On the importance of safe spaces, and the power of the queer community
By: Tammy Thomas
I am trans. I started hormone therapy four months ago, so I am still in the early days of my transition. This means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, it means I’m trying my hardest to live an open, proud and authentic life. To some people, it means I’m worthy of ridicule, abuse and violence. The threat of violence is almost always present, especially when I’m on my own.
This is why I’m incredibly thankful for the safe spaces that exist in our community. These are places where I can exist without fear. There are autonomous safe spaces at universities, providing an essential escape for queer students from the crushing hetero- and cis-normativity of daily life. It’s incredibly important for queer students to have spaces where they can exist freely and honestly.
Different students at different universities suffer to varying degrees and no two people will have had the same experiences. However, by being able to meet with others in an autonomous and protected space, we’re able to discuss the similarities in our stories, to provide each other with support and advice. These spaces are often social hubs for queer students, and a place where many activist campaigns begin. Queer activism, especially the kind borne from these kinds of autonomous spaces provides a fundamental opportunity to educate the broader community about issues that affect the daily lives of queer students. As well as education, these campaigns can effect real policy changes at universities, and in government.
Safe spaces also exist in places like bars, pubs and nightclubs. These sorts of safe venues are more socially focused than university safe spaces. These are places where I can go to be with friends, have a drink, and not have to spend my entire night worried about whether I’m passing; whether that person is interested in sleeping with me or killing me; spaces where I can use the bathroom without fear of ridicule, harassment, or being kicked out of the venue.
Even the smallest things, like the simple acts of having security guards recognise my gender, or having bar staff compliment my new outfit: these small moments have an overwhelmingly positive impact on my emotional wellbeing, providing the slightest relief from the constant worry about how I’m being perceived.
That said, the most important safe space in my life is the one that travels with me, the one that’s made of my friends and our broader social network. When I’m part of a group of other gender and sexually diverse people I am at my safest. Having friends around who will correct strangers when I get misgendered is a truly reaffirming experience. Being surrounded by people who see the version of myself that I see is empowering. Having friends who are as excited and happy as me to see my body change is joyous.
The safest space of all is created by having all sorts of wonderful queer people around; by engaging with a community that loves and supports each other; by encouraging people to be themselves, whether that’s femme or butch or somewhere in between. This community is my real safe space. Knowing that there’s strength and safety in numbers.
Tammy Thomas is a gender and cultural studies student at the University of Sydney. She’s obsessed with Nicole Richie, and dreams of being a Real Housewife of New York City. You can check out her selfies on instagram: @trashtammy