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 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:
- The progressives who are saying this is not OK;
- The people who are sympathetic but uncomfortable with addressing the problems;
- The people who don’t want the problem addressed because it’ll harm the SCA’s image;
- The people who just don’t care; and
- 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
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.