Periodically someone will post a “reminder” to one of the SCA costume forums or general groups. The message behind these “reminders” is always relevant, even if the delivery sometimes feels like grandstanding (at best) or virtue signaling (at the worst).
Yes, we absolutely need to take care with our commentary so as not to frighten away newcomers with either our zeal or our knowledge. We need to nurture those that want to join us and it’s most definitely imperative that we make a space for them at our table and make them welcome enough to return.
The problem with most of these messages is that they almost invariably forget that not all of our newcomers are novice tailors, or are not new to history or research. Many of our prospective newcomers arrive as professional seamstresses (or at least have that level of skillset already). Many come with knowledge or college degrees and are looking for an outlet to explore the skills in there field. They come from other reenacting circles and have a strong grasp historic context and how to apply it. Some newcomers are none of those things, but still want to join in and “do things right” from the start.
(I need to take a moment here and define “right”. My idea of doing it “right” is different than someone else’s, and, within the scope of our rules, that is not only perfectly fine, but it is most definitely welcome. Some individuals might only make an attempt at pre-17th century garb, but could love working in a kitchen or spending all day at the archery range, while another person might prefer to spend all of their time and resources crafting a single garment that is as historically correct as possible. Both of these people are absolutely “right”. A newcomer who wants to dive in to history and accuracy as soon as possible, is just as welcome to do so as the next person is to borrow Gold Key garb and just show up. None of us get to be the person who qualifies “right” as long as folks are following the rules.)
Back to the newcomers and these repetitive missives and groups and lists, what keeps getting forgotten in the well-meaning rants and reminders, is that many of our newcomers are not actually “new” at all to the things we do, they are just new to the Society. These individuals need to be just as cherished as someone who wanders into an event off the street. There is, however, inherently less respect for them than others. When others command that we be nice, and to welcome people, and to help people and make them feel at home, they mean that only for those who are struggling to get into garb and get to an event. (People feel they are being more inclusive than that, but their language far suggests otherwise, even if it is likely unintentional.)
Do you know how many conversations I have had with newer members or fringe players who enjoy certain facets of the SCA, but refuse to really join in because they are tired of getting shouted down (or seeing it happen to others), every time a simple question is asked?
(For that matter, do you know how many people have had leave forums that they have helped nurture for years, and that they truly love, because they are sick of being screamed at, condemned or even threatened? Do people not even see that these long-time members are leaving the SCA because they can no longer even have conversations with like-minded individuals without being attacked online?)
I will say this for the 100th time, but “THE C STANDS FOR CREATIVE” should never, ever be an answer to a question. “IT DOESN’T MATTER IF IT IS PERIOD AS LONG AS YOU LIKE IT” is not ever an answer either. There is nothing wrong with the sentiment behind these statements, because some people need an answer like this to allay their fears about “doing it right” and to better feel welcome, but there are most definitely ways to phrase these things that do not also run off those who want an actual, legitimate answer to a question.
What we need to do is talk more to the person asking a question. What are their interests? That can better inform us on how to reply. Did they simply find a pretty picture online and want to make that dress because it fits the pretty-medieval-princess look that they have wanted since childhood? If that is all they want, an answer can be “that garment is quite pretty! That is not based on what we know of history, but is rather loosely inspired by 14th century France. It is perfectly acceptable to make and wear to an event as it is. If you want to see more about the inspiration for that dress here are some great images that can help inform your next garment”. That response is kind, generous with knowledge, and still makes their dream-dress feel welcome and valid. 53 comments about how history does not matter, about the only thing that matters is having “fun”, diminish the conversation for dozens of other viewers who likely have an interest in history or about learning more.
And let’s talk about “fun”, I fully accept that for many people “fun” might be coming to an event, putting on a tunic, and having a cold drink next to the campfire (hell, I embrace this type of “fun” as that describes half of my household, half my SCA family and a large portion of my beloved E17 Pennsic family). “Fun” can be more than that for many of us though, and just as I mentioned with “doing it right” there is more than one valid type of “fun”.
A series of rabid screeches reply to a question that states nothing more than “it’s about having fun!!!” that totally dismisses someone else’s potential interest in accuracy or history is doing the entire SCA a disservice. THIS is driving people away, and it is making both newcomers who are interested in learning more and long-time members feel massively unwelcome. Especially if it has been said once already, it does not need repeated in the same thread multiple times over. That sort of piling on has no use anywhere. Ever. It is completely awful.
Another example is, “Is this fabric period?” Imagine that the fabric in question is a quilting cotton in a giant modern floral print. Talk to the person asking the question, do they have a time and place in mind or are they just trying out different things and doing some stash busting in the process. It is not a crime to state that the fabric is unlike anything in the SCA period (it is a statement of FACT, after all), but we can still suggest ways to use it. Would it be good for a mock-up? Would be almost-kinda-sorta-passible as a dress from X Place and X Period? We use lots of fabric for other things too, maybe suggesting those is the route if the real desire is to stash-bust. Does the person just really want to use THAT specific fabric for a dress (for whatever reason)? Yes, we can help them find a pattern and work out how to make it (and possibly show period images for a future project at the same time), and they are moving forward knowing exactly what they have and are doing.
What is utterly useless (and often detrimental) in these cases is multiple individuals launching onto the thread and insisting that it doesn’t matter at all if it is period (especially if it reads that it SHOULDN’T matter at all, ever, to anyone, and yes, that is frequently how it reads). The people in the previous paragraph are providing helpful input not only to the individual asking the question, but to the more broad audience as well. It is not dismissive of the person asking the question, or those who might really want to learn more about period textiles.
And for the love of all, if someone states upfront that they are interested in accuracy, those multiple comments about how it doesn’t matter, and it is just about having fun, quite simply do not belong. THAT is dismissive not only to the person asking the question (who might very well be a newcomer), but it is also beyond hurtful to anyone who is taking time out of their own day, and away from their own projects, to help others. Hammering away at someone answering a question (especially if they were already thanked by the asker), does just as much damage as walking up to someone and telling them that their garb sucks.
Just stop. You aren’t making anyone feel more welcome. If you want to pretend to care so much about our newcomers, please be inclusive of ALL newcomers and including those who are here to have "fun" exploring history.