Monday, April 15, 2019

The thirtieth anniversary of the disagreeable BSI

Sometimes, something you think will be a very good thing doesn't turn out to be as happy as you expected. Case in point, my induction to the Baker Street Irregulars, thirty years ago.

I don't go on much about being a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. I don't attach those three letters to my name in correspondence or Sherlockian resumes. And occasionally I bitch about the group's membership policy. All of this begins thirty years ago.

Because in the late 1980s, a progressive Sherlockian, having come into the hobby with Baring-Gould's Annotated celebrating the BSI as the cool kids of Sherlockiana, had to deal with one big non-groovy fact: It was a men-only club. Women had protested that fact way back in the 1960s, but were forced to organize their own dinner the night of the BSI fest, because it just wasn't happening. The one guy in charge, along with the more conservative members, found women at their Sherlock night unthinkable. (Some old wags, when the toast to their one female guest during happy hour was over, would even gleefully roar, "Get her out of here!")

Well, a month or two after my induction into the group under the investiture "Winwood Reade" (a real author and a bit of an atheist troublemaker, someone should have thought about that), I penned the following words in my monthly column in the local scion newsletter:

"I have never been wholeheartedly in favor of any group that discriminates against females in the choice of its membership. The counsel of some well-meaning friends got me to attend the dinner this year, and now I find I am a member of a group that discriminates against women. It just doesn't sit well on my soul, regardless of any honor involved."

No Facebook or Twitter back then, but the letters soon starting flying in, both to me and my friend Bob Burr, who published the newsletter:

"This is not the first time he's made unflattering remarks about the BSI, and it may not be the last, but I don't have to sit still for it. If he doesn't like the organization, then he can get the hell out of it."

That from one of the top BSIs of the day. Another note suggested I should have politely and quietly written the head of the group and apologize for embarrassing the BSI if i truly felt "anguished enough." (They liked to use the "Boo-hoo, somebody has emotions!" card back then, too.) Ironically, that fellow later got himself removed from the group, which is, like this one, probably another tale that won't get celebrated in the BSI archives.

Even a few friends tried to apologize for me, one claiming I just had too much going on and didn't know what I was doing. Had there been a Sherlockian Twitter or Facebook back then . . . well, one hesitates to consider. But when one starts one's Sherlockian career with that sort of blow-up, one is not quite so hesitant to say or write what one thinks about the Grand Old Organization or other topics, not quite so worried about one's reputation with the Sherlockian establishment, and that even now, will get you called "the worst person in our hobby" on occasion.

Happily, while I was a rare public dissenter to something like the no-women BSI back in those days, these days we have more than a few Sherlockians willing to firebrand where necessary, and a whole convention that is as progressive as progressive can be. I don't feel nearly as alone as I did in 1989.

So, "Happy anniversary, thing that just wasn't fun at the time, but had to be done!" It's been a crazy ride since then, but as I said at the time, quoting somebody other than Sherlock Holmes, "I yam what I yam." Good luck being who you are in the years ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, by 1989 Tom Stix was planning to admit women into the BSI -- he did not want to offend Julian Wolff, so he waited until after Wolff's death in 1990, to admit women in 1991. No firebranding was needed. On the contrary, it's arguable that the many Irregulars who lobbied Stix quietly, behind the scenes, to admit women into the BSI, were more effective....