Safer Brave Space

Wooden chairs in a circle with a big green tree
Green Tree Circle Ready for Us © 2021 Michele Beaulieux

On this page, I define safer brave space and discuss how and where to to create it.

What is a safer brave space?

A safer brave space is a place where we feel safe enough to be brave, where being brave is as safe as possible. Safety is a lack of danger and, therefore, the potential for harm. Bravery is strength and courage in the face of difficulty, danger, or fear. We’re more likely to take risks when we feel both safe and brave.

Safer brave spaces recognize that some people may need to summon more courage than others to do the same brave things. Safer brave spaces create enough safety to enable risk-taking by recognizing that no space can be completely safe and that being brave may take more effort for marginalized people. Because safety and bravery are different for everyone, safer brave spaces recognize that they may not be able to be safer brave spaces for everyone and so are clear about what they can and cannot do. They have clear boundaries and set expectations for participants.

Safer brave spaces support a culture of consent. By promoting respect and care for each other, safer brave spaces seek to prevent violations from occurring in the first place. In safer brave spaces, people respond to the fewer violations that do occur by prioritizing the safe and comfortable participation of those who have been violated over the participation of those who have violated.

Why “safer brave space”

Some people have advocated for safe space and in response, others have sought brave spaces. In advocating for brave space, Kristiana Rae Colón of Chicago’s #LetUsBreathe Collective points out what we gain by recognizing the elusive nature of safety: “the notion of total safety in any space is harmful and illusory. There is no space in the real world where harm can be prevented 100 percent of the time …” Lynn Verduzco-Baker, however, notes that brave spaces can unfairly expect marginalized people to be brave and so suggests ways to level the playing field to avoid disproportionally burdening them. I coined the term, “safer brave space,” to seek a balance between safe space and brave space. Parallels are “safer space,” “safe enough space,” and “modified brave space.”

How to create safer brave space

I use the term, safer brave space, specifically to refer to spaces created with the Beaulieu Tools. Safer brave space is an ideal, not an endpoint. Creating safer brave space is a continual process, a journey. It isn’t easy. We will be imperfect in our journey. It takes a committed group working together to create an accountable safer brave community.

Groups that create safer brave space state that their community values safer brave space, they adopt community practices including democratic governance, and they commit to uphold accountability for harms. Explicit and transparent democratic governance is foundational to creating safer brave space. By democratic governance, I mean an organizational structure committed to social equality. Decisions may be made by consensus, voting, or another method in which all people can be represented. While these practices may feel excessive, groups that begin with less stringent organization often find themselves facing violations that they are ill-prepared to handle. Setting expectations upfront is prevention, and expectations require systems to handle when they are not met.

Where to create safer brave space

I coined the term “safer brave space” when exploring how to create a culture of consent and prevent sexual violence in open contact improvisation jams, a type of free-form recreational dance gathering or dance-sport, but the concept has much wider applicability. It is relevant and needed for many other types of gatherings and get-togethers in which people participate voluntarily, especially those involving touch and those in which people risk vulnerability. Please feel free to adapt it for other dance and movement events, other voluntary group gatherings or any other situation, and let me know how it works for you!

For whom is safer brave space

As a victim-survivor of rape by a fellow college student and of nonconsensual sexualized touch in a contact improvisation jam, my lens in advocating for safer brave space is safety from sexual violations. People may feel unsafe and lack bravery for many other reasons, however, including simply being new to the group. Other types of harms—such as racism, agism, ablism, and classism—may also impact participation. I am interested in exploring how the concept of safer brave space may (or may not) be useful in welcoming many types of people. The entire community benefits when marginalized people participate.

I am a white, able-bodied, middle-aged, well-educated, cisgender woman, and so I am aware that I have and have benefited from many privileges even if I do not recognize how my privilege manifests. I am committed to working intersectionally, addressing physical, economic, emotional, and spiritual as well as sexual safety. My work is evolving. I make mistakes, and I would be interested to hear your suggestions.

Resources for creating safer brave space

The Beaulieu Tools for Creating Safer Brave Spaces serve as a best practices guide for creating safer brave space in voluntary group gatherings. The Beaulieu Test, is modeled after the Bechdel Test—a tongue-in-cheek test that cuts through to fundamental assumptions and is, sadly, difficult to pass. The Beaulieu Assessment has a dozen questions looking at values, community practices, and accountability for harms.

The Shift from Rape Culture to Consent Culture chart identifies group stages of safer brave space.

I have also written articles published in Contact Quarterly and the CQ Contact Improvisation Newsletter and blog posts on the topic.

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© 2020-2022 Michele Beaulieux … Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I may revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration. 7.31.2022