WHAT ARE SAFER SPACES?
A ‘safe space‘ or ‘safer spaces‘ refers to a space that was created for folks who experience marginalization to gather, share common experiences, communicate, heal and organized.
People taking the seat(s) of leaders, facilitators, organizers or teachers in the space hold the boundaries of the space, usually with zero tolerance policies for violence, harassment, or hate speech, including microaggressions. These “boundary holders” usually understand the particular ways in which certain marginalized groups may uniquely experience oppression and act as gatekeepers to protect the space.
No space can be made entirely safe. Boundary holders work to keep a space as safe as possible, hence the term ‘safer space’.
WHY ARE SAFER SPACES IMPORTANT IN HEALING WORK?
Simply put, it is very challenging to do healing work beside the same people you experience oppression from. People existing within marginalized communities often have complex layers of trauma due the varied ways they experience oppression and violence. Here is an example:
When compared to White Men, white heterosexual women and white non-men are at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence in intimate relationships. White heterosexual women living in poverty may not have the means to escape a violent situation or seek healing work. This might lead one to believe that simply not having men in a space where women are is enough to make the space safe, or making a space financially affordable makes the space “safe” Racialized women however, may experience additional, complex layers of violence. They may experience racial violence at the hands of White women, in addition to the even high rates of domestic violence they face. Simply having no men in the room or having a less cost barriers may still not be enough to create a safer space for racialized women and non-men. There are additional layers of complexity: Racialized queer people experience even more complex layers of systemic oppression. One example is that their experiences may even not be included at all in research around domestic violence at all. Health and wellness service providers may also lack of understanding and awareness of distinct experiences of abuse of LGBTQ+ people. They might rely on myths and stereotypes for information which can contribute to misunderstanding or minimizing of the risk experienced by LGBT people. Health and wellness service providers may also lack of awareness of the spectrum of sexual and gender identities. This exclusion leads to total erasure when people gather to come up with solutions or create healing modalities.
OPPRESSION IS A COMPOUNDING TRAUMA
Marginalization exists in multitudes and layers. When people with privilege create solutions they may create solutions with holes and blind spots – it’s important that marginalized communities find healing and solutions within their own communities as the solutions that emerge in these spaces are like to be more holistic and effective.
People who live with mobility disabilities may not be able to attend a meeting in a healing space that is not accessible (has stairs, too narrow for a chair to safely move through). People living with invisible disabilities may be excluded as well.
Racialized women may not be able to afford healing practices with high price points and will not be safe in spaces where racism, colonial mindset, or xenophonia/nationalism is present.
Queer bodies may experience erasure in spaces that use gendered language, have gendered washrooms and will not be safe in spaces where homophobia or trans-antagonism is present.
Women & non-men may experience judgement, silencing and opposition when expressing their experiences of domestic or systemic violence when men are present in a space, making the space less safe for women and non-men to be their most authentic self.
When we create healing work we have to ask ourselves:
“Who is this “Healing Work” really for?”
If it’s a space where “everyone can heal“, then we have to take into considerations the barriers that this “everyone” group faces, and what exactly it is that they are “healing” from. If it’s not a space for “everyone” we need to be honest about that, and really clear about who the space is for so that we do not create additional harm in out attempts to create healing.
“When marginalized groups have to invest time explaining their experiences to non-marginalized people they do so at the cost of time they could have spent healing or working towards collective inclusive solutions.“
YOU CAN’T HEAL WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY EXPERIENCING HARM
Safer spaces give people experiencing marginalization a chance to take a break from having to explain themselves, from unsolicited opinions, harmful ignorance and judgement. Minority groups can feel supported and respected with people who share and affirm their experiences.
This is particularly important because when minority groups are challenged or judged or even silenced about their experiences they experience might a “trigger”.
Being triggered causes the amygdala to become activated in the brain, which inhibits the frontal lobe from engaging. When this happens we actually cannot think clearly or objectively, and we have difficultly relating to others. This making creating solutions or doing healing work next to impossible.
Also, when marginalized groups have to invest time explaining their experiences to non-marginalized people they do so at the cost of time they could have spent healing or working towards collective inclusive solutions.
Racialized queer people who live with disabilities experience yet another complex layers of systemic oppression on top of everything listed above – they may be denied physical access to spaces where there is the possibility of visibility all together, or denied the ability to engage in conversations about solutions due to lack of ASL, or captions.
THE SPACES WE HEAL IN AREN’T UNUSUALLY THE SAME SPACES WE BUILD A COLLECTIVE FUTURE IN.
When people communicate their needs from a place of anger it is easy to fall into patterns of blaming and shaming. When people are blamed or shamed they shut down, and progression towards common goals is slowed.
We need spaces that are safe to express our anger, frustration, weariness, and tears. We need spaces where we can feel heard, understood, affirmed and supported. We need to have spaces where we can unpack and work through the histories, stories attached to our pain, to allow our suffering to guide us towards meaningful action.
When people feel safe they can devise solutions and make clear requests that can be brought to larger forums such as social policies and law, backed by supportive, organized communities that can clearly communicate a call to action.
It is from these larger forums that we can make global progression towards common goals, like inclusion, equity and love.
For real change to occur that supports life and wellness for all living beings, we need the spaces where policies, laws, and social convention are being written and developed to contain diverse and clear perspectives. Before we can get to that place we have to start with step one: Spaces that are safe to process, dream, imagine, and heal. Safer spaces are vital places that allow us to arrive at collective clarity: The kind of clarity that can only happen when people experience a feeling of safety long enough to allow truth to emerge.