writers. WTF.

So, let me answer the burning question in everybody’s mind. Not that the yeah-yeah crowd really cares to hear to the truth. But here it is: I DID NOT OUT BENJANUN SRIDUANGKAEW.

Do you need bigger letters?

NEVER in any point in time did I say to Tricia Sullivan or Liz Williams: Look here, I’ve got a juicy secret: Benjanun Sriduangkaew is Requires Hate.

In fact, Tricia Sullivan said to me that she already knew that Benjanun Sriduangkaew was Requires Hate (not that I didn’t already know it) but I’ve never referred to them as the same person in conversation. By that time though, the secret was sort of an open secret. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the publishing world didn’t already know. Certainly, Benjanun didn’t hide who she was from certain editors and she told me at one time that she’d also told others. What Tricia did with what she knew is not my responsibility.

But what about that blogpost written by your friend, I hear you ask. I have no idea. I’m betting Tricia was tired and upset and a combination of both makes for unclear blogposts. I know because yesterday, I was writing a blogpost but it was all vague and unclear and it looked like I was apologizing for things I didn’t do. Well, I’m not bloody apologizing because the only thing that I did was support people and trust in them.

I supported RH when she wanted to write because I believed writing would be good for her. Why not turn all that rage to writing instead? That I’m now accused of outing her after I’ve repeatedly told her that I am not interested in outing her is quite beyond me. You figure it out because I don’t want to.

Yesterday, I was feeling tired and disillusioned. Heart-weary and ready to throw the towel in. I saw the women of color who were losing faith, I saw those who were vulnerable wondering why and how we could allow the community to be torn apart like this. How can we dismiss that? How can we ignore those voices?  How can we call ourselves vehicles of change or proponents of social justice if we forget the most vulnerable among us?

Yesterday, I was a wimp. Today, I’m a bloody fighting angry brown woman. I care about people goddammit. People have always been my priority. Cultivating and encouraging writers, building up their confidence, helping up their visibility as much as I can–that’s what I love to do the most. If you’re only interested in your agenda of carrying out vendettas and petty wars, I don’t want to be in your corner.

Thinking things through: lessons learned on the journey

Yesterday, I joined the chairman of the board of the org I work for at an event hosted by Stichting ZAMI. I had been cloistered in the house for quite a while and have been finding it difficult to leave the safety of my four walls, so she had to practically force me to get a ticket and go with her. Well, she didn’t drag me out of the house, but an older Filipina woman who is like family can be forceful in ways that don’t require any physical exertion.

In the end, I was glad that I went along with her because not only did I get to meet twitter buddy and all around awesome woman, Nancy Jouwe, but I also got to meet a whole bunch of awesome women. The conversations were positive and uplifting and listening to the speeches, the panel discussion and just engaging in conversation with these women was so inspiring and heartwarming that I came home feeling energized and strengthened and also more able to face the ugly truths about my own self.

I was most moved by Fatima Elatik‘s closing speech where she told us about her own experiences in the political arena. She reminded us, that facing the truth about ourselves, acknowledging our own weaknesses and embracing those weaknesses make us stronger. I had been feeling very badly about my lack of insight and about the fact that I’d allowed myself to ignore and break my own principles in certain matters and I had been beating down on myself a lot, but Fatima said: What else can you do? You just have to acknowledge that you have weaknesses. You’re not perfect. You’re only human. You fail. The important thing is to realize that the fails you did were things from yesterday and then you have to move on. You have to understand that the work you’re doing and the work you’ve undertaken to do is more important than the fact that people are talking about you and not everyone likes you.

I’m still digesting and processing everything I’ve heard and a lot of it jives with the readings I’ve done on the babaylan and the babaylan spirit. One of the women shared the UBUNTU philosophy which I really want to look more into. I believe that the way forward is not by shutting out people. I believe that the way forward is in working together. If we are to reach that better place of being, we all need to work together and move forward together

Looking at the way the system works ( particularly in publishing ), I don’t believe that gatekeepers are there to keep out diverse works or that gatekeepers aren’t interested in diverse work. One speaker said that it was to us to figure out our position in relation to the system. Gatekeepers don’t know how to do diversity work, but we who know how to do the work need to keep doing our work. We need to keep raising our voices on the need for diversity, but (and in particularly this is for PoC and non-western folks) we need to strategize in order for the system to work for us.

So, how do we do that? We do that by creating work that cannot be ignored. What are the things that we carry with us that will show the industry that they are the ones who need us? Instead of begging for scraps, we need to stand firm and take control of ourselves and of our work. We show them what we can contribute and how we can contribute towards building a system that is truly diverse and inclusive.

This is our work. Publishing our work brings something to the publishing industry that it didn’t have before. Diversity brings color and life to the book industry. Diverse work enriches readers because through reading about places and cultures that they don’t have access to, readers learn to be more understanding. Books teach us many things. They tell us stories that help us empathize with people from places we’ve never been to. Hopefully they teach us to be more mindful of each other and more understanding of the fact that despite our best intentions, we are all still human and we need each other on this journey.

More than ever, I’m convinced that we don’t need to adjust or apologize for the stories we tell or for how we tell them. These are narratives that the world needs. We tell them our way because no one has heard them told the way we tell those stories. Publishing needs us more than we need them and the way I see it, it’s up to us to make ourselves visible and show publishing that they just can’t go on without the presence of a diverse list of writers coming from different cultures and different places around the world.

Keep sending those stories out and keep writing them. You can do it.

On the question of speaking up

So, I have been told that my silence on a work that borrows another culture means that I am complicit in racism and transphobia.

I am writing today about a thing that I have wrestled with for days. Do I speak? How do I speak? Who do I speak for?

The more I thought about it, the more indecisive I became.

The truth is,  I can only ever speak for myself. No one person can speak for an entire culture or an entire race. (Also, if I have not read the finished work, how can I possibly criticque it?)

This is how I believe speaking out about appropriation works. It is not for me, the outsider to speak. My role is to listen and to support the voices of those raised in dissent. I can question it, that’s true, but I can only offer criticism from an outsider’s point of view.

The thing is,  if you believe that appropriation drowns out the voices of those from a particular culture, my speaking out rage when I am an outsider would drown out those voices that would speak from that culture. It is not on me to dictate how people in another culture should feel about a work that is written or set in their country, it is for those who read to form their own opinion of the work and speak out about it.

I wrote this in a letter. I said: “I may never be comfortable with appropriations by white writers, but I acknowledge how it is something some readers will be thankful for and which some readers will be angry about.”

If the writer has made a professional choice to publish, then I feel that the writer should also be professional enough to accept all criticism directed at the work.

It’s not that I don’t care about appropriation, but as a brown woman from a third world country, I know how it feels when outsiders speak out on my behalf. I may say, oh that’s good of you, but who are you to speak for me?

This is a thing white allies need to understand, you are still speaking from a position of privilege. For a white person dissent and rebuke and calling out holds lesser consequences than it does for a person of color. If you don’t think that’s true, then perhaps you don’t know how racism truly works. Experience has taught me that brown bodies are almost always expendable and the loss of the voices of people of color is not experienced as loss by the white majority.

I also want to remind white writers that no matter how mindfully they approach a work, when the work takes from others it is bound to be flawed.

I understand how we are angry about things like these, how we want to rage and make appropriative work disappear, but as a woman of color who has been working and looking at the field, I also know that it takes time before that happens. I can only hope for an increasing mindfulness in the way writers approach the work. (Plus controversy tends to increase sales of material we are making controversy about.)

Racism and sexism are structural problems and as long as the structure persists, we can keep calling out people. It is the structure that needs to change.

**It’s not because I don’t care to engage the work, but I am not in perfect health at the moment and I have to choose how to expend my energy.

**If people choose to speak up, then I will listen. This is how it works.

Some relevant links: 

When Defending your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself by Matthew Salesses ( in particular The Burden of Speaking Up)

10  Quotes that Perfectly Explain Racism to People who Claim to be Colorblind 

Jim Hines has collated links to excellent posts about Diversity, Appropriation and Writing the Other read those links. If you’ve read them before, read them again.