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An Open Letter to the SFF Community

To all you wonderful, beautiful, diverse SFF people:

In a recent conversation with other authors who are practicing a religious faith, it became apparent that many of us feel social pressure to hide our beliefs. I’m not talking about common politeness and self-censoring during conversations at conventions and on the internet. That’s a no-brainer. I hope anyone who’s met me in person can testify that I’m not the kind of jerk who goes around rubbing other people’s noses in her opinions. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about feelings of rejection because of who we are and what we believe — independent of any specific actions we have taken. Feelings of invalidation and dehumanization. Fear of being ridiculed or publicly dogpiled if we allow our religious affiliations to be known.

In a follow-up to that conversation, someone asked me to describe any specific actions which were leading to these feelings. I floundered. I’d been feeling subtle pressures for years, but did not have words to describe them.

Well, I’ve spent a few days thinking about it, and I now have words. No one is obligated to fix my problem, but I would appreciate it if people chose to try. I want a SFF community where we can ALL feel welcome. Where we can ALL accept one another’s differences despite the fact that those differences sometimes put us on opposite sides of political conflicts. If you would like to help the writers of faith within the SFF community feel accepted as individuals, just as I hope you would like every other sub-group to feel accepted, here are some things you can do:

  • 1. Please do not ridicule faith in God or equate it with blind obedience. Unless you have spent time interacting with a wide variety of organized religions, you probably have no idea what the word actually means.
  • 2. Please do not express support for me with one breath and emphatically distance yourself from my beliefs with the other. I know you mean no harm, but it makes me feel shunned and villainized. Within SFF, my views on religion are in a stark minority. No one is going to assume you share them. There is no reason to make a big deal about the fact that you don’t.
  • 3. When I make a post like this, please do not tell me to stop whining because other people have it worse. Yes. There are people who have it much, much worse than I do, but my problem is still here. My pain is very real. Please do not invalidate it by claiming I have no reason to be upset.
  • 4. My religious beliefs are part of who I am. No matter what you think, I cannot simply yank out the pieces you find objectionable and toss them aside. Please do not expect that I do so.
  • 5. When, within an appropriate context, I mention a controversial church doctrine, please ask for more information before you start explaining* why that doctrine is wrong. Doctrine is a complex beast. The fact that I accept tenet A does automatically mean that I hold views B, C, D, E, or F. And it certainly does not mean that I approve of actions G, H, or I. I am happy to engage in polite discussion, but I don’t like being talked down to based on imagined opinions that have been invented for me.
  • 6. I realize that many people within SFF have had horrible experiences with members of organized religions. I am not those people who mistreated you. Please do not treat me as if I were. Once we have gotten to know each other, you may conclude that I am a despicable person, or you may decide that I am actually quite reasonable. I can deal with either option, but please do not reduce me to a stereotype.
  • 7. There is a tendency within the SFF community to demonize those who hold controversial opinions even when those opinions are expressed politely. This is divisive. Please stop. The fact that someone disagrees with you you does not make it ok to lob insults.

I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love all the myriad styles of storytelling in between and I love the people who gather to discuss the craft and business of writing, both in person and on the internet. You are all AMAZING people, and I am honored to walk among you.

Thank you for listening.

Nancy Fulda

*Several readers pointed out that the word I originally used here, ‘mansplaining’, is both derogatory and inaccurate to the situation. I agree. I shouldn’t have used it. Hence the change.

Comments at Livejournal


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cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
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Comments

( 77 comments )
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BearMntBooks
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
Between this and the other letters I'm seeing from women who feel shunned or worse by the SF community (referencing specifically the SFWA thing), it makes the SF community seem intolerant, biased and possibly uneducated. And that is strange given that the books span everything from religion to space travel to war to the impossible. SF more than any other genre writes about intolerance, racism, the results of war, the dangers of war, the dreams of space travel, the dreams of equality...

I really don't get it. Are writers so competitive they use any excuse to shun or put down another writer? While some letters to the internet show that the putdowns appear to be because the writers in question are women, taken as a whole, it is starting to sound more like, "you're a writer, you're not ME, and I don't have to respect you." And then the excuses for why there is no respect start: you're a woman, you don't write the "right" kind of sci/fi, your religion is stupid, you write humor and no one respects that, you're self-published so you don't count...

Maybe we should all just focus on writing--or better yet, reading. Because we don't appear to be learning from any of the well-written lessons that are often found in sci/fi and fantasy.

nancyfulda
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)
I actually think that, overall, SFF is far more considerate and supportive than many other places in the world. We are not afraid to talk about these issues when they come up. That makes a lot of noise, but it also implements a lot of change, and makes it a far preferable place to me than communities where marginalized groups shuffle along in silence indefinitely. :)
(no subject) - wendigomountain - Jun. 5th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jun. 15th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Grayson Morris
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Very well said, Nancy. I'll gladly give this post what little bandwidth my blog and Facebook feed have.
nancyfulda
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I very much appreciate it.
raisinfish
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
I have stopped reading many blogs of people in the community because they regularly equate faith with idiocy. I find myself keeping my faith close to my chest these days, because I don't want other people to think that it's up for debate. It's not. My beliefs are my own, and I'm not interested in shedding them in order to fit in, or for any reason. Like you say, they are a part of me. It's not like I can just remove pieces of me, but I can control which pieces of me I allow other people to see, especially on the internet. But you're right; it shouldn't have to be that way.

This is a brave post. I hope people respond to you kindly.
nancyfulda
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
>>I find myself keeping my faith close to my chest these days, because I don't want other people to think that it's up for debate.

Me, too. I find it frustrating when people assume I could swap out elements of my faith, like accessories for an outfit, if only I really wanted to.
(no subject) - raisinfish - Jun. 5th, 2013 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Paulette Paquette
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
Re : spirituality and belief systems.

I spent many years searching for a path that would allow me to grow in all areas of my life. What I finally settled on is a combination of many other paths and belief systems - let'
s call it "eclectic". My personal view is that wherever you find that place (religiously/spiritually speaking) that allows you to be all you can be, that is where you belong.

There is absolutely no room in this world for put-downs and criticisms of another's belief. That includes the SFF community - perhaps especially so, given the genre!

We will encounter self-important, arrogant and thoughtless people during our adventures in this life. I still smart from a particular encounter I had with a very well known member of the SFF community. I really ought to get over it as I doubt that person even realizes their own ignorance. You are correct in stating that those behaviours belong to those people and truly say more about them than about you!

Wishing you well in life and writing! :)

moonepower
sdbaird
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:41 pm (UTC)
I really appreciated this letter. Although my situation is a little different being a blogger rather than an experienced SFF writer, I still have felt the pressure to hide my religious beliefs in fear of offending someone else or being scrutinized for the things I believe in. It wasn't until recently that I stopped worrying so much about it and just started being more open about this important part of me.
(Anonymous)
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, Nancy: I wholeheartedly agree. I'm dismayed at the anger and intolerance around the standard US "culture war" issues (I speak as a Brit who's lived in the US 23 years) in a community which is very accepting of a good deal of weirdness, poor social skills, and extremes of appearance and body type. It would be nice if the SFF community, and especially its more militant members, would show more humour, understanding, and tolerance and just get on with their work and their lives rather than trying to change the world by confrontation and public noise. Amy Casil Sterling has been making a similar point, but there's unfortunately so much anger out there--especially in SFWA--that nobody hears it.

Not to spam your page, but you may be interested in my own blog post on this same theme from 2012, here: http://dariospeaks.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/on-tolerance-and-civility/ (please feel free to delete if you don't want this linked.

Best,
Dario
Dario Ciriello
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, Nancy: I wholeheartedly agree. I'm dismayed at the anger and intolerance around the standard US "culture war" issues (I speak as a Brit who's lived in the US 23 years) in a community which is very accepting of a good deal of weirdness, poor social skills, and extremes of appearance and body type. It would be nice if the SFF community, and especially its more militant members, would show more humour, understanding, and tolerance and just get on with their work and their lives rather than trying to change the world by confrontation and public noise. Amy Casil Sterling has been making a similar point, but there's unfortunately so much anger out there--especially in SFWA--that nobody hears it.

Not to spam your page, but you may be interested in my own blog post on this same theme from 2012, here: http://dariospeaks.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/on-tolerance-and-civility/ (please feel free to delete if you don't want this linked.

Best,
Dario
(Anonymous)
Jun. 5th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC)
Really nice post, Nancy. I think it's very easy for people without religious faith/doctrine to assume that if you believe/follow one thing, you believe everything else in that set. Though it's very human to look for patterns and extrapolate, it's disrespectful to assume you know what's in another person's mind. Often, I suspect it springs from a knee-jerk urge to classify and dismiss someone else's point of view.

I do have a minor pick, which is your use of "mansplaining," a term I find mildly offensive: it's like saying "she was explaining it to me in that condescending way women do." Though there certainly are different ways that men and women condescend to each other, the important part is the condescension, itself. Adding a gender-association I believe is unhelpful. Also, in the name of accuracy, is it only men who make people of faith feel unwelcome?

Great, thoughtful post!

Steven M. Long
nancyfulda
Jun. 5th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you for bringing that point up. I agree. 'Mansplaining' was not the correct term to use and I should have picked something better.
azahru
Jun. 5th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
Given how some people at SFF conventions have taken umbrage at me simply stating that I am an atheist I hope people take note of this: http://www.alternet.org/belief/9-questions-atheists-might-find-insulting-and-answers?paging=off
nancyfulda
Jun. 5th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
That is a fabulous link. Thank you for sharing.
(no subject) - azahru - Jun. 6th, 2013 06:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - siege - Jun. 7th, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jun. 5th, 2013 05:15 pm (UTC)
Well said. I've noted the same thing in academia. Ironically, often the same people who ridicule anyone with a religious belief system simultaneously speak out against bullying and or bigotry.
bruce_h_r
Jun. 5th, 2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
I wish this situation were limited to SF and fantasy, but I'm afraid that it's a symptom of a greater cultural divide. I teach in a Master-of-Fine-Arts program in creative writing, and one of my students feels compelled to keep her religious identity to herself because of the intolerance casually expressed by other students.

For me, one of the great projects of art is to try to break down the human inclination toward tribalism. "Are you one of us, or are you one of them?" That's such a destructive question. But at the extremes there are people who are committed to making everyone "us," even if this means killing anyone who remains "them." Disrespect is no small evil. As I've heard one spiritual teacher put it, it's a short walk from bitchiness to murder.

What to do? We can speak up when we see disrespect, whether we're the target or someone else is. And we can try to be respectful ourselves. Whether you want to think of it in spiritual or evolutionary terms, the tendency of human beings to belittle the "others" seems to be an essential aspect of being human, which means that we have to actively work against it wherever it arises. If we don't combat it, it leads eventually to genocide. That's probably not the first thing to raise in a discussion about respecting another person's beliefs. It seems shrill. But that's the price that sooner or later gets paid for tolerating intolerance.
siege
Jun. 7th, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC)
The most fruitful studies I've found for hints to encouraging universality in human thought and relations, are actually those concerning aggressiveness among apes.

Unfortunately, some of the conclusions one might draw lead to things like eugenics, rather than the teaching of empathy and an understanding that "others" are still part of one's environment -- and if you change your environment for the worse, it will kill you.
(no subject) - nancyfulda - Jun. 7th, 2013 05:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - siege - Jun. 7th, 2013 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - selki - Jun. 8th, 2013 05:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Dario Ciriello - Jun. 7th, 2013 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - archangelbeth - Jun. 7th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nancyfulda - Jun. 8th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jun. 5th, 2013 07:34 pm (UTC)
Very well said, Nancy. I haven't felt ostracized very often, but there are certainly situations in which I keep my faith practice to myself simply because there isn't time or energy enough to try to explain. You've done an excellent job of expressing the way many of us feel, and your post is beautifully written. Thank you!

Louise Marley
Louise Marley
Jun. 5th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC)
Very well said, Nancy. I haven't felt ostracized very often, but there are certainly situations in which I keep my faith practice to myself simply because there isn't time or energy enough to try to explain. You've done an excellent job of expressing the way many of us feel, and your post is beautifully written. Thank you!

Louise Marley
(Anonymous)
Jun. 5th, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
WFC was my first experience with this. I was shocked by how judgmental the SFF community was. It created enough angst in me that I became convinced that any expression of religious affiliation would leave me being treated like OSC--deserved or not, mormon or not. And I didn't want to have my entire career ruined by my religious affiliation.
daveraines
Jun. 5th, 2013 10:26 pm (UTC)
I'm a committed Christian, writing fiction as an avocation. I was part of a workshop that included at least four committed atheists, plus neo-Pagans, Wiccans, a Buddhist, et al. For me the key was to cement the discussions into the context of personal relationships. I'm now collaborating with one of the atheists on a work with some religious themes; and another of them corresponds with me and sends me interesting links about Christianity or about atheism. I was probably as close to the neo-pagan individual as anybody. Sometimes it does kind of feel like "here I stand, I can do no other." But it's also a fruitful discussion - in that setting. (I've had some more agonizing discussions online, and I don't wear a clerical collar to cons. That might be kind of fun though.)

Thanks for your post. Glad to hear others of faith are out there, making the issue a live one.
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Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

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