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?