I have been feeling unsafe lately just existing in the world as me. Which is awful. To feel unsafe to simply be in the world. Because I am woman, I am vulnerable, and that is infuriating. It is also -sadly- not new. I had constructed some myths about being safe with friends, that somehow I could surround myself with a security blanket of people and that would insulate me from the horrors of the world. It sort of worked. Until it didn’t. Until the places and the people that were supposed to be safe proved themselves to be less so.
It’s not that the violence I hear about in other parts of the world does not affect me, but it’s just that normally, it is distant enough that I can be effectively empathetic, that I can mourn the loss of lives, that I can be re-inspired to do the work I do with greater fervor and conviction, and I can continue forward on my march for justice. Lately though, the violence has been too much and too close to home both physically and metaphorically, and it has left me shattered, unable to cope. I know I have reached my limit because I make coffee and leave it on the counter, I lose my keys, startle at loud noises, flinch when someone touches me, have a hard time breathing, can’t fall asleep, struggle to wake up, forget what I was going to say mid-sentence, become nervous when people walk up behind me and evaluate my outfits as I get dressed for how likely men will perceive them as an invitation rather than whether I want to wear them.
The U.S. is enraged by the most recent event of male entitlement and rape culture, as it should be. It’s also hard to believe anything is actually going to change. Every post about it reminds me I am unsafe. Every scroll through the comments section reminds me that I did everything “right” even when I know that the idea of doing it right is horribly offensive, and still I was not safe. It is not enough to guard yourself from strangers, but men you thought you knew and could trust can also prove themselves to be unsafe. It reminds me that I can trust no one. That because I am an attractive woman, I am object, I am up for grabs, that I must stay sober in order to defend myself because it’s not a matter of if the need should arise but when.
I have been sitting silently with these feelings, trying to find the words to express them. Trying to unpack my base fear of straight men, wishing it weren’t true or at least weren’t necessary. The more I reflect on these feelings, the deeper I have dug into the hell of my fear, of all the times I have said no and it didn’t matter, of all the times I was too afraid to say no but wanted to. It hasn’t been pretty.
Eventually this led me to think about how much safer I feel with women, and yet how ironically being with women also puts me at risk. I do not look like mainstream society’s idea of a stereotypical lesbian and being out has often meant being subject to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm from straight men. Because according to them I am a waste of femininity or I must be confused, and they will set me “straight.” What is worse is that because I also sometimes date men I am hypersexualized and turned into a fantasy; made all the more terrifying because fantasies aren’t real. Objects of fantasies are just that: objects. They don’t have feelings, thoughts or opinions about what is done to them or with them. I have no agency in this category.
I exist in a liminal space. I pass as straight, and I get hit on mercilessly by men. I claim my complex sexual identity, and I am further objectified by the same men as simultaneously repulsive and enticing. I feel safest and most at home in the gay community, even when I am not entirely accepted, I am at least safe from harm. Until today. Today that sense of safety has been fractured by the horrific shooting in Orlando. The loss of life is unparalleled in U.S. shootings to date. It feels surreal, like a bad dream I will soon wake up from, but this is reality. I am awake.
The consequences of this one person’s actions are multi-layered. The idea that a person could come into your home (figuratively speaking), possibly the only space in which you felt safe to be your most authentic self in the presence of friends and trustworthy strangers is to me the most unsettling: this destruction of faith that there are safe spaces. It is also -sadly- not new.
People had the audacity to believe in their own equality and basic human rights. How dare you try to take that away. This is not about radical religious beliefs. This is about hatred. This is about lack of gun control. This about lack of respect for life. And it has to stop.
There are safe spaces to exist as you are, to be respected as a whole and worthy person, to just be you. These are spaces everyone needs and deserves regardless of their gender, sexual identity, race or religion. We need more of them, and we need to work to protect the places we have, to re-establish the sense of safety where it has been shattered, to be each other’s safety blanket.