Tl;dr While the assumption that inclusion is good may not always be accurate, I strongly believe that intentional, thought-out inclusion is not only good, but necessary.
I just recently had a very, very odd moment which made me realize some of the shit I’ve been internalizing.
I am lucky enough to be an NAS New England Creative Community Fellow. So, in August, I packed my bags and traipsed off to Middle-of-Nowhere, Vermont to talk about community art projects. It was amazing.
During one of my mentoring sessions, I was trying to build a logic model for the queer dance workshops I organize. Basically, that means I was working to clarify and verbalize the goals and potential outcomes (fingers crossed) of the project. One of the very important practices in doing such an excersize (and many of the work here) is acknowledging assumptions.
I forget exactly what my mentor said (something about how focusing on inclusion would produce a positive outcome), but I do remember looking up and him, frowning, and saying, “well, that’s assuming that inclusion is a good thing.”
And he started laughing.
Because, yes, it was an assumption but, in his world, it was an assumption that didn’t warrant questioning. Of course inclusion was good – why else were we talking about equity? What was community arts practice without inclusion?
But, for me, there are arguments around me about inclusion and exclusion all the fucking time. Who we allow into a space is a huge topic of debate. And yes, while it makes sense to ask allies to take a step back, there are so many other places where that logic of “anyone who isn’t queer/xyz identity is inherently dangerous and cannot be here” has become a weaponized tool which divides us.
The ace discourse is a great example of this. TERFs are an example of this. Trans medicalists are an example of this. Any instance in which our focus has become about keeping people out instead of welcoming them in is an example of this.
Is inclusion a good thing? I want to believe it is. I want to believe that the more we can include each other and find solidarity amongst each other, the stronger we will all be.
But, at the same time, I still find my skin crawling at the possibility of a cis person entering a trans space because we’re including them. Even if the logic has been weaponized, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t logic, that is has no reason to exist.
In organizing my queer dance workshops, I have always described them as “queer-only”. This was important to me. Queer people are not welcomed intentionally in most dance spaces, so these workshops had to be a space for us.
I also had a conversation with a friend who said that they wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a workshop on their own and would want to bring a buddy. Their best friend, and preferred buddy, wasn’t queer. I couldn’t imagine ever saying no to that, no matter how much I want to keep the space “queer only”.
See, “queer-only” as a signifier isn’t necessarily about keeping people out, it’s about getting people to stop and think.
And that’s, I think, where we start to sort it out – intentional or thoughtful inclusion is good.
For me, that’s preferred.
I would much rather include someone who might not belong than risk the harm of excluding someone who does. Yes, there are risks. But, I would like to point out that there are risks in every space we create. A trans space alone can hold homophobia, biphobia, aphobia, ableism, toxic masculinity, you name it… If we are including thoughtfully, we are able to see all the possible risks, not just the ones that could justify exclusion. That makes things better for everyone.
I’m not convinced inclusion without thought is always good.
But yes, in my work, thoughtful inclusion is not just good, it’s necessary. We need it to build strong communities in solidarity with each other.