|Photography by Gary Tumilty|
When gay bars or gay-straight alliances fill up with straight people, what was previously a safe space for queer individuals can lose that feeling of safety. And a true ally will respect their friends' need for safe space and their friends' right to choose what that means, rather than pestering them to justify it.
The need for and ability to construct a safe space is going to vary person by person and issue by issue; when it comes to discussing women in science, many of my colleagues, male and female, can see no value in a woman-dominated safe space, while I find one highly useful. The dynamic simply changes when no men are present.* Another example lies in online communities; I consider Feministing to be a safe space for me where I can read the comments section of any post without encountering trolls, yet one of their own contributors feels that no space, including Feministing, can be a safe one for her.
I often hear the desire for a safe space criticized as an unwillingness to engage with the world at large. First of all, I see no problem with such an unwillingness; lesbian separatism is a valid lifestyle choice, in my humble opinion. But most people remain engaged with mainstream culture. An individual may or may not choose to broadly share the ideas they generate within their safe space of choice, but enough do that there is no excuse for ignorance. If you want to know more about a group, I guarantee you that there's a blog about it. Go forth and Google!
*For instance, you can discuss sexism in science without encountering a wave of hostility.