A safe space is a place (virtual and offline) where anyone can express themselves freely without the fear of being judged, made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, unsafe on account of one’s gender, sex assigned at birth, caste, class, sexual expression, religious affiliation, mental or physical ability. This safe space has certain ground rules to ensure that each person’s self-respect and dignity is taken care of. We cannot ensure that spaces will be entirely safe, only safer.
But it is the responsibility of every one to work towards greater safety. Of course, it is sometimes hard to pin down what “safety” really means. Even within a certain marginalised community, the idea of safety will be different for different people and groups. Safe space means a lot for the LGBTIQA+ community. In fact in this context, the term safe space has been used a lot.
The LGBTQIA community has been trying to create a safe space for themselves within and outside “mainstream society”. This has been done either through social places, taking over bars, creating political space or just by hanging out with each other. This is not to say that there is no critique of the term ‘safe space’. Sometimes, an illusion of safe space is created to claim that every single individual in that particular space enjoys the same feeling of safety. But we all know. Our lives are not just about being queer; the queer identity has many identities within itself and sometimes to talk about all these identities in one breath, might create invisibilisation of certain identities.
The Delhi Queer Pride (DQP) Committee organises fundraisers every year. We have ensured from the very inception of DQP that it will remain a non-funded collective with no interference from any corporates or organisations. It therefore organises a fundraiser party every year for everyone. ‘Everyone’ is a myth here. Working class people, female assigned at birth queer people, transmen are seen in very small numbers in these parties. This has been a very pertinent question for all of us, however, we don’t think we have been able to do much about it.
This safe space has certain ground rules to ensure that each person’s self-respect and dignity is taken care of.
This year, like other years, the pride fund raiser was organised in a club and some female assigned at birth people decided to be part of it despite issues of harassment that some of us have faced in the past. I went there with three transmen friends and the moment we set foot in the hall, we realised that the dance floor was dominated by cis men. We tried to find familiar faces inside and outside the hall and in a corner we saw a few familiar faces from the lesbian, bisexual, trans* (assigned female at birth) community. We sat there for sometime.
However, four of us wanted to dance. We had gone inside the hall to collect our drinks and we were pushed by cis men many times. Still, we decided to dance and four of us ventured into the dance floor. And then the saga of harassment started. Cis men kept pushing us, few of them groped me, touched me, felt me, one of them pulled a transman friend to dance, and all I could do was to shout and kept them away. One of the men kept blowing flying kisses at me when I asked him to back off. Oh! I forgot to mention, he took off his shirt first!
Finally I lost my cool, and I went and complained to the party organisers. They came in and decided to come up with an amazing solution – to create a “baby space” for us, which is basically a protective shield with bouncers. Of course, I was not ready to be a ‘baby’ and I stormed out. One of the men with his friends were thrown out. I confronted another man outside and he said that “He is Gay” and therefore, he is not interested in ‘women’. Of course, he misgendered my transman friend as well! Later on I came to know that the guy who was thrown out was allowed to enter the place by the organisers. Such is the concept of a safe space.
Anyway, I decided to write about the incident (with much anger) in the DQP e- list. It was important for me to write about it because no one should be under the false impression that we are all safe in LGBTIQA spaces. I had also demanded a separate LBT(assigned female at birth) party under DQP. Some queer women and transmen also shared about the sense of insecurity that was present in the party place.
DQP organises a fundraiser party every year for everyone. ‘Everyone’ is a myth here.
Some of the cis queer men expressed their anger with me, however, some other cis queer men showed utter displeasure at the idea of a separate LBT space and even accused me of using my ‘harassment’ to create a rift within the LGBTQIA community. Some of them said that it’s not a one-off incident and ‘women’ and ‘girls’ suffer harassment in the entire society. Some of them also said that ‘men will be men’ and we should have a separate LBT space till then! Some of them went on to attack me personally because apparently I have been demanding a separate LBT space for a long time (which of course I am).
The incident shook me. Not because sexual harassment was anything new to me. I am a child sexual abuse survivor. While growing up too, I have faced sexual harassment. When I came to Delhi for my higher studies, I faced harassment from Delhi men and also from men in the Assamese community. These instances of repeated sexual abuse and harassment have my mental health and my mental well-being a lot.
Whenever any kind of sexualisation or sexual harassment happens even now, it does impact me a lot. What took me by surprise was the kind of attitude some cis queer men showed towards my accusation of sexual harassment and their defensive attitude which reflected the same old mentality of the patriarchal society- “doubt the victim”, “Not all men are harassers”! Personally, these trials and these defenses are more painful than the actual violence at times for me.
Having gone through numerous hate mails from certain queer cis men in the DQP list, I realised that the concept of ‘safe space’ is sometimes an illusion. One thing that still in not clear to me is – what is the threat in creating a separate LBT space? Why has this created such an uproar in the list? Of course, some answers I am aware of! But is it not right to demand a safer space for queer cis women and transmen and other genders who are female assigned at birth?
Featured Image Credit: Photography By Keena