What is safety?

When we discuss identity and living on the intersection of those various identities, we rarely discuss privileges associated with those identities. Obvious privileges, such as those associated with sex and race, usually come to mind. However, there are fewer obvious privileges that exist. Privileges that we don’t give a second thought to. The privilege of safety is one that may not immediately come to mind but is one that impacts those of marginalized identities that much more.

Even as a black woman of trans experience, I never thought much about safety. I was very much carefree. I operated with a “herd” mentality; that if I was in the proximity of friends and persons who lived a life where safety was very much afforded and not a worry, I wouldn't have to worry. I didn’t worry about the things that went bump in the night; things that were steadily attacking and taking down my trans family.

That all changed in 2012 when I was raped by a man who I presumed to be a friendly acquaintance. While this wasn’t my first experience (I had to publicly fend off a near attack from another man a few years prior), this was the first time I had ever felt my facade of safety invaded.

A 2015 U.S Transgender Survey reported that 47% of persons of trans experience have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. And I found myself one of those persons. While I tried to go on with my life unfazed, that incident always existed in my mind.

I could feel my casual, carefree lifestyle slowing down slightly; the light inside of me dimming. I began to carry self-defense weapons (knife, pepper spray) and became wearier of every interaction with a man. I believed that if I became hyper-vigilant, I could protect myself at all times. I vowed to always “stay ready” so I could never again fall victim to a man’s predatory ways. Surprisingly, it worked. I was able to function through and managed to exhaustedly control as many variables of my life as possible. I began to feel some semblance of safety again.

In January 2017, I was sexually assaulted by a man with whom I was having a lunch date. While my previous rape might’ve shaken me, this sexual assault broke me. In this instance, the man pinned me against his car and threatened sexual harm against me while I pleaded with him. I felt powerless and responsible. Powerless and responsible because I let my guard down to have lunch with a seemingly harmless man. I let my guard and defenses down.

While I tried to put on a strong, brave front, the truth was I was completely broken. My life no longer felt safe. It was hard for me to leave my home every day. Everywhere I went, I anxiously felt this man would be. I saw him in nearly every stranger I encountered. I closed my eyes and relived that fear every night. It was hard for me to date or experience intimacy because I could no longer trust men. I feared being alone with men, and could not experience men unless it was on my terms.

I wish that I could say that miraculously I began to feel safe after some time, that unfortunately isn’t the case. While I have since gone to therapy (a ton of therapy), and done much self-reflection and self-work, the truth is I still don’t feel much safer.

In 2021, when murders within the trans community continue to rise, as a single black woman of trans experience, who is a sexual assault survivor, my anxiety around my own personal safety is only heightened.

My therapist recently asked me “what does safety mean to me?”. I didn’t have an answer for her. The truth is, I still don’t know. Maybe because safety is something that marginalized people and communities never truly feel. And that unfortunately is a privilege I may never feel or know.

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