I wrote a post recently about how I gained a noble Scottish title as a final step on the path to knighthood some years ago. One of my readers — Puddle Jumper Reads — commented about wondering what that crest on my page was all about. It requires a full blog post to explain it all, but I’m happy to do so. This is that post. If you’re curious enough to read this, get comfy… this is a long one.
At the top of my homepage, you’ll find this banner:
The sword, shield, and helms pictured there are mine. As was standard in the Middle Ages, the shield depicts my personal coat of arms. At the bottom of the same page, you’ll find that design incorporated into a larger embellishment of the symbols in play:
Every element of this design represents a step on my path, earned through a combination of learned skill, cultivation of resources, and experience. Before I get into any of that, it’s important to have a baseline of understanding as to what is expected of a knight, with a leaning towards the spirit of intent rather than the brutal reality of how Feudalism actually worked.
The steps to knighthood are pretty consistent across the board. The would-be knight is expected to be of noble birth or otherwise elevated to a level of nobility through a recognized means. The reason, beyond basic class enforcement, was practical: being a knight was expensive. Arms, armor, horses, troops, castles… these things don’t grow on trees. There are generally three levels: page, squire, and knight. One is required to learn the laws and functions of society that they may be utilized, progressed, and defended. One is required to learn the arts of combat that justice may be enacted. And one is required to adhere to a code of chivalry that justice be maintained and embodied in the person of the knight, both as a symbol of personal authority and as an extension of the knight’s liege. It was designed on purpose to be an impossible standard, one the knight had to continually work towards. The closer one got to embodying the ideal, the more renown one would have, and thus the knight could better lead by example. This, in turn, had the effect of other knights, and indeed other nobles of higher rank, setting higher examples in turn, if only so as not to be seen as base thugs or monsters by comparison. This engendered a sense of trust, loyalty, and righteousness at all levels from top to bottom. In short, the high tide lifts all boats.
There is, of course, two popular variants on this traditional image: the knight errant and the crusader knight. The knight errant is on a quest, often spiritual (a la the Holy Grail), and the crusader is a warrior monk in service to not to a secular liege, but a Higher Authority. Again, in all cases, we’ll operate under the spirit of intent rather than the brutal reality of history.
With all that in place, it’s time to connect this up to my who I am and what I’ve put forth towards this path. Let’s start with the obvious: I’m a transgender woman, and I’m an American citizen.
Historically speaking, a woman could not be a knight. Pay no attention to the fact that history is replete with female warriors of exceptional renown, but the same kind of misogyny that held women from the title and honors befitting a knight (and sometimes from the history books) isn’t much different than the exclusionary mindset that keeps those countries with a College of Arms from recognizing a rise in the ranks from the lower classes except under exceptional means and through a large transfer of money (*cough cough*). After all, what does it mean to be noble if anyone can achieve that? People have this misbegotten notion that the only way to climb the ladder of success is to find a way to throw those above you off so you can continue the ascent and to kick the people below you off so as to keep them from doing the same thing to you. It’s an incredibly cynical mindset, destructive within as much as without.
And that’s exactly the point that few seem to understand. As an American, the idea of all of us being equal derives from the understanding that we are created in the image of a Higher Authority. Again, we’ll look at spirit of intent rather than the reality our society is still struggling to overcome. Spirit of intent is everything on this quest, if you’ve not pieced that together by now. You can argue about the road to Hell and the pavement of good intentions with someone who buys it. I’m more in the camp that believes the only thing that needs happen for evil to win is that the good do nothing. Or, in the immortal words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.” The understanding, then, is that our nobility as a human being comes from within, and none of us are higher nor lower than the person next to us. While knighthood represented the “lowest” rank in the chain of nobility, it is still a recognition of the basic rights and privileges that all of us are inherently born to. The dirty little secret that nobility has forgotten is that the spirit of nobility is that those who could do so rose through status and means to protect those who could not for whatever reason. The reality of Feudalism was that it deserved to die out. It was brutal and unjust, not unlike a modern mafia. If you’ve ever seen The Godfather, imagine a version where Don Corleone was actually in charge of a legitimate government, and rival bosses were, in fact, rival lords and barons. That’s pretty much how historical Feudalism worked. To counter that, knighthood — again, the lowest ranks of the nobility — was called upon by someone of greater imagination to serve a higher ideal: chivalry. If you’ve ever seen the classic silent film Metropolis, the message is the same there as it is in the Christianity of the Middle Ages: “The mediator between head and hands is the heart.” The knight was the mediator between the spirit of law and the reality of justice just as Christ was said to be the mediator between God’s law and mortal existence. And if you study the Middle Ages, you know the Christian zeitgeist is pretty much inseparable from the history. They go hand in hand, so in that case as well, we have to separate the historical reality from the spirit of intent if we want to rise to something better than the four horsemen of war, famine, pestilence, and death.
The romance of chivalry was, according to legend, borne out in the Arthurian legends (used as historical framework to set legal precedent!), reworked into the fabric of society at the time through the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine (sometimes known as the Queen of Chivalry), and perpetuated through propaganda by Chrétien de Troyes in the form of a new character: Sir Lancelot. The reality of Lancelot was embodied in the knight at Eleanor’s side: William Marshal, acknowledged far and wide to this day as the greatest knight who ever lived. Sets a high standard when you know his story, but suddenly that standard isn’t so impossible for others to follow. This is the guy who helped push through Magna Charta, punched out Richard the Lionheart’s horse, and was still undefeated in personal combat at age 75 because nobody wanted to mess with him. He’s the closest thing there was to a s superhero in those days.
From where I sit, if a woman like Eleanor can enforce chivalry, why can a woman not embody it just as well? What good is talking about a higher standard if we don’t practice what we preach? It turns out that the most famous person in the whole of the Middle Ages is a woman who set such a standard, and through that example inspired her people to take back their lives and their world. I speak, of course, of Joan of Arc. Her story, sadly, is one that ends in tragedy because of the brutal realities of misogyny, class restriction, religious persecution, and injustice as a whole by any other name. It’s also an example that continues because no matter how you approach her story, there’s is something impossible about it that cannot be explained, something that transcends logic, modern science, and all of the injustices that forged her and ultimately ended her life. It is answerable by faith alone, the very heart of chivalry. She has long since become an icon of feminism, re-enlisted in the fight for freedom since World War I. Joan is an icon who would most certainly have inspired someone who was in those trenches and spent his entire life immersed in the tales of the Middle Ages: J. R. R. Tolkien.
Both Joan and Tolkien continue to inspire me, but my path started far earlier. This is the part where I finally start putting things together in regards to my own story. It’s a story I don’t talk much about because, in addition to being transgender, it tends to get me the side-eye from those I have discussed it with. We live in an age where anything labeled as “supernatural” is automatically dismissed rather than accepted simply as natural simply because science hasn’t proven it yet. Science is an ongoing search for fact, separate from the ideal of truth. Truth is the head, science is the hands. What’s that mediator again? The heart. Some things can only be accepted through heart, which is the realm of faith. It cannot, and should not, be used to to justify the horrors we’ve brought down upon our world, but that’s another rant that pretty much writes itself in the bloody history of religious warfare.
Joseph Campbell once said, “I don’t need faith. I have experience.” For me, that takes on a different level of consideration. I have experienced the “supernatural” in forms both sacred and profane, entities that find their way into our cultural lexicon in a myriad of forms that transcends virtually all of our religions. My first encounter with an angelic being was at the age of four. It shaped my life as much as anything else ever could. To me, this was a beautiful experience, one I will not discuss because I will not have it belittled. It was a perfect moment that continues to resonate through my life.
Combine that with the idea that early on in my life, I was introduced to the concepts of good and evil through the images of knights… Jedi Knights. I had exquisite lessons in the nature of the Force, of the Light and the Dark, from my earliest memory. I understood what it meant to fall from the path of Light, and rather than succumb to my fear (for fear is the path to the Dark Side), I continued to struggle against it to find Light in any example I could. Luke Skywalker, Superman, Disney princesses, Arthurian legend… it didn’t matter. Whatever perpetuated the positive example was a tool I could use to keep myself sane. The alternative was that I could follow the path that an overwhelmingly large percentage of transgendered people find themselves upon: victims of murder or suicide. Hope is where you find it. I found hope in an angel before I understood what hope or angels were. Whatever else happens in my life, no one can take that away from me.
By the time my college years were coming to a bitter and rather stupid end, I got it through my head that I was not going to allow that experience to define me. Instead, I looked within for inspiration and found an answer through which I could mark a path of positive example. I had discovered a 10-point code of chivalry that had been extrapolated by a professor of Medieval history, and I adopted it as a means to keep me from succumbing to some rather destructive internal pressures. It was a means to an end, because I didn’t want to end up a statistic. Then somewhere along the lines I started piecing things out. During a 30th anniversary screening of The Empire Strikes Back, I was watching the lightsaber choreography and thought to myself, “That’s actually something I could learn.” And so I did. At Scarborough Renaissance Festival, I bought the longsword you see pictured in that banner at the top of this post. It’s forged from a master smith in South Texas whose business and blades are dubbed Angel Sword. It also cost me as much as a used car, and well worth every penny, so I was determined to offset the expense and earn the mastery that so obviously went into the creation of that blade. I discovered that there were lessons to be had in the arts of arms a few blocks from where I work. I worked my ass off to learn everything I could about a 15th century combat style that could be utilized not only with the sword, but also with a variety of other hand-to-hand weapons or with no weapon at all. Formal lessons eventually came to an end due to medical issues and a lack of money — both of which are expensive — but I continued my lessons the same way I continued my mental and spiritual growth: self-discipline. Nothing gives pause to an unruly neighbor quite like the site of someone running sword drills in their backyard.
From there, as I tend to be historically minded, I started looking up the general requirements of knighthood through the ages for grins and giggles. It’s beyond argument that I had a better foundational education than most nobles of that time. This leaves specifics that they would need to thrive. Horsemanship? I learned how to ride as a kid, but today we have cars. I know how to drive, and I spend for the care and maintenance of my vehicle. Martial prowess? I covered that already, but growing up in the country, I’ve also had an education in modern firearms. Law? I work at a law firm that specializes in defending the underdog against corporate abuses, and I am an American citizen with an understanding of my rights and responsibilities. I stay informed and do my part. Service? I’m gainfully employed, but I don’t really count that much. I am a loyal citizen of my country, which means that I am loyal to the ideals of my country when there is a presumed conflict of interest. While I didn’t serve in the Armed Forces, I have great respect for those who did and do. As I’ve said, I take my responsibilities as a citizen seriously. More than that, I try to serve in my own way towards a Higher example as it was manifest in my own life. What is an angel if not the spiritual equivalent of everything a knight should be, the very embodiment of all that is good and just for all the right reasons? You see where this is going.
The only requirement really missing from ye olde rulebook was the idea of nobility. I’ve discussed the inner nobility already, but I wanted some kind of legal technicality that made it feel like a win. Nobility was defined in the Middle Ages as one who owns land. Seriously, it’s just that simple. The aristocracy was made and broken through the ownership and management of landed resources. Well… I own a house and the land on it here in the USA, but we don’t recognize landed nobility here, as I say. Over in Scotland, it’s a different matter entirely. The law on the books as I understand it says that if you own any amount of land, you are entitled to the usage of the title of Laird, Lord, or Lady as befits your preference, and to the noble status and privileges that rank affords. Look again at that coat of arms up top. Beneath my shield you’ll see two smaller logos, the marks of Highland Titles. Theirs is also the tartan on the background of that embellishment, which I am free to use by their conditions. Highland Titles is a nature preserve. Let me explain why and how this idea came to me.
Here in the States, President Theodore Roosevelt (aristocrat, autodidact like myself, and inspirational badass extraordinaire) signed into law the idea of the National Park, preserving the natural wonder and beauty of the lands for future generations in a time when industrialization was all the rage and would be kicked further into overdrive by the yet unknown advent of World War. In Scotland, no such thing exists, and undeveloped land is at a premium, so corporate developers are buying up land wherever possible, destroying the ecosystem in the name of parking lots and such. Highland Titles operates by selling off the land in tiny chunks to many separate owners, thus preventing a corporate raider from legally acquiring all of the pieces. In turn, Highland Titles uses the money from their sales and donations to maintain the “estates” in the names of those who are now invested to protect the land and its animals. It’s a concept that speaks to me at the core of my being. As a landowner there, even if something happens that means I lose my home here, that little plot of land is overseas maintaining my title and protecting something greater than myself. It’s a win-win. With my recent decision to come out online as transgender, all that remained to maintain my “knightly” status in spite of being a woman is for the organization who granted my nobility to formally recognize it. They were only too happy to do so. This, in turn, only makes me that much happier to support their cause.
So with noble status secured, all that remained was to design my coat of arms. According to law handed down through centuries, the first born son (which I am legally recognized) in any generation has the right to change the family coat of arms for their line as they see fit, or to completely redesign it to represent their personal line from that point forward until another in direct line changes it accordingly. My family tree looks like a Celtic knot, and the fact is the family crest we thought we should have isn’t really the case. So for my new identity, I adopted the surname I should have had and completely redesigned my coat of arms from the ground up. I will have no children to pass this to, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s all about building the personal mystery because rather than succumb to the rather persistent belief that I have to be what society tells me, I’ve made the choice that I am who I choose to be, regardless of what body or station in life I was born into. The coat of arms reflects that. The three angels represents the three-fold nature of my being: physical, mental, and spiritual. Each angel carries a prop that defines my quest: the sword (knighthood and justice), a book (personal knowledge and enlightenment), and a harp (music and the power of the unseen). The angels are in ascent from right to left, denoting liberal ideals. I am more of a centrist, politically speaking, but I work towards the idea of freedom and civil progress, as the concept of “liberal” traditionally means, no matter how it’s been redefined elsewhere. The colors of red and blue represent the colors in the flag of my country and the original lightsaber colors used by Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, noting various levels of my own internal conflict. Note there is more red than blue on this shield, but the angels stand in the narrow path of blue, which also traces a border around the red to contain it and define it, and to redirect it to higher purpose if need be. Red and blue are also the primary colors of the uniforms worn by Superman and Wonder Woman, two heroes who inspired me most in my personal journey, even if I don’t always recognize them in their current incarnations. Seemed a fitting tribute to include them. Rather than white, the third color associated with my country, I opted for the more mystically “pure” and stronger silver, which also symbolizes the Divine Feminine.
As near as I can figure, the only other point that may be in dispute in any of this a lack of a formal knighting ceremony. If someone wants to file a claim against this, we’ll see if an angel answers that charge, though I suspect the same people who want to lean on that don’t believe in angels either. Whatever. I don’t serve a mortal liege. So far as I’m concerned, I was called to different level of service. Everything I say, do, and become should ultimately serve towards that understanding. To that end, since coming out, I’ve adopted a new code, one far simpler and more effective than the code of chivalry I once maintained. The code has but three points: love, hope, and compassion.
As with the knights and chivalry of old, I understand this and anything associated with it is an impossible standard. I can’t “live up” to anything. I merely do my best to move closer to the ideal I’ve set for myself. I’m a work in progress, and I will always be so. Maybe none of this is “cool” in the eyes of the cynical. I’ve never cared about such things. Questions of practicality, logic, faith, or anything else become simply points of view in the eye of the beholder. What matters is what I hold to be self-evident and what I hold dear. I know what I want. I know who I am. I know that my body does not define either of those things. As Master Yoda reminds us, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” And above all, I know that Shakespeare was correct when he said, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I’ve learned, often the hard way, to stop beating my head in over the things that divide us. It is much more noble and productive to reinforce the truths that bring us together. That is my quest as a knight, as a Lady, and as a spiritual seeker.
And nearly 3800 words later, I hope that answered the question and was worth the read. :)