Hockey Stuff with HPA Staff: Safe Spaces in Check, Please!
By Carolyn Grace, Sara Mortensen, Karley Powell, & AJ Solomon
Ever enter into a space and feel totally out of place? That is exactly how Eric Bittle felt starting at Samwell University. Check, Please!, created by Ngozi Ukazu, is a captivating webcomic that follows the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a gay former figure skater turned hockey player and small-town southerner, who moves to Massachusetts for school. Bitty tells the tale of navigating college and finding his own safe spaces in the world, all the while discovering how hockey, baking, and friendship can change lives.
So y’all, let’s dive into Bitty’s exciting world!
Finding Your Team!
A prominent theme throughout Bitty’s first year at college includes Bitty’s journey towards “finding his team,” in this case literally. Bitty is a freshman at Samwell University and a brand-new member of Samwell Men’s Hockey (SMH). At first, Bitty is wary of his new teammates, and rightly so, as he is undoubtedly different from the rest of the team (at least at first glance). What we know about Bitty from the beginning is that he was a former figure skating champion from Georgia and he loves baking pies. These traits are typically deemed “feminine” by our society and don’t seem to fit with what most people imagine when they hear, “hockey player.” As a reader, it’s not surprising when Bitty’s reaction to meeting his new teammates is this:
Everything from Bitty’s body language to his words indicate how uncomfortable he is around his new teammates. This discomfort continues for a while, but we slowly start to see Bitty become more and more comfortable around the team, particularly in scenes at the Haus. For example, when Bitty discovers the Haus Kitchen (comic 1.4) or during the kegster after the game where Bitty gets his first assist (comic 1.7). All in all, these interactions show us that it takes time and energy to create safe spaces, it’s not something that happens quickly for Bitty and it usually doesn’t happen quickly in reality either.
Eventually, Bitty is confronted with a situation in which he could continue to hide his sexuality, or come out to his team. He decides first to come out to his teammate Shitty (yes, that’s his name, and yes, it is a nickname), and although it’s a nerve wracking experience for Bitty, it goes well. Bitty learns that despite his previous bad experiences with male-dominated sports teams, this team is different. The members of the team deeply care for Bitty as a person and accept him for who he is. Bitty finds his team in this moment.
Safe Spaces That Energize and Empower
The hockey team, and more concretely the Haus, is a great example of a general safe space. Anyone who enters the Haus can feel comfortable being their whole and complete selves without fear of judgement. This kind of safe space is infinitely valuable, of course, and without it, it’s likely neither Jack nor Bitty could have reached their fullest potential, at Samwell or beyond. But there’s another kind of safe space, a specific safe space, that serves a deeper function and is equally essential to personal growth.
For Bitty, this specific safe space is the Haus kitchen, and for Jack, it’s Faber. These spaces are more than just a place where they can let down their guard and be themselves. Just being in the Haus kitchen actively energizes and empowers Bitty. When he’s been having a really bad day, or is struggling to work through a difficult situation, he goes into the kitchen and bakes for a while, and at least temporarily, that makes everything feel a bit better. When he’s in Faber, Jack is able to let go of his tension, and immerse himself in a headspace where all that matters is his skill and speed on the ice. The mindset that Faber gives him is like a reset button, allowing him to release the daily buildup of stresses placed on him by the nature of his life and career. Skating and baking give Jack and Bitty time to recharge and build themselves up to enable them to face the world.
Having a general safe space like the Haus is a great first step, but once you have found it, it’s also important to find yourself a specific safe space. It’s not enough to just have a space where you can let down your guard. Jack’s history shows us that without a chance to actively recharge, you set yourself up for failure. Find your passion, and carve out a space within your safe space where you can pursue it.
Not All Safe Spaces Are Created Equal
When it comes to safe spaces though, a safe space for one person is not necessarily a safe space for the next. Take Bitty and Jack, for example. They each have their own individual versions of safe spaces, and while both see the team as an invaluable safe space, they each have different views of what they are comfortable sharing with the team.
While Bitty was perfectly comfortable coming out to the team, Jack was not. That isn’t to say that Jack did not feel safe around the team, of course. It’s clear he did, but for him, the safety of the space was defined by a previous experience with Kent, which made it difficult for him to come out. Even when someone may consider a space to be safe, we still have to keep in mind how a person’s past experiences might impact their comfort with that space.
Safe spaces look different for each person. Like the Haus kitchen or Faber, each place has a different meaning for those who occupy it. Check, Please! is the story of people finding their safe spaces and breaking down stereotypes. Using themes from this webcomic, we can look at our own communities and begin to integrate safe spaces into our daily lives.
Talk It Out
- What does your ideal comfort space look like? How may your safe space differ from someone else’s safe space?
- Have you ever encountered a space that was deemed a “safe space” but you didn’t feel safe there? Why did you not feel safe? What could the organizers of the space have done to make you feel safe?
- Ask yourself: How can I be more aware of how safe spaces look different for each person? What can I do to be a better ally and advocate in diverse settings?
- The next time you’re in a group setting, take steps to make it more inclusive and safe for everyone there (examples: ask for people’s pronouns, avoid ableist language, etc.).
- Check your local resources about hosting a safe space training in your community using the GLSEN Safe Space Kit.
- Advocate for and host events about breaking down mental health stigmas in your community, working towards destigmatizing the need for safe spaces.
Establishing an Allies Safe Zone Program via the Human Rights Campaign
GLSEN Safe Space Kit via GLSEN
Protego Toolkit via The Harry Potter Alliance
Positive Fandom Guideline via The Harry Potter Alliance
Harry Potter Alliance. We help you bring fan activism to your favorite fandoms with free toolkits and activities to use in your chapters, with your friends, in your classrooms, at your libraries, on your own. Find full toolkits at thehpalliance.org/fandomforward.
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