Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Predators in safe spaces – The challenge of inclusivity V/S safety and comfort

Recently, a day spent at the Kolkata Rainbow Carnival 2018, brought home to me a fact I have been noticing for some time, a discomfort I have negotiated again and again in all kinds of spaces, online and off.

As a feminist, an LGBTQIA+ activist, and an Ally to all movements of marginalised peoples, everywhere, one of the first things I have always tried to find and create has been safe and inclusive spaces. Spaces and places where women, gender queer or non-binary people, trans people, asexual people, kinky people, fat people, short people, white, black, yellow, brown, mauve people, masculine women and feminine men, Brahmin and Dalit, Urban and Rural… everyone feels equally as comfortable and non-threatened as we are accustomed to making our masculine patriarchy affirming men.

Over the last two decades of my journey in political awareness, politicisation, and activism, such spaces have appeared, and multiplied. Organised under the “queer” umbrella, for example, there are now multiple events in a year where one can just “be”. My inner cosplay addict now has far more rein… as does my rainbow self… to indulge in a revelry of self-ness.

And yet, I’ve noticed something again, and again. And I am not talking here about the lack of presence of “female bodied” or AFAB (assigned female at birth) people which I have written about and discussed before, and probably will again. I am talking specifically about the issues created by the random, ever present predator and creep who crawls into these spaces taking advantage of the blanket of inclusivity, and then proceeds to prey on people (most often trans women and AFAB people who present more feminine).

I’ve seen this before in practically all LGBTetc events, and I saw it again at the carnival. There are always some people (overwhelmingly often – men) who come to these events simply as a hunting ground. And I don’t mean of the “let’s hook up in the restroom” variety but of the stalkerish, creepy, make my skin crawl variety (every AFAB person will know what I am talking about). They sidle up to trans women and feminine female bodied persons taking advantage of the friendly, open, we are all a big queer family here together vibe of the events, where everyone seems to be greeting everyone with hugs. They try to hug these complete strangers… and often succeed… because a lot of us are connected only/primarily on social media and it can often be difficult to place a face offhand, so we tend to be generous with hugs.

Then they hang around close by, jumping into conversations as if they belong, quipping and commenting, latching on to other transwomen, or feminine AFAB persons you may be talking to, and collecting phone numbers and information. I’ve seen this happen so often that I have realised this is a thing certain men do…. And I have seen the same man do this at more than one event.

At the carnival, I was the central target of one, while another was working around the event. The one who targeted me – I have never seen before. The other is a repeat offender.

Dialogues like “I am so addicted to this community (presumably meaning trans women)” are creepy as fuck… as is the blatant approaching of any “pretty” woman and flashy, decked up trans woman I spoke to. I noticed he avoided the more obviously masculine people … both cis and trans men as well as butch dykes or trans women in regular men’s clothing. The other one- the repeat offender- did his rounds and spoke to people who have probably become familiar with his face, were obviously uncomfortable around him, but equally obviously didn’t know how to deal with him.

And this brings me…every time… to what to do about these predators. Making the spaces less inclusive is not an option. We want more openness… not segregation. A person also cannot be “screened” or excluded from attending an event simply because he is cis, or straight, or attracted to trans women, or whatever. So, what can we do, as a community and as organisers, to make these spaces safer without being non inclusive?

This is even more difficult because these people are being creepy in the way that most sexual harassers are creepy… a way that cannot be quantified or – very often – even explained to people. It is a matter of feeling, knowing, long experience, and instincts, that tells me when a person is being creepy to me in a particular way, but I may not necessarily be able to explain it to others… especially to most cis-men who have no such life experiences to draw upon.

So… I really don’t know what the solution is… but I do think this is something that needs attention, something we need to think and talk about. Something we must try to figure out how to do… if we want truly safe and comfortable spaces for all of us.