“I knew,” Performance Guy said to me, “from the first moment I engaged with you that you were going to be safe to work with. I knew you would work to make us both look good, knew you weren’t going to try to act out, knew you weren’t going for points or status.”
TBB knew the same thing. We were on stage together within hours of our first meeting, me playing the stooge and slipping her funny lines, then the next day when the headline act didn’t show up and she had to vamp, she pulled me up again and we filled the night. She knew I had her back and I knew she had mine, safe space that she created for so many people who attended SCC_ATL.
“He always felt so safe with you there,” my sister said of my father’s last years. I was in the hospital everyday, even overnights in the ER, just to be the buffer between him and the world, interpreting through Aspergers, spending years keeping both my mother and father safe. I am very proud of the safety I provided for them and still provide for my sister.
I don’t think there is any creativity without safety. We can’t risk taking leaps, risk falling on our face, risk failing unless we know that someone has our back. We all crave the safety of small communities where everyone knows each other, knows how to be a good partner and knows that other people are precious and need to be kept safe and strong.
That’s why I have always been committed to holding safe space. I did it when I shepherded the local trans support group through the 1990s, did it online and did it everyplace I could. It’s why I get so distressed by people who want to take charge but end up being touchy, ready to snap and deny if they don’t get their own way, if they feel threatened.
I know how to be safe because I have faced my own fears and failures and found my centre. When someone does something that you find scary or challenging, it is often hard to stay safe for them because your own stuff is coming up.
One theory behind therapy is that the clinical professional has worked through their own stuff in a way that means they don’t get all squicked at their clients sharing. In reality, though, every counsellor has their limits, which I found out by often running into them. They usually had problems going to the hells I had to pass through to claim myself.
I wouldn’t trade being the safe one for anything. It is a real part of my spiritual calling, a very real manifestation of the maternal heart that beats inside of me. It is who I am.
That said, being the safe one, the bigger person, the one who transcends, the one who turns the other cheek, the one who rises above, being the parent is a real costly role.
I recently was reminded of The Drama Of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller, a book that details the cost of being the child of a narcissistic parent whose essential self becomes denied and lost behind the obligation for care-taking. We didn’t get to feel the safety of the family to learn trust and spread our wings, instead being clipped and damaged.
My own safety being denied, I committed myself to being safe for others. Imaginings of beauty, creativity and personal exuberance got lost behind keeping my family safe. During the last decade when I took care of my parents, I was clear: I was helping my father take care of my mother so that she wouldn’t crush his aging frame with her self-centred expectations and demands.
If you never learn to feel safe enough to blossom, you tend to end up wilted on the vine. If you have a feminine heart but have to play the stoic, cerebral defender without ever being the one who is given the safe space to open her emotions in relationship, well, that just leaves you profoundly lonely.
Being the exceptional one, the safe one, the bigger person, the one who transcends, the one who turns the other cheek, the one who rises above, being the parent is a real costly role.
At least, though, if I couldn’t make it out alive, I could make sure other people did, helping them feel protected loved and empowered, leaving them safe enough to bloom brilliantly.
It’s was the least a mother could do, even an invisible one.