Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To be safely thus: my efforts to create a safe space

Picture: A reproduction of John Singer Sargent's "Miss Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth." A white woman with long brown-red hair in green robes hoists a golden crown above her head.

Trigger warning for depiction of ableist/cissexist/abusive language.
"To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus."
-Macbeth, 3.1.48-49
Right now, I'm reading Macbeth. Though it's bloody and not particularly feminist, the quote above struck me as quite relevant to progressive conversation - particularly the idea of "safe spaces".

I don't guarantee a safe space on this blog - everyone's needs for a safe space are different, my privilege obscures my linguistic messups, and I don't promise things I can't deliver. But making Deeply Problematic a safe space is a goal I'm constantly working towards.

If someone points out a word that seems innocuous and that I use - I change it. Yesterday on Twitter, I saw Arwyn's note that "brat" is hate speech against children. This doesn't fully connect for me, but I don't have to use the word brat. There are so many words in the English language; if one hurts people, I take that as an opportunity to be a better, more specific writer. Even if I like it.

If there's something in my post that's the least bit disturbing, I tag it with trigger warning. Even if I'm writing about myself, and it doesn't trigger me, if I'm writing about any kind of violence/compulsion, I put on a trigger warning.

If I have an image, I describe it below so that visually impaired persons are not barred from experiencing the content that I put up (a measure I need to work on doing better).

If someone critiques me and I don't find it to be fair, I let it through the mod queue and try to hold my tongue and let the critique stand so I don't silence another's good faith point of view. If someone echoes that complaint, I work to unblock my privilege so I can apologize and not do it again. If someone critiques me in a way that I find fair, I acknowledge it publicly so that I and my readers can avoid future hurt.

If I feel like some word - dumb, lame, retarded, stupid, crazy - that I know is offensive is the best word to really describes what I'm trying to express, I don't use it. I use another word, and it usually makes my writing clearer.

If someone writes an abusive comment, I stop it in the queue.

If I'm writing about an oppressed community I'm not a part of, I center the experiences of the oppressed community and try to remove the first person. If I'm writing about me and myself, I use the first person so that I don't speak for or silence others.

If I'm writing a post, and there's specific terminology that makes me think, "I might be called on that," I change it. Maybe there's something that I miss. That happens. But if there's anything I can identify as a possible sticking point - I change it. In a draft a few months ago, I referred to a trans woman's "biological sex". But on re-write, that seemed off in a way I couldn't pin down. So I did some research and found a more appropriate term - "assigned sex". Took about five minutes. I am not on deadline, no one is relying on me to bring them all the news, I am not getting paid. I can take the time, and do it as right as I can, rather than seeing something and thinking "no one's gonna catch that".

Do I always do it right? No. I fuck up a lot, and badly, and hurtfully. It's part of speaking, of living.

And some of it is about taking care of myself. If I'm too tired, I don't post. If I don't have anything interesting to say, I don't post. If I feel triggered, I don't make myself write about it. If my circumstances change, I take a break. If I see flaws with a piece that I like, I don't beat myself up about it.

But I don't dismiss ways to be more sensitive, and I don't dismiss critique, and I don't tolerate abuse. To write as a feminist is nothing, except to write so others may feel safe.

Bloggers: What do you do to create a safe space?

1 comment:

  1. PoliticalguineapigNovember 3, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    Checked Arwyn's announcement. I do some writing, and in a few of my stories, one character is often referred to as "brat," but it's used in an affectionate way. Does it count as hate speech in a fictional context?

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