Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tannhäuser (Marion Zimmer Bradley)

Some of this will be hard reading. It was not easy writing.

There is too much.

The short version: All of fandom has been plunged into war navelgazing over recent articles which highlighted what some already knew: the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, icon of SF feminism, SCA cosplay, and a multi-award winning author, had been complicit in covering up the sexual abuse of minors by her late husband Walter Breen.  Others suspected Bradley of committing some abuse herself.

And now the long version, below the cut.

First, background:

Metafilter (check the links and read the comments, do)

More background: it was this blogger who, evidently, led to the removal of a laudatory Tor birthday bio of MZB that had been posted only a few days before, and whose acid response to that whitewash of history kicked off the whole current tempest. I found the comments to this post particularly representative of what I have seen elsewhere - in other words, a very mixed reaction of shock.

Other reactions I found relevant:

An example of LJ reaction. Note: not a definitive reaction.  Not a recording of the thoughts of everyone on LJ. 

(On reading this, my feeling is…there is a strong thread of disowning the heretic running through those threads. I don’t recall that level of “you know, MZB never worked that well for me” ten years ago. But memory is faulty, and people – and their tastes - do change.)

Another response, this time via Twitter: Kate Elliot’s response to John Scalzi's shocked reaction –  @scalzi I'd heard it.  The women talk to each other cuz we need to know all this stuff because toxic culture. And on the whole, the men have for so long been dismissive of our concerns. #NotAllMen

I remain unconvinced what good it would do for even ‘all’ women to know the faces and tastes of every immoral lurker in fandom, for there are still single dads and uncles and older brothers and geek buddies who bring females into the geek fold.  And boy children. Teen boys. Buddies.  And husbands.  And dads.

This blog tackles that. And leads me to this one

Five minutes ago (as I write this) you could not have convinced me that Luhrs would have anything I would link to with even a smidgen of approval.  I should have more faith in humanity, I should.

This post talks about trying deal with toxic and troublesome personalities in a community (note: concerns BDSM practices & some graphic language).   I have quibbles, but there is decent thought here, too.  I particularly liked the tone of this is our problem rather than the self-righteous those other nasty people ruining my group that creeps in to complaints from time to time.

It also manages to address, at least partly, the question of if we drive them out, where will they go?  And to who? Some people have advocated that all dangerous sorts simply be shut out of local society, thus creating a 'safe space' within the wider universe.  Others have noted this only shoves the problem into other people's back yard. 

Certain voices in some quarters have responded with recommended  actions of the sort that end with  ...and let God sort them out. To me, this answer is not ideal (or, largely compatible with modern criminal prosecution standards) but it at least has the integrity of a definitive solution.

A reply I posted to Cedar Sanderson at Madgeniusclub  (my response was either lost in the ether, or I taxed her temper by posting more than once when I did not get a ‘your post is awaiting moderation’ reply, mea culpa):

In the interest of good faith, I suggest that lacking evidence otherwise, we assume that Leah Schnelbach (who wrote the article, and possibly her editors) did not know about the childrape -> Breen -> MZB interconnection. 
I certainly did not. 
Simply googling MZB's name, or her name and "SF", does not bring it up.  Looking at the history page of the wikipedia article on MZB, it's clear that the information comes on and off, on the whimsies of editors. 
However, apparently some people did know.  Here Wiise and  Luhrs (certainly not two people I expected to be agreeing with this week) have thoughts on compartmentalization of knowledge, and the evils thereof. 
And while I'm talking about people I disagree with, a great deal - I council against witch hunts, rumor mongering, and demonization.  We have seen quite enough of that in fandom.  We must engage on issues of safety and morality, but there are better and worse ways to do so.  We-as-fandom have seen far too many examples of the worst ways of managing conflicts and accusations.

(Some may be tempted to read this response as an attempt to excuse child rape.  Or other kinds of assault or abuse. Do not confuse the issue with that sort of mis understanding.)  


It is too much.

It is enough to make one just walk away from Fandom, or SFF, or both, you know? 

Get away from it all, read happy things.  Like, say, a book by Jane Goodall.  You know, studies gorillas, saves the earth.  She wrote a book, a year or so back - Seeds of Hope

Well, sort of wrote it. . In that it was a book. And it was written. With someone’s words.

Okay, enough with reading. How about actually studying? Studying something important.  And beautiful.  Like medicine.  A medicine book about anatomy! Like, say, an international bestseller noted for decades for its precise, exquisite and vibrant color plates of all layers of the human body!

Like, perhaps, Pernkopf’s Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy

I could go on.  Truly, I could.  I won’t – nor will I suggest googling the names of all your friends and acquaintances and heroes and coworkers and parents and bakers and mechanics, linked to the phrases ‘child molestation’ ‘computer fraud’ ‘sexual deviant’ ‘incest’ ‘DUI’ or ‘arrest’.

I counsel against rumor trawling, particularly without cause.  It leads quickly to rumor-mongering. And rumors are frequently false.  And false does not mean ‘erasable’.

But I could go on.  I could. I could ruin your perception – and mine – of any – of every single person on the planet.


All of us are sinners.  This is not an excuse.  This is not an apologia.  This is not a “false equivalence.” This is a statement of fact.

There has been some chatter, here and there, concerning the vileness of MZB’s actions, and of how leftist/feminist/LGBT SFF community had covered for her, and yet had conducted a witchhunt in order to cast out a man whose faults are in tone and words and mindset.  For the love of God, stop this.  No one gains from this comparison.  No one is healed.

There are none of us so sharp of vision to our own faults as we are to the faults of others.

There are some actions which are more damaging than others. We know this as children (at least in lands that trace a heritage back to England) - sticks and stones may break my bones but words shall never hurt me.  Let me be clear - it is far worse to attack a child with words than an adult with a weapon

But we can stand here all day, debating the finer points of relative harm. Don’t lets. Again - Damage Olympics and other versions of I know you are but what am I bind no wounds.

We are not called to ignore, excuse, or obscure evil done by ourselves or by others.  Again, I will be precise - it is uncalled for and reprehensible to ignore or shrug off accusations of assault, abuse, and fraud. 

But neither are we called to self-aggrandizing, demonization, or self-righteousness.  SFF fandom is struggling with a heritage of encouraging and facilitating assaults.  It is also struggling with accusations of abuse stemming from shouting matches, lover's quarrels and poetry readings.  Justice demands appropriate apportionment of energy. It also calls for due assessment of what may be lost as we struggle to make the world of mythical dragons, real demons, and marginally-merely-hypothetical dystopias ‘safe’ - or as safe as such an inately hostile place as the boundaries of human imagination should be.

We are not called to be safe.  We are called to risk everything.

Christ came to the earth to save all of humanity.  When a single one of us falters, all of paradise holds its breath. When one of us calls on God, all of the might of the Lord of Light comes to our aid.  We are, each of us, valued, treasured, wanted. All of us.  Yes, all, including Judas, Herod, Pilate. Saul. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Son of Sam, Bundy, Walter Breen, MZB.

And all the angels of heaven shall dance a thousand times more when one of them finally comes home, than when lukewarm minor villains like you and me come straggling in.

Our only hope to share that celebration to be part of the path that brings them back to God.

If the day comes when one of Satan’s evil-soaked servants stands looking at their work, at the blood they have waded through, at the lives they have shattered – and wonders is this what I was made for? is this the only path? is there any hope for me? -

When that day comes, and the soul of the lost one is trembling on the knife’s edge, and we are there, standing on the side of the road, sneering, cat-calling, taunting them for their sins, screaming at them with hate for what they have done…on that day, it is not God we serve, but something else.

And a reckoning will come – for the evil that person has done, yes, but also for that which we have fashioned with our own tongues and our own hands.

There are a multitude of resources on the biblical/Christian method of conflict management.  (See Matthew 18:15 for the short version.)  Here are two:

Piloty, Ferdinand von: Tannhäuser and Urban IV. [Photograph]. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 June, 2014, from


Deirdre Saoirse Moen said...

After a few other things happen, I was considering changing my Twitter profile to just "Internet troublemaker." I like your phrase, "acid response to that whitewash of history."

I also tackled the Missing Stair analogy from the perspective of a broken (but not necessarily problematically so):

Kerani said...

Ms Moen - Thanks. I think you did a valuable service with this series of posts.

I think the idea of looking at ones self as (possibly) one of a community's broken stairs is a valuable one, and I thank you for drawing that out. We can all do better.