The Trouble With “Safe Spaces”

Most of the people who have stumbled their way to my blog have probably heard the term “safe space” before. The concept is relatively simple — a safe, inclusive space without discrimination that provides support to those who need it most. But while it sounds great in theory, it is endlessly problematic in practise.

I have never seen a safe space work as intended. My experience has been with safe spaces for LGBTQ people, and those who struggle with disability, mental illness, and/or trauma. In many cases, there has been overlap between these categories.

Safe spaces are riddled with logistical problems, starting with the fact that everyone’s idea of what constitutes a “safe space” will be different. The way the space is moderated or run is another issue, and one that frequently sounds the death knell for the effort, as hosts lean more towards a model that establishes them as authority figures rather than leaders, and creates an uneven power differential among a group of people who, often, have suffered poor treatment or even abuse at the hands of those in power. For a safe space to function properly, everyone must be treated as an equal, and conflicts need to be managed and resolved from a place of mutual respect — otherwise, one or more members walk away feeling like a scolded child, which leads to resentment and distrust.

The other major issue safe spaces face is trying to balance the individual needs of members with the safety of the group as a whole. This gets harder to do the larger a group grows — but no one wants to turn away someone seeking a safe space. As a result, they often buckle under their own weight as interpersonal conflicts simmer, and those who feel wronged have to be civil and make nice with people they want nothing to do with.

Individuals seeking safe spaces walk in with a number of needs, behavioural quirks, and issues unique to them. This can make them tricky to accommodate, and even downright frustrating at times. No one wants to violate the premise of a safe space by asking them to stop doing that thing that’s annoying everyone, but at the same time, truly disruptive or distressing behaviour has to be addressed. The fact that someone is working at a disadvantage does not give them the right to upset or harm others without second thought. Managing those kinds of situations is difficult, and is when respect and a lack of judgement become invaluable.

No talk of safe spaces would be complete without mentioning triggers. Triggers are topics, experiences, memories, and/or words/phrases that cause deep distress to the person encountering them. Distress severe enough that it impacts their ability to function. Those of us who have them have to deal with accusations of “oversensitivity” often, which is profoundly unfair. No one wants to live their worst memories over and over again, and wishing to avoid being forced to do so is understandable, not oversensitive.

The trouble with triggers comes in when you have a moderate to large group of people who have a various assortment of them. Trying to keep everyone safe becomes a priority, but is one I have never seen achieved. One of three things tends to happen:

  1. Someone is told that they cannot speak about their experiences/ seek support or must leave the safe space because they are triggering others. While avoiding hurting others is important, there is an undertone of shame to this approach that defeats the purpose of a safe space, because it requires censorship. It also sends the message that your emotions and experiences are so ugly that they should not be spoken of, which is not only problematic, but deeply painful, possibly even (re-)traumatizing
  2. Someone has to leave to protect themselves, because they are constantly being exposed to triggering material/talk
  3. Infighting over the validity of triggers and individuals’ right to speak about their experiences and seek support cause the group to fracture into smaller subgroups, or for the safe space to cease existing altogether

I don’t have any neat, tidy solutions to this problem, probably because any effective solution will need to be multifaceted. What I do know is that identifying the issues with safe spaces is the first step towards working out how to solve them. And, really, it’s important that we do. People need to be able to share what their lives are and have been, and seek needed support in a way that isn’t strictly clinical (counselling, therapy). A support network made up of friends and/or family is absolutely vital when dealing with any number of issues that might drive someone to seek a safe space, because the goal is not to stay in counselling/therapy forever. Ideally, there are people in our lives who can and will help us if we tell them how.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

It’s Official

I’m a writer. Not just in the sense of “this is who and what I am” but also in the sense that I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED. There is a career trajectory, now.

Which. Exciting! But also scary. I haven’t heard back on the book, but I’ve had a piece of poetry published in ImageOutWrite Vol. 5, and a piece of my short fiction was just published by Torquere. The short story is part of the Harvest Moon anthology.

Getting here wasn’t easy. There were a lot of speed-bumps and obstacles along the way, and I know that this is just the beginning. I have to hope that my writing catches people’s attention, and that I can build a readership. I have to keep writing, even when my insecurities whisper that I can’t do this, that the publications I have only happened through luck, that I’m not actually that good. I have to keep telling the stories that make my heart sing, even when it would be easier to follow trends and convention.

But you know what? For right now, I’m just going to celebrate a little.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Fiction: What it’s Worth

Mermaid scales were easy. It was the matter of a moment to brush a few from my tail and tip them into your cupped palm. The herbs I left you to gather. The land is your home, and you’ve known magic since before you drew breath. I knew you’d find what you needed.

The other things, though. The ones I promised to get for you, those I left to retrieve with the promise to be back in time. The full moon was just two days’ away, and the spell needed the right amount of moonlight to work. I flicked water at you and told you to have a little faith in me.

I did not tell you I feared that I would fail. Didn’t tell you that I had to make promises to the squid in exchange for his ink, or that I was afraid of the ghosts in the shipwreck I searched to find you the finger bone of a drowned sailor. I did not tell you that I fought with my sister, because she did not believe any human was worth the palmful of sand from the ocean floor I gathered for you. I didn’t tell you of the hours it took to find the grumpy old crab a new shell before he would let me have his old one.

I did not tell you any of these things, because the moment you shed your dress on the beach after completing the potion to lie beside me in the wet sand as the magic took hold and fashioned you a tail was worth it. Being able to kiss you under the waves and have your breathlessness be from my lips and not the need for air was worth it. Being able to show you the world I grew up in, with all its dark, dangerous beauty and bright colours and happy memories was worth it. I would have paid that and more to be able to look down at you, sleeping peacefully in my arms and know that I can sleep, too, and that we will both still be here when we wake.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Hello, September

This is the first August I can remember where I haven’t spent the last half of the month gearing up for a new school year.

No restocking pens, paperclips, highlighters and sticky notes. No scrambling to buy textbooks. No having to reorganize my desk, taking it from Creative Mode to Academic Mode. No recalibrating my sleep schedule. No class conflicts and grad requirements to work with and around. No bad-professor-dodging. No cancelling my birthday because of exams. No pre-emptive stress over reading lists and assignment deadlines.

It feels strange. Good, in a way. Light. But hollow, too. Because this was my life’s primary structure and mode of organization for years and years. It was never easy, but there was something reassuring in having a definite measuring stick for success, in being able to know exactly what was required of me. It didn’t make it any easier to do what was required, didn’t lessen the toll on my mind or body, but at least I didn’t have the stress/fear of the unknown to deal with, too.

I’m trying to find a new way to structure my life. I know that, for a lot of people, that’s work. I’ve gotten news that I’m being published (OMG!!!) so my writing career is taking off, but I know that won’t pay the bills right now (and might not ever). I have some other opportunities that I’m looking into, and have gotten stuck playing the waiting game on, but there are things to consider on the work front that scare me.

Things like: How will I be able to hold a job when my health, physical and mental, is still unstable? How will I find a job that I can do with my limitations, and how do I hold onto it? What if I can’t work full-time? How will I support myself? What if I can’t ever work full-time?

And, because our culture is so, so bad about tying your identity to your work, your ability to be productive, I have to battle self-doubt on top of all those other things. Even knowing logically that I have worth as a person whether I can work or not doesn’t stop the emotional part of me from whispering that no one will want to be with, love, or be friends with a useless, disabled lesbian. It doesn’t stop the nagging questions of “How dependent will I have to be on others? How dependent am I allowed to be before I’m a burden? Who would be willing to shoulder that burden? How could I possibly be okay with being a burden on my loved ones?” from creeping up on me.

That kind of thought process is toxic, and I know it. It is also, unfortunately, incredibly difficult to root out. Knowing that it’s utter bullshit, that it’s capitalism telling me I have to be a successful, economically-productive individual to have worth; that it’s the decades of abuse undercutting my sense of self; that it’s my anxiety and mental illness trying to tear me down doesn’t make it go away or hurt any less.

All I can do in those moments is remind myself that:
1) I have people who love me so, so much, and in a variety of ways;
2) I have been working towards better health and stability for about 2 years now, and my efforts have started to pay off;
3) I am trying to pursue work, but have to wait and see if things fall into place—and it’s not my fault if they don’t;
4) My limits are not my fault;
5) Human beings are inherently social creatures, and we all need to be taken care of sometimes, no matter our age or level of ability;
6) I am trying, and that counts;
7) My limits are still not my fault.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

News and Changes

So, I’ve talked before (a lot) about writing, and the possibility of being published. Recently, I mentioned that I finished writing a book. But what I didn’t mention is that my writing projects didn’t exactly stop there.

Because I decided “what the hell?” and responded to some open calls for short fiction. Short, queer fiction, to be precise. And I heard back from one of them — Torquere Press. They want to publish one of the short stories I’ve written for them.

And, on the one hand? OMG, DREAM COME TRUE, I’M OVER THE MOON. On the other? It means that some things will have to change.

For starters, it might get a lot more busy round here. And I will have to change my name on this blog to reflect the name I’m publishing under. “Dominique Hayes” is who I’ve been on here for three years, and it feels . . . strange, for want a better word, to think about changing that. To give that up.

I’m trying to remind myself that not all change is bad. That this is less a loss than it is an evolution. Everything else is going to remain the same, here. This is still my corner of the interwebz, still the place I get to post thinky thoughts and rants, weird anecdotes and OMGWHAT? moments. This is still the place I get to write, and share that. This is still the place where I developed my voice.

It’s also going to be the place I let readers find me. Which. It’s odd, that the idea scares me so much when that was why I started this blog in the first place, but there’s a degree of safety in being an anonymous nobody on the internet. In having a readership under 50 people. It’s scary, to be one step closer to achieving a dream I’ve been quietly feeding for the better part of two decades.

But carpe diem, right? So, here goes. Goodbye, Dominique Hayes.

Hello, K. Martin.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

This Is My Rebellion

In the wake of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, a lot of the way I live — things I do and say and take for granted — feel like acts of rebellion. And maybe they are, which is a massive shift in perspective. But if tragedy does anything, it makes you re-evaluate.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by this. To those who are grieving a loved one. Those who have a loved one in the hospital. To the queer community, who is feeling this reverberate as far away as Canada, and likely further than that. To the Muslim community, that is currently under unearned fire for what happened. To those in Orlando, who are living in the aftermath of violence. I send all of you my love, and I will keep all of you in my prayers.

There’s not a lot I can do from Canada to try and help these people. I wish there was. What I can do, though, is keep on with what I have been doing. I’m going to go to the Pride events in my town this week. I’m going to take my babygays with me, however many want to go. I’m going to keep reaching out to queer youth in my town. I’m going to keep speaking out, educating my friends and family and total strangers about queer history and heteronormativity and why so many casual comments and assumptions are not okay. I’m going to keep writing stories for and about queer people, where we get to have happy endings. I’m going to keep living out and proud, fighting against femme invisibility, homophobia, and transphobia.

I refuse let fear stop me. Because no one can truly predict how or when or where hatred will erupt into violence. All we can do is try to put love into the world — by refusing to hurt each other further with ignorance, intolerance, and laying blame; by giving hope to those who need it; by choosing to be a voice for those who are too afraid or in too much danger to speak. By opening our arms and our hearts to those who are hurting. But most importantly, by opening our mouths to create change so that this doesn’t keep happening.

Queer people are, first and foremost, people. We have walked among and beside you for as long as culture has existed. Our love and identities are not new — we are just trying to break free of the darkness and silence that was imposed on us. And, whatever you might think of us, we have the right to exist. Someone tried to take that from us.

And please, notice that I said someone — not “some culture” or “some group” or “some religion”. This was the act of a person filled with hate. Flinging around more hate and intolerance is not the answer.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

small counts

When I started university, I did so with an eye towards a career in counselling/social work. I wanted to help people. I had the skills to be good at it, too.

But, a year-and-a-bit in, I realized that field wasn’t for me. Everything I was hearing from my textbooks and teachers didn’t fit with my worldview, and, what was worse, I felt like I didn’t matter. Like I had no place in this world of statistics and averages. I switched majors, and have since graduated with a degree in English and Contemporary Studies. I kept the Psych credits as a minor.

But that didn’t keep me from helping people. I might not have the emotional resources or personality for social work, and I might not have the ability to volunteer, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t made a difference in people’s lives. I have. Everyday activism, the small things, they count too. I’ve made a point to be a resource, a judgement-free place to seek advice or vent for LGBTQ+ youth that I know. I’ve made a point to reach out, make myself available when I hear that there are friends or friends-of-friends in crisis. I call out my friends and family members on behaviour that isn’t okay — I refuse to stay quiet about rape jokes, slut-shaming, misogyny, and other forms of prejudice. I do little things like remind myself to be pleasant and patient with customer service workers, prevent that random blind guy from walking into something, or helping someone out when they’ve got their hands full and are trying to get a door open.

And I don’t do those things as some sort of “good deed for the day”, because I’m trying to assuage guilt, or stock up on good karma. I do those things because I genuinely wish the world were a better place, and if I want it to be less shitty, leading by example is a decent way to start. Maybe I’m just one person, and maybe I don’t have the pull to make big changes for the better. But there’s nothing stopping me from doing those little things, and they count, too.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.