On inclusive and exclusive spaces, and why actively cultivating “safe” exclusionary spaces is vital

I am inherently suspicious of any group of community or event that claims to be broadly inclusive. Or more specifically, I know that attempts to be equally inclusive of everyone will always, always result in exclusionary spaces where the least privileged perspectives are the most marginalized.

In speaking about why I distrust the very concept of ‘the GSM community’ (or ‘the LGBTQIA+ community’), I recently wrote:

I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

This is in part because I acknowledge that it is important and vital for me to continue to listen to and make space for the voices of people who experience oppressions that I do not. I cannot help but be complicit in oppressions if I do not even know they exist, and so I feel a deep responsibility to be always learning about others’ experiences of marginalization.

It as also because I know the power of groups that are deliberately and mindfully exclusionary of relatively privileged people. I know the power of explicitly and actively centering and amplifying marginalized voices above all others.

There are things that marginalized people are reluctant to say in the presence of the privileged, in the presence of their oppressors. There are things that need to be said, truths that burn inside of hurting people, that cannot be adequately addressed when the perpetrators of that hurt are listening.

For example: most women experience varying forms of harassment, objectification, or other forms of dehumanization or humiliation on a fairly regular basis, simply for being in public where there are men. Women can, and do, talk about these things publicly of course, and it is important that all of us who see this happening refuse to be silent.

However, when a woman is processing the trauma of a new, particular, experience of dehumanization at the hands of a man, it is often important for her to find a space to do so where there are no men. The reason for this is simple and terrible: because we live in the kind of patriarchal world that teaches men to dehumanize women, woman can’t even speak out and describe their experiences without having men use those experiences as fodder for their own prurient dehumanizing interests.

I’m going to say that again, actually: any time a woman speaks out publicly against her own dehumanization, and especially when she describes in detail how she was dehumanized, there are people who will use that information to further dehumanize her. It is that fucking awful. It is that fucking inescapable.

The only way that many marginalized people can even begin to process their victimization without being actively re-victimized by their effort, is by doing so in a space that excludes their oppressors.

But it’s not just that, even.

In addition to allowing for healing and processing, smaller groups and communities focusing on particular oppressions, or better yet on particular intersecting oppressions are far and away more likely to be able to get shit done.

There is this thing about public conversation about oppression; I’m sure you’ve seen it many times. When someone tries to start a broadly public conversation about what might be done about some particular form of oppression they experience, that conversation will almost without fail be derailed into a conversation all about convincing those who don’t experience that form of oppression that it does actually exist, and that it is, in fact, a problem.

By simply excluding people who don’t experience that form of oppression, or by allowing them to attend only as long as they understand that their role is only to listen and support, we allow the conversation to move past proving the existence of oppression into actually planning movements to improve the lives of people facing that oppression.

Exclusive spaces are absolutely necessary because there are some things that oppressed people only learn to name and recognize in the safety of their own communities. Exclusive spaces are necessary to have the occasional opportunity to escape from our oppressors and process our experiences.

The converse of this a weird one, though: inclusive spaces that claim to value everyone equally are never truly inclusive; they will always alienate the people most in need of community. The only truly inclusive space is a space that works actively to undermine the power and voices of its privileged participants, and to bolster the power and voices of those who are traditionally silenced.

If you aren’t actively dismantling the existing power hierarchies, you will always wind up reproducing them.

15 comments

  1. *squirms* I agree with the essence of this idea, but the practice of it seems to be more harmful than helpful. When you get into exclusion, you also risk the question of “how __ do you have to be to be included in the group?” That’s how you get such violently anti-trans female spaces/groups. That’s how you get hate blogs against “cishet” asexuals. I totally agree that people should be able to make their own safe spaces – it’s just very hard to agree who gets to be in those spaces and who doesn’t. And when you start to exclude people who are also part of that minority, it becomes a game of who’s-more-oppressed… and the result is that anyone who doesn’t win is automatically labeled an oppressor.

    1. I am struggling to find an appropriate response to this comment.

      Of course I agree that any time the question becomes “are you ______ enough?” then things have gone off the rails. This is true of all TERF spaces, which actively deny the womanhood of some women. When you get into questions of, to use your example, cishet aces, this should only be an issue with explicitly intersectional groups. I would be royally pissed if cishet aces were trying to claim they should be allowed in spaces specifically created for trans aces, or non-het aces, for the same reason that I would be royally pissed at white people who wanted space in black queer spaces.

      It’s not even a question of who is more oppressed – it is a question of whether or not you experience the particular oppressions and intersections of oppressions that the space is designed for. Trans aces and non-het aces experience different intersections and a trans het ace shouldn’t try to take part in non-het ace spaces, or vice versa. I hope this makes sense?

      I’m not really sure what your point about cishet ace hate blogs is – to some extent it is important to allow space for people to blow off steam against those who do not experience the same marginalization they do – this is what misandrist jokes, or any rhetoric about cis scum are usually about, for instance. There needs to be space for non-het and/or trans aces to air grievances against cishet aces for the same reason that black queers need space to air grievances against white queers. These things can go too far, but it is the responsibility of the cishet/white/male or whatever person being called out to check themself first before crying about it, and honestly in most cases if the grievance in question doesn’t apply to you, just accept that it isn’t about you (because yes, we know it’s #notallcishetaces, just as it is #notallmen, #notallwhitepeople, etc) and move on. If it does apply to you, well then maybe the people complaining are doing so for a reason?

      1. My point was more that I think we (the community as a big messy whole) can take the label of “oppressor” too far. It just seems like lately I’ve been seeing it used more as a weapon than as (ugh can’t think of a good word)… well, just a label, or a piece of truth. I’m not saying everything has to be inclusive or even always acknowledge the “not all __” rhetoric, but… I don’t know. I think some folks in the community who are inexperienced in the nuances of dialogue see people saying “everyone who isn’t ___ is an oppressor” and that becomes all they focus on. It just worries me, because we get so focused on making sure people know they’re privileged that we forget a) everyone in the community has privilege, and b) everyone in the community also is a minority. I know I’m rambling, sorry.

        1. I actually agree with you on the overuse of oppressor rhetoric – I originally wrote this post a few weeks ago and then went back in to edit it to include more language around privilege and to lean little less heavily on oppressor rhetoric. It can be a hard balance to strike, and I appreciate being checked on it though!

      2. I didn’t read this (first) comment of yours, Kasey, before leaving my comment. I had this webpage open for a long time before hitting post on my comment and probably should’ve refreshed the page first. :P I was attempting to agree with many points in your original post (as well as with Herb Dino’s comment), rather than necessarily with much of what is in this comment of yours.

        As someone who is (increasingly) extremely upset by the current climate on tumblr right now when it comes to attitudes toward asexual (and aromantic!!) people as a whole, it makes me bristle to learn that you consider that some aces are also “het” (and therefore, to use the frustrating term, “cishet”) and that to you that isn’t an oxymoron. Because what people are NOT doing is making nuanced arguments about “I’m a lesbian ace and for me this is my experience and the heteroromantic aces I’ve spoken to did this in response, clearly not understanding”. No. Bisexual people are often defending aces all while a scarily large mass of blogs on tumblr are attacking aces as “not being oppressed” and also a lot of other things, including “anything bad that happens to you or that you experience as related to your asexuality either isn’t THAT bad, or can be explained by SOMETHING else other than your aceness”. Attacking them as “basically straight”, etc. Some of these blogs are by people who are ace themselves, some are not. Attacking them in places like the “aromantic” or “asexual” tag on tumblr which is, for many aces, the closest thing they can even find to a safe space/”community”, and that community is being ripped from them.

        onlyfragments – I do not know how to “like” comments on this blog, even though you somehow “liked” mine haha, but I just want to say that I agree completely that “oppressor” would be so much more useful as a description than as a weapon, and that what you’re describing *is* VERY worrying.

        I strongly feel like cishet has become shorthand only people who are against me will use: http://freethoughtblogs.com/atrivialknot/2016/05/21/signaling-in-social-justice-language/ and while I of course agree that many people are cis and many people are “het” in a few different possible ways (either the typical “straight” or “heterosexual – with no qualifiers” kind of way, or even heteroromantic&ace and heterosexual&aromantic), I still bristle now to just see the word “cishet” (and even, in the context of any discussion where asexuality is coming up, a word like “Oppressed”) because of what the current discourse has become.

        1. Your bristle is legitimate, and I apologize. I should clarify that I assumed cishet in an ace context really just meant cis and heteroromantic, and I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t see cishet aces as queer. I aboutlutely think being ace falls under the broad queer umbrella regardless of romantic or other orientations and I would never exclude any ace from the general GSM category. I know people do that and I am sorry.

          My only point is that hetero aces do not have the same experience as non-het aces in that at least their romantic relationships (if they have them) are less likely to cause them to be, for instance, harassed on the street or kicked out of their homes than the relationships of non-het aces (though they may be bashed for being asexual, it won’t be for their romantic orientation is my point).

          I don’t intend to use cishet as a weapon, but I hear what you’re saying when you experience it as one because it has been used that way. Is there a better term I could be using?

          1. That’s easy enough! You’re right that it is misleading since the cishet short form has pretty much become shorthand for “not in the LGBTQIA+ umbrella”, and I should make a point of not even implicitly putting aces into thay <3

          2. Yes, I was just telling someone on tumblr that my recommendation just saying “Straight & cis” instead of the actual term “cishet” if they’re referring to a straight person who is both non-ace and non-aro, and as onlyfragments recommends, I would *highly* recommend clarifying “heteroromantic” in a discussion about aces where that is explicitly what you mean.

            Even something like “het aces” is ambiguous about a number of potential things you could mean:

            “the heteroromantic aces”? “the heteroromantic and aro aces” (since obviously both are “basically straight??), or that phrase could also mean “all aces are het” (at least by default, or they’re closer to het than gay so…) which is ridiculous but sometimes how it feels to read people saying “het aces” – instead of het seeming like a qualifier for which type of ace one is referring to, it often seems like an accusation/description that aces just ARE het.

    2. onlyfragments: THIS. Yes, I agree…

      I also agree with many of the points made by Kasey and Herb Dino below… I just…

      Well like, considering everyone who is a gender or sexual minority to be a part of a single “community” does seem flawed. Going to a Pride Parade or agreeing we’re under the same huge “Acronym” means yes, standing in solidarity and relating in small ways, but each segment is different, smaller sub-communities exist, etc, etc. It’s not really a single “community”.

      There is a difference between “this community was created for women to talk to other women” and “no men/no non-women allowed”. Or a difference between “this broad community is for people who don’t feel straight” vs. “no straight people allowed”. If you pay too close attention to who to exclude, you’ll end up excluding people who feel marginalized because no communities exist for them, people who are in-between the categorizations, and people who should’ve always been allowed in because they *are* women are *are* non-straight, but who for whatever reason were grouped with “the oppressors” and so some of the people want to keep them out.

      1. This is a great point actually, and I like the distinction between making a space for particular voices without excluding the presence of others.

        I think you’ve also touched on the sort of identity policing that can cause squirmy feels around this sort of thing – I am not down for groups that exclude people they decide aren’t *really* queer, or aren’t *really* ace, and I definitely definitely think everyone needs to allow space for their own and others’ uncertainty for where they fit. If someone has to for – sure identify as ace before participating in ace community, or for – sure know they are trans, or whatever else, then how are they may to figure out whether they belong or not? It does require nuance, and a lot of folks do like police who “qualifies” as queer and that helps no one and hurts a lot of people :/

  2. Yes! I feel this way about the GSM community as well. It’s just such a large community with so many different types of people experiencing different forms of privilege and oppression. Though it’s nice to come together in solidarity sometimes, I’m more interested in organizing in smaller, more specific groups because we get shit done.

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