Cultural Quirks of Fighting in An Tir, or, Musings on Why the Inspirational Equality Movement May Have Started Here

Ariel de Courtenay, one of the founders of the Inspirational Equality advocacy group, offers an opinion on what about An Tir's culture may have caused this movement to originate in that particular kingdom.

Mistress Ariel writes:

In all the swirl around the board rulings on same-gender couple leadership last weekend, there has been little time to step back and take stock of the larger picture in which this remarkable cultural shift is taking place. Why did the idea of Inspirational Equality catch fire now? How is it spreading so rapidly? And why, in particular, did it start in An Tir?

First of all, on a Society (SCA) level, many factors have come together to make this THE historical moment for our movement. These include increased acceptance and visibility of gay folks in the Society, a shift in SCA BoD openness to membership interests signified by the first ever broad-based SCA census, and, here in An Tir, the reign of a King and Queen who are not just supportive of the rights of same-gender couples, but passionately, actively, out-spokenly supportive.

Place these shifts in the context of the increasingly critical mass in the modern U.S. and around the world concerning issues of gay rights, not to mention larger political shifts toward defending the rights of individuals against dehumanizing corporate and governmental forces, and it makes sense why this message is so resonant for so many members of our organization just now.

As one of the initiators of the facebook group for Inspirational Equality and one of the three fighters who petitioned to enter An Tir September Crown this summer (2011) with a same-gender inspiration, I've found myself in the right place at the right time, as it were--at a kind of crossroads of very different constituencies who all want to be on the "right side of history" as we make this game the best it can be.

The three of us who have taken the lead in this movement in An Tir bring a diversity to the effort that we like to joke about--we are a Knight, a Laurel, and a Pelican (/Laurel); a lesbian, a gay man, and a straight person; a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim persona; a Canadian, a Canadian ex-pat, and an American--but at heart, we are actually more alike than we are different, and most of all, we are very much An Tirians.

One interesting side effect of starting Inspirational Equality has been that I have learned that there are aspects of culture--fighting culture in particular--that I have always taken for granted, which are actually quite different kingdom to kingdom. I've learned that, unlike in An Tir, there are kingdoms where prospective combatants in Crown Lists must submit a letter a month in advance, where entrants are vetted for SCA experience and resources, or where it is deemed honorable only to enter Crown lists if you are a serious contender. These are all fine ways of doing things, but, provincial girl that I am, I had never even realized they existed.

There are also some interesting traditions and cultural patterns in An Tir that involve the more subtle aspects of our attitudes toward Crown competition and inspiration. I have less of a sense how much these traditions vary kingdom to kingdom, but I thought I'd reflect on them a little to see whether it helps clarify where some of the An Tirian thinking around Inspirational Equality may have arisen. I have a sense that, just as I am surprised by traditions in other kingdoms, things we take for granted here might seem very strange elsewhere.

1. An Tir lists are wide open. Anyone may sign up until an hour before the tourney, and the only requirements are that fighter and consort are both members, that the fighter have an up-to-date fighter authorization card, and that the fighter is willing to take the oath to fulfill the duties of the office, if victorious. There may also be a requirement that the entrant have no legal impediment to crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Some tourneys have a few other requirements for the day like certain types of weapons or shields, but rules like that are not very common. This means that most of the time, anyone can fight--even people from other kingdoms (which is how we were ruled once by a king who lived in the West). It also means we have enormous lists and multiple fields--often over 80 people, at least 8 erics, and a list processional that takes over an hour. Quite a show!

2. In An Tir, it is considered honorable for anyone to enter Crown, no matter how new to fighting. It is considered honorable to enter even if you have next to no chance of winning as long as you are willing to engage with integrity and bring your best fight. Entering Crown is a way to test your mettle against the best, to see and be seen by the high-level fighting community--the one tourney where everyone who is anyone shows up. Sentiments such as feeling you made a difference because "the victor had to go through me" or viewing participation as "casting your vote" are common. Simply the chance to fight on the biggest stage in the kingdom is the point of the day, no matter how quickly you are out. That is why, in An Tir perhaps more than other places, being barred entry is a loss IN AND OF ITSELF. The harm of the same-gender ban is not simply the loss of the chance to win for your inspiration, it is the loss of the chance to enter at all.

3. An Tirian Crowns almost never get involved with list entry choices. Although An Tir Crowns have the same right as any other Crown to turn aside entrants whom They do not find acceptable, it is done so rarely as to be almost unknown. This is why it was such a powerful and moving demonstration when King Thorin and Queen Dagmaer agreed to turn away the six of us from Their lists. (Thank you to Queen Dagmaer for making this point, and to King Thorin as well for welcoming our demonstration in Your court.)

4. An Tir has a strong tradition of actively addressing issues of honor. An Tir chivalry, and especially the Kings, Dukes, Counts and Viscounts (of whom we have a great number, having four principalities) actively enforce honorable engagement in the tournament. They do this primarily through subtle peer pressure and comments, but through more active means when necessary. This might include consultation with former crowns watching the fights, and group discussions with the fighter(s) involved, halting the tourney briefly, if necessary. Even at the most forceful, however, such intervention almost always takes the form of calm and honorable dialog. In most cases, those singled out are assumed to have their own version of events and to be acting out-of-step through misconception rather than malice. Very occasionally, someone will be removed from the list by royal edict--such decisions are respected as final due to our strong ethic of "King's word is law." While dialog is common, I have never seen a King or Duke step in and martially challenge a fighter of concern, though, as far as I am aware, They have that right. Finally, because An Tir chivalry is so proactive at promoting honorable engagement, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking an approach to Crown Tourney about which some question of honor goes un-remarked or un-confronted.

5. An Tir Crown tourney is the activity of the day. There are no other tournaments at the same time, no other heavy tournaments on the day, and pretty much no other significant single-combat tournies on the weekend (maybe a torch-light tourney some evening or pick-up on the empty erics). If you want to fight that day, Crown lists is where you do it.

6. An Tir prides itself on being a little defiant, a little on the fringe. Back in our distant history, we were the rebellious teen who broke away from Mama West, and that ethic of pride in thinking like a new generation or like an outpost on the edge has never waned.

7. A very large part of An Tir, geographically, is a country with much more liberal laws on gay rights than the United States. Canada has sexual orientation anti-discrimination written into the constitution and is one of only a few countries in the world that has equal marriage. (Thanks to Maestro Eduardo, our resident Canadian for pointing this out.) As mentioned above, two of the three couples who petitioned for entry into the An Tir lists in September were Canadian.

8. An Tir has a very generous travel budget for the Crown. Our huge geographic area across two countries necessitates this--the fund was set up so that remote areas are more likely to see the Crown. Without that, we might very well see some sort of financial requirements for our entrants. (Thanks to Queen Dagmaer for this point.)

9. Finally, An Tir culture elevates inspiration to a degree which can be, at times, somewhat mystical. (I find this to be true across An Tirian culture, even in discussions of peerlike qualities in the Laurels' meeting, for example, there is a sense that when we are inspired in our work by a partner or mentor, we are more than the sum of our skills and accomplishments.) Success at fighting is deemed to be much more than simple technique--inspiration is what takes us to the next level. An Tirian are willing to allow that "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." We approach the field knowing we might not fully understand every force at play. For example, we take semi-seriously such rules as not allowing writing on shields that might give a magical or spiritual advantage (mentally, if not literally). The idea that you would not fight as well championing someone other than your inspiration is taken quite seriously indeed. That indefinable, unquantifiable fire giving boost to your performance--when you have the support of the one who stands by you, when you hold the faith of the one you champion, when you "salute the one who truly inspires you"--is a deeply embedded value in the way we An Tirians play the game.

I am not saying that these values are not practiced in other kingdoms--I am sure they are in many equally honorable variations. I am simply musing that the quirky set of values that makes An Tir An Tir were particularly ripe for the birth of a new movement.

This movement is no longer an An Tirian movement. As we expand, it is essential to grow and mold the inspirational equality idea to fit each kingdom in its own way. That is one of the reasons we started the Inspirational Equality facebook group--to reach out and see how this idea applies everywhere, in every kingdom, not just in our own lovely, quirky realm.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of or its staff.