“Give me some space.”
“You’re taking up too much space.”
“I need some space right now.”
“Let’s give them some space.”
“Trust me, it’s not gonna take up that much space.” “I feel safe in this space.”
The word has had a very liberal usage, colloquially. But, what does it mean? What is space? What is my space? What is your space? Am I taking up too much space? If so, whose? Does space belong to someone? How do I feel safe in any space? Have you thought about why you press the spacebar at the bottom of your touch screen? Do words need to breathe for you to understand them? What did James Joyce think while writing Ulysses? Should I ask Lucy Ellman for advice on spatial wordplay?
These are some thoughts that have been ruminating in my mind for the past little while. For a long time, I didn’t know I could think about it, I didn’t know I was allowed to form a thought or have an opinion. Growing up, I was required to live the life of a vagabond, or as my father would like to refer to me, as an “army brat.” What I was told would be an exploratory journey, I later discovered, was in fact a glorified invasion.
I lived a very sheltered life. Often on the outskirts of the city. Often sans interaction with its citizens. I didn’t know that I was taking up space until I wasn’t. Years after I had left to go find my own space, I realised that I was wrong. I was wrong to take up space without acknowledgement. A lesson I learned halfway across the world in another continent.
It was the need for space that propelled the move to Canada; the idea of queer spaces where I would be allowed to have my identity validated. An idea of a space where queerness is normalized and not sensationalized. And I have found such spaces and I am elated and grateful to have found them. But, there’s much left to be done. To make a space safe for individuals who for a long time haven’t been in one. To create space for people to want to be anti-racist, anti-transphobic and anti-queerphobic. But what does that look like without acknowledging the space that these spaces are taking up?
Within a month of coming to Canada, I was told I am on the traditional land of Indigenous peoples. I was in an art space, waiting for the play to start and the director walks to the podium and says that we’re on the traditional land of Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and the Neutral People. I didn’t know what he meant. And that’s on me. I had an idea of this space, of Canada, one that was based primarily on North American pop culture.
For the past three years of being here and taking up space, I have educated myself on the word “Indigenous”, its use and its power. I am educating myself on the Indigenous history of a space we have come to know as Canada, a word that means “settlement”. I have migrated to Canada and have settled here. I am a settler. Hundreds of years ago, many migrated and settled here. They, and I, are settlers and will forever be known as such. I am now aware that I am taking up space. I want to try doing so in ways that reduce the harm caused to the original inhabitants of this space, and hold the ones causing harm today, yesterday and the day before, accountable. I am now aware that I must acknowledge this space, its story, its history, its relations and be grateful to them and honour them.
Many experiences have been shared in this piece and I am aware that each deserves more space for exploration. And I would love to speak more on these experiences. But, in doing so, I would be taking up space.