dear_fanlanders (dear_fanlanders) wrote in fan_landers,

Faltering Forgiveness For Friend's Fail

Dear Fan Landers,

Recently, a community I was in was embroiled in a large argument over what constitutes racism when making fun of our fandom's source material. I was dismayed to see that someone I had always considered a friendly, knowledgeable fan falling on the side opposite me and arguing her point in ways I consider hopelessly ignorant. I imagine she might well have felt the same of me.

We were not close friends; we only commented to each other on Livejournal posts. I liked that camaraderie but am having a very hard time reading her posts anymore. Every time I look at them, I see what I perceive as her flawed arguments and her ignorance. Is it worth it to try and work past those feelings and try and recapture some of our old back-and-forth, or should I give up on reading her posts (and possibly the community as a whole)? Discussing the issue further on the community is not an option, as the moderators have indicated that they would like the drama to go away.

An Elephant Who Can't Seem To Forget

Dear Elephant,

This is a difficult question indeed. When an argument occurs over pairing, show choice, or canon, opponents can agree to disagree and still go on to a long and fruitful relationship. The key, of course, is to understand the difference between benign indifference to a friend's enthusiasm, and active squee-harshing. Most fen are very clear about the boundaries of their happy fandom bubbles, and respecting these may simply be a matter of keeping one's conflicting (though clearly superior in all ways!) opinions to one's own journal.

However, when a matter of greater import arises, the divisions that can occur run much deeper. What is at stake has far more lasting consequences than a fictional character's haircut or choice of romantic partner. Often, fans affected daily by genderfail and racefail as well as fans who seek to interrogate their own privilege (and these two groups may largely overlap) want to be assured that fandom matters in the real world: that is, that actions on the internet require the same level of accountability and personal responsibility as any meatspace interaction. If someone fails to meet this standard--which is not difficult, as it may be as simple as listening rather than speaking out--then it is understandable that a rift can occur.

Race and gender are worthy discussions to have, but these conversations are by their nature loaded and difficult. Many people have not yet been exposed to the kind of thinking that would make them evaluate their position and privilege. While it is no one's duty to teach them the impact of their own privilege, it can be rewarding to see someone open their eyes and begin to explore the true meanings of the cliches behind the bingo cards.

Discussions in fandom tend to be cyclical. It's entirely possible that a new point will arise in canon that will spark the same debates again. Do you believe that your acquaintance may eventually gain more awareness as more examples of these discussions arise in fandom? Perhaps what you must ask yourself is whether the relationship is important enough to you that you care about investing in--and hoping for--the future of the relationship, when the person in question may know or consider more than they did during the most recent iteration.

If she does, then given time enough, the problem may solve itself. If she does not, then continuing to interact with her becomes a matter of only two expectations.

The first is safety. Physical safety is rarely the crux of a fannish problem, though, as we have seen in the case of the Open Source Boob Project, physical safety in fannish spaces still remains a vital issue. Most of the time, however, it is emotional safety that must be maintained. Trigger issues, for instance, are an aspect of emotional safety. It is always permissible to maintain your own emotional safety on the internet. This may mean posting with comments disabled; it may mean disengaging from a fruitless discussion; and it may mean defriending or defiltering a person from one's flist. These aren't easy decisions to make, and each one has its own connotations and consequences. Nevertheless, there are moments when they are the right decisions to take.

The second is respect. While we may dislike many fen, if we can be civil with them, then there's no need to go so far as bringing down the banhammer. When they start disrespecting the boundaries in one's own journal--for instance, derailling discussions or commenting with egregious fail--the time to head to the admin console may well have arrived. Everyday comment exchanges matter, as well. Can you be frivolous with someone while secretly seething about their opinions? Can you put on a pained smile and let it pass when they express themselves in a way you find ignorant? When someone has lost your regard, you may find that this disconnect causes more discomfort than ending the relationship would.

Perhaps the connections you have made with your flist member, as an acquaintance and as a member of the fandom you share, are meaningful enough that you want to repair your relationship. You might choose to bring your concerns out in the open (through a private medium such as a PM, perhaps). Or you might choose to compartmentalize the enjoyment you have with her, while encouraging your friend in any strides she makes toward understanding -isms. However, if the relationship cannot make a claim to both safety and respect between the two of you, then you may be facing the more difficult decision to let the relationship end.

Sadly, Elephant, the most difficult point of all is that, in the end, this dilemma remains yours to solve.

Fan Landers
Tags: defriending, genderfail, racefail, srs bzns
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