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I’m thinking about personal space, and how it’s tied up in safety, violence, aggression, possession. The extent of personal space obviously varies across cultures, but some dynamics hold across them in relative terms.

If someone comes into your personal space with harmful intent, it’s hard to escape. That’s because it’s hard to determine the boundary between okay and too close, and you don’t want to make the situation awkward or worse by asking someone to move away. Your politeness is taken advantage of, and you’re trapped socially and physically. They can keep on keeping you with them, or intimidating you, or what have you. It’s a subtle way of asserting power over a person, and making them complicit in it.

Marginalised groups often need to be aware of spatial dynamics in ways privileged groups are routinely not. Whether it’s watching to see whether those straight people are staying away from you because they don’t want to catch your icky queer germs, or whether it’s watching that you’re deferential to the white man who likes to stride straight ahead without thought to other people’s movements, space is an important component in how power is exercised and reinforced. Particular spaces are set up as belonging to dominant groups, and access is demanded by those groups to the spaces of marginalised ones. Marginalised groups know they are not allowed access to every space and every way of moving.

Asserting yourself in someone else’s space, personal or otherwise, is aggressive in itself, and carries the threat, if not inevitably the actuality, of violence. It’s a claim to possession of something deeply personal and practically indefencible.