On March 22 last year the USU held a forum on Queerspace Autonomy. The event was quite well attended, with queer and non-queer students expressing their views on the subject.
The topic has again raised its divisive head, so maybe a quick canvassing of what is at stake bears restatement.
The arguments against autonomy tend to proceed by suggesting that queer autonomy is “premised on the idea of sexual [and/or gender] difference” which reinforces “isolation” through an exaggeration of the significance of a queer identity (an argument made by Paul Karp in last year’s Queer Honi). Others suggest that the autonomous nature of the space is tantamount to “reverse discrimination” (this is just an annoyingly ubiquitous line of reasoning).
The former position is perhaps best dispensed with by conceding the point: yes, being queer is different to not being queer. Or, at least, that is certainly how many of us are made to feel daily. The suggestion that the cause of this isolation is somehow rooted in the relations of solidarity and care that form around marginalised communities manages to grossly invert the blame. If I feel isolated from the world, it is because of the world’s lack of accommodation of gender and sexual difference, not from my need for safety and community.
Before you raise the issue of inclusivity, make the rest of the campus a space where I, and others who aren’t able-bodied, cisgender, white, fluent speakers of English can be included; make the rest of the campus safe for us. Give me a bathroom I can use without being harrassed, stared at, or questioned. Give my tutors training so they don’t presume my gender nor my sexuality in the first tutorial. Give us a Queerspace that is actually accessible so that queers with mobility impairments are able to access the space before making it available to non-queer identifying folk.
I ask the question: why is the purported exclusivity of the room the site of your push for inclusivity when the rest of the world is an entirely and wilfully alienating place for so many of us?
There are many assumptions that underlie the charge of “reverse discrimination”, but perhaps the most egregious of which is the idea that autonomous spaces are unnecessary. I guess this begs the question unnecessary – for whom?
Because some of us are still called ‘faggots’ and ‘dykes’. Because some of us are still beaten, and threatened, and things are still thrown at us while car tyres screech away. Because unless you have also known the specific contours of the anxiety that comes with being visibly queer in a world where four kilometres from this ostensibly tolerant institution one can be humiliated on the streets for their sexuality and/or gender presentation, then maybe you have no need of this room, and maybe also this makes it impossible for you to fully appreciate its necessity.
This is not an issue to be voted on. Majority rules frequently fails those who are the most exposed, the most vulnerable, and the most structurally disadvantaged. The experience of homophobia and queerphobia is not evenly distributed across the LGBTIQ* spectrum, and those who experience it the most are also often those given the smallest voice in these discussions, and those who have the least bargaining power. Not all of those who fall under the queer umbrella are subject to the same structures. Autonomy discussions must be framed around the needs of those who experience heterosexism and ciscentricism the most.
The great thing about Sydney University is that we have three queer groups on campus. There are avenues for people who wish to hang out with both their queer and non-queer friends simultaneously; there are avenues for the new queers to be accompanied by their straight friends to non-autonomous queer events.
Those who don’t need autonomy, don’t need autonomy – they can literally go anywhere else on campus. Those who do need autonomy, have just one room.