Brave(r) Space ?

Written by Xavier Gorgol — with the participation of Åke Sjöberg

Edited by Camille Circlude

  • Brave Space,
  • Safer Space,
  • Collective Discussions,
  • Conversation,
  • Meetings


Because when I was a teenager in the 90s, and instead of being constantly harassed, devalued or marginalised by patriarchal heteronormative society, (gay) Prides opened up dialogues in social relations, between society and the visibility of LGBTI presences; also…

Because after many years of participating in various associations, these dialogues allowed me to develop pedagogical attitudes - that’s to say that I no longer protested/called out everything that seemed unjust or macho;

Because my experience as an activist with Genre·s Pluriel·le·s [Plural Genders]—an association in Brussels for trans and intersex people—gave me a taste for community, and…

Because the majority of tools that I learned and experimented with in these communities were tools of collective creation, to open up dialogues, to leave space for everyone to speak and participate in the transformation of the world… it’s because of these obvious connections that I became involved in the research for this project around Brave Space practices.

Camille Circlude came up with the term, in a preparatory working group for the TTTToolbox program. I was reminded of a Fierce Walking and Fierce Attitude workshop given by Soa De Muse—to make up your own badass walk in high heels (with my first pair of shiny black shoes)—so the Brave Space resonated with as giving new possibilities for experimenting in a collective as well as knowledges that are accessible and shareable to and by all.

Brave Space ou Safe Space?

Brave Space is a collaborative discursive space, which welcomes conflictual situations and ideas. Its practice implies respect and mutual trust. The term ‘accountability’ at the heart of all relations in this space means that all participants take responsibility in their experiences and their feelings, welcomed as partners in the collective effort. The theme or reason for the meeting is revealed, in our experience, over the course of the exchange. We can say then that a Brave Space opens us to new understandings, which is truly precious when creating a group… and it’s absolutely not the same type of space as a Safe Space.

Safe or Safer Space

I had my first experiences with Safe or Safer Spaces around 2010 when, along with volunteers from Genre·s Pluriel·le·s, we decided to implement Safe Spaces. We translated into French, for example, Safe Space practices found online or brought in by people who had already practiced them in different forms. In these practices, the objective of a Safe Space is above all to help those who are discriminated against to find themselves in a space shared only by others experiencing the same oppressions, and with whom they can take the time to exorcise their pain—to be heard and understood. It becomes possible to avoid teaching those who don’t understand the issues or who might be overwhelmed by what is being described. It’s also a way to get away from the individualisation and/or reification of traumatised people, where patriarchal society cloisters us and where we hear each other say: “it’s because you’re like this or that—you shouldn’t have worn / spoken / acted like that—how shameful, I would hide if I was you.”

To help understand what a Safe Space is, here is a version from Reclaim the Night Brussels, a womxn+ activist group who set out a glossary that, since the beginning of Teaching to Transgress in 2017, we have referred to several times for different projects: 1.

“There’s no such thing as a Safe Space, we still exist in the real world, we all have scars and we’ve all caused hurt. But the aim of this space is to quieten the outside noise and amplify the voices of those who elsewhere have to fight to be heard. It’s not a perfect space. It’s not always what we want it to be, but it’s created by and for oppressed social groups in order to minimise the violence and micro-aggressions they experience on a daily basis.”

The effect of trends/fashion on the term Safe Space, as a tool of collective healing, shook up its meaning and its reason for existence. In my memory this space could be mixed or non-mixed by choice… However, I only experienced non-mixed Safe Spaces. The use of the term Safe Space, as tool of collective redress, has been capitalised on by being used by anyone, on any principle, metaphor, semantic connection or literal translation; by non-stigmatised people or by those in traditional power relations (as when professors impose the practice on their students). The representation of the term as well as its activation without the basic condition of privileging those speaking about a specific lived trauma experienced by the majority of the people gathered there, can quickly turn a Safe Space into an unsafe Space.


During the 2016-2017 academic year, we met with Camille Circlude and Loraine Furter at erg to create working and thinking spaces that could address problems in art pedagogy and its relation to feminist, queer and intersectional knowledges. We named the project Teaching to Transgress (TTT). Over the course of the different meetings and activities we convened or mediated, we understood the need to make a protocol describing the recommendations for including the voices of all the participants and, above all, avoiding the monopolisation of the space by people who already hold privilege or power. To help us lead these collective discussions, Loraine and Camille set out a preliminary shared tool that is available on the project website: :

In 2020, at the beginning of the first week of the erg workshop – as part of the TTT project, now TTTToolbox (@erg) in partnership with two other schools — we proposed this tool in the hope that it could be useful for the group. At first in this new context our proposal was contested. Between our desire to introduce militant acts in the school, and to set up a Safe Space for the group, we had trouble understanding the biased power relations between an institution that imposes a program and the participants who want to be in charge of creating the tools they will use. We hadn’t understood that in the eyes of the participants who came into the project, we represented the institution to be defied. In small groups or during collective moments this tool led to the creation of different attempts and practices that took different forms: from language in collective discussions, to welcoming feelings in smaller groups.

In 2022, with two years of hindsight and in light of these experiments, we can deduce that providing a tool, however well-intentioned, necessitates a specific re-appropriation by each new group.

Proposition for a Brave Space scenario

In order to describe how to implement a Brave Space, we first questioned the term: Brave Space. The use of a term that brings a new context and practice to a group first requires an appropriation of the method, the use of the term and the translation of the practice into the space it is proposed. At first, one of the groups writing the project had difficulties finding a unifying term to define some standards—something we find easily described as operating rules. Certain terms are hackneyed, open up symbolisms or have semantic roots that are difficult to assimilate. We chose to name them ‘scenarios’ (we could just as easily have called them ‘ingredients’ or ‘indications’).

Before going into a Brave Space, it’s foundational to spend time together defining the scenarios you will follow.

Underneath you’ll find nine scenarios we discussed in order to start working. The preparation is made by consensus and takes the time necessary to harmonise the needs of each person present (at least three hours or half a day is required).

The following files outline the roles that help organise a Brave Space. You can find three distinct roles, which seem to us necessary for a good conversation.

What we haven’t outlined here are the roles that allow an archive of the conversations to be kept as well as allow the Brave Space to be held over multiple sessions; because a Brave Space produces interesting results intermittently but also (and most important for group dynamics) through its regular activation by the same group. We also have not described the support this practice might bring into a classroom where bodies are habituated to meeting other under certain constraints. The Brave Space changes embodied habits.

The implementation of a Brave Space needs a closed room where the group knows it will not be disturbed during the conversation. The mediator and the time-keeper should meet before to prepare. At the beginning of every Brace Space there is a go-round of pronouns and first names (see the tool Pronoun Go-Round), as well as a go-round of any specific needs for the situation (translation, comfortable chairs, arrangement of the room…). If not decided beforehand, the delegation of roles occurs at the beginning of the meeting; as well as certain easy gestures that give the exchange more fluidity.

Scenarios file

Normative terms or rules are often used out of intellectual laziness or in order to conform to something. In collaboration with the group who chose the terms for the scenarios, we decided to work in clear relation to our needs and avoid using words with a dark history as standards or rules. The fact of choosing our own words allows us to remain conscious of the fact that visible and entrenched power subtly create hierarchies in how we speak in collective spaces. This choice of words also gives us more safety / assurance to legitimise our own needs; to allow us to more easily share the collective desire for consensus; and to affirm the group as a space attentive to the reflections and ideas brought by the individuals within it.

The group also creates and shares certain body language to signal spontaneous interventions without interrupting, to introduce certain ideas or to validate what is being said. Some of these gestures can be taken from a common glossary, like raising one’s open hands and rotating them on the axis of the elbow, placing the thumb in place of the pinkie finger and vice versa—this gesture is used to affirm and give thanks for what is being expressed.

Other gestures: the hands half-lifted, to speak about something just said. Or with one finger lifted, or two, or three, etc. to create an order of speakers. These gestures allows everyone to take part in the conversation and be attentive to others (certain arrangements of the room or the number of participants can hinder some of these organisational solutions).

The following nine scenarios are a mix of practices found online and reworked by the groups over the course of the program.

The third chapter of Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paolo Freire also played a big part in the creation of this tool. Other online references can be found on most American university websites by searching key words: guidelines for Brave Space, Courageous Conversations, etc.


By asking questions using the first person “I”

When tackling the subject or argument, we avoid directly addressing the person speaking. The often-aggressive “you” is no longer used for direct or heated responses. The idea of using the “I” also helps to engage with and legitimise individual feelings as a site of theorisation.


To link, when speaking, one’s individual perspective to elements or arguments previously expressed by others

Thinking of the conversation as a whole and leaving or highlighting links between different thoughts or positions deepens our attention to and the relation between the different arguments under discussion. When a person speaks about experiencing violence when a professor responds with insults or by turning on the student, the person who speaks next can use key words, like ‘violence,’ ‘professor,’ ‘educational situation,’ ‘individual appointment,’ etc. before elaborating their own ideas.


Found the discussion on love and respect

Start speaking with, for example, “Thank you for sharing your perspective…” or “Tell me more about…”, and showing a deep attention to and an interest in what has been shared. In general, this standard was followed by collective approval: everyone is likely to be ready to listen and show their interest in others. All about love (bell hooks, 1999) is often cited in this scenario.


Give everyone the possibility of being heard

If this rule isn’t followed, the mediator can remind the group over the course of the conversations, without naming or exposing the people who have not yet spoken. Such situations might make people uncomfortable, intimated, or less able to speak. It’s interesting to implement other spaces for sharing without speaking aloud (by writing on an online pad, for example, or through phrases in a box that steer the conclusions of the conversation differently). The conversation is not a singular moment, without a tomorrow. Rather, it is a marker of its history that can be referred to or can contextualise the conversation. It should be announced at the beginning that equal time will be given to everyone, and that everyone can use it as they see fit, which creates a form of trust. All while knowing that the presence of the mediator reduces the chance of being upset by unwelcome interruptions. The fact of knowing that it’s not necessary to fight to be heard helps people find the means to express themselves differently, especially those who aren’t used to expressing themselves in public.


Before speaking, we ask ourselves if what we are sharing will add to the conversation

This scenario is often complex for the groups who have tried it. And as with the second scenario, it is often difficult to keep in mind when the discussion becomes emotional. Time for reflection during a conversation is often felt as futile because the processes of the conversation are already seen as a way to collectively reflect and collectively construct ways of thinking together. However, in all the contexts we experimented with, some participants did not find the means to speak up because of the rapid pace of the reflection and contributions of others who were often more experienced in group conversations.


Assume that everyone is well-intentioned

Having trust from the outset is a necessary element of group work in general. When there is no trust, people who are discriminated against are forsaken and, no matter what ideas they might contribute to the group, find themselves on the margins. Trust, for Paulo Freire, is an act of faith. The educator explains in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire, 1968) that those who observe and promote liberating pedagogies have to, above all, have trust in the capacity of the oppressed to emancipate themselves, while still giving them the means of consciousness raising within their own context. This scenario is the most complicated to sustain in a conversation that invites conflict. This asks the most work from the mediators, observing that everyone is well-intentioned and that everyone takes responsibility for enriching the conversation (accountability).


Allow time for responses

Silence is useful for different reasons within this kind of structure. It allows more time to connect together the different arguments. It supports the effort of those who have difficulty speaking up, giving them possibility to formulate responses in their own time. The question of rhythm is one of the time-keeper’s tasks, both in terms of talking and the temporalities of the conversation. During the experiments throughout TTTToolbox, Brave Spaces were often practised in smaller groups, which prevented assigning the time-keeping responsibility to anyone other than the mediator.


Decide upon a word to ask for clarifications on a term or expression without having to speak or wait for one’s turn — words like “dictionary” or “explanation,” according to the question

Find ways to talk together and with the goal of simplifying the order of the speakers, a working group can propose a glossary of gestures and onomatopoeias or sounds, which can be used without waiting for one’s turn, to ask the definition of a word, or to support what is being said.


The conversation is held in a confidential space

This rule can be decided upon during the conversation according to the subjects and the needs of the conversation. The mediator must foresee the moments in the conversation when a collective verification of the consensually chosen scenarios is needed. Certain groups, over the course of our working sessions, added this scenario during the conversation to ensure more discretion while sharing experiences. The mediator must also make sure the group won’t be interrupted (by a senior member of the institution, for example, who is not part of the project and who stops by “just to see what is happening” or being visited as an object of curiosity by another working group. The group has the reassurance from the outset that a form of intimacy underlies its creation.

Role sheets

As mentioned above, the following are the three main roles we used during our experiments with Brave Spaces over the course of the program. The creation of these roles is above all a commitment to avoid the monopolisation during a conversation by the same groups valorised by our patriarchal societies. It also allows new voices and so new understandings to appear. The mediator, the rhythm and time keeper, and the presence of a support person were the essentials that came from our intuitions and our experiences.

The Mediator

is a role that keeps a Brave Space functioning well. After having introduced, if necessary, the concept of the conversation and the possible themes to be discussed, the mediator describes the scenarios when someone is speaking for consideration. At this point in the beginning of the conversation consensus is needed. Everyone has to agree with the chosen scenarios. Consensus is not negotiable. The person responsible for mediating must also pay attention to whether the chosen and agreed-upon scenarios are followed throughout the conversation.

The mediator must always bear in mind that this is a supportive place and encourages dialogue

All experiences are recognised and validated. The responsibility of each person when sharing their experience is the same for everyone at all times during the conversation. The outcome of this meeting is for all the participants to come to new understandings, new comprehensions.

Everyone includes everyone

The mediation doesn’t take part in the conversation: they guide it, for example, by repeating and reformulating what is said, which might aid the conversation, in order to clarify the proposals and allow more fluidity in the exchanges.

Waiting Time

The mediator must be attentive to each participant’s difficulties and must know how to give everyone the time to respond in order to enrich the conversation. If specific needs appear - when, for example, the language spoken is not one’s mother tongue or a hierarchical situation becomes toxic - the mediator can help reformulate an argument, a proposition and reinstall accountability as a primary concern for all.

Build on the expertise of all participants

Each experience contributes to the conversation. The participants need to feel at ease: giving time is also giving value to the speaker and what they say. By reformulating and encouraging expertises that are often overlooked, in public, means giving value to emotions and allowing participants to feel supported in their experiences and feelings.

Check your privileges

The mediator needs to be conscious of the systematic oppression within the hierarchical situation in the classroom, and how their interventions are perceived. The preparation for a Brave Space is important for the mediator: they must explore their privileges, help understand the implicit prejudices in play during the conversation, guide and support the resources to be used, in order for the exchanges to run smoothly (for example, the educator has the most perceived power in a classroom: in this case, the work of valorising and giving responsibility to the students must be prepared in advance of a Brave Space).

Everyone is responsible and given the agency to act in the elaboration of the collective project

The mediator must also make sure the practice of the chosen scenarios is respected. Take different moments in the conversation to collectively understand which scenarios might cause problems. Asking why some couldn’t be respected might also allow a return to certain arguments discussed. Thinking through scenarios and making sure they are followed by the whole group makes the participants feel useful, present, and active in the conversation.

The rhythm and time-keeper

of the conversation is a role that asks for attentiveness and sensitivity both towards the people speaking and to the conversation, to ensure it can develop without falling apart. Time is precious in a conversation: the time-keeper must know how much time is given to the conversation and the objectives hidden in the mediation: the themes or forms of conscious-raising, for example.

Be supple as well as intransigent

The time-keeper must take into consideration what is difficult for each participant and be impartial regarding the necessity for everyone to have equal speaking time. Equal does not mean identical. The mediator does not participate explicitly in the conversation but can modulate the temporalities, and must discern the moments or arguments that need more time to be elaborated.

Understand the stakes of the conversation

The time-keeper must become familiar with the themes in preparation for a Brave Space. Together with the mediator and in consideration of the themes brought up by the group, the rhythm must be worked out in relation to these complex sets of times and themes.

The Support Person

For the first collective week of the TTTToolbox program, we proposed the participation of a support person. This choice was necessary because the groups met for the first time and there were more participants.

When a support person participates, they must have the same possibility as all the participants to witness the group’s conversations and intervene throughout the duration of the discussion and all the reunions of the group.

Be sensitive to conflictual situations arising

The support person, at the same time they are welcomed into the group conversation, must be attentive to the difficulties that the participants express to them in public or in other contexts.

Be attentive to the conversation

In a certain way and in tune with the mediation, the support person must be attentive to what is not said during the exchanges and be able to report on them at some point during or after the Brave Space.

  1. (nb. This link leads to a page where you’re invited to scroll down to find the term Safe Space and read other definitions you don’t yet know, or re-read those you do just for fun and because they’re great)