But… there's a reason for it. From the get-go, my impression of the organization was that it was a bit of an old boys club, and a fractious one at that. An awful lot of conversation in the forums centered on rehashing old grievances or quarreling over new ones, so I avoided them. Volunteering struck me as a thankless job, so I didn't. I just focused on my writing career.
Still, I kept up my membership. I paid my dues. I skimmed the SFWA Bulletin every month. The Bulletin's content was hit or miss, informative articles on the craft and business of writing vying for space with columns like the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, which pretty much consisted of two elder statesmen of the genre swapping memories of writers from the good old days. Not my cup of tea, but I respect the fact that SFWA takes pride in its roots.
And then last year, SFWA came under fire for several issues of the Bulletin: a pulp fiction chick-in-a-mail-bikini cover, Resnick and Malzberg reminiscing about a "lady editor" who sure looked great in a bathing suit, an article suggesting Barbie was a great role model for women who should emulate her and "maintain our quiet dignity as a woman should," a rebuttal from Resnick and Malzberg implying that complaints about their comments about "lady editors" were a call for censorship.
At that point, I thought, "Enough." I do believe that then-president John Scalzi did an admirable job handling the situation, and the editor of the Bulletin stepped down in the wake of the uproar. But I'd already had enough. In the words of Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"
It's not that I’m easily offended. I'm not. Look, that cover's such a throwback it's sort of hilarious, and I really, really hope it was meant to be ironic. But I don't think it's too much to ask that a professional organization a) yes, treat its female members with respect, duh, but perhaps more importantly, b) ACT LIKE A FREAKING PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION!
I mean… seriously? The publishing industry is undergoing seismic changes, changes that affect every single author in (and out of) the genre. E-book pricing and royalty rates, the antitrust lawsuit, DRM, the rise of indie publishing, Amazon's slow-burning bid for a monopoly, dwindling brick-and-mortar stores, the commodification of fan fiction, promotion in the age of social networking, the Google Books lawsuit, the consolidation of the Big Six into the Big Five, etc. There’s a lot to talk about! And yet when it comes to SFWA, it seems all the oxygen in the room was—and still is—being sucked up by a discussion that has no business taking place in this day and age.
Being asked to hold yourself to a contemporary standard of professionalism in the official publication of an organization of which you are a member is not censorship. Yes, that standard has evolved since SFWA was founded in 1965. The fact that casual sexism or homophobia is no longer deemed acceptable in, again, a professional publication, is not an indication that the jackbooted thugs of political correctness are trampling anyone's First Amendment rights. It's a reflection of the progress of human rights in America, which is, in fact, A Good Thing.
Since I didn't have the energy to engage in this dialogue at the time, I decided the least I could do was become a statistic, one of a number that the many, many rational members of SFWA could point to and say, "See? These shenanigans are driving people away!" And so I quietly let my membership lapse.
I don't mean to imply that the blame for all that ails SFWA lies with its most senior members. I'm sure it doesn't, but I can only speak to what I've observed, which is that there's an undeniable generational push-back against changing mores that's a significant part of the problem. I don't want SFWA to lose its identity or its sense of history, but if it's going to remain relevant, it needs to adapt. Honor the past, but celebrate the present and look toward the future, too.
There are good people trying to achieve that goal. I wish them well, and hope to rejoin their ranks someday.