eruthros: Wizard of Oz: Dorothy in black and white, text "rainbow" in rainbow colors (Dorothy singing rainbow)
[personal profile] eruthros
Take Back the Night at my undergrad university had a strict policy that only (self-identified) women could march; there was an ally's meeting for men to talk about violence against women. And there were two ways that men dealt with this:

"But I'm an ally! I support you! Don't you want men to support you? You can't fight this battle alone. Is this equality? Don't you want people to stop using gender to divide us?" etc This is the ally as Nice Guy TM, as a self-defined ally -- as an asshole.

"Part of my support involves not intruding on your space -- and hey, the men's meeting sounds really informative! Is there anything else I can do to help? I could make posters -- I have smelly markers!" This is the ally as actual nice guy.


I've been thinking about safe spaces lately, both in offline and online life. I've been thinking about the degree to which some people don't understand what a safe space is, and what it means -- a self-determined space, a space I declare safe, a space under my control. When the above asshole tries to march with me, he's saying: I know what is safe for you. I know that I'm okay and I declare that you are not allowed to be uncomfortable around me, because I'm an ALLY, so therefore you're just being mean. He is saying: your emotional reactions are just ridiculous. He is saying: I will call myself an ally, but never respect your ability to speak, to define yourself and your spaces. He doesn't understand that sometimes a safe space means he's not invited.

Lo these many years ago, my partner and I did a tv night with a bunch of queer and queer-friendly friends. One day, without warning, a friend of ours brought her new bf -- who believed that gay people were going to hell. He sat in the corner all night and scowled; he didn't talk to any of us. Later, she said things like "he's a great guy in every other way" and "he needs to learn" and "well, you're such stable lesbians that you'll demonstrate how not scary you are!" and similar bullshit; when we told her he wasn't welcome, she accused us of prejudice against religious people, of being over-sensitive, of not understanding who our allies were, of not working hard to recruit more allies.

She didn't understand what a safe space was: a safe space is a space in which everyone feels comfortable; a space in which we get to stop fucking teaching if we don't want to teach anymore. And sometimes, that means well-intentioned people aren't invited. Sometimes, some of my best friends aren't invited. It sure as hell means the guy who thinks I'm going to hell isn't invited.

So: When EBear declared that her journal was a safe space for PoC, and then failed to monitor or delete the racist asshole comments -- that's the opposite of a safe space. That's the fake-safe space of an "ally," of a Nice Guy TM; of someone who wants props without the hard work of explaining to her friends that they are, temporarily, not allowed to speak. And it's hard work, because fake-allies won't accept that they have to shut up, that they have to just listen.

Which brings me to: "double-standards" and the banhammer.

If my safe space includes a space where I don't have to defend myself, a space where I don't have to be a teacher and be an example and be a good lesbian -- then yeah, if I don't believe you won't do that, you're not invited. I don't recall where I saw it now, but at some points during Racefail 09 I've seen defensive comments about W!ll and tnh -- people saying, well, you're critiquing tnh for deleting comments and then banning people, but some of the anti-racists are also banning people! So it's a double-standard! And double-standards are always bad don't you want equality! And, of course, W!ll Sh!tt!rly talked a lot about his (self-declared) ally-ness, and argued that therefore he should be permitted to participate in every discussion ever.

How often do we need to say "racism = power + prejudice?" How often do we need to talk about safe spaces, about the difference between a group of white men saying that PoC aren't allowed at their country club, and a group of Latina woman making a Latina-women only open-mike night?

If my journal is my my safe space, and if W!ll Sh!tt!rly has so far showed up to journals only to derail conversation, to make it all about him, to ask rhetorical questions and judge the OP's class status ... why should I let him in to my journal? Why should I invite the guy who thinks I'm going to hell to sit in my living room? If pseudonymous conversation lets people speak more comfortably, why should I make them identify themselves just because somebody wants to define not only my safe space on the internet, but the manner in which I'm permitted to address anyone?

I've also been thinking about the problems of a safe space for everyone. In the situation above, we asked all our friends how they felt -- did going-to-hell-guy make them feel uncomfortable? If so, what would make them feel more comfortable? And I'd like to think that we would have listened to them even if we also hadn't been angry and uncomfortable, because we were dedicated to the idea of a safe space and we wanted our friends to feel safe. I'm going to a set of queer film nights now, too, and the same sort of issue is coming up. There's a woman (Jane) that is best friends with one of the organizers (Bob); the other organizer (Mary) says that Jane makes her feel uncomfortable, and told Bob so. When Mary hosted, Jane wasn't invited; now, Bob is hosting, and he's invited Jane. Here again, see EBear above, and the problems of telling friends that they're not welcome; Bob doesn't seem to realize that he has rendered his movie night an unsafe space in a single move -- that if Mary is uncomfortable, and doesn't want to speak freely, it is no longer a safe space, even if it's still hunky-dory for Bob. And that, now that I know this story, it's no longer a safe space for me even though I've never met Jane, because I know that Mary is uncomfortable. If a safe space means different things to different people, sometimes you can't invite people you like, people you feel comfortable around. Other people may not know them as well -- or may know them better than you do. People keep saying: But W!ll Sh!tt!rly is a nice guy IRL (as though this is not real life) -- "if you only knew him" -- "but I trust him to do the right thing." Okay, fine, you feel like you know him well -- that doesn't automatically mean that you can bring him to somebody's blog and tell the blogger that W!ll's just dandy so it's still a safe space.

I can do my best to make a ten-person party in my house a safe space for everyone, but a con can't be: there are just too many people, and too much going on. Even the best cons have problems. So here are various white sff professionals arguing that they go to tons of cons, and that there are few PoC at cons, and that the percentage of PoC at cons is a completely accurate reflection of the percentage of PoC fans who read and watch sff. There are a lot of problems with this model; there's the assumption that the same people participate in the most expensive way to be an sff fan as in the least expensive; the assumption that all kinds of fans are the same, and all kinds of fans go to cons; and, of course, the safe space problem. If you're a white straight geek guy, a con is a safe space for you -- look, it's a group of people who won't judge you for your fannishness! How wonderful and reassuring! Everyone who is a fan or a geek must want to go, so that they can be surrounded by other fans and feel comfortable, so clearly cons must reflect fandom accurately. Right? Right?

But if you're a girl, if you're a PoC, if you're queer, then it's not a safe space at all. How little empathy must people have that they can't recognize that? That they can't recognize that stories like the outing of transfolk at Wiscon, the Open Source Boob Project, the antipathy and overt racism and sexism and homophobia might influence the desire of PoC and queer folks and women to go to cons at all? [ profile] ciderpress's ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies describes the pain and hurt that she feels when fandom is not a safe space, when a con is not a safe space. And yet, there are the white sff professionals, arguing that PoC on the internet must be sockpuppets because there just aren't that many PoC fans in sff. They don't understand safe spaces, and safe(r) spaces, and unsafe spaces. They don't understand that different women/PoC/queers don't feel the same degree of safe, and make different decisions about it; if their black friend felt safe at the con, then no black person can feel uncomfortable, then all black people will go to cons proportionate to their participation in fandom. They don't understand that women and PoC and queers have always been making these decisions, have always been sharing information about racism and sexism and homophobia and safe(r) cons, have always been building cons and fanmoots and film nights and tv groups to make safe(r) spaces.

Date: 2009-03-04 06:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As I know, I agree with this completely, and am so glad that you posted it. I think that "safe space" is a really helpful and interesting way of grouping some of the wide-ranging issues that have come up in fandom lately - via Racefail, via S_D, via filters and flocks and bannination and so forth. Not that those things are equivalent, but they do all seem to touch on this issue, and it does seem to be one of the core issues that some people just outright refuse to get.

Anyhow! I don't have anything to say that you haven't said already, really, so basically this comment is just to say YES.

Date: 2009-03-05 04:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
that story is horrifying. and I am willing to bet that I could name the kinds of titles you were buying, and the kinds of titles being pushed on you as "real" comics. HI GENDERED GENRE DIVIDE WHAT'S UP.

I actually had a similar incident, once, in a way - when I worked at Corporation, I had a friend and fellow cubefarmer sniff disdainfully at the Fables trade I was reading - and bring in his copy of Sin City to lend me the next week. Because Sin City is about Gritty Reality, you see, it's Real Art in that way.

Date: 2009-03-05 06:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*sigh* I've stopped reading comics on a weekly basis since my kids were born, because most comic shops aren't places where I feel safe taking them.

It was one thing when it was just me, and I could stare down men who gave me shit (and in the last place we lived I had a couple of awesome Comic Book Store Guys who I knew would back me up if anyone did anything). It's a whole different thing when it's my daughter they're staring at. It's a lot scarier.

We get our comics at the library now.

And thank you; this is a really strong post.

Date: 2009-03-04 07:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Excellent post.

Date: 2009-03-04 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is where I have nothing intelligent to add except that you are very smart.

Date: 2009-03-04 07:20 pm (UTC)
such_heights: amy and rory looking at a pile of post (Default)
From: [personal profile] such_heights
Yes, yes, this, and yes. Thank you!

Date: 2009-03-04 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This was really well done. Thank you!

Date: 2009-03-04 07:27 pm (UTC)
longtimegone: (Default)
From: [personal profile] longtimegone
here via [ profile] thingswithwings.

This is a really excellent post. The concept of "safe spaces" is something that I've thought a lot about for myself on the smaller scale (i.e. my LJ is something that I keep separated from my "real life" because, well, it's mine), and, while catching up with the RaceFail, I've been consistently horrified at some of the ways in which people really have no concept of it, on either a micro or macro scale.

I have a lot more to read to catch up on RF completely, however, that's why I love tabbed browsing. :)

I've got, as always, a lot of work to do myself, most assuredly. Lots of shutting the hell up and listening and making sure I think before I speak and do.

So, yes, this is a great post and thank you for making it. :)

Date: 2009-03-05 01:18 am (UTC)
ext_2496: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Shutting up and listening is pretty much what I've been doing, too.

I've been thinking about safe space in terms of the classroom, which I find even more difficult; no classroom is truly safe, because nobody really gets to choose who is in it. I'm aiming for a safer classroom--and I still have a lot of work ahead of me.

Thanks for posting on the topic. It's very much on my mind lately.

Date: 2009-03-04 08:05 pm (UTC)
ext_230: a tiny green frog on a very red leaf (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I used to Not Get the very concept of safe space, I think - I come from a very.. egalitarian background, let's say. But I've come around to it, and I think it's a crucial concept, now. Your articulate post is very illuminating. Thank you. I would hope that these thoughts can help some failboat people learn something new, but alas I have the feeling they won't even be reading.

Date: 2009-03-04 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is a really great post, and a really great articulation of what it takes to actually create a safe space, including accepting that different kinds of exclusion may need to occur to keep the space safe.

I have a complicated relationship with designated safe spaces, particularly when they're defined as being safe based primarily on the identities of who may enter. As a queer person, but as a queer person who at times is in relationships that appear heterosexual, my discomfort with self-policing has always been greater than my need for assurance that a space will be safe. This is definitely an outgrowth of my own privilege: as someone whose friends and family have been almost universally supportive and queer-friendly, as someone who has lived in contexts where my safety and livelihood were rarely threatened based on my orientation, the greatest social violence I have been likely to suffer based on my minority status was the threat of having my identity policed by those around me. Being told, explicitly or implicitly, that I was "actually" bisexual, or "actually" straight, or "actually" a lesbian, or "actually" picking partners and presentations because they let me pass. For a long time, I felt most ill-at-ease in nominally "safe" queer-only spaces, because I was on guard for someone else in the space to deem my credentials lacking, downgrade me to the status of ally, and eject me.

I'm still not convinced that ultimately, the self-policing of identity-based "safe" spaces doesn't carry a strong, if subtle, risk of social violence. But it's good for me to be reminded that there are other, more pervasive forms of violence from which well-tended safe spaces provide a vitally important harbor. Thanks for posting about it.

Date: 2009-03-04 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
But I imagine that I have a somewhat different feeling about safe spaces generally, because aside from Take Back the Night, all of the safe spaces to which I've been invited have included allies --

Yeah, those kind of spaces -- not the "you must be this tall to ride this ride," but "you must agree not to act violently or otherwise like an asshole" -- are a totally different kettle of fish. I think spaces where all people agree to behave in a manner that makes everyone else feel safe, plus preserve the safety of the space in how they talk about it on the outside, are vital.

Date: 2009-03-04 08:53 pm (UTC)
ext_841: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
This is really hard and really important. I think about that a lot, especially with your first example, because sometimes the right reaction is to just accept that you should be there...and that's not a personal attack as much as it simply means you support by being OK with that.

Eh...yes. :) What you said.

Date: 2009-03-04 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Here via [ profile] thingswithwings. Thank you for this; it's clear and really useful.

Date: 2009-03-04 09:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
here via random lj link hopping 'round RaceFail '09 and most directly via [ profile] thingswithwings

Thank you for laying it out so clearly and eloquently. It clarified a lot of things that had been vaguely going around in my head. *memories*

Date: 2009-03-04 11:50 pm (UTC)
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
From: [personal profile] cofax7
What a great post.

As a white, straight, cisgendered woman, I've had to struggle a bit with the concept of safe spaces, because it feels... well, you know. Anyway, I really appreciate this post, which really lays it out for those of us who haven't always Gotten It.

'On Safe Spaces'

Date: 2009-03-05 12:03 am (UTC)
ext_14845: betta fish (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Here via [ profile] thingswithwings...

Very well-articulated post. I especially appreciated the explanation of the two different 'allies' at the beginning because I know some of the 'Nice Guy TM' sorts that I've had difficulties explaining in what way they weren't being actual allies. Maybe now the next time it comes up I can explain the difference in a way that might actually be understandable (instead of my previous verbal flailing of 'but it's not the same, really!')

Date: 2009-03-05 12:35 am (UTC)
ext_2721: original art by james jean ( (Default)
From: [identity profile]

This is an interesting and well-worded post. Thank you so much for taking pains to define safespace.

Date: 2009-03-05 01:21 am (UTC)
ext_6167: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
They don't understand that women and PoC and queers have always been making these decisions, have always been sharing information about racism and sexism and homophobia and safe(r) cons, have always been building cons and fanmoots and film nights and tv groups to make safe(r) spaces.


Excellent post.

Date: 2009-03-05 05:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is absolutely right, clear, excellent and thanks for posting it. There's much to chew on here and keep in mind.

Date: 2009-03-05 09:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for making this post. It clarified a few things I hadn't understood clearly before.

Date: 2009-03-05 01:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for this comprehensive post! I've been thinking a while about what I could possible add to this, but maybe this: PoC is not PoC, women is not women, and queer is not queer.

I had this experience when I first joined the gay&lesbian center in my town and met people who all felt that they were being in a safe place. Back at that time I wasn't very clear about my sexual orientation and wasn't even sure if wanted to decide at all. But everyone around me seemed to be well settled and talking about how they'd known at the age of 12 how they would be a happy gay or lesbian for the rest of their lives. That made that supposedly safe place an uncomfortable place for me, and I still feel uncomofortable there sometimes.

I think I have taught the people at the center a little in the meantime - I managed to make the place safer and more comfortable for me.

Date: 2009-03-05 01:53 pm (UTC)

Date: 2009-03-05 04:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, well and excellently said.

Date: 2009-03-05 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for this- it's a good explanation, and helpful in terms of explaining how the well-intentioned can express support in a way that is actually, well, supportive.

Date: 2009-03-05 07:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's painful to be both a media fan and a SF&F fan (who very occasionally goes to cons) and see the two collide in such a horrible way, with people I previously respected behaving like tinhats. This is so much what I needed to read after EB's latest post of fail and head explosion. Thank you.

Date: 2009-03-05 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for this.

Date: 2009-03-05 09:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks so much for posting this!

Date: 2009-03-06 08:50 pm (UTC)
ext_161: girl surrounded by birds in flight. (Default)
From: [identity profile]
This is just excellent.

Date: 2009-03-18 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
here via [ profile] such_heights

Thank you, sincerely, for the education. I should have been taught this years ago.

Date: 2009-12-27 07:00 am (UTC)


eruthros: Delenn from Babylon 5 with a startled expression and the text "omg!" (Default)

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