AI: Safe Spaces


It has recently come to my attention that I live in a sort of bubble. I’ve lived within a 2km (or a 1.24 mile) radius of arguably Sydney’s (and Australia’s) most queer-friendly and left-leaning neighbourhood for the last seven years, and I’m afraid it’s lulled me into a sense of comfort and pride that I too often take for granted.

Newtown and its immediate surrounds is a haven for all things alternative. Take a walk down its infamous King street and you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at strolling lesbian couples doing their groceries, skin tones and hair colours that span the spectrum, dreadlocks and tattoos abound. This is by no means a bad thing, except for the instances when I leave the rainbow-coloured womb and step outside, to the inner city, the outer suburbs, where I’m suddenly reminded of how privileged I am to be living where I do. Not to mention the fact that the area is by no means cheap in terms of rental prices, although it has a high proportion of student accommodation as well.

Perhaps it hit me the most when I traveled to visit my partner last November. The city was metropolitan just as anywhere else, but I couldn’t find a similar space where I felt the same way, comfortable, accepted, safe. I’ve tried my best to live where I do and I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same way about another place again. In the meantime I try to appreciate what I have and do my best to push the boundaries of the safe space further, instead of staying safe and oblivious in my bubble.

Is there a place that feels like a safe space for you? How important is it for you to be near it and/or do you try to base yourself around it? Or do you try to take the space with you?

Image taken by Leonard John Mathews, of a mural in Newtown featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Australian Aborignal Flag.

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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  1. For me my safe spaces are near my friends, I have in essence created my own safe spaces by being myself and mostly been accepted for it. This I guess has an element of privilege to it in that I generally mostly pass as cis, though most of my friends know my past and accept me as me…

    • Oh yes, friends! How could I not have mentioned them! They undoubtedly also played a huge part in my self-discovery/recovery over the past years and they are as much a part of my safe bubble than anything else.

  2. I am lucky (and delighted) to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can totally relate to sometimes taking living in a safe and progressive area for granted. As a preventative against complacency I try to make a point of reading LGBTQ news from around the world; just this past week I saw a half dozen movies at our local queer film festival that were set in the past, in the Middle East, or other difficult times and places to be queer. It was a sobering reminder, but I found I appreciated Pride all the more.

    • Ah queer film festivals, I have such Love for them! I couldn’t afford to go to ours this year, but I saw this amazing Peruvian film last year called Contra Corriente (Undertow), set in a remote fishing village. I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t come across it so far 🙂 And I agree, movies like that are really good reminders of how good we have it.

  3. Great question! I think I’m a bit like Catherine in that I surround myself by people that I’m comfortable being myself around. Anywhere that I’m with these people, I feel like I’m in a safe space.

    I have to say that while I feel that inside my home is a safe space, I live in a fairly diverse working-class suburb, and I feel safe in my neighborhood but I don’t feel like it’s a safe space. I have not kissed my boyfriend in the front yard before because the neighbors were out. San Antonio on the whole isn’t too bad compared to some other parts of Texas and the South, but it’s not San Francisco or Seattle!

    • I’ve always wanted to visit Texas because it sounds like it houses both extremes of points of view in the one state, it must be an interesting (and difficult) place to navigate. Much like any other state I guess, but it must just be a pop culture thing…

      • Really, it’s not so bad in the cities. It’s when you get outside the cities that it can get scary. =P

        Also, Austin is amazing and really left-leaning. The unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” Lots of alternative folks in Austin.

  4. I have been incredibly lucky to live in Madison WI for the past 12 years. It is an intensely liberal city, with tons of queer folks, and I have dealt with little prejudice compared to people with similar identities in other areas. Of course that doesn’t mean NONE, but I feel pretty comfortable around town and always have. I can go basically anywhere in the city with my boyfriend without fear.

    I am in the process of moving to Chicago though. I’m in Chicago on a lot of weekends now, and will continue to be for about another year before moving here entirely. Chicago is harder to be in, in part just because it’s a bigger city (a LOT bigger) and in part because I don’t yet know where I am safe and where I am not.

    Additionally I’m not a young, thin, in shape guy with a suave haircut and fashionable clothes. I’m a fat hairy short guy who’s most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt. I get read as straight and cisgender most of the time, which is helpful in terms of safety, but is actually making it a little hard for me to find places to be comfortable in Chicago. I haven’t found the bears yet, and the leather clubs here have VERY strict no-transmen-allowed policies. I haven’t had to deal with these things before, and in such a large city it’s kind of daunting.

    • “the leather clubs here have VERY strict no-transmen-allowed policies” Wow, that’s problematic!
      Hopefully when you’re living in Chicago full-time you’ll be able to discover more friendly places!

  5. I live in Atlanta, and while (at least parts of) it’s a relatively queer-friendly city, I haven’t really found a home with various parts of the community here. However, I go to Dragon*Con every year, and that is my safe space. Despite me being female and sometimes in costume and it being a nerd convention, it’s about as good as things get, or has been for me. I know if I have issues with anyone, the people around me, both friends and bystanders, will have my back. And the big thing is, it’s the one meatspace place where I can comfortably show all parts of my identity at once. Most of my friends and colleagues in my day-to-day at least know about all the parts, but that’s a far cry from feeling accepted and appreciated for them, so the con is, for that reason among many, my favorite part of the year.

    • It’s powerful to have that space, and I feel you when you talk about having a fully safe space for a very limited amount of time. I used to feel the same about Halloween 🙂

      May your own spaces grow until you can’t remember what it is to feel unsafe, hon <3

  6. My college was this lovely queer friendly bubble where I felt completely safe for four years. Even moving just a few blocks away after graduation made that bubble burst.

    Now before college I’d come from a small town where the mentality was “you’re going to hell…but we won’t bother you if you keep those things to yourself and no one ever finds out…” so from that, to my college, to an third environment which was technically open-minded (but not as much as they thought) was an interesting challenge.

    Still haven’t found a completely safe space yet, but I tend to be more open around those I feel most comfortable with.

  7. Awww, I feel a twinge of homesickness now. That picture is from where I lived for ten years! It has got quite yuppified, compared to how it was in the 90s, but it’s still pretty cool if you head down South King St or Enmore Rd.

    I don’t think Canberra has really good queer-friendly neighbourhoods. To the extent that it does, it’s the inner north, especially Ainslie, O’Connor and Lyneham.

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