Everything I Saw At Sydney's First Queer Medieval Faire

"Non-binary people, trans people, all of us, have existed forever. It’s been buried. So I think, like: why not have an event that celebrates that?"
​From the queer medieval faire
Julie Fenwick for VICE AU

Nothing screams ‘exciting’ like attending an event with location coordinates that just say “secret inner west location”. 

Such was the case for the Queer Medieval Faire - a first-of-its-kind affair dipping its toes into a fantasy world of medieval art and performance, circling the mythos beyond the anglosphere. In the space of 12 hours, a Sydney warehouse was transformed into a queer haven. 


It’s 7pm on Saturday and the sun has set. We start getting ready. 

On my shoulders (courtesy of a last minute run to a Newtown costume store) sit silver wings, and on my head (thanks to a very kind friend) sits an expensive, silver-chain headpiece, mimicking the chainmail of a 16th century knight. It’s a bit mix and match, the outfit neither here nor there, but it’s the best that could be done in such short notice.


Juliet inspired get-up aside a Medieval butcher

Alongside a misfit crew of similarly outfitted patrons secret coordinates are texted to a group member's phone. We walk through two chicken wire fences into a cement yard. People scatter - their bodies clad in royal garbs - as knights, witches, fortune tellers and non-descript 16th century peasants clutter up ahead. There’s a general merriment in the air.

Three door-wenches guard the main entrance to the event. One has jewels scattered across their face, their eyeline perched along their cheekbones. They unguard the door and we walk through.

At first glance, the most notable characters in view are “Sir Cumcise” and “Sir Keira Knightly”. They trot their way around the premise in tin foiled boots, holding sticks with the heads of wired-out steeds between their legs, and jousting between the renaissance crowd.

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“Sir Cumcise” and “Sir Keira Knightly”

To the side - under an arch of native Australian foliage - is a purple and green couch. Someone dressed as the Witcher sits aside a silky-haired songster with a long-necked saracen. They pose for a photo, and the Zelda-inspired organiser, Marlena Dali, sits behind the camera. 


“So why a Queer Medieval Faire?” I’d ask Marlena later.

“I'm just a big nerd,” they smile. “And I'm a fan of Medieval and Renaissance fairs. Going to a lot of them, I realised that they are very cis-white, straight places, catering to a very specific audience.”

“There have been moments where I felt slightly uncomfortable being a queer person. Mostly it's fine, but I wanted to create a space where queer people could not only feel safe, but also feel welcome to express themselves.”

Out the corner of my eye, in a luscious corner curtained by red cloth, sits a fortune teller. They seem sensual and, dare I say, mysterious. Half their face is disfigured by a mask. They’re shirtless with a sly look in their eye. They beckon to me.

Sweeping the red curtains back, Mara Maya Devi sits on plush cushions spread across the floor. A bag of soil sits to their side. They eye me quietly, motioning for me to outstretch my hand. Carefully, they place a handful of dirt in my palm and in silence stare into the abyss of my soul. 

Slightly tipsy, we sit, no words exchanged. I look at them, they look back at me. I raise my eyebrows. I juggle the soil between my hands for a moment. I look again. I pour the dirt back onto the table. It sits in a sad heap over the pretty silken cloth. They stand up suddenly and usher me out. 

“Oh god, I’ve done something to piss them off,” I think. “Probably shouldn’t have done that.”


They walk away, never again making eye contact. I waddle away in shame.

Later, they give an eloquent explanation:

“It’s a comment on the colonisation of land. I give the dirt to the participant and it’s up to their own interpretation to decide what to do with it.”

I wonder what they interpreted from my little performance.

“There’s so many layers to what they’re doing but a lot of their work deals with history and the mythos within their culture from Sri Lanka,” Marlena tells me about the performance later. 

“There’s an aspect of taking. Colonising, stealing and collecting artefacts. Making your own little British Museum.”

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The Witcher and stocked-up Joao

Wandering around in my Baz Luhrman-esqu Juliet outfit, other performances flutter along the walls. Joao, a model from Melbourne, locks himself in the stocks, demure though acting deceased, tongue sticking out. A beautiful blonde-haired Amazonian, Sarah Jessica Carpark, sways around the floor in a flowing black dress. A medieval blacksmith, Levi, swings his hammer. 

“Levi, the blacksmith. He's absolutely incredible,” says Marlena, “Another thing is he's one of those people who is a part of our queer community, but who doesn't really get to speak about that very much. Because he lives in a very cis-straight world. So there's space for everyone.”

“Seeing the guests being so into it, and really living for it. I've never had an event that's had that many people that were that invested. This was just a whole other level seeing that joy.”


Soon, the lights dim and the performances on-stage begin. A duo practising shibari – a Japanese method of torture in the 19th century that recently has transformed into a form of erotic bondage – enter the arena. A scantily clad body wriggles under rope, the word “WITCH” scrawled across the stomach. 

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A Shibari duo performance

A henchman – the bondager – wears a black mask across their face and a gas mask around their neck as they bind the witch's shoulders, legs and torso. By the end, they’re tied to a contraption, their body hanging above the floor. Red light washes over them.

A flurry of performances move through the night. Drag, interpretive dance, Chinese Opera pop, fawn burlesque: all intriguing, making some comment on the queerness outside the anglosphere.

As the night continues and the lights darken, much of the day's crowd scatters. The heaving bodies of an inspired Rennaisance cohort descend into the depths of a mediaeval sweat room. DJ godofsexkingofacid flips the tracks into the night.

As we turn to leave, a lasting note from Marlena stands: 

“We need to acknowledge that queerness has existed since forever,” they say. 

“We non-binary people, trans people, all of us, have existed forever. We're not a new idea. And there are poems, there is art, from the medieval era and from all over the world, that has queer representation. It’s just been kind of buried. And so I think, like: why not have an event that celebrates that?”

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