When is a safe space not a safe space?

August 6, 2008

I’m not entirely sure why I feel obliged to explain the presence of this (empty) post. But I do.

Y’see, my initial thought was to revisit my earlier post, Space: the final frontier, but to refocus it from the vexatious subject of women-only spaces, to consider whether it is naive for me, a trans woman, to think that trans-inclusive spaces (not trans-only spaces) are safe spaces for me.

I haven’t got very far because it involves a huge rethinking of my earlier notion that any exclusive space (trans or non-trans) is inherently divisive and therefore A Bad Thing for trans/non-trans understanding, dialog and bridge-building. And tonight I’m feeling just a little too distracted, despondent, even, to apply my limited brain power to considering anything deeper than the bottom of a glass of wine.

After yesterday’s robust exchange of views over at TFW (I’m observing a “let sleeping dogs lie” policy and not linking) – well, I’ll be honest, I’m presently of the opinion that even that’s not going far enough. Maybe, in fact, I need to reconsider my other wildly optimistic idea that I could combine some of the concepts of feminism with my experience of transsexuality into a personally relevant framework for living.

But maybe the idea that one can be a trans woman and a feminist – a trans feminist – is actually an oxymoron. I really just don’t know any more.

So I need more time to percolate. And it struck me as just plain rude to leave this post adorned with only a single cryptic question mark by way of content.



One Response to “When is a safe space not a safe space?”

  1. Lisa Harney Says:

    I don’t think that being a trans woman and a feminist is an oxymoron, but I can understand not wanting to identify as a feminist when every conversation in feminist space devolves into cis people demanding trans women justify our right to exist.

    I do think that there’s no such thing as safe space. Emi Koyama questions whether women-only spaces can truly be called safe spaces at all.

    But there are also very different kinds of fear and pain that I feel are unique to women-only spaces that I could not find a word for until recently. Here is what I mean: When men act out their misogyny toward me or toward other women, it is a very horrible experience, but at least I have other feminists to validate my feelings. There is no fantasy that this world is safe for women, and I feel empowered through fighting back together against the violence and oppression against us. But when I go into women-only spaces, there are so many fallacies that claim how safe, liberating, and egalitarian these spaces supposedly are that it makes me feel crazy and invalidated for feeling hurt by other women. And when I try to confront other women for their racism, classism, ableism or other oppressions, I frequently get attacked, which is not much different from what happens when I try to address sexism outside of these spaces, except that I am accused of being divisive and left without the support of other feminists that I generally count on for my survival.

    The illusion of women’s space being safe space is supported by the idea that sexism is the central oppression, and the blindness of privilege.

    Of course, I do feel safer in women-only spaces, so I don’t think safety is a complete illusion, but the fact is that my safety is conditional: If someone decides she doesn’t like me for being trans, that safety can be swept away in a second. I assume any space will turn drastically unsafe at any time.

    I think trans-only space is important, because of what privilege does to dialogue. I also think that cis women don’t really have much to fear in terms of privilege from trans women.

    I also have yet to really hear a justification for cis women-only space that’s not based on invalidating trans women’s identities as women.

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