Building Me A Home: Safe Space, the Dress Code and the Politics of Visibility
“When you hear me shouting! I’m building me a home…”
by Che Gossett
When I co-founded Morehouse College’s Safe Space organization in 2002, it was in response to an act of homophobic hate violence in which another student was brutally beaten. Safe Space hosted community forums and called for the creation of an LGBTQ center on campus. When I graduated in 2003, Safe Space remained and now is self sustaining. In terms of the politics of visibility this is a powerful accomplishment. I never imagined that Safe Space would be invited to the White House (literally – George W. Bush was in office – and symbolically – homonationalism, DADT and gay marriage weren’t’ media spectacularized to the same extent) host a gay pride week or have B. Scott come to speak to all the “love muffins” at “the House.” Yet the politics of visibility also entail the illusion of change. While Safe Space members were vulnerable to homophobic violence, to the extent to which we identified as masculine and cisgendered men, we were also shielded from the violence directed at trans women, gender-non-conforming and femme fabulous members of our community in general. The violence of the dress code is only the most recent manifestation of embedded transphobia. When poet Saul Williams was asked to leave campus by security for wearing a skirt in solidarity in 2009, he dramatized the situation that genderqueer, trans and gender-non-conforming students have had to live with and leave the college to avoid. The dress code codified an already transphobic social norm. As a 2003 graduate of Morehouse who identifies as a gender queer and gender non-conforming femme, what does it mean that I am banned from the campus of the very same college I not only graduated from but also struggled to change?
Also in terms of the politics of visibility, what kind of sexist, criminalizing and transphobic message is the president of any university sending when outlawing gender non conforming presentation — “dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc” – within the student body and then trivializing the needs and identities of those students as somehow invalid, inauthentic and dismissible? President Franklin’s institution of and avid support for transphobic and bougie dress code unfortunately perpetuates a culture of trans exclusion, criminalization and discrimination. It is this very culture of institutionalized and racialized homo and transphobia that sends the message to queer and trans people of color that they are worthless, that both fosters and ignores suicide, that reinforces criminalization of trans women of color via the prison industrial complex, that upholds discrimination against trans people of color seeking employment, or benefits. The non-trans men of Safe Space should stand with gender-non-conforming and trans students at Morehouse, not against them. I hope that Safe Space will challenge the dress code and fight against synchronized oppressions of homophobia, transphobia, sexism and classism, gender regulation and for gender self determination because its going to take that type of radical empowerment to actually create “safety” in our communities.
Che Gossett is a femme fabulous writer and activist. They are currently working on a book project about black radicalism, queer and trans resistance and the politics of history, loss and struggles for collective liberation.