A brief guide on how to be a cool guy at a conference, and not a dumbass

It’s almost time for Bouchercon, the biggest crime and mystery convention of the year. As such, there will be a lot of socializing, a lot of drinking, and a few dumb assholes saying or doing inappropriate things.

That’s what happens when you shove a ton of people into a hotel for a few days and add a generous helping of booze. That doesn’t make it okay.

I’ve seen other authors sharing tips and survival guides for conferences—many of which are very good (seriously, stay hydrated).

What I haven’t seen is something that shouldn’t be necessary but is probably necessary: a quick guide on how to be a cool dude and not a dumbass.

There’s been a lot of discussion about convention harassment policies, and those are all good discussions—it’s paramount on conventions to create and enforce a safe and respectful atmosphere—but there are some specific behaviors I think it’s worth talking about.

So, I submit for consideration, a brief guide on how to be a cool guy, and not a dumbass:

THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Seriously. Just take a second. Say it in your head. Pretend you have to say it to you mom, instead of the woman you barely know standing in front of you. Think about how your mom would react. Hopefully then you’ll realize that anything worth considering so much is probably not a thing you should say.

MANAGE YOUR ALCOHOL INTAKE. If you know you tend to lose control of yourself after you have five drinks… have four. Even better, three. Or, if you find this is something you have a difficult time controlling, maybe it’s time to have a long hard think about your relationship to alcohol.

MIND YOUR HANDS. Once, at a publishing party, I saw a man reach up to brush the hair out of the eyes of a woman he just met. He thought he was being polite and did not notice her entire body freeze. After she quickly excused herself, he seemed genuinely taken aback when I told him that what he did was inappropriate. This should be an easy one, but I guess it’s not: Handshakes, cool. Hugs, sometimes cool if the person is a friend. A gentle, intimate caress? No!

SPEAK UP. Guys, it is paramount that we speak up when we see something bad happen. If you stand by and let it happen, or worse, if you create excuses for someone, you’re complicit. Full stop. It’s not fun to call out a friend or colleague. You know what’s also not fun? Being subjected to unwanted physical and verbal advances.

STAND UP. At this coming Bouchercon, badass author extraordinaire Christa Faust is spearheading an anti-harassment posse—folks who will wear little silver stars on their badge or elsewhere, indicating they are there to help anyone who feels like they are being harassed. Being mindful is good. Being proactive and part of the solution? That’s even better.

KNOW WHEN TO PACK IT IN. Maybe you did or said something inappropriate. Maybe you want to apologize. This is not necessarily a bad instinct. But it can turn bad real quick when you hound the person you offended so you can “properly” apologize. Because then it’s less about the apology, and more about you wanting to be absolved, which is basically putting the responsibility of your harassment on the person you harassed. Sometimes you have to know to accept you were wrong, say sorry, walk away, and find some new folks to talk to.

THE RULES HAVE NOT CHANGED, THEY ARE JUST BEING ENFORCED. You hear this a lot, mostly from rotten people—”everyone’s different now, you can’t do this, you can’t say that, now you get in trouble.” No, it’s not that we all sat down and came up with a list of words and actions that are now off limits. It was always shitty to say and do those things. It’s just that now people are emboldened to call you on it. Now there are consequences. Stop pretending like your behavior is a right you’ve been denied, and realize that what’s really been denied is the safety and comfort of other people, by you.

I’m looking forward to a good time down in St. Pete’s this weekend! I know in my heart that the overwhelming majority of the people going are in it for a good time, and that good time will be had, despite the presence of a few bad apples. And I think with a little personal mindfulness, and a little vigilance, we can pare down that bad bunch even further.

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