The Good Fairy: An Esperanto Fairy Tale of Respectability Politics

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Becci Cat

Queer, disabled, polyamorous transgender lunatic. ✨✨ Kvira, malkapabla, pluramema transgenra frenezulino.

In the Summer of 2015 I had the opportunity to read “La bona feino” (The Good Fairy), a fairy tale written in Esperanto by a white, heterosexual European male librarian named Louis Beaucaire. Although Beaucaire wrote a number of these Fairy Tales of the Green Magpie, he was best known for Kruko kaj Baniko el Bervalo (Kruko and Baniko from Bervalo), a set of “indecent anecdotes” about a couple of womanizing, brothel-frequenting, married straight men living in a fictional land called Bervalo.

But let’s forget Kruko and Baniko and move onto “The Good Fairy.” Paraphrased, it goes like this: a fairy learns about Esperanto and wants to learn it due to its pretensions of being able to bring about world peace. When she begins to actually study the matter, she finds out that inside the language’s foundational text, the Fundamento de Esperanto, there is a story about an evil fairy, and she does not like it. She thinks it is insulting to fairies. So she writes to L. L. Zamenhof, who assures her that he had no intention of offending fairies, and would be happy to remove it, only he cannot because it is already part of the language’s foundational text. Reassured, the Good Fairy goes on to become a completely self-sacrificing, party-line-toeing Esperantist, including at one point using her magic to oppose the Ido movement. She never again questions the language, Zamenhof or the Fundamento.

This story is a frequently anthologized part of Esperanto literature, and it demonstrates the inherent respectability politics of the language. If you want to be a “good fairy,” you must not only accept being marginalized within the foundational text of Esperanto, but you must oppose the “bad fairies” who do not accept it. If the Ido movement, for example, wants equality for fairies at the expense of the Esperanto movement’s doctrine (the Fundamento), they are evil people whom good fairies must oppose at all costs. And if fairies don’t oppose Ido and support Esperanto, they are bad fairies.

That’s what the white, cisgender Western Esperantist Louis Beaucaire wanted to convey. That’s what the Nobel-prize-nominated Esperanto poet William Auld loved enough to include in the anthology Nova Esperanta Krestomatio during the 1980s, and what the Universal Esperanto Association continues to publish. You be the judge.

4 thoughts on “The Good Fairy: An Esperanto Fairy Tale of Respectability Politics”

  1. Don’t dare suggest that Esperanto is less than perfect in every way, eg irregular gender bases for different words, irregular word building, difficulty in pronunciation for people with Asian mother tongues, or the self appointed guardians of the one true language will do more than call you a bad fairy, they will accuse you of everything from homosexuality to godlessness and do all they can to hound you from the community.

    1. I’m not sure this is true. Esperanto speakers are a diverse bunch and many of them are quick to acknowledge that the language is not perfect; many will even say that a perfect language is impossible.

      Since the days of Louis Beaucaire the movement seems to have gotten slightly less diehard and obsessive, especially if you avoid the places where such people congregate (like Lernu.net). It often seems to be on the opposite end of where it used to be: people speak Esperanto just to speak it, not because it’s perfect and not because it’s something they value, but because it is one of the many choices of languages out there which they can add to their list of consumption-based pseudo-individualizing characteristics.

      Personally I’ve found myself just re-evaluating the amount of energy I expend towards Esperanto… I don’t think I can ever completely stop speaking it, and it would take more energy to stop speaking it than to continue speaking it infrequently. But there are more important things in my life. At the same time I would like to see the movement pull itself out of the same postmodern crisis that the rest of the world is stuck in, and move towards a new, wiser, informed sense of integrity and substance. I’d like to see the whole world do that, and I think we are already seeing this happen, for better or worse.

  2. That kind of attitude is the reason I quit Esperanto 3 times. I’d go back to it and every time someone would post about how women should “just get used to it” or in one Facebook community just outright post pinups and other “boys club” stuff that basically told me that EO was very much for men and very much cis men.

    Also Lernu.net is THE place to learn from a LOT of different website so… really saying “well it’s better in these other places” doesn’t really alleviate newbies sense of finding a place to practice/belong. It makes it confusing.

    The final nail in the coffin of EO was getting a message on Lernu of a man expounding his whole terrible life at how his kids were ‘stolen’ from him by his wife during the divorce and “boo hoo! Misandry”
    Currently I’m trying to get into Ido as I feel it’s got it’s crap together and know where it’s going. Though I hear most changes to the language were made so that French people could learn it easier?

    1. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve seen some disgustingly reactionary stuff translated into Esperanto. Like some essay by a privileged straight white cis woman on why she’s not a feminist anymore, essentially boiling down to “there goes the neighborhood.”

      The absolute biggest problem with the movement is that complaints are never validated. They are brushed off, patronized; the way most Esperantists respond to complaints is unbelievably condescending and invalidating, and sometimes outright hostile.

      If you want to learn Ido just to learn Ido, it’s fun and interesting. It also influenced Esperanto with the affixes mis- and -enda, which your average Esperanto speaker really hates to acknowledge. But the community is very small, and it has even less of a chance at being an international auxlang than Esperanto. And apart from gender asymmetry, you’ll find the same problems there, just in a smaller community.

      These problems unfortunately exist everywhere. Acknowledging their existence is the only way forward, in any community. It’s actually because of this that I’ve been wading back into the Esperanto community. The problems it has are the same ones that every other community has. There’s nothing especially bad about it, even if it’s not quite as especially good as many people think. And it’s also true that on many issues, the Esperanto community has been on the right side of history for longer than most societies.

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