Humans are social creatures. We need other people, whether we want to or not. And as much as I joke about heading to my wifi-enabled hermit’s cave, I’m just like anyone else. I need a community. I would be completely lost without Nikki and Deb to keep my head on straight. They know this (or at least I hope they do now!) I need to be able to call my mom with all those questions of things I should have learned from her when I was younger and didn’t. but I also need a broader community of like-minded people as a touchstone, a reality check, a support network, a release.
I have been so fortunate to find that in the 221b group on Ravelry.
I joined 221b (goes and checks) in September of 2010, about a month after the first series of Sherlock aired. And it was fun. Lots of pictures of all the cast, behind the scenes information, other things the actors had and were doing, just fun. They were a diverse group of people with a variety of interests but with a similar outlook on the world. Intellect, compassion, irreverence. Rather Holmesian, actually. I had had fandom communities before, and these felt very much like that. Kindred spirits, but not necessarily friends.
Then 2012 happened.
2012 started out good. I decided to give something back to the group. I’m not a big chatter, and I didn’t have access to all the pictures people were posting, but what I was was an organizer. I had taken part in the 2010 Ravelympic Games (now renamed the Ravellenic Games due to ridiculous trademark issues), but 221b hadn’t had a team, so I’d played for Team TARDIS. But I didn’t really know them, and hadn’t felt like part of that community, so I thought this time I would lead a team for my group. Which was EXCELLENT. Come on, the summer Games in London of all places! What could be better for a Sherlockian than that! we ended up with about 150 people on the team, and since the RG mods had created a British Cricket event for all things British, we started a side challenge with Team TARDIS for who could create the most British themed items during the course of the Games, averaged to account for the hugely different team sizes (TARDIS had about 400 players). We decimated them, with over 100% average. Even in the raw numbers, we were huge. I think we were only 7 projects fewer than them, which considering how many more people they had, was epic. We all realized what competitive natures we had and bonded through the insanity. It was wonderful.
What wasn’t so wonderful was my breast cancer diagnosis. That came through in April of 2012, and I started chemo at the beginning of June. It sucked. I was grateful to have the Games to distract me, and my friends there to hold my hand. What I didn’t realize was that my digital friends were doing the same. When I told the group about my diagnosis, they all got together and knit me hats. Hats galore! Hats from Sweden and New Zealand and Canada and New Jersey. Cloches and berets and chemo caps. It was wonderful, and every time I picked one to wear, I thought about my digital family. And behind my back, they all got together and made me a comfort blanket out of squares donated by the group. I still have this on my bed as a reminder of the kindness of these not-quite-friends-but-not-strangers. And they fundraised to help pay some of my bills. I hadn’t expected any of it (well, maybe the hats). I felt like I was important to someone. I’d missed that.
Once the Rav Games ended, there was a bit of a hole in my activities, so I joined Nerd Wars. (Yes, I still owe you the NW post). Within a week of joining the 221b team, I was co-captain. We were a small team, only 12 people or so, but it was a fun group, and I got to put my organizational skills to good use. At the end of that round, I stepped up into the captaincy, and we put in place the rotating captain policy that is still in use by the team. No one person gets stuck with all the responsibility nor has to suffer burnout. That was round 5. By the end of my tenure, we’d generated enough interest to easily make a full team for round 7. By round 10, we were one of the biggest teams in NW. and all of the team members developed a closeness and comradeship that you don’t usually see in a group like this. We were a safe space to talk about ANYTHING, religion, politics, sexuality, mental health issues, money, education, ANYTHING. And that carried back to the 221b group itself (and from the group back into the NW team). this was what community building was all about.
And then the 2014 Ravellenic Games happened.
It started small. I started the thread for the 2014 Winter Games team back in September. The last Games had been so much fun, I couldn’t wait to get started. But the word was getting out about the anti-gay laws being passed in Russia, and many of us had concerns about supporting a Games that wasn’t safe in a place that didn’t think many of us had a right to exist. So I went to the RG leadership and suggested that they do a rainbow-themed event to show solidarity with those being persecuted in Russia. The answer I got back was that the Games were a politics-free zone and nothing like that would be done. This was not a good enough answer for any of us. So, like we had with the British Cricket challenge in 2012, we decided to do our own rainbow challenge.
Word got around.
We started getting people from other teams coming to us wanting to make rainbows. People started talking about the Rainbowllenics challenge in the official forums and asking why the mods weren’t doing something similar. And people started calling those same mods on their decision and the use of the word “politics” in what was really a social justice issue. Meanwhile in our group, we were educating ourselves and others on the multiplicity of sexuality, from the differences between bi- and pansexual, the diversity of expression for asexuals, issues for trans people, all of it. And more and more people were coming by to join in the conversation. In the end we had over three thousand people reading our discussions. This in our little hole-in-the-wall knitting and fandom community. We gave more and more people confidence to speak up in the Rav Games group, decrying the mods policy. In defending themselves, the mods began to say indefensible things, which they were called on.
And then, suddenly, the Games were cancelled.
We were all shocked. Tired of what they felt was the abuse they were getting from the community, the mods decided to take their toys and go home. They cancelled the Games and locked the forum.
What they didn’t realize was that the issue and the Games had grown beyond them.
Casey, one of the owners and administrators of Ravelry, unlocked the forum and gave the group permission to reform under new leadership if there was interest. The community decided to elect new moderators to run the Games. Feeling like I had had a hand in bringing this about, I felt obligated to help fix it, so I stood for election and was one of the five chosen to run the Games. (Hoo-boy) But I knew all the 221bers were behind me as emotional support. We’d made this happen, and we would make it run right. The Rainbowllenics challenge became an exhibition event as it should have been all along, and the Games ran, not without problems, but successfully. Considering we’d had 5 weeks to pull it all together and the previous mods didn’t give us any of their tools or lists or anything, we felt pretty chuffed.
When the Rav team flew the Pride flag over the site this week, all of us in 221b felt a bit of another kind of pride, that we had helped make that happen. People didn’t have to keep quiet about those issues any more, and we were recognized as part of the community.
Which is not to say it’s not still an ongoing process. The new Nerd Wars challenges went up yesterday, and the Giving Geeks one is…problematic. But right away, my 221b teammates started talking about the fact that it was problematic, why it was problematic and how to work to make it better. Maybe these discussions are being had in other groups as well. But I am so proud and honored to be in a group that thinks like this. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s always safe.
And of course, yesterday was the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Reading about it filled me with rage and frustration, and I needed to vent about it. So I went where I do for those things, intending to dump my brain in a vomit of bile and tears. Only to find that my family was already there. I wasn’t alone. They were already there, in the politics discussion thread, the safe zone, sharing their own outrage. Someone, we don’t know who, was going through and clicking the disagree button on a lot of the posts. This coward was called out by the group, not for disagreeing, but for not having the guts to talk about their opinions and feelings on the matter and instead hiding behind the disagree button. I suspect that person, whoever they are, may not be long for the group. 221b respects the diversity of opinion and belief in the world, but they don’t tolerate cowardice and stupidity.
They are my people. And I know, somewhere out in the multiverse, Sherlock Holmes is proud of them.