By Dani Herd
I started performing at the Renaissance Festival when I was 16 years old. At one of my first rehearsals, I was presented with a little blue badge that read:
Get it? ‘Cause it was illegal to have sex with me, and also ye olde time things! Huzzah!
I loved working at the Renaissance Festival, but the Dungeon Bait aspect was weird on a lot of levels. During my second season, I was 17 going on 18, and the subject of my impending legality was one of the talks of the towne. Like a lot of counterculture performing arts communities, RenFest can be pretty touchy-feely and lovey-dovey. Therefore, there was a lot of well-meaning, but confusing discussion of who was going to kiss me first when I turned 18.
There was someone whom I wanted to kiss very much, and whom I was starting to become confident wanted to kiss me back. He was much older than I was. My protective female friends didn’t want me to kiss him. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but I also didn’t really want to kiss anyone else. And I also didn’t want to lose my place in this community that felt like the first place I’d ever really belonged. I was gonna have to kiss someone.
To be very fair, I also really liked the attention. Boy oh boy, no one in high school thought I was this worthy of kissing! I’ve still never felt as attractive as I did when I was 17 years old at the Renaissance Festival. I didn’t want to turn 18, because then I wouldn’t be attractive or exciting anymore. Once that Dungeon Bait pin was removed from my chest, what would the point of me be?
My first RenFest kiss ended up not being a) on my terms, or b) when I was 18. The afternoon joust was going on, so things were relatively quiet on the rest of the site. I had wandered up toward the front gates, aimless but probably happy. That’s when the Guy From the Drum Booth approached.
I flirted with the Guy From the Drum Booth almost every morning. He wore a vest without a shirt underneath, and he made me feel pretty and special. I did all of my opening morning bits up on a hill near the Drum Booth, and maybe that’s why he thought it was okay to walk up to me and kiss me when I was alone, at work and 17.
It happened, and I pulled away awkwardly. With concern on his face, he asked me, “What’s wrong? Do you have a boyfriend?”
I hated that he said “boyfriend.” We were still on site for crying out loud. Patrons could walk by at any time! Ask me if I have a sweetheart or an intended or something! Preserve the illusion while you’re kissing me without my consent, please!
My 18th birthday was indeed a festival day. And I couldn’t kiss the person I wanted, so I made a big public show out of kissing the notoriously sexiest guy at RenFest. He wore a teal kilt, and a lot of people wanted to kiss his face. And I did. In front of everybody. And everyone cheered and laughed and clapped and everyone was looking at me and I was thrilled and I was tired.
I was proud of myself, because I had solved the problem. I had kissed someone, fulfilling my sexy, sexy prophecy, but I had done it on my terms, hadn’t I? Today I’m not sure that I did. Because my original terms probably wouldn’t have involved kissing anyone on my eighteenth birthday. Because my original terms wouldn’t have included feeling like I had to kiss someone.
When you turn 18, you’re supposed to hand down the Dungeon Bait badge to the next underage girl who works at the Festival. I never did.
A few months went by, and Dragon Con came. After midnight, wearing my beloved maroon muffin hat, I shuffled onto the elevator. I was still freshly 18 and not ready for all of the wonders/horrors of Dragon Con After Dark, and so it was past my bedtime.
Before I could push any buttons, three drunk young men stumbled into my elevator of solitude. It was decidedly not bedtime for these geek-bros. One of the guys looked me up and down in all of my newly legal, trembly, muffin-hat-clad glory, and declared:
“Look at you! You must get all the nerd dick you want!”
And you know what? Sure, gross. But at least he assumed that all the nerd dick-getting was on my terms.
And so it is.