Safe spaces are the cornerstone of survival. As a member of multiple marginalized groups, I can attest that having a place--real or imagined, shared or personal--to escape to in the midst of struggle provides an opportunity to breathe, heal, and hope. Unlike promises of a better future that encourage white-knuckling through each day, safe spaces offer immediate solace and make the present bearable.
My search for such a space began when I was 14. By then I already knew there was something different about me: I didn’t have crushes on boys like all of my friends and I couldn’t really explain why. I was smart, cute, and loved opportunities to stand out. I remember adults explaining to my friends that I was simply “a late bloomer.” No one, not even I, considered that my romantic interests might reside elsewhere.
Around 16, I started to dream about the girls at school and realized that I wasn’t blooming late, just differently, like a peony in a bouquet full of roses. I searched for anywhere safe to share what I was feeling: my church considered homosexuality an affliction, my mother reacted to same-sex relationships on television with disgust, and my closest friends gaslit this newfound aspect of my identity. “You’re not gay,” I remember my best friend declaring staunchly as I explained that I’d kissed a girl and liked it. There wasn’t anywhere to go and talk about this major revelation in my life. So I turned inward.
I learned to become my own safe harbor. In my early 20s, I struggled with the concept, always hoping some magical person or location would jump in and provide me the unconditional support and love I needed. Maybe someone could have if I had opened up. Either way, now that I’m 31, I’ve learned to provide myself with everything that the younger version of me needed.
My experience existing as a safe space means no toxicity: I consider what I eat and drink, who I let into my circle, what media I consume, where I spend my time, and I allow myself total honesty. It’s the ultimate exercise in self-care: I’ve got to be real enough with myself to know when something isn’t right within and do the work necessary to fix it.
A lot of time, I check in on myself by mediating with a cup of tea. A good tea functions as a sort of tonic to the world’s ills. There’s a ritual to the putting on of the kettle, packing the infuser, and breathing in the steam as the tea steeps. When all’s right in the world, it’s a warm way of waking up to the world, and when things feel perilous, it’s a moment of calm in the storm. I like that I can indulge on my own or share my experience with others depending on how I’m feeling.
I’ve learned that sharing a single cup of tea with someone gives me an opportunity to connect over shared experiences too. I strive to orient myself as a safe space to others since I know what it means to need refuge. I write articles to connect readers to places, events, and people striving to do the same. I have the privilege of living my life 100% out of the closet, so I make a point to speak up (virtually and literally) whenever I hear a homophobic sentiment because I never know who in the vicinity might have to be silent.
I don’t want the next generation to wonder why there’s no safe space for them: I want them to wonder why we ever needed safe spaces in the first place. And if the world can’t offer that to them, I want the next generation to know that they have everything within themselves to create their own safe spaces.
Sondra is a avid tea drinker, master Instagram scroller, and proud lover of all things rainbow. She is a West Coast transplant from the South and loves contributing to her communities through the written word.