Personal reflections on what happened when a couple of faeries were asked to leave the summer solstice gathering
by Lulu Luna
Most of the faeries at the summer gathering at Paddington Farm this year will be aware of what happened on Sunday 19th June. A number of complaints had been made about ‘John’ (the names of the two protagonists have been changed) – a young man who had been brought along by ‘George’, both of whom were staying in an adjoining campsite. Unable to ignore the unease building in himself, organiser Ananga – backed up by Bright Eyes – bravely asked John to leave. John then became angry and threatened violence in a manner which concerned both Ananga and Bright Eyes enough not to wish to spend another night in a tent. And in an unprecedented move, they both left the site.
Asking a faerie to leave feels contrary to our ‘inclusive, community’ vibe. But as others pointed out, we are a community built up over time on trust. Earned trust. And although there is some joyful partying, faerie space is not a party. Still, questions were asked as to why this was not a mediated process – why we didn’t sit in a heart circle with John to ‘heal’ what was going on. And why it was necessary to inform the police.
Different space, same shit
It was at this point I found myself feeling simultaneously both angry and resigned. I was one of the people who had complained about John. To my knowledge there were five others, four of whom were women, and the other, a man dressed in drag. And there were women unconnected to the faerie gathering who had also been made uncomfortable and who felt threatened by his behaviour.
I had already spent the previous day feeling unsafe in faerie space – something that had never happened before. I started making sure I was never alone. I avoided going to the fire circle in the camping field. I was nervous about walking to my car. (To add insult to injury, this was on the same day that several cis male faeries casually flashed their penises at dinner. They were obviously feeling safe.)
And I was chilled at how easily I accepted the restriction of my movements and my expression. Because you see, this is standard for women. We are expected to make up for the lack of action to protect us from predators. And if we don’t, we are blamed – for the shortness of our skirts, or for walking alone in the dark. So I clicked seamlessly into my role – before Ananga acted.
Canaries in the coal mine
Where women don’t feel safe, that is an early warning sign to act. Women are the canary in the coalmine. Study after study shows that all over the world, on a macro and micro level, the lack of respect for, and the lack of safety of women is both a predictor and indicator of the likelihood of male violence against everyone. In other words, women usually get it in the neck first. This was even true of the Orlando shooter – whose domestic violence record against his female partner was not taken seriously. But the problem is, women’s warnings and complaints are so often not ‘seen’ or heeded until it’s too late.
Even where they are – again, all credit to Ananga and Bright Eyes – men (and yes, it is usually men, because other women have generally experienced the same danger before and know the score) will question whether it was not an ‘over reaction’ that should have been dealt with another way. In this case, another way that would have put the women in the gathering, and the women in the campsite in danger. The infuriating thing is that these same men will often blame women for not having ‘said something’ when something untoward does happen.
At this point, I will pause, because I know you’re saying ‘not all men’ and pointing out that women can be shits too. I agree with you. But the vast majority of violence in the world is committed by men – and even if you don’t agree with that statement, the problem at the gathering had a gendered flavour to it. For that reason, I need to continue putting gender at the heart of what I’m talking about. To ignore it would be to perpetuate the very ‘invisibility’ of women’s voices that I’m highlighting.
In faerie space we talk about shared values. Community. Honesty. Vulnerability. Support. Freedom to be ourselves. And yes, we all love a drag dress up as well as ritual and celebration. I know these are precious things. But beneath them is something even more precious. I’m talking about safety. Without safety, we cannot be free to have any of these things.
Too often, when faeries say ‘safety’ we mean emotional safety. How can we have become so complacent as to ignore the dangers to our own physical safety – less than a week after the Orlando shooting? How can we hold a minute’s silence in the town for the victims, and not see someone with precisely the shooter’s psychology in our own midst? How does that kind of disconnect happen? Well, I’ll tell you how.
‘Inclusivity’ is a lovely concept, but we haven’t thought it through. Instead we’ve taken the easy route. Inclusivity, this solstice, seems to have meant ‘inviting anyone and everyone to the gathering and not throwing them out’. It is inclusivity and safety for those outside our circle, without looking at our inclusivity and safety within the circle first. And this fluffy definition of inclusivity has disconnected some of us from our very sensible instincts.
By contrast, real inclusivity starts from within. And it involves more pain than I think many faeries are willing to admit. Because if you’re going to include people, you have to take their experience, history and context into account. Which means you can’t sit there in your ‘white, male, cis, ‘out and proud’, able-bodied’ reality, pretending that nobody else’s reality exists, so that you don’t have to make any effort to understand their worldview and what is happening for them. You have to actually learn about who they are, and what they’ve come from – and that takes time, effort and humility. More importantly, you have to make actual adjustments, both to your attitude and to your facilities. And before you object, remember it’s they that usually have to make adjustments to a world completely geared to you, all the bloody time.
The faerie blind spot
Is this really an issue? Well, let’s face it – by sheer number, most Albion faeries are cis male. And that has implications. It means that faerie space is geared to cis males, just as wider society is. This is a particular problem with gay men. Straight men have to learn about how unsafe the world is for women – yes, even in Britain in broad daylight – because they date and marry them. Gay men are often allowed to remain oblivious.
I know that for many of you, your first reaction here will be that you’ve never heard that women feel unsafe. Well, we don’t mention it, because we get shot down in flames because of your denial, when we do. I have seen groups of women hastily change the subject – after talking about safety – when a male approaches the group.
We don’t want to hear ‘Well you should’ve… [add smart alec 20/20 hindsight suggestion of choice here]’ for the millionth time. We don’t want to be victim-blamed by a group of blind, tone deaf people who have the privilege of ignoring what we live with every day, and be effectively told that WE are responsible for policing dangerous men, so that no one else has to act.
And if you’re one of the ‘good guys’, you won’t ever see it happening either. Because most of the creeps and the dangerous men who intimidate us aren’t stupid. They’ll wait until you’re gone before they start threatening us. Fortunately, John was a rare exception. Bright Eyes saw him acting strangely. But I wonder what would have happened if he’d cosied up to the organisers and menaced the women behind their backs as usually happens? (This is not a slight on Bright Eyes and Ananga – I’m sure they would have acted responsibly anyway. I’m just highlighting how difficult it is to believe women about an abuser, when your experience of them is that they’re a ‘great bloke’… And that’s exactly why they cosy up to you.)
‘Still don’t believe me, huh?
Women face danger every day of their lives. On the street, in pubs, on buses, in the workplace, in their homes. Effectively, we live in an open prison, because we are the ones who have to ‘police’ our behaviour when our safety isn’t taken seriously and we are disbelieved and blamed. Everywhere, we are insulted, threatened and assaulted – even, and especially by, the people who we should be able to trust. And this starts in public spaces from the time that we begin growing breasts.
I want those of you with penises who are unaware, to hear this. If you sit down to actually ask the apparently un-traumatised ‘normal’ women you know – and they’re willing to honour you with their confidence – you will hear a litany of half-forgotten assaults, threats, harassment, near misses or actual rapes. I myself experienced sexual abuse in my home from both my parents, and other family members and family friends. But outside the home I was also assaulted on the tube in full and correct school uniform, groomed and groped by a male teacher (and blamed by the headmaster for not ‘doing something about it’) and harassed, groped and threatened by other male strangers countless times, all before I was 18. I bet you’d never have guessed that, huh?
And it has not stopped. My drink has been drugged at a fetish munch and my concerns ignored by the organiser. I have been called a prostitute by my boss as a ‘joke’ in front of other members of staff for daring to ask a question. I have been menaced on buses in broad daylight. I have had my breasts grabbed in the street. And going into a pub and being propositioned to be some old, drunk bloke’s ‘submissive Asian wife’ happens regularly, like clockwork. This is just what has happened in my 40s by the way. The worst thing about it is, I consider myself lucky that I’ve experienced nothing worse as an adult. And, that I can’t tell you most of what has happened because it’s so common now, it’s like wallpaper for me. Always there. You almost stop noticing or remembering the minute after you’ve escaped.
For the men who might think I’m just unlucky, you’ll find this story repeated over and over at the Everyday Sexism Project website and on Twitter under the hashtag #YesAllWomen. Take a minute to look at these sites. It is harrowing. And it is every single woman you know. What you’ll realise is that the world in which you fear violence for being visibly queer, is the same one in which we fear violence for being female. Only in our case, we are scapegoated and blamed for not ‘controlling’ our attackers more effectively. (Yeah right…like a long skirt is going to deter a man who’s convinced that raping a woman is the only way to prove his masculinity. I wanted to insert a ‘sarcasm’ emoticon here, but there isn’t one.)
We are fighting the same fight
What flabbergasts me about gay men that don’t see the problems women have with safety, or who don’t place any importance on the issue, is that we’re fighting the same enemy. Men who hate women, also hate what they perceive as ‘femininity’ in gay and queer men. That’s why they attack them.
And something that I think most gay men haven’t twigged, is that the very important legal changes that heroic LGBT activists have been able to effect in the last 50 years, are built on the foundation of the cultural ‘sea change’ that feminists have fought for. These may be straight women who have no interest in gay rights per se. But over and over and over, what they have done is loosened gender straightjackets to the point where most men are now able to accept and cultivate their feminine sides. To a significant degree, they have pricked the balloon of toxic masculinity that sought to annihilate ‘queerness’ or ‘campness’. They have been the ‘worms’ tilling the soil in which your legal rights were planted. And without them, I doubt you’d have achieved those rights to the same degree.
So – and I’m talking to the gay and queer men in our midst here − the concerns of women in general may apparently have nothing much to do with you. But they’re important because our struggle is connected with yours. And I have deliberately avoided saying ‘we’re your mothers, your sisters, your cousins etc.’ because frankly, we shouldn’t only qualify for your support because we have some sort of relationship to you. No, we deserve your support because we are worthy of safety and respect as a group in our own right. But sadly, at the moment, women (both gay, queer and straight – and whether you really intended this or not) are getting the message from the wider gay community that because you don’t want to fuck us, our rights don’t matter to you, and you can’t be bothered to learn about what we’re facing.
And so, it is with finely chequered feelings that I make the following point about what you stand to gain if you do support us. As I’ve said, the kinds of men who attack gay men, are those who cannot reconcile with the feminine within them. This hatred is derived from their fear of women – fear of being ‘like’ women, even if it’s only in the matter of being sexual with, or being penetrated by men. Consequently, when you pay attention to how women are perceived and treated, you make queer and gay men significantly safer. But to do that, you’ve got to actually listen to women, respect their superior experience with the issue and act on what they suggest.
So what actually happened with John?
Within 30 seconds of meeting me, John stared at me as if he wanted to eat me, and asked me if I’d give him a massage. George, the older ‘Daddy’ that he was with, said he was gay. John vehemently denied it. George pushed the point over and over, to John’s obvious fury. About an hour afterwards I found him aiming a laser light at me, much like the ‘sight’ on a high tech gun. He stared at me for minutes at a time on other occasions throughout that day too, and I found myself avoiding him and warning others about him. My instinct told me he was one of the most dangerous men I’d ever encountered.
Later, I found out that he had treated another female faerie at the solstice gathering in much the same way, and that he had been rude to one of the male faeries in drag. He had also been seen seated and waiting by the nearest toilet to the campsite to accost the female campers using it.
I have heard people comment that John’s friend George either couldn’t or wouldn’t ‘control’ his behaviour. What I saw was George actually making him worse, by whipping him up with comments about his being gay, all apparently for ‘laughs’. It was a powder keg situation.
And what was going on with him?
I do not know John’s story. What I do have, is a strong impression based on long experience of these sorts of incidents, and a number of likely guesses. It was obvious from his manner that he intensely resented being thought gay. My guess is that he was ‘gay for pay’ under severe duress – perhaps because he wanted a visa, was destitute, or for some other reason. Of course if I’m right, this was systemic abuse, and very sad. I wish the faeries could have helped him. But talking to him, it was crystal clear that he could not listen to a bunch of queer people. That his was a belief system in which being gay was so unthinkable, that he’d have done anything to prove himself otherwise. Maybe anything, up to and including raping a woman on site. Or perhaps, violently attacking a more ‘feminine’ man.
Also it was clear that John was from an ethnic minority – and no, it is not racist to notice that. For me personally, this was important information because it made me feel even more unsafe. That’s because, as an Asian woman, I am likely to draw the ire of Asian men who see me acting in an ‘untraditional’ manner. ‘Corrective rape’ is one of their ‘punishments’. And because I know that black men often have a ‘thing’ about Asian women. If you’re likely to be attacked, that is important information to acknowledge.
But still people objected…
Some faeries objected to John being asked to leave, even after all this. I know we like to ‘include’ people. To talk things through. And that’s a good instinct. But sometimes those people forfeit that privilege. Threatening the women on site meant that John did not deserve the courtesy of mediation with the faeries – and I do not know why that wasn’t obvious to the people who objected to him being asked to leave. Because the safety of the people you know and trust and love – and whom you have a duty to – obviously comes before being ‘inclusive’ to a creepy stranger who is resisting help.
John was a man in queer space that was clearly conflicted about either his sexuality or sexual practices – and very willing to take that conflicted-ness out on others. How can some of us be so ‘airy faerie’ as not to notice John’s psychological similarity to the Orlando shooter in the same bloody week? Why were those faeries effectively asking the women on site to quash their well-honed instincts and ignore the danger to themselves? What a fucking betrayal!
Some people objected to the organisers calling the police
Now, I’m under no illusion that the Somerset police are angels. I know of incidents where they have treated homeless women in the area with abominable neglect and disdain. I know the police are enemies to many queer people. But consider what would have happened if the organisers hadn’t called them?
Logging an ‘incident’ with the police means they will react faster if a threatening person shows up again. John’s threats led Ananga and Bright Eyes to fear he’d turn up in the dead of night with a knife. What if they hadn’t called the police?
What if he had come back an hour later and raped or stabbed someone? What would they have said if the police or a judge asked why they hadn’t reported his previous threatening behaviour? Would you feel they’d taken sufficient care of your safety if they hadn’t reported him and as a result you were now seriously injured? Where would your ‘joyous faerie space’ be then?
Do you think your fear of the police justifies another faerie’s injuries and trauma or even death? And if you’d acted as if your fear was more important, and persuaded Ananga and Bright Eyes not to call them, wouldn’t it be reasonable for that injured or dead faerie to feel you’d sold them down the river for your own self-interest? Just finally, do you think you would have been able to avoid the police if a serious or fatal incident actually had taken place? Or would you simply have expected a rape and/or stab victim to ‘forget about it’ in order to protect you?
If I sound angry, it’s because I am
Look, I’m used to people in general being blind to the physical dangers I face because I’m female and Asian. That hurts me, but it doesn’t surprise me. What fucking infuriates me however, is when ‘inclusive’ faeries talking about ‘safe’ space, throw me under the bus.
Inclusivity and safety are life and death issues for me – not some emotional ‘cherry on the cake’. Part of my definition of inclusivity and safety is that you need to take heed when a minority group – like women – consistently raise the alarm. And you need to believe, understand their context and act promptly to protect them, without worrying about the ‘hurt’ feelings of a dangerous person or some un-thought-through ethic. We need this, and we deserve it. And, as a bonus, doing this will actually keep the cis queer and gay men among us safer as well.
A new definition of inclusivity and safety
Beyond that, the faeries cannot call themselves ‘inclusive’ without doing this. Inclusivity doesn’t just mean treating everyone different as if they’re ‘one of us’. It also means regarding their needs as equal to ours while taking the trouble to learn about how life is different for them and why. And adapting faerie space accordingly – even if it means you don’t get everything your own bloody way.
That takes real work – and resisting the temptation to think of the white, cis, male, able-bodied experience as ‘universal’ and the only ‘credible’ or ‘expert’ one, as many of us unconsciously do. It means realising you don’t know everything, actively asking the right questions of people you don’t really relate to, and then shutting up, listening and believing. And making concrete changes that you regard as a pain in the neck, because others really need them simply to feel safe and included.
If we don’t continually do this work, our inclusivity is just lip service. We’ll tacitly crowd more diverse faeries out with our attitudes and behaviour, and see them quietly drop away, until we wake up one morning and ask ourselves why the faeries are so goddamned white and male? (‘Do you know?’ ‘Gosh, no I don’t. We’ve always been very welcoming… Why don’t they like us?’)
And making a ‘safe’ space means acknowledging the very real ways that any of us – minorities especially − can be in physical danger at times. This is the lesson from Orlando. March up and down in Glastonbury as much as you like. That’s easy. But remember that honouring that lesson properly in order to keep faeries safe, is worth 1000 drag vigils.
A personal P.S.
The opinions expressed here are my own and do not in any way constitute an official statement from the Albion Faeries.
I don’t usually write this kind of blog. As a woman, what I say is questioned far more than a man would be in my place. His pronouncements are generally taken on trust. We may be faeries, but we’re all socialised ‘out there’ in the big, bad, sexist world. I’m all too aware that the comments section on a blog like this – written by a woman – will possibly attract denial or insults. I fear I may even alienate the group sufficiently that I will never really feel welcome again.
In this case, I’ve been brave because I don’t want female bodied faeries to be in danger like that a second time. And yes, before you ask, not writing blogs like this is one more way in which I ‘police’ my behaviour as a woman in public space to protect myself.
What I ask, is that if you’re a cis male faerie reading this, you give me some credit for knowing what I’m talking about. Let yourself experience my world. See through my eyes. And try to care more concretely than via mere platitudes and hugs that are ‘oh-so-easy-to-give’, for the actual faeries that are different from you in your midst.
Just finally, thank you to both the male and female faeries that ‘got’ all this immediately and supported Ananga and Bright Eyes, both at the time John was asked to leave, and later when the issue was discussed after dinner. You have helped to keep me safe.