Statement on Isabel Fall comments

As some of you know, a new article has come out regarding that whole terrible mess with Isabel Fall from last year. It’s a good article — the reporter actually speaks to Ms. Fall, and it’s extra horrifying to see just how badly the controversy has impacted her health and career hopes. I’m glad she’s out of crisis, at least, but it sounds like she had a rough road getting there.

The reporter also reached out to me while researching this article, because there’s been a lot of internet chatter about my involvement. I shared what I could with her (off the record), and since she let me know that she was in direct contact with Ms. Fall, I took the opportunity to send a private apology at that time. I had hesitated to do so publicly before this because I didn’t know if it would just bring more unwanted attention to Ms. Fall — but since we’re talking about all of this again, now seems like a good time.

As I recall the sequence of events last year, the discussion of Ms. Fall’s story happened over roughly 2 weeks. I stayed out of it for most of that, and did my best to follow along although I was rationing Twitter at the time for my own mental health. It was a busy few weeks for me and I meant to read the story everyone was talking about, but just didn’t have time. After many days, the conversation seemed to be winding down. Then I read that Ms. Fall had taken the story down and hospitalized herself. I was horrified, and decided to post a thread expressing solidarity with her decisions — both her decision to seek care and to prioritize her own health over other people’s wishes that she leave the story up no matter what. A couple of parts of the thread were me retweeting trans/NB authors who were making some really good additional points about the situation. I expressed my sympathy for Ms. Fall, and my hope that she would continue doing whatever it took to feel healthy and safe again. I also said in the comments that I would read the story as soon as she put it back up.

Before I could finish, however — I think I got maybe 5 or 6 tweets in — I started getting “Delete this” and similar comments. At first I tried to address commenters’ concerns, but then some of the commenters started insulting anyone who liked my tweets and the people I was RTing. I belatedly realized this might actually end up making things worse for Ms. Fall and other queer writers, so I decided to take the thread down rather than finish it. Altogether the unfinished thread was up for an hour or so. That’s the sum total of my involvement.

I’m not going to claim I didn’t screw up. I made several huge errors of judgment, and I also took the thread down because I realized I’d done a poor job of explaining my points. It wasn’t anything I haven’t said in other conversations about “arting while marginalized,” over the years. Black writers have been wrestling with the issue of how to handle slurs, stereotypes, and hate speech in fiction for generations at this point, and it’s definitely something I’ve struggled with myself, in a few cases choosing to delay or forego publication of some of my works. My intention in the thread was to note that it’s always going to hurt when one tackles this kind of material; art which explores that hurt is going to be good for some people and really, really bad for others. All an artist can do is try to minimize that harm — including harm to themselves — as they speak their truth. That’s another reason I spoke up, to let Ms. Fall and other marginalized writers know (if they were wondering) that they’re not alone, and that these struggles are just… part of the burden.

But I spoke off the cuff, just reacting to the announcement, and I should’ve pre-written that thread and edited it for clarity before starting to post. As a result I botched the explanation so badly that apparently a lot of readers thought I was blaming Ms. Fall for her struggle. In addition, I should’ve made it clear from the beginning that I was not speaking about the story or its title, only Ms. Fall and the difficulty of writing through hate and identity. The Wayback Machine link to the story was being passed around at the time, but when an author takes a story out of circulation, I consider that a withdrawal of consent; to go ahead and read it then, against the author’s wishes, feels supremely wrong to me. (When Ms. Fall re-published the story for Hugos consideration a few months ago, I read it then. It’s a good story. Not the point here, though.)

tl;dr: I am deeply sorry that I contributed to Ms. Fall’s distress, and that I was not as thoughtful as I should have been in my response. Let me also apologize specifically to my trans and NB readers, some of whom caught flak because I RTed them, and others who may have been hurt or confused by what I said. I just should’ve done a better job of it.

By now I hope it’s clear that I never wanted to hurt Ms. Fall and was trying to offer support. But let me also address some facts and rumors:

• I do not know Ms. Fall, as far as I know. I have no personal animosity towards her and did not call for her “cancellation” or censorship.
• I did not collaborate with anyone to brigade Ms. Fall.
• I said I was glad Ms. Fall took the story down only because the reaction to it was hurting her. Otherwise, even if I’d read and hated the story, I would never have called for its removal; I don’t believe in concealing or erasing controversial works. My concern was for this writer specifically and marginalized writers in general, and my comments were solely meant to reflect this.

Comments here are off by default, as they have been for the past few years. I’m in deadline mode and don’t have time to moderate them properly, so they’ll have to stay off, sorry again. But I hope this clears a few things up.

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