The Tiptree Award’s New Name Is The Otherwise Award

The Tiptree Motherboard has completed a long and thoughtful discussion about the Award’s name. The Tiptree Award is becoming the Otherwise Award. This post from the Motherboard, “From Tiptree to Otherwise”, explains in detail how they came to this decision and chose this name.

…We received many emails and social media messages that urged us to keep the name. But we were, in the end, convinced by the many and heartfelt messages that asked us to change. We entered into this discussion as a conversation about how to interpret what happened at the end of Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s lives (a topic on which Sheldon’s biographer, Julie Phillips, has recently reflected further). But the responses to our post made us realize that this was in fact a conversation about whose lives and voices we value. And that’s a matter about which there should be no ambiguity.

We value the disabled writers and readers and artists and fans who support this award. Many of them – many of you – have told us that the Award’s current name holds negative, painful, exclusionary associations. So we’re changing it.

…We want the Award to keep encouraging writers, artists, and other creative people to invent the future that we want to live in. For that to happen, we need readers, supporters, and creators to gather together in support of the Award’s winners and of the process of choosing them. And for that to be possible, we need all the voices to be heard.

Their post includes substantial extracts from people who wrote both for and against changing the name. Hirotaka Tobi, 2006 winner of the Japanese Sense of Gender Award – founded by the Japanese Association for Gender Fantasy and Science Fiction (G-Ken) and inspired by the Tiptree Award, urged them to keep the Tiptree name. Nisi Shawl, winner of the 2009 Award, was personally willing to continue with the name, though without trying to impose that view on others:

…The issue of harm reduction in the naming of the award is the kind of multifaceted problem the award was founded to address–though the axis of difference on which it focused was originally gender rather than ability. And what I’ve been hearing and saying about how we respond to this problem? That is the kind of multiplex analysis the Tiptree Award’s founders were encouraging by naming it not after an historical figure but a mythic one, a mythic figure arising out of one writer’s response to powerful social pressures.

There’s still plenty to mull over here. And I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with having received the Tiptree. With having received an award named with that name.

But I don’t see how that makes it okay for me to say other potential recipients should think and feel the same way about the matter….

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, editor and writer, asked the Motherboard to change the Award’s name. Among her reasons —

…Thirdly, I believe that the name change is important because ableism is a systemic disease. We can’t always see it, but it can be felt. It is felt deeply within our genre, and the conversation around the name of the Tiptree has only made it more clear to me: my professional field is rife with ableism, and we must seek to change that. Allowing the name to remain, with disabled people emphasizing their discomfort, implicitly allows ableism to take root. It allows us to say that disabled voices do not matter.

Those who expressed their views in social media included two more who favored changing the name, Hiromi Goto, 2001 Award winner, and Catherynne M. Valente, 2007 Award winner.

Debbie Notkin, the first chair of the Motherboard and the chair of the first Tiptree jury, wrote of the process she went through:

…I cherish the Tiptree Award, and consider it one of the best endeavors I’ve ever been involved with…. In a vacuum, I would certainly argue for not changing the name of the award. All of our heroes have flaws—in fact, one of the worst aspects of having heroes is the desire that they be perfect. If we give into that, we can either have heroes or tell the truth, but not both. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr. will always be a hero of mine.

But we are not in a vacuum. We’re in a community. And we’re in a historical moment when groups that have been horribly marginalized and abused are – often for the first time – finding that they can acknowledge their pain, make demands, make their voices heard, make change. And find allies….

Having decided to make a change, they listed their criteria for a name and decided on The Otherwise Award. 

…At the heart of the creative work this award has honored for the last 28 years is the act of imagining gender otherwise. We have honored those who expand or explore gender by imagining the world otherwise. Over the next 28 years and more, we expect people’s lived experiences of gender to shift, change, and multiply in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But whatever happens, writers and artists will make sense of it, and push at the limits, by imagining otherwise.

Otherwise means finding different directions to move in—toward newly possible places, by means of emergent and multiple pathways and methods. It is a moving target, since to imagine otherwise is to divert from the ways of a norm that is itself always changing.

With the addition of a space, the name also means “other, wise”: that is, wise to the experience of being the other. Such wisdom might come from direct experience or from careful, collaborative consultation.

The Black queer studies scholar and creative writer Ashon Crawley has a beautiful essay “Otherwise, Ferguson” that speaks to the possibility of otherwise politics:

To begin with the otherwise as word, as concept, is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible. Otherwise. It is a concept of internal difference, internal multiplicity. The otherwise is the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other. Otherwise as plentitude. Otherwise is the enunciation and concept of irreducible possibility, irreducible capacity, to create change, to be something else, to explore, to imagine, to live fully, freely, vibrantly. Otherwise Ferguson. Otherwise Gaza. Otherwise Detroit. Otherwise Worlds. Otherwise expresses an unrest and discontent, a seeking to conceive dreams that allow us to wake laughing, tears of joy in our eyes, dreams that have us saying, I hope this comes true.

We’ve always sought and found the works that bring all this to mind and heart. We’re excited to name the Award with a word that encapsulates what we feel it stands for.

Going forward, they will consider everyone who has won a Tiptree Award, been named on the Honor or Long List, or awarded a Tiptree Fellowship, to be retroactive Otherwise honorees. Which name they want to apply is up to each person.

They’re going to pause and take more feedback:

For the next two weeks, we’re going to hold off on making any permanent changes while we listen to responses from you – just in case there are any compelling reasons not to use Otherwise that we have missed. You can reach us at feedback@tiptree.org if you would like to share your thoughts.

Then they will update the website and start making related changes involving the IRS, the State of California, and various vendors.

The next round of fellowships (2019) will carry the new name. And at WisCon 44 in May 2020, they will present their 29th award: the first Otherwise Award.

[Thanks to Pat Murphy for the story.]

23 thoughts on “The Tiptree Award’s New Name Is The Otherwise Award

  1. Fine with me. Their award, their call. I’m sorry the discussion surrounding this has been painful to people.

    Now I just hope more of her work comes out in ebook format. I’d love to have a Kindle of the collected short fiction.

  2. I really, really like the new award name, and the rationale for it — which perfectly exemplifies what the award is supposed to recognize.

  3. I am always so impressed with their thoughtfulness and clarity. The discussion was painful indeed. I was very attached to the old name, but after hearing so much pain shared, I think the decision was a good one and I support it.

  4. I think we should retain the names of individuals on awards despite the flaws of said individuals. In doing so we acknowledge our shared moral failings, the fact that despite all our strivings we often fall short. Otherwise we might come up with silly, anodyne replacements.

  5. I like that the new name harks back to some of Tiptree’s titles, like “Painwise” and “Warm Worlds and Otherwise” but is still its own thing.

  6. I’m not loving the new name, sounds like an alt-history award. But it’s up to them.

  7. I recommend reading the full text from the Motherboard, as it is all extremely well written and full of thoughtful bits. One of my favourites:

    The Tiptree Award was named as a joyful joke, 28 years ago.

    James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Sheldon is a complicated figure who has grown more so as participants in the sff world have gained more diverse perspectives and more acute critical analyses. In 2019, the Tiptree name no longer captures what potential audiences, nominees, fans, need from an award (and, more recently, from a fellowship program) for the expansion and exploration of gender.

    […snip…]

    Keeping the joy is more important than keeping the name.

    Fair enough, that.

  8. Miles Carter on October 13, 2019 at 7:36 pm said:

    I think we should retain the names of individuals on awards despite the flaws of said individuals. In doing so we acknowledge our shared moral failings, the fact that despite all our strivings we often fall short. Otherwise we might come up with silly, anodyne replacements.

    I don’t think that is an unreasonable position but it is really only viable as a policy if the vast majority of participants in an award feel the same way. If not then people will feel excluded from an award on a reasonable basis.

  9. This seems to me a thoughtful and considered choice, one that retains the sense of playful joy and inclusiveness meant in the original name.

    Robert Whitaker Sirignano on October 14, 2019 at 4:53 am said:
    To be known as “formerly the James Tiptee Award” to many.

    And that’s fine. Awards have been renamed before and referred to for a time as “formerly the {whichever award}.” It helps avoid confusion and keep a sense of continuity.

  10. @Miles Carter (adding to Camestros Felaptron’s comment): the purpose of an award is to recognize particular success, not to acknowledge general failure (or at least weakness).

  11. It was Warm Worlds and Otherwise that contained the infamous Silverberg essay declaring Tiptree’s ineluctable masculinity as its introduction. Until I realised that I was a bit meh toward the new name. Now I love it. Like changing the Campbell to Astounding, this name change refers to the themes that the award was founded to encourage and celebrate without invoking the person.

  12. @Mister Dalliard, and yet those involved in the name change have made no reference to “Warm Worlds and Otherwise” in their explanation of their choice of replacement name.*

    Raccoona Sheldon, AKA James Tiptree Jr. seems to have become an “Unperson”.

    *See “From Tiptree to Otherwise” on the tiptree org site

  13. Oh, please, just stop with the “unpersoning” claims. 🙄

    Nothing identifies a troll faster than when they trot that one out.

    This was a deeply-considered and thoughtful decision on the part of the Motherboard, taking into account the feelings of all members of the SFF community, especially those who have spent years or whole lives being marginalized.

  14. I appreciate the change, and I like the new name.

    I’m also heartily relieved that the whole conversation might come up a little less often, now.

    @Starviking

    You mean the post linked in the third sentence and excerpted throughout the OP..? I think most people commenting here are probably already aware of it, assuming they read the post before commenting.

  15. @JJ

    Julie Phillips, Alice Sheldons’ biographer writes on her site, under “On Tiptree and naming”:

    For myself, I can say that I first encountered Alice Sheldon through the name attached to the award, and that if the award hadn’t been called the Tiptree I might never have written the biography.

    Seeing how the first time people encounter things these days is through the Web, I think my use of “unpersoning” is valid.

    @Meridith

    I came to File 770 through a Google Search – sometime after reading the details on tiptree.org – so I browsed through the post, skipping the quoted text and concentrating on Mike Gyler’s words.

  16. @Starviking

    You concentrated on Mike’s words but didn’t read the first paragraph where he names and links to the article? Hm.

    My name has two e’s and one i, not two i’s and one e.

  17. … I’m somewhat at a loss as to how coming here through a google search and skipping reading excerpts and links myself means assuming other people cannot possibly have read those same excerpts and links.

    I also do not think there is any “unpersoning” involved here. If anything, I know more about Alice Sheldon than I did before, both good and ill (and some things, like depression, that simply are). My copy of “Houston, Houston, do you read?” didn’t suddenly come up as all blank pages with the cover art defaced with a remark that the award is renamed so her writing is anathema.

    Indeed, I agree with those who wish the writings to be more readily available.

  18. Having read both 1984 and One Day in The LIfe of Ivan Denisovich in my teens, and having known people who lived through and suffered via McCarthyism, I think calling this an “unpersoning” is a gross, shameful exaggeration, one which devalues the actual suffering of actual people, as well as George Orwell’s actual meaning.

  19. Starviking: I came to File 770 through a Google Search – sometime after reading the details on tiptree.org – so I browsed through the post, skipping the quoted text and concentrating on Mike Gyler’s words.

    I’m glad that you at least did read Julie Phillips’ posts, but you don’t seem to be familiar with Internet Etiquette, so just an FYI — commenting without reading the entirety, including links and comments, to educate yourself about the subject of your comment, makes you look like someone who is not to be taken seriously.

    Use of the word “unpersoning”, when no such thing has been done, also makes you look like someone who is not to be taken seriously. As John A Arkansawyer has said, “unpersoning” actually has a meaning, and this is not it.

    Consider instead reading everything, and making actual thoughtful engagement with what’s actually been said, instead of tossing out a buzzword which doesn’t apply.

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