When diversity and “safe spaces” become enemies: The Alienation Problem

So in one of the last rounds of the ongoing “we need to emphasize sex-averse aces more!” vs. “we need to emphasize aces who are positive towards and/or have sex more” safe space cycle, someone said something that I think sort of got at the heart of the problem. I’m massively massively paraphrasing here, since I don’t remember the exact quote, but it went something like this:

“The problematic thing about sex-favorable discourse is that when people talk about how they as aces are neutral or even positive to sex, I can’t relate. It’s harmful because it makes me feel alienated even in my own community and it’s not a safe space for me anymore.”

Sex-favorable, sex-neutral, and sex-having aces were rightly offended – being basically told “You should stop talking because I don’t like people who aren’t like me talking in my community” was understandably upsetting.

But I think it gets at the root of this ongoing cycle. For many people, an ideal “safe space” is not only only a place where one is free from outright attack, but also a “comfortable space” where one can escape the internal feelings of alienation that come from being a minority, and instead be among likeminded people.

It reminds me a bit of a few years back, when AVEN was having a furor over whether or not to have an aromantic orientations forum (separate from the general orientations forum). At the time, one of the main arguments was that the orientations and relationships forums were dominated by romantics and it was alienating and driving out aromantics since there were no posts relevant to them. That didn’t seem right to me from my personal experience, so I actually went through and counted  -and at that time, the first several pages of threads actually had more discussions about aromanticism than they had about all romantic orientations combined!

But after thinking about it, the root problem for many aromantics wasn’t that there were too many conversations about romanticism – the problem was that there were any at all. Considering the emphasis on romance in the general population, even a single mention of how great romance was was enough to tip the balance over to “unsafe” for many aromantics.

And in recent discussions about sex-averse aces, it became clear that something similar was going on – because of the general emphasis on “sex is great!” in general culture, even one or two references to “hey aces can like sex” in ace communities is enough to tip them back to feeling alienated and unsafe again. Which is why it seems like no matter what sex-favorable/sex-neutral aces do, someone always says they’re still taking up too much space.

I think this alienation problem is one of the big challenges for creating true “safe spaces” in general ace communities – because all too often, the only way to make a space “safe” would be to silence another group, which would destroy their own safety.

In my opinion, I think at some point we need to realize that maybe truly diverse spaces cannot be completely “safe” spaces – or at least not completely comfortable spaces – so long as different groups have conflicting needs, as we have seen that they often do. Instead, I think it might be better to focus on creating more sub-specific “safe spaces” as safe havens and retreats, instead of trying to find an impossible balance to enforce on general communities.

(A/N: updated the title slightly on 12/31/15)




About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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10 Responses to When diversity and “safe spaces” become enemies: The Alienation Problem

  1. Z says:

    This is why I finally decided to no longer id as asexual. It didn’t seem fair (to me or to others) to keep defending the idea that I should be in a space where just existing/discussing my existence (as a sex favorable-ish person who’s problems exclusively revolve around not experiencing sexual attraction and people’s thoughts on that) was unsafe and/or pulling focus from more important issues.

  2. Pingback: Linkspam: January 1st, 2016 | The Asexual Agenda

  3. Coyote says:

    The like button isn’t available on this post, but consider this post liked.

  4. Jo says:

    I ran into that sort of ‘I feel unsafe/invalidated because I can’t relate to x’ the other day as well, with a post I wrote about my experience as aro ace in a relationship. So many comments basically boiled down to ‘your experience is not my experience so I now feel alienated/invalidated,’ which, really, is so silly. To me, safe spaces are about being able to freely discuss all sorts of different aspects of asexuality and to be accepted and recognised for your own experience and identity – even though that’s not always going to match up with other people’s! This is a really good post addressing this issue.

    • Sennkestra says:

      I mean, it’s not necessarily silly to want spaces where you can be surrounded by people with similar experiences and narratives – the feeling of alienation is real and it sucks, and people need some escape from it. It’s good to find spaces that are safe AND comfortable, but those are often spaces best built in private, starting with yourself and inviting in other people who you are comfortable with and who are comfortable with you. The problem is when people start going into other, public spaces and demanding that those spaces change to cater to their (and only their) comfort – like when people go to a blog and tell you that your experiences are too different and therefore bad.

      So like, finding people like you and forming a private community = a good way of forming comfortable spaces.

      Finding a community and demanding that everyone have similar views = not a good way of forming comfortable spaces.

    • Sennkestra says:

      but yeah, in general, my idea of a safe space is a lot like yours. Which is also why “safe space” discussions are so confusing – some of the time it means “a space free from direct personal attacks or insults or slurs, but otherwise anything goes”, in others it means “a space free from all opinions i disagree with, but otherwise lots of variety”, in other it means “only people and ideas just like me”. So people totally talk past each other all the time.

      Honestly, at this point I feel like it would almost just be better to avoid the term “safe space”, and use more detailed terms, because what does it even mean?

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Well Jo, with your post, people took issue with the idea of you seemingly telling aromantics that they will fall in love. You were using a poetic kind of second person writing style to talk to yourself, but it seems a bunch of people didn’t get that. And I can kind of understand their frustration but regardless, your blog certainly is safe, you’re not attacking people with that post, and your voice is an important perspective for aromantics!

      • Jo says:

        Well, to an extent, I can see where they’re coming from as well. But ultimately, I do feel like it boiled down to this trend there is in social justice/tumblr/blogging (blogging slightly less) where people just REACT without actually taking that moment to process something and possibly think about where the other person is coming from, and the context within which something is written. It’s something I’ve learned to do the hard way, and I think most other people will also learn to do it eventually. But it’s something that bears repeating: sometimes, you really do just need to take a minute to assess the situation properly before jumping in.

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