How to make fifty enemies in five minutes: a secret Fourth Street seminar led by Steven Brust
In this time of Dumpster Fire and covfefe, we can look to the beginning of Fourth Street Fantasy for yet another disaster: in a surprise speech unforeseen by the convention chairs, Steven Brust, writer and hat wearer, gave a purposefully antagonizing speech in which he outlined how Fourth Street Fantasy shouldn't be a "safe space" because it was everyone's duty to "feel threatened."
Let me tell you what it was like to be in a room full of more than a hundred anxious people. It was angry bees. It was being trapped in a room of heavy, coughing smoke without a door. It was feeling morally guilty for not standing up to someone who threatened all of my friends—and everyone else at Fourth Street.
The diction of Brust’s speech seemed chosen specifically to provoke, antagonize, and threaten. He has since posted his version of events on his blog, in which he supplied the speech he wrote, but not the speech he delivered. This may be an unintentional mistake—human memory is fallible, and his emotionality in the moment may have caused him to deviate from his original composition and then forget about it—but the convenient recollection on his site doesn’t mention how he said things like, “You should feel threatened” and “we come here to feel threatened," and his choice to present the case as such is dishonest.
Let me tell you: In contrast to what Brust said, I did not, in fact, come to Fourth Street to feel threatened. I came to feel welcomed. I came to have a good time with my friends. And I came to feel safe. I do not want to be threatened. No one wants to feel threatened. Threatened is, by definition, a bad thing. It is endangered. It is lack of safety. Saying that “threatened” and “challenged” are interchangeable is like saying that one could exchange the word “rape” for “sex.” They are not the same. Threats create terror, and if you were in the room when Brust gave his speech, you would have felt the palpable fear he created.
I wish I had stood up and shouted no at him. Stood up and said in a clear voice, “NO. ABSOLUTELY NO,” because he was wrong. Not shouting it then means that he gets to believe his rose-tinted account of events now.
But do you know why I didn’t stand up and shout no at Steven Brust? Because Brust has power. He has all the power in this goddamned situation, and still he paints himself as the victim. Brust thinks he was spoken over, but in reality his voice and the things he wanted to say were valued more highly than the comfort and safety of everyone else at the conference. Several minutes he forced us to endure his threats. We sacrificed our safety for his words. And yet he thinks his freedom of speech was infringed upon. This speaks volumes to how often he must trample the free speech of others in his attempt to rail about his own feelings.
This type of irresponsible behavior by an apparent leader of the writing community does not open up conversation. Instead, it silences the very free speech that Brust says he hopes to champion. People won't speak when they are being threatened. Instead, they will turn away from conferences and panels. They will shut the door in the community’s face. They will say, “This guy thinks he has all the answers, and he doesn’t want to hear mine,” and they will leave.
Let me tell you how Brust could have built bridges instead of destroying them:
Don’t be so enamored with your message that you forget to listen.
Brust was so enthralled by his own idea that he managed to ignore the swarming revulsion of more than a hundred people. He chose to be antagonistic and provocative rather than diplomatic and magnanimous. He used "threatened" when he could have used "challenged" or “enriched” or “broadened.” He used the term “safe space" in a way that is directly oppositional to what he states he meant.
These purposeful marketing errors, instead of relaying the actual core of his message, black it out with threats and feelings of discontent. If he had actually wanted to sway people rather than make a whole room full of people angry and uncomfortable, he wouldn’t have made those errors. Instead of striking out at con goers, he should have reached out to them.
Brust threatened con goers when he could have encouraged them. He silenced con goers when he could have asked them to speak. When people did speak—to voice discontent online—he gaslit them with a post that presents a different speech from the one he actually gave. When prompted about how safe space means a very specific thing, he gave a limp apology.
In doing these things, Brust doesn’t seem to realize what he has done and doesn’t seem to care enough to fix the problem, which he could easily do by reaching out to the community to listen and promising to do better (and preferably not threaten dozens of people who just want to have fun at a con). As a writer, and a supposed leader of writers, Brust ignored the meaning of his words and the fear they could instill. His choice to open the ceremonies by threatening a room of +100 people was a misuse of his power and beyond narcissistic. That he was able to go on while making so many people palpably uncomfortable is unbelievable—I am still in shock. Some people left the room during his speech, but I only escaped after, and I went to the restroom and cried.
Let this be a lesson to everyone: Threatening people at cons is not the kind of fracture you want to create in your community. All the people who were new to Fourth Street in 2017? Your threats tell them that you don’t want them there. Is this the hill you want to die on? The hill where you threaten fellow writers and make them feel like they don’t belong?
It is not okay to threaten me or my friends. It is absolutely not okay. Not anymore. Next time I won’t take it sitting down.
Further reading: How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I would also like to make it known that I applaud the efforts of Alex, Scott, and Brad of the Fourth Street Fantasy security council. When they push back against people who threaten or harass people at conventions, they are fighting the good fight for what Fourth Street deserves. I appreciate every act and moment they sacrifice vying for the safe spaces and welcoming natures of Fourth Street. I did not come to Fourth Street to be threatened. I came to feel safe. Thank you for doing everything in your power to rectify this.