I’m Still Here!

Exams are over (possibly forever if I don’t get a postgraduate degree), and the crafting has taken over! So, whilst watching Django Unchained and Les Miserables on glorious Blu-ray, I’ve been working solidly at all the re-enacting things I need to get done for the next show I’m going to – Bolsover Castle, which is this weekend! 

It’s one of English Heritage’s new tournament shows, which I have only heard described as a “rugby match with shields and chainmail”. Needless to say, if I don’t come back, you all know why. There promises to be some living history at this show, as well, so I should be able to spin and weave in my new outfit (I would say it’s “peasant”, but I only have a white wimple and a leather belt, so I’m higher status than that….)! 

After that, next week is also the show at Tintagel, which promises to be at the very least interesting. Last year has gone down in the history books as god-awful (flying tents, terrifying stairs, ballista bolts flying backwards…. You get the idea), but this time around English Heritage is supplying caravans for the re-enactors, and there is talk of pub food every night. Needless to say, I am going to enjoy it a lot, no matter what the weather. 

I’ll be back on the Friday, but then on the Saturday we’re doing the Vale Festival with the University Guild of Students. I am going to be VERY sore on the Sunday.

Basically, I’m still here, but I am going to be very busy this next week.

So you soon!

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“Cross-Dressing” in Re-enactment

Recently a friend of mine produced a report for their MA about “cross-dressing” in re-enactment. It looked at the question as to whether individuals should be allowed to “cross-dress” in re-enactment or in living history, and it showed some cross-re-enactment issues that I think have to be addressed.

The first is the term “cross-dressing”. It’s used a lot in re-enactment to describe women dressing as men, and (less common in re-enactment) men dressing as women. Unfortunately, whilst my group is very open to gender issues, not everyone in re-enactment knows about the problem with this term. Personally, I thought it was an out-dated term, and only heard people use it when I started re-enactment. Specifically, when I heard about the English Heritage rule that there is no “cross-dressing” allowed in living history any more. The problem is that it buys into the idea that there is a gender binary, when it is in fact very fluid – like sexuality. When linked to the livinghistory.co.uk forum discussing this (and no, I will not link as it is a vile discussion), it became very clear that influential members in that community did not understand this concept.

It was interesting the number of older, male re-enactors who personally objected to women being on the battlefield. There seemed to be a consensus of “well, if she makes an effort to look male, then it’s ok – she’ll be far away from the audience anyway, so any femininity won’t be noticed”. Ok, let’s deconstruct this view.

1. “makes an effort to look male”. What does this even mean? What constitutes as “male”? This is based on a social construct of masculinity. Does this also mean that feminine men shouldn’t be on the battlefield? Then there are those who look masculine without much effort. For clarity, take Brienne of Tarth from Game of thrones.

Brienne of Tarth

I think it’s safe to say that she would “pass” as male without much effort. And to balance this, would they object to these males taking to the field? From the sounds of it, they probably wouldn’t – so why allow feminine males on the field and bar masculine women?

2. “she’ll be far away from the audience, so they won’t notice it, so it’s ok”. This seems to assume that no matter how much effort you put in to appearing masculine, the audience will always magically notice if it’s a women. So we shouldn’t even bother then? This also completely ignores the fact that the majority of re-enactment involves helmets, headgear, and quite frankly very unflattering armour for protection. Under all that, I would be amazed if any women bothered to try and be masculine. In some cases (like Anglo-Saxon or Viking re-enactment), you can only see the eyes of the re-enactor! How are you meant to discern their gender, let alone their sex, from that?!

There was even a view expressed on the forum that they liked fighting against women, because they gave light hits, and tired easily, so you wouldn’t get hurt, but would be able to easily win the fight. Please tell me what isn’t sexist about this? Yes, the comment about light hits should be a compliment, but the context of the comment makes it sound like women in re-enactment are weak – I can hit just as hard as any of the men in my group, and lots of the guys are perfectly capable of soft hits. And don’t get me started on the comment about women getting tired easily. I don’t think it needs to be said how sexist that view is.

At least there seemed to be some sort of agreement about women in combat – it’s fine, they want to have fun too, and it wouldn’t ruin the overall aesthetic. However. As soon as women portraying men in living history was discussed, the shit hits the fan. Now, the EH rules are that there shouldn’t be any “cross-dressing”. Looking at re-enactment in general, men tend to want to portray men and do fun things like being a merchant, being a guard, being a wealthy knight in shiny maille, smithing, so on and so forth. Women in re-enactment have interests that are a bit broader. There’s the typical embroidery, spinning, weaving, cooking and cleaning, but it seems a bit silly to assume that all women would like doing these activities in living history. Personally, I like it, but I would like to try smithing, and guard duty is a lot of fun. And some of the men enjoy doing these as well, but you have to be dressed appropriately to do any of these activities. Men can get away with doing more of these activities than women (especially in my period). It just seems to restrict what women can do disproportionately to what men can do. As soon as the public get close, it seems to be unacceptable to be working on maille whilst dressed as a male, because (shock, horror) you don’t have the correct genitalia. How is this fair? I want to do everything the guys do, but because some old, cis  (men whose sex – genitalia – matches up with what they identify as – men or women), white men have decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate, I’m not allowed. Imagine being told that you can’t do science or, you know, drive a car because it wouldn’t be appropriate. Oh, wait, that happens elsewhere and we’re in uproar about it. And before you say that’s a different case – no it isn’t. It’s telling a specific demographic that they can’t do something because of a small physical difference from those in power. Granted, driving a car is more of a necessity, and re-enactment doesn’t have as dire a consequence if we can’t do it, but it IS the same mindset.

English Heritage’s excuse for this is that it “confuses the audience”. Now, I find that this just insults the audience. I’m pretty sure the audience are clever enough to realise that whilst I myself am not male, this is something men would have done. They understand that we are PORTRAYING something from history. We are, essentially, actors. Yet this same problem isn’t raised when it happens in films (like Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There), even when it’s whitewashing the race of the main characters (see The Impossible for the most recent example of this). Because of risk assessments (where you have to assume the public are stupid), re-enactors seem to give the audience a lot less credit than they should be given. The people who attend the shows I go to are either kids who don’t care if I’m a woman – in their eyes, I’m dressed as a knight, so I’m a knight – or academics or amateur historians who understand that this is a portrayal, and we will never get to “true” historical attitudes or accuracy.

All of these reasons pale in comparison to what the trans re-enactment community must feel about this (yes, they exist). Because of this outdated view from the cis white men in charge of shows that gender is fixed, not fluid, it leads to a fundamental misunderstanding about the plight of the trans community. I don’t have the figures for the UK to hand, but in the United States, 41% of transgendered people said they had attempted suicide. The average for the United States is about (unless my maths is wrong) 0.1%. Think of that for a second. More than HALF of the tras community has not only thought of suicide, but tried to carry it out. Do you see the discrepancy?

So why is this? Well, it’s partially due to unhelpful views like “gender is fixed”. No, gender is fluid. You can have more than one, and you can flick between them in the blink of an eye. Even genitalia isn’t fixed – many children are born with ambiguous genitalia. Some girls are born with large clitorises, and some boys are born with very small penises. Just to point out: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS (a rant may come soon regarding surgically changing children’s genitalia, but it’s for a different post). Despite this, there are surgeries out there who will perform “correctional” surgery on these children, and can cause untold harm. But I digress.

I like to think that transgendered individuals have this figured out, but they live in a world where many people haven’t. This means they are misunderstood, and may develop psychological problems because of societal pressures. For example, with living history, do they follow their true gender (and therefore their true personality), or do what they are told and follow the role their genitalia dictate? If anything, I would say it is immoral to make transgendered people do the role as dictated by their sex. Those who are uncomfortable with their bodies would already find it hard – imagine having a shower and having to wash those areas of your body that you don’t even feel are your own – without being reminded during their hobby about the discrepancy between their sex and gender. A hobby (especially re-enactment) is supposed to allow you to escape from your normal life and do something different from the norm, not remind you of the outside world in the harshest way possible. Yes, they could surgically transition, but some don’t want to have surgery (let alone those who are discriminated against by the medical community, so don’t feel like they can approach their doctor about it. There is enough on that for another post, so I’ll leave it at that). Some are happy having a different gender to their sex. They have to deal instead with people expecting them to be feminine or masculine as defined by their genitalia, and not themselves.

Unfortunately for now, the view about this seems to be “if you don’t like it, do a different hobby”. This attitude needs to change. Re-enactment is where I found the most lovely, understanding people, and my entire friendship circle focusses on re-enactment. The group I am with is one of the most open, welcoming groups ever, and it seems a shame that other groups aren’t as welcoming. I even came across a group (who I shan’t name for fairness) who categorically say no women at all. It seems to me that attitudes within re-enactment need to change and drastically need an update. Hopefully my group will lead in example, and make re-enactment the realm not just for old, cis, white, wealthy men, but for everyone else who wants to have some fun, or are interested in history.

Two-handed Spear

Last weekend I tried out a new weapon – the two-handed spear. I’ve been wanting to try it out for a while, for the simple reason that what I normally use (a long axe) isn’t a very competitive weapon, and I’m a little sick of not winning things. This was also partly why I picked up florentine (I’ve refined it now to an axe and mace), but I wasn’t exactly going to pass up an opportunity to try a new weapon 😛

Initially, it seemed pretty simple. Just poke it in eight points for the eights, and block the head shot as if I was using a long axe. Simple! And then the combat started…. We had a “loser stays in” round, and it soon transpired that there are two ways of fighting with a spear – I like to call them “grr, blargy-warg”, and “pokey pokey”. Not very technical, I know. In non-in-my-head-speak, the first involves a lot more wrestling with the spear, and the second is just poking, poking, and more poking. Turns out I’m pretty good at the pokey pokey way!

I think the hardest thing is remembering to be safe with it, so mainly having the back hand higher than the front hand so it won’t accidentally go into someone’s face. Although, once that’s cemented in your mind, it isn’t that difficult. Unless you have the group spears…. They’re insanely light and long, so they have a lot of bend in them. They literally wobble. It’s a little disconcerting trying to get someone on the side of their body, and the end of the spear decides you’re aiming somewhere else…..

Anyway, I think I’m going to end up buying one, as I enjoyed myself with it. And I’d be able to use it for a man-at-arms character, and not have to wear maille! Huzzah!

Loom-pouch

One of my old pouches gave up on me a few days ago. The drawstrings snapped, rendering it pretty much useless.
ImageThe thing is, I really liked the pouch. It may be odd, but I like the decoration on it – simplicity is king, I always think. So I was thinking of ways to re-use the decoration. After my recent purchase of Agnes, I noticed that between projects my heddle, shuttle and beater could very easily go missing. 

This is my solution:

ImageIt’s made of green wool, with 100% wool plaited drawstrings and wool decoration from the old pouch in the middle. It looked a bit bland, so I decided to embroider two red crosses on it and do a border in blanket stitch with yellow linen thread. I don’t know how authentic it is, as it’s used crewel wool, chain and blanket stitch, and french knots.

I was really quite proud of myself with this, as I hand stitched all of it in linen thread – normally I just get the sewing machine out and have done with it in five minutes. This time I thought I would put some effort into it, and I’m pretty proud of it.

It’s become a bit of a trend with my crafting recently – I seem to actually be spending more than half an hour on small projects, and I think that’s because I’m trying to be as authentic as I possibly can. I was even toying with the idea of hand-stitching my peasant’s dress in linen thread! When that project materialises I shall let you know what happens with it.

 

 

The new addiction: Agnes, the loom

So I may have a thing with naming my re-enactment stuff. My long axe is Damage, my sword is Audrey, and now my loom is called Agnes.

Agnes!

Agnes!

She’s not a full-sized loom, but is designed for doing heddle or tablet weaving to create braids. The society I’m involved with has a  dire shortage of braids (and after experimenting, I’ve decided the profit margins for selling braids are insane), so hopefully this will help solve the problem!

Agnes is made by the wonderful Lucy the Tudor, and is made so you can weave (or ”loom”, as it has come to be called in my house) braids on your lap whilst you do living history. So you do your normal heddle/tablet weaving, but wind the braid across so you don’t use so much room. With the Great British weather as it is at the moment, that’ll serve well in the probably wet summer.

I’ve now experimented with my heddle weaving with both non-authentic yarn (to get used to the motions) and 100% wool yarn (to see how authentic yarn works as a braid). I’ll post an image of how I’ve been doing heddle weaving, and hopefully you guys can let me know what I’m doing wrong or give any suggestions. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been guesswork, so hopefully any help will make the braids lovely 🙂

The next stage is now decorating Agnes so it’s definitely mine – another member of the group has one, and it would be a good idea to differentiate them. I’m also going to make a little bag for the heddle, beater and shuttle so I don’t lose them in between projects.

Dagger!

One of the most crucial things I’ve been needing for ages is a dagger. It sounds silly, but during combat it’s the best thing if you get disarmed. 

But it’s harder than it sounds to get an authentic dagger.

One of the most annoying aspects of re-enacting the early medieval period is that because not many people do it, there isn’t much demand for it, resulting in getting very disappointed at trade shows. And that’s just for Western daggers. Eastern weapons are even harder to get hold of, but that’s for another post. Basically, I was sick of finding seaxes, and stilleto daggers. So I ordered one off  Wieland Forge. Because he knows the group, he knew precisely what I needed. This is the gorgeous result:ImageThe picture isn’t great (again, I need a better camera…), but I’m sure you can see how wonderful it is. The problem with getting daggers like this is that everyone wants to decorate the pommel, but the most authentic pommel is a simple disc pommel, with a straight crossguard (many are curved somehow). Just for a sense of the size of it, it’s pretty much a hobbit sword – it’s over a foot long! The braid around the pommel is purely to differentiate my dagger from my fiancée’s otherwise identical dagger.

Now it just needs a name and a sheath….

 

Florentine

Normally, I use a Dane Axe for training. I’m not amazing with it, but I’ve passed the safety test for it and I’m not awful at it. I just need to be faster.

I decided I really ought to try something new. Considering how I am naturally slow, the choice was not one you’d expect. Yes, I chose florentine.

I decided to use both a hand axe and a mace. It was….. interesting….

I actually had to run a lot more, just so that I could get in range of people to do some damage. It was also a bit of a mindfuck (excuse the language). I could actually use my shield arm for attacking! A lot of this “attacking” was just pushing weapons aside with the heavy mace and hit someone with my axe.

Because of this realisation of just how heavy my mace is, I’m going to be cutting some off the end of the shaft and then re-painting it, so pictures shall follow soon!

I also looked at my hand axe afterwards, and it was more battered than normal. The wood at the top of the shaft had been hit so badly that it was more likely to cause an injury than the blade! So I also will be covering that bit of the axe with leather to try and stop it from being so damaged that it’ll shatter at the first hit. Again, photos shall follow.

What I also didn’t realise was just how tiring it was. If you are using sword and shield, you only need to use one arm strenuously, and the other can rest every now and again. Dane axe, whilst being more physically intensive, still gives your arms a rest mid-way through the swing or you can rest it on the ground whilst still looking awesome. Not so with florentine. You have to keep both arms up at all times for defense, and when you’re tired, you can only put your weapons on your shoulders if you want to still look awesome (a key factor, as you might have guessed). So your arms are never rested unless you’ve actually put your weapons down or sheathed them. So during a 3 hour training session, it took it’s toll. Of course, I couldn’t tell just how much of a toll until the next morning, but still.

I still found it a lot of fun, though. I’ll definitely be using it a lot more, and I might even get pretty good at it! I might even get some kills during competitive fights for once!

The message from this post is: fun=pain