Reflecting on 20 weeks of Karada House

(December 27th, 2019)

We remember precisely the moment we stepped into the old stable that would become Karada House on a hot July summer day. It is not often that you enter a space and you know right away that this is the perfect match. It was not what we had envisioned, the timing was off, our funding unprepared but standing there in all the dust and dirt, we knew we’d try.

Now, twenty weeks later Karada has become for us and hopefully for some of our visitors, participants and helpers, a sanctuary that lends its space to the most wonderful and wondrous events and moments. Karada House took 3 weeks to build and facilitated 80 events in the 4,5 months that followed. The beginning  was pure insanity, what followed was instinctual or through a need to fulfill our own wishes, desires and needs. 

Karada is, and this may  not be clear to everyone, a collaborative project between Caritia, Mamana & René de Sans. This entire house is run by three people. In their “free” time, with the help of volunteers and supporters. We have yet to wrap our own minds around this fact and that it is working, albeit with a lot of unpaid labour from our side. Karada is our sanctuary, born out of a deep need we had and we are happy to share it with you and also be open about the process.

Now that we allow ourselves a short winter break, we finally get to reflect on what has happened, what we did, what Karada is becoming and where we could approve. We’d like to share our collective reflections with you.

The lounge area before renovation.
The stable hall before renovation.
The bubble room before renovation.

Queer. Safe(r). Space

Karada House is not for everyone. We set out to create a space that is best described as a queer safe(r) space. Queer because we identify as queer people and because we all had the need to experience kink and body work, art and rituals in a queer community. We consciously offer events for a mixed audience as well. “Mixed” we define as an audience that includes everybody as long as they are allies and understand that a queer safe(r) space is a bit of a different thing, has different requirements and necessities than a predominantly non-queer space. After giving this a try we have now learnt that

  1. it is possible and can be extremely fruitful, fun and deeply connecting to have groups that consist of queer people and non-queers that come together on eye-level
  2. in a space like ours that puts its priorities on being a queer safe(r) space it becomes clear very quickly if someone in the house does not respect its rules and its primary audience.
  3. mixed groups and groups that are queers & womxn only, have very different vibes and energies. Both are great, and we realize that it is indeed good as well as necessary to have spaces solely for queers & womxn where we/they can be amongst our/themselves as this allows for a different kind of atmosphere, connection and sometimes healing.
The tearing down of a wall.

Being safe(r)

We wish to be a safe(r) space. We realize that no space is ever completely safe, however our intention is to put our energy into making it as safe as possible. Therefore we have implemented some rules and regulations. We have a strict door policy and a list of people that are not permitted  into the house due to known and/or experienced boundary and consent violations. Currently our list has 22 people on it. We also have an anti-abuse-policy in place that is somewhat of an experiment, which is currently working well. The policy aims for prevention, allowing people to listen to their gut feelings about people and situations. 

In our house you can call “yellow” and discreetly point at a person that you have a bad feeling about or had an interaction with that made you uncomfortable. We will then keep an eye on that person. You can choose to keep interacting with that person but you know you are not alone and we have your back. No “yellows” have been called so far.

You can call “orange” if something or someone’s concrete actions or words make you uncomfortable. Typically these moments are in a gray area that many people know and upon reflection after something happened know that this is when they should have walked away/intervened etc. Orange moments are in our opinion and experience the most important ones. They happen right before an actual boundary or consent violation takes place. If someone calls “orange” in our house, we (gently) intervene and talk to the person who is making others uncomfortable. We end a situation before boundaries are crossed by asking the person to stop and assess their words/behaviour either by themselves or with our help. We also take the person that feels uncomfortable and/or triggered out of the equation as they are emotionally in turmoil. We have had 6 orange call-outs for 4 different people so far. Depending on their reactions and actions after the call-out, they have either been asked not to come back to the house or have reflected, learnt and changed their approach and remained part of the house. 

Our experience until now shows that sometimes “orange” call-outs happen because the person that makes others feel uncomfortable has a lack of awareness or lack of communication skills as well as an  non- /or limited awareness of their own boundaries. Other times they were deliberate attempts to cross other people’s boundaries.

If you call “red”, we consider this call as a clear boundary or consent violation and we immediately remove the person from the house and set up another date at a different time to discuss the matter. We choose not to engage in a discussion in the moment a red is called, but later when everyone involved feels clear and stable enough to engage in an accountability process. No “red” has been called in our house so far.

The stable hall entry before renovation.
The ramp before renovation.
The lounge area without pink floor.

Takashi’s Castle Syndrome

Another aspect of being a queer safe(r) space is keeping our own space safe and being firm with our boundaries. This has turned out to be one of the most time and energy consuming things so far. There is a dynamic in place that we have come to call Takashi’s Castle Syndrome. In short: for some non-queer individuals it has become a game or a challenge to try to breach our boundaries and see if and how far they can insert themselves into events that they are not demographic audience of. We are not surprised that this is happening. We are however astounded by the extent of it. Takashi’s Castle Syndrome falls into three categories: 

But I am one of the “good ones”/”different”

There are non-queer individuals that think and argue that they can come to and be allowed at queers & womxn events because they do not consider themselves a threat or consider themselves “woke” and different and therefore expect to be above our rules and regulations. We have literally had people at the door arguing that they are “nice guys”, “allies”, “one of the good ones” or “non-toxic-masculine” etc. Not realizing that by demanding entry and ignoring our rules they prove themselves to be the opposite of what they claim to be.

Pure power play

The other category consists of non-queer individuals that feel personally challenged by a space that is not for them and cannot or will not accept that fact. They either blatantly ignore that certain events are not for them and buy a ticket or show up at the door and then start to argue. They have also snug into events in the beginning before we had our closed door policy. We literally have two closed doors now because of these individuals who wish to push themselves in. We even had people try to enter the house that were told in advance  that they were not permitted to enter the house because of their behaviour towards us on social media etc. Who still showed up and demanded that we explain to them why they cannot be in the house and that we explain to them why a queer safe(r) space is needed in the first place. 

Queer is a joke

The third category consists of individuals that wish to attend queer & womxn events and ridicule the idea or necessity of these closed spaces. They usually make jokes about dressing “queer” (i.e. dressing in clothes of the opposed gender within the gender binary) like wearing pink tights, a “girly blouse and skirt” etc. indicating that this should be enough to “pass” as “queer”. 

The lounge area with pink floor.

Solidarity is a two-way-street 

The call for solidarity or support within the queer community is something we have also experienced in different ways. We are so grateful for the people who have helped us build this space. Some gave their free time and work force, others built or gifted us things and items. Some individuals donated things to us that we could have never afforded ourselves but were absolutely essential. Without these generous souls we would not be what we are. Also our volunteers are amazing and offer their time and skills to the house, relieving the three of us from a lot of work that would simply crush us in the long run. Some of our facilitators and artists also gave their skills for free or reduced price so we could get started.

We also try to support and give solidarity back. Most of our events have soli tickets or sliding scales, you can volunteer and  exchange work for workshops etc. And if push comes to shove you can always send us a message and we will see what we can do. We have however heard that some find our prices too high and not inclusive enough. It’s sad for us to only hear this through the grapevine and not directly. Our prices are what they are to ensure we can maintain the safety and sustainability of our temporary location. We know it is hard to navigate the precarious situations many queer folx living in Berlin (as well as other parts of the world) and offer our space, however solidarity is a two-way-street. If we do not work in a way that is sustainable and get solidarity back via ticket sales and the occasional supporter ticket, there will be no space. We need solidarity through money energy. Our aim is to stay afloat and to ensure we pay facilitators and artists as well. 

Our lived experience: often when we give a free ticket, this ticket and its value is actually not appreciated and the person does not show up in the end.

Canceling workshops

A big part of our sustainability is also our ticket system. We chose this method to see whether  an event is actually being picked up by enough people to actually go ahead. Yes, you can purchase at the door most of the time, however if we see that numbers are low  we can directly ask the facilitator if they want to go ahead or abort. Most abort as time and energy are precious and the gamble is – especially for queer or otherwise marginalized facilitators – too high. We understand and support that, even when it means that the space makes no money at all when that happens. This is also part of our solidarity principle and we hope this explains why we sometimes cancel an event. 

Performance by Bishop Black on opening night.
Performance by Xa Na and Miss Mila on opening night.
Performance by Gestalta, Shantel Liao & Miauleks.

What we wish to do better

Karada has happened so rapidly and making it was overwhelming to begin with, we basically  ran along and winged it. We made a lot of mistakes, mostly in how we communicated. It took us a while to find an approach that is right for us. In particular how to deal with individuals who are/were not welcome at the house. On occasion we should have been clearer and direct, we shall be more so in the future.

Karada is also a space where pronouns acknowledgement is very important. We always ask about them, however we also fuck them up. We are adamant about doing a much better job on that in the future. 

We are also positively surprised by the amount of neurodivergent people visiting us and  we recognise we have much to learn in this area. We need to learn more about these topics and how we can facilitate and host neurodivergent people better. If you have any suggestions where to read up on that topic, please let us know. 

We close in celebration of what we as a collaborative team have been able to offer through the vehicle of Karada House. Our deepest gratitude goes out to everyone who has supported us, in their various ways. We acknowledge and salute you. We look forward to what 2020 has in store and for your critical and loving feedback.

Shibari photoshoot with Gestalta & OliviaLilith666.
Self suspension photoshoot with Kaleb.

Over to you

Our house rules state that we are always open to constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. And we have received some here and there which were wonderful and helpful. We are, in the end, simply three people trying their best and running an entire space in their “free time”. Our view is different from yours. So we’d love to hear from you. If you have been at the house and if you wish to share your constructive criticism, feel free to do so. We have had several moments where we heard about problems and misunderstandings that were discussed with others but not with us. 

We encourage and invite you to talk to us or (if you are shy) send us your messages –

Caritia, Mamana & René