This week, I wasn’t sure I would get a Discourse Dish out. I have an interview to do today with Steve Orlando, after all. And I hoped that I would have nothing to report on, no discourse to get involved in.
And then I had to face the fall of an old idol.
By now many people have heard about the antiziganist (anti-Romani) rant that Peter David went on on Friday. For those who haven’t:
A Romani activist used a panel about LGBT stuff and the X-Men to ask about Romani representation. Peter David blew his top, recounting an incident he witnessed in Romania of probable child abuse. However, he used it to paint all Bucharest Romani as abusers. Later that night, he published a blog post about it that doubled down on his expressed position.
It horrified me. I will be honest — I have met Peter David a number of times. I knew he was not perfect. But he’d written 95% of the comics appearances for my favorite character. I wanted to do what he did someday.
So I think you can understand why his words upset me.
That, and it had an extra personal sting for me. Peter David and I were trained by the same martial arts master. His behavior at that panel ran counter to everything I knew our master taught us.
Peter David is my training brother. As such, like we all must do sometimes with family, I needed to speak with him. At the very least, to remind him that we were trained better than that.
So Saturday, I wound up in the Artist’s Alley of NYCC2016. I approached his table with some apprehension: what if it only got worse? What if he tripled down on his bad opinions? I almost walked by out of fear that it would deteriorate into verbal violence — fear that I would reach a level of disgusted frustration that would obscure the message I wanted to convey to my training brother.
It only got worse.
I asked him about his actions on Friday. Like I’d planned, I told him that I know his behavior did not align with what our master taught us.
He then treated me to a five minute half-lecture-half-conversation. Not only did he triple-down on the things he said, he quadrupled down, parroting all kinds of offensive, insensitive remarks. He, like many old men before him, insisted that people can’t have opinions anymore because of “social justice warriors.”
Yeah, he actually said that. Using those words.
He proceeded to parrot back to me conservative British journalism about the Romani. It aligned with his views, sure. But it also aligns with the reasons people oppress the Roma to this day in Britain. Listening to him reminded me of the statements that UKIP politicians made in Britain in recent years. I feel he swallowed their propaganda whole.
He confounded me by acknowledging that oppression, comparing the anti-Romani prejudice in Britain to anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S., and then saying that the Bucharest Roma brought it upon themselves. He claimed that they perform horrific child abuse I will not detail. Further, he claimed that they’re all drug addicts who spread HIV/AIDS.
Additionally, he said that ‘Romani law’ rejects and oppresses gay people. I responded that so does Catholic doctrine, and so does original Jewish law. He told me that I was wrong. I quoted Leviticus 20:13 for him. He seemed surprised. despite being Jewish himself. He interrupted me at least five times, if not more, when I tried to offer up my own positions.
I only escaped five minutes later when someone needed an autograph from him. My faith in comics temporarily shaken, a knot in my stomach, and an uncomfortable understanding that I could not continue to support his work. I walked away, chatted with a nearby novelist, and then found my way to another writer’s table. I bought myself a copy of the “Death in the Family” script to make myself feel better. It only sort of worked.
Sometimes, we have to dethrone our idols. But it hurts to do so. Peter David wrote important stories involving LGBT mutants. He wrote 95% of my favorite character Darwin’s comics appearances. I own his book about writing comics. We share a martial arts instructor. My first conversation with him was about eucatastrophe in the Lord of the Rings books.
Peter David meant something to me, and having to reject him for my own self-care hurts like an aching in the bones. The body knows when something harms: even of this writing, a slickness coats the back of my throat and I have to swallow past it. The body knows, and to protect it, I’ll do what I have to.
Consider this an elegy, if you want to. I do, in some ways.
Another hero falls down from the pedestal.
I’ll just have to pull myself out of the wreckage and carry on.