On taking space/making space (Or, Why I am going to PAX)

By | March 10, 2011

Photo by Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada, licensed under Creative Commons.

I know a great many people have chosen not to attend PAX East this year, owing to recent events (i.e. because dickwolves), for a number of personal reasons. Some feel as though the space will be unavoidably anxiety-inducing. Some feel as though the event is now complicit in upholding cultural forces that they abhor. For some it’s a matter of not wanting to give money to an organization with which they have deep political and ethical rifts; for some it’s a matter of not wanting to be associated with certain other people that may be present. In most cases, I’d wager, it’s a combination of these factors, and maybe some others too.

All of these reasons are valid, and other reasons I haven’t even thought of are valid. No one should feel compelled to participate in a space or an event with which they are uncomfortable. Period.

I, however, am going. And I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been practicing, working in, fighting with, climbing over and tunneling through social justice activism in a multiplicity of forms for over ten years now. That’s a long time. It feels long, even to me, and I have trouble remembering a life before my activism took root and began to sprawl over everything I do, like some giant parasitical strangling vine, sucking the joy out of things I once enjoyed mindlessly and thornily prodding me to check my privilege and to allow my privilege to be checked in all things and at all times. Over these years, and even now, no one has ever willingly given me the space I needed, both intellectually and literally, to exist and to represent and to speak. The feminism I first engaged with didn’t give me space to be radical about bodies and size (and disability and race and queerness, for that matter). Even much of the fat activism I first encountered didn’t give me space to be radical about many other issues, and rather preferred to focus on its “last acceptable prejudice” as The Most Important Oppression Of All. The larger mundane world beyond such lofty politics has never graciously given me space to live and thrive as I am; I require too much from it, you see, more than my “share,” in accomodations that are called “special” or “excessive,” even as I am taking only the precise amount that I need in order to exist.

Occasionally, I have been able to find a space made by someone else that meets my needs, but these experiences are precariously uncommon and as a result—contingency planner than I am—I have never felt comfortable relying on them to be intact and available when I happen to need them. Instead I make my space, and I take my space. I will carve out room for my fat ass on the bench where everyone else is sitting, even if that means being pressed against those who regard me with resentment, horror, or disgust. I will sit down, and smile, and make cheery comments to my neighbors, and relax into the unwelcoming crush as though I deserve to be there just as much as anyone else, because I do.

While I fully appreciate and support that many of my activist compatriots do things differently, I don’t know how else to be an activist, myself. I am going to PAX because, having been somewhat invested in a positive outcome of the recent troubles, I could not bear the idea of this event happening and my not being there to take my space from it. I don’t go with the desire to fight, or expecting confrontation; I go because I like that place, and I have liked it in the past and had positive experiences there, and I am not giving it up to a ridiculous minority of selfish, cruel individuals. I go because it is a chance to engage rationally, civilly, and thoughtfully with people, face to face, the reminder of our shared humanity unavoidable, and certainly some will not appreciate my efforts, but I can assure you that they will back down before I do. I go because my life’s work is invested in exploring, analyzing, and understanding community and culture, and accomplishing that requires that I live in community and culture as fully as possible.

I don’t go about my life intentionally trying to a political road show, or a Vaudevillian satire of social negotiation, but it just happens. I’ve come to accept that this continuous performance before audiences that are often unappreciative and almost always resentful is an inevitable part of being myself—I’m odd and enthusiastic and I use far too many words and I think an understanding of these issues is important for the happiness of others, certainly, but for your happiness too, you who don’t want to discuss depressing ideas like classism and accessibility and, sure, rape culture too. Our conversation doesn’t have to be a drag! It can be funny and interesting and informative and you don’t have to feel badly about yourself, no, so long as you’re talking and thinking and trying to be the kind person you can be; the kind person you want to be, which is why you are sad and angry when others tell you that you are doing something wrong and hurting other people. You don’t mean to hurt other people. But sometimes it just happens.

PAX was created as a space for those who didn’t always have space, and who didn’t know how to go about making one, or who just weren’t inclined to do so on their own. That said, this does not mean it will always by default be a space where good things are celebrated and bad things are not tolerated. The price of safety, even relative safety, is constant vigilance; people will always want to take your space from you, especially if it’s a space for which you’ve had to fight, and which you hold with the tenderest grasp. I know this too well. I will be at PAX to spread out and keep some of that space open, for myself for sure, but also for those who cannot be there. I will be at PAX to talk and to think and to listen and to learn and to be noisy and to be silent and to play some fucking games with strangers that I will turn into friends.

Because I get to take up space there too. Let’s make some room.


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