I Don’t Know Who Was In My Room

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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October 1, 2014

This is a post about a con, but it’s more than that. It’s about agency and decision-making, and things that happen sometimes, which means it’s about life in general, and conventions in general.

I’ve been trying to write about this year’s Readercon for a while now and have been running into a wall.

For the most part, Readercon was wonderful. I flew for the first time in years and it was a better than expected experience. I saw old friends and met new ones and went to great panels and I think I was pretty okay on my panels, too. There was good food and drink consumed and there was swimming and there was the butt panel which was the best thing, I hadn’t laughed so hard in such a long time.

But this other thing also happened, see. This thing which has ended up overshadowing the entire convention for me and I have been upset and sad about it ever since. And I’ve been wrestling with whether or not I should write about it publicly. If it’s worth it.

The conclusion that I came to is yes: I need to talk about this, in public, so I can move on.

Here’s the summary: A party was held in my hotel room without my consent.

I know, I know. How does that even happen?

Well, how it happens is that you talk in public about having a small makeup party with a couple of friends–one of whom is sharing your hotel room–on Twitter and an acquaintance invites herself (screencap) and then gets really pushy about making it happen once the convention starts.

Then when it does happen, it turns out that you leave to spend time with another friend and when you come back a few hours later your room is empty but it’s obvious a whole bunch of people had been in there, because there are used glasses, food, and discarded clothing scattered about the room. More than could be generated by the three people who were in the room when I left and the only people I expected to be in the room while I was absent.

A room, that while on the party floor, was not ever intended to have a party in it. For look: my dirty laundry was piled on my suitcase. My pajamas were on the bed. My jewelry box and laptop computer were on the desk, unsecured. I am so lucky that none of those items went missing.

I don’t know who was in my room.

But surely, my roommate must have consented to this, right? Not explicitly. And the thing is this: I was the person paying the hotel for the room. My credit card was the one on file and if there had been damages to the room, I would have been the person on the hook. Not my roommate. Not the person who decided to invite a whole bunch of people into our room.

The absence of no is not yes.

I asked my roommate what happened the following morning. And they told me that there was a knock on the door, the acquaintance — Shira Lipkin — opened it, asked if the people knocking could come in–my roommate assented, not knowing how many people there were–and then apparently there was a crowd of people in the room. There is tremendous pressure on us in social situations to go along to get along and there’s a scale issue at play here.

Many people who engage in predatory behavior claim to be socially awkward or otherwise vulnerable while, at the same time, they exploit these social pressures to gain advantage. They test boundaries and every time they successfully violate one, they push further.

This is what Shira did by inviting herself to a private gathering and then pressuring both me and my roommate to make sure that the private gathering happened.

I know that people had a good time–I’ve talked to a few people who were in attendance, enough to know that a good time was had. And I feel terrible about taking that away from them. However, their good time was had without my knowledge in my room.

I’ve been blaming myself for this, as well–if only I’d had a discussion with my roommate about private space staying private, if only I’d said no to Shira when she invited herself, if only I hadn’t gone off to spend time with another friend, if only I had come back to the room earlier…

But ultimately, Shira did this. She is the one who made the decisions that lead to a party happening in my room–not me and not my roommate.

The absence of no is not yes.

I want to emphasize, again, that explicit consent for a party in room 620 was not received from either of the people who were actually staying in that room from the person who chose to “shift an entire party” (screencap) from its originating room.

Where do you draw the line? How many random people are okay to invite over to someone else’s room?  If it were just two or three people, I wouldn’t be writing this post and I wouldn’t have filed a report. I would have chalked it up as a learning experience and left it.

But I’ve been told that the door was propped open and that Shira was in the halls inviting people to come get their makeup done and generally behaving as if it were her party. So this was not a private party out of control: my room was turned into a public space.

Additionally, there was alcohol brought to the room (screencap)–which added another level of potential liability to the situation.

And I don’t know who was in my room.

Sunday afternoon and evening, I started looking at social media and became more upset. Shira wrote about the party as if it took place in her room (screencap). There were tweets about shifting an entire other party into the “sparkle party room”–a party of military SF writers that she either convinced (screencap) or pressured (screencap) into having their makeup done.

I was–and am–upset by what happened. After discussing this with trusted friends, I decided to file a formal complaint with Readercon’s Safety Committee.  I feel very comfortable with the process so far and I expect and hope that the main outcome will be clarification that their code of conduct applies to room parties as well as to the convention itself.

I have asked is that I not be put on programming with her in the future–should I be on future programming at Readercon, never a guarantee–and I am willing to take responsibility for this during program sign-ups.  This is also something I will take responsibility for at all conventions where we will both be on programming (such as at Capclave next week).

But as I implied at the start of this post, getting to this point has been a process.

Folks reading this may be tempted to cast some blame on my roommate: I want to make it very clear that I do not. They didn’t invite themselves to a private gathering. They didn’t invite a significant number of people into the room. They were placed in a position where, if it had occurred to them to ask people to leave–after being invited so authoritatively by Shira–they had no idea how people would react. As far as I am concerned, Shira trampled everyone’s boundaries here–including those of the people she invited to the party.

I chose to make a report to Readercon’s Safety Committee and make this public because of that boundary violation. Personal space is not just one’s current physical presence. It is also where one lives, even if it is just a hotel room for a weekend. Shira invited herself into a space she was not entitled to and claimed it as her own.

We’re learning to recognize and speak out against about people invading someone’s immediate personal space with unwanted touching or attention in public areas. We need to be equally aware that private physical spaces should be protected as well.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: responsible adults know to get permission before throwing parties in other peoples’ rooms. Shira Lipkin didn’t.

And I still don’t know who was in my room.

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