Thursday, November 23, 2023

Fall 1991: Outing a Medieval Knight

Ever since my junior high boyfriend Dan and I plotted to escape to Saudi Arabia, I have been plagued by sudden obsessions with countries or historical periods: Russia, China, Renaissance Italy, the Middle Ages, and so on.   Suddenly it's all I can think of.  I buy 1,000 books, start learning the language, plan trips, and decide to devote my professional life to it.  For 3 months, 6 months, maybe a year, and then it fades away.

In 1991, I became obsessed with Ancient Israel. I bought 1000 books on the topic, studied Biblical Hebrew, planned a trip to Israel, and applied to university programs in Old Testament Studies.

Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee admitted me, so I drove out in August 1991, got a small apartment near the campus and an adjunct teaching job, and registered for classes.

My partner stayed in West Hollywood, but we had an open relationship, so I started dating.  The first guy I dated was a Medieval knight.

In the mundane world he was a buffed, bearded high-school history teacher named Larry, but in "real life" he was Lucien de Peletier from the Shire of Galedenfeld in the Kingdom of Meridies (the Society for Creative Anachronism, which "recreates the culture of Medieval Europe," divides the U.S. into regional "kingdoms").

Vanderbilt Divinity School
Lucien signed his letters "1191" instead of "1991," listened to Medieval music instead of rock or country-western, and pretended to know nothing of current events.

That was all fine with me.  The problem was, he was strictly closeted, not only at work (which was understandable), but among his SCA friends.

"But you dress in Medieval costumes and joust each other," I pointed out.  "Surely they would be ok with gay people."

"It's not historically accurate.  There weren't any gay people in the Middle Ages, so my character is straight."

No gay people in the Middle Ages?  Of course there were some. Lots.

In October he invited me to the SCA Harvest Banquet, but cautioned that we had to bring female dates.

After six years in West Hollywood, I wasn't going to stand for closeting!

The banquet was held in a private room at F. Scott's Restaurant and Jazz Bar, about 20 people in costume and a dozen in street clothes.  I came stag, and sat next to a heavily-embarrassed Lucien and his "date", a middle-aged English professor named Dame Lucille.

When it came time to dance, I walked up to a young, cute bard and said something like "Prithee, in my land of West Holly-Wood, it is customary for men to wont their troth upon whoever they find smokin', be they swains or maids.  Wouldst dance with me?"  (They don't really talk like that.)

The bard grinned.  "T'would be a scandal, milord!"

"If it be scandal, then let the tongues wag."

There were, indeed, a lot of stares and whispers as we joined a roundelay, breaking up the boy-girl-boy pattern.

I glanced over at Lucien.  He was staring ashen-faced.

When the dance ended, I approached Lucien and Dame Lucille.  "Ah, another goodly squire, pleasant of mien, hot of bod.  Lady, prithee allow me to borrow him for a dance?"

Giggling, she nodded, but Lucien growled, "Are you crazy?"

"If this be madness, then send me to bedlam, milord.  I die for a single dance."

"Stay in character!  There weren't any gay people in the Middle Ages!"

"Then, perhaps a kiss, such as that Sir Gawain bestowed upon his swain."

"He speaks sooth, milord," Dame Lucille said.  "It's in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."

All eyes were trained on me as I bent down.  For a moment I thought Lucien was going to permit the kiss.   Then suddenly he pushed me roughly away, jumped up from his chair, knocking over a wine glass, and ran from the room.

The bard and I had to give Dame Lucille a ride home.  That was the last I heard of Lucien.

The story of my semester in Nashville continues here, with my date with the country-western singer.  At least, I thought he was a country-western signer.

Today gay people, "the blue feathers," are fully accepted in most kingdoms of  SCA.  In 2011 the Board of Directors ruled that barons could have same-sex consorts, but crown contenders "must be fighting for a consort of the opposite gender."

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