To people I embrace, but who take up All the space…
A few weeks ago I had the wonderful pleasure of building community with folks from around Eastern Iowa, facilitated through the equally wonderful and fabulous Trans* Oral History Project. This event was organized by TransCollaborations and we had many joyful new partnerships with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Digital Studio for Public Humanities, and continuing ones with the Women’s Resource & Action Center, and LGBT Resource Center.
More and more our little rascally group of trans* folk and cis allies are reaching out further to seemingly unlikely partnerships that make for holistic and beautiful programming that builds reciprocity into the core values of the events.
In opening up events to the public we always do so with some hesitation. It has been a frequent enough experience that someone will derail conversations and spiral us back to a 100-level dialogue when the event is scoped as specifically moving beyond that. Or there was that one time when that person stormed to the front of the room during a panel and everyone jumped back because they thought the person was going to physically assault them (she didn’t).
These past few weeks I have been reflecting on really big questions about power dynamics, bringing folk from different social positionings into common community spaces, and notions of privilege, voice, and space.
I think that sometimes unintentional but harmful practices can ensue, when some people enter into collaborative community spaces. For the most part, in my experience, most people are really respectful and intentional of their positioning within space. But I wonder if it would feel better for everyone if we all continued working on being mindful of what we as individuals bring into community spaces. For those folk in particular, who take up buckets of space, this is particularly difficult for the rest of the group to negotiate. There is a certain tension between wanting to invite everyone into a space and meeting folks’ needs, and leaning into one person’s way of being in the world and putting all of the energy towards them.
One of the (many) joys that I have as a trans* person is finding some amazing people with giant hearts, ridiculous senses of humor, a playfulness to everyday life, and at the same time also extremely serious about social justice work, equity, and developing rich relationships with others.
I have learned an incredibly great deal being within trans* communities and people who are fierce about safe space, leaning into community building, and taking people as they come.
So it becomes difficult to navigate situations where in a community space there are some folks who embrace these values, and others who simply wander in and have no awareness of, or willing to own, the amount of space they are taking up.
I’m not writing here about folks who need communities of support to embrace them because they are isolated or uncertain about where they fit in the world, in a new self-understanding place around their identities or trying to gain a greater awareness, or want to work on being better allies to trans* communities. That feels different. I think this is more specifically in the instance where someone somewhat parasitically takes from communities but never offers anything in return in a reciprocal way – whether that is an idea, sharing a story, creating an affirming feeling for others, helping to organize events, etc.
I think that mindfulness around what we bring to spaces, and instilling reciprocity into daily practices are two extremely important areas to continue working on – particularly in social justice communities. I am certain that this is not a trans-specific issue but that perhaps these are giant questions that folks working within other social justice communities have to navigate as well.
To me it seems like a basic etiquette and social justice principle: in any space it is really important to be intentional in how you are in that space – the power dynamics that operate and the privileges that you may carry into that place. This seems key to being either a community member or working within processes of being an ally. And if you are a member of a community that is organizing something, owning that that doesn’t give you a ‘free pass’ for taking up all the space. Because otherwise, you are perpetuating power dynamics that continue to oppress people and undermine the very space that you enter into.