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?
5 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #295 – When Heroes Fall…”
The webcomic “Strong Female Protagonist” is covering this sort of thing right now, where a group of people are standing around literally watching a dude try to “take home” a very drunk young woman and arguing down the protagonist who calls out rape culture. No, no. He’s a chill dude. He’s cool. Why are you making such a big deal over this? Let’s all calm down. Why are you getting so emotional? It’s a beautiful look at rape culture and how people actively perpetuate it, refuse to see it.
IME with the MZB stuff, people either don’t know about it AT ALL or they have known about it for over a decade and are stunned and surprised other people don’t know about it “because EVERYONE knows.” It’s utterly terrifying and disgusting what she and her husband did to kids (including trying to adopt kids he had a history of raping).
All those things you admired in Ms. Bradley’s works, they’re all still real, and they’re all still good. I know my wife Deirdre, whose critiques you’re quoting from (above), feels that keenly and specifically says so – that the good MZB did for many people, and the support she gave to many writers, was a fine and noble thing.
The compassion and insight with which you yourself are approaching this topic also speak well of you, if I may venture to say so. And thank you for your well-considered thoughts.
Very Best Regards,
I’m so sorry it took me so long to approve this. Sadly, the state of the internet is such that I have to mod everything.
Thank you for your kind words. I wibbled on this post for several days after I read Deirdre’s correspondence with Moira, but I also felt that remaining silent would be a form of complicity. I’m really pissed at people who I’ve known in fandom, after reading this post on a friend’s facebook page, commented there that they thought EVERYONE knew, and why would they say anything?
Yeah, I kind of want to tattoo the phrase “Missing Stair” on several people right now.
I had heard “rumours” for a long time, but nothing more than that, and honestly, “rumours” surround everyone of note. (Not just women who have been successful, although the “shame factor” of those are often dialed up to twelve.) Seemingly more important to her legacy was the fanfiction foofoorahs, of which I heard almost on a quarterly basis.
But this one hit me hard, and part of it is because everything I think of “good” in Darkover (I never could make it through “Mists” for some reason) was so patently against this kind of thing. I had to look it up.
Having done so, I had to believe it.
Which is hard, because of how fundamental “Thendara House” was to my growing up, and how much I tell people my poly is more “Forbidden Tower” than anything Heinlein. (It took me hours to figure out why my new short hairstyle bothered me so much – it revealed the nape of my neck.) The idea of ethics and telepathy were so ingrained, it was just part of my “how this part of science fiction works.” Some of my integral viewpoint had been shaped by that world. They were a comfort read.
I also bought a copy from the local thrift store of “Ender’s Game” for a sister, because sometimes it’s nice to see a book where the bullies get what’s coming to them and to distrust authority, not to mention the “fun” of the video game setting. What I got out of that world never relied on the author. And I passed it on to her with, “The author’s a homophobic jerk. The story is problematic, but I think it’s worth reading anyway.”
…art reaches past the artist. The Darkover of my head is not the Darkover of the books, and not the Darkover of the author, nor is it the author herself. Which story of Star Wars do you follow? The remnants of the old religion? The robot-rights activism? The political battles? My Hobbit is not your Hobbit. (Mine is a lot more focused on wishing to eat Beorn’s breakfast.)
Am I relieved of any responsibility? No. I will forever be aware as I read. I will pass on the information. But to remember (and continue to enjoy) the good is not the same as forgiving the actions of someone who did something terrible, is it? Is that the question?
I think it’s the best that we can hope for. It can’t be undone, and yeah, there is good to be had in the works of some awful people. And a lot of that good can come from your own interpretation. The best we can do is be aware and try to not brush the bad under the carpet, pretend it’s not there.
I just don’t think I can read anything more of hers for awhile, if ever.