Being called out on Facebook by the same people who CREATED these safe spaces? Again? Passive aggression by them? Again? Why is it that the deeper I get into safe spaces, the less safe I actually feel? — my periodic thoughts.
Safe. Space. What does this mean to you? Is it a place where you are able to be free? Is it the place on campus you’ve always been looking for, somewhere you may come into your glorious identity? Is it an inclusive wonderland overflowing with beings who encourage you to blossom in beauty and might? Yes? Do they inspire you to love everything that makes you unique from toxic norms? Do they ferociously fight for your right to rebel against a system that wasn’t made for you to succeed? Is it a place of warmth, like your favorite hug? Is your safe space in a classroom? Is it an organization in the evening time? Safe. Is your space ALWAYS safe? Space. Is there always space for YOU in this environment? Safe space. Have you EVER felt safe in a space? Has a safe space ever felt dangerous? Safe spaces are not always safe. I have learned that spaces are not always roomy and that safe spaces do not always exist for you to succeed. I have felt unsafe in many safe spaces. What does it even mean to be a safe space anymore?
Safe. Space. The first time I heard this term was during my second year at UCSB. I was introduced to social justice circles, queer groups, cultural orgs and feminist spheres one after another, feeling a personal identity in each one of these “safe spaces.” I learned, through personal interpretation, that a safe space is supposed to be an anomaly amongst an institution of oppression, which is the type of system many of us feel drowned in. Such oppressive regimes include the institution of schooling in Amerikkka, work in Amerikkka, class in Amerikkka, social highlights in Amerikkka and so on in Amerikkka. But safe spaces are supposed to be a solution, in which peoples of all kinds are respectfully welcomed, listened to, checked (when need be) and accepted if their genuine intentions of kindness are demonstrated and their passion to create healing humxn depth are somehow being executed.
What else did I think? Well, I thought that safe spaces were places of comfort, where all walks of divine life could come together in solidarity. Safe spaces should be empathic zones of rejoicing, struggling and endurance, as so taught to me by many who DO keep these spaces safe, and many who do not. Our similarities and our differences should be the backbone in keeping these spaces active with the fervent desire to fuck up pre-existing spaces of exclusion, allowing all to just BE.
I did not always experience this fight in safe spaces. In fact, I feel like the term “safe space” has become more trendy than effective, and safe spaces have become polluted by judgment and destructive fights of pride and prejudice. Safe spaces have often become spaces of SILENCING. Internally, many people in safe spaces still crave the same hierarchy as in any other space. Some facilitate a space in accordance with their ego, and others facilitate it in accordance with their fear of others’ egos, specifically, their leaders’ egos.
Safe spaces are another social group one must work to fit into. In many cases, I felt excluded in safe spaces. Why couldn’t I just fit in? Why did I feel like everyone was watching me with scrutinizing eyes? Where was the love? Safe spaces made me feel uncomfortable much of the time.
Safe spaces can be exclusive too, just another clique you wish you could be a part of. How far do you have to go to join a safe space and actually feel safe?
I did feel at home in many of these spaces. I felt at home in social justice circles, where student leaders stood up for accessible and transformative student rights, selflessly fighting to see others gain what they deserved by nature. I felt at home because I WANTED this to be my home, not because I had ever done this for others or because I had experienced a home similar to this movement. I felt so much love in Vagina Monologues, as this continues to be the safest space I have ever experienced at UCSB. I felt at home in Persian Student Group, surrounded by some who felt like family. I felt at home coming into my queerness within smaller queer spaces, but I definitely did not feel accepted in all queer spaces, which is an example of not finding that safe space I was searching for. I would have to say that out of all the safe spaces I have dabbled in at UCSB, some of the queer activists have been the least accepting of my personal story coming into my queerness, but I have also found tremendous love and support from some members of the queer activist community who continue to show me true friendship. It’s all what you make it, because safe spaces, like any other social group, can only offer group polarization, groupthink and exclusivity.
Maybe I wasn’t fully accepted in all queer spaces because of my herstory. I always dated guys. I started really opening up about my queerness during elections last year, and I started openly pursuing girls this year. I am me, and I am still figuring out what that means. I have a different struggle of queerness being Iranian, being from Hawaii, and having the personality that I do. I am Leilani Leila Riahi, and I judge myself in a way that some wouldn’t understand.
Others decided to judge me and my mistakes instead, looking past my heart and only scrutinizing blunders in rough-tongued translations.
I surprised myself into queerness last year, falling for a girl like I had never fallen for a girl, nor anyone else for that matter, before. Does surprising myself into queerness make me queerphobic? Does it make me less accepting of that part of my identity? Not at all. It shocked me into bliss, because it was a part of my ever-expanding identity I had not yet watered. To know a part of you exists that you had never felt before is exhilarating. But I longed for a safe space to openly ask others about their own queerness and my queerness. I needed a space where I could make mistakes with inclusivity and not be reprimanded in a deconstructive way. I needed a queer community of compassion and empathy to forgive me for my mistakes. I needed help cultivating traits of my queer self. Many queer folk I met showed me such love. Others decided to judge me and my mistakes instead, looking past my heart and only scrutinizing blunders in rough-tongued translations. Where was the safe space I had envisioned? Where was the safe space they had promised? Is the safe space only space for you?
Safe spaces are not always intended for you, for all of us. Safe spaces will not always welcome you. They may judge you. They may leave you out and snicker. They may love you. They may empower you. They may deflate you. Safe spaces cannot always be a reliable place of wisdom and virtue, so I have learned that the only being I can rely on to create a safe space for myself consistently is ME. I hope you create your own safe spaces as well for your ever-evolving identities, and I hope you include others when you feel it necessary. We can create our own worlds and recreate this trending club of safe spaces with unsafe rites of passage and membership. Safe spaces are inside of us. You are the universe, and your universe is safe and beautiful.
Leilani has stopped looking for safety outside of herself, and hopes you will do the same.