A sad and unavoidable part of growing up is watching those you idolized, or who were your role models, fall from grace. Whether it’s celebrities or family, it sucks. Because you spend chunks of your life looking to those people for clues on how to be a person, to grow, to do the right thing, to follow dreams.
Now, I’m not talking about people you’ve put on pedestals so high that no one human could remain perched up there forever. No one can live up to that. People are fallible, flawed creatures and I get that. I’m talking about fairly heinous shit, like finding out that they stole from your grandmother, or committed child sexual abuse.
Before I get into the particulars, I want to tell you a story.
In my late teens/early 20s, I was a mess. I had my first “longterm” relationship (a year and a half) which ended in a spectacular catastrophe, but which ultimately made me stronger. I was searching for my identity as a feminist and as a woman separate from the second wavers who hated porn and sex workers, and made me feel guilty for liking pretty clothes and make up. My family had pretty much emotionally abandoned me in my early teens and were not much help with figuring out what I wanted to do or be, or even who I was.
I’ve always known I wanted to write, but I come from solid Midwestern stock, where if you can’t guarantee making a living at it, it’s frivolous and you are subtly and not so subtly discouraged from pursuing that as a career goal. Spending a lifetime with the stories teachers raved over being damned with faint praise by my family, I really needed someone to encourage me. I needed a voice. I needed something.
This dude who I later cut out of my life for threatening it, gave me a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, and I fell in love. He didn’t initially give it to me, but since every time he asked for it back I was re-reading it, he eventually told me to keep it. This was a voice of strong womanhood I could relate to, what I was looking for.
A year or two later, I met her at a Pacific Northwest Sci Fi convention, and she was very nice to me. She encouraged me, told me I could send her my writing, even though I never did work up the courage. I enjoyed her panels and she always said hello when she saw me. I was immensely flattered. Shortly after that her health started to seriously decline and when she did make it to conventions, she didn’t socialize much outside of her panels.
Very recently, in response to a tribute to Marion Zimmer Bradley on Tor.com, Deirdre Saorise Moen pointed out that maybe we should not gloss over some of the horrible shit MZB had done in the past, and linked to court depositions where she essentially admitted to enabling her second husband in his abuse of young boys. Tor, where the tribute was posted, pulled it in response which was not Deirdre’s intent. Her intent was merely to point out the idol’s feet of clay, and that maybe we should remember that our heroes can be guilty of terrible things. It’s part of “liking problematic things,” don’t pretend the problematic thing never happened, or didn’t exist. Recognize it, be aware and don’t excuse. However, this started a torrent of people bemoaning “political correctness” run rampant, people wailing that we wanted to erase the important things MZB did, and the writers she fostered.
No one has called for MZB’s works to be banned, or forgotten.
In the middle of the flurry of denialist comments and posts, Deirdre linked to another post on her site, with more information from MZB’s daughter Moira. That post and, I believe, another post linked within it chronicle the abuse Moira suffered at her mother’s hands.
I read this on the bus on the way home from work, and I burst into tears. I cried all the way home, and then cried some more. I felt betrayed, and stupid. How could I have not SEEN that she was someone who could be capable of that?
However, not for one second did I doubt Moira’s story. Not one. No matter how hard I wished it were not true, I did not doubt it.
Maybe because I’d already had some practice discovering catastrophic flaws in my idols. The only thing I doubted was my judgement for not being able to recognize it.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to read MZB’s works again. I haven’t burned them in a sort of effigy, and I won’t. What I will do, is temper my admiration of her writing with the knowledge that she did some monstrous, monstrous things that cannot be forgiven. I will not pretend that it never happened or that I didn’t find out.
And I don’t want to hear shit about “extraordinary claims” here, as I’ve seen at other sites. Children being abused by their parents is NOT extraordinary, in fact it is depressingly common. As depressingly common as rape and sexual assault of anyone else. So take your “grains of salt” and your skepticism somewhere else. This blog believes the court depositions and the words of MZB’s daughter, Moira. Denialist bullshit will not be getting through moderation.
The thing is, apparently these things were fairly widely known in the SF/F convention scene (google “breendoggle”), yet no one ever talked about it. MZB was still invited to conventions until the day she died.
That is what people mean when they talk about what is wrong with the way that we react to rapists and abusers. The odds of them being reported, arrested or even removed from social networks are so very small, and get smaller in proportion to their usefulness to those who could banish them, and their fame.
I’ve been active in fandom in the Pacific Northwest for the better part of 24 years and I had never heard any of this. And then I went here and read the letter that Bill Donaho wrote outlining the reasons that they wanted to ban Walter Breen from Pacificon II.
Honestly, I think a lot of people should have been banned, and charged. Seriously, just go read it. Also, this site links to the complete and excerpted depositions of MZB from Walter Breen’s trial.
The whole ordeal is just fucking nauseating.
Everybody loves you, and they want to know your story, you go riding out in mystery, concealed in all your glory, but when it comes to flesh and bones, you remind me of Shalott, only made of shadows, even though you’re not.
Left Me a Fool – The Indigo Girls
Yeah, so that’s my incredibly depressing post for the week. Sorry to be a bummer, guys. But damn… how did this shit go on for so fucking long? And why do we still tolerate it? Why do we still silence victims and sacrifice them on the altar of fame?