Loscon 45 Incident: What Happened, and the Committee’s Update

“New Masters of Science Fiction” panel at Loscon 45 with Mel Gilden, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Gregory Benford, and Brad Lyau. Photo by Kenn Bates.

Over Thanksgiving weekend at Loscon 45, code of conduct violations were alleged against Gregory Benford for a couple of statements he made on the “New Masters of Science Fiction” panel. Afterwards, a Loscon co-chair took the unprecedented step of removing Benford from the convention. However, this action bypassed Loscon’s incident process. The board of directors of LASFS, which owns Loscon, got involved. The issue was returned to the process so con Ops could gather information. Loscon later made an announcement that “the actions desired by the aggrieved parties have been either met or exceeded.” However, at the time Ops met with the party who reported the incident she was still under the impression that Benford had been removed, which was not the ultimate outcome. On November 28, the club posted as its final resolution a statement written by Benford himself which says the co-chair apologized and he accepted the apology.

What happened at the panel: On Saturday morning the “New Masters of Science Fiction” panelists — Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Mel Gilden, Brad Lyau, and Benford — were discussing the question: “We know the old SF masters — Heinlein, Asimov, Vogt, de Camp, McCaffrey, LeGuin — who are new masters?”

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Gregory Benford. Photo by Kenn Bates.

According to Kenn Bates, who was present, Benford said N.K. Jemisin should get her science right.  “He did qualify his comment by saying that he liked hard SF and he was sure that his opinion was biased by that. He also said that PSI powers to control the earth and earthquakes had already been done in the fifties.”

Benford later told readers of David Weber’s Facebook page specifically, “I said, not to anyone in the room, ‘If you write sf honey, gotta get the science right.’”

Isabel Schechter says, “In addition to the ‘honey’ comment, Greg also made another comment-when one of the panelists recommended a Latino author, Greg asked him to spell the name, and then asked again several times before giving up and saying that some or those ‘names have too many vowels.’ He made this comment several times.”

Schechter, who has been in fandom over 20 years and co-chaired the successful San Juan in 2017 NASFiC bid, asked to be called on and made several comments:

I said that we were supposed to be talking about new masters but instead were talking about old ones. I remember saying “old white men” at some point in that description of the old masters, but not about the panelists (two of whom are not White). I did say that there were not any women on the panel (there was one assigned, but she didn’t show up-which I didn’t know). My comment about the female authors was in reference to the contrast between the men being discussed.

I did tell Greg that his use of the word “honey” was “offensive.” He tried to interrupt me and I told him I was still speaking. Shortly thereafter, he declared, “This panel is over!” and left the room. The panel went on without him, with panelists answering several questions after that.

The process: Isabel Schechter says she contacted the committee about events at the panel, beginning with Program organizer Justine Reynolds. Other conversations followed with Loscon co-chairs Christian McGuire and Crys Pretzman, then head of con Ops Lee Almodovar, and Robbie Bourget.

After the panel, several people were talking to me about the panel and Greg’s behavior, and Justine Reynolds, the Program Chair happened to be just outside the room as we walked out. I told her what happened, as did the other people. She apologized and said she would look into it, or something along those lines. I then went about my business. At some point, maybe an hour later, I was told that Greg had been asked to not be on any more programming. I said thanks and thought that was the end of it.

Then maybe an hour later, someone (I don’t know who, but they looked like staff) told me the conchairs wanted to talk to me, and walked me over to them, where they apologized for Greg’s behavior. They said they didn’t want me to think that the convention found his behavior acceptable and that they would not allow that kind of thing there. I thanked them, and again thought that was the end of it.

What happened next is that Christian McGuire, accompanied by someone from the hotel, located Benford at his 1 p.m. signing in the dealer’s room. According to Brandy Grote, “My husband witnessed him being escorted away by Hotel Security during his autograph session.”

Ginjer Buchanan, who read about this on David Weber’s Facebook page, commented, “Short of someone physically assaulting someone else in public, I can’t think of any reason for tracking down a person, no matter who they are, and having them do a perp walk out of a con. This strikes me as a bridge too far…”

What’s more, this step was taken without going through Loscon’s process for handling code of conduct violations. In response to my question, LASFS’ Kristen Gorlitz explained, “We do have a process for dealing with violations, but in this case, the proper channels were bypassed in favor of haste. This was thereafter rectified and the proper channels were consulted. (This is why we have an Ops team).”

Hours after Benford was led out, the committee asked Isabel Schechter to make an official statement:

Later that evening, I was asked by someone (don’t remember who) if I could make an official statement to Ops, so I went to the Ops room and gave a statement to Lee Almodovar. While doing that, [Robbie] (an older blond woman) asked me for details because it turns out that the conchairs didn’t follow convention procedures/coordinate the process with Ops. She said the conchairs overreacted or were extreme or something, and that she preferred to talk to everyone involved to try and reach a resolution, but now that Greg had been kicked out, he might not be willing to talk. She asked me if I was satisfied with the outcome or if I wanted anything like an apology. I told her I would like an apology but didn’t think I would get one. Otherwise, I was fine with the resolution. After that, I again went on about my business.

What happened to Benford led to a retaliatory petition calling for Christian B. McGuire to be removed from the LASFS Board of Directors, signed by a number of LASFS members including Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, Laura Frankos, and David Gerrold. The next meeting of the Board is in December.

What the public was told: Ops was still collecting information on Sunday morning when LASFS asked File 770 to post this announcement (which also went up on Facebook):

Please be aware that the Loscon committee and LASFS Board are aware of an issue which occurred yesterday during a panel and are conducting a full investigation to ensure that all parties have been heard and then making a final decision based on that investigation. We would request that if anyone believes they have information to approach Ops in the Board Room. We will have an official resolution within 24 hours.

Among the people who reacted to the Facebook request was Barbara Landsman, who had a different perspective.

I was at that panel and I was horrified. I actually stood up and told her that I did not want to hear her political agenda and that she should just stop. Gregory Benford caught my eye and I just made the cut it off sign to him and he just shrugged. He finally got so pissed off that he stormed out. I again made a comment to try to stop her from continuing on with her rant and she just wouldn’t give it up. So I left. If anyone wants my testimony I’ll be very happy to speak on this. She came into this panel with a notebook and made notes and took down names and she definitely had an agenda. She wanted to fight.

Two more fans said they’d been at the panel and had given statements to Ops, but they did not repeat them on Facebook.

On Monday morning, Kristen Gorlitz issued this update:

All parties have been spoken with either yesterday or today. The actions desired by the aggrieved parties have been either met or exceeded through the follow up actions by the Co-Chairs and Ops. We would like to remind everyone and also future Loscons of the importance of being fully aware of our Code of Conduct and how language can cause emotional and psychological harm.

The resolution: Convention committees usually keep confidential their internal deliberations about alleged code of conduct violations so, unsurprisingly, it remains unexplained why the Loscon leadership didn’t follow the process, or how LASFS decided the outcome. Nor does LASFS really show an understanding that it’s their process and they need to take ownership of the outcome, because at the end this what they distributed:

November 28, 2018

Greg Benford gave us permission to publish this statement, if you wish to update file770. Thanks!

Gregory Benford’s message to LASFS:

At the 2018 Loscon there was an incident at a panel where someone took exception to something I said in general—which that someone took to be about a third party, who was not there.  Things got heated.  I left the room, not wanting to continue.  Apparently that someone complained to the convention chairs and they over reacted. The chair has apologized to me and I accepted it gratefully. He and his co-chair were probably trying to do the right thing in these over-heated times.  We all are, I trust. I have been attending Loscon since it began, and my first LASFS meeting was in 1963. I respect these enormously.

People were upset by the way the chairs acted.  Many later came up to me to say they were disturbed over it.  They were more upset than I was.  Since then, I’ve received vastly many emails, calls, Facebook posts, the lot. It’s exhausting. Things are fine with me now.  I’m not upset.  And I hope people will keep cooler heads in the future.

I want to especially thank Craig Miller, John Hertz, Matthew Tepper, Harry Turtledove, Larry Niven, Steve Barnes, John DeChancie, Gordon van Gelder and Michelle Pincus for their help in dealing with this.

At risk of being too professorial, I recommend reading

https://quillette.com/2018/05/17/understanding-victimhood-culture-interview-bradley-campbell-jason-manning/?fbclid=IwAR0hPL1hJRW_ERe6hhokHE6QJL784V4qSojSR5zwLNLwMUcnoHzK08Lwkpg

This is probably the first time the subject of code of conduct allegations ever wrote up the determination for the con committee.

When Kristen Gorlitz answered my follow-up questions about the statement, I learned she was under the impression that Isabel Schechter and Gregory Benford had met and resolved things, which never happened. (Do any other LASFSians think that happened?) Schechter says —

They did not copy me on Greg’s statement. It would have been nice if they had, given that it concerned me.

As for me and Greg resolving things, I have no idea what they mean by that. I never spoke to Greg after the panel, or at any point during the convention, before or after the panel. He did not approach me, I did not approach him, no one put us together, and we had no interaction during the convention other than during the panel. I have no idea why Kristen would say this, and am at a loss for words to explain how confused I am by her comment.

Also, Greg’s statement, “someone took exception to something I said in general—which that someone took to be about a third party, who was not there,” is misleading at best-his comment was not “in general,” he specifically named N.K. Jemisin, I did not need to make up a third party.

After neutralizing effects of the co-chair’s startling decision to walk Benford out of his autograph session, and, so far as the statement shows, managing to keep his good will, it is probably unrealistic to expect LASFS to speak explicitly to the original complaint and say whether its code of conduct was violated by Benford’s comments about Jemisin’s sf, or the spelling of Hispanic names. However, since they are standing behind his statement, how that blank would be filled-in should be easy to guess.


Update 11/30/2018: Robbie Bourget of Loscon Ops forwarded this additional information about their role: “Ops was not involved until the day after the issues, although we did take a statement from Isobel in which she did say when specifically asked ‘what would you have wished to have happen’ she said ‘for Mr Benford to be spoken to about his use of language’ and when I asked if she wanted an apology she said it would be nice but did not expect it. Therefore, since Greg was spoken to, twice, about his language – the requests (actual) of all parties were met or exceeded, since he was excluded from panels that he was scheduled for from the point the Chairs first talked to him and from the floor from after the autograph session on Saturday until sometime Sunday when he was finally interviewed by Ops.”

196 thoughts on “Loscon 45 Incident: What Happened, and the Committee’s Update

  1. So are we just going to ignore that Mr. Benford was not, in fact, removed from the con due to his condescension, but “because he failed to follow the directions given by the con com” per Justine? Because that seems like it’s pretty germane to this reaction, and really turns the whole bit about outrage culture into a derail.

    I feel like he might have chosen to mention that aspect of his behaviour in his own response, as well.

  2. @Rick Moen

    As it happens, I was in the audience throughout this panel . . .

    Great job! Thanks for putting this report together!

    I’ll cast my vote with the folks who think Benford’s remarks weren’t very nice but still fell far, far below the threshold where someone should be sanctioned.

    If the criterion is going to be that no one can say anything that makes any memory of a minority uncomfortable, then they’re definitely going to have to get rid of all those panels with the word “queer” in their titles and and they’ll need to sanction anyone who uses the Q word. Since I don’t think they’re going to do that (sigh), I don’t think they ought to obsess over much more trivial things like “honey” and “vowels.”

  3. BTW, I didn’t say the name–which was pronounced by Brad Lau–Porcaio –had “wrong number of vowels” but rather “too many vowels to know how to spell.” So he spelled it. I remarked that in Italian it means pigpen; but he supposed to be a Mexican writer, which the internet doesn’t seem to know about. So I still don’t have a lead on it.

  4. I am not here to defend anyone. I was not at the panel, although Mr. Benford was actually at my party room Sat night because I was hosting a “Portrait Gallery Reception” party and his portrait was there and I dragged him into the party.

    What I want to say is about difficulty with names. I have been in this country since 1975. In fact, I have problems saying the word Gregory to the point that my children make fun of me for it. I am basically hopeless with any words longer than 3 syllables.

    Dr. Benford definitely speaks like an older Southern gentleman, FWIW. More so than a SoCal native.

    I basically agree with what @Olav Rokne said (which BTW, I have no idea how to pronounce your last name)/

  5. @Chris R
    So are we just going to ignore that Mr. Benford was not, in fact, removed from the con due to his condescension, but “because he failed to follow the directions given by the con com” per Justine?

    It depends. What were the words used to tell him? Were they issued with the authority of the Con Committee? Or was he told something like “You might want to lay low for the rest of the day” by a member? I can easily see it being too close to the latter, instead of something like “As a member of the Con Committee, I am telling you that your convention privileges are as of now revoked. Do not enter the convention spaces for the rest of the convention.”

    It would not surprise me that, given that Benford is a long-time award winning writer, that who ever approached him expressed themselves in a conciliatory fashion, downplaying the aggressiveness of their own words, rather than with assertiveness.

    In stuff like this, it’s important to be explicitly clear about what is being said, and to get it said back to you so you know it was heard as it was intended. So far, it looks like every important statement that has been discussed in the incident has been interpreted multiple ways, by those who expressed them and those who heard them.

    Further, the Loscon Code of Conduct doesn’t say anything about who can remove someone from the convention, or under what circumstances. That fact would also add ambiguity to a discussion.

  6. @Lis Carey

    Thank you. “Regular” American names (and to an extent English names in general) are actually much more complex spelling and pronunciation wise than the names of many other Western European names. Being used to them doesn’t make them easier from an objective standpoint despite what people often insist on claiming.

    Won’t even get into the issues I have with people spelling my legal name, first and last, or the pronunciation issues which are many. But nobody ever makes smart remarks about it along these lines. Wonder why.

  7. The comment from Justine Reynolds seems to me to clear some things up – Benford was originally asked to stay off his programming for the rest of the con, and when he attended his signing anyway that was upped to asking him to stay off the con floor (but not the rest of the hotel).
    I suppose there’s room for misunderstanding about whether a signing is strictly “programming” or not, but what’s making me even more dubious about Benford’s behaviour is that he’s allowed everyone to operate under the impression that the so-called perp walk out of his signing was due to the incident on the panel, rather than because the con believed he’d ignored their earlier sanction.

  8. Coming from the midwest, I remember in college being rankled when someone from the east would add a “pal” to their sentence. Like, “Hey, pal, watch where you’re going.”

    Having said that, I will point out that “oh, honey, no” is a popular catchphrase throughout blogs/social media and I have yet to see anyone call out the user for the use of “honey.”

  9. @jack Lint
    It’s more offensive to most women than being called “guy” or “dude” – “honey” implies familiarity if not intimacy.

  10. @Justine Reynolds: Thank you for those very enlightening explanations. Your point #3 was a particularly interesting case of Rashomon perspective.

    Foul language towards the con co-chairs in that situation is definitely, to pick up the expression people are using, not a good look (to say the least). I’m honestly unclear whether, from your description, Benford should have understood from being told to ‘stay off programming for the rest of the day’ that this implied his autograph session having also been cancelled. I mean, yes, autograph sessions do fall under programming, but they’re not a speaking opportunity, more an arm-cramp one, so perhaps the directions given lacked clarity? (As an aside, IMO, cancelling an already-underway autograph session sanctions the waiting fans much more than it does the author.)

    It would be nice if Southerners were more aware that ‘honey’ might play badly outside its native land. My wife Deirdre, who’s lived there, claims it’s used there to refer to either sex. (Me, I wouldn’t know from Southern: When I was a lad, ‘the South’ meant distal parts of Hong Kong Island. These days, it’s the Gilroy Garlic Festival, or that stay in Valparaiso, Chile.)

    ETA: Deirdre, who’s been head of Programming for quite a few cons, and is also a professionally published SF author, opines that most authors would not have considered an autograph session to be included by the term ‘programming’.

  11. @Gregory Benford–

    BTW, I didn’t say the name–which was pronounced by Brad Lau–Porcaio –had “wrong number of vowels” but rather “too many vowels to know how to spell.” So he spelled it.

    I’d be fascinated to know in what way “too many vowels to spell” is different from “wrong number of vowels.” I mean, sure, it’s more precise about how it’s the wrong number of vowels, but that doesn’t seem significant.

    I remarked that in Italian it means pigpen;

    And it didn’t occur to you that that might be rude.

    but he supposed to be a Mexican writer, which the internet doesn’t seem to know about. So I still don’t have a lead on it.

    “Supposed to be.” “which the internet doesn’t seem to know about.”

    Oh, how cute. How clever.

  12. Folks keep saying that “honey” is used in the South to refer to either sex. This is true, but it is unusual for an adult man to refer to another adult man as “honey”. Women can call each other “honey,” and they can call men “honey”. Men can only call women “honey”. Ordinarily.

  13. With regard to Benford’s comments about vowels and name meanings, I’m reminded of Scalzi’s famous aphorism, “the failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘asshole’.”

  14. With regard to Benford’s comments about vowels and name meanings, I’m reminded of Scalzi’s famous aphorism, “the failure mode of ‘clever’ is ‘@sshole’.”

    (apologies if this double-posts; it appears the first post was caught by a nannyfilter so I’ve bowdlerized it.)

  15. As far as autographs sessions go, I tend to think of anything that happens in my programming space that I schedule as a programming item. They are also assigned on request, as not all authors want to do a session. But I could definitely see them being considered a different activity. “Scheduled events” would probably be a better term for the future.

    And part of the reason the actions of the chairs were walked back is because they weren’t clear, which resulted in miscommunications. Greg Benford may not have realized that he was doing what they asked him not to do. But, I do believe it was made clear to him what those intentions were later, and now he’s letting a not so complete narrative persist.

  16. Just a side note: A couple people here made gratuitous disparaging remarks about Human Resources, as if that’s something we can all agree on is reprehensible. As my wife spent a long career (rising to Chief) in HR, trying her best to be fair to both employee and employer, I was disturbed by those comments.

    It’s hard to be sensitive towards everything, and easy to casually dismiss with generalizations areas outside our specific concerns.

  17. @Bill —

    Folks keep saying that “honey” is used in the South to refer to either sex. This is true, but it is unusual for an adult man to refer to another adult man as “honey”. Women can call each other “honey,” and they can call men “honey”. Men can only call women “honey”. Ordinarily.

    Bill and Deirdre are both correct. A man in the South would not call another man “honey”, unless he is gay. OTOH, a woman would not be likely to call another woman “dude”, either. So there’s that. 😉

  18. @Jake:

    it’s not totally clear from the reporting here how much separation there was between Benford talking about Jemisin and his use of ‘honey’.

    To quote one of my favourite West Wing lines: ‘Ah, the rare valid point.’ (Josh Lyman to Amy Gardner, ‘The Women of Kumar’, season 3.) In recollection, even having been sitting right there, that’s honestly not clear to me, either.

    Benford had qualified that entire passage with disclosure of his readership bias, i.e., he’s a hard-SF author, so certain things just aren’t his cuppa (a perfectly appropriate and appreciated statement in context of a panel about who might be considered the new grandmasters). He mentioned Jemison’s trilogy as an example, and I can’t recall whether he talked about specific others, but very obviously he was talking about non-hard-SF broadly too.

    The “If you write SF, honey, gotta get the science right’ remark was a while later. He might have been thinking of Jemison, or particularly of Jamison, or of soft-SF-authors generically with or without regard to sex — or even (for all I can tell) of authors attempting hard-SF and missing. I couldn’t say — but I can say (changing the subject a bit) that taking vast offence on Jemison’s behalf, in that particular, seems like rather a long walk.

  19. I’m probably the only one finding it minorly amusing that Dr. Benford is simultaneously being accused of not being culturally sensitive with respect to different spelling tropes of names and having his original culture’s common use of a word slammed.

  20. Relavent to this conversation of what does or doesn’t fall under a COC violation and seemingly absent is the Loscon 45 code of conduct itself. So I’m just going to leave this here….

    Additionally I am curious if anyone here can link the procedure statement that said this interaction should have been vetted by ops and not handled by the executives? I as a former Loscon chair was not aware of this policy. Although evidently a more formalized procedure does seem necessary.


    Kindly click here for full text of Loscon 45 Code of Conduct

  21. Atsiko:

    “I think pretty much everyone here is aware of the use of “honey” in Southern culture…”

    As a non-american, I’m always happy to have these things explained to me. I have had a few misunderstandings here when US:aians use words differently than I was taught.

    Justine Reynolds:

    Thank you for your explanations! I think that wrapped up most of the threads.

  22. @Lenora Rose

    no panel discussion should ever go forward short a moderator.

    Word. (At least, if one has not been selected, the panelists should be advised to please pick one.)

    the original complainant (Schechter) was an obnoxious person. Possibly to the point where she earned a complaint herself but as none was made this last is moot.

    For the record, I wrote to Ops to advise that Ms. Schechter had (IMO) severely abused her authority as moderator of the (subsequent) Women in SF panel, and cited in detail what had happened there. This was in an e-mail to ops@, cc’d to chair@, that I wrote at around 5am Monday morning after an epically terrible 12+-hour drive home from L.A. to the S.F. Bay Area, having finally seen OGH’s item on File770 saying there had been an incident during LosCon and that LASFS’s Board (IIRC) would be making a final determination within 24 hours.* Let me see, I wrote (in part):

    ‘I could not help being struck with the odd contrast between the panels: Ms. Schechter at the first panel had objected vociferously to Benford’s entirely legitimate and topical opinion derogating soft SF as supposedly supressive of free speech (of authors), and during the next panel stomping hard on a panelist’s (Ms. Dazzo’s) free speech as a panelist.’

    (I know appeals to moral consistency mostly get brushed off, these days, but one tries.)

    In my e-mail, as to the first panel, I did not lodge a complaint against Ms. Schechter’s long and (IMO) disruptive tirade from the audience, though I described it, but did call out as a crucial failure LosCon’s failure to name a panel moderator (after saying to panelist Lyau and others that they would do so), as it should have been that person’s job to say ‘Sorry, we need to move on’ after a couple of minutes with no question posed and no end in sight.

    *ETA: Note to LASFS: Not everyone does Facebook, or any other AOL-equivalent du jour.

  23. Gonna politely point out that it’s “Jemisin”, not “Jemison” or “Jamison”.

    Several people in other arenas and maybe some here have pointed out that you *don’t* in fact have to get the science right if you want to write SF, and in fact, I think most people here would be hard-pressed to find someone who has achieved this mythical level of hardness, of any gender. Certainly the commonly acknowledged “Masters” of SF have rarely if ever had accurate science in their works, even if we stick almost entirely to physics/astronomy.

    Apologies to Benford, but he has not “got the science fight”, either, and I say this as someone who prior to this had read and enjoyed his books quite a bit in the past.

    Let’s also not forget his premises have not been wholly original, either.

    @Hampus: I’m sorry. That was America-centric of me. I should have clarified I meant Benford and the people defending his use of the word as a harmless Southernism.

  24. @Tom Galloway:

    You may be, but that’s because your characterizations is not accurate. I’m from an area generally considered to be the South, although I would dispute that, and the use of “honey” is not some opaque cultural fragment that no one can understand, but something that is well known in plenty of areas besides the South, and whose usage is fairly transparent to analysis in this context.

    @Gwendolyn Thanks for the relevant link! 🙂

  25. Tom Galloway: and having his original culture’s common use of a word slammed.

    You’re an intelligent guy. Do you think all of the common words in his original culture are incapable of giving offense?

    Anyway, Benford himself pointed out below that he taught for decades in the University of California system and is very familiar with what he calls its “victim culture.” He does not choose his words by accident.

  26. @Atsiko: As a big fan of Nora’s writings (not to mention her WorldCon 76 acceptance speech, which well repaid leaving OGH’s hospital room to hear), I was mortified to have mistyped her surname, and caught that just after it was too late to fix.

    Remedial application of caffeine (well, theobromine, at least) is underway.

  27. P J Evans: It’s more offensive to most women than being called “guy” or “dude” – “honey” implies familiarity if not intimacy.

    I want to repeat this. “Honey” used toward a woman with whom you are not on close personal terms (and this goes for women saying it, as well as men) is a way of putting a woman in her place, as someone dumber, less-experienced, or whose opinions are of less value than the person speaking.

    I find all of the defenses of the use of the word “honey” dismaying. People from the South — especially those who have lived in California for years — are perfectly capable of being aware that its use, except when limited to relatives and close friends, is fraught with condescension and denigration, and that it is not acceptable to use it with women you don’t know — and certainly not in the context of criticism or contentious discussion.

    I grew up in an area where “R*******” was considered an appropriate and acceptable word for describing mentally-challenged people, and I myself used it for years. Yet somehow, I have managed to find other words to express this concept, and trained myself to not use that word, for decades now. Unless the people who use the term “honey” — including Dr. Benford — are willing to grant that I am a brilliant genius whose intellectual abilities far outstrip their own, then they are perfectly capable of training themselves in the same way.

    “I don’t feel like correcting the habits of my youth to reflect updated understanding of what constitutes respectful treatment of others” is not an acceptable justification for continuing to use denigrating and disrespectful terms.

    Benford is well aware of exactly what he is communicating when he uses this word toward women SFF writers and fans, and it is disturbing to see him being given a pass for it by people who should know better.

  28. I was inclined to think that this was all a massively overblown reaction to some unfortunate but typical off-the-cuff remarks on a panel. The more I read, the less I felt that was the case. Benford links to Quillette–Quillette, for pete’s sake!–and we’re supposed to take him in good faith?

    Well, I suppose if he “does not choose his words by accident,” then he’s made his attitudes quite clear.

  29. @Rick Moen: No worries, Rick. I’ve just seen that mis-spelling thing a lot in this comment thread and also in actual instances of ill intent towards her, so I thought I’d remind everyone. 🙂

    @JJ nailed it. This is not a cultural confusion issue, at least as far as Benford and his defenders and other Americans are concerned.

    @JLQ Every time. I mean, okay, sometimes stuff comes out to have been overblown. But 99% of the time, the rabbit-hole the offender digs just gets deeper and deeper.

  30. I did spend four years in west Texas, so I know that “honey” is frequently used there in addressing women – but that doesn’t make me approve of it in cases like this. (In my family, it was what my parents called each other. That definitely colors my views.)
    I don’t think Jemisin ever claimed that her books are hard science fiction; they’re clearly part science fiction and part fantasy, and I don’t object, because they’re also good books.

  31. If honey is solely used by (straight) men to refer to women, then that brings the original remark clearly back into the realm of sexism, regardless of proximity to discussion of Jemisin’s work or any associations between soft-sf and women. However, since it is now clear that the removal was related to later, much more obviously obnoxious behaviour, I’m not entirely sure whether “honey” requires nearly as much analysis and litigation as we’re giving it. 🙂 *hypocrite dance*

    I’m sure nearly everyone here has heard me whine at length about the various difficulties people have had spelling my (very British) first and last names. I have, on occasion, even had the opportunity to make pointed reminders about the spelling of the former on these very pages. 🙂 However, no-one has ever suggested that it’s somehow wrong or unnaturally difficult or that no-one could possibly be expected to spell it or understand it. Nor has anyone commented on rude possible translations or slang (and the first syllable of my surname provides ample opportunities!). Even when I’ve had to patiently walk them through exactly how many vowels are involved and in which order. I suspect therein lies the difference between having a name from the dominant culture within which you live and… not.

  32. Jack Lint:
    .

    “Having said that, I will point out that “oh, honey, no” is a popular catchphrase throughout blogs/social media and I have yet to see anyone call out the user for the use of “honey.””

    The times I’ve seen that, the “honey” is used to imply that someone is clueless and is making a mistake. If that is the impression you want to make by using the expression, go ahead…

  33. @JJ —

    I want to repeat this. “Honey” used toward a woman with whom you are not on close personal terms (and this goes for women saying it, as well as men) is a way of putting a woman in her place, as someone dumber, less-experienced, or whose opinions are of less value than the person speaking.

    And again I’ll say, this is NOT consistently true in the South. I agree that in the context of Benford’s statement, it was condescending; but it is NOT consistently condescending to be addressed as “honey” here in the South.

    I live here. I’ve lived in the South for half a century. Trust me on this one. I get called “honey” or “sweetie” nearly every day by one service person or other, usually complete strangers to me, both male and female. They are being friendly and polite, not condescending.

    In the “own voices” tradition, please stop trying to explain my own culture to me. Unless I’m greatly mistaken, you are not part of Southern culture, and I think it would be really great if you’d try to stop making assumptions about it from the outside.

    And, again, remember — I am NOT defending Benford here. As I’ve already said several times, I agree that his particular usage of it was condescending. But you’re making blanket claims that are simply not true within Southern culture.

  34. A little late to this party, but I have to say that people should read that interview from Quillette. It’s kind of creepily eye-opening.

    A few choice quotes:

    1) “Much of the #MeToo movement might be seen as an expression of dignity culture — an appeal to ideals already widely held in the culture but commonly violated in practice. Women demanding that they not be bullied, groped, fondled, demeaned, assaulted, or harassed by men the workplace, and that the men abusing their power in this way face consequences, aren’t relying on radical feminism or its notions of endemic patriarchal oppression — not usually, anyway. They seem to be trying to bring to light behavior that was already considered wrong but that many people weren’t aware was going on.” [ I suspect that most of the ‘people’ who weren’t aware this was going on were, in fact, men, and from anecdotes over the years in the SFF community it’s clear that until feminists starting justifiably complaining about it, behavior like this was accepted, or written off as “Oh, that darn Isaac. What a card.”]

    2) “So the moral hierarchy of victimhood culture places entire groups of people at the top or bottom based on the whole group’s victimhood status. And while it’s not always clear which groups qualify, Jonathan Haidt identifies seven groups that are currently treated as sacred: people of colour, women, LGBTs, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and Muslims. [Sacred? Really? I’ll just point out that less than 15 years ago a constitutional amendment was proposed by the President of the United Sates to explicitly ban gay marriages] Under this schema even many minority groups, such as Evangelical Christians, fail to qualify, and any discrimination against them is ignored or celebrated.” [ Here’s the description for the book to which the link attaches: “So Many Christians, So Few Lions is a provocative look at anti-Christian sentiments in America. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative research, authors George Yancey and David A. Williamson show that even though (or perhaps because) Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, bias against Christians also exists.” So in other words, the book is about how a dominant religion is somehow discriminated against, even though it’s dominant. Oy. Can you say victimhood?]

    3) “How, then, would people who agree with us go about preserving dignity culture?
    Jordan Peterson’s rule #6 isn’t bad practical advice: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” [First off, anyone citing Jordan Peterson as a serious moral thinker makes me wonder just how serious they really are. Secondly, this quote certainly minimizes, if not ignores, the historical realities of oppression in our society. It suggests, for example, that people of color shouldn’t complain about the appallingly high level of unemployment in the African-American community until African-Americans themselves fix the broken inner-city schools their kids attend].

    Frankly, the fact that GB attached a link to this article in his piece just makes him seem rather clueless. Oh, well.

    Ta.

  35. All this talk of Southern culture has reminded me of an incident that I may have related here in the past.

    When I was in fifth or sixth grade, in Nashville, we got a new math teacher who had recently moved down from New York. When one of my classmates addressed this new teacher as “ma’am”, the teacher went ballistic. I mean, she gave that kid what for — she was seriously angry. In the meantime, we were all mystified — we couldn’t understand what was going on.

    Why was she angry? Well, because she thought that kid was being a smart*ss — she thought he was being sarcastic. But he wasn’t — he was entirely serious, and being very polite.

    The teacher was incredibly embarrassed when this was explained to her. To her credit, she apologized for jumping to conclusions.

    Cultures clash very easily. It’s best to keep an open mind when communicating across cultures, even just across regional divides.

  36. Meredith: no-one has ever suggested that [my name is] somehow wrong or unnaturally difficult or that no-one could possibly be expected to spell it or understand it. Nor has anyone commented on rude possible translations or slang (and the first syllable of my surname provides ample opportunities!).

    Exactly. I’ve had a lifetime of misspellings of my name — including a recent occurrence, for something hugely important, which will now be out there for all eternity <sigh> — and I have dealt with it as something which frequently happens, correct it if it’s important, and move on.

    But for someone to “joke”, several times in a row, that my name is simply too hard to get right? That’s someone who can’t be bothered with courtesy, and as Cassy says, it’s The Failure Mode Of “Clever”.

    And “I remarked that in Italian it means pigpen”

    Did someone send out a memo that this is Elder Male SFF Writers Show Just What Dicks They Can Be Week, and that there was a prize for the winner? Because I can’t come up with any other reasonable explanation for this sort of arrogant and appalling rudeness.

  37. I also grew up down South, still have a big extended family there, and just came back from celebrating my 60th birthday in Chattanooga, so I’m unusually “fresh” on the dialect. The more I think about the different ways it gets used, the more complex I realize it is.

    @Hampus: No non-native speaker should ever attempt to use this! You could get kissed on the cheek or socked in the mouth, and it’s hard to say precisely where the line is. (But I’ll bet you already figured that out.) 🙂

    Within your family, “honey” (or just “hon”) is an affectionate term, even when it’s being used to put you in your place. “Sugar” works too, but it’s not as common. Within the family, it can be used by an older male in authority to a younger one, invariably to soften a correction. “Honey, you’re gonna kill that battery if you keep doin’ that.” (My grandfather to me when I was ~30.) I hear my male relatives using it to their young sons even today, so it hasn’t gone out of style.

    But when you use it to a non-family member, the effect is all over the map. An older woman at a checkout counter can freely use it with all young people in the line. “That’ll be $4.99, hon.” But a young woman would seem rude if she said it to older women and flirtatious if she said it to men. A man using it to younger women seems rather old-fashioned (read sexist) and unspeakably rude using it to older ones, but if he’s old enough and the girl is young enough (and he’s a family friend), maybe it’s okay. Unless you’re gay (or making a joke), a man can’t use it to another unrelated male. (E.g. if a man’s wife has been calling him “honey” all morning, i could imagine a male friend saying to him, “Got any more beer, honey” with just the right tone of voice to make everyone crack up. Again, easier to get away with the older you are and the better you know people.)

    For reference, I use it freely with my nieces (I like “sugar” better though), never with any male relatives, not even infants, and with my sister-in-law if we’re arguing. Only my mom uses it to me anymore.

    So to Benford’s remark, it’s condescending, of course, and very rude if it were directed at a woman. But if it’s just directed at aspiring writers, then he’s talking like he’s their granddad, and, given his stature, maybe that’s okay. It actually makes the comment less serious, after all. (Contrast the much colder, “People who don’t understand science simply shouldn’t be trying to write SF.”)

    But if he really directed it to Nora Jemisin, then he should apologize. In fact, if one wants to stand on the particulars of Southern politeness, it would be in order to apologize to her if she merely took it that way. “Ma’am, I’m terribly sorry, but please believe me that I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” Only to her, though; no apology would be owed to people getting upset on her behalf of course. Unless they were her relatives.

    Anyway, that’s my interpretation, for what it’s worth.

  38. I was just pondering this (much-appreciated) comment of Justine’s:

    Moderators were an issue, we had a lack of qualified volunteers for moderators this year. I’m recommending the next programming department head (I am taking time away from cons to complete my Masters) specifically recruit qualified moderators.

    Obviously just my opinion, but it seems to me that designating no moderator because Programming is not sure which among the panelists is qualified is an unwise choice. Why? Because, as happened with this panel, when it’s unclear who’s going to facilitate and direct traffic, almost inevitably nobody does — even when an unruly audience member keeps making a very long tirade and won’t cease even when multiple other audience members complain that the entire panel is getting sidetracked by this person, and request that the panel please move on.

    At the time, I had assumed Alvaro Zinos-Amaro was the moderator, as he’d been doing a splendid job helping the rest of the panel, facilitating discussion, and supplying well-researched material relevant to the topic. I was thus mystified why as moderator he wasn’t politely ending the interruption. Answer: He wasn’t moderator, and apparently nobody felt free to speak in that sprit. Which I submit is a pitfall to be avoided if possible — if only (as I said upthread) by advising panels with no ‘qualified’ moderator to please nonetheless pick a moderator among themselves.

    My own experience as a panelist is that the latter approach works well enough, FWIW.

  39. Contrarius: In the “own voices” tradition, please stop trying to explain my own culture to me. Unless I’m greatly mistaken, you are not part of Southern culture, and I think it would be really great if you’d try to stop making assumptions about it from the outside.

    I’m not explaining your culture to you. I’m telling you that this doesn’t fly anywhere outside the South, and it’s not an excuse for people from that region to use it with people who don’t participate in that culture by agreement. If you don’t have a problem with it and wish to put up with it, that’s your prerogative, but you don’t get to “explain” that its use with others is perfectly acceptable and that they have no right to be offended by it.

  40. Oh, and as regards Porcaio —

    This has little to do with anything, but I’m betting the name is actually Brazilian Portuguese — from Por Caio.

    Which leads me to wonder — would Benford or anyone else have remarked that Correia has too many vowels to spell correctly?

  41. @JJ —

    I’m not explaining your culture to you. I’m telling you that this doesn’t fly anywhere outside the South

    Except that isn’t what you actually said.

    But I accept your reframing of your claim. Thank you for making the clarification.

    it’s not an excuse for people from that region to use it with people who don’t participate in that culture by agreement.

    Aaaaaaaand yet again — I’m not defending Benford’s statement.

    Again.

  42. @Greg H I have never in my life heard someone use “honey” as a generic for a gender-neutral grouping. From my perspective as a linguist, English almost always uses a masculine noun or pronoun for mixed-gender groups or for a hypothetical individual, assuming they aren’t using a gender-neutral word. I’m not as old as you or as Southern as you, but I have a violent mental jolt when trying to imagine Benford’s comment applying to anyone besides a real or hypothetical group of women or individual woman, even in a grandfatherly way, and I can’t see Benford as “grandfatherly” or even “fatherly” to the women to which he would have been referring, and I don’t think they or even he would suggest such a relationship, even metaphorically as it would be meant.

    Similarly, a grandpa might call the grandkids “kids”, but calling adults, some well into middle age “kids” is unlikely to ever fly, and “honey” similarly.

  43. Contrarius: Except that isn’t what you actually said.

    People in the South, most of the time, don’t actually know whether the person they’re addressing as “honey” is fine with them doing that, do they? I am sure that there are plenty of women living in Southern states who just grit their teeth every time it happens. But since the person doing it can defend it as “their Culture”, the women who don’t appreciate being called honey just have to grit their teeth and put up with it.

  44. I didn’t say the name–which was pronounced by Brad Lau–Porcaio –had “wrong number of vowels” but rather “too many vowels to know how to spell.” So he spelled it. I remarked that in Italian it means pigpen; but he supposed to be a Mexican writer, which the internet doesn’t seem to know about. So I still don’t have a lead on it.

    Perhaps he meant Gerardo Horacio Porcayo?

    He was born in Cuernavaca, so he’s not merely “supposed to be” Mexican. And that’s not actually an intimidating number of vowels.

    I’m assuming by “which” that you actually mean “who,” and weren’t complaining that the internet doesn’t know about Porcayo being supposed to be Mexican, but rather that the internet doesn’t know about him at all. But as it happens, the internet knows of him, his nationality and his career.

    Mexicans have surnames of a variety of origins, of course, as do Americans.

    As it happens, “Benford” means “footbridge,” but I’m not sure why anyone would feel the need to bring that up upon hearing it on a convention panel.

  45. @PhilRM:

    @Meredith: Wait – you mean it’s not pronounced “throat-warbler mangrove”?

    No points for Monty Python, I’m afraid. That’s the rules, you know, same as with Princess Bride quotations. (But four points for style.)

    (Your name is Chapman, by the way, and I claim my five quid.)

  46. @Contrarius: He might be making the argument a bit too strongly. But even in friendly or benevolent contexts, the word is still a marker of distance between the two in many cases. The old grandma at the church picnic saying “Honey, come over here” to an unrelated young child who may be misbehaving or even just kinda loitering is making a claim to authority. After all, that same child would *never* call the old granny “honey” in that way, because the difference in their social status makes that hugely disrespectful.

    By the same measure, even someone meaning it entirely harmlessly is *still* making a determination of social status *because there are rules about who can use that word with who* and we all know it.

    @JJ I can vouch for that. Certainly I as a younger man have constantly rolled my eyes after being called “honey” by older female co-workers. And I’ve talked to women about it, too. I think there’s a cultural change going on, as well, where a lot of the younger generation doesn’t view “honey” and similar cultural tics the same way as the old generation but don’t want to start a big fight with their older relatives over it.

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