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Safe Spaces… or Isolationist Bunkers? Part 1


I went and did it. I got embroiled in an online drama fest. I’m not proud of it, but I feel like I both learned some things and wasted some time. Though I suppose if I learned some things then I did not waste any time.

xkcd comic:

I was added to a new support group for marginalized sexual and relational identities. The group rules immediately inspired some in-depth conversation between myself and some loved ones. We discussed possible “best practices” for identifying one’s own sexuality while honoring and respecting the identity and experience of trans folx. We dived headfirst into whether entire models of relationships could be deemed unethical without opening the door to major risk of abuse. We debated safe spaces and whether you could truly be inclusive while simultaneously laying down rules for stringent and forceful exclusion of others.

I took these topics of concern to the group and asked for a discussion. I don’t think it went well, and in my effort to seek clarity on what their rules actually meant to them, I believe I came across almost exclusively haughty and superior. Maybe that instinct is the true reason I opened the thread. Perhaps I thought I was better or more rational, that I could “save” them from themselves. Regardless, it led to a private conversation with the founder of the group, and even there I felt like the conversation was unproductive.

I wanted to discuss the concept that is now common in polyamory that “relationship anarchy” is moralistically better than others, particularly better than “relationship hierarchy.” In addition, there are formats describing the general methodology and number of partners in a relationship, and we discussed unicorn hunting/identifying as a unicorn. I’ll let you read through the above links and come back. In summary, I believe one can abide by the tenets of relationship anarchy, respectfully recognize that some of their relationships will result in descriptive hierarchy no matter their intentions and that ethical triad (or more) “hunting” can occur in a respectful and humane manner. This person disagrees vehemently.

For the first time, I had someone tell me directly I had triggered them, and they then accused me of being a predator for my support of hierarchical relationships and unicorn “hunting.” But I don’t think these models are inherently abusive by virtue of existing. The people in the relationships are the executors of behaving ethically, and those people can be found in all forms of relationship. I still believe the structure itself should not be demonized and banned, because the abusers will simply adopt your new structure(s), and continue to wreak emotional havoc on their prey. I happen to fit the definition of a unicorn and of a “unicorn hunter,” so in broad strokes to ban those things is to ban my ability to seek support for some of the ways I relationship. I feel the group leadership is blind to fact that the walls they built do not form a safe space, but an isolated bunker.

I have oft spoken of identity and some of the intersections that built the brain I live in, and will likely do so again in the future. So here I explore safe spaces and exclusion, and if those two things are complementary. My earliest iterations in Lucenti involved lengthy discussion with my recruiter and peers about how to form a group of like-minded folx who sought similar outcomes, potentially by very different paths. We wanted to make the world better by shining our own little lights everywhere we could. We wanted to form cohesive units that could knit lives together over great distances and engage in lofty projects that would benefit our fellow humans. We knew these were difficult tasks to undertake, so we talked about where lines in the sand needed to be drawn, and how the safety of the ingroup could be appropriately safeguarded. Of course, we didn’t ever seem to come up with a perfect model!

In creating safe spaces, we run into the paradox of tolerance, psychological patterns of grouping, and many more pitfalls. Some argue that there will never be a community so unified that there is no chance of schism, and some may take that to indicate that the attempt should never be made.

I was introduced somewhat recently to ‘brave spaces’ and it vibed with me. I felt like it was a descriptor that I had been missing, and I want to continue to explore it. We don’t have safe spaces. So in certain circumstances, we can form brave spaces that highlight those among us who may deal with more shit on a day-to-day basis. We can look to empathize and learn from experiences that we don’t get to see or hear much in the public eye. We can challenge ourselves and our peers to grow and be better with us. But none of that will be safe. If you ascribe to a vision of the world similar to mine… you might already know that we don’t have safe spaces. But we can have brave ones because we have work to do.

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