Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is There Really Such A Thing As A Safe Space?

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

So on my repeated visits to therapy blokey to fine tune my meds and try to maintain something resembling an even keel. His latest suggestion to me is, after discussing various triggers of mine, to try to spend the next fortnight in places I feel safe.

Well, easier said than done. I mean, I could spend a fortnight at home, skip work and when I go out drive around town in a great big tank (hmmmm... wonder if they sell them on ebay) but I suspect I may face some objections.

I would have to spend a fortnight at home. I wouldn't be able to go to work, my colleagues and . I wouldn't be able to turn on the television or use the internet. I most certainly wouldn't be able to speak with my family, they're most certainly unsafe. My friends? Well, except for the gay men, I'd have to avoid them, since all of the rest have said or done something homophobic.

Staying safe is, frankly, not something I can guarantee. The best you can do is play the odds. And even then there are an enormous amount of times when the odds are awful and there's very little chance of you leaving a situation without being hurt, offended or, at worst, severely triggered. This is why I always carry my pills.

Which meant I found myself again in the unpleasant position of arguing with my therapist with snark and sarcasm (of course). Because guaranteed safe spaces? Don't exist, not outside my own home with no external inputs at all – which is nigh impossible and certainly impossible to maintain. You can try to avoid the worst spaces and places – but guaranteed safety just doesn't exist.

And it occurs to me this isn't limited to him – though he gets a special prize for his rather quaint innocence. I've often been advised to avoid people or places that have sporked with with homophobia. Stay out of the cesspits, cut off people who hurt you, it's unhealthy to maintain these destructive relationships. Stay away from people and places that hurt you.

All of it very true –  and very good advice. But how much can you avoid? How many people can I cut off? Is it even possible to cut them off? I cannot cut off my work colleagues, bosses, family, friends – how many of them would survive such a cull? Not many...

On the internet, how much would I learn if I avoided all straight dominated spaces?

There's only so much you can do to protect yourself and ultimately, you can't always be safe – sometimes you can't even be kind of safe and sometimes trying to be safe will have too many consequences – leaving you isolated, alone and insular, cut off from so much because the straight world is not safe and very few straight people can be trusted not to spork you regularly. Sadly, there is no gay only place for me to occupy instead.

Sometimes it's about having to deal, having to heal and having to pick yourself up when you are knocked down yet again. This is why I think that we can't just emphasise safe spaces – because they don't exist. Oh, that's not to say it's not a great thing to try and make your spaces as safe as possible. But it won't be perfect and it won't happen all the time. It's why we also need to emphasise support and healing and help. We need to emphasise sincere, real apologies (without excuses, dodges or justifications) to help sooth when hurt has been caused. We need to emphasise understanding when someone is hurt and needs time alone or time to recover or time to rant and spit fire. We need comfort and sympathy (not fake or ignorant empathy) and, perhaps most of all, we need to acknowledge that we don't live in a safe world.

Because we'll never be safe – and safety is what we tend to be fixated on. We need to give equal attention to recovery.