Broad Universe

OK, here’s that update I promised you. I wanted to sit and think it through before posting. Here’s what apparently happened:

Broad Universe is an organization dedicated to supporting writers in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror fields, with a specific focus on women and “disenfranchised genders”. When I joined, many years ago now, it was a very small organization, the goal was very clear, and I really loved the concept.

Fast forward a few years and a few hundred more members, and of course sticky questions start to come up, with various branches developing and misunderstandings proliferating. In other words, growing pains.

Broad Universe offers a couple of coordinated promotional options for any convention where there are enough members attending to pull them off. One is the sales table, where you can bring your books, sit a spell and try to sell. The idea there is that several people can take turns holding down the freebie table, and so any one person only has to perch for a couple of hours, there’s constant attendance and ongoing promotion. In theory. I’ve never liked that option. Maybe I’m too much of a control freak. But it seems to work for other folks, so yay for that.

The other option, the one I really love, is the Rapid Fire Readings. The convention grants a panel space for a bunch of Broads to gather together and read short snippets of their writing. In theory, everyone encourages friends and acquaintances to attend, and the audience should outnumber the panelists. Realistically, there’s often rather more readers than audience members; but so what? That’s true of most panels at any convention, unless someone Notable is on the lineup. The benefit of this option is that it forces writers to practice reading out loud to an audience; it’s a great networking event for Broads; and the non-writing audience occasionally finds someone new to follow.

But the RFR is where the growing pains struck this time around. I’ve noticed, over the years, that men are showing up at the RFRs and reading their own writing. They’ve joined the organization, and they’re claiming their time for self-promotion. Great! Except, wait, remember: this is an organization to support folks who have started out at a disadvantage due to their gender. That was always crystal clear. I’ll admit that while I liked the guys that showed up, as individuals, I was always a little uncomfortable that we were letting them take up airtime that should have been for women. I just shrugged and let it go, figuring it wasn’t worth getting upset about.

Well….. someone else, apparently, was more annoyed than me, and spoke up loudly on the topic. And a ferocious argument did erupt, and various people did quit the organization, and the Motherboard (a committee in charge of Broad Universe) did put out a statement, which you can find here.

Essentially, cisgender men are welcome to donate in support of the organization, and are welcome to attend the events, and are welcome to even sign up as supporting members. But they’re not allowed to use BU events to promote their own work. Which, to me, is utterly reasonable; for fuck’s sake, it’s not like they’re going to get a huge fan following by reading to an audience that came to support women.

On the inside of the debate, however, the feeling appears to be that this is a case of discrimination, because the objection is to people who present as male. That’s not what the official letter says, but I wasn’t privy to the internal argument. It mainly erupted on Facebook, I think, and I’ve withdrawn from FB, so I miss juicy stuff like this.

How do I feel about this? I think that several people quit because of the internal argument, and didn’t give the Motherboard a chance to respond; I think there was a personality clash, and a bit of entitlement, and the all-too-common issue of what I call “convention friendships”: They’re my friend, and we’re always running into one another at conventions, and we’ve helped each other out a bunch; I can’t tell them they’re not welcome at this particular thing, that’s just mean (and will make future conventions AWKWARD). I might write up a blog post on that topic, actually, as I’ve seen it in play so many times. It’s similar to the “missing stair/whisper network” dynamic in some ways: don’t rock the boat, try to get along with everyone, don’t be rude.

I think I’ll be sticking with Broad Universe, because their response made perfect sense to me and is aligned with the original mission that drew me to the organization in the first place.

I believe that anyone of marginalized gender should be welcome to promote themselves via Broad Universe. I believe that cisgender males are not marginalized. I believe that supporting the organization does not mean you have to personally benefit from your donation/membership fees. I believe that if there are transgender or non-binary folks who wish to join, they’re absolutely welcome! But if those folks wish to simultaneously benefit from appearing to be a cisgender male, without “outing” themselves, then Broad Universe is really not the best place for them. There are plenty of other options for self-promotion out there. BU was created to serve a specific membership, and I’m glad this particular growing pain has been brought out and handled.

So there you go. That’s my understanding of what happened. I will flatly say I do not intend to malign anyone who chose to quit over this issue. I respect their reasons, even as I strongly disagree, and I’ll thank my readers to do the same and not start any shit over this issue, with anyone at all.

Instead, go enjoy some sunshine, and get back to writing already!

2 Comments

  1. Morgan Hazelwood

    Thanks! I heard that there was a kerfuffle, but hadn’t heard any details.

    So far, my experience with BU was joining, learning about the mentorship opportunity (and you know how that ended up 😉 ), and getting the occasional newsletter.

    Reply
    1. Leona Wisoker (Post author)

      Yes! Working with you has been an absolute delight. Thank you for being my mentee. 🙂

      Reply

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