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