Safe Spaces: A Polemic on Queer Secrecy (Mars' Hill Article)
October 3, 2019
Note: This is the perspective of one queer student.
My mother’s closet is a mess. Draped from hangers, clothes filter light out. Warm murkiness suffuses the carpet beneath. Or rather, it would, if the carpet was visible. Discarded pants and shirts form a mat, obscuring anything below. My six-year-old self was drawn to this alien habitat. I would curl my slight frame into a nook, imagining that I was a squirrel, sheltered from the harsh winter. My parents stopped issuing eviction notices to my small self when they realized that, short of padlocking it, there really was nothing they could do to keep me out of the nest.
I—obedient as I was—would never stop coming to this: my place of safety. It was fulfilling a human need.
As I grew, a messy closet was no longer adequate to fulfill my emotional needs. I and my second grade classmates began to become a gestalt. We were a group of friends, imperfectly addressing developmental needs. This was a new kind of safety. Such safety was more complex than my
mom’s closet. Indeed, it was fraught with conflict. Sometimes, it was even muddled with schoolyard betrayal. Yet these communities of friendship were life-giving and self-growing. Thus is community born in the heart of a child.
Humans require places in which we can be in that essential, existential, whole-self sense. We require spaces in which we can encounter our own selves in safety, without fear that these, the most sensitive parts of our humanity will be ripped from us. Thus, I feel fundamentally misunderstood when I, and the community, that I feel whole in are asked to “be more open” by people who we have no reason to feel safe with.
When I transferred to Trinity Western University (TWU), it was to escape a Christian Bible school that militantly suppressed queer people, and thus our ability to form safe communities. I feel hospitality, then, in the mere writing of this article. As much as I am pleased to be rid of the threat of expulsion that once hung over my head,
"TWU’S WILLINGESS TO SIMPLY NOT EXPEL QUEER PEOPLE FUNCTIONS MUCH AS MY MOM’S CLOSET: COMFORTING, BUT ALTOGETHER INSUFFICIENT."
More basal to my dynamic human needs is the community of OneTWU. OneTWU is a place for queer students to be. That is what a safe space is for me. It is a place in which some vital part of my humanity can flourish. It is not theology that unites OneTWU, nor is it politics, nor even—shockingly—the homosexual agenda. It is our very “us-ness” that unites us. In one another we have humans with whom we can walk, shaping the stories that carry us forward. To request, as TWU’s administration has in the past, that we make changes to the structure of our group by making meeting times open to any student without vetting, or form a cohesive theological statement, or submit ourselves to administrative accountability, functions as a breech of the safety essential to our community.
But can queer folks really call themselves “unsafe” in the era of political correctness? The numbers do not seem to side with my argument. Indeed, how many gays are getting beaten up during dorm initiation? How many queer TWU students are finding themselves expelled? The problem with questions like these is that they misunderstand the operation of history.
They misunderstand the outworking of trauma.
Most LGBTQIA2S+ students at TWU come from Christian families. Consider the Christian rhetoric of not only today, but also of the previous two decades during the formative years of our lives. What might it feel like to see disgust twist your parents’ faces when they find out about your love? What might it feel like to sit under a pastor who hates the idea of people “like you”?
Now consider what it might feel like to be disowned. That is the reality that members of OneTWU exist under. We need safe spaces because we have pain in our stories. We need community because there might not be any back home.
If you feel that you need to request that a community be more open with you, perhaps you have misunderstood the question that you ought to be asking. And it is not me who you should ask. It is you.
We do not owe you admittance to our safe spaces. We do not owe you a business model. We do not owe you accountability. We owe you the same dignity that we expect from you. We owe TWU the space in which queer first years can finally step out of their mom’s closets, comforted in the face of spiritual trauma.
But that isn’t so catchy, is it? Here, let’s just call it a safe space.