Inclusivity in body/sexuality oriented spaces – 1. Introduction

I attend and sometimes help with body or sexuality oriented spaces from different subcultures, like queer-feminist sex parties, tantra seminars, sacred sexuality workshops, women’s groups about sexual healing etc. I have noticed different patterns of exclusion in those spaces, usually along the typical axes of discrimination like gender, sexuality, race, ability, age etc. Some spaces are more sensitive to one dynamic of exclusion while others are more sensitive to another. For example the queer-feminist spaces are more sensitive towards heteronormativity, whereas some tantra spaces might be more sensitive (at least on an „official“ level) towards lookism. Sometimes there is the desire of some organizers to make their spaces more inclusive to different marginalized groups and this is also my desire to see more inclusive spaces – also because I would have a better place in them.

It is kind of strange that I write this in English since most of the events I attend actually happen in German. But the discussions about these issues happen mostly in English, which is already remarkable on its own.

So this is what I want to write about here. I split this into three sections, first I discuss what inclusivity as a goal means and how much it should be a goal, second I go through the usual discrimination axes to see how they play a role in sex/body oriented spaces and third I look at more specific dynamics that I have seen happening int those spaces. Since I have a lot to say, I will split it into different posts.

Inclusivity – do we really want it?

For people who read German here are two texts about the idea that inclusivity might not be as easy and obvious as we might think: first this wonderful text by LesMigras about creating racism and transphobia sensitive spaces. And then I have written something about how anti discrimination work as we usually do it, might not work on a large scale.

Generally the starting point „we are a fixed group of people organizing something and we know how to do it and now we want to make it more inclusive because it bothers us that only xx (usually white, cis, hetero, middle class, able bodied) people attend“ is not such a good idea because there are good reasons why those people are not attending, and this cannot be changed by just changing superficial things. Kali Tal writes about her experiences trying to help make feminist organizations more inclusive to people of color and why she eventually stopped doing it. Her conclusion:

Anyone who has done anti-racist work for more than a few years has run up against this problem: most racists are happy being racists, and simply don’t want to change. But at the same time they want to be protected from accusations of racism, and resent anyone who makes them „feel bad“ about it. White feminists are no different from other white people in that regard, as feminists of color well know. A few are truly committed to diversity and anti-racist action, but the majority of us are not, and get angry and nasty when we’re driven out of our comfort zone. In my estimation, however, a racist feminist is no feminist at all.

This is also what I have experienced sometimes when I questioned whether some events are open to non-heterosexual people for example. Some people get angry, some people don’t respond at all and some say yes, of course, without realizing that their workshop design does not work for non-heteros (just look at the concept of „parity“ for example). Some are honest enough to say, no, sorry, this workshop only works for heteros.

When groups start being more inclusive in earnest, I have seen it several times that this is the end of the group. This was (in my observation) the case for tCSD Berlin (see here for example) and also for the Slutwalk movement (see here for example). A lot of long practiced concepts and ways to do stuff just don’t work with different marginalized groups and trying to change them can go to the core understanding of a group/event so that there isn’t really enough left to actually do something.

Other groups seem to flat out ignore the calls for inclusivity, like one billion rising in my opinion (see here for example). And I have experienced similar things in sexuality oriented spaces, for example when I asked a person who had just described a tantra seminar that appeared to be very heterosexual focused, whether there are any lesbians going to these seminars, they said „oh, I guess they have their own seminars“. The existence of non-heterosexual people apparently had not crossed their mind apparently when thinking about tantra seminars.

So, what to do? It is obvious that it doesn’t make sense to just declare your event open to all genders, sexuality, cultural backgrounds, body types etc. without changing anything. It just won’t be open. But also trying to make everything inclusive right away, change your teaching, your language, your locations, everything to be inclusive for all marginalized groups might be an impossible task – and you won’t recognize your work anymore. There might be nothing left of what you actually want to do.

I think the first step would be awareness, slowly becoming aware of the hidden assumptions you make about your target audience (often cis, hetero, middle class, able bodied), the limitations for other people build into your teaching, location, pricing etc. and be open about it. It is way better to flat out say that your workshop is only for heteros or that your bathroom is not wheelchair accessible than to just assume that people who attend will be hetero and able bodied.

The next step might be looking at one marginalization at a time and try to change the event so people of that marginalization can attend and feel welcome (and not othered!) at the event. One good way to do this could be inviting people of the respective background to your organizing team. In my experience that can work pretty well, for example one sex party is really very trans inclusive and when I checked in my mind, it seems that the majority of people on the team have some kind of trans* background.

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