I believe in second chances. I believe in second chances with every atom in my body. People are an ever-evolving creation. We rebuild ourselves day after day, hour after hour. I watch students who once said they can’t dance execute entire sequences flawlessly. I watch teenagers who didn’t understand boundaries correct and explain personal space to their friends. Second chances are vital. Learning, changing one’s perspective and adjusting one’s views is a part of being human. Giving people space to do that is part of being a community. Without that chance to grow and adjust ourselves to outside pressures, we stagnate.
The flip side of this, is that second chances need to be earned. I don’t put the fox back in the chicken coop and say, “Go ahead!” I start by putting the fox in the barnyard, and I watch the fox. Then I put the fox in the barnyard with a dog to watch it overnight. Then I put the fox near the chickens with close supervision. Then maybe I let the fox in the chicken coop with extremely close supervision, for a little while. And maybe, one day, someplace down the line, when the fox has converted to vegetarianism and befriended a hen and her chicks, and the rooster think’s the fox is a pretty good guy, then maybe, I let the fox stay in the chicken coop. But if during this process, the fox steps out of line, threatens a chicken (even if the chicken owed him money), bares its teeth at a chick, licks an egg, anything. Then the fox starts over in the barnyard.
I believe in second chances, but I also believe in keeping people safe. And when we talk about human predators and human prey, the stakes aren’t just a few chickens. The stakes are people’s lives, not the ending of their lives, but the forever changing of their lives. These stakes are too high to say, “Here’s the chicken coop, go ahead!”
Which brings us to the second and third parts of this title. Confrontation is hard. In the nerd community, we aren’t good at it. Confrontation looks a lot like bullying, which is something may people in the community experienced. Confrontation is emotionally fraught, and without people available to help sort through those emotions, it can lead to deep fissures. It is easier to be agreeable, to let things slide and keep the peace. It is easier to build quiet coalitions, or to just talk about the broken stair on the sly. Because confrontation is hard.
But here’s the deal. When you sign up to run a convention, a meet up, a group, a show, an anything – you sign up for confrontation. You sign up to say no to people. You sign up to piss people off. It’s part of your job. And it sucks. It sucks a lot. Especially because the foxes often don’t view themselves as foxes. They view themselves as misunderstood sheepdogs. And that is too damn bad.
Here’s the deal. I can handle confrontation. If you want to call me a bitch, you can get in line. The first person to throw that epithet at me used it before I hit puberty. Cunt took longer. I think I fourteen before that one came my direction. Unfriendly, bossy, and pushy have been with me my whole life. If you want to call me names, get in line. There’s a whole string on people who have taken the sting out of those words.
There is yet another kerfuffle going on around Jim Frenkel, a man who has somewhere around 20 accusations of sexual harassment/assault against him. A kerfuffle that involves one side justifying his actions, while the other says she doesn’t feel safe. In this case, he’s not a misunderstood sheepdog, he’s a fox. He’s a predator, who has unrepentantly harassed women for years. A second chance is important, but it is going to be a long time in earning.
Similarly, there is an individual going to Convergence this year who was convicted of sexual assault of a minor in 2005. His friends are saying he’s a good guy. His current accuser is saying he tried to roofie her drink last year. He was allowed in the barnyard. He fucked up. Its back to the woods with this fox, until he can prove he’s allowed in the barnyard. But saying that takes confrontation, it takes saying no. And that’s hard. For the folks who need to say no, do it. If others’ perceptions of you really is the important factor he, it doesn’t matter what people will call you now, because your inaction will reflect much more harshly on you in the future.
Personally, I refuse to look away. I refuse to step to the side. I refuse to leave unacknowledged the hurt that is happening by other’s inability to handle confrontation. I refuse to say, “Well, one more chance in the chicken coop.” People aren’t chickens and this isn’t a few stolen eggs.