Language is a marvelous thing. It’s fluid, it changes over time, it allows people to communicate in a myriad of ways. It gives us storytelling and love. Language, in all its many forms and transcendent qualities, is what ties us together as a species.
Language has always been co-opted by oppressors in an effort to oppress; language has often been reclaimed by people who wish to turn harmful words into words of power. Language is not a clear-cut mode of communication, nor does it mean the same thing to everyone. Words have meaning, power, and can be used for uplifting others or harming others. Language is always in flux, and it’s beautiful.
Language is also how we come up with terms to express ourselves, define our identity, and name our politics. Our beliefs and our passions are expressed in language. Our fierceness and our tenderness is shown in language. Language is as vast as the sky and as intimate as a welcome touch from a loved one. We tell stories with language; we fight wars with language; we make peace with language. It’s part of our universe, our daily lives, our dreams.
Language is important as fuck, and what we do with it—the words we use, the words we refuse—is as much a part of ourselves as how we dress or what movies we like or what we do when we see cute animal gifs on the internet.
Language is tied to identity, and identity is political, and this is why I reject the premise of “leave political identity at the door” when having conversations, breathing, or smiting the patriarchy. Identity is intertwined with politics; identity is political; who we are as people, is, like our need for language—in whatever form that takes—an indivisible element of our psyches and our souls.
Language is political; identity is political; language is identity. Follow me, if you will, into a few examples of how this works and why I am fiercely vocal about my choice of language in my identity.
CW: this post will discuss online harassment, trolling, and have screenshots with potentially upsetting language (including abelist language, accusations, misgendering comments, and inflammatory rhetoric). There are elements of this post that discuss author Jon Del Arroz.
I also wish to advise people who are not familiar with Jon Del Arroz’s online bullying and harassment techniques that if you engage with me about him, or engage him directly, he is likely to harass you, tag you in unwanted tweets, email or DM you, and otherwise seek to be disruptive and suck away your time. (And he is known to quote-tweet people in order to passively-aggressively get his followers to continue the harassment or dogpile a commentator, while claiming to be uninvolved.)
Please take care of yourself first when deciding whether or not to engage.
For several months now, I’ve on-again off-again had interactions with another author in the SFF field: Mr. Jon Del Arroz. If that name sounds familiar, you may know him as the dude who got himself banned from WorldCon 76, denied membership into the SFWA, and who has continually sought to harass and disrupt other authors in the field (such as John Scalzi, Cat Rambo, Chuck Wendig, Jim C. Hines, and many others). Mr. Hines wrote a detailed and thoroughly researched post about Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior, which you can read on Jim’s blog.
For the record, yes, I did write an email to the SFWA board with my concerns about Mr. Del Arroz’s membership application. Here is the full text of my letter, which was addressed to the SFWA Board, time stamped Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 5:54 PM:
According to a public blog post dated December 20th 2017, Jon Del Arroz posted his intent to apply for SFWA membership. On File 770, there are screencaps of tweets by JDA stating his intent to use a bodycam in order to film SFWA members in the con suite non-consensually.
(I’ve taken screenshots of both posts, respectively, in the event the original blog post is removed.)
As an active SFWA member and a person with a marginalized identity (being trans and non-binary), I find Mr. Del Arroz‘s position and trolling both harmful and threatening. Given his recent association with noted transphobic author Milo Yiannopoulos, I also worry for the safety and mental health of myself and my fellow trans people, writers both in the SFWA and not yet joined, and the damage Mr. Del Arroz could potentially cause within the organization.Considering that the SFWA site has a directory of members’ personal information, and access to social media such as twitter and Slack and the blog, I feel Mr. Del Arroz could cause extreme harm to individuals, the organization as a whole, and the reputation of the SFWA as a professional organization.
I’m a Nebula Awards finalist (2016, “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door”) and professional author, and I am intending to attend the Nebulas in 2018 in Pittsburg and other conventions where there may be a SFWA con suite available. I would feel highly unsafe were Mr. Del Arroz to be accepted into the SFWA and allowed access to the directory, the forums, the social media, and the con suites.
I value the SFWA, the services it offers, and the sense of community it provides among members. I would formally like to ask the SFWA board and membership review board to decline Mr. Del Arroz‘s membership into the association, for the reasons of safety and security mentioned above. He has not shown himself to hold to professional standards in the past, and the active threats against marginalized authors and persons attending the cons or within the organization is unacceptable.Thank you for your time and for hearing my position on this matter.Sincerely,Merc Rustad(writing as A. Merc Rustad, SFWA active member since 2015)
There followed a kerfuffle within the SFF community about this (and tendrils of it are still ongoing). Mr. Del Arroz contacted me via email (from the contact page on my site), and tagged me in tweets. Screencaps of the interactions are posted here.
This is my twitter thread in which I spoke about why I emailed the SFWA board about Mr. Del Arroz. (The link is to a QT of the SFWA’s decision, but you can click through and read the original thread.)
(Note the misgendering comment. My pronouns and gender are listed quite publicly on my website, which he had to have been to in order to email me from the contact form.)
This is another twitter thread in which I share receipts about contact with Mr. Del Arroz. Below is one of his QTs about my thread.
“For being who they are.” Sounds suspiciously like “identity politics,” eh? But let’s not bring those into the discussion, no. I was talking about known, documented behaviors. I have not commented on his ethnicity, his gender, his political beliefs, or his religion. My comments, my concerns, were and are directly related to Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior online and stated intentions for behavior in private (physical) con spaces, and the language he uses towards and against other people.
This is an email thread between myself and Mr. Del Arroz. [These are screenshots. For readers who have difficulty seeing the images and would like a text transcript, please let me know and I will be happy to provide you with a text transcript.]
I did not respond to the last email. Mr. Del Arroz then tweeted the following:
“Check identity politics at the door.”
Like a coat you bought last October, when the weather began to chill. “Here’s your ticket, please pick up your identity when you’re done with the event.” Until then, it’ll just hang here on racks with all the other coats.
What “check identity politics at the door” is truly saying is this: discard pieces of yourself in neat piles and walk through that door with holes in your body, in your mind, in your soul. Rip apart your psyche and leave the bloody remains in a rusted bucket, like an aesthetic prop in a horror movie.
This phrase is saying: Destroy yourself, piece by piece; dehumanize yourself; be complicit in your own subjection by oppressors.
And to that, I say, “No.”
The term “identity politics” grates on me because of the inherent assumption that identities are not political, when in fact they are, and always have been.
Identity is who we are. Identity is political because, in all of human history, some humans will leverage their identities as being superior to other people. Those in power and privilege will use this as an excuse to exact harm, commit murder, rape, genocide, atrocities, and otherwise dehumanize and destroy those they don’t like.
“Identity” isn’t something you shrug off when it’s inconvenient to someone else. You don’t tell me, and my friends, and the millions of people out there like me, to simply disengage aspects of our humanity, then expect us to get along with you.
No one gets to declare “no identity politics!!” as if we are simply masses of accessories to discard on a whim. You do not get to say the playing field is equal just because you have certain privileges (part of your identity) that makes you less likely to be harmed.
Trolls are gonna troll, it’s true. I dislike them. But because they can, and do, harm others, I am willing to plant my banner on this hill and fight them, so the more vulnerable of my people do not have to expend the energy to do so.
In fact, the only trolls I like are the Olog-hai, because I adore all the orcs in the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
Brilliant as always, friend and fellow author Elsa Sjunneson-Henry tweeted this the other day, and it has stuck with me:
Damn, is this not spot-on and beautiful?
Matt Dovey, a good friend and amazing SFF author, succinctly added to my point with this impeccable line, quoted here with his permission:
“ID politics” pretends there’s politics without ID, when all that actually is is erasure.
Well said, Matt and Elsa. Well said.
I will not take myself apart for the comfort and ego-soothing of others, like men who are in positions of privilege. Especially bigots. To peel away layers of identity and simply discard them because some dude decries it? Fuck that noise. No.
Who I am is political: existing in this world as a trans, non-binary, autistic queer person is political as fuck and I will not break myself apart at another’s insistence. It doesn’t work like that. To suggest otherwise is insulting and in many ways leads to self-harm.
Because there are people who cannot safely be out about their identity. They hide out of necessity or shame, and my heart breaks for them. I was once hidden in shadow, swallowing down any protest about my name, my gender, by brain. I understand the need to hide, and I understand the pain and violence and crisis that can crash down on those of us who are trying to navigate a hostile world.
Language helped me understand who I am. Finding words such as “non-binary” and “queer” and learning that I, too, could claim these as my own, as words to describe myself, was life-saving. Language matters; how we use language matters, and it always has. I am proud of who I am. I am grateful for all my friends and support network who have helped me understand myself; I am indebted to those who came before and carved out space and claimed words and said, “Yes, you belong. We welcome you here. You are valued and you are valid.”
And so I want to say to those who are searching, who are still finding the language needed to define themselves, who are in need of support and community: We’re here and we care about you and you’ll find your way. ❤ I believe in you.
I wish to be visible to help others who cannot be visible yet know they are not alone. My use of language is a choice, to speak with and to others.
My identity is political as fuck, always has been, always will be, and I will never leave it by the door or anywhere else.
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(This post is 2,200 words long.)