The idea of a “safe space” can have negative meanings. Quite frankly, when I hear about the existence of a safe space for people of my gender that is supposedly available to me, I am anxious. I immediately feel that I’m supposed to feel unsafe because of who I am or how my identity is perceived. Sometimes, I unconsciously go along with this fear and generate a number of reasons for why I feel unsafe; later, I realize that the fear and reasons are artificial.
The opposite meaning of “safe” is “unsafe.” It makes perfect sense that when a “safe” space exists, my mind will go “oh no, if I’m not in the safe space, then I must be unsafe.” That might seem like a simplistic thought created by my silly ego mind, and I can assure you that my ego mind is quite silly like that.
Probably, yours is too. If you’ve never been conscious of having this reaction, you’ve probably sensed it under the surface of thoughts, reactions, and feelings that you’re supposed to have. Example of thoughts you’re supposed to have: “Oh, good. A safe space for women, men, gender variant people, or for “people like me” or for “people like them” is GOOD. Safety is good. I want/need to feel safe.”
What is it about our communities or the world-at-large that makes us feel unsafe in the first place? I hate to reiterate an overly-generalized idea, but most of the time, fear is an idea. Now, I recognize the idiocy of this statement — the stupidity of me addressing all of you with its bluntness, and also the stupidity of me saying it to myself. If fear is *just an idea*, then let me poke my finger through the airy illusion and forever be brave.
The meaning of “safety” and “comfort” is subjective, relative, and varies from person to person. There are no two people in the United States (or in the world) who have the same idea of safety and how to create it for themselves. Ideas of safety have been societally constructed and socially normalized depending on identity markers. “Who you are” dictates “how, where, or with whom you feel safe.”
I personally have never chosen to enter into a space that was designated solely for people of my gender (for non-binary/trans/gender variant people, or for women when I identified solely as a woman). However, ten years ago I did live in a psychiatric facility specific to women ages 18+. This space had the intention of dedicating itself to women’s psychological issues and healing, and a few decades ago had been open to both men and women. The decision was made to accept only women after several incidents of men and women residents having sexual intercourse, which was seen as a distraction and adverse to the healing process.
The decision for gender-exclusivity did not by any means eliminate the other “distraction” of two or more women residents having sexual relationships. Partly, the intention was for women to be free of the pressure of sex, flirtation, or attraction, — and to focus on “healing” — but this ideal was disregarded many times by many women. Clearly, the designated women-only space was an ideal for safety (falsely assumed heteronormativity was the other logical flaw) and actually an instrument for control.
The only man in the facility was the director, who had the uppermost position: therapists, staff (all of whom were women) and residents took orders from him. He decided what recovery meant and by what means. I did not feel that the director had my best interests in mind as a woman or as an individual and felt that he ran the facility as a patriarch.
I did not enjoy being in this particular all-women space or feel that being with only women was necessary for my healing. In fact, I barely “healed” — and I stayed for two years. Perhaps even then I knew that I did not identify solely as a woman and would have found more comfort in a community of diverse individuals and have the ability to identify myself and as the presentation of my choosing.
I also witnessed the director verbally and emotionally abusing a trans man, a female by sex who had been admitted via a deceptive agreement to be a woman, and who recognized himself as a man and wanted to be called by his man’s name. He was criticized and humiliated by the director in front of other residents and staff; eventually, he left. I could plainly see that the director guarded my woman-ness and the woman-ness of the other residents because it gave him the control to cleanly run the show: to have the neat and tidy organization of being a man in charge of women.
I don’t believe in neat and tidy organization of people, ideas, or identity. I don’t see it within myself, others, my communities, or the world-at-large. It doesn’t exist. I am a fluid being, and I recognize my boundaryless energy and power; it is my right to naturally and easily embody whatever identity or identities that I choose, and to relate to any individuals or groups that I desire.
My ego is not so fragile that I need to be with identity-like individuals in order to feel safe. I don’t fear being misunderstood, mis-identified, mis-gendered by cis or hetero people. To be blunt, what I fear more is being seen by other gender variant people — who I believe see themselves as atypical — and being “boxed in” by their need for uniqueness.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Possessed Photography on Unsplash