Safe Spaces

Quick note before the post proper: I do have an analysis of The World Inside in the works, but it’s proving rather troublesome to tame into coherence. For now, this post.

I regularly see people declaring that somewhere or other is a “safe space”. So let’s pick this concept apart, and see just how easy or hard it is to create a safe space.

What is a “Safe Space”? The idea behind it is simple – a place where someone (usually of a minority group, though not necessarily) can write, talk, discuss their beliefs without any mockery, without trolls, and without a risk of them being offended (or in some cases distressed – known as triggered) by content within the area. For example, a Safe Space for a Homosexual person would be a space where you aren’t condemned for being homosexual. You won’t be mocked with homophobic slurs. Such a person can talk frankly about their experience. A transgender person meanwhile would have a space where they won’t be called and number of the transphobic slurs, nor would they be confronted with such slurs unexpectedly.

Sometimes you see people claiming that a particular tumblr tag is a “safe space” and that people should keep their hate out of the “transgender” tag, for example. This, is a futile request. The nature of tagging (on most sites, including tumblr) is that tags are public and unmoderated (beyond generic site-level moderation). Such tags will naturally be used by anyone who wishes too. And whilst sites may have “community guidelines” and so forth, against homophobic material etc, such policies tend to rely on user-reporting, and notably tend not to be as strict in their moderation as safe-spaces require.

Another angle is for example the /r/lgbt subreddit, which claims itself as a safe-space for any and all gender, sexual and romantic minorities, and it does work. Kind of. Reddit provides subreddit moderators (sub-reddits are essentially a forum board) with tools to remove any posts they wish. And this subreddit in particular has very pro-active moderators ensuring that any (even slightly) anti-lgbt material is removed quickly. So they have a safe space. Great. except, as is common in the case of highly active moderators, anything that doesn’t fit with their world-view is also removed. As such it creates a community that is perceived to be ‘all on the same page’. Even posts that aren’t anti-lgbt, but question, for example the ever expanding alphabet soup are removed.

Moving into the real world, a “safe space” tends to be a meeting area where there are people in authority, with the power to remove people from the space – such as University LGBT societies. These tend to be less prone to the ‘heavy-handedness’ of internet community moderation – by virtue of the fact that without the online disinhibition effect (Something I learned a great deal about for a University coursework) the number of trolls and “extreme” views tend to be minimised.

That said, online “safe spaces” are needed – providing people who experience homophobia, transphobia, and even things such as sexual assault or have attempted suicide, an area where they can pseudonymously communicate with others in the same boat is vital. It encourages the community to connect, to network, and thus to become stronger. And it insulates them from the problems that they face elsewhere in life (sometimes frighteningly regularly).

Safe Spaces need to be actively moderated, otherwise they are impossible to maintain. But it is important to recognise that this moderation can go too far, which can cause a narrowing world-view and even rejection, not acceptance, from the wider society (or even from within the same minority group – see the split from /r/lgbt to /r/ainbow).

On Gender and Sexuality

Ok, so here’s the thing. I’ve been trying to write this post for quite a while, but the words just don’t come out in any coherent manner. I intended to write a post explaining the concepts of Gender, chromosomal sex, and Sexuality. As this has not worked out what I shall instead do, I think, is include some useful videos/links etc that explain these concepts better than I ever could, with some comentary afterwards drawing out, what I feel are important quotes/themes

So firstly, a kind of 101 on all things related by the amazing Vlogbrothers

Some of the key ideas here are that sex and gender are two entirely separate things. Also, take note of the pronoun usage throughout – the pronoun is determined by the gender and not the sex.

And now I”ll include a genderbread person, which hopefully underlines that the combinations of the different traits – sexuality, gender, sex are infinite and a continuum, rather than just binary options.

Genderbread-2.1

An area that the vlogbrothers skimmed over, to the videos detriemnt is that of intersex people. These are people whose biological characteristics don’t match the two boxes we’ve seen. It may be a case that they have XY (tradiationally male) chromosones, but have female genitalia. Or they may have both genitalia, or even ‘just’ ambiguous genitalia. In all these cases it’s common for doctors to perform surgery on the baby/child (not all conditions are obvious at birth) to ‘fix’ them into one of the two roles they could fit in to.

To illustrate this, here’s a two part interview with a person who is intersex – they have XY chromosomes, and did have testes inside of them, whilst having outwardly female genitalia.

Some important things here- bodily automony and self determination. A person (including children) should be the only people to determine whether any surgery is done to their bodies. And a person is the only person who can determine their own identity, and choose their own labels (if any). Another concept is that the determinations people can make about their gender or sexuality can change over time, and that’s ok.

Another term in those videos was ‘cisgender’. All cisgender means is that basically your gender identity, and your physical sex characteristics all fit within one of the standard boxes of ‘male’ or ‘female’. It’s etymology is pretty much the exact opposite to ‘transgender’. Some cisgender people seem to have a problem with that term, but I simply ask, what other term could describe that particular alignment in a neutral way?

Another video now – one from a TEDx event that outlines some of the problems transgender people can face every single day.

There are a few things in this video that need to be highlighted – the first is the conflation of sexuality and gender. Breaking the gender roles as a child might mean your child is gay, or it might mean they’re transgender, or it might mean that they are a cisgendered heterosexual person. My point is that drawing conclusions about the signs after the facts seems easy, but is really very misleading, and no matter how your child interacts with gender roles, you shouldn’t assume it means anything about their sexuality or gender identity. Your child will tell you when they figure it out, and when they feel comfortable doing so. The important thing is to keep supporting them and loving them.

Another point mentioned is that of pronoun usage. It’s important to note that only the individual can decide which pronouns are acceptable for others to use. Some who fall outside the binary may even prefer something different to he or she – some prefer the use of Xir for example. Personally this next video, on the topic of gendered language sums up my thoughts on the matter of pronouns – although other trans people may disagree about the claim that ‘invented’ pronouns don’t really work.

A couple of things in this video – the use of ‘it’ is never never acceptable (well, there might be one trans person out there who is OK with it, but I have yet to find them). And they is a suitable gender-neutral alternative most of the time. Incidentally, I managed to remove my gender from Facebook via a bit of unfiltered input on their mobile site.

A common theme through this post has been that of ‘gender roles’. They’ve been mentioned in everything I’ve linked to so far. Gender Roles are the idea that ‘blue is for boys’, ‘women belong in the kitchen/at home’, ‘men are the breadwinners’ and ‘women care for the children’ and other such claims. We’ve already blasted through the very notion of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ binary classifications, so let’s put a final nail in the coffin. ‘Blue is for boys’ is only recently true – in America for example through most of the 1900’s, boys wore pink more often. The entire notion of acceptable colours for boys and girls got turned on its head at some point. If that doesn’t show how the entire notion of objective gender roles is wrong, I don’t know what will.

So, there we have it. An introduction into gender, sex and sexuality and how they really have no relation to each other at all. Except what society tries to force onto people anyway.