Keffy

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An Open Letter With Respect to Reviews Published on Rocket Stack Rank

By now, many have heard criticisms of Rocket Stack Rank’s reviews of stories containing non-binary and/or trans characters. Reviews that misgender characters in a story, that misgender authors of stories, that focus heavily on genitals or delegitimizing non-binary pronouns. On the site, RSR explains that its criticisms are limited to stories and publications, but that its negative reviews shouldn’t be considered criticism of an author. And yet we find it hard to understand how a criticism of a character’s identity, especially when shared by the author, should not be considered a criticism of the author, or any reader that would share that identity.

The reviewer, who is not trans and/or non-binary, makes judgments about the validity of pronouns and identities, and decides which author “makes good use of [transness]” and which authors do not. This is problematic and hurtful. This is a way of saying “you do not belong.” A way of saying “stories about you don’t belong.” When reviews specifically cite pronouns of characters as justifications for rating a story down, a line is crossed. A line where not only writers but readers may find their identity questioned, belittled, and willfully misunderstood. A line that RSR crosses often and with seeming impunity.

Things get even more uncomfortable when we look at the way that non-traditional narratives are treated by the site. Especially for styles that come from outside a Western/European/White American tradition, the complaint of “this is not really a story” rears its ugly head. “This is not a story” type of sentiment seems to be disproportionately applied to stories by authors of color and/or non-Western authors. RSR reviews of stories from authors of color and/or non-Western authors frequently use dismissive and outright offensive language, such as calling some of these stories “exotic” and similar. Here, like with stories by non-binary/trans authors, RSR signals to marginalized authors: “you do not belong.” To us, this dismissive approach shows a complete refusal to engage with texts on their terms – which, in effect, disproportionately negatively impacts writers coming from outside the traditional inroads into SFF.

RSR and its main reviewer, Greg Hullender, have gained a considerable influence in the field, with a Hugo nomination, a third-party link on the Hugo website, and now a place on the Locus jury. RSR has positioned itself as an authority on short fiction, an objective source of reviews with an emphasis on numbers and ratings to aid in the selection of stories for awards. The deeply ingrained biases of the reviews (pointed above), are especially problematic considering RSR’s growing influence. RSR and Greg Hullender’s approach once again seeks to reaffirm the institutional inequalities of short SFF by dismissing undesirable “outsiders.”

When confronted with his biases, Greg Hullender often refuses to acknowledge he has an issue, pointing out that he is a gay man who engaged in GLBT activism in the past, and thus cannot be transphobic.

Greg Hullender also uses his identity as a gay man and former activist to police and pass judgment on the kinds of sex characters can have in stories – and the judgments go beyond the stories reviewed, to what kind of sex people can have. Here again, Greg Hullender often insists on his views being generic and objective, judging acts outside of his preferences as disturbing, abusive, and deviant. These judgments often go hand in hand with other issues – such as an anti-trans and an anti-NB stance – in his reviews. Thus, reviewing JY Yang’s Tor.com novellas, Hullender equated sex with a nonbinary person with paedophilia.

We have repeatedly observed how RSR’s main reviewer, Greg Hullender, uses his identity as a gay man as a shield against legitimate criticisms. The assumption is that because the main reviewer is a gay man he has some sort of inability to be bigoted toward any other marginalized group or person. That this would excuse him calling stories with non-binary characters fads or arguing that singular they pronouns are somehow not correct unless they are tied to a specific genital state.

This Twitter thread by Bogi Takács contains a large number of screen-caps and commentary, including specific instances of the issues mentioned above: https://twitter.com/bogiperson/status/934609665966727168

We have been working to draw attention to this ongoing problem for almost as long as Rocket Stack Rank has operated – at first indirectly. But the amount of problematic reviews continues to grow just as RSR’s stature in the field continues to increase. The exclusionary reviews and their growing influence in the sphere of awards cast a long shadow in the field. It is worrying to see important institutions within SFF endorsing and promoting RSR over the objections and concerns of writers, readers, and other reviewers (including writers, readers and reviewers of color and trans writers, readers and reviewers).

We hope that our concern is acknowledged and that current promotion of problematic reviewing habits cease to be rewarded in SFF publishing.

Thank you for your time,

Brooke Bolander
Indrapramit Das
Ada Hoffmann
Keffy R.M. Kehrli
Rose Lemberg
Sunny Moraine
Suzanne Palmer
Charles Payseur
A. Merc Rustad
K.M. Szpara
Bogi Takács
JY Yang

Note: The above signers collaborated in drafting the letter, additional people who wish to cosign have commented below.

Edited to add: Statement by Locus: https://twitter.com/locusmag/status/936291052100579334

164 Comments

  1. Cosigned, please

  2. Brandon O'Brien

    November 29, 2017 at 10:38

    I definitely wish to co-sign.

    Brandon O’Brien

  3. Sign my name, too.

  4. Co-signing (Dawn Vogel)

  5. Lisa M. Bradley

    November 29, 2017 at 11:27

    I share these concerns and wish to cosign. Thank you for speaking out.

  6. Co-signed,

    Hal Duncan

  7. Co-signing this so much.

  8. I wholeheartedly cosign this letter. I also note that while at times apologies have been forthcoming, they’re superficial, do not engage with the problems, and come without change in behaviour.

  9. I’d like my name added.

  10. Cosign

  11. Very much would like to consign.

  12. Adamantly co-signed.

  13. Cosign as well, Keffy. Thank you. Jill Seidenstein

  14. Cynthia Wentworth

    November 29, 2017 at 12:28

    Cosigned.

  15. Co-signing. Dora Badger.

  16. Rachelle Wright

    November 29, 2017 at 12:54

    Cosigned

    I may be a not-yet-published SFF writer, but these are real concerns of mine as both a writer and a reader.

  17. If a blogger’s voice does anything, co-signed so very much.

  18. Cosigned
    Jeremy Carter

  19. Caroline M. Yoachim

    November 29, 2017 at 13:12

    Co-signed.

  20. Cosigned, as a critic and reviewer.

  21. I would like to cosign as well.

  22. Cosigning as well. Thank you for this.

  23. Cosign.

  24. Co-signed.

  25. Cosigned.

  26. Cosigned

  27. Stephanie Charette

    November 29, 2017 at 13:52

    Co-signed.

  28. Cosigned.

  29. Co-signed.

  30. Keffy

    November 29, 2017 at 14:35

    Cosigns from Twitter:

    Alyx Dellamonica
    Lynne M. Thomas
    Michael Damian Thomas

  31. Co-signed.

  32. Co-signed, and thank you.

  33. Michelle Osgood

    November 29, 2017 at 14:52

    Co-signed.

  34. I am co-signing this letter, as a trans non-binary author.
    Dax Murray

  35. Co-signed or cosigned? Whatever. I’m in.

  36. Rachael K. Jones

    November 29, 2017 at 15:02

    Cosigned.

  37. Co-signed, on all points, wearing all assorted professional hats.

  38. Cosigned

  39. Goddamn cosigned as creator and critic and general human inhabitant of the universe.

  40. Consigned Matt Cavanagh

  41. Cosigned.

    Bridget McKinney

  42. Co-signed.

  43. Co-signed as both a fan and a creator.

  44. Co-signed, as another non-binary person.

  45. Co-signed

  46. Co-signed.

  47. Cosigned

  48. Cosign. Thank you for speaking out on this.

  49. I’d like to co-sign, please.

  50. Co-signed.

  51. Cosign

  52. Cosigned

  53. Concur

  54. Cosign!

  55. Cosigning the hell out of this

    -Andrew Wilmot

  56. Cosigned as singular-they-using lifelong fan.

  57. Kadeen N.O. Waldron

    November 29, 2017 at 16:40

    Co-signed,
    Kadeen N.O. Waldron

  58. I’ll co-sign that, for what it’s worth.

  59. Co-signed.

  60. Adrienne L. Travis

    November 29, 2017 at 16:50

    Cosigned.

  61. As a non-binary SFF fan and newbie writer, I co-sign.

  62. K. Joanne Rixon

    November 29, 2017 at 17:22

    Co-signed,
    Joanne Rixon

  63. Co-signed, and thank you for writing this.

  64. Adiba Jaigirdar

    November 29, 2017 at 17:54

    Co-signed.

  65. Co-signed.

  66. Co-signed

  67. Co-signed. Thank you for your work in drafting this letter, and particular thanks to Bogi for collecting the screencaps.

  68. Co-signed!

  69. Co-signed.

  70. I would like to co-sign this letter.

  71. Cosigned.

  72. Cosigned.

    Alliah/Vic.
    @alliahverso

  73. Cosigned.

  74. Definitely co-signing.

    Ani King

  75. Cosigned.

  76. Lenore Jones / jonesnori

    November 29, 2017 at 20:53

    Co-signed.

  77. Co-signed.

  78. Stephanie Cranford

    November 29, 2017 at 21:20

    Cosigned.

  79. Co-signed.

  80. Co-signed.

  81. Co-signed. Thank you for this.

  82. Co-signed.

  83. Gabrielle Friesen

    November 30, 2017 at 02:18

    Co-signed

  84. Co-signed.

  85. This is nuts. First in an open letter like this, you use the outdated GLBT acronym that privileges the men in LGBT+ groups.
    In at least one instance the “singular they” criticism was referring to clockwork robots, not NB people. “judging acts outside of his preferences as disturbing, abusive, and deviant” – has no basis in fact – if it does, please provide a quote.
    “Thus, reviewing JY Yang’s Tor.com novellas, Hullender equated sex with a nonbinary person with paedophilia.” – no he didn’t, he said in a world where “they” is the pronoun children use, it makes it a bit weird when the adult main character uses that pronoun in sexual encounters.

    • Keffy

      November 30, 2017 at 10:04

      1)”GLBT” was used because this is how Hullender refers to himself, thus we used it moderately ironically.

      2) lol are you serious? The proof you seek is what you fail to understand for the rest of your comment.

      3) Ah yes, this is why we all think of pedophilia when adults refer to their partners as “he” or “she” in the real world, since those pronouns are assigned to babies.

      4) I only allowed this through moderation because your commentary is so ridiculous that I just… couldn’t help but mock it. Sorry not sorry.

  86. Lynn E. O'Connacht

    November 30, 2017 at 05:17

    Cosigned.

  87. Christian Brunschen

    November 30, 2017 at 06:04

    Co-signed, please.

    // Christian Brunschen

  88. Co-signed. (Sara Norja)

  89. Jonathan Edelstein

    November 30, 2017 at 08:42

    Co-signed.

  90. I’d like to co-sign as well.

  91. Cosigned

  92. Another boring vanilla cis het male cosign here.

  93. Co-sign please as Reviewer, Non-Binary person and Author

  94. Co-signed.

  95. Co-signed. Thank you for the time, thought, and energy that went into this.

  96. Co-signed.

  97. Co-signed. RSR’s bias extends to PoC authors and marginalised as a whole, and their bigotry singles out trans and NB writers.

  98. Cosigned.

  99. Christian Brunschen

    November 30, 2017 at 14:18

    Relevant:

    http://file770.com/?p=39241

    Rocket Stack Rank Issues Apology, Hullender Off Locus Panel
    Posted on November 30, 2017

    Rocket Stack Rank has answered “An Open Letter With Respect to Reviews Published on Rocket Stack Rank” with an apology and commentary. The open letter was coauthored by Brooke Bolander, Indrapramit Das, Ada Hoffmann, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Rose Lemberg, Sunny Moraine, Suzanne Palmer, Charles Payseur, A. Merc Rustad, K.M. Szpara, Bogi Takács, and JY Yang, and has been cosigned by well over 100 others since it was posted yesterday.

    Rocket Stack Rank’s “Apology & Open Letter Responses” begins:

    We apologize to all readers and authors we’ve harmed and offended. Greg [Hullender] has withdrawn from the Locus Recommended Reading List panel.

  100. Cosigned.

  101. Co-signed

  102. Co-signed.

  103. I never really followed RSR because I read a few of the reviews and got a whiff of that sort of thing. But because I only read those few reviews and never went back again, I didn’t realize it was THAT bad.

    Even if nothing official comes of this open letter, I’m glad it was written and published. It’s good to learn that are people who care enough, or are bold enough, to try and do something — not only writing and publishing the letter itself, but also the previous work of trying to speak to the reviewer himself. That other people haven’t given up as I have.

    • Keffy

      December 1, 2017 at 14:10

      Locus responded fairly quickly and has removed Hullender from the Locus Recommended Reading List group.

  104. Co-signing as a fan, for now.

    Thank you!

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