Several months ago, spurred on by reports of rape, assault, and harassment at conventions, I reached out to a number of friends to get their feedback on something I wanted to call The Wing Initiative—intended to be an affiliation of people dedicated to helping make conventions and conferences into safer spaces, to provide support and backup to those who either did not feel safe or who had been assaulted or harassed. With the feedback of trusted and respected friends, I began to make plans that included everything from personal recommendations to criminal background checks.
Then the lawyers had their say. Once I sat down and listened, and talked it over with my wife, I began to understand just how many ways I might end up personally liable for the actions or perceived actions of people who became part of the Wing Initiative. I won’t bore you with the details (though you might imagine them), but with a family relying on me, I could not take that risk.
Instead, I can only speak for myself and encourage others to put themselves forward in the same way. So what does it mean to me, the idea of being a “Wing?”
As a straight, white, cis male, I’ve spent my life mostly ignorant of how much ugliness and harassment so many of my friends endure in their daily existence. Though I’ve always gotten along better with women than with men…though I was raised by my divorced mother and often looked after by my sister and her friends and girlfriends…though I’ve had great diversity in my experiences and my friendships, I somehow managed to still see the horror stories of people different from myself as anomalous. One of the things that changed that view is the ubiquity of social media. It has its drawbacks—so damn many drawbacks—but social media has been a huge tool in what I view as my ongoing education about the inequality that suffuses every aspect of our society, and the savage pushback so commonly seen whenever anyone attempts to declare their equality.
There isn’t much I can do to change the world as a whole, but the more I learned, the more I realized that there is something I can do to make my professional community a safer and more equal place. I can be an ally. Wingman. Just “wing.”
If we are at a convention or conference together and you are being stalked or harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by unwelcome and persistent attention, and you want help, I’ll do my best to back you up. Before I continue, let me be clear. I am NOT talking about physically attacking or intimidating anyone, and I am not holding myself forth as any sort of arbiter or guardian angel. But if you have been assaulted or harassed, and you want someone with you while you meet with convention or conference organizers to inform them, I will do that. If you want to file a police report, the same holds true. If you feel unsafe walking to your car, and I am available, I will go with you. If you are trans and you do not feel safe using public restrooms, I’ll do my best to help create a safe environment, either by accompanying you to the restroom, watching the door, or checking the restroom to see if it is otherwise occupied.
We should all be trying to foster a feeling of safety and greater equality within the publishing community’s convention and conference network. If you’re reading this, I am hoping that you will consider putting yourself forward in the same way, and being a Wing for those who may need one.