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On the second floor of the Student Union, in a quiet study room off the main lobby, there is a couch on which I love sleeping off my Wednesday hangovers.
This particular couch is probably over a hundred years old. It must have been made from seal skin or whale scrotum or some incredibly soft thing harvested from long ago when people didn’t care about the environment because I have never laid on cushions so damn comfortable. The thing is layered with pillows, and exactly the right length for a fully-grown man to spread out on without having to bend his legs over the armrest.
It’s the greatest couch in the world. Over the last couple terms since I discovered it, I have nurtured such a deep connection with this couch that I’ve started to develop a second sense to know when other people are using it. The couch calls to me.
So I should have gotten a twinge of foreboding as I climbed the echoing marble steps of the main lobby in the Student Union. As I approached the room, I did actually suddenly feel like I was up against some kind of force field. It was as if there was an unseen energy barrier, an impassable wall keeping out anything that might upset or alarm the people inside.
Just kidding. I walked right in.
Staring at me with alarm and confusion were three people I had never seen before. The first was a very large woman with dark skin and a bandana tied over her head. Beside her was a mousy lady with straw-colored hair and big round glasses. Over by the window, drawing something on a neon piece of poster board, the last girl had her deep black hair cut very short with colorful sleeves of tattoos on both arms.
“What are you doing here?” the large bandanna woman asked.
I looked around.
“Sorry, are you guys like having a meeting in here or something? I’ll come back lat—”
“UGH. He called us ‘guys’. That’s textbook gendered language,” the mousy lady broke in. “Why don’t you just go back to your fraternity and slap dicks with your ‘bros’…”
“Slapping dicks?” I asked. “What’s going on?”
“This is a Safe Space,” the punk girl with the short hair clarified. “We set it up in this room to have a place where we can be free to be our genuine selves without fear of oppression.”
“This is an upper middle class suburban college campus. What are you trying to be safe from?” I asked.
“Are you serious?” the punk girl fired back. “People like you. Coming in here with your maleness, your white privilege, your sleeveless tee shirt—”
“The fact that I have to see your shoulders is a microaggression,” bandanna woman added.
I looked down.
“You want me to cover up? It’s 90 degrees out…”
“Okay…” I replied, trying to speak slowly and softly as if to a child or a mentally handicapped person. “I’ll leave you alone, I guess. How long are you going to be playing ‘Safe Whatever’ in here?”
“This is permanent,” explained the mousy lady. “At least one member of the Campus Justice Contingency will be holding this space during Student Union opening hours from now on.”
“Ha ha the fuck you are,” I laughed.
But they seemed serious.
“No, but like who gave you permission to do this? Student Government? Admin?”
The women looked at each other.
“We don’t wait for the patriarchal establishment to tell us what we can and can’t do. The Student Government doesn’t represent the real student body. The admin doesn’t care about the queer, the female, and the underprivileged.”
“This is the admin that just made all university employees start wearing badges with their preferred gender pronouns and cultural backgrounds on them, right? They don’t care?”
The punk girl bristled.
“We’re not going to tell you again. Get out of our safe space.”
I tossed my bag onto the napping couch and sat down.
“You know what? I’m not going to. If you’re taking over this room without some sort of official approval, then I have as much right to be here as you do.”
“He’s not leaving!” shrieked the mousy lady to the bandanna woman. “Our safe space has been compromised!”
“Listen, you Cis White Male piece of garbage,” began the bandanna woman, “you were asked very clearly to vacate this room, where we celebrate diversity, LGBTQ rights, black personhood, the Goddess Mother Earth—”
“What exactly gives you the right to decide who and what you can discriminate against?” I asked. “How is this a safe space? Who is it safe for?”
“It’s safe for anybody looking to explore their genuine self—” the punk girl began.
“You have no idea who I am. You judged me by looks alone within the first couple seconds of seeing me. If you cut and divide people that don’t fit into your worldview based on outward appearance and prejudice, how are you any better than the bigoted and sexist cultural institutions you are supposedly rebelling against?”
“We don’t have to know you for you to make us uncomfortable,” affirmed the bandanna woman. “And that’s not okay.”
I folded my arms behind my head and stretched out on the couch.
“That’s the most closed-minded bullshit I’ve ever heard.”
“Will you just get out of here?!” the mousy lady screamed.
“Nope,” I yawned, rolling over. “I guess your space isn’t very safe then, huh?”
They crowded around me in a tight circle screaming unintelligible things and waving their hands. I just put my Bose noise cancelers on and tuned them out. The Safe Spacers’ voiceboxes must have given out at some point, because when I came to, they were gone.
Only the punk girl was still there, sitting and staring at me intently.
“What’s up?” I asked groggily.
“I stayed here waiting for you to wake up so I could make it abundantly clear to you how much of an asshole you are.”
“Thanks. I’ll take your feedback under consideration.”
Anyway, that’s when I took her back to my place..
Image via Shutterstock