Safe Spaces vs. Free Spaces

CN: Everything, ever.

So the other day I played Cards Against Humanity.

It’s pitched as “A party game for horrible people.”  It’s not lying.

cardsagainsthumanity

For those of you who don’t know it, it’s kind of like Apples To Apples for terrible people.  If you don’t know that one, essentially one person plays a black card which poses a question or has a fill-in-the-blank, and everyone else plays a white card.  Which is awful.  Then the first person picks one which they deem the “best.”  What constitutes “best” can vary by person.  (When I got the prompt “When all else fails, I can always masturbate to _______”, “best” meant “the answer that makes me want to cringe and take a shower the least.”)

Racist jokes?  Yep.  Rape jokes?  Hell yeah.  Dead baby jokes?  Oh yes.

This is a game designed to be offensive, and to bring out the offensive side of everyone who plays it.

And… I loved it.  I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes and trouble breathing.  But I don’t like this stuff!  I’m sensitive, I’m aware, I understand marginalization and silencing and all these other concepts!!

And yet.

A lot is made of Safe Spaces – places where you can be reasonably sure that everyone is educated to about the same level on social justice issues, where you can be reasonably sure not to encounter triggers or abuse or hostility.  Places where you, where anyone, can be safe.

I believe these are very important.  People need to have a space where they feel safe, where no one will hurt them or slap them in the face with images and descriptions they don’t want to deal with.  When I’m in a safe space, I try very hard to respect that and keep my words and tone safe for all involved.

But.

But I saw an equation once – I can’t find it again, so I can’t properly attribute it.  But it goes like this: FS=x.  Where F=freedom, S=safety, and x is a constant.  When one increases, the other must decrease.

And sometimes I need the antithesis of a safe space.  Sometimes I need a free space.

Somewhere that I can let loose the demons in my soul.  Somewhere that I can make the terrible jokes that I hate to admit I laugh at.  Where no one’s going to be nice or cut me slack or ease off.  Where, if I’m offended by a joke, the only real recourse is either to leave or make one back that’s even more offensive.

This isn’t the space I normally live in.  For the sake of other people, this isn’t the space I want to be the norm.  But sometimes, once in a blue moon, I need it.

And here’s the thing, before people go and assume I’m giving permission to make terrible jokes to anyone, anywhere: a free space like this, it’s hard to build.  It’s built by trust.  It’s built by getting to know someone, trusting them, making bonds between you.  Knowing what will and will not offend someone.  Knowing someone trusts you back, enough to know you don’t mean the horrible things you say.

There’s no formula for it.  You either have it or you don’t.  You can’t plan for it or force it, and no one else can tell you for sure if you have it.

But sometimes – just sometimes – it’s necessary.

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3 thoughts on “Safe Spaces vs. Free Spaces

  1. I played that game with some friends. Heavens, some of the ones were just so awful! So it became the game to make the most awful combinations possible. A sort of cringing as we laugh at the fact we even combined these awful, awful things. Cringing laughter with people that really understand and trust one another. We even had a discussion on some of the ones about how awful they were, and the various problematic elements of it. It was kinda cool.

  2. I think, in a way, a free space is a different type of safe space than most people think. It is not the type where you are “safe” from horrible ideas, thoughts, and general nastiness. It’s a place where you can “safely” express the side of you that may not be so nice, and where everyone has agreed, in that space, for that time, we are all awful and that’s okay!

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