For me the one constant of personal/public writing is a feeling of regret. Looking back over written versions of the past with regret. It’s my own perspective I question, my own thoughts, my own way of analysing myself and events. Sometimes intentions become more troublingly clear after time; sometimes it’s all too clear that my thinking was totally self-centred…
I think I have held back with this piece of writing because of that fear. Maybe 5 months too long. I didn’t want to write it wrong. But the regret it always happens and here it kind of has to. My intention in this writing… I’m still not exactly sure, but it’s necessary. Part of a process. It is far too easy to go on with your life not thinking about things. Court distance. Avoid contemplation and just wait it out. I’ve done it before too much. Arguments, instances of severe social embarrassment, more drawn out failed romances. It’s not positive though. Nothing much changes in the underlying behaviours.
So. Last year I harassed a group of women after a literary event. I can’t describe it in the exact detail I’d like to because for me it was a black-out drunk period. This isn’t offered as an excuse it’s just the truth of what happened. A complaint was made and the verbal retelling I was given confirms that the evening involved: inappropriate verbal and physical behaviour on my behalf towards the women, being asked to leave the venue by the proprietor, continuing with some harassing messages via social media after that. All of these things happened and I don’t dispute any of it.
I work in the arts, both as a writer and as an administrator, where the socialising often is your workplace. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. The women involved where also artists, writers. After talks with my supervisors I took some enforced leave from work, began regular psychological counselling, as well as drug and alcohol treatment. This is ongoing. I was also offered the chance to withdraw from a literary event to not cause further problems. I know I’m lucky that these options were given to me. But then really, I’m lucky that my behaviour was reported in the first place. Because I honestly would still have no idea of the severity otherwise. I would have written off the evening as a mistake of way too much booze mixed with medication and continued on my way, letting it fade. Instead, I’m able to take the opportunity to attempt to be better. The work isn’t done yet but I hope it’s progressing. Writing/speaking is a part of that.
Communication after the incident in question was handled by a higher-up member of staff exclusively. I haven’t approached the women in question personally to make an apology, and at this point I am still unsure about doing that. I don’t know whether or not seeking contact would cause more trouble. But I do want these words to exist here should they ever seek them. I am sorry. I didn’t treat you like people at all. Not in the way I believe women should be treated. I want to own that. I’m unreservedly sorry for the pain caused to you. I’m also particularly sorry that I did this in the context of the literary social community. I have always valued the way the community of writers in this country has been incredibly open and supportive to me, both online and in person for many years. And this is the way it should be – noone should have to fear the inappropriate attentions or actions within that space.
Although this is the first I have written about it (other than talking online about the new challenges of sobriety) I want to make it clear that my response has not only been to seek help for myself, but also to tell every person in my life the reasons why and to talk openly of what has happened. I am by no means suddenly fixed. I don’t think I’ve displayed a pattern of harassing behaviour over the years, but at the same time, I recognise black out periods have been increasingly common for me particularly over the period 2015-2017 and I cannot rule out other instances of inappropriate behaviour. I know the way I’ve used messaging and social media has been questionable. Sliding into the direct messages of people I don’t know or barely know has been common for me. While it has sometimes been a positive thing, I know at times I’ve done it in a problematic way also, and have to change this. Online communication is a very real space and one where women and people in general deserve to be treated respectfully.
If anyone is reading this and want to talk directly to me about anything further please do get in touch. I do want to read more accounts. I hope non-famous men, men perhaps in small regional communities like mine, are now speaking and acknowledging their wrongs and complicity. We don’t have to be publicly named to do this. In fact the thing is you probably won’t be. And then yes there will be consequences to speaking. You might lose work opportunities, or people once close to you might remove themselves. Distancing yourself from shitty behaviour with time though, it may make the memory fade but that’s all. It needs thinking about openly, needs discussing, particularly now… And I’ve still got a lot more of that to do.