Feminism: Why I Like Trigger Warnings

[Content Note: Rape, Violence Towards Children, Infertility, Domestic Violence, the Holocaust, Mental Illness]

Author's Note: Do not do a Google image search for "Trigger Warning" while on a work- or shared-computer. Or even at all, really.

While doing a link walk the other day, I stumbled upon someone mildly railing against trigger warnings, and since I'm all about random navel gazing, I thought I'd take an opportunity to talk about trigger warnings, especially since I try to use them in posts and comments.

So what is a trigger warning? A trigger warning usually takes the form of a header before a piece of text that could be considered to be distinctly unpleasant to the point of possibly triggering (hence the name) intense flashbacks for the reader. The point of the trigger warning is to serve as a sort of advance notice: Hey, this post is going to be talking about X and if you don't want to read about X, you might want to skip over the post. If you want to be really zealous in hiding the potentially triggering material, you can use post breaks or ROT13 so that the reader has to really choose to read more and there won't be any accidental triggering.

The main criticisms I hear against trigger warnings -- and please tell me if I strawman here, because that is not helpful to constructive conversation -- is one of the following:
  1. It infantilizes survivors. 
  2. It's a hassle (and you can't label everything). 
  3. It's a form of censorship.
To #1, I do not think that trigger warnings infantilize survivors. As someone who has experienced rape, I recognize and embrace the fact that not all rape survivors are a monolithic group with a homogeneous outlook and identical triggers. Indeed, I usually do not find rape discussions triggering and I usually breeze past trigger warnings for rape.

However, the point of trigger warnings is not to shield all survivors, but rather to shield the ones who genuinely want the trigger warning and want to be able to decide whether or not to read the material. A trigger warning provides a choice: this post is about X, read or don't read. Treating all survivors as a monolithic groups would mean taking away choice: either posts about X are the norm and no warnings will be given and survivors can "deal with it" or posts about X are expressly forbidden in every possible form and people who want to talk about X can "deal with it". Trigger warnings bridge that gap by letting a variety of people interact in a shared space without having to wonder "do I have the emotional fortitude today to deal with anything that might pop up on that site?"

And, indeed, I also appreciate trigger warnings for things I find deeply disturbing and yet have not experienced. I don't usually find rape discussions triggering at all, but discussions of certain types of violence against children distress me deeply, regardless of the fact that I wasn't abused as a child. So I don't even see trigger warnings as For The Survivors -- I see them as For Everyone.

To #2, I'm sympathetic towards the sentiment that trigger warnings are a hassle, are highly subjective, and really end up being applied to certain obvious types of triggers and less so for others. For instance, something I currently find a touch triggering right now are stories of infertility, particularly if they end Happily Ever After because I myself have recently been through a bout of infertility and our story didn't have a babyful ending. I've even taken to trying to mention in my reviews of books if things like this occur, on the grounds that I figure the author can't possibly highlight every trigger in the book, but the reviews can mention a few and people can look for their own trigger warning before reading, as it were. It's not a perfect solution, but nothing ever is.

But it's true that trigger warnings can't be applied correctly 100% of the time -- you're going to miss things, and you're probably going to miss things a lot. Look at me! I accidentally drop "abusive marriage" comments into Twilight comment threads and give readers heart attacks. *facepalm* I have a lot to learn about when and how to use trigger warnings, and for what. But having said that, I'm not bothered by the fact that perfect trigger warnings are an ideal and not a possible goal. For me, it's about trying your best to be sensitive to ways that words can hurt people, and learning more about people and their hurts in the process. The point where I think "THAT was triggering for someone?" isn't a reflection on their super-sensitiveness, but rather a reflection on the fact that there are a lot of different people in the world and I just learned something. I'll see if I can't work that knowledge into a better trigger warning next time.

To #3, the censorship response is one I find most interesting. On the one hand, it seems easily dismissible: trigger warnings aren't censorship because you're still allowed to talk about X, you're just being asked to label X as "X" so that other people can choose whether or not to read you. (Being asked to discuss X in a certain way might be censorial, but trigger warnings by themselves are not about content -- they're about labeling content.)

On the other hand, I do think that trigger warnings cause me to self-censor... but I also think that's a good thing. Embracing the concept of trigger warnings means reading back over your writing (or keeping an eye on it while you're composing it) and keeping in mind what it might contain in the way of triggers. Did my rambling comment just touch on X? Maybe I should zip back up to the top before I post and add a trigger warning for X. No reason not to be extra-safe.

The thing is, once I realize that my post comment touched on X and that I might want to add a trigger warning, the next obvious question my mind leaps to is: was X needed here? Did I really need to bring up rape or violence against children or infertility or any number of other painful things in order to make my point? If yes, then trigger warning ahoy! But if not... maybe I could tweak my post to make the same point using different words. For instance, maybe we don't need to boil everything on earth down to an analogy about rape and/or the Holocaust. Maybe we could make our points about DRM and piracy and Lucas sequels without using rape as an example. (Is there a Godwin's law for rape analogies? Because if I had a nickel...)

An unwillingness to examine our language is perfectly understandable. We're very busy people, discussing things on the internet to no real effect, and everyone is going to know what we mean, and why does everyone have to be so sensitive all the time? I'm not going to condemn anyone for feeling that way, because I think it's a perfectly natural reaction to, say, learning about trigger warnings for the first time. But... I also accept that some of my words are powerful enough to hurt others. And I don't really want to hurt others. I go out of my way to donate money and clothes to charity, so can I go a little more out of my way to examine my language? I already edit for errors... can I edit for sensitivity fail?

Thanks to Mark at MarkReads, I've learned not to say "crazy Ana" because "crazy" can be a very hurtful word for people dealing with mental illness in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones. (I say "zany Ana".) I was surprised and even a little resistant to changing my language -- I'd always used "crazy" in a neutral sense, it was taught to me by people who used it in a neutral sense, and surely I shouldn't have to suffer having to relearn my own vocabulary just because a bunch of assholes somewhere had and were using the word in a pejorative sense and causing people who had the term used on them pain when they heard me using it in a neutral context.

Eventually I came to accept that my "pain" at having to relearn my vocabulary is significantly less than other people's pain at having to hear me use the word in my vocabulary, and I adjusted my vocabulary accordingly. Was this self-censorship? I feel like it was. Am I glad that it happened? Yes! I don't want to accidentally hurt people when I talk, and I don't want readers to feel like they have to leave my blog because as much as they love the discussions, they can't deal with the emotional shrapnel from some of the triggering words and statements I make.

I like trigger warnings and I do want to hear if my language causes anyone pain. I want to be able to host a space where people feel free to visit in the morning without having to weigh whether or not they can deal with whatever might be on the top page. And I want everyone here to be able to speak up and say if they find something triggering or hurtful so that I can work on finding better ways to express myself. And I thank you all.


Will Wildman said...

I don't have any triggers in the more clinical sense, but it's still nice to know what I'm getting into. There are days I just don't want to hear about cruelty to animals, regardless of the purpose or context of the writing.

In an online community where blogs are constructed to encourage tagging and categorisation and subcategorisation and Twitter is approaching a word-to-hashtag ratio of 1, it's kind of sad that anyone would start resisting a type of tagging once they learned that in doing so they might accidentally not ruin someone's day.

Izzy said...

Yeah, count me in the "I don't see the issue" box. We warn for length. We warn for content that might make the boss suspicious. We warn for subjects some of our audience might not care about. Since warning for all of these comparatively minor issues pass by the Greater Internet* without controversy, I'm not at all sure why people flip the fuck out about the expectation that they warn for common triggers.

I mean, I, like Will, don't have triggers. But there are still days and times when I don't want to read descriptions out of Stephen King, or see certain images, or whatever. Informing your audience is not censorship.**

On the other hand, I do think that trigger warnings cause me to self-censor... but I also think that's a good thing.

Yeah, likewise. There are times when certain subjects do need to be discussed, and that's fine, but thinking about what you say, whether it's appropriate, and whether it will unintentionally hurt people is generally considered a good thing. I think the exception to that is Compulsively Honest About Every Goddamn Thing Guy, and nobody likes him. Nor should they.

*Except for Corporate Defender Man, who sometimes gets all stroppy "why are you reading the Internet at work anyhow", to which the answer is a) downtime exists, b) I'll feel guilty about not asking for busywork when the US gets a decent amount of mandated vacation time, and c) because bite me, snowflake.
**One day, I will produce a list of Things That Are Not Censorship, because good Lord does the Internet need one.

Makabit said...

I'm only familiar with TRs from having started to see them on some sites I've read. I even appreciate them from time to time--violence against animals is the one that makes me very, very unhappy. Or accidents befalling animals--really, animals getting hurt, period.

I also acknowledge that I have some weird triggers that no one would think to warn for. Reading about the breaking of cherished glass and ceramic items is something that sends me spinning. This tic is shared by such a small percentage of the population that no one is warning for it--OK, I deal as best as humanly possible.

I think using them is kind; it's certainly not censorship. However, I do see some potential for abuse if it becomes something people are expected to do in their own writing, on their own site, or face the wrath of The Self-Appointed Trigger Police. I've seen enough people take their particular word or phrase, ("crazy", say) and insist that everyone use it as they do, or be accused by them of unspeakable cruelty, to be rather impatient with it. This is, of course, different from educating people in a sensitive way and hoping they take the guidance.

Nina said...

Will, that seems weird to me too. People are generally all about tagging things and trigger warnings are just tags at the top, basically. What's the big deal?

Well, ok, I expect I know what the big deal is, and that's that many people with X privilege don't want to have to think about or deal with issues or people who don't have X privilege, like the privilege not to need trigger warnings.

I also really appreciate trigger warnings. Thanks for mentioning that you can be triggered (or at least greatly distressed) by things you haven't experienced, Ana. I've never been raped, but there are definitely days when I just can't deal with discussions of rape. One reason I keep coming back to places like your blog and Shakesville is that I know the main site will be safe and I will have prior warning if I choose to delve further into any posts.

Ana Mardoll said...

Izzy, your comment made me laugh so hard. Please do write that list. :D

Loquat said...

Years ago, I read an article about internet trolls - not an editorial railing against them, mind you, but a piece in which the author had actually gone out and found some infamous trolls who were willing to be interviewed in person - and the bit that stuck with me was this one troll's deeply held belief that nobody should ever feel hurt by words. That the world would be a better place if everyone learned to not care what random strangers say on the internet. Naturally, he became a dedicated troll, so that he might lead others to the enlightenment of never being bothered by words.

I wonder if that guy ever successfully converted anyone who wasn't a troll to begin with.

Ana Mardoll said...


I... there's a logic there, I can feel it, but it's like soap slipping out of my hands. It's like... it's like, if you're hit by a hammer enough times, you'll eventually lose sense in your hands or something. No, it's gone again. o.O

Loquat said...

You know that scene in Lawrence of Arabia, where Lawrence has put out a lit match with his fingers, and some other guy tries it and it hurts, and he asks Lawrence what his trick is, and Lawrence says "The trick is not minding that it hurts"?

It's kinda like taking that as a philosophy, and then trying to teach everyone not to mind that fire hurts by going around inflicting minor burns on anyone within reach.

And then complaining about censorship and hypersensitivity when people object.

chris the cynic said...

I feel that way about the Time Cube sometimes. Like if you could just contort your brain in the right way, twist your thinking just a bit inside out, then somehow you would gain a profound insight. Not into the actual universe, but into something.

That's never going to happen because as near as I can tell the theory is a product of insanity or something like it. It seems to be as if the unreason of dreams were dragged kicking and screaming into waking life and then sprinkled with a lot of hate speech, but somehow sometimes when I read about it I can almost ... not see, I can almost feel ... a shadow of a sense of what he's trying to say. Like awaking from a dream with a sense of the profound and having it slip from your fingers.

I should point out that going to the time cube website is not recommended unless you're prepared to deal with a lot of hate speech. Much more now than I remember there being in the past. Or at least more towards the front than I remember there being in the past. Also, when I say I feel that way about the time cube I'm talking about the beliefs, such as they exist, about time not the ones about people.

It feels as if there's something there, and then it simply slips away. There is no logic, no meaning, no sense. But it can almost feel like there is at times.

Ana Mardoll said...

I do think there is a value in distinguishing between genuine "triggers" as the word was originally used, and "things that I just can't deal with right now."

I'm always anxious about parsing this difference. I'm always afraid it comes close to "it can't be a trigger if you haven't lived through it" by associating the concept of "triggering" so closely with PTSD.

Then, also, some discussions of rape really *do* "trigger" me in the classical sense; other discussions (or even the same discussion on a different day!) just leave me tired and exhausted. I'm not sure I can really say if something will "really" trigger me until after it's happened... and then I don't want to try to parse out if I was "really" triggered or just made seriously exhausted, frightened, and tired. If that makes sense. :/

Cupcakedoll said...

I even appreciate them from time to time--violence against animals is the one that makes me very, very unhappy. Or accidents befalling animals--really, animals getting hurt, period.

You and me both, Makabit.

Joshua said...

On an extremely loosely related tangent, I think it's funny in a very sad way that this blog is filtered out as hate speech at work. I won't mention where it is that I work, but they actively filter all outgoing internet connections.

I first noticed it when I followed a link to a comment containing hapax's Dr Suess-style poem. I got the, filtered-as-hate-speech, your-access-has-been-logged message.

I found this ironic.

I can now only read this blog from home.

Ana Mardoll said...

Seriously? I'm so sorry to hear that. :(

Randomosity said...


I'm always anxious about parsing this difference. I'm always afraid it comes close to "it can't be a trigger if you haven't lived through it" by associating the concept of "triggering" so closely with PTSD. (Can you have PTSD for something you haven't experienced?)

Yes. You can, I do. Something happened when I was eleven and it happened to my best friend's entire family. I didn't see it happen but I was home when the parents were calling each other frantically passing news.

I couldn't look at the house for six years and my bedroom window looked out onto that house and our house was right across the street from theirs. All the kids in the neighborhood were reenacting what we'd gleaned from our parents. We were the classic Creepy Kid trope.

Years later I was actually able to remember that it was my birthday and I got that by poking around the events surrounding the terrible thing.

I appreciate knowing what I'm about to read. I don't often get those kinds of reactions from reading about things, but there are topics that just plain anger me and some days I'm in the mood for strong emotions. Some days I'm not. Most of the time when I'm not, it's because there is a lot of injustice I can't fix and the emotion I'd get is frustration.

Ana Mardoll said...

Oh, wow. Normally I would give you delurker hugs, but it seems like trigger hugs are more appropriate here. :(

Randomosity said...

Thanks for the welcome! I really love your deconstructions.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm thrilled to hear that. I find praise very motivating. :D

Pthalo said...

A lot of my triggers are the sort I'm unlikely to run across on the internet. Touching certain parts of my neck, even lightly, is a big one, but people on the internet physically can't touch my neck, and it doesn't come up offline very much either, except for that one mistake I dated who thought "don't touch my neck ever" meant "don't touch my neck for the next two minutes". And my mother, who seems to do it to see if I've recovered from this abnormality, but I don't see her that often.

My mother gave my home phone number to a close family member who sided with my abuser and loves him very much so that this close family member, who I worshipped in my childhood, could wish me a happy birthday this year. This, combined with some other triggers I'd experienced temporally close to this incident, affected me so badly that I spent the next two months in a dissociative fugue.

The screaming in our head has mostly stopped, and the children inside have finally stopped asking if he's going to hurt us and the children who were more lucid before this summer have mostly bounced back. Even if the kids aren't directly exposed to a trigger, if a trigger upsets enough of the system, the emotions leak out and things inside get a bit intense.

After months of nothing but "am i in trouble" and "i want ice cream" and "he's gonna kill me" and "i'm hiding" from five year old Jolie, she's finally saying things like "want to learn more about inertia". So she's developing interests in the outside world again and is again able to relate to life from a perspective of curiosity rather than fear.

But I do have some triggers that are along the lines of stuff people are expected to warn for. Descriptions of abuse written from the abuser's perspective is a big one for me, especially with descriptions of how the abuser justifies it to himself, and especially victim blaming.

And we have some unusual triggers that we don't expect warning for, but we can usually figure out that the topic is going to be discussed from the title of a post. For example, Christmas is a food security trigger for us, and while we haven't managed to stay away from the "Twill be the season for" entries on slacktiverse, titling them that way has served as a "we're going to be talking about Christmas, here" warning for me. So if I click on an entry that I know ahead of time will be about Christmas and then have a panic attack, it's my own damn fault. :) (But knowing what I'm getting into before I click and choosing to click only when I'm in the mood for it does help to mitigate it.) I don't want an explicit trigger warning for that trigger. Being able to discern the topic from the title is enough for me.

hapax said...

Makabit, I was very careful to stress that the responses of "sad or angry or anxious" is in NO WAY "less important" than a PTSD- style response.

I also stressed that the system of trigger warnings is both useful and important in helping protecting people from those responses.

My point was, and I reiterate, that the word "trigger" has a very specific meaning, and it's an IMPORTANT meaning. It is important to protect that meaning for the women who are told they should "just get over it", for the men who are told they should "just man up", for those who love and interact with all of those who do have triggers, so they understand that this ISN'T a matter of being "sad or angry or anxious" -- there is no reasoning with it, there is no thinking through it.

It's like the "spoons" concept -- I have often seen it used in the context of "mental or emotional energy", which greatly upsets the originator of the term. I have been guilty of that use myself, but since I've read her essay on the topic, I've stopped. I have a chronic condition too; I know the difference between "emotional strength" and "spoons."

Simple example: I may be out of mental or emotional energy, but if my daughter came to me with a crisis, I'd find some to help her. If I were out of spoons, due to chronic pain, she could be literally lying bleeding on the floor, and I couldn't walk over to help her. (Though, God willing, I'd do my damndest to crawl...)

Ana Mardoll said...

I think the problem is that the trigger/spoon parsing has been used -- not by you! but by other people, and in some places quite a bit -- to play... I'm not sure if "oppression olympics" is the right concept, but more like mental/physical pain olympics of the "you can't use that term, you're not hurting enough" variety.

To riff off the spoons thing, it's a great concept for physical pain (which I have) but it also applies analogously to mental pain (which, according to my bingo card, I *also* have). If a (mental) anxiety attack leaves me feeling as helpless as a (physical) back lapse, I see no reason to come up with a whole new term to describe how I got to the same point. :)

Similarly, if "triggering" material leaves me *actually* triggered or merely seriously upset and shaken doesn't matter to me -- if I feel the term is indicative of my suffering, I think that should be enough. (But then again, we all know from the Great Wiccan Post Of 2011 Ana's odd views on term ownership!) :)

There is a danger, I think, in saying "okay, you're hurting, but not AS MUCH as that term would indicate to me", and I think it's something akin to saying "okay, you're oppressed, but not AS MUCH as that term would indicate to me". Is it valid to feel that way? Maybe, as per the "Gamer Oppression" we saw a few weeks ago. Is it valid to try to argue over who owns the term and/or what the term "should" mean? I don't think so, and I think it can hurt people in the process. :/

But, again, 100% not trying to pick on you Hapax. It's just an argument I've seen other people bring up and it makes me uncomfortable. I'm VERY grateful for the spoon concept to be shared with the internet at large, but terms grow and expand and I'm not personally comfortable with the coiners of the terms dictating their usage. :(

hapax said...

I do appreciate the danger you are speaking to, Ana.

I guess the difference between us is what we see as the more likely / bigger danger: people saying "you can't use that word because you haven't suffered enough"; or people saying "when you use that word, you're just expecting me to take seriously your hurt widdle feelings".

(Those are awful characterizations, but yeah, I've heard both of them in pretty much those exact terms. And not just on the Internet; there are some horrible, insensitive pieces of scum walking about on two legs out there.)

Possibly my priorities come out of the fact that I'm (ahem) considerably older than you are. Honestly, among my age-mates, there wasn't enough recognition of different kinds of privilege to make "oppression Olympics" much of a game; you were racially oppressed or you were a woman (or both), and anything else was your own darn problem, get off your butt and quit whining.

So it's the "quit whining" belittling that *I* fear the most; most of my life I have heard women belittled as "too emotional" "instable" "crybabies". I cannot understate the value of a term that allows me to say, "No, this isn't about my 'feelings', this is an actual physiological response that can be measured and everything" (and, not coincidentally, one that I share with manly male men doing that most manly male man-thing of war)

But that doesn't mean that I endorse, or in any way want to enable, a usage that enables others to say that feelings of rage, terror, and grief (I don't want to minimize them by "upset") are any less REAL or IMPORTANT.

Do you ever get the feeling that this kind of discussion would be So. Much. Easier. if we didn't constantly have to be thinking of, "yes, but what will happen when the assholes get hold of this word?"

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, a thousand times yes. I mean, heck, this started because you posted something personally reasonable and I was all OMG I SAW AN ARGUMENT *LIKE* THIS ONCE. Which was not fair to you at all. *rueful sigh* :/

For me, the "quit whining" people on the outside are, well, always going to feel that way. I mean, I know people who do not believe PTSD can be incurred by rape because that's something only soldiers (men, natch) can get, amiright?

The Term Wars seem more potentially damaging because they're built on inner conflict and self-doubt. I mean, you take me for instance: I've been raped. There are rape discussions that do horrible things to me. Is it "legitimate" triggering? The word feels instinctively right to me.

But do I have "flashbacks"? I'm not sure. I'm not a visual memory person -- my memories are largely words, feelings, and impressions. I've *certainly* never had a flashback like the ones on TV, where the flasher honestly doesn't know if they're in that moment for real or that it's just a memory.

So if "triggered" means "just like on TV", then I've never been triggered and I've been using the word wrong all this time. But I sure do think I've been triggered. So it's a pickle, and I think possibly not one worth parsing because it seems somehow more painful to categorize pain. :/

Kay said...

(Possibly not the best thread to delurk on. Hi Ana! I really like your Twilight deconstruction.)

Hapax, what are your thoughts on using the word "trigger" for things like suicidal ideation and eating disorders? I don't have another word for "this thing will make me think about killing myself more often"-- "trigger" is the word my psychiatrist/therapist/other mental health professionals have used when they've used a word instead of a sentence-long description-- and it's something that I think really needs a word.

Ana Mardoll said...

Hi, Kay!! :D

That's a good point -- I'd forgotten those triggers. :/ I would assume that "triggers that encourage one to X" are probably *meant* to be different from "triggers that send one back to X moment", but probably the psych profession didn't map out the two concepts in advance to avoid picking the same word?

Do we have a psychologist in residence that can explain the etymology of these? :)

Swintah said...

I think writers use the notification of "triggers" as a courtesy to the reader, to let them know that there's going to be some "unpleasantness" in the future. I think it's helpful.

sekushinonyanko said...

I think that trigger warnings are useful, but I find that insistence that people use them can be rather frustrating. It is definitely a nice courtesy to have them present, but at the same time I've yet to find myself upset with authors for failing to use them. There are some realities that are deeply unpleasant, therefore any discussion of them will be unpleasant. I personally find it sufficient to know what the topic of an article/post is, because if the title is clear about what it's about I can pretty easily ascertain whether I would find the content triggering. I would say they're more necessary if the content of a particular site is generally of a light-hearted nature, if it falls outside the general range of discussion, or if it's particularly explicit.

For example this website has quite a bit of discussion of the Twilight books. One of the distinguishing features of Twilight and discussions of it is domestic violence. It's pretty much impossible to discuss Twilight without discussing that at length and frequently. If someone talks about some sort of marital violence or the like in the comments, then in this case it's on topic and it's expected to come up. Requesting that every post on the topic contain trigger warnings seems excessive to me.

Some of my favorite spaces to visit feature infrequent or nonexistent trigger warnings, even for really gruesome material. In some ways I find that useful because I feel like I would miss a lot if they had trigger warnings because I personally don't often read things that have trigger warnings. I tend to not put myself in places like feminist blogs if I'm not in a mood for anything heavy, because there is little to discuss about the oppression of women that isn't triggering as a woman, so in that context it's kind of unnecessary in my opinion to trigger warning everything.

I also sometimes back and forth on the "quit being so sensitive" thing because I do think there is a line where, if crossed, people are just being difficult and I don't really believe they are offended by the thing in question. Like I referred to someone as a "jerk" on one website and someone fussed at me for using a gendered slur. I didn't kick up a fuss about it, but I did think about responding with a bit of a rant. Who is this fictional person that would be so upset by my usage of that word? What is the history of tyranny behind it that I need to be cognizant of? That falls in the same bucket as "well you didn't SAY many or most" or "well you said most, but can you get a statistic that proves it isn't just some" that are always used when any attempt is made to make a generalization for the purposes of discussion.

kat said...

trigger warning: discussion of self-injury

You know, I usually appreciate trigger warnings, but an unusual situation came up once w/r/t to them on a site I visit. There's a popular tumblr site that posts user-submitted pictures of gender non-conforming folks and a photo was posted of an individual with extensive self-injury scars all over their arms. Now, apparently the person who runs the site did not even notice the scars, but as a person who used to self-injure (and has corresponding trouble looking at pictures related to SI), I immediately noticed them and felt sick, woozy, et al. Apparently a number of other users noticed and had similar reactions, and asked the operator to add a trigger warning and/or hide the image behind a cut. The site operator refused to do so, citing the relatively BS reason about "censorship" and that it wasn't even noticeable and so on; but interestingly, they also said that it wasn't their prerogative to place trigger warnings on user-submitted pictures of themselves and that placing a warning on a picture of somebody else (somebody who was ok enough about their history of SI to send a picture to a public website) could be specifically harmful to that person. It would be like saying that merely viewing that person is so damaging that they need to be hidden from sight.

And so I was personally torn about whether that picture should have a warning or not, because I don't want to send the message that SI is something shameful or dirtying or whatever, or hurt the specific person who was brave enough to send in a picture. But it's also true I've somewhat avoided that site since then because I don't want to be surprised with graphic reminders of SI. So warnings can get complicated and I still haven't resolved what the answer to situations like that should be.

Pthalo said...

I have extensive scaring on both my arms from SI, all faded to white now. I don't wear long sleeves in summer anymore. Back in the day, I had a lot of friends in the cutter community online -- we were all supportive of each other's efforts to curtail it and we understood why we couldn't "just stop" which was something non cutters didn't understand. This was back in the 90's, before cutting was well known or talked about in the media.

Anyway, back then, before digital cameras were the norm and few people had scanners, it wasn't much of an issue, but as that became more common place, trigger warnings were expected and required. The idea was: people in the cutting community aren't doing it for fun and most want to stop. Viewing triggery images is not conducive to staying safe. It wasn't about being ashamed of our arms or what we looked like, it was about not ruining someone else's "2 days without cutting maybe this time i'll stop for good" streak.

trigger warnings were also expected for graphic textual descriptions of self harm or mentions of the commonly used implements or of certain bodily fluids. But just mentioning "I'm struggling with the urge to self harm" or "I self harmed today" didn't need a trigger warning. It was expected that you would engage in self care to the extent that you wouldn't enter a chatroom with the name "cutters" if it would be too triggery just then, but it was also expected that people not get too detailed without taking it some place private.

Pthalo said...

Somewhat relatedly, though, I'm also dealing with a situation where I'm not really sure how to deal with my accessibility needs and another person's triggers. I'm not going to explain the reasons behind their triggers because I'm not them, just give me the benefit of the doubt that it's a legitimate trigger that causes them to have a severe PTSD reaction and it makes sense with context that I'm not giving.

I rely heavily on lipreading to understand what someone is saying. I regularly need to communicate with someone in voice for whom, because of certain trigger issues of theirs, they can't let me see them they're speaking. I know the reasons behind this trigger and understand it, but it still leaves me unable to read their lips which means I miss parts of what they say. We talk sometimes in text too, but we also need to communicate verbally. I have to concentrate very hard to understand things in voice. It's exhausting and gives me headaches and I need them to talk slowly, and still I miss things and it's wearying. When they get excited, they speak too fast, and I only catch one word in twenty which makes me feel stupid and triggers a lot of internalised ableism and sends me into a negative spiral.

And I just can't think of any solution. I feel like I'm having to ask them to put a damper on their excitement whenever they're happy because I can't understand them unless they use very short sentences and put a space between each word. So I don't know what to do. It seems like neither of us can get what we need. I'd be happiest if we didn't communicate verbally at all and just kept it to written text, because it's so hard for me to have a conversation verbally and takes so much out of me, but they find it easiest to organise their thoughts verbally and hearing my voice and seeing me is important to them.

Ana Mardoll said...

Pthalo, that sounds so frustrating and unfair to you both. My mother lip reads and I know that would be a nightmare situation for her. :(

It almost seems like the "solution" you mention would be some kind of transcripting software where they could talk to you in real time over Skype or something and the computer could print out what they are saying as you go... but I'm not sure that anything like that exists to the required level of accuracy. My heart goes out to you -- it's rough when triggers and disabilities clash. :(

Marc Mielke said...

Yeah; there's a bit in Game of Thrones (ep 2) and in the book as well that I really have to read over. It's silly because human beings get killed by the bushel in that series and I can't deal with the unjust killing of one damn dog.

Pthalo said...

That does sound like a good solution -- though the state of auto-transcription isn't really "there" yet. (Click the CC button on some youtube videos for laughs). Linux has less speech2text than other platforms, but there are some. I spent a good while googling last night, and while there are some dictation programs (for people who can't/won't type), and a few programs that will help you subtitle a video or make an audio transcript of a sound file, I couldn't find any that could transcribe whatever my speakers are playing in real time. Which is frustrating. It's totally doable with today's technology.

It can't be done perfectly, but I've noticed I get a benefit from subtitles even if they're in a language I don't speak, like Slovak. I can get by on combining what i hear from the few words I can make out of the subtitles (Slovak has cognates with other languages I speak, but I understand less than 50% of it). I have CAPD, which is a problem with the way the brain interprets sound and language, not a problem with the ears themselves. I can hear many tones, but as far as speech goes, I function about as well as someone with moderate hearing loss who doesn't wear hearing aides. So, even if the subtitles end up garbled and what I'm hearing is garbled, my brain is somehow able to compare the two, find similarities, and wind up with better comprehension.

But I did start looking into the API for one of the major linux speech2text engines and on their website they have the source code for a small demonstration program for programmers to use as a jumping off point,and looking through it, I could probably get what I want with very minimal changes to that code. It helps that it's in a language I can program in already -- though i have no experience with gstreamer or writing gtk applications, so it's a big step up from what i'm used to doing.

Unfortunately that requires learning a lot of really hard things, but if I do succeed I'm going to feel really smart. looks like this project will 2146246 hours of research and then 10 minutes of coding, but if it works, that'll be something.

Makabit said...

I'm always anxious about parsing this difference. I'm always afraid it comes close to "it can't be a trigger if you haven't lived through it" by associating the concept of "triggering" so closely with PTSD. (Can you have PTSD for something you haven't experienced?)

For me it's not a PTSD thing, it's a depression thing. Certain things will upset me to the point that the chemical reaction begins to trigger a depressive episode.

And it happens with things like, say, cruelty to animals, that have no relation to real experiences in my life--simply things that stress me out so much to think about that I screw up my body chemistry.

I have clinical depression, but I wouldn't say that someone who doesn't, but avoids things that make them sad or angry or anxious anyhow doesn't have the right to call it a 'trigger', any more than I would like to be told that my responses are less important because they're not PTSD-related.

If you're upset enough by something to want to use the trigger warnings to avoid it, I'd call that a trigger. And even if you're going to insist that there has to be a real diagnosed condition to 'count', or even specifically PTSD, I would remind folks that more people walk around with any given condition than will ever be diagnosed by a mental health professional,

hapax said...

I also acknowledge that I have some weird triggers that no one would think to warn for. ... This tic is shared by such a small percentage of the population that no one is warning for it--OK, I deal as best as humanly possible.

Thanks for bringing this up. Every time the topic comes up on the Slacktiverse, I feel it important to point out that I have a really weird trigger, that I cannot even bring myself to type, that I don't feel it necessary or even desirable to ask people to warn against.

Why not? Because it's not the sort of thing that is likely to come up, except in certain specialized communities, which I deliberately avoid. And putting it on a TW list makes it MORE likely to come up, in a "Nobody talk about the pink camel's left hind knee!" fashion.

So I don't WANT this on a TW list. I feel safer not putting that particular vulnerability out there for everyone to pick over.

So the objection that "we'd have to put in TW for EVERYTHING!" is, to be blunt, entitled whining.

I do think there is a value in distinguishing between genuine "triggers" as the word was originally used, and "things that I just can't deal with right now."

I don't mean to devalue the latter. I think it's important to warn for them, and I appreciate it; and the TW system is an effective means of doing that.

But there is a difference. Some things, like discussions of child abuse, will make me furious and sad and upset and exhausted; some days, I don't have the strength to deal with those emotions.

But other things -- like the aforementioned pink camel's left hind knee -- well, it's not the same. It's more akin to a PTSD flashback. Coming across ... that thing ... without warning (even WITH warning sometimes) will make me hyperventilate, accelerate my pulse rate, leave me so paralyzed and hypervigilant for imminent DANGERDANGERDANGER that I literally can't see, can't think, am incapable of responding. And if I'm blindsided, it can take me up to an hour to recover.

Once again, I don't want to devalue the reaction of "too upsetting to deal with." But conflating that with an actual "trigger" risks trivializing a very genuine phenomenon. And since for some reason*, certain common triggers in Internet conversations are more common for women than men (while the more macho, military-associated diagnosis of PTSD is more common for men), it tends to further the stereotype that "women are just too emotional to deal with serious conversations."

*gee, I wonder WHAT that could be?

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