Monday, August 18, 2014

A "Conservative" Fly in the Liberal Writer's Group Ointment

I've been struggling with a serious issue in my writers group. There is a man who has been coming for about a month, who introduced himself as a conservative Christian. He is retired. He brought a letter to his church, asking them to become more involved in the politics of their community, namely to speak out against marriage equality. I asked everyone to focus on the writing itself in their feedback, and not the content. Many people were upset, and did not participate, a few of us told him where he went off point, and it wandered.

The next week, he brought an essay meant to be read as a speech, entitled "Religious Freedom is Under Attack." Once again, we were split in our reception, and managed to address the most glaring of problems, in his inability to maintain support for his opening statement. The writing itself isn't bad, but focus seems to be an issue. And, of course, the topic.

Our group is a large one, and there are usually about twelve to fifteen in the room at any given meetup. Many people come back again and again, others come only when they are working on something or need inspiration, and some drop in here and there. While the majority of us are white, we also have members who are Asian, black, hispanic, and others. the gender ratio runs M-F 50%/50% to 80%/20%, depending on the evening. We have several transgender members. We are open to all kinds of writing - fiction, non-fiction, essays, memoir, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, genre, literary fiction, childrens' books, poetry, screenplays, etc. I feel it is important to be exposed to all kinds of writing, and to people of all walks of life, and I do not believe in censorship. We are all adults, and it is no one's responsibility to 'not offend' someone. Yet, there is hate speech, and it's also not fair to force other members to listen to it. The question is, is this hate speech?

This man asked me if it was okay to bring a controversial piece the following week. I told him that everything he had brought had been controversial. It was a legislative proposal concerning abortion rights. I told him that I didn't know how to write legislative proposals, nor did I think anyone else did, in the group, but it was up to him.

He brought it, and was ridiculous. He was proposing a legal requirement for a contract between two (hetero) people having sex, to establish ownership of any ensuing fetus. Yep, you read that right. I'm not even going to go into all the ways this is completely absurd, but I do feel the need to point out that the crux of his argument was to protect men from having to financially support their offspring. Suffice it to say, we were all at a loss for feedback. One member, thank the stars, eloquently explained that he felt that the writer wanted us to engage in debate on the topic, and none of us wante3d to do that. The writing is good, but the content is what-the-hell. We discussed it, except for one member who stormed off in a rage (she came back" and the writer said he liked our group for that reason. He couldn't get useful feedback from those who already thought like he did, so he wanted to see what we thought about it.

The best part was, he read this proposal directly after another member shared a story of domestic violence, pregnancy, and abortion. Perfect timing, but not sure if it had any effect on this writer.

This CC writer usually has good feedback for other members, and seems to participate fully, without pushing his agenda on other writers's work. He seems respectful, although a few people have felt otherwise and labeled him a troll. I certainly do not agree with anything he has said in his work, but I believe he has a right to say it. The next question is: Does he have the right to say it in our group?

I want to uphold my ethics, when it comes to free speech, individual rights, and self-expression, but I don't want to listen to any more of it, either. I certainly don't want to sacrifice the group for this one writer. I'm thinking I should amend the openness policy to include all forms of fiction and creative non-fiction... but do his essays and speeches fall into CNF? It's been a struggle, and a hard call. I hate how much time I've spent thinking about it and talking about it. There is no way we can address these topics in the twenty-minute time period allotted to each writer, and frankly, I don't want to. But a part of me can't help feeling that he must've come into our midst for some reason... whether it's for him to learn from us, or us to learn how to deal with him, or what, I don't know.


  1. So, the discussion on this happened on my facebook, which no longer is reliable for preserving posts, so I'm reposting those comments here.

  2. Blurgh! WHy can't I copy 'n'paste from Facebook, anymore?!? Stupid Zuckerberg...

  3. Did you try copying from the Facebook App? That works for me.

  4. I'm in the app but no, it doesn't do it. Not sure why.