Not Your Safe Space

Right now the Olympic games are happening in Brazil, and they're all anyone can talk about. Michael Phelps has now earned enough gold medals that I think he gets one free. Simone Biles is absolutely everything. So many stories have come from the games. Alongside the usual emotionally stirring tales of personal triumph have been headlines causing stomachs to turn all across the globe. From the sexism to the racism to the poverty porn, there's been almost as much to denigrate as to celebrate about these games. However, one conversation that sparked this past week has really grabbed at my core.

Gay Safe Spaces

This all started with an article from The Daily Beast that I cannot even link to because The Daily Beast took it down. However, I'll link to an article from Slate discussing the article from The Daily Beast, because it does a pretty decent job of telling you what the article said and why it is problematic. Here's a quick summary of the facts, quoting from the Slate article:

On Thursday morning, the Daily Beast published an exceedingly gross and bizarre article by a straight, married male writer who lured in gay Olympians through hookup apps for no particular purpose. The entire piece is an astoundingly creepy exercise in Grindr-baiting, which involves a journalist accessing Grindr in an unlikely setting and … seeing what happens. But the Daily Beast piece, penned by Nico Hines, is a uniquely disgusting and irresponsible entry into the tired genre. Hines entices his (often closeted) subjects under false pretenses; effectively outs several closeted athletes who live in repressive countries; then writes about the whole thing in a tone of mocking yet lurid condescension.
Cutting to the chase, this article has set off an astonishing level of conversation on the topic of straight people's desire to treat the LGBT community as some kind of zoo.

The Gay Zoo

See, folks have been touring the LGBT community's spaces for quite some time to enjoy our ambience, our music, our bodies, our parades, our media, our bars, our clubs, and on and on. And...that's a point. It's fine until the point that you've conflated the LGBT community's safe space with your own safe space. Allow me to illustrate.

I, too, echoed the sentiment on social media that straight girls going to gay bars for safety are colonizing a space that is not theirs for their own purpose. 

I was shocked at how quickly straight white girls came out of the woodwork to tell me all the reasons why I was wrong and that they had a right to our space. 

The initial and immediate argument that came out, and that started being repeated by many straight white women, was that women feel unsafe in certain spaces, too, so why shouldn't they have access to our safe space. 

But there are a number of fallacies going on here. The biggest, in my view, is the appeal to emotion (tied up a little with a straw man argument). This idea that because women also have places where they feel unsafe - college campuses, bars, etc. - that they should then be allowed equal standing in our space is just...well...not true. Don't get me wrong. Please don't get me wrong. We absolutely have a rampant sexism problem in this country, and I've given voice to numerous stories over the years on the Riot discussing such issues. A swimmer for Stanford can rape a girl, and his swimming stats are what is reported. They don't release his mugshot. He's given a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, the victim is made out to be some kind of succubus that lures men to their doom with her magical drunken vagina. 

We. Have. A. Sexism. Problem.

Saying it as plainly as I can, because the first comments against this article are going to say otherwise. 

However, because we have a sexism problem doesn't mean that it's now perfectly acceptable for straight women to co-opt LGBT spaces for their own safety and entertainment, because that is not what the space is created for. I'm glad you feel safe in our spaces, but they're not made for your safety; they're made for ours.

Or, as another Rioter put it, a woman's personal sense of safety might be in jeopardy in certain locations or situations, but it doesn't negate that the overall safety for straight women to exist in society as a whole is protected. The world is built to accommodate a heteronormative ideal, after all, and that is the difference here. 

The "I Paid My Money" Argument

Other folks took the fiduciary tactic when arguing for straight co-opting of gay space:

Nobody said anything about straight women not being allowed at a gay bar; I said it's our safe space and not yours. But, the bigger problem I have with the argument is this "I'll take my money elsewhere" thing. That since you're paying me, we should be grateful for any and all patronage and it intimates that we might want to keep our mouths shut about the less savory interactions. This is several kinds of problematic. It commoditizes our space. It says that our area is yours for a price. That we should be thankful for whatever financial scraps the straight community throws our way. It has the thinly veiled threat of those dollars being taken away.

I'm ignoring the odd ad hominem arguments thrown in about the LGBT community's issues with its own hierarchy of discrimination, as they don't have a place in this discussion and are put there to point fingers rather than discuss the issue at hand. The LGBT community isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean our spaces should be any less protected.

The outcry from straight women telling me why our space should also be their space has been vast and quite frankly incredibly sad. However, I think it's because the concept of safe space seems to be misunderstood. So, I wanted to take a moment and define it.

The Pet Meme Argument

If you've been on social media at all ever, you've seen a meme in the following vein:

These are humorous reminders to folks that might choose to enter your home that, in your space, you treat your pets as family. In my house, that means a pretty big family. Inside our little house we have a cat, dog, and bird. There's a horse, too, but he sleeps in a stable down the road, so he doesn't count. There is every likelihood that coming to my house for a visit will result in your clothes getting cat or dog fur on them, and you might even get pooped on if you play with the bird long enough. know what? That's perfectly fine. It's their house. That's where their fur and poop is supposed to be. It's their "safe space". Most people I've seen online understand and endorse this kind of setting of boundaries. It's ok for you to tell guests in your space that, no, the dog isn't going to be kept in the other room because you don't like dogs. No, there is no way I can sanitize my space because you have a cat allergy. It's their space. It's where they live. If you choose to come into their space, you have to realize you're doing so as an observer in their world and it will not be changed to accommodate you. It wasn't built for you.

You also need to understand that you might have to play by some rules. You may be told what you can and can't do in their space. Certain ways that you can and can't interact with my pets. You aren't allowed to gripe about these restricitons. However, you are still entitled to basic common sense protection. I'm not going to tolerate my dog biting you unprovoked, and I'm not going to brush it off if my cat scratches you. And, naturally, if I've invited you to my home, and I know in advance you have a cat allergy, I may choose to make accommodations so that any negative impact to you is kept to a minimum. 

Now, I've seen a lot of folks that don't understand movements like Black Lives Matter or the idea of gay safe spaces or a place for women at Pagan workshops where men weren't allowed and so on. I've seen the backlash over the years that asking for such a space simply creates division. That a straight, white, cisgender person should also get access to your space for their purpose if they want to, and if you don't give it to them with a smile on your face you're doing equality wrong. (I've also seen straight, white, cis people lose their minds at being called "straight, white, and cisgender", because all of a sudden they hate labels. That's always interesting.)

But, for me, it's like these pet memes. See, my bird, for example, lives in my home. It's her home, too. If you come to her home, and you interact with her, she might accidentally poop on you. Nothing personal. She's pretty small and eats like a horse and she poops because she's alive. It's not ok to gripe and complain if the bird poops on you. It is ok for me to tell you how you get to hold her or speak to her and what food, if any, you're allowed to feed her. It's also ok for me to tell you that you don't get to interact with her. And it's ok for me to change these rules without consideration for your comfort, as it's her space and well-being I'm considering...not yours.

Why do I bring up the pet memes? Firstly, because most everyone loves their pets and it helps to illustrate that, when straight folks enter our spaces, often times they change the rules. They seek to sanitize us. Just like after the Orlando shooting in June of this year, politicians and talking heads all over conservative media turned the gay club attendees into sexless victims of an Islamic terrorist instead of discussing the homophobic hate crime that occurred in its proper context. Coming into our space to ogle the logo boys, or grab a gay guy's ass, or simply enjoy not being harassed by drunk straight men, or taking in the drag show is treating us like spectacle, like entertainment, and that's not what it is designed for. 

It is designed by us and for us because the rest of the world isn't. 

Reverse Marginalizing and Intersectionality

The idea was broached on one of the threads discussing this issue that saying the world at broad is built for straight people specifically marginalizes women and devalues their desire for safety. 

The statement that "the world is made for straight people" is just as ridiculous as stating "the world is made for men". Generalizations like that just lead to divisiveness and alienation. This is not a competition. We're all here together. But if you can't understand that your repeated claim that all spaces everywhere are for straight people minimizes the marginalization of every community except the GBLTQ community, I don't know what else to say. So I'm going to bow out now, and we can just agree to disagree on that.
It's been said by people much smarter and far more eloquent than me, but it needs to be repeated that when someone with privilege is told something isn't made for them, it doesn't mean they do not also have a right to a space of their own.

The world is made for straight, white, Christian, wealthy men, specifically. However, the broader culture values certain attributes in the specific. This is about existing safely in society at large. An example: heterosexuals don't need to do a lot of searching to find places where they can gather and safely be heterosexual. Whereas LGBT people do.

I discussed privilege and intersectionality in 2014 on Episode 88. Intersectionality is important in this discussion of LGBT safe space, because it needs to be understood that one can both be oppressed while also being an oppressor. When one's identity overlaps as both a disenfranchised and privileged person (for example, I'm gay, but I am also white and therefore have race privilege), it is our duty to examine our own areas of privilege in order to understand how to support and improve those without our privileges.

You can be straight and also need a safe space. You can be a woman and need a safe space. You can be Christian and need a safe space. Yes, you can even be a rich man and still need a safe space. Just because you have certain kinds of privilege doesn't mean you are not equally deserving of safe space. However, it doesn't mean you get to have my safe space.

Why Bachelorette Parties?

For years I recall going to gay clubs and seeing bachelorette parties roll in for some gay site seeing. The girls wanted a girls night out. They wanted to see some sexy gogo dancers and get the chance to dance with beautiful men without the fear that one would hit on them or sexually assault them. And none of them ever realized that they were rubbing in our faces that they were celebrating an act many of us thought would never be an option for us. 

I grew up in a small town in east Texas. For me, the idea that I'd be able to get legally married one day was absolutely ludicrous.

Marriage equality has only been the law of the land for a little over a year, but women have been going to gay clubs to celebrate their marriages for years...decades. They get drunk. Dance with the men. Make a spectacle. And, in short, center the experience on them, the straight girls, which is not who the space was designed for. 

There was a time not too long ago when mainstream acceptance of gay people stopped short at marriage equality and, at least in more civilized parts of the country, a hen party wouldn’t dare invade a gay bar, where flaunting your upcoming nuptials in front of a crowd that didn’t have the same right was inarguably offensive. I once witnessed a hen party get tossed from a gay bar in Brooklyn for precisely that reason. The bartender called them “disgusting idiots” for even trying. But now, it seems, with gay marriage the law of the land, all bets are off for the bachelorettes.
“They walk into a gay bar and grope gay men old enough to be their fathers,” Yaz says. “They think they’re their best friends, just because they’re gay.”
Yaz puts on “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys. “Watch,” he says. “There’s no ghetto, there’s no girls, there’s no pitchy voices. They can’t relate.” Sure enough, as though something is jamming their radars, the bridesmaids immediately slow down, and their faces grow long. They take out their phones. One approaches Yaz to request Britney Spears.
“We’re brides-to-be,” she says. “You can’t play one song for us?”
“Do you know where you are?” Yaz scolds. “You are in a gay bar with men in their 40s, and I’m playing to my demographic.”
“Fuck you,” the bridesmaid says. The group leaves. Yaz says they’ve noticeably hurt his business. On Yelp, a month earlier, multiple reviewers wrote about this, including one named Mark F.: “EGHHH full of bachelorette parties. There are better places in P-town that won’t treat the gays like zoo animals. Was there this past Saturday and there were about 60 straight girls there with all their annoying antics! I wish Wave took this into consideration and did not allow organized bachelorette parties. It’s disruptive and doesn’t make people feel comfortable.”

 So...What are the rules?

Who gets to be in whose safe space? 

Perhaps consider the Pet Meme Rules: 
  • Realize this is someone else's space, not yours.
  • Entering said space means playing by someone else's set of rules. 
  • You might be asked to not participate or to stop behaving in a certain way that is counter to the rules or overall purpose of the space. 
  • You aren't allowed to complain about what you see, hear, smell, or otherwise witness in said space (within shouldn't have to put up with being abused or mistreated...if my dog decided to all of a sudden bite you unprovoked it wouldn't be tolerated...and if you see something illegal go down, please make sure it's bad enough to warrant a call to the cops...the cops and gay clubs have a shaky past)
  • All rules are subject to change without regard to your comfort or approval.
What I'm saying is that safe space is important. Incredibly important. For marginalized people even moreso, and what makes a marginalized, disenfranchised person has all sorts of shades of inequality intersecting with areas of privilege. But for folks who have created a space for themselves, it is completely fine to defend the need for that space to exist and even more fine to tell those with privilege that the space isn't built for them and their comfort. 

If you don't have to go out of your way to find safe places to be amongst your own kind, then please do not tell those of us who do how and when we should allow others into those spaces.

I'd like to hear about your experiences interacting with safe spaces. Please use the hashtag #NotYourSafeSpace to keep the conversation going on all social media platforms, and tag me when and where you can if you'd like me to use it in a follow up article or podcast.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. There are some specimens of our species who would do the whole world a great favor if they threw themselves into a wood chipper, and that alleged "journalist" is several of them.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts