Seven Articles in Seven Days – 3: Safe Space


There is a thing, I think, that people will never fully understand unless they’re part of one or more minority, repressed or marginalised groups.

And that thing is the need for and absolute essentialness of safe space.

The majority of our culture, let’s face it, are heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla and cisgendered. Of course there is nothing wrong with any of these – I’m purely stating this as a well-acknowledged fact. But when a person falls outside any or all of these very prevalent cultural norms, it’s very easy for them to start to feel alone, like an outsider, or simply that they don’t quite belong in the world in which they spend most of their lives. Everyone’s experience is unique, but descriptions of this sort of feeling come up again and again. This is where ‘safe space’ comes in.

This might take the form of a convention or other large event – I’m thinking of spaces like BiCon, Polyday or OpenCon here. Or it might take the form of a particular group of partners and/or friends with whom you can be completely honest and open. It might even be simply an online forum. It could be a combination of any or all of these, or it could be something else entirely. What form it takes is personal, but I’ve heard so many people who fall outside of societal norms say over and over again just how important safe space is to them.

I’ve tried to explain this to people who are not part of any minority group, but I’m coming to understand that it’s probably something that fundamentally cannot entirely be grokked unless it is part of your experience. I’m always being asked why we need conventions, why we need Prides, why we need social space just for ‘us.’

Because sometimes, just sometimes, it’s really nice to not feel like you’re the odd one out in a crowd. Sometimes it can be really powerful to hang out with other people who understand you in a way that those in your everyday life really can’t.

Why can’t you just fit in with the rest of the world? I was once asked. ‘Because the rest of the world won’t let us!’ I shot back. 

We’re constantly reminded that we’re different, that we’re outsiders. Even if we’re among the lucky ones who don’t experience outright hostility (yes, that’s still a relative luxury, even these days) we can’t, for example, turn on the TV or see a film or open a magazine, and reasonably expect to see people from our group represented. And when we are, it tends to range from, at worst, a freak-show, to, at best, a token nod to the fact that we exist. In real life, too, even if people seem to accept us, we’re always having to justify our choices and explain things over and over and be a ‘spokesperson’ for an entire lifestyle or an entire group of people.

This is why we need safe spaces. Because we need a break from all that. We need to be able to talk about our lives openly, without worrying about the reaction or answering invasive questions or providing a ‘101’ for everybody we speak to.

For me, personally, the two most important things about my safe spaces, the things that draw me back to them again and again, are first that wonderful feeling of you are not alone, and second, a break from all the judgement I face every other day of my life.

What do you guys think? What does ‘safe space’ mean to you, and what is its significance in your life?

19 thoughts on “Seven Articles in Seven Days – 3: Safe Space

  1. For me, I think I’ve really been learning recently to add the “r” to make it “safer”, not “safe”. It was a word I used ritualistically – “safer spaces” – for a long time before I started to understand why it was important. For me, the “r” represents the gap between the spaces we need and the spaces we know how to create; it allows us to understand a space as better but the normative world but still imperfect.

    It took me so long, I think, because it’s really easy to flip between the two poles of “this place is the best!” and “this place sucks!”. Just reading through the comments of bidyke’s thoughtful engagement with conversations about transphobia in bi spaces, you can see how commenters are snapping into the position of “how dare you say this space sucks!” despite the fact that bidyke’s already written an entire article on how they don’t (and linked to it, and referenced it in the piece).

    What does ‘safe space’ mean to you, and what is its significance in your life?

    It literally means survival. It’s probably why I’m here.

    • missamaranth says:

      That’s a really good point – ‘safer’ is probably more accurate than ‘safe’ most (if not all) of the time. I guess no space is perfect, but we can still appreciate them as being infinitely better than the normative world. And accepting them as good-but-imperfect gives us the opportunity to try to improve them if we can/are inclined to.

      “It literally means survival. It’s probably why I’m here.” <– I totally grok that. I've often felt the same way.

  2. That should have been:

    better than the normative world but still imperfect

  3. bimblybee says:

    Interesting post (I have been lurk-reading oter by the way and really enjoying them, thank-you)🙂 I suppose like you I have always felt an “outsider” but because of my mix of backgrounds and inclinations have yet to find a space where people utterly get me, they may get aspects of my life/perspective but not others. It would be nice to find other inhabitants of my niche (imagine few and far between), but in the mean time, I value the mostly open minded discussion i find in the queer scene. I suppose I just wanted to highlight that although they’re are spaces that I find “safer” I don’t know that I’ve yet to encounter any public “space” that is totaly “safe” (in that nobody there makes any snap prejedicial judgements about others,people are after all people) I’ve only found individual special people that I connect with, and yay for them😀 meantime i think its in everybodies interests to try to be as aware and open minded as they can be. sosorry if my 2ps a bit garbled am pretty shattered, hope it mkaes sense xx

    • missamaranth says:

      Hi! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      I’m glad you’ve found a space where you can be ‘you’ in queer spaces, and I hope you get your wish to find other inhabitants of your ‘niche.’

      I see your point – it can be very difficult to find a public or semi-public space which is totally safe. But as I said to Lisa (see above) there are some which are much better than the everyday world, which we can make use of at the same time as trying to find (or create) some that are even better!

      Yes, absolutely – the world would be better if everyone tried to be as aware and open minded as possible!🙂

  4. bimblybee says:

    oops sorry *there* not *they’re* and apologies for other typos

  5. bimblybee says:

    woops also just saw lisa replied on simar theme and much more eloquently put xx

  6. Nanaya says:

    I don’t really need organised ‘safe space’ and I never have. I’m a fairly privileged person, and the combination of a supportive & flexible family and a hefty dose of arrogance means I have a sturdy stock of self-esteem. This is not to diminish the value of safe spaces – I think they’re essential – but to note that their value as a medium in which to express shared tastes is to my mind just as important. The rest of the world rarely, if ever, tells me that my interests are wicked, but nor does it regard them as very interesting. Like a Parisian in Montreal, it may not be home but at least they’re speaking my language. Familiarity need not be a matter of pure survival to be a relief. Sometimes I want to talk about Kenneth Anger, sometimes I want to talk to someone who knows what a metamour is. Diff’rent strokes.

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It’s really interesting to get a slightly different point of view on this. I think, even if you don’t feel a need for organised safe space, you’re right in saying that using them as a place in which to express shared tastes/interests can be equally valuable, albeit in a different way!

      “Sometimes I want to talk about Kenneth Anger, sometimes I want to talk to someone who knows what a metamour is.” <– yes! I absolutely understand what you mean! For me, one of the many values I find in safe spaces is the ability to share interests with people who not only accept (which many of my non-poly friends do) but actually _get_ it and can engage in discussion on a deeper level because of that.

      • Yes, one doesn’t always want to be starting at level 101. Sometimes it’s important to share knowledge & experiences with people who know as much as, or maybe more than, you do. If you always have to be the teacher in the scenario, that’s incredibly tedious.

  7. This fits with the Geek experience, in many ways: and that’s a very large minority in Western Society.

  8. Dragonmamma says:

    I can see that it must be very tedious having to explain things from scratch all the time to non marginalised people (that is when they do accept you), but I would be wary of the risk of becoming too exclusive in your safe spaces. Some of the rest of us “normals” are desirous of learning more so that we can lose our unconscious prejudices and yes, that does mean that we often make stupid or incorrect comments or assumptions through our ignorance. Having said that there is something very comforting about being with like minded people where you can explore issues in greater depth (whether it be astro-physics, the classics or polyamory). Presumably that is why the men’s clubs in Regency/Victorian times were so popular.
    The good thing about this blog is it is both a place for in-depth discussion among like minded people and a learning space for some of the rest of us…… and for that , thanks

  9. missamaranth says:

    I understand what you’re saying here and I think it can be a difficult issue sometimes – balancing the desire to be inclusive with the need for ‘X only’ spaces. I tend to prefer spaces with are NOT ‘X only’ but which have certain rules (whether implicit or explicit) regarding behaviour in those spaces, meaning that anyone who wants to be can be included, but a certain standard of behaviour towards each other is expected – therefore making them both ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive,’ as best that we can!

    That said, ‘X only’ spaces can be really useful occasionally too. I’ve found I really value chance to spend time in ‘LGBT only’ or ‘women only’ spaces once in a while, especially.

    I wish more people would make a conscious effort to learn more and challenge some of their internalised prejudices. Thank you for being one of the people who is really awesome about all this stuff.

    I’m really glad the blog is coming across as both a place for more in-depth discussion and an accessible information point for people interested in learning more. That was exactly my intention. So yay!

  10. Nanaya says:

    @missamaranth Usually they can tell if you’re a goth from a distance! Unless you’re going stealth.

  11. Kai says:

    I find there are a few layers of ‘safe space’. There have been some nights where after literally hours of talking, with partners I’ve known for years, I’ve ended up in a place (mentally and emotionally speaking) where I’ve been able to talk about things I normally wouldn’t even want to think about. That’s one kind of safe space. Alternately, at Bicon, I find it gives me a lovely happy feeling to know that I can say to a random on a path “my partner and her new girl wandered off, I think they’re going to new girl’s room but they have my room key, [description], did you see them go this way?” (actual conversation). I know that I could just say ‘did you see [description]’, but I don’t _have_ to. I can make random small talk about stuff that I could never include when talking to ‘real life’ random people. That’s another kind of safe space. Both enrich my life a great deal. (There are plenty of others, but those are the two variants that spring to mind.)

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