Silence Is Not Safety

“There is no safe space for trans people.  There is only safer space.”
— Alexandra Billings

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

I was along for the ride as a father drove his eighth grade daughter to one of her first boy-girl parties.

“Golly gee, learning to date was so hard,” I said to him.  “What was the name of your first girlfriend?” I asked.  He answered, so I continued to ask other questions, like what kind of kid he was — a jock, maybe? — and what type of girls he dated.

By this time, a head was peering out from between the front seats.  Soon enough, she was asking questions of her own about his early dating experiences.   After all, this was the man she knew best, studying him all her life, so the tales of who he was in junior high and who he dated was interesting to her.

After we dropped her at her friend’s house, he turned to me and thanked me.  She didn’t know that he had earlier spoken of the challenge of talking to his daughter about dating, about how to start on the topic.

You talk about dating like it’s normal, (1997)” I told him.  “She doesn’t want to be drilled about questions she doesn’t yet know the answer to, but she does want to have a conversation about topics that interest her, that she is thinking about.   Right now, she doesn’t understand dating, doesn’t even know what she wants to ask, but she is ready to hear stories, even if she reserves the right to roll her eyes at them, as any daughter gets to roll her eyes at her parent, staying cool.”

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

When you are searching for ways to understand the mysterious, even the mysteries within your own heart, first you need to hear the stories of others, need to listen to the conversations around you.    That’s why so many of us remember the first time we heard discussion about transgender topics; until then we had no language for the feelings we had deep inside.

Groups like AA understand this process.   Until you hear people share their stories, opening up a conversation that puts words to thoughts and feelings, you cannot join the conversation

Society understands this process, too.   By casting topics out of bounds, calling them rude or sick or perverted or unacceptable or whatever, they are cut out of “polite” conversation.   If those topics do not exist in conversation but instead are shielded in silence, then the good, the righteous, the appropriate — the children — are protected from what is defined as queer, immoral and threatening.

Shameful is what no decent person would speak about.   Silence is the affirmation of shame.

This is the power of silence, making conversation about what we hold inside unsafe.    We learn to be silent, learn to shut up, learn to police ourselves, creating commercial understandings rather than organic ones. 

From the moment we figure out that there are parts of us which are dangerous to reveal, we start being aware of unsafe spaces.

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.   Bringing vibrant conversations into the world may be the hardest thing any of us can do, because what we share is just heard as noise, just erased, until the conversation exists.

The courage to put our life into words, even the scary bits we want to avoid or bury, is always the beginning of conversation.   When we make that conversation exist, bold and bright, we invite people to join with us, to disclose and exchange, lifting the hidden so we can sort the scattered from the sacred.

If silence is safety, we are taught to be silent.   Shouldn’t we teach each other to be bold, ready to have each other’s back?   Shouldn’t we be the mirrors which help other people find language and ideas that help them understand themselves, help them affirm themselves, help them empower themselves?

The explicit opens the path to truth, building trust, starting with trust in our own nature.

Do you understand me?  am i getting through to you?  are you taking any of this on-board?   are you ignoring, resisting or rejecting the gifts i am struggling to offer?

I'm not enough.  I'm not enough of the good stuff.   I'm too much of the bad stuff.  let me kill off the bad, the evil, the erotic, the queer, let me silence the shitty parts of me so i can be good, so i can be who you want me to be, so i can be someone you can love.

do i scare you mommy?  am I too much daddy?  is my vibrant, vigorous play baffling?  too noisy, too loud, too many questions

let me consume the silence so i an be acceptable to you mommy, so i can make you proud daddy, so you can love me like the tender child of God i am.

if i am silent enough, will you be there for me, caring for me, supporting me, trusting me, loving me?  will you protect me so i have trust and room to grow, having my back and keeping me safe?

but if i have to learn to silence myself, fearing my own outbursts, my own intensity, my own passion, my o/wn heart, can I be there for myself, caring for me, supporting me, trusting me, loving me?

Who will trust my heart?

Discretion erases queer. Conventional assumptions have always hurt us.

It turns out that Act Up was always right.   Silence == Death.

Our safety is in speaking out.   Conversation == Life.

You cannot join into the conversation until the conversation exists.

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