Safe Spaces
The Politics of Inclusion

© Callan Williams, April 1994

One of the key issues for transgendered people is finding acceptance, affirmation and love for not just their outer selves, but for the inner person they carry with them.

Transgendred people are not the only people with this issue of having both an outer self and an inner self. According to Claudia Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves, each of us is really two people. In her tape How To Love A Woman, she states that we have an outer person who is a resident of the world, who is smart and sensible. She goes on to say that we also have an inner person, who is feeling and in touch with the "underworld," with the inner life. She recommends that you always ask two questions of people: How do you feel about this? and then How do you feel inside about this? She feels that this will help us understand how other people really feel. While Dr. Estés is focused on this as a technique to help relationships, we must even ask these questions of ourselves.

Many of us understand the tension between this inner and outer person. We know that we are two people, one that lives in our heart and is in touch with spirit, and one that lives in the world and knows how to work in it. But we find it difficult to connect with that inner self.

What we look for is a safe space to let out that inner self. We look for a place that we can be honest and open about our feelings. This is important to our development. Often we find that the amount we open up is in direct relationship to how free we feel in the space. We need safe space to explore the "unsafe" parts of us.

There are two kinds of safe space. One is extrinsic safe space, which may be seen as a closet, or as a bedroom. It is a place where we feel free because of the place. A good example is a support group meeting or a gender convention.

Sacred space is simply space where magic happens. Because the most powerful magic is the magic that happens inside of people, often the most important sacred space is also safe space, or sanctuary. It is a sacred place where people are free enough to explore their own magic. Not all sacred space is also sanctuary, but all sanctuary is sacred.

The other kind of safe space is intrinsic safe space. It is not a location, but a feeling, like a bubble, that you are safe within yourself, with a friend. We are free to be ourselves not just in a special closet, but everywhere we go. This is the kind of safety that we are all trying to build, a free accepting place with carry with us, and share with other humans.

Therapists are skilled in creating a safe, non-judgmental space. They try to provide a spot where we can say what we need to say without fear of judgment or condemnation. It is then our job to summon our own honesty and openness to explore our own issues. We sometimes meet people that we feel safe around, that carry this bubble of acceptance with them.

Unfortunately, many of us cannot accept open space that comes from place or from another because we cannot create an safe space inside of ourselves. We have trouble accepting our own humanity, our inner self. We tend to rage at the shame we feel rather than feeling comfortable enough to use the safe space to explore who we are.

The primary goal of safe space is to allow a place for us to expose the things inside of us that we feel are unsafe. The feelings, the actions, the thoughts that are seemingly inappropriate, that will get us into trouble. Safe space is a place to open up the dark places of ourselves and explore them.

Our culture has been one that has rejected the quirky nature of our humanity. We were brought up to be a good kid, one that fit into industrial America interchangeably. The rules were hard and fast, and as kids, we thought we had to learn to take our own internal landscape and bulldoze it flat, filling ponds, cutting off mountains, to fit in the pre-fabricated roles that we were issued.

But this is changing. Thanks to the recovery movement, we know that we all have a varied internal landscape, a slightly different person. We learn to take responsibility for our own structures, building structures that fit our internal landscape, rather than trying to obliterate it.

If you need proof that we are becoming more accepting of the diversity of humans, look to the media. David Letterman has built his entire show on the notion that all humans are real nice, if a little odd. We get to see an honest image of people, rather than a squeaky-clean over polished image. When we see his mom from the Olympics, or a person off the street, they are shy, uncomfortable and a bit quirky.. and our heart immediately goes out to them. We love real people, honest, true and interesting. As humans, we have a kind of telepathy, non-verbal communication that lets us know someone's true feelings, and we connect with them.

On a recent show Geraldo wanted to what crossdressers should be called if they sleep with women: homosexual, lesbian? The psychiatrist answered simply "Human." The audience applauded. We are beginning to understand that our underlying common humanity is much more of a bond than the ways in which we are diverse. This acceptance makes it safe to express all of our humanity.

We get uncomfortable when we see people who appear fake, surface, like they are hiding something. We are afraid that they do not understand or accept their own humanity, and cannot accept ours. Marianne Williamson, author of A Return To Love, talks about the notion of showing up, being there with your whole self, open and honest. Others sense the honesty and the acceptance and respond.

Building a safe space inside requires us to accept our entire humanity, not just what we think that we should be. This is not easy. We are used to creating a heavily edited version of ourselves, filling in the hidden parts with some simulated wood grain panels. We think we must hide.

Without accepting our humanity, we find it impossible to be a safe space for other people. We ask others to be honest with us, but then get crazy when we hear things that we don't want to hear. When we do that, people soon learn that it is not safe to be honest with us. We separate ourselves from others because we cannot accept their, or our own, basic humanity.

Giving is receiving. Many of us have found that when we are able to give safety and acceptance to others, we then receive it in our life. When we stop denying our humanity and are honest about who we are, people accept us much more readily.

Safe spaces are simply spaces where we can let our inner selves into the world, where we can dance freely, feeling accepted. They are spaces where we accept the basic good in humans.

Anytime we make a judgment about other people; about what they wear, about their choices, about their actions, we make a judgment about ourselves. When we put down someone else, we create an environment where we can be judged and put down. The space becomes unsafe for everyone.

As transgendered, we must understand what it feels like to be completely human. And we must accept the humanity in others, create spaces where they feel safe to express their diversity. We can be inclusive, with a deep belief that all humans are essentially the same, however they express themselves, or whatever their culture. We can be a representation of the continuous, common humanity that is inside each of us.

When we do that, we also create a safe space for our expressions of who we are, and we create a little better world for everyone. We perform a service to the world, a service of value and worth. By accepting and understanding the different points of view in ourselves, we can help the world accept, understand and integrate the points of view of the range of humans.

Healthy Diversity: Out Of Fear

November 1994

1) An ideal America... or is it?

Picket fences, moms & dads, a perfect TV sitcom image of America. We all grew up with itIf we just conform, we have perfection.

But how many of us don't fit? Even when we don't fit, we still try to cling to that image. But clinging causes suffering. We suffer because of how we aren't some ideal.

2) The pressure to conform

Who benefits from the pressure to conform? Winners always break rules. Conformity equals mediocrity.

What are the weapons of control that society uses to get us to conform? Ghosts that haunt us all.

3) A requirement for excellence

Change is speeding up. The future will not be like the past. The future requires unique groundbreaking solutions. Unique solutions require unique people.

4) Facing your uniqueness

Where does uniqueness come from? A blend of genes & experience. You see what you see in the way you see it, and that is good. Bold acceptance of who you are is required. Facing the fear of separation.

5) Understanding our common concerns

Your uniqueness does not make you separate. Accepting your gifts allows you to accept others unique gifts.

Negative identity: grabbing for groups. Don't create separation. Secure in our identity.

6) Standing alone, Standing together

Teamwork as a blend of unique skills. Creating safe spaces.

Coming from cooperation not competition.

7) The sweep of diversity, a future

We started talking about an ideal that is exclusive. Lets talk about a future that is inclusive, rich and diverse. We all need to be all we can be for the world to be all it can be.