The absence of safe spaces when you don’t belong
Where do we go when we need a break from the constant tussle, the emotional and psychological pressure of living in a world where everything is some kind of battle? Mental retreats, or safe spaces may exist in the shape of a family unit, a close group of friends from school or college, a religious community or political organisation. But what if there isn’t a space with your name on it? What if you’re the person who slips between the margins, neither fish nor fowl, and there’s nowhere you can just exist without question?
I’ve written a lot here about the need for tolerance and acceptance, and those are exactly what the world needs right now to get back in order to re-establish some kind of sanity in our political and social relations. But putting tolerance and acceptance out there all the time is hard. It’s tiring. And sometimes you just ache for a space that’s yours – a space of agreement and mutual understanding where you don’t have to calmly fight your corner, where certain givens can just go unsaid. More than the constant, relentless bad news and divisive decision-making surrounding the pandemic, the daily car-crash-bombardment of international horror stories leave me yearning for a place to shelter, a place to not be questioned, not have to explain myself.
The disjuncture of having no one in your life whom you grew up with, whose experiences match your own and whose opinions can be relied upon as a safe place of agreement, a shelter from the storm of divisiveness we’re constantly battered by in this ever-fraying world. For someone like me who exists without tight bonds to family or community, without a strong, well-informed racial or ethnic identity and no ties to my past or where I grew up, there is no such safe space. The constant sharing, deep, intense bonds of adolescence give way to the constant uncertainties of adult friendships and relationships, and nothing is safe or certain among people of differing backgrounds. Tiptoeing around subjects, or full-disclosure honesty at the risk of confrontation, rejection or both are exhausting ways to interact. The absence of a safe space where the soul can rest and recuperate was bad enough before the world started going completely to shit. Now it’s a gaping hole in my psyche (another one) that I have no other option than to just suck up, another thing I need that I just have to manage without. Whether it’s climate change, having children (and how the two are related), taxation, education, gun control, unemployment, abortion, the police, the military or any other contentious topic you may think of, the lack of a space I can enter where there is the safety of having at least a basic form of agreement feels like yet another tax on just not belonging anywhere.
I was good at being a young person. I was good at sharing. I was good at pontificating on the ways of the universe late into the night, setting the world to rights, exclaiming yes, yes, I totally get that! And oh my god you just read my mind! The squeals of mutual understanding, the sense of being seen, being heard, the heart-lifting realisation that you are not actually alone in your thoughts and beliefs, that there are others, that you are a part of something, not a lone crouton on the edge of a soup bowl, sinking ever-deeper into a viscous mass that’s trying to subsume and destroy all the things that make you you. Those are moments, the places, that make living in the world more bearable, yet as an adult without ties and connections that run old and deep they are virtually absent, found only at the bottom of a bottle, or something stronger. Feeling out of step with the universe, feeling out of place and disconnected are not new feelings for me, but that doesn’t make them easy to live with. Seeing people huddle in their tribes, hunker down with their cliques is hard, especially after being unceremoniously rejected from so many of the aforementioned social sets for being too bloody different. When Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everybody else is taken’ he clearly had not encountered a gaggle of White upper-middle-class women from the English Home Counties. Just saying.
I envy and despise in equal amounts the rich White men in their gentlemen’s clubs – their safe, private spaces where they can close the door on the modern world, pat each other on the back and bitch about political correctness gone mad and how much better things were way back when. The egregious irony of them not only continuing to hold all the power but having enviably comfortable, socially acceptable private spaces of their own in which to bemoan any small inroads the rest of us may make into the world is not lost on me.
I’m sick of reading magazine articles extolling me to ‘find your tribe’. Do these people not understand how frustrating it is to be shown a prescription for loneliness that seems to work for everyone else except you? Has it even occurred to them that some people just don’t have a tribe, and it’s not their fault? That due to circumstances beyond one’s control, it is possible to have a set of beliefs and experiences that will set you apart in one way or another from virtually everyone you will ever meet. That you must live your whole life on guard, waiting, expecting to disappoint anyone whom you’re honest with, that one stray comment will get eyebrows raised, invitations rescinded, doors slammed in your face or worst of all, elicit peals of mocking laughter. And that you have to take all that with no one to run to, nowhere to go to say fuck, those bastards, they just don’t get us, because there is no us, there’s just you, out on the limb that is your life. Disconnected in every way and battling through another day on your own. No tribe, no family, no safe space, shared history or ideology. It’s all so tiring, each micro aggression more draining than the last. Running on empty with nowhere to refuel. Yes, this may seem like a small thing to moan about when the whole world is falling apart and people have much bigger problems, but it’s my blog and I can cry if I want to. Being different sucks, whether there’s a pandemic on or not.
13th August 2020