Monday, April 10, 2006

Taki's Story

Today I'm going to talk about a woman who did a very brave thing. But I wish I didn't have to.

Last December, Ronee Garcia Bourgeois, writer of "What A Girl Wants" at Buzzscope, wrote a column about an incident that occurred at a convention last fall, in which a female comics artist was…

This is hard.

… was sexually assaulted by someone calling himself a comics professional. At the time, the woman in question declined to come forward. There was a great deal of debate over this; I myself took part in the discussion over at Gail Simone's You'll All Be Sorry forum on Comic Book Resources. It was, in retrospect, the same debate that happens every time sexual harassment comes up in any professional community. People chose sides (although I will never in my life understand how there could ever be any side but one on a matter like this), words flew, and tempers flared. Ronee herself devoted two subsequent columns to a frank discussion on sexism and harassment and the glass ceiling in comics with Colleen Doran, Lea Hernandez, and Beatrix Kyle (links to those columns are presented at the end of this entry). If consensus was not reached (it never is), then at least a great deal of people were given much to think about. Myself included, of course.

Then came Ronee's lastest column, in which the victim has spoken out. Her name is Taki Soma, and I leave the telling of her story to her. Take a moment to read it over; I'll be here when you get back.

Welcome back. I've taken the liberty of securing a bucket, in case you need to vomit.

Before I continue, I first want to applaud Ms. Soma for her courage. I honestly don't know if I could have done the same. That probably says more about me than it does about her, but nonetheless, she has my unwavering respect and support, now and in the future.

My feelings on this matter are not easy to analyze. There is rage, of course, a good deal of that. I have a friend who was repeatedly harassed our first year of college, and another who was raped. Even without that, though, my basic human decency would force my gut to roil at the fact that this… thing (there is no invective strong enough in the English language; it's times like this when I wish I were one of those Star Trek nerds who knows Klingon) happens in what we call the freest nation on Earth.

But beyond the rage, there is disappointment. A disappointment that I admit I did not feel in December, because it was anonymous enough, vague enough, for me to treat it as a purely intellectual matter. But that's between me and my conscience; between me and you, frazzled reader, I feel it now. Maybe I'm a fool, but I thought we were better than this.

Yes, of course I've heard the stories. I read the threads about Julie Schwartz. I've discussed the creepy undercurrents in the work of Roy Thomas. I know damn well what it was like in the old days, and that some of comics' surviving elder statesmen, and even men of my father's generation, are still as lecherous and filthy and abominably sexist now as they were then. Christ, just today I read a line in Heinlen's Stranger In A Strange Land that made me want to punch him in the mouth. But I thought the new guard was beyond all that. The men of an age with my elder cousins, my brother; the cool older kids who are even now blazing the path that me and my fellow creators, the Ben Carvers and Mordechai Luchins's and the Joe Rices (don't try and deny it, Joe, I've seen too many twinkles in your eyes) would walk. And I figured that we, and they, were better than that.

But, if my sussings out of what information has been made public is true --

-- And let me pause here to say that this is only a guess, that I do not know for sure who the pungent slime mold responsible for these acts is, but if I did, I would shout his name from every digital rooftop on the Internet, and let the bastard sue me, I make $12 an hour anyway --

-- if my sussings out are true, the pervert in question is of that guard. He is of an age with Bendis, Rucka, Johns, Slott, Millar, et al. (and I'm fairly confident that I can exonerate *those* men of this deed), and, I regret to say, he is someone for whom I held a great deal of respect in my youth, and whom I considered above certain of his boorish peers I assumed he associated with out of necessity.

I may, of course, be wrong. But that doesn't mitigate the disappointment, the anger, the sheer for-fuck's-sake-ness of my reaction. Because dammit, we know better than this. All of us, we know better. We had mothers, and grandmothers, and sisters, and aunts, and cousins, and woman friends, and woman teachers, and woman bosses, and woman employees, and we were given the knowledge and the empathy to tell right from wrong. We know this is wrong. We know that this man, whoever he is, should be at minimum tarred, feathered, and run out of the industry on a rail for what he's done. We know that a civilized society has no place for this kind of behavior.

And yet, even in December, there was the circling of the wagons. And God help me, I see them starting to circle again. I write fiction; imagining people's reactions is my job, it's as natural to me as the blood in my veins, and I can already see how the arguments will form. Why was she in the hot tub fully clothed to begin with? Why didn't she complain when he threw her into the pool? Who says the witness is reliable? Why didn't she come forward right away? And on and on and on and fuck anyone who even considers entertaining that bullshit for an instant.

I have no conclusion for this, because it's impossible to conclude in 1000 words. Or 10,000. Or 100,000. Unless…

Unless 100,000, or, if we want to go by Diamond's figures, closer to 200,000, comics fans were to say them at once. If everyone who calls themselves a comics fan stood up and said them together. They're simple words; my grandmother taught them too me when I was still to young to know better, and they worked pretty damn well on me. If said in a quarter million voices simultaneously, I'd dare say they could put an end to this right quick.

For shame. Let that be the rallying cry. For shame. On every message board, in every comics store, at every convention. For shame. Until it rings in the ears of this malodorous speck of a man and shrivels his testicles into chickpeas. For shame. Let it beat against his breast like Poe's telltale heart until he knows the pain and the smallness and yes, the shame he has inflicted on another human being and it drives him out of his so-called mind For Shame For Shame For Shame!

We talk a great lot about the progress of the industry; let's push it into third gear and be the first industry to do what all of them should have done from the beginning and say, "For shame, you pathetic wart of a human being! Not here, not in my hobby, not in my industry, not in my society! Get out and don't come back! And the same to anyone who stands with you!"

Friends of Lulu has set up a fund to raise money to help Ms. Soma, and the many other women (and men) who have been the victims of this kind of assault, obtain legal advice as to how to proceed. Masters of understatement will point out that this will be a challenge. To help, PayPal donations to, or contact Ronee at Events and auctions are forthcoming. It's a small start, but progress always starts with one stray pebble, tap-tap-tapping its way down the hill, until it lodges loose a rock, and then another, and then a boulder, and then the avalanche.

Ronee's roundtable columns with Colleen, Beatrix, and Lea can be found here and

"Just The FAQs" will return next week.


Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Well said, and thanks for linking to the column and expressing your anger over the situation. The more people who know about this, the harder it will be for this guy to hide behind the rock he's using for cover.

As for his identity, I'd caution everyone from speculating about it as that road leads to innocent bystanders' names being dragged through the mud. The full truth will come out one day, and in the meantime, trust that he knows his name is already being whispered by those who either knew his reputation or heard of this specific situation when Taki pressed charges. He knows he's being watched, and for now, that's as close to justice as we're able to get. But his time is coming.

Typolad said...

Very well put Michael.

And my name there is scaring me. Why oh why did this make you think of me?