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A place for us

Sometimes, a welcoming space can be the best gift of all.

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On my birthday (which was the first week of classes), I discovered the Queer Space. It was the day that I realized a room with couches and posters might have been the best gift I ever got. Hear me out. I’m an international student from Belgium, where the idea of a queer space would be highly controversial (I’ve never even heard someone suggest something as wild as this). Don’t get me wrong, queer people in my country are ‘lucky’ in many ways; we’ve even had marriage equality since 2003.

However, I’ve always felt that these rights came at a certain precondition. When I came out, ‘friends’ have told me that “it’s fine as long as you don’t start too act gay’. Whatever that means. It means that you can be gay, but only in the most invisible way. I’m well aware assimilation might be a relatively small price to pay, but it’s still far from liberation. In one of her essays, Roxane Gay wrote about being queer: ‘It gets better unless you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes the wrong place is your home, the one place where you should be able to feel safe no matter what the world is like”. It’s a sentence that has haunted me ever since. The ‘right place at the right time’ is still a rare treasure to find. I know this is true because of the fact that 26.5% of queer people in my country have tried to take their own life. My uncle is one of them, something my grandmother told me while her eyes were full of regret. My grandparents struggled a bit too long to find a way to reconcile certain religious beliefs with the fact that their 40-year-old son was in love with a man.

It’s strange to want to hug a grown-up. It’s strange to study abroad, get this wonderful opportunity and secretly think ‘I wish I could have taken you here’. We can’t forget how many don’t get this opportunity, how many people we actually have lost (and are losing) because they couldn’t find a room where it was okay. So when I walk through this door, every time, I feel myself taking deep breaths. It still feels surreal we get to be here, from places all over the world. It’s one single room. We get posters. We get couches. We get to read, talk and laugh here. We get to realize that we found ‘the right place’. I wonder how many of us get to breathe here for the very first time. I also wonder how many take this room for granted.

I hope that next time you walk through that door you think about the people who don’t get to be where we are. That we have to fight for them. When I go home again, I’m going to talk to my vice-chancellor. Fight for an autonomous place for people like us. The thought of little queer spaces all over the world is a hopeful one. Everyone deserves at least one room of their own, a room to call home

This article appeared in the autonomous queer edition, Queer Honi 2018.