Growing up, I was fascinated with royalty. Before knowing my own ancestry, I had a natural affinity for tiaras and ballgowns. As a teenager, I ecstatically waited in line for movies with a royal theme. Princess Diaries. Marie Antoinette. As an adult, I still do the same - this time, eagerly waiting for the 2am release of Netflix's The Crown. Between historical books and period dramas, my love for royalty and ritual started early on. Known by some historians as ‘court culture’, what began as a habitual interest became a scholarly endeavor. I ended up earning a degree studying the history and rules of etiquette, chivalry, and court fashion. Did I really get to use my said degree? No. But there simply weren't jobs for queens-in-waiting.
“Its mystery is its life,” Walter Bagehot wrote. “We must not let in daylight upon magic.” Anachronistic in nature, irrelevant for some, what makes monarchies so fascinating is its mystique. (And tiaras. Let’s not forget about tiaras.) After all, who can question its unusual – and sometimes ridiculous – rites and rituals when wrapped in the arms of royalty? Of course, no one today would believe the royal touch could cure illnesses. Or the infallibility of the divinely anointed. Of course, Bagehot was writing in his time and place. At a time when the Monarchy was very unpopular, Bagehot elevated the status of Queen Victoria from elderly stateswoman to semi-divine idol – the ‘Great White Goddess’ by some – whose domain spanned around the globe. Even up to the ’52 Coronation, many believed the monarch was God’s chosen representative on Earth. Times have certainly changed, and so has the notion of Monarchy.
While I have spent the better part of my 20s researching Monarchy, I learned little on the history of micronations. It all began a Friday night among friends of drinking and socializing. I was pouring another glass when another segment of Vice News began. They were talking about an international conference in Georgia concluded earlier in the week. Men and women of various shapes and sizes, some bedecked with glittering tiaras, others with medals and sashes. No, Queen Elizabeth did not travel to the South. It was a conference of micronationalists. Presidents, Grand Dukes, Queens and Emperors of self-created countries. Some claiming territories on Earth, others in the Universe. One had land that could fit in the palm of your hand! Could I do the same?
The following day I gave up on brunch and began researching the subject. I found out the micro world of micronations was bigger than I imagined. While the 21st century has allowed micronations to emerge in all corners of the Web, its origins go back to the 19th century. Among the interesting micro-monarchs included a Brit who claimed an uninhabited island (Redonda); and a Frenchman who claimed territory in South America (Arucania and Patagonia) – going so far as to rally troops against the Chilean authority.
I was to take the example of so many micronations and simply lay claim to some land. After all, not like I would be actively declaring independence! The grand duchies of Flandresis and Westartica have claims to territories in Antarctica. The Kingdom of Ruritania, meanwhile, claims a residential property in Georgia (its queen regnant, Anastasia, was hostess for the international conference of micronationalists.) But I had a rented apartment in the United States. I knew that wasn’t going to bode well – President Trump would order an invasion in minutes! But that gave me an idea. Throughout history, dominant powers like England and Spain invaded territories already inhabited by populations. Could my kingdom do the same?
I looked to the Caribbean for my new kingdom. Despite its unusually strong hurricane seasons, the region is otherwise quite enjoyable. I started out with one uninhabited island situated between Haiti and Jamaica. Discovered by Colombus in the late-1400s, Navassa Island has since been claimed by both Haiti and the United States. I laid claim to the former guano-infested island and renamed it St. Elisabeth’s Island.
Over the past few months, as I’ve continued to build my nation, there’s was an important element I discovered. Nationhood isn’t defined by the dirt underneath them, though it certainly adds flavor to the mix. Nations are formed out of a desire to be free from oppression. They are born out of a determination to see a group thrive and flourish. Nations are formed out of ideals and thoughts. Nationhood is all about identity, and how we see ourselves in the world. It is why Mexicans, Haitians, Americans, and Catalonians fought (and fight) for independence – because they see no space for them in the greater polity.
Perhaps that is the reason micronations are formed. Not out of self-glorification (though some may exist), but because their leaders cannot see themselves in the society of their mother country. One can see why the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands maintained a ‘war’ with Australia due to their lack of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. (It dissolved shortly after Australia passed same-sex marriage.) As a black, first-generation Trans-American, I cannot always identify with current American culture. And I am not ignorant of the increasing efforts by American leadership to limit the rights of people like me.
Why not create a country where I can be treated fairly, justly, and royally?