The Mating Rituals of the Renaissance Pleasure Fair
Photos by Jennie Ross
The first thing you need to know when you go to a Renaissance fair is that you’re a mundane. The people of the fair don’t give a shit about where you DJ, the art collective you belong to, or how you were recently featured on a blog someone you sorta know writes. If you aren’t wearing a costume, then you are nothing but a mundane, and they'll call you that to your face. Your being a mundane means that some folks are going to talk to you in their old-timey voices and try to convince you to buy grossly sweet honey wine from their booths, but they aren’t going to share their flasks with you, and they certainly are not going to fuck you.
In many ways the fair is an elaborate mating ritual complete with pregaming, peacocking, and corsets. Like at a college costume party or an office holiday party, the moment the booze comes out, inhibitions dissipate, marriages open up, and mistakes are made. But don’t worry, what happens at the fair is between you and your god, and as the cosplaying Puritans like to say, “You are likely damned to hell anyways.”
To find out what kinds of exotic "meates" you can sample, i.e., bang, I went to the Original Reinaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California, and talked to a few of the fair's fair maidens and gentlemen. (This fair just ended but no doubt there's a fair coming near you in... not too long. That's the great thing about the fake Renaissance—it never ends.)
Sara and Crystal
When I walked up to Sara and Crystal, they were resting in the shade, eating fried cheesecake on a stick. “Everyone is secretly hooking up," Sara told me. "For lack of a better way to put it, and it’s going to sound horrendously dirty, I will say it’s a very incestual group of people. People get to hang a lot looser than they do normally in their lives. It’s not just Renaissance fair, it’s a Renaissance pleasure fair, so you can get away with being a little more lewd than you normally would be.”
Katie and Jessica work at a suburban dentist's office, but when the faire comes to town they are transformed into fawns, complete with stiletto hooves. “The first year everyone called me a horny lady and a lot of people point at the fur asking whether or not I shave,” Katie said. All day men had been shouting at them and pulling their tails to the point that they were practically falling off. Meanwhile, they had also acquired a stalker. “It’s a real ego boost,” Jessica said.
Katie and Jessica's stalker didn’t talk, but the voiceless boy had been following the fawns around the moment they stepped through the gate. He never got too close to them—he just kept his creepy distance while silently contorting his face for hours.
There's a whole day during the seven-week fair that's dedicated to men showing off their pectoral muscles. It’s called “Jerkin Off Day.” I kid you not. The jerkin is a vest that dudes wore during Elizabethan times that you can now buy online. When it gets super hot out during the fair, guys are allowed to take their jerkins off. But some dudes just can’t wait to show off and thus end up pondering which sandwich to order from a food truck in their furry skivvies and boots.
Gag Spoon Lady
Many couples “open” their relationship up for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire so they can more comfortably swing. I’m not sure if this woman is one of those people though, because instead of talking to me, she kept gagging herself with a wooden spoon.
Hot Mumbling Metal Girl
There is a lot of crossover between metal style and Ren-fair style. I was pretty into this girl’s whole look and tried to get her to hang out with me by telling her what a babe she was, but she talked so quietly I couldn’t hear a word she said.
Bagman was the boyfriend of the aforementioned hot metal girl. Just when I had given up trying to understand her murmurs, Bagman walked up, fingers wiggling to indicated that he really wanted his photo taken. He seemed pretty rad.
This guy was an explosion of the space-time continuum, and I liked it. Either that or he's Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin.
Metal Worker and Friend
If you are mundane, members of the fair who are wearing costumes see you as being “naked,” but that doesn’t mean they won’t call dibs on you. When a member of the fair calls dibs, it means they find the person attractive and are going to do their best to romance them. Some guys even carry buttons that say dibs on them and pin them on ladies who they’d like to have relations with. These guys were out on the prowl, squirting ladies they called dibs on with a water gun.
Me in the Stocks
Everyone at fair will try and convince you to fall in love with faire. And after two or three drinks, a slab of meat the size of your forearm, and their constant stream of kindness and hilarity, they just might succeed. “You have to do fair on your own terms,” one married fair goer told me after I watched him kiss a steady stream of women on the lips, including a very, very old prostitute.
I visited a Ren fair once before, in high school, when my nerdy boyfriend’s mom took us. We were too young to drink or drive, so we got super stoned, jumped into his mom’s minivan and were transported to the “past.” I don’t remember much except getting into a huge fight with my boyfriend over him locking me up in the stocks and throwing water balloons at me. (He bought me a hemp choker with a Celtic bead as an apology.) The experience was enough to put me off returning to a faire for more than a decade.
By the end of the day, I decided that I needed to drop my leftover teenage angst toward the fair and that the only way to do that would be to face my fears head on. I had to go into the stocks.
The stocks were not the way I remembered them. Either a series of lawsuits had transformed the stocks into loose holes that you could easily escape from, or my memory had been confused by that shitty weed. Now that I was no longer a teenage stoner, I could easily see that it would be impossible to be ”trapped” and bludgeoned with water balloons again. Unless I wanted to be.
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