Lately, I’ve been attempting to write definitions for words like “radical,” “mental health,” “accessible,” and “safer.” Definitions for me – all of our ideas on each of these words will vary greatly. I’ve also, as you may have heard/read me mention, been thinking a lot about the value of awkward conversations. I tend to avoid conflict, but I’m learning a lot about criticism and feedback, and opening myself up to plenty as I work with a small collective to organize the Toronto Queer Zine Fair.
When the three of us first gathered to talk about our ideas for the zine fair, we spoke mainly about which voices we wanted to prioritize, and what accessibility requirements we’d be able to provide. I’ve been tabling at zinefests (not to mention attending shows, small press fairs, readings, launches, etc.) for a decade and haven’t found many that prioritize various forms of accessibility – I’m also aware that what makes a space accessible to one person may make it inaccessible to another. For example, I wanted the zine fair, including the reading the night before, and the after-party, to be sober events, because I’m a recovering alcoholic and have difficulty being around people who are drinking; however, I also wanted folks who drink for whatever reasons, but particularly those who require alcohol or other mood-altering substances to treat their social anxiety and mental health conditions, to be able to do so. Through awkward conversations, we now feel confident that we’re able to make that happen.
When I organize an event (which is rare – I’m a loner, homebody, introvert, hermit, blah blah, but I really wanted to make this zine fair happen), my goal is to create a space that is accessible physically, financially, and emotionally.
What does that mean?
When organizing in a public space, I think it’s necessary to provide a space that is accessible to people with chronic pain and people who use mobility aids; it’s necessary to provide a gender-neutral bathroom so trans* & non-binary folks can feel as safe as possible; and it’s necessary to make it clear that oppressive language & behaviours will not be tolerated (it’s also important to define what “oppressive language & behaviours” means; see below). The space also needs to be scent-free and cigarette smoke-free, for those of us with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.
Oppressive language is anything racist, ableist, anti-crazy, transphobic, queerphobic, classist, cis-normative, sexist, etc., including instances of misgendering. Examples of oppressive behaviours include, but are not limited to, touching people without their consent (hugging, tapping on the shoulder, approaching and touching from behind…), and taking pictures of people or their stuff without their consent.
A space that is accessible financially means that any event I organize will either be Pay-What-You Can with no one turned down due to lack of funds, or, in the case of a fee for a workshop (which I am also in the midst of organizing, stay tuned!), there will be a set standard price (because I’m on disability and my own art needs to support me, too) with lower fees available for folks on disability or social assistance. It means the materials provided therein will be at a price that is fair both to the creator and the supporter.
We’ll all have different ideas about what makes a space safer emotionally. Personally, there is no space in the world, not even my own home, that I consider 100% safe emotionally. I do, however, believe it’s something we can all try our damndest to create. My idea of an emotionally safe space is, beyond being accessible both physically & financially as detailed above, a space that must be free of all forms of oppressive language & behaviours, and if these things occur, we need to be able to discuss them without defensiveness or whininess (either in the moment or further down the road – there are many different and valuable approaches to these conversations). We need to admit that this can awkward and uncomfortable and deal with it anyway. It also means we must understand deep down that we don’t know anybody’s experiences or histories but our own, and to not make judgements. Understand that we all have individual and collective intersecting privileges & oppressions; you don’t know what the person you just walked by is dealing with right now, so don’t be a jerk. Because I have multiple invisible illnesses, both mental & physical, I’ve become aware that this is the case with many, many people, and I’ve learned to approach new people and new situations with this in mind.
I’m never, ever going to be able to organize an event that is 100% safe & accessible – there’s no such thing. But I’ll keep on keepin’ on, and I hope you will, too.
P.S.: What does a safer, more accessible space look like to you?