Worldcon Commits to Changes After Complaints of Guest Misgendering and More
Worldcon, the World Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention, removed its original program last month after concerns of incorrect information. It was found that the original program had referred to guest and Hugo Award nominee Bogi Takács as "he", ignoring eir unambiguous preference for agender pronouns. E displays very clearly on Patreon, Twitter, and other forms of social media that e identifies with the pronouns e/em/eir/emself or they. It seems whoever added the bio to the Worldcon program would have had to go very much out of their way to not notice this fact.
Initial responses included brushing off accountability by Program Division Head Christine Doyle.
An apology was then sent to Bogi via email to eir significant other Rose Lemberg, instead of Bogi directly.
Meanwhile, other cases of misinformation in the original program came to light with more editing errors cropping up, such as illustrator Grace P. Fong finding changes in her biography and added pictures taken from her personal Facebook.
Kevin Roche, chair of the convention, made a public apology and stated that he is investigating the incident after taking the program down for reworking.
In addition to this, it was suggested that declining to include new authors in panels, as well as ignoring pleas and suggestions for an #OwnVoices panel that highlights marginalized peoples writing from their perspectives, shows a lack of respect for award finalists and minorities.
In response to this and other actions (whether intentional or merely thoughtless), several writers announced they would drop Worldcon (such as N.K. Jemisin, Rose Lemberg, and JY Yang), feeling that they could not in good conscience support an event that would not respect or protect its minority members and participants.
However, in the days following this dust-up, the program has been redone and hope for change has been restored in some attendees. Worldcon accepted an offer by Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal to help revamp programming to better reflect the interests of marginalized attendees, and things are looking up.
The new program is available on the Worldcon website. In light of these changes, several people who had previously said they would not attend decided that they will now, including Lemberg and Takács.
Worldcon 2018 begins today, August 16th, and goes through to the 20th.
Without input from others of different experiences, art becomes stagnant, flat, and lifeless. Having more diverse groups in pretty much any situation makes things better — from preventing myopia and homogenization of ideas to allowing for groups to be more agile and responsive. The best representations of a group of people are its members; not outsiders looking in. Furthermore, it shows respect for the people, cultures, and lifeways and helps reduce the exotification of those perceived as different — people who are not of the dominant culture do not exist to be a freakshow or fetish for the dominant culture.
Actions like misgendering Bogi Takács in the Worldcon program minimize the struggles and danger that transgender people face on a day-to-day basis just to exist as themselves, showing a lack of concern for the well-being of minority groups. This is just one of a number of incidents over the past several years that marginalized writers believe indicate a systemic lack of understanding and respect by the overarching monoculture of whiteness that makes up the majority of english-language writers in the US. However, with some willingness to grow and improve, we can hope more events will take the Worldcon approach and commit to understanding and investing in marginalized communities.