Feeling Safe in Queer Spaces

A bit of context: some of this is from my therapy notes. I’ve changed his name because it’s not the goal to call a particular person out, but rather a particular behavior (that’s been called out millions of times).

Sunday morning is writing group day in Pasadena and has been for years every since I finished my first NaNoWriMo in LA. I was chatting with a fellow writer and a regular, (we’ll call her Jane) at the coffee shop that I’ve talked to a couple times before—normal for a write in. Two more writers joined our group that day: a past regular (Sauvie) and her friend. It was nice to have an expanded group! Too bad that’s not the focus of this post.

Anyway, Jane’s roommate, Michael shows up and they talk a bit while I get to doing some writing work. I’ve seen him there a couple times. He is very flamboyant (as in showy) and I believe works as a costumer or something for a theatre company. He’s loud and outspoken in a devil-may-care kind of way—which is completely opposite of me.

I got up to talk to Sauvie as I hadn’t had much a chance to talk to her since seeing her in December and wanted to catch up. But, Michael didn’t allow that. Before I could move more than two steps (she was sitting at another table about 4 steps from me), he loudly asks me if I’m single. 1) that’s kinda rude to just ask someone, 2) it’s not really your business. Mind you, these are like the first couple words he’s spoken to me. Caught off guard and like a deer in a headlights, I answer “Yes, I’m single.”

“Me too. Do you want to go out for coffee or tea sometime?”

“I’m having tea right now.”

“Well, obviously another time. I’ll give you my number before I go.”

Thankfully that was it. I barely recall that much, though I think he said something about me looking nice but that’s besides the point. My anxiety went into super overdrive maximum full throttle. I have an anxiety disorder called C-PTSD and, really, it’s not hard to get me in that maximum I-need-saftey-now mode. In fact, it’s really difficult to get out of that mode. Sometimes it takes me a day or two, sometimes a week or two, and when it’s extreme, a month (and by that time, I’m having other triggers that keep me in that state for months at a time—this disorder isn’t a fucking joke).

I had to calm down and use techniques and coping strategies just to be able to do what I’d gone to the coffee shop to begin with—write. Creativity is hard enough as it is. Add a triggering condition and it’s a miracle I got anything done. Perhaps that’s kudos to the work I’ve been doing for the last six months or so with my wonderful therapist Emily (of the same mention I’m re-working this story from).

I texted friends, I posted it to a group chat, and tried to process what had just happened. I’ll get to the thinking later as I needed to think about why this had upset me so much. The act of sharing, the act of telling someone mitigated a lot of the anxiety and helped me get through this situation. It was something I absolutely knew other people had gone through, especially women.

Once he left, true to his word, he handed me a post it note with his name in script and his number written across the top. I thought about texting him how rude his actions had been, but then he’d have my number.

But again, that’s not the point of this post. I journaled about this, I talked to my therapist but what I discovered is that this was more than just Michael being a predatory dude. This sparked me thinking about my own queer experience and how I felt so much different and outside the queer community. Why am I still uncomfortable about being queer, and why, after being out for so long, was I still struggling with this identity?

And I came to the conclusion: I do not feel safe in queer-designated spaces. I don’t feel safe or comfortable and feel like I’ll be “attacked” like I was that morning. Though as I mentioned, I wasn’t in a queer space, but I wore my pride watch band because I like wearing it—even though it is an open statement that I still equate with “I’m here, please murder me.” At the time I had forgotten I had switched bands as I do on the weekends when I feel safer. My guess is that seeing me wearing this “gave” him permission that I, as a person, had not given to him. And this argument has been about for many years: Just because I am in public does not mean I am public property. It’s a major reason why I’m an ardent feminist and have been for years.

To me, I always thought queer spaces would be safe havens from persecution based on my sexuality. For me, they are more terrifying than straight spaces. Emily made a fantastic point: there is a huge emphasis on sexuality in gay male culture (and I’d add in male culture to begin with: add hyper-sexualization, hyper-masculinity and you get a nasty mix). The fact that Michael did not engage with me as a person, did not engage at all except in a trivial, this-is-my-right male entitlement way, trigged a lot of the shame and fear surrounding my queerness.

Regular space, as someone with C-PTSD, is not safe and we need safe. Queer space is not safe. Home is not safe. Work is not safe. There are very, very few places that are safe. This coffee shop was mostly safe. Now, it is permanently unsafe. This is the same thing that happened when I went out to gay bars or clubs. Similar situations where people think my body is public. Those places are not safe for me to go to alone or without astute friends that can pick up on body cues. I’ve been told, like women have been told, it’s a complement. It’s not. It’s a violation of bodily autonomy.

For me, public isn’t a safe space and hasn’t been for a long time. And private has only a few safe havens left. As I continue to work on my disorder and learn better coping strategies that aren’t maladaptive, I’m beginning to heal and to learn to speak up for myself and protect myself. It is not automatic yet but this post is me speaking up afterward, after the situation. Then perhaps self-protection will become more automatic.

I’ve survived my whole life in fear. I’m working to give myself safety so I can thrive.

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