The View from Sherlock Peoria (171)
September 11, 2005
Making an ASH of a Fellow
Should they let men into the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes? Should we even care? Can anyone outside that group, especially a male, have an opinion on that issue? Hey, this is Sherlock Peoria . . . it's party time!
Being a little bit on the move and a little bit messy can leave one a little bit behind the times. Case in point: Today I started reading the fall issue of The Serpentine Muse and saw several intriguing letters referring to an article in the summer issue, which I wasn't sure I had read, or could even find amid the remains of my own summer fun. Eventually I did find the issue and article in question, and what a treat it was.
M.E. Rich of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH for short, if you're new to all this) had written a very lively little article on that organization's social history. A lot has been written about ASH history of late, but M.E.'s piece was not only a fun read, it actually had some controversy to it, and a bit of daring that we don't usually see in our little Sherlockian circles.
What were the controversial parts? Well, there's the question of whether or not the ASH should openly allow men to join. There's also the question of why the Baker Street Irregulars still seems to only allow one woman in for every five or six men, though that was more of a mention than a focus. Gender and Sherlockian societies, ah, that sweet old song. It used to be a favorite of mine, back when women were completely locked out of the Baker Street Irregulars, and now I find the shoe is on the other foot.
"Do any of the men really care about being an ASH?" M.E. Rich asks, and her thought is answered in the next issue by Laurie Fraser Manifold: "No, indeed, it is to late for them (referring to male members of the Baker Street Irregulars): they are, for the most part, old and set in their ways." Funny how that reputation has stuck on the BSI, decade after decade. And sad, too.
Sad, because now I find my photos mysteriously show a middle-aged fellow of girth and gray rather than the sprightly youngster they should. And I'm also, nominally, a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. But I have to admit that I have wanted to be an ASH for a very long time. Why would I want to belong to a group called the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes? Because the ASH have always been cool, and I've never been to one of their dinners to dispel my illusions. It's the same reason I wanted to join the BSI, before I actually got into the BSI and found their coolness factor somewhat offset by the number of non-cool members that somehow snuck in. The stories of ASH revelry are as legendary as any from the BSI heyday, and guess what? The original ASH are still alive, unlike the BSI who created the legend. Woo-hoo!
But I'm a man, and the ASH have only let a scant few token males in. Those few are practically saints of Sherlockian who could get into any club with just an introduction, so I don't know if they really count. If they did, I don't think M.E. Rich would have brought the matter up.
I've never understood the appeal of single-gender functions, or why keeping them so is even an issue. Maybe it's because I've always been totally comfortable with the gender opposite mine. They've never been the enemy or an alien race I just don't understand, any more than members of my own sex. Some women are fun and others are unpleasant, just the same as it works with men. And as small as the Sherlockian world is, any division of "these people only" gets to be a bit silly and just demonstrates the small-mindedness of those who really, really want it that way. Have we ever seen "couples only" Sherlockian societies? "Whites only" groups? "Aryan master race" Sherlockians? Okay, maybe there are a few of that last bunch, but their . . . . oops, better stop before I get Adolf and the boys after me.
People like to say, "Everybody can go to ninety percent of Sherlockian functions, so why not let the other ten percent be exclusive?" But that's exactly the reason I'm all for getting rid of that last ten percent. If your best pal can walk into nine Sherlockian dinners with you, why do you have to leave him out for the tenth? The friendship of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is our guiding light . . . how can we leave our pal Watson at home just because he's lost his male battle flag during the Afghan War and can't prove he's the requisite gender to get in? (Hey, his war wound is still at a mystery location -- it could be!)
Anyone can be a Sherlockian. Anyone can be a good Sherlockian. It doesn't matter if you're male. It doesn't matter if you're female. It doesn't matter if you're a published author. It doesn't matter if you're the sort of person Mike Whelan likes. Anyone can make a very good Sherlockian. There a special interest groups among us, sure, but do any of those bar anyone from membership? Does the Mini-Tonga Society (who have an excellent newsletter by the way) not let you join up if you don't have evidence of miniature Sherlockiana in your house? Heck, no.
The time has come to be done with all exclusive membership Sherlockian societies. If a group can't maintain its personality with a broad spectrum of members coming through the door, then it must not have had a very strong personality to begin with. And I think in our enthusiasm for joining these clubs, which has only fueled the silly membership policies, we've lost sight of what they were originally about . . . and that's something that M.E. Rich's article brings back in spades.
"A factor that is, I believe, overlooked in the formation of the Adventuresses is that we did it to amuse each other," she wrote, and in those words I see so much of my Sherlockian life. Doing things just to amuse my friends.
That's the way the Baker Street Irregulars started all those years ago, and the way the best Sherlockian groups have conducted business since. I'm constantly amazed at how groups like the Illustrious Clients seem to have a bottomless knack for amusing their members, and that knack isn't fed by being choosey about who you let in. I really hope the Clients don't become too popular as a result of their charms, lest their events swell to over a hundred, they start limiting attendance to those in the Indy metro area, and it becomes more about who gets in the door than who's having fun.
Because then the trouble starts, and the fun quits being fun. I've seen too many Sherlockians turn bitter over the lack of a BSI dinner invitation, something that just should not be. They weren't some sort of lesser Sherlockians that were being weeded out by the whole stupid process -- they were the sort of people that you still hear, "Hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?" about, because their work was enjoyed and they are missed.
Keeping the membership of any Sherlockian group exclusive is just so . . . high school. Think about it: If you aren't a member of the ASH or the BSI, you probably already have a lot of solid Sherlockian friends, people that will remain your friends long after you get into one of the big clubs. They're your real friends, and you should cement those ties any and every way you can -- screw the big old societies, if they don't want to play along. They're got the reputations and the whole "cool kids" mystique, but you just don't know if they'll let you and your friends all join. They may like one or two of you for your gender or status in some other field, but one of you is quite likely to get left behind.
It's the same message as any teen comedy you're apt to see at the movies . . . movies meant for a much younger crowd than most of us are. But maybe we Sherlockians of girth and graying years could learn something from those little morality plays as well.
I'll be interested to see what the ASH will do with their membership roster, to be sure. But I think the time has finally come for this little Sherlockian to institute a new membership policy of his own. My own comfort levels will definitely be a little more comfortable if I'm not attending any more Sherlockian functions that limit their attendance or membership due to some ancient tradition, mystical membership mumbo-jumbo, or any other arbitrary creation of "haves" and "have-nots." I'm only walking through open doors from here on in. Because the way my waistline is going, I'm going to need them to be as open as possible.
Your humble correspondent,