I can’t write authoritatively on the experiences of all women at LRP. Previously I’ve written about being a photographer at LRP, and now it’s time for me to write about my own experiences of being a woman at LRP. I also want to say that this isn’t any slight toward PD, aside from anything else Matt is one of the few people I have met who works tirelessly to ensure absolute gender equality at the events his business runs. I’ve been assured my experiences are comparable to the experiences of women who attend all kinds of games from all different producers. I am not alone here, others are experiencing similar things.
Last year I was introduced to the concept of being ‘LRP fit’. Fortunately I didn’t hear it fall from some utter Neanderthal’s mouth, but I believe the first time I heard it was when another female crew member moaned to me about it. I laughed about how it was such a silly concept, made a comment about how I’m sure the seemingly brighter-than-average LRP community wouldn’t be so crass and then I more or less forgot about it.
LRP is a friendly hobby. People are largely very welcoming and inclusive, especially when you’re on crew. People are right when they say it’s like having a huge extended family. However people are also very intimate with each other. In many cases this is because they have known each other for years, but I found the general expectation of regularly touching people you don’t really know to be a bit much. Now, I love touching people. Human contact is a huge thing for me and in all honesty my favourite evening would probably be cuddling a good friend on the sofa in front of a film.
But generally I am also a misanthropist and hate almost everyone on this planet. I have a general distrust of people and this reflects on how much I want to touch people and be close to them. Unfortunately this distrust is relevant to what I’m writing about here. One of the reasons I largely distrust and hate men in particular (although please… I’m not a misandrist, I’m a misanthrope…) is because it seems almost impossible to be friendly with a man without him eventually asking if you can go out with each other or have sex. I am naive in many respects – if someone acts like my friend and seems to have all the qualities of a friend then I generally assume that they want to be friends with me rather than get into my knickers. When I find out that in fact they were sneakily trying to get into my knickers, it upsets me, it makes me feel slighted and to be honest, it puts a scar on my heart.
It’s not personal, I just probably don’t trust you if you’re a man. I am more likely to be open to touching people who are much older than me, in stable monogamous relationships (or who are ethical non-monogamists with a side order of radical consent), have daughters or are generally exceptional human beings. I’m sorry, it’s shit to be a young man. But that doesn’t mean I have an equal opportunities touching policy.
I am not alone here. There’s a great theory that circulates – ‘Schrodingers Rapist’ – you never know if a strange man is potentially a rapist or not and so you’re wary of them (look it up, I’m not going to go into the subtle nuances of it here). I’m going to coin a new term here – ‘Schrodingers toucher’. When you are a woman, you never know if a man is hugging you because he wants to be your friend, because he wants to have sex with you or because he wants a chance to legitimately feel up your boobs. Perhaps we could also have ‘Schrodingers LRPer’ – you never know if someone is chasing the ‘LRP fit’ until they prove definitively one way or the other. Unfortunately it’s far easier to be a dick than a decent person. Sexual innuendo and casual flirting also falls into this area. If you’re not 900% confident that the person is ok with you doing it, then do not do it. Mostly I’m not ok with that – just for the record. Sexual banter often makes me feel very uncomfortable and I think you come across like this:
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, even if I’m letting you touch me in some way, it doesn’t mean that I’m entirely comfortable with that. I generally let it happen because society says you’re a bit ungrateful if you don’t let it happen. As a man you have to remember that you are almost always the one in the position of power. Before you initiate any kind of touching with a woman who is barely an acquaintance just think twice. Perhaps forget initiating it and see what she does first. I like touching people. I don’t like touching everyone. And you shouldn’t expect that I want to touch you just because I touch others, or because others touch you.
Throughout last year I was also dating another crew member and people generally knew that. It also gave me the confidence to say things like ‘I’m sorry, I already have a partner that comes here and I’m not comfortable with adding another one’. Having a ‘line’ to feed people when they hit on you is really helpful. Although people understood I was in some kind of open relationship (and thus could date anyone I wanted at any time) it gave me an easy way to brush people off without having to give more precise reasons as to why I wasn’t interested in them.
However word got around at the first event of 2014 that my partner and I were on hiatus from our relationship. I’ll be honest, I was still quite emotionally fragile from this happening. I was looking forward to seeing my friends at the event, but at the same time I was extremely sad inside about now having the companionship during the event that I enjoyed so much. I was hoping that one would cancel out the other, but when people worked out that I wasn’t returning to the tent every night with my beau it seemed that I became a target.
I say ‘target’ because it’s true. I could also have used the words ‘fair game’ or any other nasty way of describing something that people are trying to trap. And yes, trap feels like the optimum word here I’m afraid. If guys hitting on me last year had worn me down, nothing had prepared me for what it was like to essentially be ‘single’ at a LRP event. It was a torrent. And it doesn’t stop at the events either, I also get people chatting me up on Facebook and even by sending me messages to my business emails. I am not safe anywhere.
Now, I know that there is a very standard way to think of women who don’t want this kind of attention. You’re probably thinking I’m ungrateful and that I should be really pleased for the attention. Possibly you’re even rolling your eyes and thinking about how much you’d like the attention. You might even be criticising me in your head – if you know what I look like – and suggesting I’m making it all up because I’m a pretty average human being. This is what happens when you’re ‘LRP fit’. Basically being LRP fit means that you’re a reasonable weight for your size, aren’t disfigured in some way and have half a non-broken brain. Let’s be honest, it’s a pretty fucking low standard. LRP fit means that you might not be considered ‘fit’ in wider society, but because women are traditionally in such short supply in geek culture, it means they’ll settle for something average so that they’re in with a chance of a fuck. You’re essentially a trophy. And they don’t even like you that much
Imagine how that feels for a moment. Should you be honoured to have been selected because you’re not fat and not ugly? Is that really a compliment? I mean you have to remember that these guys probably know nothing about you, they know very little about your interests, your hobby… your brain… all they know about you is what you look like and that a few weekends a year you enjoy being someone else. Possibly because you’re fed up of being treated like shit in the real world because you’re a woman.
So now I guess you’re maybe thinking ‘well, perhaps you are just more attractive than you realise and maybe they read your blog and so also enjoy your big juicy brain. Stop being so ungrateful.’ I can see your point. I mean, I think I’m hot, the beau thinks I’m better than average (although refuses to commit to anything more specific than that) and I certainly do have a helluva brain on me. But alas, if it were true then surely I’d also get regularly hit on by people in other social circles. I don’t. It’s also interesting because I actively go against societal norms with the way I look, which means that an even smaller pool of people find me attractive in general. I shave my head, I don’t wear make up, I don’t shave my leg or armpit hair and I generally make no effort to be ‘feminine’ or similar. In fact unless you’ve seen me go out running in the mornings at a LRP event, you’ve probably only ever seen me wearing men’s clothes or occasionally leggings. So you’re really trying to tell me that this small group of people who might find me jaw-droopingly attractive just all happen to be LRPers who converge on the same system? I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it. I am LRP fit.
What irritates me most is the way that this caught me by surprise. It took a long time to settle in to the crew environment, I’m not the kind of person who just fits in. I’m socially awkward, I’m introverted and I don’t like large groups of people. But I want to further my creative career and so I knew that I had to bite the bullet and do something like this. Over the past year it had become a ‘safe’ environment for me. One where I could go and know I wasn’t going to get hassled as much as normal but all that changed as soon as I effectively became single again. Once where I could genuinely be myself and at the same time just enjoy some photography that was fun.
For the more observant amongst you, you’ll notice that time in has happened and I should now be taking pictures in a field of LRPers. I’m not. I’m still sitting on my sofa at home in Banbury, 20 minutes away from site. Yesterday the last straw happened. The one that broke the camels back.
You see, I got an email from another crew member at midday yesterday while I was at site. I picked it up thankfully while I was surrounded by some good people (yes, they’re currently ranking amongst those rare humans that I hate marginally less than most others) and I managed to have a joke about it. But it stung more than I let on and last night after going home I ended up cuddled up on the sofa in floods of tears with probably the closest thing I have to a best friend while he reassured me that it wasn’t me being an idiot, but in fact everyone else is more or less just shit.
I’d like to list some key phrases that came out of my mouth last night on the drive back from site and during the reassurance-based-hug-fest that followed:
- I wish that I could just go to site and take pictures without worrying about being hassled because I’m female.
- I wish that people would get to know me before asking if I would like a relationship.
- I wish that people would stop assuming that I’ll have sex with anyone because I am ethically non-monogamous and identify as single.
- I wish that I didn’t feel obliged to touch people.
- I wish that I didn’t feel obliged to let people make sexual comments towards me.
- I wish that I didn’t have to dress in nondescript clothing to try to prevent drawing attention to myself.
- If I could put on ten stone in weight for an event and then lose it straight afterwards, I would.
- I sometimes want to deface my body and face to the point where no one would consider flirting with me. Just so that I can concentrate on doing what I’m there for – taking photographs.
- I just want to feel emotionally safe while on site.
The email that I got yesterday triggered that last point.
I got an email via my business website from an anonymous crew member. The email stated that he had seen me around, found me ‘hot’ and was therefore emailing me because he had a proposal. The gist of it was that he would like to pay me money to have a secret relationship with him because he doesn’t have a good relationship with the woman he is about to marry.
I’m going to write this in a paler colour here, because I feel that I should provide some explanation as to how he might have come to these assumptions.
I’m a very self aware person. If you know me then you probably already know this. I have a massive amount of natural curiosity and this has led me to being the person that I am. I’m a political activist, a feminist, I’m sexually liberated and above all I’m in an ethically non-monogamous relationship. That word ethical – it’s absolutely crucial to me. I made the decision at some point over a year ago that I didn’t want to let people into my life who were less ethical than me when it came to their relationships. Yes, I’m taking the moral high-ground here because I decided to stop having affairs with people and generally being an insensitive person.
He’s got the idea that he might be able to pay me to have sex with him because I was told about a website called SeekingArrangements. Although it’s clearly primarily targeting the ‘sugar daddy’ market if you look at it, it was mentioned to me that actually bright young women can often find benefactors on these sites. People who will sponsor them through their education if they like – perhaps buying books, art materials or helping out with the bills when times are hard at university. In return they enjoy the young woman’s company, perhaps they might go to an art gallery together, a lovely restaurant and so forth. Often these guys are people who are successful businessmen who have not had time to have a family and who want to spoil someone and help them out. Of course it runs right through to the other end of the scale where it’s just like seeing your favourite regular prostitute for a quickie in your office. But I was interested – although I was sceptical about the whole thing and almost certainly would have not involved myself in such a relationship. I was curious. And actually, I’m academically interested in the power balance in academic and artist situations, with benefactors and patrons. It’s a topic I’m considering for my PhD – but that’s a long way off. So I had a profile on this website – and it specifically said that I wasn’t interested in any sexual relationship of any kind for money.
I’m telling you this so that you can understand that there was a reason for his assumptions and so that I can’t be accused of not telling the whole story.
So anyway. This crew member made a huge assumption. He made the assumption that I would be willing to have sex with him for money when it suited him and that presumably I wouldn’t tell anyone else on crew, or his soon-to-be wife.
Do you know what the worst bit is? It’s the anonymity. If he’d approached me in person I’d have said ‘I’m really not interested, don’t ask me again’ and walked off. But he sent me a specifically anonymous email from an account that he has made in order to find people to cheat on his wife with. I know this because I’m smart and I used the power of the internet last night to work backwards and find him in various places.
Having him anonymous is intimidating. Last night I felt like I wasn’t going to go back to site today – even though he specified that he wasn’t there this weekend. I then decided that I wouldn’t be going back to Empire at all, because the risk of emotional damage is far too high. And then of course I had to wipe out Odyssey too – my favourite – because all I knew was that he was on crew, I didn’t know if that only meant Empire or if it meant Odyssey too. And then it dawned on me – he could easily attend other LRP’s too. He also noted in his email that he was local to me, so it meant that there was a high chance of him attending any LRP that I went to in the future.
Fortunately I had a decent human being on hand to tell me that I should blog about it because I’m such an intelligently brilliant writer (nb: may or may not be true) and that instead of hiding away and trying to find a new hobby (where it will probably happen again) I should make people aware that this shit is happening and it’s the reason why I’m now scared to go back to LRP – and thus still sitting on my sofa watching the rain hit the glass.
However. This guy, clearly he assumes that women are dumb. I mean firstly he’s pretty confident that his soon-to-be-wife will not notice that he’s having an affair (pro tip – we almost always know). Secondly he assumed that I wouldn’t work out who he is. Well, I’m afraid I’m not as dumb as you thought James (not his real name – the one that he used in the email). Because in fact I have worked out what your real name is and I do know who you are. I know who you are on crew and what you do.
This is no idle threat. I do not take kindly to being sexually objectified in this way. I do not take kindly to people having such little respect for me that they assume I’m happy to play ‘the other woman’ at their convenience. I do not take kindly to being turned into a sex toy for your use because I’m LRP fit. I do not take kindly to being made to feel so emotionally vulnerable and scared when doing something that I absolutely love that I currently don’t ever want to do it again.
I will work out who your future wife is. I will contact her. I will tell her exactly what you have done. Not today, not this week. Maybe not this month. But at some point, sometime in the future, perhaps when you’re married, she will find out. She will find out how little respect you have for her and how you cannot be honest with her. I hope she chooses to do the right thing with that information. I hope she chooses to be brave.
You see, what you don’t realise, James (not your real name), is that I had a really hard choice to make two years ago. I met this wonderful man who just lit up my life in a way that had never happened before. He showed me that it was possible to live a brilliant, ethical, non-monogamous life. I had a very hard decision to make and I asked my monogamous partner if we could open out our relationship. Unfortunately I lost my partner – someone who I loved deeply. And cared about. And who I so desperately wanted to be with. But at least now I can live honestly. It’s not been easy. In fact it’s been really hard. But I have worked really fucking hard to get to this stage in my life where honesty is everything to me. You should try it sometime. But I warn you, it’s hard.
And from looking you up on the internet, James (not your real name), I can tell that you’re a bright person. Brilliant in fact. Better than average. So be better than average. It’s hard, but the rewards are worth it.
I’m going to wrap this up now, because I’m already hovering at around 3500 words. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far.
I believe there is something in LRP called Rule 7. Something about not being a dick. Apply it ruthlessly. Please.
(With special thanks to some exceptional human beings in my life. Simon, Kol, Illiani, David for being good eggs and Andy for pretty much being my surrogate Dad at events. As well as the ever present feminist support network in the Monster Hut. You guys are the reason I’m about to get off my sofa, get into my car and drag my ass back to site. Just in time for lunch. Not to mention Matt, who has created an environment where I feel empowered to speak out about this without repercussion. Because it’s just not acceptable.)