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Agony Editor: Don’t worry wallflower, it’s okay to choose TV reruns over the festival after-party

(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

I’m undertaking a cross-Canada tour of literary festivals this fall. The last time I did this, I’d unwind in the evenings at the author hospitality suite. Given the one-upmanship, jealousies, bitterness, alcohol abuse, and sexual harassment  I witnessed, I started calling it the “hostility suite.” I’m thinking of being a wallflower on my upcoming tour and staying in my hotel room. Is it okay to avoid my kind?

Shut In

Dear Shut In,

Your question takes me back to my coming out. It was the early ’90s, a time of vests, Molson Dry, and Caesar haircuts. The local gay watering hole was called H.A.L.O., which stood for Homophile Association of London Ontario. I naturally assumed the gay community would be accepting of its own kind. But it didn’t take me long to figure out otherwise. (By “long” I mean by the second verse of “Rhythm is a Dancer.”)

While I encountered kind and generous gay people, there were many who weren’t welcoming. It was disappointing but, in hindsight, I had stepped onto the dancefloor with unrealistic expectations. People are people, after all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or profession. The same applies to the writing world.

Let’s be clear: writers can be jerks. They can be rude, sexist, petty, and arrogant. Being a writer doesn’t mean you have to like other writers – or feel guilty if you prefer not to be around them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with retreating to your room to watch reruns of Forensic Files.

One request, though: if you see another writer being sexist, bigoted, or just an all-around idiot, please step up and call it out. I know it can be awkward, I know you may question whether you’re right to do so. But you are. Regardless of our differences, we have an obligation to call out bad behaviour and make our spaces welcome to everyone. Who knows? You might inspire yourself – and others – to venture out beyond the hotel room.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.