House and Home
February 3, 2016
Story by Ely H.
We all know the difference between a house and home: a house is something physical, built of bricks, or glass, or bamboo. A home is where our heart returns to when we are away, it is the space we build for ourselves out of memories, shared experiences, and everyday emotions. Just so with a safe space.
Unlike a physical space, a safe space is constructed out of the hearts of people who care enough to make room for others and want to provide the safety for themselves and others to grow and thrive.
Some of us are lucky enough to have multiple safe spaces, and some of us just have one; for most of us our home is our safe space, but not all of us are so lucky.
What does a safe space look like? A good example is QMUNITY’s Youth Cabaret—an annual event where LGBTQ Youth come together to celebrate the year behind and look forward to the year ahead.
If you were to arrive early enough at the chosen location, you could watch how this safe space slowly comes into existence; first a stage, some preliminary sound tests, then the real building blocks start to trickle in. As each new group of youths enters the room there are cries of delight and recognition, hugs and jokes and smiles. Like the opening of a flower, soon the room is filled with boisterous, chatty, fascinating individuals whose tightly knit structure is as dense and flexible as cloth.
When it’s time for the festivities to begin there are introductions, and speeches, and endless chains of laughter. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is included.
This may sound like your everyday brunch club, but the differences here become apparent quite quickly.
After sharing their used pronouns, the MCs are careful to mention trigger warnings so that the Youth Workers can point out the various volunteers sprinkled through the group who are there to speak to someone who is feeling overcome. This is for good reason, as the performers take the stage to reveal extremely personal stories in a variety of formats – songs, skits, stand-up – and one of the connecting threads is a darkness that is all too present for those who carry a special knowledge.
Finding it difficult to accept yourself is a remarkably prevalent aspect of adolescence, but discovering that others can’t accept you is something far worse.
While many of the performers were quite cheerful, their stories often touched on experiences with discrimination, ostracization, and intolerance.
At each instance of these narratives, their fellow group members were immediately present and supportive, revealing the true nature of their underpinning connection.
No matter how dark the tale, no matter how self-deprecating the individual, everything was accepted with grace and understanding because this was designed and built to be a safe space.
It was clear that some of these folks did not have a safe space to go home to, that their experiences at school made them feel extremely unsafe, and that was what made this space they built themselves so valuable. Our staff and volunteers provided the foundation, the structure within which to build, and the participants became the heart of it all.
More than just a showcase for their individual talents, this was a space they could return to independent of location and time, a state of openness and honesty and trust, and the joy they felt at the connections they made and the freedom they gained was indelible.
May we all have such a safe space in life, may we all attempt to provide one whenever we can.
Researched and written by volunteer writer Ely H.