Pronouns, Safe(r) Spaces, and Guidelines (A collection of Thoughts)

In the queer group I’m involved with we recently revised our safer space guidelines and community agreements.

One of the guidelines originally was provide a name/pseudonym and preferred pronouns, and the new guideline is a name and preferred pronoun set.

We wanted to encourage naming of the actual pronoun(s) instead of masculine/feminine/gender-neutral as adjectives ascribed to specific sets (i.e. feminine is she, masculine is he etc).  This was not without some conflict and confusion.

For some folks, their him is very firmly masculine to the point of being unable to deccouple the pronoun from the gender expression.

It leaves no room for new words or for pronouns to mean new different things.

Safer Safe guidelines are tricky, sometimes people want ‘unsafe’ spaces to not have to avoid stepping on toes.

For me, I am skeptical that spaces can be safe or even really safer, but I question the merit and motive of people wanting to be unsafe.

How are we not making the guidelines open enough to change? what does it mean when you want to be able to say something you know is hurtful? I start to realize that sometimes being ‘nice’ all the time matters.

Or expressing our anger our rage our despair in ways that do not wound each other, but this also hides the way in a queer space multiple angles of oppression are still happening.

Queer is not a panacea.

Safer space guidelines, with an an attempted anti-oppression basis, obscure the intent unless one is already in the know about why we want to emphasize pronouns, deemphasize the feminine/she linakge, or ask people not to assume or generalize.

It seems like its polite or nice, rather than being grounded in principles that are trying to avoid replicating so many microaggressions, to make room.

They remove the burden of education, instead seeming to treat all in the space as equal even though we are specifically trying to make more room for marginalized folks.

People are not equally comfortable or able to give pronouns, for multiple reasons. Cis straight folk might be made uncomfortable by that becoming a shifting factor or a trans* person or otherwise gender-oppressed person might not want to pin themselves down or out themselves in that space.

The guideline has an intent: to make genderfluid gender-oppressed trans* people more welcome, to give space, it is not a blanket we originally put there for all even if it is there now.

This is a careful balance, and I don’t know how we get there or how we make histories and power evident in guidelines, to translate our intents into knowledge that is spread.


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