This has been the year of lady nerds.
From conventions, to cosplay and comics and the people who cover them: We’ve heard an outcry from the voices of female fans, speaking up and speaking out about our place in the community. We’ve seen both men and women rally in support of cosplayers to wear what they want without the fear of sexual advances or cruel body shaming. The demand for more diversity, in both gender, race and sexuality in comics has some publishers finally listening to their fans and taking huge steps to make comics accessible to all who want to read them.
We’ve seen a community rise up in support of each other, looking out for those whose voice may not reach those who need to hear it most.
Back in November, an explosive story took hold of the comic and fan art community. Artist Tess Fowler spoke up about unwanted sexual advances and subsequent harassment from DMZ and All New X-Men writer, Brian Wood. Many of Wood’s fans stood in disbelief, some took to personally attacking Fowler. But soon enough, other stories of Brian’s unsolicited advances began to surface. Most of these tales however, were from years past. A contingent of loyal fans chalked it up to a younger, different Brian.
I was one of them.
Easily dismissing his behavior to a harder time in his life. I just didn’t want to accept that an artist and writer I’ve come to adore would be capable of the things women were accusing him of.
You know, it’s so easy to turn those blinders on when it suits us. Last month, when a friend inquired about the Fowler/Wood situation, I remarked, “It happened years ago, why is she bringing it up now?”
Then I was lazing about on Christmas day, thinking of the previous year, and it hit me. Smacked me right back into reality. I had done to Tess exactly what people had once done to me.
I have written extensively about the emotional and sexual abusive relationship I was in with a locally prominent prop maker and member of the Steampunk community. When I first came out about it, before I filed a police report and took him to court on stalking charges, the friends I had in the community cautioned me to not make a big deal of it. In fact, I was told that I would be better off if I swept it under the proverbial rug and in time, it would just fade away.
When I did start speaking up, and started telling people in local circles about it, I noticed a drastic change in how my friends interacted with me, or didn’t, as the case was. I would still hear from people, a year later when I faced some of the worst things he had done to me, and they would say to me, just let it go. That I was invoking further harassment simply for speaking up about it.
In Tess’s open letter to the community, she described the events which happened 6 years ago. A lot of people questioned why she would speak up now. I was one of those people. But why? All I had to do was look at my own history to know those feelings don’t always go away in a year, or two, or even 10. Once that violation has happened, it stays with you, and pops up when you least expect it.
When we speak out about these situations, it makes people uncomfortable. But you know? It should. Because we shouldn’t allow for these things to happen. What Tess went through, what other women have gone through, what I suffered through -- it’s all on the same scale. When we say that such events were in the past,or that to stay quiet would not rock the boat -- we’re diminishing what that person went through, and what they had to go through to get to the point where they could speak up about it. We become the problem. I was part of the problem.
I don’t want to contribute to that anymore. The people who go through this stay silent enough, out of fear of judgment or retribution. That lesson I learned by speaking out about my abuse, was that I’d be left alone -- and it stayed with me, to this day. That did as much damage to me as what my ex inflicted on me. That lesson of staying silent caused me to not speak up about another incident that happened to me last year, and to this day I still haven’t told most of my friends about it. Because I was afraid of losing people, again.
I was at a club with some friends, and of course we were drinking. I was drinking. A lot. My friends recognized I couldn’t drive home and sent me home with a friend they considered safe. I still wake up at night remembering having this person, fully clothed, but on top of me, making out with me in my semi blacked-out state.
Luckily, nothing more than that happened (well, I did vomit on him, so I guess in some small way I got revenge). But I was so embarrassed, so disgusted with myself, that I didn’t tell anyone. Even when this person went around claiming to all our friends we had done a lot more than his tongue assaulting my mouth, I dismissed my own feelings so as not to create waves within the group.
And I just didn’t want to go through it all again. The guy didn’t rape me. He just made out with me. I didn’t consent, but I told myself, “It could have been worse, but it wasn’t, so why bother with it.” I was boxing myself in. Again.
A few of this person’s friends found out and reached out to me, warning me about him. One even had a similar story –- about how unrelenting and unstable he was when it came to women who turned him down. He didn’t seem to comprehend, “No, I’m not interested.” It made him try harder, and when he was shot down, he would launch a verbal air strike at these women.
But somehow, despite enough people knowing this guy’s MO, they remained friends with him. A lot of these people were also friends with my abusive ex. They would say, “Well, that’s Joe for you, but what can we do about it?”
And a lot of these people are fixtures in my local comic book convention scene -- as well-known attendees or show runners. It makes you wonder, if these people are so aware of the behavior of these men, why do they allow them at these shows? Why do they maintain friendships with these people? And why do some of them openly speak out about the rights of women and the need for change, but allow such monsters into their lives? Again, it really is easy to turn those blinders on when we need to.
In the case of my ex, he is still allowed to WORK at a local convention. I filed formal complaints against him, provided police reports and, in the past, a restraining order. I’m not the first woman who has come out about his abuse. The second guy, the mouth rapist as my friends call him, is also known to the people who run the show -- they were the ones who told me what a creep he was. So here we are, having people condemning the actions of these men, but not taking any action to change it.
When Tess Fowler spoke up about Brian Wood, I saw many people ask what her end game was. Wood’s fans questioned what Fowler hoped to achieve by coming out when she did; accusing her of wanting to ruin Brian’s career. I don’t know Tess, I can’t speak for her, but I know for me, finally feeling free to speak out meant letting go the chains that held me to my silence.
It is OK for me, and every person who has suffered through abuse, harassment, and all the things lady nerds have spoken up about the past year -– to talk about it. Openly and without judgment. Further more, we are allowed to personally hold those who would shelter these men accountable for their actions as much as we hold the men accountable who perpetuate them.
If speaking out means I am going to lose friends, or followers, then I would rather cultivate a group of people who want to solve this problem, not be a part of it. There has been so much positivity to come from such negative situations this past year. Let’s keep the discussion going, and moving forward into the new year, let’s continue to find ways to grow as a community of fans and creators, to include everyone and give us a safe and welcoming place to call home.
It’s time to finally close this chapter of my life. But I will never stop fighting for the rights for women, and men, to be heard and to have a safe place in this community I call home.