“It seems like we need more Safe Places than just a couple of gas stations.”
My ten year old’s eyebrows furrow the way they do when he is trying to reconcile a perceived wrong. I follow his gaze to the sticker on the gas station window.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Bite down hard on my bottom lip to keep the tears from coming. I’m not ready to explain all of the things that I know about this life to my child. I’m not ready to explain how much I don’t know. He’s only ten.
But he’ll be eleven soon. A middle schooler. A tween, whatever that is supposed to mean. The librarian had the audacity to hand him the Teen Summer Reading Program sheet. Time marches forward no matter how loud we protest.
So, I’m not about to lie either. He’s too old for false reassurances about abundant imaginary safe places.
“Yes, yes it really does,” I respond.
And I ask him what he thinks a Safe Place is for, and he already knows, and we talk awhile about how to be a safe place for the people we love, in all contexts.
That was just last week.
This week I was reminded how true his young words are.
Yesterday, Vanity Fair released an article on Caitlyn Jenner. Within my small circle of friends online and in real life, the response was overwhelmingly affirming. When the article was shared, the comments were about her bravery or her beauty, or gratitude for living in a time and space where we can celebrate someone’s choice to live authentically.
But today, some other responses slipped into my online world. Someone’s “like” of an article clearly written from a place of fear, someone else’s comment on a small-minded attack.
And the first thing I thought of when I saw these remarks was my ten year old son. And in that moment, these people I know, and in some cases know and love, became unsafe places.
Because when Caitlyn Jenner says “I’m not doing this to be interesting. I’m doing this to live,” I believe her. I don’t know what it is to be transgender, but I do know what it feels like to carry some part of ourselves that is difficult to reconcile with what is asked of us by this world, or by our smaller communities or even our own families. And I know many of you do too. When this happens, we are left with some difficult choices.
We can choose to repress or hide or attempt to eliminate a part of our being. Some of us make this choice every day, and die a slow emotional death as a result.
Some of us choose addiction. We choose to numb the pain of living a lie. Some of us have stood on the other side of addiction and watched someone we love disappear even as they stand in our physical presence.
Some of us drown. Some of us cannot find a lifeboat and we choose to leave this world and the people we love behind. Even more devastating, some choose to take someone else along when they go.
These are the tragic choices. These are the choices of those who cannot find a way out. Sometimes these are the choices of those who simply cannot find a safe place.
And then there are the Caitlyn Jenners. They are the ones who are able to find a lifeboat, grab on for dear life, and paddle to shore, even if it means living differently than everyone around them. The Caitlyns, they survive. They get to live. And some of them shine brightly enough to become a lighthouse to those who are still trying to find their way to the shore. I’m so damn grateful for the Caitlyns.
I know that those of us who pontificate on the Internet are not in the business of changing hearts and minds online. I know that those of you who agree with me are shaking your heads and saying, yes, yes to all of this. I know that those of you who don’t, if you are even still reading, are shaking your heads and saying, no, you are so very wrong. I know that some of you clicked unfollow before you even opened this link.
All of that is fine with me. I’m not writing this for any of those reasons.
I’m writing this for that one friend, that one family member, that niece or nephew, that cousin, that aunt, uncle, next-door neighbor, lifelong friend, high school acquaintance, mom from my son’s baseball team, friend I met on Instagram, I’m writing this for my sons, my husband, my own parents, for any and all of my people that need to hear this. I’m writing this for you.
I want you to know that I am a safe place for you.
If you need to talk to someone, I will listen to every word.
I will not pretend to understand exactly what you are going through.
I will not attempt to give you advice.
But I will listen to your story, and I will believe you.
And if you are ready to swim to shore and live a different life, a life that you have always known you were meant to live, I will be there waiting to celebrate with you.