The idea of a safe space is very important to me, not only because I’m somewhat of a hermit, but as a neurodivergant woman I don’t feel like I can truly ever be myself in mainstream society. I stick out whenever I show mental health symptoms, when I share political views, and when my very young looking body walks down the street alone. This heavily pushes me towards staying in the safety of my own home, and gravitate towards online feminist sanctuaries. I’m not saying the former is healthy, but the latter certainly is. Though not everyone sees it that way.
Safe spaces are seen by the anti-feminist public as a fairytale land where no one is ever allowed to speak their mind, a place to coddle those who can’t deal with the world around them, and to “hypocritically” exclude those who aren’t like them. But sometimes you just need a place free of derogatory “jokes,” free of people you see every single day who invalidate your struggles, cultures, and talents. Sometimes I like to spend my day free of people laughing at my compulsions, free of those who think I’m simply attension seeking when my moods start to swing, free of those who don’t believe the wage gap exists, free of those who use the phrase “political correctness” as often as I go to the bathroom.
This is rediculous to me, because to spend time alone, or with like-minded people, surely is not too much to ask?
Something I’d consider a safe space, among private internet forums, your bedroom, organisations such as Noirbnb, and LGBT+ cafes for example, are zines. The zine has always been a tool to share one’s most controversial thoughts, often anonymously, and to talk about things that most mainstream publications would reject. So with all of this in mind, I’ve asked five zinesters how they felt about the entity that is a safe space.
FEMBOT: How do you personally define a safe space, and what would you say are compulsory requirements for you to feel like you can be 100% yourself in them?
Kathryn Schultz of ‘Pop Culture Puke’: I would define a safe space as an environment inclusive to like-minded individuals in which they feel like they can freely be themselves and do what they like to do without fear of judgement or harm. A safe space, in my opinion, should be inclusive to all who share its values, not be harmful to anyone, and encourage people to explore their feelings and sense of self.
FEMBOT: What do you consider your favourite safe space, is it IRL or online? Why is this so?
Pj Kneisel of ‘Aorta VI’ (a zine Collective): I would absolutely say my safe space is irl with friends. The kind of chemistry you can get with 2, 3, even 4 people collaborating can be quite an experience. It’s almost like an art band, I’d always wanted to be in a band but I’m terrible at music. But you start drawing, put on some music, talk a little, it becomes almost like a sort of mad libs game night. At first my friend Jared and I used to be secretive, and in our comics (which we do frame by frame), we were just trying to make each other laugh. Eventually the idea of making things cohesive and understandable crept in, so it shifted, but we still try and mix it up. Some of our best comics we actually made backwards, it lends itself to good storytelling to start with your ending.
FEMBOT: When you get stressed out working on your zine, or during other professional or creative projects, does retreating to this safe space help rejuvenate you? Or is your work itself your safe space?
Kat Reaktion of ‘XCLUSIVX ZINE’: Yes, it does. Close friends are my safe space. And my work is, too. Working on the zine calms me and excites me at the same time. It’s the greatest thing ever, but without the aforementioned friends I could and would not do it in the first place.
FEMBOT: Would you say your work suffers if you haven’t retreated to your space in a while?
Ess Elle of ‘Assume Nothing’: In a way, yeah, the work itself is a haven. Specifically when it comes to my STI work, I was really alone in that regard, especially at first. And I saw a gap in the zine literature. There was barely anything out there on STIs, which seemed so ridiculous given how common STIs are. Working on those zines has always been a way for me to explore ideas that I don’t see being addressed elsewhere, and through that zine-making I really found my voice. It’s only recent that I have any friends or semblance of community around STIs. Now, I can go to that small online community and share ideas and experiences, but that wasn’t the case when I made most of my zines. It was just me. I don’t get stressed making zines, I enjoy it. I love the creative process, like I get into this trance-like flow when assembling them. It’s great. And as opposed to other professional work, or writing for other venues, I feel such a sense of freedom in zines because they’re not meant to be perfect.
Making zines – like the actual act of creating them – is something totally different to me than being in zine spaces. I really dislike tabling at zine fests and such, even though I do it. Because of the nature of what I’m writing about, it’s a vulnerable thing to sit at a table and watch people discover that your zines are about STIs and then look up at you and you know they’re thinking “oh ok, this person has herpes.” It’s such a normal thing to me, but to other people it can still be a shock because we’re not used to it being this casual thing. So I often feel emotionally drained by fests, and how loud and crowded they can be. And that brings this other element of, are zine spaces safe spaces? Some strive to be. I don’t think they necessarily are. But I’d definitely rather go to a zine fest that aims to be a safer space, rather than one that has no policy or vision for that at all.In terms of my work and if it’s safe in zine spaces…I don’t know.
The reason I started addressing STIs in zines specifically was because of my disappointment that STIs were so not acknowledged even in radical circles, and that there was the same stigma of mainstream society present in sex-positive or feminist or radical or whatever communities and in those people’s minds. So I didn’t really go into it thinking “this is the safe place for me to talk about this!” I was very aware that I was offering a conversation that isn’t necessarily welcome and that I had to carve out that space. But at the same time, I think because there is already familiarity with body positivity, sex positivity, and other related issues, I felt like those audiences might be more ready to hear me out. And for the most part, that has been the case.
FEMBOT: Why do you think society is so against safe spaces? What would you say to the people who claim safe spaces exist only to coddle people, and hold them back from reality?
Nina Echozina of Echo Publishing and ‘Same Heartbeats’: For me safe spaces exist to rest, recover and relax from reality, which is much-needed! and actually I think the whole world should be a safe space, that should be the aim. reality should be safe. one day… but for now the safe spaces we have are really needed to be able to cope with the outside world.
It’s difficult to say [why this is the case], I’m guessing but I think because they are scared of the “rules” of safe spaces which would criticise them if they do or say things which are sexist/racist/homophobic and won’t tolerate such behaviour anymore as it is done in the rest of society? also, safe spaces will take away privileges which they acquired based on their dominant position in the rest of society.