On Arisia, Pt. Last-for-Now

I know this blog has kind of been All Arisia, All the Time lately; I promise it won’t stay that way forever. But, well, when a friend of yours is the one who’s brave enough to finally tear the covering off a festering wound . . . you wind up following the story pretty closely. And there are three recent developments I want to specifically discuss.

The first is the simplest: the acting president of Arisia has found a way to finagle the bylaws so that anyone who attends the corporate meeting on November 11th will be able to vote. (Normally voting rights come at the end of your first meeting, i.e. you have to show up to a second one in order to vote.) I don’t know who the people are who have stepped up to the plate to run for office, replacing the members of the board who have resigned, but I know some people have done so, and I hope more will join them. If you’re local and you care about fixing Arisia rather than just letting it die, consider going to the meeting.

The second is this rather astonishing statement from the founder of Arisia, Matthew Saroff. He hasn’t been involved with the con since 2005, but he’s apologizing anyway, because he believes his own actions back then — especially in the final six months, when he refers to himself as a “legendary asshole” — contributed to the problems Arisia has today.

I don’t know if he’s right. Thirteen years is quite a long time, especially in con history; lots of other people have come and gone and left their mark on Arisia. Even if he did set things on a bad path, it isn’t like he’s wholly to blame, and everybody else can wash their hands. But that’s the thing about rape culture, and white supremacy, and all the other systemic ills of our society: they are simultaneously bigger than any one person and built by individuals, one brick at a time. Saroff recognizes that he did something wrong, and he’s apologizing for it, years after the fact, at a point in time where quite possibly nobody other than himself would think to point a finger of blame at him.

Good on him. And good on Cody Lazri, who was briefly on the executive board and has resigned as staff for A’19 and apologized (with some insight into Arisia’s internal politics). I’ve been pleasantly astonished by the amount of support I’ve seen for Crystal Huff, Maura Taylor, and everyone else who has come forward with their stories, and the lack of the usual accusations against them — though such statements always come with the asterisk of “I haven’t seen all the conversations about this” — but there’s still been a dearth of those responsible apologizing in a meaningful way. Neither Saroff nor Lazri is at the epicenter; those who were have, so far as I know, remained silent. And that part’s still not good.

The last thing is that the Olders have made a firm decision not to attend Arisia as the Author Guests of Honor this year. The Artist GOH, Elizabeth Leggett, will still be attending, but will be donating proceeds from one of her pieces of artwork to the Boston Rape Crisis Center.

I’m going to be very interested to see what Arisia does about the Author GOH void — or, to put it another way, to see who steps into that void. Anybody who does so runs a high risk of having half of fandom fall on their head: it’s going to look a lot like they wanted the spotlight badly enough that they were willing to hold their nose and ignore the stench. I don’t know if Arisia’s setup means they can limp along without a GOH at all; doing so might very well be the best course of action. But if not, then I sincerely hope whoever does take that slot does so on terms that make it less about them and their own prestige, and more about keeping the focus on the problem. A keynote address, a panel — one or more somethings to make it clear that GOH isn’t there to put a smiling face on the situation, but to help with the soul-searching.

We’ll see how it turns out. But for now, this is where things stand.

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