not all triggers are on guns

This week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is about triggers . . .


The above screenshot comes from an article of The Guardian, which was linked on Twitter. If you have anything to say about trigger warnings, now is your chance. But you might want to read the article first.

The Guardian’ s article is (obviously) about the growing movement to attach “trigger warnings” to works of literature.  It’s a very good read, and as Marie said, you really should take a couple minutes to take it in, if you haven’t already.

In case you aren’t terribly familiar with the concept of “triggers”, here’s a quote from Wikipedia’s introduction to the concept of trauma triggers.

A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate, and can sometimes exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which sufferers cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory.  A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.

A trauma trigger can can manifest in a variety of forms from exhibiting a changed mental state or physical reactions. A person that is experiencing a trauma trigger may not even know this is happening.

I think that should serve as an adequate introduction to triggers for the uninitiated.   And for those inevitably unwilling to follow the link to the Guardian article, let me quote the article’s summation:

There is something more important than a society that’s free from pain. It’s a society in which we feel. That, of course, is the intention of art itself: it’s not meant to shield us from pain so much as offer a vessel through which we can cope, grow and even move past tragedy. If we warn people with a flashing red light that inside great works of literature they are likely to find pain, we do a disservice to the conversations, and the healing, meant to come through the act of reading itself.
~ Jen Doll | | Tuesday 20 May 2014

And, before completing this introduction let me also add one more resource.  It should be noted (and was by incredible Molly Moore of Molly’s Daily Kiss) that a New York Times article on the same topic actually preceded the May 20, 2014 piece by the Guardian.  By Jennifer Medina, it was titled Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm.

In terms of journalism, The NY Times article is far more the more balanced of the two.  The Guardian’s piece is more editorial in it is reporting, yet I find myself liking it more, as censorship isn’t a topic where my view is balanced.

trigger warnings are just a step down the slippery slope of censorship

If you are interested in what’s undoubtedly better quality writing on this topic, please go read the Wicked Wednesday posts that have already been made by Cara Sutra, Trigger warnings on books will censor emotional responses in the great reading experience, and Molly Moore, “Danger, Will Robinson!”.  They are rational and wise, where all I am feeling on this topic today is bad emotion.

My take on the trend towards trigger warnings will be neither balanced nor fair.  I can’t discuss this topic rationally.  It’s a pet peeve.

I despise censorship.  I hate it in all it’s forms, as it’s just a way for one person to impose their views upon another.  I don’t want to be inflammatory, but at it’s heart, censorship is intellectual fascism.

Censorship is also a slippery slope, once started down the path it’s not always possible to stop the descent from partial to total censorship.

no we aren’t talking roy rogers’ horse . . . but we could be!

I want to argue against trigger warnings first in the simple name of efficacy.  Almost anything can be a trigger, as Wikipedia points out.  The key quotation is, “Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate . . . ”

Diverse, subtle, and difficult to anticipate?  Sounds pretty hard to avoid, doesn’t it?

Censoring great literature harms only the literature, and may actually protect no one.  Memories never truly go away, they just disappear from the conscious mind to reside in our subconscious.  Therefore triggers, by their very nature aren’t going to be easy to avoid.  The subconscious mind has a way of breaking out and delivering it’s message no matter how much we might wish to repress it.

Sure, a trigger warning might prevent a passage in Shakespeare from causing someone to remember a trauma.  But in the end, the trauma doesn’t go away, it’s going to resurface, just with a different trigger.  Under that scenario, literature is harmed, and no one is really protected as a result.

What’s the point?

FetLife, censorship, trigger warnings, and me

My biggest problem with censorship is that one person’s vile, repugnant, and/or intolerable rant, is going to be another  individual’s vital information.

For instance, I find FetLife’s rule about never mentioning underage sexual activity to be difficult.  It’s not that I’m in favor of sexualizing childhood, I’m not!  But, let’s be serious – a great many of us were sexual at an age we could never mention at FetLife.  I know FetLife has reason’s for it rules, but that doesn’t mean that I agree, and can completely abide by even that form of censorship.

I am a sex abuse survivor.  All of my abuse happened before the legal age of consent in my state.  So I can’t discuss the details openly at FetLife.  I can give generalized warnings, but to go into specifics of the “seduction” and of  the abuse would violate the sites TOS.

I lost my virginity at age 13.  I will write openly about that here at my own blog, but to do so at FetLife would violate their terms of service.  My first experience combining bondage, sex, and submission was at age 17.  That’s beyond the age of consent in my state, but it’s still within the realm of US and Canadian laws regarding child pornography.  As such, real discussion of the topic is forbidden at the world’s largest social network for kinky deviants like myself.

I think there is important information to be shared from my youthful experiences.  Just because they happened when I was young doesn’t make the experience any less valid.  Writing about those experiences could be helpful to a youth who finds themselves in a similar position.  There are things I might have done to avoid the abuse I suffered, if only I’d known.  And there’s the biggest rub for me, in censoring information we find distasteful, we begin to imagine that the world is not a distasteful place to live.

I’m sorry but abuse happens.  Child abuse happens.  Sexual abuse happens.  Terrible violent things are done in the name of religion, faith, misguided belief, superstition, fear, greed, and lust.  I’m very sorry, but closing our eyes to them isn’t going to make them less likely to happen.

in protecting myself, I’m a censor, and hypocrite too

I just realized something.  And it’s a little disturbing.

My blog carries a warning.  To protect myself there’s a disclaimer at the point where a person enters my site asking that those under the age of 18 turn away.  Everything I just said about providing information for youth in trouble is rendered moot if they observe the terms of my warning.

That bothers me.  It bothers me a lot.

While it may not be a trigger warning, it’s yet another kind of censorship.  It’s an example of what I just found myself ranting against, as I said that I dislike censorship in all it’s forms.

My final point is that it’s easy to point fingers, but perhaps a bit harder to put ourselves under the microscope.

I understand why I can’t discuss my teenage exploits at FetLife, they don’t want the legal liability they would incur in hosting such a discussion.  I’m comfortable discussing generalities about my background here at my own blog, although I am careful to never give specifics about the sex acts from that time.  There are lines I won’t cross either.  But that doesn’t mean others should not be free to cross them, should they wish.

I believe in real freedom of expression, I hate censorship with a passion.  Yet, I stand before you revealing myself to be a censor and a hypocrite too.  The world itself sometimes forces us into compromises we don’t like, so it’s not always clear where to draw lines.  We all do the best we can, and hope . . .

the truth is complex, and it’s not pretty

Trigger warnings themselves are nothing but a step down the slippery slope of censorship, the path to book banning and burning.

In part, that’s true because the modern world is a wildly confusing place.  The terrible things humanity is capable of are astounding. The wonderful things humanity is capable of are equally astounding.  We must acknowledge both sides of that coin.

If we don’t recognize the former, if we turn a blind eye to all that disturbs, we might actually detract from the later.  In other words, we can’t celebrate the great achievements and accomplishments of humanity without putting them also into the context of some of our least attractive adventures.

The pinnacles we achieve only show their real height when we also acknowledge the depths from which we’ve come.


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