Acclaimed sci-fi writer exposed as notorious Internet troll
Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a celebrated up-and-coming writer who has been hailed as part of a new crop of diverse voices in speculative fiction.
Her novella Scale Bright was acclaimed as one of the year's best, her short stories appeared in esteemed publications like Apex, and she was nominated for a 2014 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Recently the Verge dubbed her "a short story virtuoso."
She is also—as a shocked publishing world recently learned—a notorious troll with a decade-long history of spewing violent, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist hate speech.
The publishing community has been grappling with the revelation that Sriduangkaew was behind two notorious sockpuppet identities, one a fairly recent review blog and the other a long-standing LiveJournal account known for attacking minorities and marginalized writers and fans.
The question of whether to support Sriduangkaew despite the discovery of her longstanding alternate personality has divided the sci-fi/fantasy blogosphere. It's also thrown a harsh light on the complicated nature of progressive politics in a community that prides itself on supporting diverse writers. That community now has to figure out how to handle a writer with a toxic history of her own, one whose attacks have been connected to another author’s attempted suicide, as well as numerous rape threats, death threats, and sustained harassment campaigns.
"This Requires Only That You Hate" was a snarky review blog active from 2011 to 2013. Shorthanded as Requires Hate, it offered up takedowns of everything from manga to romance novels, often from the standpoint of calling out what the author saw as hypocritical, flawed takes on feminism and other social justice issues. Though most of the reviews have been deleted, the full archive of Requires Hate blogging reveals a take-no-prisoners attitude and often violent language. An example headline: "Paolo Bacigalupi’s THE WIND-UP GIRL is exotifying, yellow-fever, offensive claptrap." The attacks were often aimed at acclaimed writers of color, including author NK Jemisin, whom the reviewer called "eminently mediocre" and Saladin Ahmed ("a very fine example of how omnipresent the male gaze is").
Athena Andreadis is a molecular biologist and anthology editor who runs the website Starship Reckless. At some point after Requires Hate began, Andreadis struck up a wary correspondence with the reviewer behind the blog, who, according to Andreadis, described to her the plot of a story the reviewer wanted to write. Some time later, a story matching that description was published under the pseudonym Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Last week, Andreadis wrote about her experience with the sockpuppet, and her feeling that she’d been blacklisted from the community as a result of distancing herself from the troll:
In one of our exchanges, RH described a story she planned to write. Such a story appeared under the moniker Benjanun Sriduangkaew (henceforth, fittingly enough, BS). This was coupled with the emergence of a treacly-ingenue persona with no prior online footprint. At that point, and once again when a BS story appeared in Clarkesworld, I recommended that she own up to the RH identity to head off any unpleasantness, including people feeling betrayed if they were blindsided about her two very different personae. It was also clear from our second exchange that BS was not her real name but yet another handle. BS/RH didn’t like my advice and, realizing I wouldn’t become one of her acolytes, eventually stopped interacting with me. …
As more people whom I knew befriended the BS persona, I told Nick Mamatas, who had become a buddy of sorts. A few months ago, I also told three others I deemed vulnerable, all in strict confidence. One of them was enticed into breaking my confidence. She informed me that BS “was upset” and “asked what she’d ever done to you that you’d say that about her” (i.e. that she was RH). The signs were clear that BS/RH had targeted me for isolation and expulsion from the SFF community: having proved unherdable, I was a potentially dangerous loose end.
Though Andreadis didn’t publicly disclose her knowledge of Sriduangkaew’s identity, word got out anyway. The first person to publicly hint at knowledge of Sriduangkaew’s alter egos was the acclaimed and award-winning fantasy/horror author Caitlin Kiernan, in a now-edited LiveJournal post at the beginning of August that prompted a flurry of speculation and tension among authors. In early October, writer and editor Nick Mamatas revealed the connection between Sriduangkaew and Requires Hate. Like Kiernan, Mamatas provided no evidence supporting his claim. Instead, in a post made on Ello, he wrote that he was “interested” in the reactions to gossip about her identity that had surfaced in recent weeks:
Benjanun Sriduangkaew used to blog under the name Requires Only That You Hate. I like Bees's writing, I liked the RotyH blog, and I've known (without exact confirmation, but Bees had a contracted story in PHANTASM JAPAN) for quite a while. I suppose I am most interested in the reactions of the people who were yelling that to even suggest that Bees and RH were the same person was racist, which should be hilarious.
More recently, on his own blog, he confirmed another blogger’s speculation about his motives by reposting this quote:
Her real identity was an open secret before that, but only if you were in the loop. Mamatas made it impossible for Sriduangkaew to keep up the pretence and he cut down the whispering campaign against her off at the knees.
While he seems to have meant the post as a show of support for Sriduangkaew, the results have been cataclysmic. The news has sent shock waves throughout the speculative fiction community, prompting many, many reactions from prominent members of the industry.
Whatever his intent, some supporters of Sriduangkaew have described Mamatas' actions as a "blackballing," similar to Gamergate and the public attack on Zoe Quinn started by her ex-boyfriend Eren Gjoni. Mamatas is an older, established editor who had previously featured one of Sriduangkaew's works in one of his anthologies. Sriduangkaew is a young writer of color, new to the sci-fi scene. Some writers who have spoken out on the issue in the past month have read the outrage over Sriduangkaew’s trolling past as an example of white privilege attempting to silence writers of color.
But to another subset of the community, there is plenty of reason to be appalled by Sriduangkaew’s alter egos. The author of the Requires Hate blog is also known to be the notorious LiveJournal troll Winterfox. The name Winterfox probably won't hold much significance to writers and fans who never moved in the sci-fi and fandom spheres of LiveJournal, but to anyone familiar with the waning sci-fi/fantasy community on LiveJournal, it's a name that provokes an instant reaction. Winterfox has been well-known as a hate blogger since 2003, when she was known to troll gaming communities and other forums. Writing about the connection between the two identities in 2012, writer Liz Williams (writing on her LiveJournal as mevennen) summarized:
[Requires Hate]... has had a long history of trolling in the gaming community and has been flung off multiple comms under a long list of aliases for anti-social behaviour (shows up, randomly spews venom at people, is told to go away – typical trollshit). More recently, she’s discovered the wonderful world of social justice, and is now busily blogging away, focusing most of her attacks on white male writers, but also making a point of attacking women, including transwomen and women of colour (referring to one author as ‘a stupid fuck’: this level of subtle analysis is pretty standard).
The author Williams mentions is Cindy Pon, a young adult fiction author whose writing Sriduangkaew savaged extensively in a number of posts, both on the Requires Hate blog and as Winterfox. On the LiveJournal community 50books_poc, a forum intended to promote books by writers of color rather than attack them, Winterfox showed up to deride many of the authors she wrote about on her blog. She also harassed anyone else who posted a positive review of books by Jemisin or Pon. Though her comments are now deleted, the trail of frustration she left in the community is still visible. "I'm sitting on [a] review and I'm not sure I want to post it now," wrote one commenter in 2010 after Winterfox attacked a positive review of Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. As the community declined, many members blamed Winterfox for terrorizing readers into being afraid to post positive reviews of books there at all.
Winterfox's attacks weren't only limited to writers of color, and they weren't only conducted in the sphere of book discussions. In May of 2012, an exchange that Requires Hate had on Twitter with one British author proved so toxic that the author reportedly claimed in a now-deleted LiveJournal thread to have attempted suicide as a result. Last month, the author confirmed that the incident was a “contributory factor in what happened with me.” Equally alarming, Sriduangkaew's behavior as Winterfox included death and rape threats.
In 2012, an anonymous LiveJournal commenter described Winterfox's speech patterns as "extremely violent rhetoric and intimidation (including death threats, and calling for mass murders, acid attacks, and the chopping off of the hands of people she disagrees with)." Another anonymous commenter claimed that Sriduangkaew as Winterfox had told her she "ought to be raped by dogs."
And last year, a blogger wrote an open letter to Sriduangkaew (as Requires Hate) after claiming that RH had spent six months stalking and harassing her after taking issue with the blogger's description of her own recovery from sexual assault.
To say all this is controversial is an understatement.
Because Mamatas dropped the reveal that Sriduangkaew was Winterfox/Requires Hate on the new and underused social network Ello, it took a while to filter out. Meanwhile, numerous writers and readers continued to support Sriduangkaew, who thus far, under her professional name, had a reputation as being soft-spoken and extremely nice. In the social world of sci-fi/fantasy publishing, the controversy has grown steadily over the last month as news spread. On Oct. 10, an LiveJournal post broadcasting the reveal garnered over 500 comments. On Oct. 15, Sriduangkaew wrote an apology post on the blog and admitted to "inexcusable" behavior. On Oct. 20, she posted a further explanation under her own blog. Sriduangkaew has also since locked down her Twitter, @bees_ja.
The question of whether to accept or repudiate Sriduangkaew after the discovery is complicated. On the one hand, Sriduangkaew, who has claimed to be a Thai-born Thai writer who is ethnically Chinese, is a much-needed example of an excellent, well-liked writer whose multicultural voice is an important addition to the sparse population of non-white writers in the world of speculative publishing. On the other hand, her troll voice has often worked to loudly silence other members of marginalized identities. On Dreamwidth, user azarias has a very thorough roundup of the controversy as well as the numerous discussion hubs around it. They include places as disparate as Absolute Write, Oh No They Didn't (since deleted), and Tumblr, where fans were particularly skeptical of the motives and mechanics of demonizing Sriduangkaew.
Tumblr user wildunicornherd noted that "acclaimed author by day, cantankerous asshole by night" is a status that numerous white men in sci-fi and fantasy have held successfully for years without seeing their careers significantly damaged. The long rundown of men whose careers have persisted despite well-documented incidents of real-life harassment or online hate speech includes editor Rene Walling, who was banned from ReaderCon for harassment, but remains welcome at other sci-fi conventions. Then there's Harlan Ellison, who remains a genre legend despite publicly sexually assaulting one of the most acclaimed women in sci-fi history. There’s also notorious racist troll Theadore Beale, who was only expelled from the sci-fi/fantasy industry's most prominent professional organization, the SFWA, last year despite years of hate speech.
In outing and rushing to condemn Sriduangkaew, are sci-fi fans perpetuating a sexist, even racist double standard? Or are minority voices, on the contrary, so prized in sci-fi/fantasy publishing that their fans will go to any lengths to excuse them? Take, for instance, black, gay author Samuel "Chip" Delany, a towering figure of speculative fiction who has also written openly and repeatedly about his support of NAMBLA—a fact that has been repeatedly excised from his Wikipedia author page.
Has the advent of the Internet given us more tools to address scandals, such as the recent allegation by the daughter of author Marion Zimmer Bradley that her mother molested her for years? Or has it just given us more ways to obfuscate and deny wrongdoing, such as the support shown to author Kathleen Hale after first-hand accounts emerged of her stalking and harassing multiple victims, or to "feminist" writer Hugo Schwyzer, who once blogged about attempting to murder his ex-girlfriend in a drug-induced murder-suicide attempt?
Equally troubling from the standpoint of wondering how rumors and hearsay can affect professional careers are the repeated reports of "whisper campaigns" that swirled in the blogosphere for weeks prior to Mamatas' Ello post. After the first hint of knowledge from Kiernan, the gossip chain publicly connected Sriduangkaew with her sockpuppets as early as September. Alongside the rumors was another groundswell of gossip demonizing an alleged group of attackers. Among these are two women, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Tricia Sullivan, who have each had to make posts claiming that they weren't involved in making Requires Hate’s identity known. Mamatas has also claimed that Williams was notifying members of the industry via email about Requires Hate’s true identity.
Meanwhile, numerous questions remain. Was Sriduangkaew motivated, as some have speculated, by a wish to attack other minority writers she viewed as competition? What prompted Mamatas, a longtime supporter of both Requires Hate and Sriduangkaew, to out her? By his own admission he did it because he “admired” her writing under both names, but it’s difficult to see how connecting the two could have helped advance her career. Mamatas declined to comment to the Daily Dot for this article, citing a post by Loenen-Ruiz asking white members of the community to give writers of color space to reflect, discuss, and handle the issue on their own.
But one topic that perhaps deserves wider discussion is the issue of whether Sriduangkaew’s sockpuppet reviews have value. Are they legitimate attacks on marginalized writers? Are they needed critiques of authors who, like Sriduangkaew herself, are ensconced in a protective sphere due to their status as rare, prized minority voices? Is the outing and subsequent repudiation of Sriduangkaew all just an act of tone policing—an effort to silence a voice raised in anger?
Is Sriduangkaew even who she says she is—a Chinese-Thai Asian writer? Or is that identity, too, simply another persona, as Andreadis and Loenen-Ruiz, and others have speculated, for an unknown writer exploiting social justice ideals to build a career?
On Thursday, Laura J. Mixon, the wife of current SFWA president Stephen Gould, attempted to bring the issue of Sriduangkaew's troll history to greater attention. In a blog post, modestly titled "A Report On Damage Done By One Individual Under Several Names," she presented a breathtakingly detailed recent history of Sriduangkaew's harassment and violent speech compiled through reports from the last several years. It's hard to see how redemption can come from such a long and damaging history of negativity, harassment, and hate speech.
Nevertheless, "I’d like to negotiate the world through a language other than rage and hate and force," Sriduangkaew wrote in her blog explanation.
But as wildunicornherd noted, that might have been an impossible dream from the start.
I think that if Sriduangkaew/RH did not exist, we would have to invent her. Every minority needs an angry, scary radical to point to and say “see, I’m not like that, I’m reasonable" in order to legitimize their opinions; and nothing ingratiates you with the old white hegemony like condemning a fellow queer/POC/woman/etc.
In this case, the condemnation is natural; but whether its work is to ultimately silence or empower the voices of women and minorities in speculative fiction remains to be seen.
Update: The name of an author who was targeted by Sriduangkaew and who attempted suicide as a result has been removed.
Photo via Cyril-Rana!!/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)