Is There Such A Thing As A Safe Space Anymore?
And If So...How Do We Find It?
When you hear the phrase “Safe Space,” what do you think of? Your bedroom, your church, your grandma’s house? Safe space can be a number of things depending on who you ask. For me, the term safe space can be a bit misleading; it implies a place free of emotional triggers, a place where we can feel completely and totally safe. But does such a place really exist? What does it look like? Who creates it? I once had a trans woman, attending one of my film events tell me that she came to the event under the impression that it was a safe space for Queer people because the event was marketed as a monthly showcase of works by Queer filmmakers and filmmakers of color.
She was offended by the fact that of the four featured filmmakers, who were all people of color, none of them were Queer. Although I understood her point about not having a Queer filmmaker featured that night, which was the result of a sheer lack of quality submissions (totally out of my control), I did not understand how I had created an “unsafe space” for her by sharing the creative works of others. I also did not understand why she felt it was okay to ask the panel of filmmakers (in front of a room of strangers) if they were Queer. I do understand that as a filmmaker and event curator that some creative works of art can make people feel unsettled or evoke deep emotions. I also understand a safe space to be a place where everyone is accepted, a place that does not exclude or degrade groups of people because of their race, sexual identity, gender, religion, etc. This space would also be free from aggressive behavior, and all other unsafe practices. But is it okay to feel as if a space is unsafe for you but then make it unsafe for others?
As a trans woman, she could surely sympathize with the witch hunt mentality of our heteronormative society when trying to sniff out homosexuals. So why did it become okay to question these folks in public when her entire argument was based on her feelings of being excluded? What if one of the filmmakers had an experience where their sexuality was questioned that made them feel inferior or judged? Being questioned by this woman may be a possible trigger for them. They too, should be able to expect to feel safe. The woman also pointed out that as a trans woman, she was highly offended by the films that were shown because the content touched on issues such as slut shaming and incest, and had storylines that involved characters who were unfaithful to their partners, as if those issues are solely LGBTQ issues that would only be emotionally triggering to our community. According to her, the content was extremely triggering and made her feel unsafe.
Now, it is true that everyone is entitled to their opinion, however I have a few issues with her stance. First, you have to know what “safe space” means to you and what that safe space looks and feels like. Is this place an actual place, what do the people look like? how do they speak/act? You should also be realistic with the expectations you have for this space because if they are unattainable to others, then there is no space, outside of the spaces you create yourself (your home, bedroom, etc.) that will make you feel safe. You also must understand that when you walk into a space, there are a ton of elements that are out of your control and you cannot assume that because a space or event is Queer friendly, that there will be nothing harmful that occurs or that emotion of past trauma will not occur because no one knows what that trauma I but you. The moment we step into the world, we are susceptible to triggers because we have little control over the things that we may encounter. Also know and accept that all of your needs may not be met when entering a space that you feel is safe. For instance, if church is your safe space, there may be a day when you attend a service and get a dirty look from someone at the service, that does not make your church an unsafe space. Once you have made up your mind that a space is unsafe, it is not your right to make it uncomfortable and unsafe for others, that is unfair and gives the impression that no one’s feelings or trauma matters but your own.
So what does a safe space mean to you? Does such a place even exist, and who is responsible for creating this space for us? Before deeming a space “unsafe” be realistic with yourself and the things that you expect.