By Mathias Palmqvist Jensen (They/Them)
Disclaimer: The quotes in this article are from actual interviews, but we have chosen to anonymise the people interviewed since there are often strong negative reactions against people who speak for separatist spaces. The editorial staff is familiar with the identities of all people interviewed.
Separatist: “Someone who, with like-minded people, separates or wants to separate themselves from a majority in order to create an independent society, an independent movement, or the like.”
- Den Danske Ordbog (a Danish dictionary)
What is a separatist space?
Separatist spaces are nothing new. Many of us actually move in separatist spaces, perhaps even multiple times a week – whether that’s deliberate or not.
A separatist space means that a space is for some but not for all. This can, for instance, be a space only for women, a bar only for men, or a fetish members club for one or more genders. Fundamentally it means that you exclude some to include others and attempt to cultivate a safer space. You can do this by having a space with room to speak in confidence and share narratives without the fear of harsh rhetoric and the suspicion you often meet as a minoritised person.
Where can you run into separatist spaces?
Changing rooms in swimming facilities are most often separatist, Nørrebro Pride puts on separatist events, and the nightclub Den Anden Side is separatist to some degree:
“It’s just kind of… yeah, nice to know that there’s a door policy to keep me safe.” (30+-year-old BIPOC queer person)
Kafe Clare is a homeless shelter for women, Kvindehuset’s political and social events are for women, and the SLM fetich club is for bi and gay men only. They’re all separatist – and all with reason.
“I can be sure that I am not showing my fetishist side with the entirety of Denmark watching me, and that creates safety and intimacy. It’s crucial for those clubs to exist for me.” (28-year-old homosexual man).
Why do these spaces exist?
It seems fair to argue that separatist spaces are created only out of necessity. Could you imagine that Nørrebro Pride wouldn’t exist if Denmark didn’t have systematic racism? You probably could. But these spaces are not just necessary because you need to have a space free of racism. They are also necessary because you are a minority. Historically, the majority devours everything else and tries to fit it into fixed and rigid bounds. That’s why separatist spaces give breathing room for minorities, much akin to going to a mosque, playing badminton, or sitting on the edge seat of the bus to sit alone and think.
The church has historically had spaces wherein big decisions were made. We see the same thing in universities and upper secondary schools, wherein student representatives have influence and are invited to budget meetings.
In the same way, the Danish parliament has different committees to which only a few are invited. The difference here is that as a politician in parliament, you are often a part of the majority. This can be explained by the majority of politicians in Denmark, who are still white and rarely minorities.
Why is this something that can provoke others?
Some critique of separatist spaces often concerns the worry that not everyone can participate and that some may be left out. But there is rarely a focus on the problems that the separatist spaces attempt to solve.
Another critique relies on the argument of people being divided rather than together, which pushes people into parallel societies:
“It’s funny when people talk about parallel societies because we don’t complain about golf clubs or the lodges where only a few can enter or have the required habitus to participate. Doesn’t that also create parallel societies that don’t reflect the general society?” (31-year-old nonbinary queer person).
Sometimes it seems as if the majority is very interested in complaining about minorities and marginalised minorities getting some breathing room from their daily struggles. You might assume it comes from a feeling of not being allowed to participate. It could be that you aren’t conscious of your privileges. It could also be that some people think others should have less than themselves. Or maybe it’s because they don’t know what it’s like to be a minority and/or marginalised – and they don’t understand the challenges, fears, and worse circumstances that come with those identities. It can be because of ideological convictions for some as well.
No matter what, one thing is for sure: separatist spaces create conversation. For the majority, but especially for the minorities who use those spaces. The importance of a safe space in which you can exist without prejudice should not be underestimated, and we should remember that a separatist space for some does not equal a closed door for all.
What separatist spaces actively work to eradicate:
What separatist spaces work to cultivate:
A feeling of belonging
People who understand you
A possibility to see other people like you
A chance for a more extensive network
Help with life’s challenges
Help with everyday problems by others with the same background