When You Create A Safe Space, It’s Safe For All People: A Reflection on Penguicon 2015 And Rachel Bryk

This is why this post matters:

Online trolls urged trans game developer Rachel Bryk to jump off a bridge. She did.

That’s my thesis.  That’s the reason for this post.  So stick with me.

I was at Penguicon last weekend.  After years of attending conventions (and even helping run one), I’d forgotten why I like going to conventions.

Penguicon reminded me.

Because while I was there, I saw all sorts of people.

All ages.  All colors.  All over the gender spectrum.

And it was glorious.

And it was intentional.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk about creating safe spaces there, and the efforts that the convention had taken to make sure there were good policies, signage, and enforcement mechanisms… up to ensuring that even con staff paid entrance fees like everyone else to reinforce the idea that everyone’s – EVERYONE’S – con experience was as important as anyone else’s.

There were clear consent signs with examples:


There were signs apologizing about the gendered signage of the bathrooms, as well as an explicit callout to “I’ll go with you” volunteers:

And there were even “communication stickers” where congoers could indicate how open they were to interaction with others:

This last got some commentary on Facebook when I posted the above picture.  To paraphrase:  “What if you have your badge somewhere where it’s hard to see?”

And the thing is, it doesn’t matter if you can’t see the badge.  Because these signs were all over the place at the convention.   Even if you couldn’t see someone else’s badge, you knew they probably had a sticker.

That changes the default. 

It changes the default from “I do whatever I want” to “I should consider what someone else wants”.  It means you can’t pretend you didn’t pick up on a social cue.  It means there are no excuses for being an inconsiderate boor.

You know – even if you can’t see the badge – that there’s a chance they’ve clearly expressed whether or not they want to talk.  And it forces one to stop and think.

So when I heard that a con staff member was told “Where is the safe space for conservatives?”, I had a hard time not getting angry. 

These measures do create a safe space for all people, regardless of their political (or religious, or, or, or) preference.

Because these measures are very clearly and explicitly about protecting everyone’s boundaries.  They’re not about making you do something.

But they might be about keeping you from doing something to someone else.

They’re about living and letting live.

And that brings us back to Rachel Bryk.

Because the online trolls, the people too insecure and afraid, they will still exist.

But maybe if Rachel had been able to see more examples of a community that considered her as important as anybody else, she and so many other trans folks would still be with us.

And if you can’t deal with the fact that you can’t harass anyone you want to, whenever you want to…

…then you’re evicting yourself from the safe space.

And good riddance.

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