I just came back from a thing so I guess I want to ramble about a thing that kind of frightens and confuses me because it’s been on my mind plenty lately: the idea that no space can be made truly safe.

(cw: various forms of violence)

I’ve been reckoning with the fact that we often presume safety is assumed as not letting hostile parties into spaces, and that this assumption is natively risky for the people within those spaces.

But that assumption comes with the corollary that safer spaces are somehow less permeable—that the only work we need to do is to know the bad actors, and make sure they cannot enter—and that if that fails, the space is unsafe and should move to a state of safety.

The latter fact is still true—the space is unsafe and should move to a state of safety—but the former is dangerous, because it makes safety a binary assumption that is based on factors of awareness we often do not have at the moment an incident takes place.

So on one hand, people are let off the hook for vigilance, and on the other, strategies of safety-making & reconciliation working as intended when an incident is reported are seen as still unsafe because the incident happened at all, as if it is in the space’s control.

At that moment, all discourse of safety kinda becomes moot. The conversation shifts to whether unsafe events make unsafe spaces instead of how to do the safety-making work and how to continue such reconciliation in the long term among all stakeholders in true space.

Consider this: I can be, & have been, robbed near my area; at each time, it has been in what I’d call a ‘threshold’ point between my neighborhood, which is relatively quiet, and other parts of Arouca that others typically consider rougher & more dangerous as a matter of class.

In those spaces and at those times, I felt unsafe. But if I considered those spaces intrinsically unsafe, then I’m also saying those people are intrinsically hostile, and nothing about that relationship can improve via safety-making and reconciliation.

I’d be saying that I don’t trust any of those people, even the ones I don’t know, because I rightly don’t trust the person who robbed me; and I don’t trust that singular corner or block, no matter what good may later be done there, because I was once hurt there.

Of course, this isn’t saying individual relationships with their safety aren’t far more complex than this. But imagine if on the macro level we viewed those spaces through that individual lens—as natively unsafe, incapable of bettering?

Safety-making is a continuous action. It requires a constant evaluation of relationships on all levels within the space. The assumption otherwise is in fact how narcissists enter space and alter narratives designed to keep others safe in order to shield and secure themselves.

Breaking free from the consequences thereof requires constant action, and will be messy and operate at less than ideal efficiency and social effect.

It will feel like nothing is being done, but it should be doing so much reconciliation & awareness that when it feels like no one is being punished, it’s really because the landscape has changed so drastically that bad actors are either being reformed or refusing to enter.

The process of safety-making is complex and having the tools to engage with it is harrowing and enters many dark places. But assuming otherwise that safety-making is the process of making a space bad-behavior-proof instead of capable of replying to bad behavior is reckless.

There are places I feel unsafe because they talk the talk of making spaces bad-behavior-proof and cite the indeed undeniable violations of others as making other spaces unsafe, as deliberate cover for their own bad behavior and as a claim to clout.

There are places I feel unsafe because they insist with genuine goodwill that they want to make their own spaces bad-behavior-proof, and bad actors seize upon their desire in order to further ostracize actual victims with tactics that we are otherwise aware of as bad behavior.

There are spaces where I feel marginally more safe because even when their handling of one or another instance of bad behavior was shoddy, slow, stunted or mired in complication, they were at least in a constant process of healing the space and reconciling with its stakeholders.

There are spaces where I feel marginally more safe even when that process looks arduous and is complicated specifically by the public insistence of binary solutions to safety-making issues, because the process was still a deliberate and constant act instead of a quick fix.

I’ve seen enough people say they want to simply make their spaces safe and get their work taken over by people who want to paper over their own harms with clout and an insistence on doing the right thing. Safety-making is more complex and consistent than this.

Safety-making as a process of rectifying harm, moving perpetrators to healthy behavior, securing & caring for survivors, and cultivating an aware space among all stakeholders is more radical to me than making it any one person or group’s duty to somehow rid a space of all harm.

Because when you start from there, then all manner of things cloud the work of consistently making spaces safe, and many of those things are just what abusers want in order to secure their place and power in those spaces anyway.


Anyway, to hazard a bad Magic: The Gathering analogy, viewing community safety-making less as a state-based action & more as the phase of one’s moral turn is radically changing the way I engage with space for the better, even as I work through some of my other safety issues.

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