I have seen some troubling things happening in this horror community over the last few years. I am speaking specifically of the community that largely centers around HWA, Nightworms, some parts of Bizarro, and the Brian Keene Show. The Matt Hayward situation made me realize that these issues were not independent of each other, and the behavior I see from some members of this community is only getting worse. I am going to lay out in detail what I have observed and why it’s a problem. This letter is for those who may also feel troubled and uneasy about what they’ve seen going on but for whatever reason feel they are not in a position to speak up.
I will not be speaking about Matt Hayward or the allegations against him. Until this came to light, I was not even familiar with who he was. This letter is focused primarily on the aftermath and the behavior that I observed from community members during this time.
The fallout after the Matt Hayward allegations reminds me of what happened to Chandler Morrison at the Bizzaro Showdown about a year and a half ago. Although the initial incident was much different, the fallout was similar. For those who are unfamiliar with this you can refer to his page on File 770. For the short synopsis: He simulated sex with an aborted fetus as part of his performance during the Bizarro Showdown while reciting a passage from his book that at the time, been picked up by Deadite Press. Several people in the audience felt upset by this.
Many felt Chandler Morrisons’ performance at the Bizarro Showdown had crossed a line. However, this soon evolved into Chandler becoming a villain. Misinformation about the performance (Including people who claimed Chandler had ejaculated into the front row of the office) did not help the situation. This soon culminated into an online mob. He was new to Bizarrocon and encouraged to do the performance by his editor, Jeff Burk.
There could have been policies put in place to make sure those lines were not crossed again. Instead, Chandler was banned for life from the con and Jeff Burk, a longtime editor, was fired, despite the content in the show being the content of many of the books that Deadite press published.
I do not indict the people who found the performance offensive. And I do not indict Rose O’ Keefe, John Skipp, or any of the others who were trying to do the best they could to manage the situation. I admit that I got caught up in the frenzy too and after many conversations with John Skipp I stood behind him when he said that Jeff should be let go. I later promised to myself that I would do my best if such a situation came up again to not get caught up in the fervor and the panic. Banning Chandler and firing Jeff was not a solution because neither Jeff or Chandler were the problems. The point of the Bizarro Showdown was to get as close to the line as one could without going over. To be as weird, bizarre, and strange as one could be. It is surprising to me that after all those years nobody had a contingency plan in place for if a performance was to go over that line. When you flirt with the fringe, sometimes you risk going over. This should be a given. Just because people took offense to the performance doesn’t mean the artist is a bad person. It just means they crossed a line that another person had drawn, through no fault of their own. Those in charge had no plan set up to gracefully pull people from the edge if that were to happen and this is not a fault of the performer.
People reacted badly to Chandler Morrison in the way they did partially because they did not feel safe. This was not Chandler’s fault, but that feeling did not come out of nowhere. People felt as if abusive behavior had not been handled adequately in the past despite Rose’s efforts. (Whether or not this is true.) G Arthur Brown, who had an inflammatory online presence and was accused of abusive behavior in the past (As well as legal action taken against him), was celebrated at the con with a featured book and his own specialty beer. He was not the only one people had problems with at that con.
Of course we can’t expect a con to be perfect. Whenever people get together someone is probably going to behave inappropriately or in a way that other people do not like. This is a reality of being human. We can’t fix that. We can just do our best to make sure the guidelines of acceptable behavior are clear, to empower people to remove themselves from situations that may not be harassment but make them feel uncomfortable, or to remove people who are actual harassers.
When you see a community explode, it does not come from nowhere. Simmering resentments and feelings of helplessness often brew underneath the surface for a long time. Without proper leadership and clear guidelines of how to deal with harassment and abusers, people do not feel safe. So a murmur, a ripple of discontent, a couple situations here and there that weren’t handled properly – can become a fireball that explodes outward, burning everyone that stands in its way and asks it to maybe stop and slow down.
The Chandler Morrison situation did not come from nowhere. The Matt Hayward situation did not come from nowhere. And although the two situations are different, the resulting aftermath was similar. To wait and go over the facts, to question the resulting narrative, to have a disagreement about what was happening or the punishment being meted out – was seen as a sign of evil. People in that community were tired of what they perceived as people getting away with bad behavior while the leaders in charge stood by, and anyone who got in the way of that was just as bad. These leaders had self-elected themselves to take care of the group, and made the decision to run conventions, groups, and publishing companies without the proper skills to maintain group cohesion.
When people feel as if the law is not acting in the right way, they have a tendency to try to take the law in their own hands. Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if this is the actual reality. All that it takes is that people PERCEIVE they are being treated unfairly.
This can have a splashover effect. And unfortunately there are people who will take advantage of this. Last year, John Skipp was accused of bad behavior by Nikki Guerlain because he was on a panel at Stokercon called “Men In Horror.” It was designed to be a tongue in cheek reversal of “Women In Horror” panels, and the panel was to be moderated by Kathe Koja, featuring several women, and Skipp was to be the “token male”. Nikki Guerlain took offense to the idea of the panel and it was removed from the programming.
John Skipp is a good friend of mine, and part of the reason is that he has always behaved respectfully and kindly in my presence, and to everyone I have seen him meet – from famous authors to homeless people on the street. But all it took was one person to take offense to something she misinterpreted to ruin an entire panel. If a regular business operated this way, we’d see the lights going out in every store. But in this horror community we somehow think that it’s a good precedent to set to ruin an experience because one person disagrees with what’s happening.
We’ve stopped relying on facts and principles to guide us. We end up capitulating to the mob regardless of whether or not we feel it’s fair, because we don’t want people to think of us badly. But it’s not brave or noble to do this. It’s a cowardly act, one driven by fear. And you can see how this kind of precedent might be taken advantage of by bad-faith actors who want to tear something down out of spite. Or even well-intentioned people who don’t have all the facts. We want people to be comfortable and feel safe, but not at the expense of everyone else.
And you’ve seen this change in people’s behavior. How we interact and engage. People are afraid. Some women do not feel like they can speak up and be heard, and do not have the tools to properly empower themselves. Some men no longer understand the guidelines of behavior and this rightfully so, makes them feel as if they’re on shaky ground when it comes to their own careers and reputation. We’ve blurred the lines between unwanted flirting and harassment by throwing in things like power dynamics and gender disparity in the mix. And if the only thing that constitutes harassment is that someone feels harassed, then we’ve thrown reality out the window. If the facts of harassment are not a part of consensus reality then we’ve given power not to justice and fairness, but to the feelings of individuals. And if we have no clear and definitive guidelines for how it’s okay to act then we are setting ourselves up for failure.
This has led some people in the community to believe that the solution is to stop flirting all together if they are in “a position of power.” This makes sense if you are an employer and have direct subordinates. But it is not a tenable solution for a community of hundreds if not thousands of people. Are we to walk around with colored tags to denote where we are in the hierarchy of power, and only interact with people with the same colored tags? We are all human and part of being human is wanting to have sexual relations with other people. One person’s unwanted advance is another’s welcome offer.
And this would also affect our art, wouldn’t it? Fear shrinks us. It makes us less creative. Less open to new ideas. I’ve seen time and time again how people have been tossed to the wayside based on allegations, associations, hearsay, or a mere difference of opinion. This has happened to me on several occasions with people I had been friendly with, both online and offline. We don’t know who to trust and who will stand by us when heat is directed at us.
How can this not affect our art? How can this not affect the heart and soul of creation?
A few months ago an author named Tim Miller was accused of sexual misconduct. He had a book called “Rape Van,” and the name was tossed around online as evidence that he was a horrible person and clearly guilty. I can’t speak to the truth of the accusations of what he’s done, but a horror writer writing a book called “Rape Van” does not strike me as wildly out of context. (Presumably, because a rape van is a horrible thing, hence why it’s a horror book) We write horror because we enjoy being scared in a safe environment, or to achieve catharsis, or to confront the horrors around us, and this means writing about horrible things. You cannot judge whether someone is a bad person just because they write about bad things. If that is the case, then everyone in the horror community is guilty.
When we start condemning people based on the context of their writing we have lost the plot. And when we become afraid of offense and judgment in this way, it weakens our writing. We become thin and without power. We lose the teeth of what makes us strong.
Maybe you’ve noticed it. Felt the distillation of the art around you. Seen the fear. Tasted the change in atmosphere. Noticed how truly edgy, revolutionary, or daring works have reduced considerably in number.
Now I come to the issue with Cassie (@ctrlaltcassie on Twitter), Kelli Owen, and Sadie Hartmann.
Kelli Owen was removed from the Brian Keene Show because (to paraphrase) Brian’s words on his podcast, “Although Kelli did not mean to harass anyone, some people felt harassed.” Obviously there may have been more involved than that but since I am not privy to that information I can only take what was said on the show at face value. She has been dragged through the Internet and I was also unfollowed by several people because through the game of Internet telephone, they determined Kelli was harassing Cassie and my support of her was considered by extension, supporting abusers.
Full disclosure I have seen the DMs of this exchange, and although Kelli’s voice may be interpreted as abrupt or callous, in my opinion, it was not harassment and I do not think it could be legally considered harassment. Tone is not always apparent through an Internet message, but Cassie interpreted Kelli’s message as hostile and then to everyone witnessing what was happening, this became the truth. As far as I know, Kelli has not had any interaction with Cassie since that last message that was sent and it was never proven that Kelli made an anonymous account to harass Cassie. (Although again, people treated this as fact.) Cassie may have FELT harassed, but that is much different than actually being harassed.
A lot of people look up to Brian Keene, and they just saw him cut ties with a person based not on facts or vision – but because something they said was interpreted badly online. To Brian’s credit, he has done plenty of good things for the community and he was one of the few who came to Chandler Morrison’s defense during Bizarro Baby Gate. But I think this is a continuation of the behavior I’ve been seeing the last few years: Cutting ties with people based on how the public perceives them to try to calm a mob. Since this happened fairly quickly and Kelli Owen was contacted but they did not have a chance to speak with her before the decision, it strikes me as a decision based on panic. What kind of precedent is this setting in this horror community? What this situation is telling people is that how someone feels about an encounter is more important than the facts. If we have no shared vision, we’re damned to be adrift. If we punish people based on feelings and not the facts of reality, then there is nothing to aim for in regards to what is proper behavior.
Not to mention that lumping Kelli in with someone who was accused of sexual harassment and doling out the same punishments only takes attention away from the actual issues. It blurs the lines between what is to be taken seriously and what is not, and makes it so that people who suffer abuse are less likely to be taken seriously in the future.
Like myself and many others in this community, Cassie has had a history of trauma and abuse. And sometimes when you experience trauma you build up a protective wall to keep other people from hurting you because you never want to feel that way again. This means that you see enemies everywhere, real or imagined, and your life becomes a series of crises. A mean boss. A reviewer who’s harassing you. Constantly needing money. Unable to hold down jobs, despite obviously being an extremely hard worker (Which is just clear from her Twitter feed and Instagram. She is ALWAYs working on something. Book reviews. Art projects. A coloring book.) And when you are this person you don’t understand that you’re causing these situations to occur. You think there are enemies everywhere, and in that way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you lash out at the people around you. After all, it is better to be safe than to let someone ever hurt you again.
This is an issue I have personal experience with, and know intimately well, because I have a history of childhood abuse. The ever present threat of abuse led me to living in a constant state of vigilance and fear. However even after the abuse stopped I did not stop being afraid and searching for threat. This led me to destroy several relationships in my early twenties because I thought everyone was out to get me.
Now the complicated part here is that Cassie does have real enemies. She has had legitimate trauma and being at the center of an Internet scandal has caused people to come out of the woodwork to send her awful messages. But she has also perceived that people are attacking her when they are not. A few weeks after the allegations I wrote a general piece of advice on Twitter that she interpreted as being a personal attack against her after Sadie Hartmann retweeted it. She decided to vent to her followers about how someone was personally attacking her. At this point a lot of the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place, and when I realized what was happening I decided to disengage quietly. I understand people make mistakes and it was a heated time so at the time I said nothing, but the behavior did not stop there.
Then when Sadie Hartmann was subtweeted by Cassie about a week ago, Sadie responded in her own blog post that has now since been deleted. The blog post was not meant to be an attack on Cassie, it was a record of the allegations that Cassie had written about her on a post on Twitter. Not once did I see anyone mention that the things Cassie had said about Sadie were not based in reality. Cassie said Sadie supported her abuser via Nightworm, but the book boxes and article that featured Matt Hayward had gone out long before the allegations came to light. Cassie said that Sadie told her to keep quiet, but it was a group chat where several women were discussing it and it wasn’t aimed specifically at Cassie.
That is not to say that Cassie’s feelings of being attacked weren’t genuine. I really do think Cassie felt that Sadie was out to get her even though once the facts were laid out it was seen that Sadie had the receipts to show that Cassie’s claims were not based in reality. No apology from Cassie was forthcoming that she had misinterpreted Sadie’s intent and did not properly understand the timeline of events. I imagine to this day that Cassie still feels that she was the victim in this situation even when clear as day, it was laid out that what Cassie believed was a fabricated construct. Cassie in this situation was inadvertently the bully.
I attacked many people who did not deserve it, because I thought they were threatening. However whenever I felt I was being attacked and it was not actually based in reality I had people who would help me by telling me that what I was seeing wasn’t real. This wasn’t a pleasant experience and I often became upset by it, but it led me to become a better person who did not constantly see enemies amongst my friends. Cassie, on the other hand, has several hundred people validating her every claim, whether it was real or not, telling her she is brave and beautiful, giving her money, attention, and sympathy. When someone subtweets, we don’t know the entirety of the facts or even who is being talked about. People give their support because all they see is someone being attacked, not understanding the reality of the situation or that Cassie has misinterpreted something.
These people are creating a monster.
They are not helping Cassie to be the best person she can be, someone who is resilient, strong, and free. They are enabling behavior that is a symptom of abuse itself and allowing Cassie to indulge in these fantasies that everyone is out to get here. Any therapist who was properly trained in these matters would be able to see these maladaptive coping patterns and set Cassie on the right path toward healing. But people’s good intentions on the Internet are creating cycles that perpetuate abuse. A victim becomes a bully to protect herself, and we enable it by deciding that we need to lash out and attack that person too.
Although hundreds of years have passed since witch trials were a regular occurrence, our brains have not evolved past the propensity to see witches everywhere. In times of high stress we are even more likely to see witches. We have to try to understand that this is our inherent nature. A community needs a shared vision so that we can get rid of abusers while also allowing difference of opinion. Otherwise we are doomed to continue to watch our communities fall apart while we carry the torches that will ignite our friends .
I cannot support this. Although I have not been a part of this community for long, I have seen what it takes to be a member of it and it comes at a cost of creativity, freedom, open discourse, reason, and truth.
I cannot quietly enable what I’ve seen to happen. More importantly I cannot allow my writing to be controlled by fear. This is why I’ve made the decision to step away.
Being a good writer takes courage. It requires the ability to reflect on your own choices and identity. And it means that sometimes you have to risk everything for what you feel is right, and potentially fall of the edge.
If you’re a writer who has seen what’s happening or participated in this, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you’ve displayed the courage necessary to be the kind of writer you want to be. Even the things you don’t say are choices, and those choices all have consequences. Silence, repression, and dishonesty all add up, and the longer you go without addressing those things, the more these negative aspects shape you. If you live without courage everything you write will be a shadow of what it could have been.
Every day you are creating the writer that you will become. Every day you can make the decision to be better than you were before. But it’s a choice that you have to make. Otherwise the fear makes the choice for you.
-Autumn ChristianRelated posts
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