Safe(r) spaces are no longer real to me. Here's why.

Like most people, I hate going to the bank. It’s takes precious time out of my day and knowing my account balance is open to the direct internal criticism of a stranger is incredibly unpleasant. I can see in their eyes the words “This bitch is poor”. Still, that’s a universal pain in the ass and is only a peripheral concern of mine when I’m forced to speak to a person and withdraw my last 10 dollars because the ATM only spits out 20s.

Early in my transition, while in a knee length dress and makeup, I approached the dreaded teller window and was greeted with a resounding “HOW CAN I HELP YOU SIR?”.


Transness aside, I was wearing a fucking dress and makeupyou’d think that the young lady behind the window would have just gone for the obvious “MA’AM” or “she”, instead of opting to categorize me as real-life Black Jeffree Star. I politely corrected her by requesting a piece of notepaper, writing a desperate plea on it, and sliding it back:

“Please use she/her pronouns when addressing me, I am beginning my transition and though I may not look traditionally female--I am very much a woman.”

She apologized, but not before giving her reasoning: “Well, I saw your ID and--I wasn’t sure--oh my, I’m sorry” with the most effective deadpan I’ve seen since Ben Stein's Clear Eyes heyday. She didn’t mean it and to be fair, I don’t necessarily blame her for not caring. I was uncomfortable before walking into the bank and I was a wreck afterward, but I also knew I wasn’t passing and that this was just a stage for someone like me.

The thing is, I’m a binary, femme, transwoman and my happiness is contingent on my passability and the legality of my gender. I don’t think that means I’ve subscribed to rhetoric that’s bad for me; for me these desires are innate and have always been pronounced, acknowledged, and feared. This is who I am, I am a transwoman who wants to pass, who wants to have children, who wants to be the binary idea of a woman--because I am one. So unless I decided to forgo all of this one day, put down my hormone-filled syringe, and just live as I am while enforcing respect for my identity the fact remains: I will never ever ever be safe from this world.

This is why I firmly believe that to argue nuance within the spaces we occupy is to exercise a luxury; some people are too busy surviving to dissect high-brow academia aimed at intellectualizing decency. This also why as a writer who has long fought for the validity of safe(r) spaces and their acknowledgement as tools for strengthening community and resolve, I’ve officially decided to forgo defending and advocating for them.

When I consider that even trips to the bank qualify as excursions into what we have long deemed “unsafe” territory because of its triggering atmosphere, it becomes less and less plausible that I or anyone would be able to foster a truly safe environment. If even the most mundane of environments can become terror fields, what can we protect?  In every space, even queer spaces, an abuser is present, a potential abuser is present, and the unthinkable is a possibility. At the risk of making a trite observation, the Pulse nightclub shooting occurred in what was supposed to be a safe space for Latinx partiers. Still, the Pulse tragedy is not what changed my thoughts regarding the safe(r) space. This world is so dangerous that girls like me can’t even go to the beach without fear of violence or death; how would an intentionally curated nightclub space ever change that?

The idea of the safe space is at best the product of community efforts to shelter vulnerable people from underserved horror and at worst the product of privileged, ivory-tower-bound motor-mouths. Colleges around the country are witnessing the creation of safe(r) spaces on their grounds, and while this makes sense on a college campus where the entire environment can be curated to fit students’ needs there really isn’t shit a trans girl in the city can do with that.

For a while, safe(r) spaces were areas of reprieve for me but as time has gone by and I learn that basically everyone you’ve ever known has a checkered problematic past (keep an eye out for a Wussy TV segment titled “Before they were Woke”--just kidding...or am I???). Also, there have been times when I entered “safe spaces” feeling hopeful, only to then leave them feeling violated.

It is a false promise.

While it's great that trans people like myself are at the center of conversations regarding spaces and inclusivity, I fear that the tendency to argue the nuances of environments distract from bigger issues. In my eyes, I will never be safe until legislation that protects me and doesn’t force me to undergo sterilization in order to become a full-fledged citizen passes. So why have I spent so much time arguing for them?

I’ve come to the conclusion that exercising a false sense of free-will ("I won’t go there--it’s an unsafe space”) has failed to make up for all of times I’ve been forced to encounter my greatest abuser: the real world. If anything, choosing to only frequent "safe spaces" has made me more afraid of doing very normal things. Before I began exclusively attending so-called safe events and gatherings, I met life with a steel resolve. Choosing not to let the things girls like me go through break me, but build me. I simply moved toward the important things. Prioritizing my transition above all else and seeing that lift me from pretty dire straits.

It’s funny; when you have to save money for a vagina, all of a sudden you pay cursory attention to  things that could break you. You lose your family, you lose your friends, you gain some friends but there is always something motivating you. Some of the girls who have been murdered this year were professional women, who saw more potential in themselves than their killers and even their families ever did. But, even their "respectable" endeavors weren't enough to save them. Even knowing this, I’d clench my jaw and endure the trauma of hearing my legal name while doing adult things like  re-filling my Adderall. But after over a year of attending events deemed safe spaces--and seeing that curatorial attempt fail to be effective--my anxiety exploded.

Cue the relevant meme--credit to the excellent scariest_ bug_ever: :

Here’s the thing with safe spaces: anyone can enter them. The idea that we will actively police a space and judge those who enter on a case-by-case basis is an impossible one. Even when events explicitly cater to any particular group such as “QTPOC only”,  it will be infiltrated by people who “shouldn’t be there” (in this example those who aren’t black or of color). Of course, these are general examples for my larger point of never having seen any space actively enforce its inclusion policies.

This even applies to abusers--actual, living, breathing abusers. There were several large events in the Atlanta area where I encountered a person from my past who in all honesty scared the shit out of me. I told people--promoters capitalizing on the “safe(r)” space branding --“Hey not sure if this person should be at your events in the future,:” but continued to see him. At first I was mad, and then it began to dawn on me that the only reason I was upset is because I’ve spent my nights believing that other people would stand up for me, like a baby elephant surrounded by her aunts. Naturally, I was disappointed and decided to curb my nights out. This realization only exacerbated my anxiety as I began to realize that there is no such thing as a safe space.

Like so many other folks, I have grown weary of holding bright expectations of the people I meet in those spaces only to be disappointed by unexpected daftness. My hope in the efficacy of safe(r) spaces crippled me, and I am divorcing from the idea because I want to live my fucking life. I am abandoning the idea of safe(r) spaces because I have to focus on what’s important for my survival in this moment.

Nowhere in this world will you ever be safe, because the world is inherently unsafe. From my perspective, peace of mind and security are not mutually exclusive but one in the same. Simply popping a label on your karaoke night will likely never alter the probability of something terrible happening that night. For some folks, it's just not enough so why bother working with the ineffective? Of course, that doesn’t mean the world has to scare you--not if you don’t want it to--because even though it's dangerous, the opportunity to buckle is never an option. Survival truly is, the only way. .  


Zaida J. is the Associate Editor here at WUSSY and a self-described transgender loud mouth.