GRTHM, the Authorship of history and getting involved
History is an othering experience for a lot of people. And by history I don't mean "Stuff that happened in the past" but more the way society in general looks at that stuff nowadays.
Since getting involved in more 'political' Traveller circles there are motifs, people feeling the same things. Not being enough, nor fitting into the category of “right kind of gypsy” which is a halcyon imagined figurine. We've got this image of the true and the untrue Traveller (it echoes the nonsense about "deserving and undeserving poor") which is about fitting into stereotypes created by bad anthropologists. There has been crafted this image of what we were like in the old days, how those lot were pure and fine but there was only a thin slither doing it right. Many Travellers have bought into these stereotypes themselves and use them to other and shame those who sit outside of their "remit", such is the power of this myth of the right kind of Traveller that we all need to mould ourselves to fit.
What about us now? Are we doing it wrong? In years to come the Black Lives Matter protests will be thought of as historical events. Covid obviously will too. We’re part of this history too. We’ve been a part of most of the history taught in schools, we’re just rarely a part of the story. And if you don’t have facts you end up with this imagined version. The stereotypes wouldn't be half as damaging if we had had the autonomy to challenge them at the time.
We need to begin authoring our own lives more. Trained or untrained, we ought to start documenting our own realities so that our stories can't be turned against us. Whenever I read an old book about Travellers of any kind I often feel like It’s a game where I’ve got to surgically remove any actual reliable content from the bullshit and fairy stories (see, all the bilge written about tarot for example) and part of the reason for this is that we’ve not documented ourselves but have been documented. Gullible gypsylorists buying pints (or whatever) for us in exchange for "traveller secrets", words or whatever were told whatever bunkum they wanted to here as long as there was still change in their wallets. The trouble is now that bunkum is written down and used as if it’s indisputable fact.
Until the last century, literacy was rarer in these groups which was part of the problem- self documentation was harder except through mediums such as storytelling and song (which obviously take on a life of their own; changing with every rendition). Now we’ve got options.
Some of us did author our own stories, but deliberately wrote rubbish (see anything by "Gipsy Petulengro"). It's hard to tell if this was due to wanting to keep things secret, giving the public what they want or just because he thought it was funny.
This is why I loved London Gypsies & Travellers mapping project. This is why we all love our old family albums.
I’m excited by the incredible stuff happening on Instagram at the minute, the Traveller-led communities springing up. We’re making inroads, getting more books published, more airtime, more self-created content but we still have a way to go. I still barely know any films that feature Travellers as anything other than decoration.
I think this lack of representation in proper mediums is why we cling to the myths of Travellerhood in people like Elvis or Picasso. We want to have been documented properly, and to have set our own agenda.
To that end, I encourage anyone to contribute to this blog right here. It doesn’t need to be specifically about the LGBT+ Traveller intersection. This is a space. Your space. Music, stories, opinions, angry angry rants (v much encouraged).
As long as we are authoring our own truths, documenting the reality, then the gypsylorists can’t do it instead. And eventually Joe Public might have a clue who we are rather than thinking of us as shady or mystical. Eventually (this is really wild thinking) we might even move past people saying “Oh I’ve never met one of you before” or “But you’re nothing like the rest of them” (often said by the same person, never once asking themselves how they know that the rest are like if I’m all they’ve ever met).
They're never gonna invite us to the table where the decisions get made if they still believe contrived stereotypes from centuries ago.
So get involved! Make something! Ask us if you need help.