I have had a personal situation going on involving a close friend of mine for a few months. I am not at liberty to discuss the situation with you, but I would like to talk about one of the real revelations that I have taken from it. My friend has been very isolated, though he has a lot of friends. In this case, when I say isolated, I mean isolated from the GLBT community. He has had several issues which though I am his friend and empathize, I cannot completely understand. This has everything to do with the fact that I am straight.
With all of the changes that have happened, the one thing that I have encouraged him to do is to immerse himself in the LGBT community, because I know that there he will find someone who understands exactly what he is going through. There are some conversations that only someone who is facing the exact some marginalization as you can understand. This means no matter how sympathetic you are, or how much love the person in question, or how past your privilege you may think you are, immersion in the community is absolutely vital for health happiness and well being. This is not a sign that you are not a good friend, but a sign that privilege will always form a block, and that isms are so ingrained that they have become systemic.
As a disabled woman of colour, there are times when I need to speak with someone who has a disability, and there are times when I need to speak to someone who is of colour. I do this because it not only gives me a sense of community, these contacts help boost my self worth and work to keep me from being isolated. As a disabled woman, one of my on going irritations, is the fixation of able bodied people, on vitamin C, goji juice and fucking cherry juice. These three items are supposedly the cure for everything that ails me. I have even been shamed for failing to take these items. I have had many well meaning people suggest this, and yes – even people that I call friend. When the frustration gets too much for me to bear, I know that I can turn to Sparky, have a good ole fashioned rant, and he will understand exactly where I am coming from. Sometimes we will laugh about the ridiculousness of it all, but other times, it’s a case of affirming that yes, I am right, I’m not being to sensitive, these suggestions are indeed offensive as hell.
There are times when I turn to my Black female friends to have conversations about the way that race and gender combine to mark Black women as “other”. It’s almost like we slip into our own special language, as we riff back and forth on the issues of the day. Nothing is off limits, and the one thing that is absolutely certain in these conversations, is that Black women are at the forefront, rather than shunted to the side. In this community, I feel safe and most importantly I feel cherished. We can share things with each other, sure in the knowledge that it will be met with a bone deep level of understanding.
I have talked from time to time about family business. It involves more than setting an agenda for organizing efforts, at its heart, it means a safe space for marginalized people. Community and these safe spaces, are absolutely essential to deal with the mental stresses of being marginalized in this world. To outsiders, this may at first seem exclusionary, but for us, these spaces are the only break that we have from the pressures this world creates. When you invade these spaces, whine about not being included, or generally question their need to exist, you are discounting the very reason why they exist in the first place. Community does not change the world around us, but for a precious few moments, it provides a desperately needed respite.
People with privilege don’t need to have their sticky fingers in everything. They don’t have the right to take up in anymore space than anyone else, and they most certainly don’t get to turn around and use the language of exclusion about our safe spaces. The one thing a privileged person can be sure of is that they will be represented in the dominant spheres. Education, the media, and any other form of social organization caters specifically to privilege and therefore, demanding once again that marginalized people turn away from their communities, and refocus on the larger society, is just more privilege in action.
I desperately want to help my friend. I am going to be there every step of the way, but I am smart enough to know that sometimes, helping means getting out of the way long enough to recognize that what he needs is the community that I cannot provide him. This is why I know that we need to guard these spaces, and demand that our boundaries be respected. No matter the backlash and ignorance that comes from this, their importance to us as marginalized people is just too strong to yield. Perhaps there may come a day when these spaces outlive their usefulness, but that day is not today.