Queer Space

Through wonderful serendipity, NYU is having Trans Awareness Week while we at Sarah Lawrence, outside the city and its conventions of not using four letter words, are having Genderfuck Week.  Like we’re doing for Genderfuck, they’re hosting trans performers, trans speakers, trans 101 workshops, and dances where gender mysticism is encouraged.  (How do you feel about “gender mysticism”?  I’ve decided it’s what I practice.  No concrete definition yet, but I’m definitely doing it.  More devotees will mean CONCEPTS.)  There’s one notable–and depressing–difference: they’re holding most of their programming in the NYU LGBT Center.

As I’ve talked about before in this column, the initialism LGBT makes my skin crawl.  But know what makes my skin crawl more?  The fact that Sarah Lawrence has no queer space.

There’s no designated space on our campus for queer students to seek resources, community, or relaxation time in a place where they know that no one will perform symbolic violence upon their identities.  We have mobile, temporary safe spaces on campus in the forms of Trans Action or Queer Voice Coalition meetings, but those don’t meet the needs that a queer space would.

The identity groups exist to organize, and there is a difference between organization and community.  To organize is to work in an activist context towards decreasing marginalization.  To build community is to make space for healing, for relationship building, for recovery from bigoted abuse.  In a queer space we’d be able to throw events that focused on the building of community instead of organization.

I want a table I can sit around with my fellow SLC queers, eat some Pub food with them, talk with them, and know that I am safe.  I will know I am safe in a queer space when straight SLC folks know that they can only enter the space if they have done their ally work.

We’ve lobbied around this issue before, and we’ve never succeeded.  We’ve asked for the basement of Tweed, because the basement of Tweed is empty.  I’ve visited.  There’s a desk, some bookshelves, and some books.  We’ve been told that the space is being “used for storage.”  Excuse me?  The desk and bookshelves could be incorporated into a queer space.  As for the books, there are other bookshelves on campus, and I have faith in our ability as members of the Sarah Lawrence community to move books from one set of shelves to another.

What would this space be?  What would it have in it?  Bookshelves.  Tables for projects.  Chairs.  Couches.  A board for writing on.  Art on the walls.  Pamphlets and resource lists about queer resources in the area–the Loft in Yonkers, Callen Lorde and the Center in the city–that Sarah Lawrence community members need.

How hard can it be?

Stephen Ira is a queer activist whose poetry and fiction have been published in 365 Tomorrows and Spot Literary Magazine. He co-chairs Sarah Lawrence's trans identity group, Trans Action, and keeps a blog as the Super-Mattachine, queer anti-oppression avenger, at supermattachine.wordpress.com. As David Foster Wallace would say, he does things like get into a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it!" He believes there is nothing more radical than kindness.


  • Reply November 17, 2011

    Liz Brody

    This is a message for Stephen Ira,

    I’m writing from Glamour Magazine. Big fans here. We’d love to have you in our pages. We NEED your voice in our pages. Any interested in discussing?



    LI z Brody
    Editor at Large

  • Reply November 23, 2011

    Cis Rundle

    You are100% right… I hope and pray you get your space..stay the Course.. Love to all Cis

  • Reply November 26, 2011


    Stephen, you write very well. What you’ve written about is interesting, informative, and thought provoking. I hope you haven’t stopped just because some people have now taken an interest and are paying attention. Continue writing from your soul. Peace.

  • Reply November 27, 2011

    Jennie Livingston

    Hi Stephen,

    I’m a filmmaker; you may have seen my film “Paris is Burning.” My mom and brother were both SLC alums (my mom Myra Cohn Livingston was a poet who published 80 books, mostly children’s literature, and was, at SLC, a roommate of Barbara Walters) and I’m known Marie Howe for years. And, because the world is that small, I’ll also say my uncle directed your dad in The Parallax View.

    I’m working on a couple of new films I’m excited about. A bit of info on me and my work below.

    Bio: http://queerartmentorship.org/2011-mentors/jennie-livingston/

    Info on New film including video (from a kickstarter (crowd-sourcing) campaign that concluded earlier this month): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/802151454/earth-camp-one

    Part of what I do is screen and speak at colleges and universities. Have done so from LA to South Africa to Munich and beyond…last week presented work and was interviewed by Judith Butler at Bryn Mawr. Since you’re co-chairing a trans identity group at SLC, if you’re interested in inviting me to screen work and speak at Sarah Lawrence (or if there’ s a professor there who might be) please let me know. Otherwise, if you’re looking for queer/trans/nerd/artist/poet communities when you visit NYC let me know and I’ll point you in some good directions. Enjoyed being directed to your writing by Ye Olde Internet.


    Jennie Livingston


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