Illustration by Gabrielle Conlon

Cw: depression, anxiety, gender dysphoria, ableism, racism, transphobia, homophobia

There’s a lot of debate over safe spaces. What exactly a safe space means and entails, who the space is suppose to be safe for… But I have been grappling with the possibility that safe spaces don’t exist. At least for me. Because if safe spaces have to be created, then I am left with the daunting task of creating my own.

For me, a safe space is somewhere I can be unapologetically myself, say what I feel, speak my mind, wear what makes me comfortable, and go about my business without feeling attacked, or “othered”. The issue with that, is I more often than not find myself in a room filled with people who are oppressing me–whether on a direct, personal level or a systemic one. Attending a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) in upstate/central New York, I am constantly surrounded by white people. Cis white people. Cishet white people. Cishet, able, wealthy, ignorant white people.

And when I stumble into a room of queers, I see mostly white faces, and unadmittedly white feminists.

I disclose my identity and share my pronouns to a room full of strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, professors, to be misgendered the next second. To be ignored through the mischievous device of colorblindness.

I deserve to be heard and seen. I deserve to be validated; not because I seek validation from others or prioritize it over self-validation, but for the sake of respect. I deserve to be respected.

But when I have a cishet white housemate who talks the liberal talk and acknowledges me appropriately, but also brings a gaggle of cishet white men over my house to mock AAVE, and misgender me in my face, just to join in on their appropriative behavior, and not correct their incorrect use of my pronouns, it seems like a lost cause. Posting safe space stickers on the front door, the living room wall, my bedroom door, the hallway, the door of a classroom, an office, seems to be a waste.

Who do we post these for? Who are the safe spaces for?

We post them because we want to be seen as good people. We post them because we want people to know we care. We want everyone to feel comfortable talking to us and free to be themselves.

But it’s my white counterparts that feel safe.

It’s my cisgender counterparts.

It’s the kids that don’t understand the importance of trigger warnings because they have the privilege of not having triggers. The ones that fail to realize that I hold my breath when I participate in class, waiting for someone to unnecessarily “piggyback off what [I’m] saying” and misgender me in the process.

Holding back my comments when someone says an object or person is cr*zy, ghetto, gay, l*me.

When every class discussion is about the gender roles of men and women.

Men and women.

Men and women.

Well what about me?

Where do people like me fit into this discussion?

I had a professor who threatened to withdraw me from a class because I was on crutches, and could not make it to the third floor (this building now ironically has an elevator). I asked for an extension on a paper because on top of my sprained ankle, I was having really bad gender dysphoria and bouts of dissociation. He offered me an extension on the paper, but since I wasn’t registered with a physical or mental disability with student services, he took back my extension, and said he couldn’t help me since I was not registered. But why offer to help me? He could have asked me if I had a formal accommodation plan. But when I asked me about his revocation, he said that “from the way [I] spoke about [my] situation”, he assumed I had already had something in place. Ummm…I’m sorry I didn’t know that my transness in such a liberal environment would affect me so negatively? And this is a professor who teaches Queer Studies?

And with my depression and anxiety, this threw me over the edge.

Newsflash, not every person who suffers from mental illness knows? Or has validation?

Not everyone has access to help.

Not everyone comes from a family who cares, who validates, who respects, who knows.

And back “home” was never a safe space for me. As a queer person, I have to put up with being invalidated, misgendered, and closeted for the sake of physical safety and shelter. It was never safe for me as someone who suffers from mental health issues.

And the place that is supposed to give me the most comfort, warmth, and support, is the place I dread going to, for I have to put on a mask, and grit my teeth, pretending to be someone I’m not.

My mouth has been a place of destruction, gnawing its flesh from the inside out for over half my life, waiting for someone to call me out.

Waiting to dissociate.

Waiting to breakdown in tears.

Or anticipating the arrival of an emotion tsunami. Holding back tears like urine on a long car ride.

If I have ever been in a safe space, I might have missed it.

For me, my safe space Mecca has yet to be found; or rather, created.

A box where I can be myself without the worry of those around me to judge, invalidate, disrespect, and disregard my air. My body. My self.

Because unless I am in a room, in a building, in a town, in a country, in a world, surrounded by people just like me, I will never truly feel safe. I will always be and feel on edge or gasping for air, prepping my escape.

When I close my eyes, I imagine nothingness, a void filled with just myself. Hidden from all the negativity and the fake positivity.

When I close my eyes and reach deep into my gut, deep into the abyss of my mind, past the surging thoughts and anxiety, trauma and pain, I am comforted with the faint memory of what the womb must have been like.

And I allow that womb to envelop me with its warmth, while I cry and breathe, for I have no safe space.