Identity is a messy subject for a lot of people. In reality, the idea of being 100% something is ridiculous. There are so many ways of measuring how you identify. Someone could describe me as a male bisexual Showman and it would be accurate and also a dreadful description of who I am. It tells you nothing about who I am, really. Further, I’ve got enough Romany blood that some people at GRT (an acronym I’m growing to despise) events have said I ought to claim that I’m part or half Romany; as if there’s an unspoken amount of history that means you’re allowed at the table, ignoring the situation today and instead entering into a strange inter-generational pissing contest. I don’t claim that not because it’s not there or it’s not important but that it’s not who I am today.
At Traveller Pride, one of our guiding principles has been inclusion. People from Traveller groups can often feel like they don’t fit in well enough with what it means to be a Traveller, particularly those of us who’re not straight. We didn’t want to create a situation where you felt excluded by even the LGBT+ Traveller group. So to us we aren’t interested in racial purity (an ideology best left with the Nazis) or whether you know enough of the slang, or recipes, or traditions to count. For us your Traveller identity is about whether it resonates to you.
And when we say Traveller we are talking about a range of groups. Romany Gypsies, Scottish Travellers, Irish Travellers, New Travellers, Boaters, Showmen, Roma, Sinti, Bargees, Circus people, Van Dwellers etc.
This isn’t always as neat and lovely as the above makes it sound, however. Because if everyone is treated as belonging equally then what can easily end up happening, is that those who are the most privileged will speak over others. This is rarely intentional, of course, but it happens. I’ve been in many meetings about nomadism with Travellers who’ve always been settled. It’s not to say that if you’ve never travelled you won’t be able to advocate for those that do, but it’s about the breadth of the voices.
Likewise, a perceived problem with being as inclusive as we are is that it muddies the definitions and tries to say everyone is the same. Categorically, we’re not saying that and never have. What we are saying is that there’s enough commonality of experience, shared problems and solutions that it makes sense to pull together. In many ways this echoes the arguments for and against the acronym BAME; does it homogenise and erase or is it simply a useful category for solidarity movements? Or is it both?
We’ve got a Whatsapp group that’s half organising bits and pieces for Traveller Pride and half us talking nonsense and sharing relatable content- it’s got a good mix of nomadic and settled, recognised ethnic groups vs not, young and less young, throughout the country etc. Whilst it’s nice to have a place for us to get planning or to check in about decisions that need to be made quickly, an unexpected but lovely side effect has been lots of little daft conversations- finding out that our families have the same rows (at the same volume), that a remarkable number of our mums had the exact same earrings. Lots of small moments of relatability. It’s nice, and brings a sense of community and belonging that is precisely why Traveller Pride exists.
We’re not all the same (but then again, neither are all Romanies, or all Sinti, or…) but with a small movement like this, pulling together is all we have.
A final point on the use of “Traveller”. It’s not perfect, in particular Roma might feel that it doesn’t apply to them and this is a concern I often have, but we’ve got a lot more mixed feelings about “GRT” in that no one identifies as GRT but lots of people from all of the above groups identify with Traveller (even if called it as an exonym). Also there’s the precedent that in GRT, the T only ever means Irish Travellers, which leaves out many other including other ethnic groups.
There’s not an easy answer, this is ours and we admit it’s not ideal. Identity is a messy subject for a lot of people.