The Writing

23 April, 2017

to be Faire

I need someone to explain to me why it is that I cannot go to a Renaissance Festival now, in my 40s, without getting eyed and oogled, when I was invisible as a 20-something. Maybe the sun? The heat? Too much alcohol on the part of the hitter? A couple of years ago, I think that's what happened. Drunk dude weaving all over the food court, decided he wanted to drape himself on me and babble about my beauty. I do not have a black belt in martial arts just to hold up my pants, and I deflected him (gently). When he came back around for another go, the Rat, who has many more degrees of black belt, and who is substantially taller, interposed herself, looking stern, and he toddled off.

Anyway, I don't think he was aware of much except there is a female over there and she is smaller than me and oh, I am about to fall down.

And he was an anomaly. One is not generally accosted by strangers, which puts Ren Faire on a slightly different plane than, say, everyday walking down the street in which accosting has always and ever been by strangers: hey baby, wolf whistle, little-girl-let-me-show-you-my-penis (truth).

But Faire, see. (Or Fair; much like the spelling of fairy, there is variation.) There's this thing about Faire, in case you've never been, this element of carnivale, of boundaries strained to breaking. There're some folks who try to be period, and then there are the people who are there to cosplay pirates or Doctor Who or their current D&D campaign or whatever. Mostly the cast is the former, and the dressing-up-public is the second. But point is, there's a lot of skin on display. Boobies, mostly, to the limits of legal. And, you know, great! Yay boobies (and whatever else).

Because of the high flesh factor of a ren faire , there is a corresponding bawdy factor. The sexual innuendo content of your average interaction with performers and cast (and even vendors) is pretty high. This is a ...feature, I guess, of Faire. Which is to say, I don't actually like that aspect overmuch, but without it (or when organizers attempt to suppress it) makes Faire seem childish instead of subversive.


I also realize I started off this post complaining about this very thing. Maybe I don't mind it happening, I mind it happening to me? Or I find it just... weird. Like, come on now. I mean look. Here.  This is a photo from 2015. I have a lot more ink on my right arm now, and less hair, but this is what we look like every year.  

I realize this is a strange, fine line I'm treading. Shit gets said in a Faire that I'd never think was okay in any other setting, ever. It's like we leave the norms at the door: this is how polite people behave. We don't wear corsets. We don't have shelves of cleavage, or people dressed as wenches, or belly dancers, or shirtless men in leather pants, in a general public setting.

Maybe it's consent. (I'm working through this as I write). You go to Faire, you know this sort of behavior's out there, you're...okay with it? Or at least, okay with it being around you. I definitely don't think you should have to interact with anyone's toadshit if you don't want to, and no one should touch you, like, ever. So not consent. Forewarning.

And maybe I, me, the 40-something woman, just want to be able to look at the hand-forged knives without having the shop owner, who is older than my father, trying to flatter me by telling me how sexy I am.  It's weird. Like, dude. Seriously. Stop.

I think maybe it's not about me at all. It's about Nous, and they assume he's the dude and so he's the one who's into weapons and so by complimenting his wife they are complimenting him...? I don't know.

When we go with the Rat and Shan, people stop Shan to take pictures of her--because she has this crazy hat covered with ostrich feathers, yes, but also because she's all curves and you can rest a dinner plate on the shelf of her cleavage. And I get that, but also just gods knock it off. And it is always, always the cis-het guys who do this. You don't see the dykes coming over and going oh, lady I do not know, can we photograph you and your boobies. The straight women and gay men don't swoop down on Nous and make admiring comments or ask for photographs.

Ugh. I don't know. I have loved Renaissance Festivals since I was a teenager. The Rat and I worked at the one in Colorado in college as street entertainment. It was cosplay before cosplay was much of a thing. It was this place where the Rat and I weren't the weirdest people in the room, hell, we weren't even in the top five. It was weirdly safe in a way a lot of our lives weren't at the time.

So maybe my willingness to tolerate and excuse the atmosphere is based in a romantic nostalgia. But even now--there's a certain defiance to the anything-goes attitude. No one apologizes for who they are, or what they look like, or any of the usual shaming weirdnesses. That's great! Let's keep that! The problem, though, is that the cis-het normative harassing bullshit falls into the same category of no shame, and I want it to. Like--y'all have had your time, okay? You still have it, outside the gate, every day. This is the place for the rest of us. Because you can't live out your fantasies and let the rest of us be safe to live ours at the same time.