A Reply to Baroness Franca Donato

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Over the weekend, a member of the Board of Directors wrote a blog post in the form of an open letter to me, rebutting my most recent blog post Power, Justice and Safety in the SCA on an almost point-by-point basis. To her credit, Baroness Franca Donato contacted me ahead of time for permission to extensively quote from my blog as per my posted rules, which is a gesture of respect and courtesy which I greatly appreciated. Her post was exhaustively researched, politely written and as I said when I updated my blog post to include it yesterday, an invaluable addition to the ongoing discussion that is raging in the SCA; having a member of the BoD go on record with what the BoD can and can’t do was extremely educational.

A number of people have been vocally offended by Baroness Franca’s post on my behalf. My response to that is to simply state that I am not offended because people are allowed to tell me I’m wrong. I hit the BoD pretty hard in that post; a response is certainly within their rights and not entirely unexpected. (And bluntly, since this roller-coaster ride started I’ve gotten half a dozen anonymous threats by enraged alt-righters; a respectfully-written open letter from a Director is a stroll in a park on a summer’s day in comparison.) I also think we need to have some compassion for the Directors themselves – I’d imagine that they’re being inundated by flood of demands, complaints, and criticisms at the moment and I have no doubt that’s an uncomfortable and at times frustrating situation to be in. While I clearly don’t agree with Her Excellency’s conclusions, there’s no need for anyone to be upset on my behalf; I encourage everyone to carefully read her post and, if you still feel the need to debate it, to do so strictly on its arguments and not in an unnecessary defense of me personally.

I also want to say that I’m not going to rebut her rebuttal in a point-by-point manner, because then she may feel the need to rebut my rebuttal of that rebuttal and anyone who’s been on the internet for longer than ten minutes knows that’s a quick trip down a hall of mirrors.

But I do want to address a couple of concerns that leapt out at me when I read it. Primarily, her contention that the BoD is neither able nor equipped to address serious concerns and that those need to be resolved at the local or kingdom level between the persons effected; the Board of Directors is intended as the ultimate appeal when local structures of grievance have failed to resolve an issue. That’s as may be and I can’t refute her extensive explanation of how those grievance structures are supposed to work but my original point, which I believe still stands, is that I (and many others) have no confidence in that system. Throwing it back to the Kingdoms does little good, because clearly the Kingdoms aren’t always handling it well… or even properly.

One of the unforeseen side-effects of publishing Confronting Racism in the SCA is that people have been sending me their stories of injustice in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have, in the past eleven days, received dozens of these stories. Dozens. Stories of racism. Of homophobia. Of rape. Some of those stories have been shared publicly (and to my distress some of those people have suffered further repercussions because of it.) Most have come to me in confidence. And every one of those stories has included a variant of the statement “I brought this to my Kingdom officers and nothing was done.” It has been heartbreaking and exhausting and on a couple of occasions literally nauseating. I’m not even sure why people are sharing them with me, except that it makes them feel less alone. And so I read them, or listen to them because I owe it to the person who has sent me their story not to leave them alone out there with it. I will not deny that I’ve become emotionally effected by this… nor can I apologize for it. So when I write that people have no confidence that the Society can provide justice or a safe space, that’s where I’m coming from. I stand by that statement because it is so heartrendingly self-evident.

I’m not disputing that there are are processes of formal complaint in place within the Society, I’m saying those processes are broken. If they weren’t broken, people would have confidence in them. What processes exist are cumbersome, or inaccessible, or opaque, or all three.

The other concern with Her Excellency’s post that I feel the need to address is the suggestion (reinforced by an earlier post on her blog) that social media should not be used as a forum for important discussions within the SCA. Well, respectfully… that ship has sailed. I agree that social media is often an imperfect vehicle for discussion, but it’s the vehicle we’ve got and suggesting we abandon it is merely wishful thinking. Social media is now so intrinsically interwoven into the very structure of the Society that I can’t even imagine how the old-timers managed the SCA without it, both good and bad. The discussions of our community are occurring on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and on blog posts because this is where the Society exists.

Related to that concern is the implication (made several times throughout her post) that without being directly involved in a situation we should not be commenting on it because that does more harm than good. We need, she says, to keep our “boots on the ground” in our own Kingdoms. I’m afraid that doesn’t work, either… and skirts perilously close to censorship. The advent of social media has erased the boundaries of distance in the Society; our community is no longer confined to events and weekly practices and photocopied newsletters (if it ever was.) We are no longer a collection of scattered groups. We are a city’s worth of people no farther away from each other than the phones in our pockets. It is now possible to be connected to the SCA’s community constantly, in real time, and in its entirety… with all the advantages and disadvantages that implies. We can rejoice in that fact or lament it, or do both by turns, but it’s simply not a fact we can deny.

A racism crisis in Caid is no longer a crisis just in Caid, nor is the controversy in Trimaris limited to the boundaries of that kingdom. We are all of us involved. If there’s concern that people are interjecting uninformed opinions into a volatile situation… well, yes, I’ll concede that’s a very valid thing to be worried about. But the answer to that is more information, more transparency, not less… and the answer certainly isn’t to tell people to stay in their own lane and not get involved. Indeed, I’m beginning to wonder if the elimination of geographic distance caused by social media is why so many people – myself included – sometimes hold the BoD up as the Ultimate Arbiter of All Things SCAdian… even when it isn’t, and can’t be.

That’s as far as I want to go with any rebuttal to Baroness Franca’s post, because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life re-hashing the same arguments over and over again. She made some very valid points and I’ve been thinking about them and will continue to do so. I’m quite sure that she’s thinking about the things that I write… and so we progress. We might be progressing like Luther’s drunken peasant, but we progress all the same.

If there’s a silver lining to this whole situation, it’s that a necessary discussion is occurring. If the discussion has become impassioned, then I think it’s that’s a reflection of the value of both the discussion itself and its importance to the future of the Society. There have been a number of excellent contributions to the discussion on all sides, many of which I’ve linked to in earlier posts. In concluding today’s post, I wanted to link to Master Cormac Mór’s outstanding blog post Hate Speech: Perceptions and Responses in the SCA, in which he presents a rubric of four positions within any given controversy in the Society. It’s too long – and far too insightful – to do any justice to in a short summary, but I urge each and every SCAdian to read it and to remember the conclusion he comes to — “There is room in our game for opposing viewpoints, and even vehement disagreement. But there can be no place in this game for hate.

Baroness Franca Donato has done me the very great honour of taking my concerns seriously and responding to them honestly and respectfully. That I she and I do not necessarily agree on all points is not a problem; indeed, her post has actually been one of the brighter points in a very rough week. Where all participants in a debate are acting in good faith, a discussion openly embraced and respectfully conducted is always the best method for resolving our differences. I urge everyone who cares about the SCA and its future to think about ways in which we can move forward, to address the injustices in our midst, and to prevent future injustices. I know I will be thinking quite hard about it… and probably writing about it, too.

 

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes,
Kingdom of Ealdormere

 

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Power, Justice and Safety in the SCA

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It’s been more than a week since the Trimaris Controversy blew up down at Pennsic, and a week since my post Confronting Racism in the SCA went surprise-viral on me, and I’m still dealing with the fallout. Most of the personal fallout came from a single line in the post regarding the bad behavior of an Ealdormerean Peer, specifically my allegation that their bigoted attitudes were an “open secret” in this Kingdom, and since I covered that discussion in a follow-up post, I’m not going to re-hash it again… except to say that the vehemence of the denials, the number of comments regarding my personal honesty and integrity, and the rank of many of those who have made those statements, have left me more than a little afraid about my future in the Society.

It’s been a rough week. A few days ago, I mentioned my apprehension on my Facebook page and got a lot of supportive comments from friends, which of course I appreciated. Another friend, in conversation, managed to put things a bit more into perspective – yes, people are upset, but remember how upset they were in the kingdom web-minister had to change the privacy settings on the Facebook groups? (The answer, for those unfamiliar with the SCA, is “surprisingly so.”) Another friend of mine, the current Baron of Septentria, commented that he didn’t think I’d made people angry, just uncomfortable and reflective; I’d forced them to think. Many people commented that they’ve been reexamining their experiences in the SCA to see if they’d “missed something” or ignored something they shouldn’t have. A couple of people told me that they’d been motivated to actually address some problematic behaviour displayed by others that they might previously have let pass.

And you know what? As a writer, being told that making people think, that they have to re-examine their assumptions and their behaviour… that’s probably the highest accolade I can receive.

But…

But while I’ve been praised for “courage” and “integrity” and for “bringing an important issue to light”… I’ve also spent a week wondering when the hammer is going to fall. Think about that: I did something that people praised me for and that I felt needed to be done and I’ve been waiting for the punishment ever since.

I didn’t really understand why I felt that way, until I ran across an excellent bit of writing by Master Justin du Coeur; he published an open letter to the Board of Directors titled “Do the Society’s Policies Have Teeth?” that contained a statement which hit me like a punch to the gut: “I have friends who are on the edge of quitting, some because of being disgusted with the Society’s willingness to tolerate such monstrosity, and some because they no longer feel safe within the SCA. Even here in areas where we aren’t currently feeling those effects personally, there is some sense that that’s local-cultural luck, not any sort of justice coming from the Society.

Boom. That’s where my apprehension is coming from: I don’t have any confidence that the SCA will provide any sort of justice. I don’t have the confidence that the SCA can provide any sort of justice. I have no confidence that the SCA is a safe space for me… or for any of us.

I might be punished for causing a stir. I probably won’t be punished, or at least not officially, anyway: I probably don’t have to worry about being R&D’d or even the subject of a court banishment. But do I have to worry about being blacklisted? Do I have to worry that certain awards and accolades will be denied because of the personal enmity of influential players? Do I have to worry that someone might have a “calibration error” while we’re both in armour? And if any of those things happened… what could I do about it?

I wrote the above paragraph knowing – knowing – that many of the people who were angry about my previous blog posts making “irresponsible” and “unfounded” allegations (“spraying blame like a hose” was one memorable phrase) will be doubly angry about what I have just written, accusing me of “fear mongering” and “witch hunts” and so forth… but these are the fears I have. These are the fears of the powerless. I worry that I will be treated unjustly because I have seen precious little justice done in our Society.

I have no Peer whose influence protects me; I am not a squire or a protege or an apprentice. Neither have I any confidence that the rules of the Society – the law of our make-believe world – will protect me.

I’m not writing that to impugn any individual’s honour, honesty or commitment to the SCA. (Ealdormere has a kingdom officer – a Lawspeaker – whose job it is to see that justice is done in our Kingdom and who is given sweet fuck-all in terms of authority to enforce it, and I’ve watched more than one Lawspeaker run themselves ragged trying anyway.) There are many good people who have given literal decades of their time and dedication to building the SCA; I know, I’m one of them. But I am saying, as others are saying, that there’s a huge goddamn flaw built into the system and it is this: There is no impartial standard of justice I can trust because I can’t see any impartial standards being enforced.

Let’s leave aside my fretting over my personal fate (face it, the status and prospects of a minor player in a single Kingdom aren’t going to make or break this game.) But what about the bigger issues of our Society? How do we justly address those? The current Trimaris controversy… we have a situation where there is some pretty egregious misconduct going on – a King who openly flaunts both tradition and corpora by, among other things, making the populace pray during court; who elevates a known racist to a peerage over the objections of the Peers; who openly insults his own populace; and whose “apology” for all of the above skirted the line of trolling. And yes, people are being encouraged to go to the BoD to complain… but then what? Nobody involved the Caid Swaztika incident was R&D; the King and Queen who showed such abysmally bad judgment stepped down voluntarily, I can find no record of any imposed punishment.

And what about the growing resistance to the SCA’s recently updated mission statement, which explicitly states the Society is “focused on Western Europe and its cultural contacts,” thus implicitly excluding non-European cultures? (This isn’t a theoretical issue – a so-called “European focus” is actively being used as a wedge by some alt-right groups to argue against the inclusion of non-Europeans in LARP, re-enactment and HEMA communities.) How does one go about addressing that issue? Is there even an official framework to protest the decisions of the BoD itself? I’ve been in this game for fifteen years and I’ve been more interested in the administration and legislation of the Society than most… and I don’t even know the answer to that. That’s a problem.

One of the frequent disparagements I hear about the SCA is that it’s “just like high school” and now I think I understand what people mean when they say that – from the perspective of a teenager the world of high school is a heartless tangle of arcane rules, arbitrarily enforced and subject to chance without notice, warning or appeal. In response to this, teenagers form cliques and tribes and even gangs, looking for structure in the face of a world they’re ill-equipped to understand much less defend themselves from. (Although come to think of it, I’ve also just explained why feudalism developed… and ultimately why it failed.)

Master Justin, in his open letter, points out that while the BoD has been making a lot of noise about its new inclusive policies unless those policies are enforced they are useless. And I feel – as many people in the Society seem to feel, that there’s not really a structure in place, or at least that the structure is not being enforced. And because of that, there’s no official method to truly address unacceptable behaviour in the Society. Case in point: I’ve been assured by “people who know” that the Caid Swastika Incident was “addressed behind closed doors.” Well, what the fuck good does that do? Behind closed doors? Justice needs to be done and needs to be seen to be done.

That is why the BoD’s reaction to the Trimaris Controversy needs to be swift, decisive and above all, public.

The other thing that hit me hard – in a week that included a lot of emotional blows, including people sending me far, far too many personal stories alleging racist incidents, homophobia and even sexual assaults that were brought to — and never addressed by — Society officers – were two videos by Master Charles de Bourbon, a Laurel from An Tir. The first video was him openly speculating whether or not, after decades of being involved with the SCA, he could continue in the organization because of the latest in a long line of homophobic incidents and the second was a follow-up and a call to action. They are both longish videos, 12 and 14 minutes respectively, but I urge everyone to watch them. They are painful. They are difficult to watch. They contain statements and experiences and phrases that are heartbreaking, but every SCAdian needs to watch them because they describe the Society as it exists for minorities.

Master Charles is a person who’s been in the Society for decades, who has actively helped grow the SCA, who is a Peer and who presumably wields at least some influence because of it… and he doesn’t feel safe in the SCA. And he’s tired of not feeling safe.

And I understand him entirely. I’m writing this from a position of considerable privilege: I’m a big white guy, I have no disabilities, I even present as “straight.” I’m 6’2”, about 300lbs, I’m familiar with personal violence and a reasonably good hand with a sword… and I’ve had moments in the past few days where I’ve wondered, given the current atmosphere of high emotions, whether it would be physically safe to go to armour up at an event. Think about that. Think about how much more intimidating it would be to someone of colour, or a woman, or even just someone who hasn’t spent a decade learning how to fight with a sword. Over and above the physical fear, and even with the knowledge that I have the respect and support of good people, the unlooked-for miracle of the love of an amazing spouse, I’ve spent much of the last week afraid that I’ve simply written myself out of my own community.

Hell, I’m afraid of publishing this blog post.

When there is no justice, when we have no confidence in the structure of the rules, then the result is fear.  For people of colour, for LGBT people, for marginalized people of every stripe in both society and the Society, for people who just stand up and say “hey, there’s a problem here!” there needs to be confidence that there will be justice done. Where if you report a racist incident, the offender will be subject to the punishment set out in Corpora. Where homophobia isn’t brushed off with the excuse “oh that’s just how so-and-so is.” Where if you’re sexually assaulted by another SCAdian the society will place your safety above the reputation of the organization. And where, if you call out the problems you see, you can be confident that they’ll be addressed and you won’t be punished for it.

The problem isn’t the small minority of bigots or homophobes or sexual predators in the SCA; they’re just the slime mould growing on the real problem. The structure of justice isn’t being enforced from the top and many people are turning a blind eye to the injustices from the bottom. Open secrets, turning a blind eye, assuming someone else will fix the problem, claiming that you’re “not here to be political”, the “missing stair” situation and a dozen other ways we allow these things to happen… however it manifests itself, it’s there. And it’s there because the structure of justice isn’t being enforced.

Mistress Maol Mide ingen Medra, in her SCA blog, posted one of the best breakdowns I’ve ever seen of the divisions within the SCA community when it comes to the challenges we’re facing, titled “On Public Enemies and the Wars Between Us.” To greatly condense her point, She identifies five core groups within the SCA:

  1. The progressives who are saying this is not OK;
  2. The people who are sympathetic but uncomfortable with addressing the problems;
  3. The people who don’t want the problem addressed because it’ll harm the SCA’s image;
  4. The people who just don’t care; and
  5. The people who are actively being shitty.

I’m pretty solidly in Group 1. Groups 2 and 3, Mistress Maol writes, need to understand that the problems are there, they need addressing and behind closed doors won’t do. Group 4 need to get their heads out and refusing to taking a stand is actually taking a stand. Group 5 are scum and you don’t want to be counted in that group even by omission. (I encourage you to read her post – she’s a lot more eloquent than I am.)

During one of the many conversations I’ve had over the past week, I had someone demand to know if I don’t fight the problems why I should expect anyone else to do so. That’s stuck with me, and I think it’s one of the reasons Master Charles’ call to action resounded so deeply. We need to fight, he says, but we need to fight effectively. Just going out and picking fights and yelling at each other isn’t going to be helpful. He calls for a two-tiered approach of “active advocacy”: Yes, we have to contact the BoD and make them hear our concerns… but we also have to address racism and bigotry in our communities. Politely. Productively. But firmly and relentlessly. As I mentioned above, some SCAdians have told me that my writing motivated them to actually address some problematic behaviour, which has definitely been the silver lining of this whole situation for me.

It isn’t enough to be a passive ally anymore, because we’re losing ground; it’s not enough to hold the belief that everyone should have the right to join the SCA, you need to stand up and be seen. How many newbies have seen something objectionable early on in their SCA career, have seen nobody speak against it, and just decide that the SCA isn’t the place for them? Judging from my comment section, too many. (As an aside, I’d like to see a real push to making sure that every SCA group, from canton on up, follow the example of the Barony of Ayreton and publish a statement of inclusivity so that newcomers can have no doubt.)

We’re always going to have bigots and scumbags in our community, okay? I get that. Our community is a reflection of the broader world and right now the bigots and racists and homophobes of the broader world are feeling empowered. But in the real world, you can trust that laws will be enforced, that the system will defend you (if you’re a person of colour or an otherwise visible minority your mileage may vary, but the core assumption is at least theoretically valid.) In the SCA… to be honest, I’m not confident that justice will be done in the SCA as it currently exists. And I know that I’m not the only one who lacks that confidence.

And that is intolerable to me. I hope it’s intolerable to you, too.

If we care about the Society, if we want it to continue… then we have to fix the flaw. We have to make the SCA a place where we can all trust that justice will be done. This is more than just a game – it’s a community, and one I believe is worth defending. We have to stand up whenever we see an injustice and refuse to turn a blind eye because it’s convenient, or because someone’s “important” or even because we’re afraid. We have to enforce and reinforce the structures of justice, all the way up to the Board of Directors. And the BoD needs to step up to the plate and be seen to do justice, because without that leadership there’s no way the SCA can be a safe space for any of us.

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes,
Kingdom of Ealdormere

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Update:  This blog post has triggered a robust discussion on my personal facebook page, and I weighed in on it this morning.  I feel that a point I made in that discussion warrants sharing on this blog, too.  It’s been slightly reformatted for clarity and to take advantage of the expanded formatting options:

It is my opinion that the SCA is entering a critical time in its history.  We’re at a time when a lot of the stuff that’s been ignored or allowed to continue on the QT has some to a head. The Trimaris controversy has been the trigger for a lot of this stuff, but it’s ONLY been the trigger. The First World War didn’t happen because Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, that was just the specific crisis that tipped a balance that had been building for decades. The Trimaris controversy is merely the crisis that has tipped the current balance in the Society. If it hadn’t, something else would have six months or a year from now.

As I wrote above, the SCA need to address the bad actors in our midst and put together and enforce structures (both legislative and cultural) to prevent bad actors from reappearing. There are many who are arguing that the structure can’t be fixed and we should leave. There are others who are insisting that there isn’t a problem at all (insert rude noise of disbelief here) or that airing out these problems publicly will destroy the SCA.

We are at a moment of crisis in the SCA.  Hiding the crisis from public view and from the view of the populace… that’s not going to work. In fact, I believe that it will only exacerbate the crisis. Its problems are happening, and people know it’s happening, and they’re not seeing the governing forces SCA do much about it. And yes, they may be doing something, but the general populace isn’t seeing it so whatever is being done is not helping the situation. However well-intentioned, covering the problems up – which has been the Society’s MO for far too long – will only drive people away.

If the SCA as an organization mishandles the current crisis, I would argue that its days are numbered. Too many people will walk away. Some of us will join (or found) other SCA-like organizations. The SCA will dwindle to being only one of several alternate societies, and within a decade I suspect it will simply die out.

And that would be a shame. In some ways it might be easier to simply hit “reboot” and build a new society with equitable rules and functional structures from day one, but it would mean abandoning fifty years of history in the SCA. There’s countless memories and traditions and the efforts of tens of thousands and I still feel that Plan A should be reforming the SCA.

Update 2:  Dr. Vandy Pacetti-Donelson, who sits on the Board of Directors and plays under the name of Baroness Franca Donato, has written an open letter to me on her blog.   Clearly, she and I aren’t going to agree on everything. But I would like to thank her for taking the time to address a post to me (and for asking permission to use extensive excerpts from my post), because  I think having a BoD member’s input on this issue — and especially an explanation of what the BoD can and can’t do — is invaluable to the ongoing discussion.

Confronting Racism in the SCA, Part II

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So… I’m beginning to freak out a bit. My original post Confronting Racism in the SCA is finally slowing down a bit – it’s only getting a few dozen views per hour, rather than hundreds or thousands. For comparison, posts on this blog have historically gotten one or two hundred views… and not per hour. Total. At first I was thrilled and excited that something I wrote was getting this much traction… and then people in Ealdormere started to focus on a single line in the post, where I claimed that “There’s at least one Peer in this Kingdom whose real-life bigotry is an open secret.

People in this Kingdom are very upset about that statement. I’ve had people tell me to take the post down entirely, or to edit out that line (although twenty-five thousand views and a raucous discussion on our Kingdom Facebook page has pretty much eliminated that as an option – it’s out there already.)  I’ve had several people – and some of them are people I profoundly respect — demand that I publicly accuse the person because otherwise I’m just spreading unfounded allegations and rumours. The phrase “witch hunt” got used on a Kingdom forum this morning for the first time.

I’ve also had a couple of Peers contact me directly and – in varying degrees of distress – demand to know if they were the person I mentioned. And of course, they weren’t: I’ve had my share of disagreements with people in the SCA over the years, and likely will again, so for the record let me state this:  Disagreeing with me is not bigotry. Holding Conservative political opinions is not bigotry. Voting for Doug Ford or even Donald Trump is not necessarily bigotry (although given some of their supporters I personally consider it a warning sign.)

Honestly holding political opinions or religious beliefs or even just plain being an abrasive asshole doesn’t make you a bigot, which is good because I have definitely met all those criteria at one time or another.

Despite the frequency which it’s appeared on this blog recently, bigot is not a word I throw around lightly.

Implying that all Muslims are terrorists is bigotry. Claiming that LGBTQ people are undermining our values is bigotry. Stating that we can’t afford to allow Middle Eastern refugees into our country because they’ll change the European character of our nation (whatever the hell that means) is bigotry. Rejoicing in the death of migrants or the caging of children is bigotry. Making jokes about gas chambers and denying the Holocaust is bigotry.

And I’ve seen examples of each and every one of those by various people who come out to SCA events and yes, some of them are Peers. Our Society is not as perfect as people would like to think.

But even in light of that, I need to state unequivocally that I never intended to create a “witch hunt” atmosphere or to spread discord and distrust. I despise vicious rumours and gossip, and I hate the corrosive effects of those things within a community. My intention in mentioning a specific situation in my own Kingdom, however obliquely, was to encourage people to examine attitudes and situations that I damned well know exist in this Kingdom, and I have no doubt in every Kingdom of the SCA.

I have not publicly named the person I referred to in my blog post, nor will I, for three reasons:

First, and very frankly: I have no proof of the situation them beyond my own experiences and the hearsay of others and I really don’t need to be sued for libel or defamation. (Don’t scoff: I have friends who were sued for just that in a similar situation — and because names were named, they lost.) As an amateur blogger, I don’t have a big corporate law-firm backing me up, and I don’t have pockets deep enough to cover the legal costs.

Second, that situation was four or five years ago, so I don’t feel that it can be addressed in a fair or equitable manner without evidence now. And certainly not publicly. As I noted above, I mentioned the issue in the blog post as a way to demonstrate that even in our own kingdoms these are issues which occur, that they’re not isolated to Trimaris or Caid.

And third – and this is a biggie – the completely unexpected popularity of that blog post has actually kind of frightened me. If I go out and say “So-and-so made a number of hateful statements on their Facebook page about immigrants and LGBTQ people” will I end up triggering a mob? Will we see a witch hunt? That kind of thing would no good for the community or anyone in it – and it certainly wouldn’t be a teachable moment for the person who I was thinking about when I wrote those words.

Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite, especially since I wrote the blog post as a deliberate call to action. A number of people have certainly said so and I’m honest enough to admit they may be right.  I’m also the first to admit that I should have handled that situation better, instead of just cutting the offender out of my social life and blocking them on Facebook. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I deeply regret how I handled things — turning up my nose and walking away doesn’t help the community. Maybe I could have reached that person, maybe I could have taught them something. Maybe.

So how should I have handled that situation?

With the benefit of hindsight and a lot of thought… I should have contacted them privately and said “Not cool: This behaviour is hateful and a problem and this is why.  I think you need to reevaluate it.”

And you know what? Probably I would have been laughed at. Or been told to fuck off. Or been told – as the current King of Trimaris is claiming regarding the controversy there – that it was “just a joke” and had my concerns dismissed.

And had that happened… then I should have gone to a Kingdom Officer, perhaps the lawspeaker, or even the Crown and privately told them my concerns.

And if nothing came of that, if the behaviour continued… then I should have contacted the BoD.

And if nothing came of that… then maybe I should have done what Don Davius has done and made a public stand.

What I should not have done is exactly what I did – walk away and do nothing beyond closing the channel of communication with that person in disgust.

As my wife has pointed out to me, sometimes in the moment you make mistakes and only later you realize what you should have done. All you can do then is make plans for the next one, to do it better. It’s not being a hypocrite, she says, but learning from your mistakes.

I won’t be walking away the next time this happens, nor the time after that.

Which brings us back around to the current issue, which is that people are upset I made this allegation in a public forum. Several people have contacted me demanding to know who I was talking about. Several more people have contacted me and said “you’re talking about so-and-so, aren’t you?” (and the worst part of that isn’t that they guessed right, it’s that they guessed wrong based on their own experiences with other Peers or nobles in this Kingdom.)

And a lot of people have apparently decided to dismiss the problem. The King of Ealdormere himself declared on the Kingdom’s official Facebook page that he did not know “of any peer within our Kingdom who is openly bigoted.” Another person replied to that “Agreed, but now we all have the shadow of bigot over us.” Implying, as I saw it, that having the subject raised was the problem… and I thought to myself, with a definite flare of temper, “now?”

Now we have the shadow of a bigot over us? Only now? I have terrible news for everyone: we’ve always had the shadow of bigots over us in the SCA. One of the side effects of that viral post is that I’ve had dozens of people share their stories of being exposed to homophobia and racism and misogyny in the Society. Some of them publicly, some of them privately. Since I wrote “Confronting Racism in the SCA” I’ve been inundated with stories of antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny and racism and it has been exhausting and emotionally devastating.

I’m an openly LGBTQ person in a medieval reenactment community. Let me tell you something: The shadow is there. It has always been there. I have the expectation, from bitter experience, that it always will be there. How fortunate for those who haven’t needed to see it for so long.

And I’m going to be honest, I have a hard time believing that anyone who’s been in the SCA long enough to become a Peer has never been aware of problematic behaviour. But of course, in the words of John Heywood, “There are none so blind as those who will not see”… or to modern it up (and as I’ve repeatedly stated): SCAdians will tolerate almost any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby.

I’m sorry if saying we have problematic behavior in the SCA – in our own Kingdom — makes people uncomfortable or upset. It is upsetting. It should be upsetting: we don’t want to have people among us who are bigots. We don’t want to realize that our neighbours and friends and colleagues have had to deal with this. I rather suspect that half the upset in Ealdormere over my post is that people – genuinely good people – know they’ve let shit slide that should have been dealt with.

I know I have. I’m not proud of it.

Sigh. And now I’m back to being exhausted. Maybe we can’t go back and confront specific people in the past who we should have confronted. Maybe we should let the past be the past, give everyone a mulligan and move forward… but only, only as long as we commit to challenging problem behaviour in the future.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, as I wrote over the weekend, can be a beautiful, profoundly supportive place. It can be a place of romance, of chivalry, and even of magic. I truly believe the Society ought to be a place for everyone of good intent. Having a tiny minority of people involved who hold and spread hateful, prejudiced views shouldn’t be allowed to darken that reality… but neither should we ignore their existence among us.  We need to confront them, however frightening or exhausting or even futile it might appear… and even if we’ve failed to do so in the past.

I think that’s why I have so much respect for the stand that Don Davius has taken.  He is succeeding where I failed.  I can only hope — for my sake, and his, and all of ours — that I will have the courage to follow his example the next time I’m called upon to do so.

#IStandWithDavius

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes
Kingdom of Ealdormere

Why I’m in the Society for Creative Anachronism

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On Friday of last week, in response to what is now being called the Trimaris Controversy, I wrote a blog post titled Confronting Racism in the SCA. It went viral, in a very big way, getting more than ten thousand views in under twenty-four hours. As of Sunday evening while I write this, the post has received just over twenty thousand views from thirteen thousand unique visitors to this blog, and the post has been shared on Facebook more than five thousand times. I’m completely stunned by this reception to my writing and I can only be grateful people feel that I had something to contribute to the conversation… and that they thought I was articulate while I did it.

Sadly, though, my post got a number of reactions, both here on the blog and on Facebook, where people shared their experiences with racism in the SCA. I’m not sad that they shared their experiences – quite the contrary, in fact, such things need to be brought to light – but it grieves me that folks have had these experiences in the first place. There were also a number of comments along the lines of “I used to play in the SCA, but no more and never again” which is also an unhappy thing to read.

It also got some hostile and abusive responses, although given the sheer number of people who read that post, they were a vanishingly small percentage and only a handful of those were actual threats.  As per the commenting rules posted here, those comments were not approved. (I have screen-capped and saved some of the choicer ones, in case I want to publicly mock some of them in the future. Also, I think some alt-right asshole with a Maryland IP address questioned my chivalry and challenged me to a duel with live steel weapons… which I’m not entirely sure qualifies as a threat but it was a first for me, I have to admit.)

In my previous post, I said that quitting the SCA was not an option, that we must not surrender the Society to bigots. That’s a strong statement and I stand by it. But I also have to say, after reading some of the horror stories of racism and antisemitism and homophobia that people have suffered, if you’ve had to step back from the SCA or move on because of what you faced… well, I respect that decision and I support it.  You have to take care of yourself, and I don’t want anyone to think that I’d ever condemn that decision. I can only express my profound regret and shame that people were forced to choose between their safety and well-being and membership in this community; no one should ever have to make that choice, and the fact that people have been placed in that situation is a stain upon the honour of the Society.

Having read these horror stories, and looking at the responses and especially the declarations that “I won’t go back”… I want to write a different kind of post tonight. Not to minimize or erase the negative experiences of people of colour or LGBTQ people or the differently-abled, but to remind everyone that the SCA is not an organization where these events are the norm, nor even common. Of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people in the SCA worldwide, the vast majority are as horrified as I am over the events in Trimaris, and in Caid, and every time someone is made a victim of bigotry in the Society. The SCA should be a safe place for everyone to enjoy. It has failed in that at times, I acknowledge it. We have failed in that at times.  But a new person looking at the SCA and seeing these stories of bad behaviour could deduce that the SCA isn’t someplace they want to be, and that there’s nothing more to the story.

So I decided to write a post about the positive experiences I’ve had in the SCA since I started playing about fifteen years ago, because we are not the sum of the handful of bigots and racists in our midst.

Over and above everything, of course, is meeting my wife. I started in the SCA in the Shire of Trinovantia Nova during a rough and lonely time in my life, but after a few years I’d moved to the Canton of Petrea Thule to go back to school and finish my degree. One great thing about the SCA is, if you move to a new town, chances are that there’s a local group, which means you can just start going out to meetings and you’ll slot right into a ready-made social network.

I started going out to Petrea Thule meetings and in very short order got to know a number of great and genuinely helpful people. When I had a housing crisis (apparently asking your roommates not to use “gay” as a pejorative term is grounds for eviction) I was offered the lease someone’s basement apartment. When I wanted to start heavy fighting, people surprised me not only with loaner armour, but with gifts of armour parts they’d made themselves. Food, gifts, garb, help with sewing and cooking all of the above… one gentleman, who is now a Knight, took it upon himself to teach me the basics of how to fight – and not just in SCA-style “put him in a helmet and let him figure it out” way I’d “learned” in Trinovantia, but with genuine lessons involving footwork and body mechanics and so on. In fact, it was he, after a frustrating round of watching me trip over my own feet, who suggested that I should attend an upcoming medieval dancing workshop in order to learn “right” from “left”.

The person teaching the dancing workshop was the person who eventually became my wife.

That, by the way, is not the story my wife tells about meeting me; she remembers the workshop and supposes I was there, but she claims the first time she noticed me was at Trillium War the next summer. A bunch of us spent the evening around a campfire getting tanked on free mead and I impressed her with my word-perfect recitations of old Firefly episodes. A couple of months later she gave me a massage after I messed up my back washing dishes at an event and I finally took the plunge and asked her out. Despite a first date that featured an apologetic lecture about how she wasn’t looking for a relationship right now, we’ve been together for a decade and we were married in a civil ceremony five years ago (athough not an SCA-themed ceremony; we saved the SCA stuff for our honeymoon.)

Another incredibly moving memory was Ealdormere’s first Queen’s Prize Tourney, which I wrote about on this blog at the time, and which remains one of my personal favourite SCA posts I’ve ever done. I’ll never forget the court at that event after hours of arts and sciences fellowship, with the assembled populace singing their hearts out while Queen Adrielle wept tears of joy on the throne. I honestly believe that first QPT was the catalyst for a renaissance (to use a non-period term) for the Arts and Sciences in this kingdom.

As for the fighting… there are a lot of positive experiences around that. There’s a line in Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel The Folk of the Air where a fencing master opined that chivalry is a dead art “…like lute music. As unnatural to the animal as opera or ballet, and yet nobody who puts on even cardboard armor can quite escape it” and I understand exactly what that means. I get some good-natured ribbing about my own armour, which is late 14th century transitional steel plate. My personal guideline for armour is that I have to be able to fight in the Combat of the Thirty at Pennsic (although haven’t done so… or at least not yet.) My harness is heavy — around 20 kilos – and it’s frankly overkill for SCA rattan fighting. But I love the way it connects me to the past; the feeling of knowing that I’m wearing the same kit that men wore on the battlefields of Poitiers or Brignais or Nájera; I enjoy the pride of display and the bravura of my historically accurate representarion. There are those in the SCA who fight in the bare minimum required armour, relying on speed and agility and – frankly – their willingness to live with enormous bruises. I am not one of those; I take profound pleasure in having a suit of real armour… although the next time I buy some, it’s going to be stainless steel because I’m getting genuinely sick of polishing away rust.

One of the most amazing fighting experiences I’ve ever had was the first (and so far only) time I fought in Crown Tourney. That entire year was an amazing one for me, not only in the SCA, but in my personal life as well. That was the year we got married, work was going well, I was beginning to earn some repute in SCA circles and my prowess was improving. I spent months getting ready for Crown, improving my kit and my fighting skills, going to practices outside my home region, even going to an out-of-Kingdom event during our honeymoon. The actual experience of fighting in Crown was intense and intensely enlightening, despite the fact that I had no realistic chance of ever winning. And, of course, I blogged about it at the time.

I have amazing memories of fighting in formal Deeds of Arms: my sword-brother Colynes’ Deed of Arms, or the Passo Honroso later that summer, which I organized; these sorts of Deeds are, in my mind, the highest expressions of the knightly ideal of chivalry that we aspire to in the SCA.

I have memories of dancing marvelous petit riens at an event called Step Sprightly, spinning and dancing and switching partners and clowning around until we all laughed ourselves silly and then danced some more.

Or of the Trillium War where it rained so hard Thule camp ended up in an inch of standing water… much to the delight of our camp dog. Being overrun with mud and slugs and having so much fun in company with our friends that we simply didn’t care.

Or working on a Norse-style sand-pit pottery firing as part of someone’s experimental archaeology project at an event, then watching the local blacksmiths crawl around in the still-warm pit afterwards scooping up as much charcoal as they could find.  That’s when we realized why Norse archaeologists only rarely find deposits from this type of pottery firing: the byproduct is very high-quality charcoal and no Norse craftsman would literally leave money in the ground.

My thirty-first birthday party at The Battle of Baron’s Howe, an off-the-grid event on private land very far north. Somehow my wife had smuggled a small cake into camp and lit enough candles on it – the correct number for my age – to make it look like a freaking jet engine. Authorizing in borrowed armour at that event. Baking bread in a wood-fired oven at that event. Watching one of my best friends get put on vigil for the Order of the Laurel at that event in one of the best “gotcha” moments I’ve ever seen.

The singing. Always the singing. Like our cousins in Calontir, Ealdormere has long been known for a rich tradition of music and song. I remember one Twelfth Night celebration where the entire feast-hall sang The Keeper Went Hunting, with its call-and-response refrain “hey down, ho down, derry-derry-down.” I remember songs and poems and histories around innumerable campfires over years and years. Sometimes I listen to recorded versions of those songs on my phone or when I’m driving, but it’s never quite the same.

Friendships. I’ve met more and better people in the Society than I could ever have imagined. It doesn’t matter what they do in their real life, or their religion, even what their politics are. Blue collar or white collar doesn’t matter: I’ve got friends whom I admire who are bus drivers; I’ve got others who are corporate CEOs and when they’re in garb or armour you’d never guess which was which. Rich or poor, retired or working or unemployed. I’ve met a lot of veterans, which is always interesting to me, how many vets gravitate to the SCA. In truth, the Society for Creative Anachronism has brought me into contact with more diverse and interesting people than I’d ever have done otherwise.

And I know I’m not the only one who can tell these stories. Anyone who’s in the SCA has these stories, carries a treasure trove of magical moments, of those fleeting glances of something we once called (and still sometimes call) the Dream.

The stories of racism, and sexism, of anti-semitism and homophobia in the Society… they break the heart. And they should: They wouldn’t hurt so much if we didn’t love this community; they wouldn’t be so awful if they weren’t betrayals of the ideals we hold dear.  I’ve seen so many comments along the lines of “this is why I left and won’t come back,” or “I was thinking of coming out again and read this and now I won’t” or even those people on my comment feeds saying leave the SCA and come to the Adrian Empire or the Empire of Medieval Pursuits or Amtgard or Dagorhir or whatever… as though those groups aren’t facing or won’t someday face exactly the same challenges the Society is facing now.

Yes, the SCA has its problems. It is, as one commenter on the previous post noted, “a human endeavor made up of humans, so it’s kind of flawed from the get.” Some of the SCA’s problems stem from pathway dependence bias – that is, people just started doing something a certain way and eventually things just get done that way because the way they’ve always been done. Some of the problems stem from the fact that the SCA is more than fifty years old, and behaviours that were acceptable – or at least ignorable — a generation or two ago are no longer being allowed to pass (we are, I suspect, starting our community’s #metoo moment right now.) And the worst of the problems stem from people in the SCA turning a blind eye to, or covering up the problems because doing so might cause bad publicity, or cause trouble with the brass hats, or because they simply hope someone else will solve it.

The SCA has its flaws, and it’s greatest flaw is that SCAdians will tolerate any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby.

Well, that’s not good enough anymore: If you love the Society, if you believe in the Dream… then you have to stand up and make sure that everyone has the chance – and the right – to experience it without being made to feel unsafe or unwanted. If someone jeopardizes that safety through hate, intolerance and mean-spirited bigotry, as the current King of Trimaris and a small but vocal cabal of racist supporters have done and are still doing, then they’re betraying the Dream itself and they aren’t welcome among us.

But the purpose of this post wasn’t to call people to action… or at least not directly. It was to remind people – and maybe especially myself – what’s at stake. It’s been a rough weekend for some of us. Clearly it’s been a rough few years for far too many others. I encourage people to take a moment and remember, and to share your stories and memories of what the SCA can be and should be and almost, almost is… and why the SCA is worth fighting for.

Lord Fulk Beauxarmes,
Kingdom of Ealdormere

Confronting Racism in the SCA

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It’s Pennsic War time again, and once again I am not there. This summer I certainly have the time to go to Pennsic, but I can’t justify spending the money, given that I’m still looking for work. In any case, with no local practices running, I’ve spent the bulk of my SCA time this summer working on refitting my armor and getting back into shape.

And given the news from Pennsic this morning, I’m probably happy not being there.

Rather like the now-infamous Caid Swaztika Incident I wrote about a few months ago, there’s a tempest brewing over an allegedly racist incident by an SCA royal, and it’s spreading quickly through the huge gathering of SCAdians and spilling out onto social media. The first indication I saw of this was a peer of Ealdormere, a friend of mine, who shared an image with the hashtag #IStandWithDavius but without any context. I’ve done some digging this morning, including an FB messenger conversation with my friend, and found out some – but I suspect not all – of the story.

What I know currently is complicated, so bear with me while I sum up:

First, the King of Trimaris has been accused of being racist based on some of his public and social-media statements. I took a quick look at his Facebook page when someone provided his mundane name to me and yes, I’d have to agree with that perception.  He’s clearly anti-left, he shows a lot of alt-right memes on his FB page and he is skimming the borderline of white supremacy, homophobia and especially transphobia… which is, of course, about par for the course for a hard-right-leaning American in this, the Trump era. The thing is… those are just his public posts; I have no way of knowing what he’s saying privately, but I based on his public posts I would not be surprised if the accusation of racism has merit.  There’s a definite trend towards a person who, based on others I’ve met who also display that sort of content, is not going to be invited to my place for tea and scones anytime soon. (And yes, yes, yes he has the right to hold whatever political opinions he wants however odious I might personally find them; can we skip yet another “you libtards are just as intolerant, etc.” discussion and keep going, please?)

Second, the King of Trimaris has decided, over the concerted opposition of the Peerage orders of Trimaris, to appoint an openly racist friend of his to the Order of Defence. There are allegations that he’s publicly stated he’s doing so specifically to piss off the membership of that Order; I have not been able to ascertain the truth of that statement (although if this allegation is true it wouldn’t be the first time a royal has done something just to stick it to someone, and probably won’t be the last.)  The elevation of the gentleman in question occurred this week at Pennsic – and tellingly, the ceremony was held in a private camp, not in open court.

Third, Davius St. Jacques, a well-respected Master of the Order of Defense and – importantly  – a person of colour who feels effected by the alleged racism, has surrendered the regalia of his office to the heirs of Trimaris and refuses to use the title of Master in protest of said elevation. He then issued the following public statement on Facebook:
“Let all who see these words know their Highnesses have accepted my Collar and White Scarf back. My Crown has shown me that their oatha of protection and fealty mean nothing to them and i can not in good conscience wear the trappings of an office they do not wish me or mine to perform. Know however, that the trappings of the office maketh not the man. A person can be given the right to wear the items of an order but it doesnt make one worthy of the order …. and neither does NOT wearing the trappings keep one from proving they ARE worthy… I plan to put all my effort into proving this. So if you see me, please take note that Don is the proper term of address for a member of the Order of the Golden Rapier which is the only Rapier Award i hold independent of the Kingdom of Trimaris. I love you guys , but this is a thing i feel o need to do. I can not serve a Crown that has broken its oaths to me. I WILL not bring glory to a Throne that openly mocks my Order and denigrates my service. Words by Davius Saint Jacques [All spelling and grammar is as per the original]

Much of the social media tempest this morning is focused around Davius’ decision and public stance, and I feel that I need to weigh in: I do not know Don Davius, although I have heard of him and respect his reputation. People that I do know and respect hold him in very high regard and have made public statements of support for him. From the outside looking in – I would also like to make a statement:

It is clear that Don Davius feels strongly about this and has made a stand of principle that I both respect and support. It cannot have been an easy decision for him to make and in taking this action he has upheld both the ideals of the Order of Defence and his personal honour; indeed, I feel that he has given the Order of Defence an important precedent to live up to – the defence not only of personal honour but the honour of the Society as a whole. I salute Don Davius’ integrity and hope I will someday have the opportunity to tell him so personally, right before I buy him a glass of whatever he’s drinking at the time.

Now, you might be asking yourself, Why does this matter? Or: I don’t play in the SCA. Or: I don’t play in Trimaris. Or: I don’t involve myself in politics when I play.

It matters. I know there are those who are trying to dismiss this as a “perfect storm” of stuff that we’d normally tolerate: the BoD has just updated the social media and hate speech policies; the SCA is a monument to Sayre’s Law; this is happening at Pennsic, which is The Big Event in the SCA year… but we can’t just shrug and let it slide. This issue exists in context and we can’t ignore it.

Historical reenactment, even reenactment done as loosely as we do it in the Society for Creative Anachronism, is a part of the broader culture. Yes, it’s a game, but that game attracts attention from outside the reenactment subculture, and some of that attention has been negative. It’s becoming increasingly clear, over the past few years, that medieval reenactment is being deliberately subverted by the racist extreme-right. This trend is addressed in The Public Medievalist’s excellent special series Race, Racism and the Middle Ages, so I’m not going to re-hash it all that much here, but this is an issue that exists and it is a serious problem in the reenactment community… especially if you’re a person of colour, or (like me) a member of the LGBTQ community.

You’re not in Trimaris? You don’t do politics? This is something that is happening across the SCA in whatever kingdom you play in (and in HEMA and other reenactment groups, too). One comment I saw on the Ealdormere Kingdom page was “I am honestly shocked and disgusted that openly racist people are allowed in the SCA” and I had to bite back a pretty scathing reply. The sad thing is that, yes, openly racist people do participate in the SCA, in the same way that openly homophobic people do, or openly misogynistic people do. Even here in Ealdormere… I’ve had some run-ins. There’s at least one Peer in this Kingdom whose real-life bigotry is an open secret. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The SCA has its flaws, and it’s greatest flaw is that SCAdians will tolerate any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby. A lot of people will give the bigots a pass because they’re not doing it openly in the SCA. Refusing to act against bigots because you don’t “do politics” is itself a political stance, and one which I have little respect for.

Another SCA blogger who’s writing I enjoy, Baroness Maol Mide ingen Medra, touched on this issue and the reason we can’t ignore it with her excellent post Tolerating Intolerance: The Trap of SCA Courtesy:

“Is it courtly to allow a member of the SCA to spew hateful rhetoric online and dismiss it simply because “it was online” not “at an event”? Nah. When this happens with a known member of the SCA and they continue to get away with it, they have become a representative of our group online who is being defended by other members of our society.”

Ay, there’s the rub.

When you identify yourself as a member of the SCA on social media – even a normal member, much less the royalty of an entire kingdom – you take on the responsibility of being the face of the organization. If the SCA gets a reputation as a place where racism and bigotry are tolerated, even rewarded, then that’s the end of the organization in the long run. If the current King of Trimaris is presenting a face of racism and intolerance… that’s a problem. If he’s rewarding another of his openly racist friends with a Peerage… that’s a problem. If he’s doing it in clear defiance of the Peerage’s wishes… that’s a problem.

And if one of those Peers feels so strongly about it that he feels he must publicly protest it… that’s not a problem.

I’ve seen a few comments online condemning Don Davius’ action as exacerbating the situation and I simply cannot agree with that interpretation. From the newest newbie to the eldest Duke, we should all be confronting the racists in our midst. We should be doing it in our personal lives, we should be doing it in our professional lives, and we should damned well be doing it in this, our hobby. Yes, the SCA is a game and yes, our Kingdoms and our Peerages and our titles are all make-believe… but they’re also representations of ideals. And ideals matter even in the SCA. No, strike that: Especially in the SCA.

We are consciously trying to make a space where people are welcomed, where we have high ideals and try to live up to them, where we embrace the romantic notion of “The Middle Ages as they Should Have Been.” This is perhaps a strange thing to try and do, or a futile one or even just a silly one… but I’ve never believed that. Despite my disappointments with the Society and its people over the years and despite my own failures, I’ve always believed that it has done me good and is a worthy thing to be involved with, that our goal of creating a better community, however quixotic, is an intrinsically noble one.

I’ve also seen several people online declare that this is the last straw and they’re leaving the Society. I strongly oppose that course of action: If you quit a group over racism, the racists win. We must not surrender the SCA to bigots. What Don Davius has done is the correct action – he has made a public statement, and a grand gesture of resistance… and he has not quit.

The SCA is a reflection of society as a whole, good and bad. We have a responsibility to try and make the Society – and society in general – a better, more inclusive place for all.  We need to send the message, endlessly:  Racism is not acceptable.  Homophobia is not acceptable.  Misogyny is not acceptable.  Bigotry is not welcome here.  It’s not necessarily going to be an easy fight… but it is, I think, a fight worthy of the effort.

#IStandWithDavius

Update:
Before you comment on this post, read About Me and My Blog for the rules. Given the high pitch of emotion around this issue in the SCA, I’m going to be aggressively enforcing the commenting rules for this one.

Update #2:  Seriously, read the rules of my blog.  Especially #9: I respond rather poorly to insults, attempts at censorship and threats in general so if that’s all you’ve got to contribute, don’t bother. 

All death threats are being recorded and reported.

Update #3: As I deal with the fallout from this post, I’ve published a second part to this essay:  Confronting Racism in the SCA, Part II.

Why Aren’t You a Squire Yet?

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I got up this morning, went out to the backyard, and did my usual routine of pell-work. Then I came in, toweled off the worst of the sweat, and had my coffee while reading the news; I typically shower after I’ve cooled off and caffeinated a bit. One of the articles that came across my newsfeed was a Washington Post article about the whole Trump/Cohen feud, titled “‘I’m not going to be a punching bag anymore’: Inside Michael Cohen’s break with Trump”. I haven’t touched on Donald Trump very much on this blog, partly because I haven’t been writing much in the past couple of years and partly because, like everyone else, I’ve been overwhelmed by the constant flood of strident chaos from this administration. (Surprising nobody, however, let me state my definitive opinion on Trump: I despise him. That’s the short form. The long form is a whole blog post of itself and I’m not writing it today.)

However, I’ve also been reading a lot of stuff on medieval chivalry recently: de Charny, Froissart and Christine de Pisan as primary sources, for example. As secondary sources I’m re-reading one my favourite book series: Christian G. Cameron’s Chivalry novels; starting with The Ill-Made Knight, a series of books set during the 14th century and concerned primarily with – as should be obvious from the title – chivalry and knighthood. (If you’re interested in that subject, especially as a medieval re-enactor, then I can’t recommend Cameron’s work highly enough, and frankly it’s a much easier read than some of the primary stuff.)

The point that I’m working my way around to is that I’ve been reading a lot about loyalty and feudalism and service lately. And the contrast between the constant social-media deluge of 21st century craziness versus the ideals of 14th century chivalry is… well, it’s damned near schizophrenic. And reading this morning’s Washington Post article I had a fugue-moment of 14th century feudalistic realization: Trump is a bad master and you should not serve him. He simply doesn’t understand loyalty. He demands it for himself, infamously, but only a fool would expect to receive it back from him.

That’s not to say that 14th century European nobility were perfect — or even nice — by our standards or theirs; a quick reading of the life of Charles II of Navarre (known to history as “Charles the Bad” in an epic understatement) shows that treachery, caprice and callous self-interest are hardly modern inventions.

But loyalty, feudal loyalty, flows both ways.

One of the things we do rather erratically in the Society for Creative Anachronism is feudalism. Loyalty we do, don’t get me wrong: SCAdians are loyal to our friends, our community and our make-believe kingdoms, often to a fault. But the medieval structure of feudalism is somewhat lacking, at least here in Ealdormere. Part of that is the way our kingdom is structured; we’re not very large and familiarity breeds a certain friendly contempt. Part of that is that the SCA’s emphasis is not on strict historical representation. Part of it is the deliberately temporary nature of our royalty and sitting nobility. Part of it is that we’re simply not medieval people and our understanding of feudal loyalty is filtered through our modern liberal notions of equality, egalitarianism and social mobility.

Because of that the SCA tends to be very household-oriented, particularly in Ealdormere. In the absence of a territorial feudal state, SCAdians tend to glom onto Knights and Laurels and Pelicans as their dependents for long-term loyalty and stability.

And I’m not criticizing that. I think it’s a good thing, despite the occasional tendency to high-school cliquishness. If you’re interested in fighting, you learn from a local fighter, especially a Knight. If you’re interested in arts and sciences, you work with a Laurel. If you’re interested in being a martyr, you find a Pelican (*rimshot*). And after you work with them a while and you’re compatible and you’re both willing, you might take the plunge and swear fealty to them as a squire, or an apprentice or a protégé. And in the fullness of time, with a lot of work and some patronage, you may yourself become a peer of the realm and take your own dependents, and so on.

A lot of writing has been done on the form of SCA feudalism and loyalty (including two of my favorites, Master Hector’s essay Are Waffles Period?, and Sir Vitus’ The Anvil of Virtue) so I’m not going to re-hash a general overview of SCA culture and feudalism.

Instead I’m going to weigh in on a question that was asked of me a couple of weeks ago… “Why aren’t you a squire yet?”

That’s a complicated question. And frankly, it’s a question that I answered on this blog five years ago. But the TL;DR version is that “Squire” is not a rank in the SCA. It’s a relationship with another person. And because it’s a relationship, I’m very, very careful about getting into one. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life being loyal to things and causes and people who proved, in the end, not to be worthy of my loyalty whether through ignorance, indifference, or outright malice. And in response to that most annoying of job interview questions “What is your greatest flaw?” I would have to say it’s that I often give my loyalty too completely to people who might not understand how much I’m putting into it. Which is why losing my job doesn’t just suck, it hurts.

In fact, the main reason I’m not a squire yet is loyalty. I haven’t found a peer to whom I would wish share that loyalty relationship and one who would wish me to do so, too. I do, for the record, have a very short list of Knights that I would consider squiring to and a somewhat longer list of people whom I’d be willing to squire if and when they are Knighted, but reasons of geography, personal relationships and differences of modern-day opinion have kept me from forging any such relationship with a Knight. (And so, frankly, has the fact that I’ve recently taken a couple-three years off from the Society.) I’ve seen what happens when a Peer and their dependent aren’t on the same page when they start that relationship, or when that relationship changes, or when that relationship goes sour.

As I wrote five years ago (almost to the week), getting the right “fit” with a Knight who’d potentially consider me as a squire is not going to be simple. It’d be time-consuming, very personal, and not at all casual. You can’t force that kind of relationship. Frankly, it’d have to be someone who understands loyalty, and feudalism, and the fact that you have to give back to the person who’s giving to you. Not just in a business-transaction way: “clean my armour and I’ll teach you how to fight; help me in tournaments and I’ll sponsor you with the Chiv.” This isn’t – emphatically isn’t — a service-for-reward gig like a job, and as I said I usually end up putting too much emotional commitment into my job, so I really don’t want to embrace a one-sided Peer/dependent relationship.

It’s because I take the fealty relationship so seriously that I’m not a squire yet. I see other fighters being squired to Knights, and that’s fine, so long as it means something more than “here’s a fancy red belt to show off, bro.” If all you want from your Knight is a red belt, and all they want is to give you one, great; but that’s not all I want. And those few Knights I’ve met who understand this, frankly, have their dance cards not only full but over-full of squires and potential squires.

Maybe I’m looking for something that I’m not going to be able to find. But there it is.

The Current State of Things

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I lost my job about a month ago.  Some expected developments with the company that would have allowed me to be promoted to a different position didn’t develop, and I was doing a job below my level… but being paid at the level I would have been with a more responsible position.  That’s a very expensive holding pattern to be in, and the decision was made to let me go rather than keep the situation static.

Am I happy about this?  No, I am not… but neither am I very upset.  When I lost my job in Peterborough back in 2015, I was devastated; when I lost this job I was more annoyed about the loss of the paycheque than anything else.  The truth is, I was working fourteen and sixteen hour days, four or five days a week, not to mention driving an average of 250 miles every day, my personal life was on hold and it was getting hard on my family.  Now I’m looking for work again… and I’m going to put some hard boundaries on work/life balance, and I’m going to do it from day one.

A job should be is something you do to live; it’s not the purpose of life.  My now-former boss seems to thrive on doing the 24/7 work thing, which is probably why he’s a successful businessman.  I personally can live with not being a successful businessman so long as I’m happier than I’ve been this last year.  Yes, I enjoyed the challenge of the job, but the constant unrelenting pace was beginning to take it’s toll on me, and I’m sure that influenced my employer’s decision to let me go.

In any case, that’s done.  I’ve updated my resume and I’m actively looking for work.  In the meantime my wife’s RMT practice is going well and we’re not going to starve in the foreseeable future.

With my now-abundant free time I’m getting back into the SCA.  Aside from going to the occasional event to see friends, we really haven’t been much involved with the local group since we moved down here.  I’m hoping that will change.  I’ve also decided to get back into fighting, which means I’ve got to fix my armour.   My current fighting kit, while it looks good, is somewhat lacking in certain things… like a proper fit.  And when you’re running around in a field in fifty pounds of plate steel, fit matters; things shift and slide, which makes things pinch and bruise.  I’m currently re-vamping straps and points and my wife is making me a proper pourpoint (or “arming doublet”, to use the Victorian phrase) because the kidney belt-and-suspenders rig for my leg support just wasn’t working; which means that I need to replace the crappy kidney belt with something that will actually protect my kidneys and spine (both things I would prefer to remain undamaged); which means that I need to revamp my torso protection; which means I need to make something that looks good;  which means that I also need to sort out the rust issues on my mild-steel kit; which means I need more shop space; which means I need to reorganize the garage… and so on, ad infinitum.

Suffice to say that even without a job my summer has been busy.  We’ve installed a new pell in the backyard (somewhat better-padded than the one at the old house) and I’ve been doing 20-30 minutes of pellwork most mornings, despite the record-breaking heat this summer.  Sixteen hours a day in a suit on the road or in boardrooms wasn’t particularly good for my endurance, so I’m working hard to get myself back into shape and lose weight.  I’ve physically got everything I need for the armor project, so I’ve been making inroads there, and since I splurged a bit and bought myself some new hourglass gauntlets to complete my kit, I’m very motivated to finish the armor project so I can get out there and try the new gauntlets.

We’re not going to Pennsic this year — there’s just no budget for it, and to be frank I’m a bit leery about traveling to the United States what with all the tensions between Canada and the US.  I’ll spend August getting things together and — hopefully — finding a job, then with any luck I’ll be out to our local fight practices when they start up in the fall.

A Better, More Consciously Inclusive Society

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I just read Ken Mondschein’s very fair and balanced article examining the now-infamous “Caid Swastika Incident” which happened in the SCA earlier this year. It lays out what happened, how people reacted, whether there was deliberate ill-intent and what the SCA needs to reflect on going forward.

Long story short, the Kingdom of Caid crowned their new king and queen, who wore garb with hand-woven trim that clearly displayed swastikas and double-H runes, which of course are symbols closely associated with both original-issue Nazism and the currently resurgent neo-Nazi/Alt-Right iterations. There was considerable uproar over the issue, a non-apology-apology, followed by a couple of much more sincere apologies, and in the end the offending royals abdicated.

The trim in question is based on a medieval original, which the article includes pictures of.   The original (and the replica) obviously took a high order of skill to weave and is an impressive technical and artistic achievement.

It’s also a bunch of swastikas and symbols associated with the words “Heil Hitler.” So that’s a big fucking problem right there. Obviously the original wasn’t freighted with the negative associations (although the Nazis apparently coveted the “Snartemo V band” as an example of “pure aryan art”) but the replica absolutely is freighted with those things. Someone deliberately set out to reproduce that item and sew it to coronation garb for the King and Queen of Caid;  accurate medieval reproduction or not, it sends a nasty, nasty message to Jews, LGBTQ people and people of colour in the SCA.

Was it an a deliberately intended message? That’s the million-dollar question, of course, but even if there was no deliberate intent to associate the SCA with Nazi imagery, even a complete freaking potato should have realized that this was going to be a serious problem.  Even if it was innocently (if cluelessly) done, the profound failure of judgment involved definitely required the royals in question to apologize and step down.

And if there was a deliberate intent to express a support of Nazi or alt-Right ideals, even if only as a juvenile attempt at trolling, then those responsible need to be R&D’d immediately.

Those are decisions that are going to need to be made at a much higher level than where I’m at, of course. But those decisions are going to have to be made.

It needs to be said:  The SCA, as much as I love it, has not always been as welcoming a place to minorities as it could be, especially to LGBTQ people. One of my own most personal and painful experiences with the SCA’s profound flaws is something I rarely share: I was once told by a member of the Chivalry — entirely kindly, as friendly and well-meaning advice — that I shouldn’t let people know about my sexuality since “gay guys don’t get Knighted.”

I cannot begin to express how much that hurt.

And again, in 2012, when the SCA decided to change the rules to allow for same-gender consorts in Crown Tourney, the BoD of the day prevaricated and eventually passed down a half-assed decision leaving it to the sitting Kings and Queens of the day rather than taking the stand of a clear statement of LGBTQ equality in the Society.  I said it then in a Facebook post and I’ll say it again now: However well-intentioned those sitting the Thrones may be in the future, LGBTQ players will be going to the Crown with our hats in hand twice a year… and I’m less than impressed about being given permission to beg.

The SCA has its flaws. And one of its great flaws – indeed, perhaps it’s greatest flaw — is that SCAdians will tolerate any level of injustice and unfairness in order to preserve their hobby.

Well… not any level. Not anymore. Because clearly, in Caid, there’s been a demonstration that there is a level that people won’t tolerate, a hard line that people won’t cross. (I wish we’d found that line a lot earlier, but that’s for a different post.) And the Caid Swaztika Incident has opened a can of worms that can’t be closed… nor should it be. There’s no way to sweep this under the rug, and any attempt to do so would ultimately destroy the Society, because people would just start drifting away. No matter how accepting and well-intentioned the majority of people in the SCA might be, the knowledge that such behavior was permitted and allowed to pass officially unchallenged would undermine the credibility of the organization itself.  It would, and I am saying this with no hyperbole whatsoever, kill the Dream.

Something ugly has been revealed in our game and we need to lance that boil and drain the poison or we risk losing the patient. The uproar over this issue needs to be heard. It needs to be listened to. And ultimately, it needs to be learned from, no matter how uncomfortable that conversation is going to be in the short-term.

In the end, the author of the piece that I linked to at the beginning of the post, Ken Mondschein, came to a conclusion that I wholeheartedly support: “Let us hope … that the result of the fierce conversation happening in the SCA leads it into becoming a better, more consciously inclusive place.

Yes.  This.

It’s time.

I Am Done Saying “Not All Christians”

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This morning I ran across the news about noted anti-LGBTQ evangelical Christian activist Tony Perkins’ giving Donald Trump “a do-over”. Apparently Christians are fine with his adultery, his greed, his venality and his obscenity because he’s the kind of leader that America needs to “stand up to bullies like Obama.”

In disgust, I shared the story on Facebook with the Mirriam-Webster definition of Hyprocrite. 1: A person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. Then I added a statement which is becoming increasingly true for me: This is why I cannot respect Christians.

A friend commented on my post in that I “shouldn’t lump all Christians into the same pile.” To be frank, I was expecting that response from somebody, because there’s always that response from somebody, it’s just a question of which of the Christians I know who would respond first. And you know what? I’m so damn tired of hearing it. I’m tired of links to articles about Christians who signed a petition (or whatever) and then patted themselves on the back about it. I’m certainly tired of being told to calm down.

So I replied: Sorry, but I am done saying “Not all Christians.” This guy is representing all Christians because he says he does and no one – no oneis standing up and saying otherwise. This is the face of Christianity.

Because increasingly, in this Age of Trump, bigots like Tony Perkins really are the public face of Christianity. They don’t have any compunctions about using their influence, their stature and their bully pulpit to pound on LGBTQ people or Muslims or women, or whomever it suits their purpose to bully for the sake of fat envelopes in the collections plate. And I don’t see very many – or even very few — of their coreligionists standing up and saying “Hey wait a minute, that doesn’t represent me.” And even when they do stand up they’ll spend endless amounts of time and effort claiming that they’re not the problem without ever addressing the actual problem – that a bunch of bigots have hijacked their religion and are using it to literally murder queer people.

Yeah, intellectually I can see the argument that Perkins – and other scum-suckers like him — don’t really speak for all Christians, however much they like to give the impression they do. But that’s the impression they’re able to project because moderate Christians don’t speak up.

I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again: Moderate and progressive Christians need to stand up to these fanatics.

And they don’t. They won’t. The last time I raised this issue on my blog, I had a Christian acquaintance argue with me that, not to minimize my argument but as important as it might seem to me, it “really isn’t on our radar.” The implication, of course, is that since it didn’t effect them personally, they should be excused from having to give a shit about the bigotry and hate being perpetrated on innocent people in their names. That they don’t have to care that their religion, their holy book, and their so-called saviour are being used as weapons to marginalize LGBTQ people, to strip us of our rights and to line the pockets of the con-men doing the stripping.

And what really blew me away was how offended they were that I’d call them on it.

I’m done. I am fucking done cutting so-called Christians slack and giving them the benefit of the goddamn doubt. It’s 2018 and evangelical Christians are rapidly becoming the cornerstone holding up the corrupt, racist and homophobic Trump administration. They are selling the soul of the Christian religion for political influence and the vast majority of Christians are letting them do it because… well, I actually don’t know why. Greed, maybe? They just don’t want to rock the boat? It isn’t worth it to them to stick their necks out for a bunch of perverts and deviants?

I’ve stopped caring about why they’re failing. And I’ve stopped caring that their feelings might be hurt that I’m furious about it.

Every Christian who thinks I’m a lesser person, not entitled to the same rights and protections as them because I was born bisexual, is my enemy. And every so-called Christian who is such a coward and a hypocrite that they refuse to denounce their bigoted coreligionists is also my enemy. By refusing to stand up, they are allowing the bigots free reign. Period. No excuses, no justifications, no rationalizations. No “they aren’t really Christians” demurrals, as though those fucking work. Christians as a whole have allowed the bigots to take up the mantle of Christian moral rectitude and in so doing have proven that Christianity is nothing but a shuck-and-jive, a confidence game, and a self-righteous swindle.

Am I doing a disservice to moderate and progressive Christians?

Probably. I’m sure they think so.

But fuck them anyway: I don’t see moderate Christians on the news. I don’t see moderate Christians making any changes. I certainly don’t see moderate Christians pushing the bigots out of their allegedly inclusive Christian communities. I only see smug bigoted scum like Tony Perkins getting richer and more influential and claiming to speak for all Christians and not being contradicted.

And I see the news articles about the hate aimed at LGBTQ people. I see those every day.

Every. Goddamned. Day.

As an LGBTQ person, I am sick to my fucking stomach of waiting for moderate Christians to grow a pair, to get woke, to stand up to the bigots. We are under attack. Queer people are dying, literally dying, and Christians are saying it “really isn’t on our radar.” They can’t be bothered.  They’re comfortable in their privilege.  They’re just fine with letting LGBTQ folks have our rights trampled, our lives marginalized and our deaths ignored.

There’s no middle ground here. I don’t have the privilege of turning a blind eye, because where I stand the sides are brutally clear-cut: you’re either with the queers or you’re with the bigots. And I don’t see a whole lot of Christians standing up with the queers.

So this is a call-out for Christians: Prove it. Prove to me that not all Christians are bigots. And I don’t mean send me links to internet articles showing how a bunch of other Christians did “something” to prove I’m wrong, I mean fucking do something yourself. Call out a bigot in your faith community. March in a Pride parade with a sign that clearly identifies you as a Christian. Write an op-ed in your parish newsletter. Send a letter to the Pope.

Pick a side, stand up and take action.

And just because I’m pissing people off today, I’m also going on record with this statement: I sincerely doubt any of the so-called Christians who read this are going to do a goddamn thing. Or at least a goddamn thing more difficult or introspective than denouncing me as the bigot for writing this piece and unfriending me in a huff.

 

Update: 24 January
“I sincerely doubt any of the so-called Christians who read this are going to do a goddamn thing. Or at least a goddamn thing more difficult or introspective than denouncing me as the bigot for writing this piece and unfriending me in a huff.”

Called it.

Update: 30 January
It’s gratifying to know that — despite the personal consequences of me saying this — I’m not the only person who has made this statement.

Citing Scripture

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Over the last couple of days my wife has run afoul of a grimly serious Christian on Facebook. It started when a friend of ours posted a biblical quote: Deuteronomy 23:12-13 “Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.”

It was a bit of poop humour, to be honest, although I made the point in a comment that this sort of basic sanitation would have been a very practical thing for an army in the field.

And then this self-identified Christian chimed in, rudely demanding to know “What bible did you get this from?” and telling us to “Read the truth in the Holy Bible.”

Umm… Yeah. This is from the bible. King James version, and my friend had provided chapter and verse. When this fact was pointed out, the Christian replied, flatly, that we should “Be carefull (sic) of what you say, God will not be mocked.”

Sigh.

It was at this point that my wife jumped into the conversation, rebuking this person for trying to censor our conversation, and for trying to do so with biblical threats when it was clear that she wasn’t even aware of the existence of the original passage (pun not intended) and perhaps she should study her religious texts before coming down on others.

So the Christian responded by repeating “God will not be mocked” and providing the biblical chapter and verse that phrase comes from “Galations 6-7”. Except, of course, it’s actually spelled “Galatians”, being St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, the ninth book of the New Testament. So I corrected her spelling with, I must admit, a certain amount of glee. (My wife pointed out that the passage in fact refers to hypocrisy, not blasphemy, and called her out on her error.)

And then this Christian lady advised us that we should take a biblical study course, because we “might learn something.” I managed to refrain of asking whether the lessons might include the correct spelling of the books in question. I could not, however, refrain from asking her what the course had to say about Luke 6:42. (“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”)

This entire conversation actually comes to the root of the problem I have with organized religion – especially the kind of Christianity I was brought up in.  I was raised in a devoutly Catholic family, so I know my bible, okay? Not line-for-line, but I’ve got a good grasp of the broad strokes. I knew, for example, when my friend shared the original passage from Deuteronomy that it involved the Deuteronomic Code, a collection of Hebrew laws pertaining to ritual cleanliness and purity. It makes sense – both practically and spiritually – not to shit where you sleep, but to go outside the camp, dig a hole, and then cover everything up afterwards. I don’t know if the following line – Deuteronomy 12:14 “For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” — is scientifically correct, but I’d imagine that “not dying of dysentery” could have been interpreted as a sign of divine favour.

My problem with organized religion is this: You can make scripture say whatever it is you want it to say. When you have a text as old and convoluted as the bible – the product of thousands of years of Jewish law, scholarship and interpretation capped with centuries of Christian philosophy and correspondence, all of which has just sort of accrued over time into an enormous collection of documents, it ends up being self-contradictory, often to the point of being nonsensical.

Add in a variety of translation issues — especially the multiple linguistic shifts from Hebrew and Aramaic to Greek, then to Latin and on to Tudor-era English —and you have a real problem with textual accuracy, especially as regards the King James Version of the bible. As a linguistic artifact the bible is absolutely fascinating, but as a guide on how to treat other people it can often be severely problematic. Especially if you like to cherry-pick scripture to support your opinions and preconceptions.

Which – mea culpa – is exactly what I did.

Using my knowledge of both the bible and Google search, I was able to pick and choose passages that supported my point and undermined my opponent. It was amusing, yes, and kind of fun to hoist this humourless person on their own petard (which is a Shakespearean reference, not a biblical one) but it really does illustrate the point that blindly adhering to the minutia of a religious text rather than embracing a positive, life-affirming philosophy rather undercuts the moral and spiritual value of religion.

After all, “even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”

 

Update — My friend had to take her post off Facebook.  The Christian person who we were arguing with is a family member, and it was causing friction that they didn’t need.  I respect that decision.  You can’t choose your family, after all.