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  • Writer's pictureanonymous woman

I went on a women's meditation retreat at a women's Buddhist retreat centre. A women's retreat is expected to be a safe space for women, and a lot of women who go on retreat are trying to heal from something. One of the team leading the retreat - the person who was doing the organization (rather than teaching or leading meditation) was a big very tall middle-aged person with an Adam's apple, big hands, and a man's voice - wearing a dress. This didn't bother me at first, especially having recently returned from teaching in San Francisco. But it did bother me when he chose to sit directly opposite me at a meal, emanating loads of sexual energy, and under the guise of querying how I was getting on there in his capacity as organizer, seemed to be chatting me up. It felt predatory. Now that I know about autogynephilia, it retrospectively feels unsafe. Probably that sexual energy he was emanating was because he was sexually aroused from being in a women's space with women, while parading as a woman. I think that he was using the retreatants and the rest of the team as props to feed his fetish.

It was some years before I felt inclined to return to that retreat centre, and although I didn't link that lack of inclination to return beforehand to this experience, it obviously coloured the quality of my experience, and is actually one of the only things that I remember about that retreat.

Like many women, I had no problem with sharing women's space (the question of space where women undress didn't arise yet) with trans before I started to find out about autogynephilia. I taught at a university in San Francisco in the late 1990s. While in SF, I went to a lesbian Christmas party and was a little surprised to find there was a man there in a dress, but enjoyed talking to him and felt that he had womanly energy.

However, to me, this whole issue is about men wishing to invade women's space. I think it's not only women who are traumatised by direct abuse and violence inflicted by men that need safe spaces. There is also collective trauma - many women are traumatised just by the sheer volume of news items reporting horrific violence against other women all over the world, which we identify with. Or by violence inflicted on family members or friends. My best friend in junior school was being molested by her grandfather when we were 11 years old. My best friend in secondary school told me that when she was 7 years old, her father suddenly appeared naked in her bedroom and wanted to play 'horses' with her riding him.

I've also experienced the years of daily sexual harrassment that wears you down, the low-level violence/rape by male partners, the stalking particularly by big men in positions of authority who think I look submissive: and the more you retreat to get away from them, the more they expand into your space; the male doctor/dentist who is over-famiiar with parts of your face or body which are not under treatment/examination; etc. Women need their own spaces so that we can just breathe - away from the invasiveness and dominance of men! We need that for our mental health.

That is not to say there haven't been women who have been extremely toxic to my life, or men who haven't been great friends and allies.


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