Safe(r) spaces

July 19, 2009

what fucking community?I’ve talked previously and at some length about safe(r) spaces (cis and trans) and, in the context of the continuing erosion of such spaces online, I’m thinking more about the practicalities – the “what next?” aspect.

I’m unchanged in my view that there is no such thing as a completely safe space for trans people – my safety, particularly (but not exclusively) in cis people’s spaces is always conditional: if someone decides she doesn’t like me simply because I’m trans, then my safety can, and is likely to be, swept aside in a heartbeat. So the only reasonable position is to assume that any space can, and in all probability will, turn drastically unsafe at any time.

Of course, this heightens my own sense of insecurity and I find that, if I stay in (or return to) those spaces where I have felt unsafe, I am far more untrusting and defensive – to the point that, more often than not, I’ve recently begun to disengage completely. Which, for me at least, is a natural reaction, an online survival instinct – the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in full effect – but what then?

My disengagement and self-erasure may suit all those who believe I have no right at all to be in “their” spaces, and – initially – the solution works for me too, as I no longer have the stresses and anxieties from being somewhere I’m not wanted, and can save my energy for other things. But in the longer term, it means that those people’s attitudes are reinforced by being left unchallenged (making it harder for me to return) and it erodes my choices and leaves me further isolated and alienated from people who perhaps need to examine their own beliefs, attitudes and words as much (if not more than) me.

So how do you set about building bridges when the island you find yourself marooned on becomes too small to put down any solid foundations – and the land on the other side of the divide is likely to crumble beneath your feet without warning (assuming that you can cross that divide)? Increasingly I find myself looking for a life raft (which I know isn’t there) and just drifitng away into the sunset. But although it’s the easy answer now, in the long term, who benefits? Not me, not those people whose friendships I value (I feel that I’m some sort of weakest link and am letting them down) and certainly not my oppressors and haters – although they would undoubtedly disagree.

All I know is that it makes me feel very pessimistic about the future, about forming alliances and partnerships to work together on breaking down the bigger obstacles to integrating cis people with the so-called trans community. And that is, I believe, essential work if those who are beginning, or moving towards beginning, their own processes of transition are to have anywhere to interact and grow and develop without having to wear a metaphorical hard hat and body armour every time they switch their computers on.

One Response to “Safe(r) spaces”

  1. Marigold Says:

    Helen,
    You’re right, this is a really difficult problem to solve. Do you stay, in the hope of opening people’s minds and hearts, and risk feeling unsafe; or do you leave for your own wellbeing, and risk perpetuating prejudice? I don’t have an answer for you; I wish I did. But again (and as ever) I give you my support and my friendship, for what they’re worth.

    Pax,
    M.


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