The idea of ‘safe spaces’ for any minority group often sets people on edge faster than just about anything else to do with inclusion talk. I get it. I really, really get it. Making these safe spaces where only members of group X can be creates an automatic rift between the majority and the minority, and it’s that gap we’re trying to close. Doesn’t make any sense, right? On the surface, no it really doesn’t. But I ask you to take a look at it from another angle.
I want you to meet Dana. Dana comes from a very small town in Texas. Fifty miles from anything close to metropolitan culture, very much not a safe space to be open about being a lesbian most of the time. Which is a problem for Dana. It makes it very hard to date, very hard to even be there. Not only that, but she’s sort of stuck. However, the town pretty much knows because, at one point or another, she came out, and word got around. And they make it a challenge for her. She can’t get hired for summer jobs. She almost doesn’t graduate high school because Mr. Smith, the senior lit teacher, didn’t approve of her lifestyle. Dana can barely look at a woman her own age without someone overreacting and calling her every slur in the book, and some that they just made up on the spot.
This has an effect on anyone, no matter what they say. That constant grinding down of confidence and self-worth is a struggle. That’s not to say it happens everywhere or to everyone. But to deny that it happens would be to deny people due recognition of what they went through, and that’s not cool. For people who live in the situation Dana lives in, it can take years to build up that self-image again, and even then it’s not always so solid. It can be incredibly fragile.
This is where I say safe spaces come in handy. In the SF/F community, this could be a QUILTBAG+ Facebook group, an agreed meeting at a convention, or just a meeting with like-minded people. I don’t think that it should be restricted to only members of the QUILTBAG+ community. Let the allies in. The idea is to keep it safe. Don’t let in people who are there to cause harm or insult people.
Some people may never make it past that safe space. You know what? At least they have what that space gives them. They have camaraderie, at long last. But a lot of people will move past it. With the support that they receive from something like that, they can create not only that self-worth, but that initial support system they can turn to if something does go wrong, or if something becomes too much for them to handle.
Cut back to Dana, finally with enough money to go the fifty miles to the nearest SF/F con, along with a few close friends who are regulars. She wouldn’t have gotten there without the safe space created to build her up and bring her into the community as a whole. So yeah, these safe spaces that pop up occasionally, normally with great ire attached, serve a very important purpose. They provide a way into the SF/F community. So if you’re looking for ways to bring more QUILTBAG+ individuals into your group or your convention or what have you? Don’t immediately balk at the idea of a sort of jumping off point for them. Let people take the time they need, and then hopefully they’ll mingle when they’re ready.