Feminism: Trigger Warnings... Again

[Content Note: Discussion of Triggers]

Occasionally the subject of Trigger Warnings comes up, and more often than not it seems like people who disapprove of (or outright have contempt for) trigger warnings employ the same arguments for why trigger warnings are silly, useless, or ridiculous things to use in a post. So here's another primer for cross-linking the next time this comes up. (For previous posts on this topic, I've also written why I like trigger warnings, what I think about triggering jokes, and how I think we can deal with triggering language in classic literature.)

I will be quoting actual people in this post, some of whom I disagree with, some of whom I agree with strenuously, and some of whom raise interesting points worthy of discussion. If it's not clear which is which, ask.

1. Trigger Warnings Are Condescending! [Content Note: Rape]

So let's say you're on board with trigger warnings or content notes or whatever the cool kids are calling them these days. After all, maybe you don't have any trigger issues to speak of, but you sort of accept the idea that, say, Rape Survivors might have PTSD and might need some heads-up before heading into a discussion of rape. You're conscientious that way. But then you may have noticed that some of these TWs are really freaking obscure! What's up here? Does the author think that her readership is so delicate that they can't handle anything

 LunaticFringe  I just glanced at the Slacktiverse out of curiosity. The first few posts included trigger warnings for  Ableism Language in Text, Ethics of Mind-Reading, Bad Friendships, and Food Poisoning.   Never change.
@ LunaticFringe

 DashRendar1128  Yeah, that sounds like them. I think they insult their readership by insinuating that they're fragile as brittle porcelain.
@ DashRendar1128

I feel pretty confident speaking to this one, since those "ridiculous" content notes were, in fact, ones that I came up with. Those were in reference to this thread and this one. So let's dive into the immediate question: Do I think my readers are all precious porcelain dolls?


What I do think is that I put my words on the internet for anyone on earth to read and access. That's a potential 7 billion readers, whittled down from there in accordance with who has internet access and can speak English (or has access to a reasonably good translation engine). I also think that the internet is largely forever, and that with an increase of 200,000 people daily on this planet, the number of potential readers for anything I write on a forever-timeline is pretty high. And I absolutely do think that one person out of however many million people might read my site might want a heads-up before they venture into a post that might graphically remind them of last night's food poisoning, that one abusive friendship they had in high school, various ableism slurs, and/or a heated and possibly triggering discussion revolving around reading people's minds without their consent. Go figure.

I also think -- and this is just me -- that a number of my readers are very busy people who prefer not to spend their time on things that don't interest them. So some of them may eyeball the header for a Twilight post and go "meh, another post about rape. Not interested." That's what makes content notes so nice: they're not just for avoiding triggering people; they're also useful for helping people manage their time wisely. As an entertainment-provider, I consider that to be an important part of my job.And then, of course, as Chris points out, there is community context that you may well be missing:

 chris the cynic  You'd have to ask Ana to be sure, but I think it probably had to do with context.  Two Twilight posts previously there was a discussion on the ethics of a different but related magical field that lasted two weeks, touched on all kinds of things in the process (torture, murder, rape, abuse in general, child abuse, racism, homophobia, and so forth) and eventually had to be shut down.  Anyone still reeling from that slog through various types of human depravity might well have benefited from a warning that similar things could be coming soon.
@ Chris the Cynic

Context! It changes everything.

2. That Trigger Isn't Possible! [CN: Rape, Abuse, Burning, Deer Collisions, Depression]

Alright, so maybe content notes and trigger warnings for broad or obscure things are acceptable. Gods know you didn't want to spend a lot of time reading about Ana's adventures in food poisoning to begin with. But "ethics of mind-reading"? That can't possibly be a trigger for anyone! Mind-reading doesn't, as we all know*, exist. How could someone be triggered by something that doesn't exist?

* Well, okay, some people believe in it. But those people are clearly Very Wrong because you don't believe in it. And the best part about this argument is that the "it" can be anything! As long as you don't believe it exists, it's not worthy of a trigger notice!

 DashRendar1128  I'm terribly sorry, trigger warnings all 'round, but *who* is such a delicate flower that they cannot handle a discussion of the *ethics* of mind-reading without prior warning? It's not as if anyone has had their mind invasively read - that sort of thing doesn't exist. (That I know of.)
@ DashRandar1128

 DashRendar1128  I'm not accusing the moderators at Slacktiverse of controlling the discourse, I'm accusing the community itself of instantly swarming and destroying anybody who is so much as accused of being offensive. I really feel that this is not primarily motivated by a deep and abiding respect for others, and more by...how did Jessica put it in her dismissal of MG...flashing your "I'm a better, smarter, more awesome person and liberal than you credentials." Why, anybody who takes such pains to avoid offense must be a sainted individual above all the common rabble that think not of the triggers they pull. MG is the personification of such.If someone really cannot handle a discussion on the ethics of mind-reading - not a cruel, brutal story about mind control, not even a celebration of mind-reading, but a story that seeks to determine acceptable uses of mind-reading, which I must again stress does not exist - I honestly wonder how that person engages in any conversation with anyone, ever, without bursting into tears.
@ DashRendar1128

There's a lot to unpack here, and we'll save the "liberal credentials" argument for further down the page, but let's start with the obvious-and-immediate Compassion Fail.

First and foremost, people cannot control their triggers. Some people get panicky, anxious, or even outright PTSD triggered over odd things. Some people are triggered over imaginary things. The human mind is strange that way, and there's still a lot about triggers that we simply don't understand and maybe never will. Or as Coleslaw eloquently puts it:

 Coleslaw  Yeah, triggers are the oddest things. I was badly burned when I was a teenager, necessitating weeks in a hospital and several follow-up surgeries, and I don't like the expressions "scarred for life" or "DIAF", but they don't trigger me. But anything that reminds me of my near-collision with a deer can be a trigger. Just seeing a statistic on traffic accidents involving deer left me hyperventilating and moaning out loud at a museum exhibit about sharks. Good thing I'll never see any of those people again. I'm sure "Trigger warning; references to Bambi" would look hilarious to DashRendar (and I actually don't ask people to provide them because it isn't even always a trigger), but there would be a good reason for it.
@ Coleslaw

Arguing with another person about the appropriateness of their trigger is incredibly rude and astonishingly abusive behavior. (It frankly smacks of the guy who told me that I, a rape survivor, couldn't possibly have PTSD from my rape because "rape is so common". Fancy people getting their hair knotted over a common little thing like rape!) A person's triggers aren't going to change as a result of an argument, and you're just going to very likely trigger them further by forcing them to dwell on their trigger and why they shouldn't have it. So go you, Mr. Compassion.

When people state (or strongly indicate) that they have a trigger, even if it's in regards to something impossible, we tend to believe them. What we don't do is hassle them to repeatedly justify their trigger, nor do we imply that their trigger is ridiculous, silly, or frivolous. Not even if the trigger in question is potentially impossible. We do this because we aren't assholes. Or as Ross nicely puts it:

 Ross  Yeah, those ridiculous people with their "Believing people when they say things hurt them and avoding hurting them more rather than just trampling on them anyway while declaring them oversensitive."  Fuck 'em if they can't take being abused by assholes who take joy in hurting people.
@ Ross

And, really, I call this a "Compassion Fail" very deliberately. Because no matter how much you might say you're "sorry" for questioning the appropriateness of a trigger, you really probably aren't, as evidenced here by the 'hilarious' follow-up opinion that a person with such a ridiculous trigger surely cannot "[engage] in any conversation with anyone, ever, without bursting into tears".

If you actually care to understand what triggers are, you would think such a sentence very strange since, after all, "the ethics of mind-reading" don't come up frequently in conversation. But this sentiment makes perfect sense if you think that merely having a trigger like "ethics of mind-reading" makes you so 'oversensitive' that you can't handle anything on earth without tearing up. And now we're back to #1: I certainly don't think trigger warnings imply delicateness on the part of the readership, but the detractors of trigger warnings certainly seem to. 

Incidentally, there are people who have difficulty engaging in conversation without crying. We call them "severely depressed" and, for myself, I try to make life easier on them rather than mocking them relentlessly. But that's just me!

But if you want to question the validity of triggers without being known as Compassion Fail, take heart: there is another fail here that you can cling to, and that is Imagination Fail. And instead of having to walk you through all the reasons why mind-reading could genuinely be a trigger for someone, I'll just let Dave do it: 

 Dave Collapse         Out of curiosity, why does Ethics of Mind-Reading require a trigger warning?   So, there's a few ways I can interpret this question, which lead to different kinds of answers.  One is: suppose I know that Sam is in this community and is triggered by discussions of the ethics of mind-reading, and I prefer, given a choice, to avoid making Sam suffer. Then I might choose to label discussions of the ethics of mind-reading, so Sam can choose to avoid them or prepare themselves for encountering them, rather than suffer when they encounter the discussion unwarned.  Another is: suppose Sam isn't part of this community, but I knew them once, and I cared about them, and got into the habit of warning them if the ethics of mind reading were going to come up. Then I might just be in the habit of labeling that sort of thing, and do it everywhere, because it's less effort to do everywhere than to think about.  Another is: suppose I know that Pat is the survivor of an abusive, controlling relationship in which their ex-partner read all their mail, snooped in their diary, and constantly drew inferences about their thoughts and punished them for those inferred thoughts, and I observe that in the aftermath of that relationship they can't read discussions of mind-reading without experiencing panic attacks. Which reduces to answer one, but sometimes what people want is justification for people suffering in particular ways, rather than just accepting the fact of that suffering as sufficient grounds to affect their behavior.  Do any of those answer your question?
@ Dave

Thank you, Dave! Since that is actually in fact what we were talking about with regards to Edward Cullen (he who reprimands Bella incessantly for 'not thinking the correct things' and who polices her behavior like whoa), you've hit the nail on the head precisely by using intelligence, imagination, and a touch of inference. Nicely done!

3. Trigger Warnings Are For Liberal Bragging! [CN: Ableism]

You've already seen this one before, but it deserves its own space: the idea that obscure trigger warnings couldn't possibly be posted in good faith or as a content note for people who might not want to read the morning's post, but rather must be a liberal in search of some bragging rights. Those dastardly liberals and their sanctimony!

 DashRendar1128  I'm not accusing the moderators at Slacktiverse of controlling the discourse, I'm accusing the community itself of instantly swarming and destroying anybody who is so much as accused of being offensive. I really feel that this is not primarily motivated by a deep and abiding respect for others, and more by...how did Jessica put it in her dismissal of MG...flashing your "I'm a better, smarter, more awesome person and liberal than you credentials." Why, anybody who takes such pains to avoid offense must be a sainted individual above all the common rabble that think not of the triggers they pull. MG is the personification of such.If someone really cannot handle a discussion on the ethics of mind-reading - not a cruel, brutal story about mind control, not even a celebration of mind-reading, but a story that seeks to determine acceptable uses of mind-reading, which I must again stress does not exist - I honestly wonder how that person engages in any conversation with anyone, ever, without bursting into tears.
@ DashRendar1128

 Turcano Collapse  The thing is that there is a distinct line between consideration for other people's feelings and political correctness gone mad, and the Slacktiverse has clearly passed it.
@ Turcano

And, um, I guess you could choose to see it that way. I mean, I can't stop you, nor can I prove that I have good faith motives behind the trigger warnings that I use. If you're determined to see life as a competition and everyone around you as dastardly competitors in a one-up-manship game of Who Is The Better Person, I reckon you'll find plenty of data to mold into your theory.

But, you know what, I often see this "holier than thou" argument employed against basic accommodation for disabled people. [CN: Ableism, Swearing] Who are these sanctimonious shits who decided to install a wheelchair ramp in their store? Who are these moderator assholes to tell us that we can't use words like "mad", "insane", "crazy", "lame", and "idiot" in their space or that the onus is on us to find better, more accurate ways to express ourselves? Who are these jerkwads on the internet who think that their pictures need alt-text for blind readers? Where will it all end?

The thing you need to understand, if you're employing this argument, is that most of us using non-ableist language and putting alt text on pictures and employing trigger warnings for people with triggers aren't judging you. Seriously. I'm not. I don't have the time or spoons to judge you. Do what you like in your space. I probably won't visit your space, because it doesn't sound safe for me, but it doesn't sound like you'd much like my space either. That's okay. I don't begrudge you having a space that accommodates you, any more than I begrudge the corner store having mostly Spanish-speaking employees for their Spanish-speaking clientele. Different atmospheres and different spaces for different people, and there's a big enough world and internet for us both.

But! Aren't I judging you implicitly by calling your language "ableist"? Well, I call it that because that's the only term I have readily available for "uses terms associated with disabilities and/or mental illness in order to discuss things that are not explicitly disability and/or mental illness related". If you think the word is inherently negative instead of descriptive of a behavior that demonstrably harms other people, that's your opinion that you're welcome to. But more relevantly: Why do you care if someone else out there thinks you're behaving badly? We're back to the idea that this is all a game with one winner as The Best Liberal Ever. I don't play that game. Why are you?

4. Trigger Warnings Stifle Conversation! [CN: Deer Collisions, Rape]

But surely if we accept that all triggers are valid and that if someone brings into a conversation that they're triggered by deer collisions, we have to respect that and remember to warn for it and omg where does it end, doesn't that mean that we can never have a free-flowing conversation again? Doesn't it mean that eventually we won't be able to talk about anything because someone might be triggered?

 EllieMurasaki  Food allergies are not like trigger warnings. The signs that say this corner of the cafeteria is a peanut-free zone, that's like trigger warnings, except not because they're used to indicate the safe space instead of the dangerous space. The notes on food packages that say this food contains wheat, milk, and soy? THOSE are like trigger warnings. Because they tell the celiac, the lactose-intolerant person, and the soy-intolerant person that here be dragons and if they venture beyond this point the consequences are on their own head.  I'm at a complete loss for how the 'here be dragons' warning hurts anyone. It is not, after all, as though mandating the 'here be dragons' warning is equivalent to banning what's being warned for.
@ EllieMurasaki

 LMM22 Collapse  It is not, after all, as though mandating the 'here be dragons' warning is equivalent to banning what's being warned for.  Except that if one has to say it every time, in every conversation, in every thread -- and when one fails to, one gets flamed -- it winds up silencing the topic. Even when it's completely inoffensive.  And when there's a massive list of triggers, every single one of which must be remembered and mentioned, and those who fail to mention them or who think some of the triggers are downright stupid are evil awful people? You spend more time on the triggers than the actual meat of the conversation -- and the number of subjects you can talk about are consequently stifled.  And, let me reiterate: Before I left, I mentioned several triggers that people completely failed to accept. (For example, uber-aggressive language. I can't deal with nuking. At all. Yet somehow saying that, no, we don't do that here was incredibly offensive to the moderators in ways that other triggers apparently weren't.)
@ LMM22

Well, there's a lot there to unpack. First, let's excise the "even when it's completely inoffensive" because what that really means is "even when it's not a trigger for me". See the point earlier about no one being able to choose or modify their own triggers. But the list of impossibly long things to remember is a valid point, I guess. Except that -- in most trigger-aware communities -- if the topic was trigger-warned for in the Opening Post, it's usually implied to trickle down to all the comments. So if you're staying relatively on topic, you shouldn't need to trigger warn for anything. Seriously. Stay on the topic of the post, and you never have to even think about putting up a trigger warning.

But! What if you want to Argue By Analogy! What if you want to back up your points by dragging into the thread a whole host of triggery things that are only tangentially related to the actual point at hand? What then! Well, then I would say you should possibly think about using another method of arguing. Because if you're dragging in analogies of things you have no immediate experience with then you are in danger of appropriating someone's actual experience and you're also very likely to say something terribly foolish. And if you're dragging in analogies of things you, personally, have actually experienced happening to your person, then you probably know in advance that there's a trigger potential there. In which case I would imagine that it would not be hard to slap up a warning.

But maybe it is hard! I really don't know what is hard for you. That's one of the funny things about individuals -- it's hard for me to make phone calls, for example, when email is so astonishingly simple in comparison. Other people tell me that phone calls are super-easy for them, but emails give them lots of trouble. Different people, different things that are easy and hard. So it's entirely possible that trigger warnings stifle conversation for you. But that's why trigger-aware communities have policies in place explaining what triggers are, how to use them, and why people must use them to be a member of the community. If that means you're left out of the community, that's a shame -- seriously -- but that's the bargain that we make in order to have safe spaces on the internet for people who need trigger warnings.

And this goes for specific triggers, as well. I tentatively believe that no site on the internet can be truly safe for *everyone*. Some people who are especially triggered by mentions of rape simply cannot read or post here because it comes up in a lot of my posts. I'm sorry for that, but it is what it is: no one blog can be all things to all people. So it's entirely possible that a blog's moderators may say "here is the trigger list" and enforce only that list and nothing more; that's their right to do so. Or it's possible that a blog may say "listen to others when they say they have a trigger and remember it". Or any number of other things. Every "safe space" blog has to make decisions like this on a regular basis, and the decisions usually aren't easy or clear-cut. A free-for-all may be simpler to regulate, but that doesn't necessarily make it better for the person creating the actual blog content. 

Also. You know what stifles conversation more than trigger warnings? Complaints about some other site that uses trigger warnings. That can be very conversation-stifling. Requests for justification of trigger warnings can also shut down conversation. As can demands that everyone cover the same 101 ground over-and-over-and-over-and-over again. Here is the excellent EllieMurasaki:

 EllieMurasaki  What I see in the trigger warning set ups is quite often "This stuff makes me feel negative emotions, and instead of learning to adapt and cope, I'm going to ask other people to give me warning when they talk about baby robins or transhumanism or whatever."  Perhaps it would help if you thought of it as "this stuff makes me feel powerful negative emotions, and while I am in the process of learning to adapt and cope, I would appreciate it if you gave me a heads-up before discussing this stuff so that I can avoid a potential massive setback in the learning-to-adapt-and-cope process".  The other issue I have is that quite often, someone asking for an explination of what's going on gets a diatribe about 101ing and derailing and why can't you use Google, and all that.  Can't have a discussion on whether/how genomic regions with a history of divergent selection affect fitness of hybrids between two butterfly species, or on the synthesis of clonality and polyploidy in vertebrate animals by hybridization between two sexual species, if, every time either subject (or indeed anything related to the theory of evolution) comes up, somebody demands an explanation of natural selection. Natural selection is very much a 101-level issue and, while there are and should be places for the explanation of 101-level issues, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com... is not the place for 101-level discussions.  Sure as hell can't have a discussion on any evolution-related topics if every time the subject comes up there's a flood of creationist trolls.
@ EllieMurasaki

5. Trigger Warnings Aren't Really Triggers! [CN: Homophobia, Transhumanism]

Worth discussing (with hat-tip to Rowen and Dave for the stepping-off point for the following ramble):

 Rowen Collapse   I'm at a complete loss for how the 'here be dragons' warning hurts anyone  Probably because it's not always seen as "here be dragons.' I, personally, don't like many of the trigger warnings I've seen out there. I was raised by an pediartric occupational therapist, a neuroscientist, and had a live in grandfather who was a professor of psychology. I worked a long time in mental health, as well, and am involved with a twelve step program, and know plenty of people in programs that are more intense or deal with much darker issues. What I see in the trigger warning set ups is quite often "This stuff makes me feel negative emotions, and instead of learning to adapt and cope, I'm going to ask other people to give me warning when they talk about baby robins or transhumanism or whatever." (BIG FRAKING FOOTNOTE GOES HERE*) The other issue I have is that quite often, someone asking for an explination of what's going on (this applies to more then just trigger warnings) gets a diatribe about 101ing and derailing and why can't you use Google, and all that. For example, on Slactiverse, I just asked for an explination of the transhuman trigger, after looking up what "transhumanism" is. I even provided my e-mail addresss so that whomever wanted to explain could do so without controversy. While the negativity in the response wasn't directed at me, personally, the response DID say something to the effect of "Why do I have to keep explaining myself and why can't people just look it up!!"  THAT being said, these are my feelings on the subject, and I'm more then happy to have a nice discussion on that. HOWEVER, I would like to point out that when I'm on a website such as the Slactiverse, where the general consensus is "use them," I'm more then willing to just keep my mouth closed. At least, I hope that's how it can come across, even though I'm freely voicing my opinion now.  *I will fully admit that there are discussions that can and do trigger a sort of PTSD and that a warning for something like that can and should be used. But there's a difference between, say, my memories of getting gay bashed, and the negative feelings that arise from that and say, something triggering a PTSD moment which is a very different scenerio.
@ Rowen

 Dave   FWIW, I agree that there's a difference between triggering PTSD and evoking negative feelings.  I also agree that if my community has a mechanism whereby people can request the former be avoided and have that request respected, some people in my community will use that mechanism to avoid the latter, and some people will use that mechanism to simply control other people's speech because they like being in control.  If it turns out that I can't perfectly distinguish among those groups, and I care about the differences between them, it eventually becomes necessary to decide what error I want to make... whom I want to give the benefit of the doubt. Would I rather reject a request from the first group because I've mis-filed them as the second? Or would I rather accede to a request from the second group because I've mis-filed them as the first? Etc.  Natch, it depends on the situation, and even in a given situation reasonable people can disagree on this. I have my answers, which don't necessarily matter to anyone but me.  But treating everyone like the third group in the absence of proof that they're in the first group, for example, is not an approach I endorse.
@ Dave

There's a reason why a lot of trigger-aware communities have moved to the term "content note", and part of that reason is to bypass (potentially-legitimate-but-frequently-abused-by-trolls) arguments about what a 'trigger' actually is and how it has to make someone feel before it can be acknowledged as such. I've actually seen well-meaning commenters disavow 'triggers' that gave them actual panic attacks because, hey, after the attack passed, they were mostly alright so despite being disturbing or debilitating it wasn't 'really' a trigger. And that kind of "I have to buck up and be stronger or else" mentality that our society pushes on us (and depression and PTSD can push even harder) is not helpful for individuals and is not (in my opinion) helpful for communities. Appropriation is important and should be conscientiously avoided, but anything that edges over into Disability Olympics is (again, in my opinion as a disabled person) deeply harmful.

So now, thanks to a lot of intra-community good faith concern and some deliberate bad faith trolling over the Very Precise Definition of Trigger Warnings, a lot of bloggers call trigger warnings "content notes", myself included. But others feel (with good reason) that the term "trigger warning" was staked out over a long period of time, after a hard fight against ableism and PTSD-denialism, and aren't inclined to change terms just because they perceive a few bullies trying to chip away at the right to put a goddamn trigger warning on a goddamn post without the whole thing derailing into another fight about trigger warnings. And I respect that; a very common tactic of bullies is to try to force constant name changes on people (See #5 here).

So if you happen to be the kind of person -- and I've seen this online before -- who decides to argue until the day is done that the term "trigger warning" should not be used because X makes Bob deeply uncomfortable or gives him a moderate panic attack rather than a full-blown PTSD episode, but you're totally okay with people using "content note" in place of the same thing, then good news: that fight is pretty much over and done and you've gotten your way save for a few hold-outs on the internet. However! I reserve the right to personally hold the opinion that this level of word-lawyering can be in danger of missing the point. There is always someone out there who can be 'triggered' worse than everyone else; that doesn't mean people with mild trigger responses should be made to feel guilty for owning that term.

6. Trigger Warnings Are Used As An Excuse To Banhammer! [CN: Rape]

 chris the cynic  Can we all agree that rape falls into the category of legitimately triggering?  Because that's the example that my memory is coming up with.  A significant thing about trigger warnings that I feel like some people are leaving out is that the point of, "Here there be dragons," isn't always to say, "Keep out," sometimes its to say be prepared.  We've had a rape survivor talk about the difference between having rape come out of nowhere in something, and having a warning ahead of time that rape will be involved in this thing.  The difference between the thing with the effective trigger warning and the one without wasn't that she avoided the one with the warning, it was that, because she was forewarned, she was able to actually watch (in this case it was a movie) the thing without being triggered where otherwise she would not have been.  They don't say, "Keep out," they say, "Make sure you're ready if you come in."  They make it so that people who would otherwise have to stop reading something halfway through can reach the end and participate in a discussion of it.  They make it so that those most negatively effected by the topic in question aren't automatically silenced by triggering them.  The serve as warnings.  And like all warnings some people will ignore them, some people will turn back at the sight of them, and some people will prepare themselves before venturing passed them.  And they don't stop anyone from saying a damn thing.
@ Chris the Cynic

 DashRendar1128  I don't dislike the idea of trigger warnings in general. But I disagree with their use as tools of suppression, which is as easy as saying "In your recent post, you did not offer a trigger warning for [X], which offended me. Therefore, you must be punished." Nobody can warn for everything, and if every trigger is as legitimate as any other, abuse of the system is practically inevitable. I believe they are primarily used for this purpose in the Slacktiverse, but I admit I may be wrong.
@ DashRendar1128

I've been Reading Stuff On The Internet for, oh, at least a decade now. Probably closer to two. I've been on feminist boards and safe space communities for at least seven years. I have never, ever, not even once, seen someone yelled at for missing a non-obvious trigger warning in a comment. Really. Honest-to-god.

I have seen people yelled at for questioning trigger warnings, or for mocking them, or for bullying people who claim that trigger as their own. I've seen people banned from communities for flat-out refusing to warn for specific triggers after being requested, multiple times, to do so. Or, to put it another way, I've seen people removed from communities for deliberately causing harm.

So this whole "but I could get banned by accident!" thing doesn't fly with me. Not when the people who throw it onto the pile are already on record as questioning, mocking, and bullying over trigger warnings as opposed to being reasonable, open, and compassionate in their interactions with other people. Or, to put it another way, if you act trollish in 9 out of 10 posts, I'm not inclined to give a benefit of the doubt for that 10% of the time where you might have made an innocent mistake. Quelle surprise.

Also a lot of hand-wringing over safe spaces frequently boils down to "I was yelled at by a blogger once". No kidding! I have been, too! I was once yelled at by a Very Prominent Feminist Blogger (years ago, under a different screen-name, for the record) over a total misunderstanding that I totally didn't deserve! o.0

I'm pretty sure everyone on the internet has been yelled at by a blogger once. Bloggers are people; we make mistakes. We work hard to communicate in a medium where at least half of the usual communication cues -- vocal inflection, facial expression, body language, etc. -- are completely absent. We misunderstand people! Frequently! And we're forced on a daily basis to try to decide if people are trolling or if we're misunderstanding what seems like Obvious Troll Behavior. And that decision? Is not easy to make. I've misunderstood very close friends in Real Life before; of course I'm going to misunderstand a stranger on the internet once in awhile.

Now I can't speak for anyone else, but I try not to bring out the CAPSLOCK key unless I feel very seriously provoked. But if you're really seriously concerned about this, here's a few tips for avoiding being yelled at by someone on the internet:

Remember that saying "sorry" in advance doesn't necessarily cover all sins. I can't walk up to someone and say "I'm sorry, but your face looks like a monkey's butt" and then expect them to not get a little huffy. If you're really genuinely sorry about what you're saying, find a better way to say it. What's less offensive: "I'm terribly sorry, trigger warnings all 'round, but *who* is such a delicate flower that they cannot handle a discussion of the *ethics* of mind-reading without prior warning?" or "I'm sorry if I'm missing something obvious, but can someone help me understand what is triggering about mind-reading, so that I can remember this for future discussions?" (Hint: In the former, you're demanding justification and a list of names; in the latter, you're making a good faith attempt to remember this for the future.)

Remember that you're putting one-fortieth of the time into your comment as the blogger put into their content. Most bloggers I know spend 40 hours a week writing; your average one-comment-per-post person puts in about an hour a week on their comments. If you blow past the carefully crafted content of a post to zip down-thread and make what sounds like a bad faith accusation against the blogger or the community, or to post a quick-and-dirty analogy about how you're right about X because of utterly unrelated [trigger material] Y, you're probably going to get yelled at. Not because you don't understand trigger warnings, but because you're a drive-by poster whose behavior is creating the impression that you care more about being listened to than listening. This impression is particularly sharp when you're slagging off Blog A on Blog B, while then later admitting that you, um, don't actually read Blog A and therefore don't know what you're talking about. People generally don't like that.

Remember that most people have reasons for what they do, and those reasons are not necessarily awful ones. People who speak up saying that they have a specific trigger are risking all kinds of internet backlash. Rarely are they celebrated or coddled for coming forward; usually the community just starts slapping that trigger up into place whenever the topic comes up and that's the end of that. In non-safe space communities, bullies can and do dig up those self-confessed triggers and use them against the commenter. Does that sound like fun to you? Ten-to-one, if someone says they are triggered by X, it's well and good to believe them and not assume that they're keying you up for a cheap thrill. Similarly, if a blogger is respectful of trigger X and incorporates that trigger into their safe space guidelines, that doesn't mean they're doing it in order to win The Best Liberal Ever award.

Remember that most people (including bloggers!) make mistakes. Sometimes bloggers will misunderstand you or unfairly lose their temper. Sometimes bloggers forget to warn for specific triggers and are asked by commenters to edit their posts retroactively. Sometimes bloggers are overly broad in their trigger warnings because they feel it's better to err on the safe side than to cause harm. Sometimes bloggers call things "trigger warnings" because the term is familiar, rather than trying to introduce the concept of "content note" to the community. It happens, and everyone has to make up their own minds about how much spoons they want to keep spending in order to stick with an imperfect blogger.

And if you're okay with a blogger being imperfect from time to time, then:

Remember that "I'm sorry, can we still be friends" isn't something confined to Real Life. I make mistakes. Probably you do, too. Can we still be friends? I'd like to be, even if this blog isn't the right, safe space for you. And if it can be a right, safe space for you, I'd like that even more. So while we're on the subject of bloggers making mistakes, I want to say that if I've hurt anyone in the past I'm genuinely sorry for the harm caused and I'd still like to be friends. Maybe you'll feel the same way. 

...And I've run out of steam for tonight. Here's a big ol' rambly post while I go take my pain meds.


Lusy said...

Well, to a certain extent, I think it's impossible to have a fully exhaustive list of trigger warnings. I mean, I get triggered by the name of Rupert Murdoch's oldest son, because he happens to have the same first name as my abusive ex. I don't really expect to get warnings about that, what with it being insanely specific and all. On the other hand, it does mean that I'd like my friends to not name their fictional characters that name, and if a guy who had that name ever asked me out, I very much hope he'd understand why I didn't want to be with him, because I just couldn't handle being in the vicinity of his name for any extended length of time.

In general, though, I agree with pretty much everything you say here.

Ana Mardoll said...

Moderator Notice

Your post has been edited for ableist language. Please do not use ableist terms in place of more accurate, less triggering words. This is a long-standing board policy and has also been discussed in this very post.

cjmr said...

I was dismissive of trigger/content warnings for quite a while, and then I started hitting some of my own in discussions on Slactiverse--unusual ones--one I didn't know I had. None of them are PTSD level, but they are certainly anxiety for the next 24-48 hours including being afraid to fall asleep level. They *do* affect my life (and therefore the lives of my husband and children) in a real way--something that I think people who aren't triggered by anything don't really think about when they are discussing trigger/content warnings.

I don't mock trigger/content warnings any more, no matter how obscure or ridiculous they might seem to me.

Lonespark said...

Holy crow (Munin?) this post is long! What a lot of work you put into it, Ana.

Not to the end yet, but wanted to say, before I forget, that the point about content warnings, etc. coming across as judgemental is a very good one.

TW: mental health issues, emotional abuse

I have serious issues with people judging my actions and reasoning, due to a prolonged experience in a verbally/emotionally abusive relationship, as well as my lifelong propensity to obsessive thoughts and the compulsion to do things the "right/perfect" way or not at all. I have big problems with papers the school sends home telling us to read to kids over the summer, advice from friends on limiting TV, nutrition guidelines for families, etc., depending on the presentation and what kind of mental health day I am having. (My thoughts tend to be basically, "I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO KEEP REMINDING ME IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH?!?!"...sob...) And I recently had a day-long panic attack because miscommunication led a friend to think I was taking advantage of him, and people have done that a lot and now I am just like the abusive assholes because intent isn't magic and I should just go hide in a hole.

So I can absolutely see how the idea that making a mistake has caused someone suffering could come across as judgemental and lead to defensiveness. I'm not entirely sure why it doesn't affect me that way. But it doesn't. It doesn't seem too much different to me than labelling pairings and kinks in fanfiction, or labeling ingredients in food, for that matter. Some people need it for their safety or comfort, and having more information available benefits everyone. Some people feel it's too much work or ruins the experience, so they avoid communities that expect it, or make accomodations within the community standards...

(Back to the letters from the school: We got one the other day about how my son's class is NUT-FREE! and don't bring any nuts at all because some students have LIFE-THREATENING REACTIONS. I feel a bit silly if that's based on my kid, who doesn't have life-threatening reactions at present, but you never know when the first one will happen, and it's kind of good that we don't know because that way there's just one fence-around-the-law judgement call being made instead of lots of individual ones.)

Lonespark said...

Ooops, I mean, Content Note: mental health, etc. I advocate for that term, but I get confused about which places use it vs. Trigger Warning.

Ana Mardoll said...

I use them fairly interchangeably here, for the reasons outlined in the post. You are welcome to use CN or TW here, based on personal preference and habit.

Lonespark said...

Got it. In actual practice, I feel like some things need Content Warnings, other things need (Known) Trigger Warnings, many other things need Content Notes... but "warning" can be unnecessarily judgemental and the choice to use or not use it fraught, whereas "note" is more straightforward and value-free.

depizan said...

One advantage I see to "content note" vs "trigger warning" is in those circumstances when a not-inherently-bad-thing can still be upsetting to some people. Especially if the not-inherently-bad-thing is a descriptor for people. (I have some vague memory of "TW: Otherkin" being discussed on here in this context.)

Hope that was a coherent comment. Commenting at work is always a little odd due to time constraints!

TheDarkArtist said...

I always want to comment on your posts, but you cover everything succinctly and I feel like I'm just rehashing things you've already said.

But, one thing that this post made me realize is that it would be awesome to have a website that was a database for content notes on entertainment. Not the extremely vague, generally moralistic stuff that gets put onto video game boxes and movie posters (although those are better than nothing), but I mean more specific kinds of things, like the content notes that are done here. A friend of mine was watching Garden State the other day, and I was thinking "if I had know what was in that film, I would have skipped watching it." It depressed me for like an entire week.

Ana Mardoll said...

That is a good point, and one I forgot to address. I've always read "TW: Otherkin" to mean "I'm going to be talking about Otherkin here and I might get some stuff wrong", but you're right that it reads to some people as saying that there's something wrong with Otherkin that they might trigger people by their existence.

I think that's why Shakesville moved to Content Notes, and I try to follow their lead.

Ana Mardoll said...

One thing I've learned from Shakesville recently is that it can be very affirming to bloggers to just say "Great post, So-and-so!" So don't ever hesitate to leave a "content lite" note. ;)

But I so support this idea of TWs on movies. I went into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo totally unprepared and that's one of the few times I've been movie-triggered. I can watch it now without triggering, now that I know what's coming, but that heads-up is SO crucial.

Lonespark said...

Wow, TheDarkArtist, that is a brilliant observation of something that really should exist.

CN: Suicide, depression

A friend took me to see Milk a few weeks after her husband committed suicide. We knew to expect violence and homophobia from the movie, but we didn't know enough to detail to realize that there would explicit depictions of depression, suicidal ideation, and coming home to find a loved one's body. We could have used a heads-up on that.

There are other, less obvious things... Despicable Me is quite trigger-y around adoption, Lilo and Stitch is really hard if you've had dealings with CPS. And now that I have two friends with young kids who've lost their fathers I tend to notice how many movies feature father-child relationships in ways that could be extra hard.

Anthony Rosa said...

I would say that I know first-hand about triggering... not because I have one, but because I've accidentally triggered people in the past. It was not something I particularly wish to repeat, especially not with that person.

So... I can empathize with this. I don't like seeing my friends hurt by an errant comment of mine.

I don't think I'd be capable of even dreaming of some of them, though: transhumanism is not something I would ever guess at, for example. I think it's good to create a safe place for people, but I don't think I'm capable of outguessing such matters: I don't want to cause people undue distress, but I would hope that for things that are unique and rare, one would be able to inform me of whether a subject is something they aren't comfortable talking about.

As in real life, when someone tells you that... the proper thing to do is not to bring it up to them! (Or, in internet-land, since you aren't talking to a single person, at least warn them so they can do something else.) So, I'm not against trigger warnings. I just know that other than the big ones, I'd never guess some of them so I'd say communication is key. Not saying that the onus is on the person with a trigger... just that the reality is, I'm not a mind-reader, so I hope one won't hold it against me.

Obviously that isn't related to someone else putting up a trigger warning for something outre. Good for them, I say. Just giving my support for the concept, along with communication in general.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah, I don't think people are expected to guess triggers. That's why we say "be respectful if someone claims a trigger after you comment on it".

I never would have guessed the obscure one brought up mid-post regarding deer, though it makes sense in retrospect.

JonathanPelikan said...

Sigh. I don't even come close to having the energies to participate in this.

Also apropos of nothing in particular except you being awesome, Ana, have one factory-standard Hugs.

BaseDeltaZero said...

but "warning" can be unnecessarily judgemental and the choice to use or not use it fraught,

Witness the infamous 'Trigger Warning: Slash'.

Otherwise, I... guess I don't have much to say other than that I agree with this post. Even if I'll probably fail at it, and even though I'm already the guy that uh... hijacked a 101 thread (I'll probably never live that down in my mind...). Sorry about that. Again.

Ana Mardoll said...

Many of us have been there. The important thing is learning from the experience. :)

Gelliebean said...

I don't have time to post as often as I used to, but I wanted to say that I still read everything and I love all the awesomeness that you are, Ana.... *hugs&rainbows*

It comes down to a very simple premise, very much like the Golden Rule - would you prefer that someone exert a bit of effort to avoid hurting you, and are you ready to exert the same effort to avoid hurting others? It takes a willingness to empathize with another person, a minute to imagine what could potentially be harmful to someone, and another 15 seconds to add a signpost at the top. It's really not much different than me swerving my bike around someone on the sidewalk (a small effort on my part) to avoid ramming into them (a potentially very large negative effect).

Smilodon said...

I usually feel pretty silly when I write a trigger warning, but in the sense of feeling inadequate. I don't want to miss a trigger warning that's important, but I also don't want to trivialize TWs by putting them after every little thing. So I completely understand the fear of "getting it wrong."

Like most things in life, I figure that the effort of trying is worth something on its own, whether or not I succeed all the time.

graylor said...

TW: reference to rape in fiction

I'm sort of glad to be coming from fanfiction world. I expect that at some point there were discussions like this in the larger fandoms, but by the time I got into writing fic, this is what a story header was supposed to look like:

Word Count:

I've seen discussions about specific warnings and how they are phrased ('non con' vs. 'rape') but I've never seen anyone want to do away with warnings completely. It seems to be understood (though I dwell in a small corner of a large fandom with some very kind people so ymmv) that not warning for very common squicks and triggers*, like rape, is cruel, full stop, and shouldn't be done. Why would you want to be cruel to someone who is reading your work of fiction? There are plenty of other things they could be reading, but they've chosen to spend their time with the contents of yoru head: don't they deserve some respect? Even for people who don't have those triggers, if you get the reputation of not using basic warnings and hurting people, people will stop reading your stories.

People usually spend less time on comments than fic, but in the blog comments you still develop a reputation, good or bad. Commenters on a blog and the blog author are people you're chosing to associate with: unless you're a troll, wouldn't you want them to at the very least not think you're a douchenozzle? Even if not posting trigger warnings isn't a bannable offense on a particular blog, people will learn to ignore you (see also: mras posting on ManBoobz).

Then again, some people want to read about triggering material, just like some people want to talk about it (abuse is a big topic in the feminist blogosphere, for instance): like you said, warnings can guide them into the discussions that are relevant to their interests.

Yes, I do feel a little silly with posting trigger warnings sometimes, and no, of course no one can catch all of the potential triggers they might unthinkingly pull. It seems to me that it's better to try and fail than not try at all.

*So far as I've seen the warnings space used in fanfiction headings, I don't think people divide up what is possibly triggery and what is just a story element, often but not always sexual (people warn for original characters sometimes, for instance), that may very much not be a reader's cup of tea. Which serves the dual purpose of warning people from and attracting people to a particular story. I think fan fiction warnings are more like content notes and are possibly less 'chiding'. No one is judging, these things are in this story and maybe some people don't want to read about them for whatever reason. It shuts off the 'discussion' about how triggering something must be before it needs a warning right from the start.

GemmaM said...

I really like the content notes, here. They seem like a lot of work -- although I'm sure you get used to putting them up -- but I have always liked that they exist, not because I use them, but because they seem like a lovely courtesy. I also prefer "content note" to "trigger warning" in part because the latter sometimes makes me think I maybe should be triggered, whereas the former is clearly just "This post contains X, if you wanted to know." I'm glad that the people who would want to know that can be forewarned, and I find it odd that anyone would begrudge them that.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, it's become force of habit. I'll be writing along on a post and think, "oh, I should add that to the content note" and zip up top real quick before continuing on with the next ramble. :)

Timothy (TRiG) said...

I've only rarely used them on my blog. I did once warn for "lies about cancer", because the pseudohealth industry enrages me, and is probably at its worst when it comes to cancer, and I guessed someone who's lost someone to cancer might be triggered or otherwise upset by that particular Ben Goldacre video. I should probably use them more.


cjmr said...

Does anyone else find they wish advertisers used trigger/content warnings? I don't normally watch commercials, but have watched many while watching the Olympics for the last 10 days, and there are things in advertising I recognize now as being triggers for people I know at least once an hour.

Ana Mardoll said...


TW: Infertility

Also, being infertile plus watching TV is *so* fun. Everything is advertised with children and/or babies. Coupons! Car insurance! Laundry detergent! Swiffer mops! EVERY THING ON EARTH!

Silver Adept said...

@BaseDeltaZero -

I took a serious knock on the head for something I posted in a community, utterly unaware of the Unfortunate Implications, and them tried to justify and explain myself, which only inflamed things further. (And I have a post on my composition drive about the necessity of triage, which is basically me saying that I felt slighted and raged at without explanation at the time. With perspective and seeing more things, I think I finally understand what went wrong there. And I now get that triage does happen all the time already.) So you're certainly not the only one that had had bad experiences that required learning from. (It's also mildly embarrassing to admit to, since I have a Thing about making mistakes.)

Mary Kaye said...

The one thing that stops me from being in fairly full agreement here is the poster in another discussion who said, a place that says "Trigger Warning: Homosexuality" or "Trigger Warning: Transsexuality" does not feel at ALL welcoming to a QUILTBAG person.

If you have someone who really needs not to hear about homosexualty or TS issues, and someone who really needs to feel that their identity is acceptable in the group, you have a nasty hard conflict that I do not know how to resolve. The Golden Rule doesn't seem to be enough. I don't think either person is being unreasonable and I don't see any good compromise. Making it "Content Warning" helps a little but I'm not sure it helps enough. I know that I would feel very unwelcome in a group where every discussion of Paganism needed a content warning. I would be afraid that I'd let something slip out; I would probably end up not talking about religion, and that would limit my participation a lot.

Ana Mardoll said...

I completely agree; that wouldn't be a safe space for me, either. I imagine that comes back to "no space is safe for everyone". It's entirely plausible to me that someone could have a realistic trigger around, say, Wicca, but I wouldn't feel welcome on a board that habitually warned for Wiccan content.

DavidCheatham said...

I rather wish that forum software had the ability to add (and inherit from the parent post by default) tags to individual comments. Either by the original posters, or just added by enough others. (I know I tend to forget them.)

Not only would it encourage people to add content notes, it would let others add them. And individual users could have specific tags in hilight, or even filter the comments. And the software could probably have an automated scan pick up many of them.

But while there's plenty of discussion software that has tagging of posts, I don't know of any that has tagging of comments. It seems such an obvious feature. Of course, so does presenting a threaded conversation, and yet somehow here we are without that either. (Disqus, bane of conversations everywhere.)

And on another topic, 'content notes' in my head sounds like a message at the front of a book explaining what font it was printed it or something equally irrelevant. A note is any information, and often used to refer to completely unimportant information. So it seems that goes too far in the other direction from 'trigger warning'.

I think the term everyone is looking for is 'Topic'. The thing people wish to know is what 'Topics' are mentioned in each comment.

And it's completely neutral, and fairly easy to explain.

Alas, probably too late to rename again. Although perhaps I will start using it, see if it catches on. (I presume putting 'Topic: Blah' at the start of my post is as understandable as putting 'Trigger warning: Blah' would be, so it's acceptable.)

Anonymus said...

@David: Ooh, that's a great suggestion. Of course comments should be taggable. I'm going to get that implemented in a site I'm heavily involved with that's prelaunch at this time. (A lot of the other things you suggested are already implemented). I've linked it to the other developer and we'll discuss it.

My vote is for calling them "tags," because everyone loves tags, but I really don't care what they're called.

Tags: trigger warning denial and how I got over it

@everyone: I originally did not get trigger warnings and was rather dismissive of them. My take on it was that I'd lived through all these horrible things and when talking about my own experiences why should I put a warning up so that everyone else, who of course had never been through such horrors as I, wouldn't have to read it. I'd lived through it and there were no "here be dragons" signs warning me. I didn't understand why I should shelter people from my lived experiences.

When I was a teenager, and just starting to learn that the bad stuff wasn't a part of normal everyday life for everyone else, and indeed graphic descriptions of what I'd been through as a child would generally be considered inappropriate for children to read/see, I was really, really angry. I was angry at the kids who had never been through anything bad and who had the opportunity to not know about the existence of things I had lived through. And, I did of course think that my own story was the worst there ever was, so the only reason, in my mind, that people could object to reading about it, was that they were being delicate. This was not helped by a CPS worker who told us that mine was the worse case she'd ever seen, which information I did not have the emotional tool box to deal with at the time.

This continued for some time, but as I got older, I gradually got over myself and realised that the people who wanted warnings were people who had also been through terrible things, and that my pain was neither greater nor lesser than theirs. I even met people who had objectively been through worse things than I. I also realised that there were topics that I didn't mind a heads up for before reading about them. Most of the things that trigger me are things that don't happen online, because they involve physical sensations or being touched in certain ways, including ways that are generally considered to be innocuous, so I only have to inform close friends/romantic partners not to touch me here or there without warning and I'm mostly good. But there are also written topics that I need to mentally prepare myself a bit before launching into reading them.

I do still often forget to include trigger warnings for my lived experiences, but I usually remember retroactively and no one yells at me when I ask for my comment to be edited to add them in. I'm better about remembering for things that I don't experience, especially if I have in mind people I know who might appreciate the trigger warning. I'm not Jewish, but I know people who are and I can imagine that they might want a heads up about anti-semitism if I'm going to be complaining about the rampant Holocaust denial in my country.

Jadagul said...

Want to start by saying, Ana, I really do love your blog and rarely say that in the comments and want to make that point now.

Mary Kaye, Ana: I think that's an important point, that no space is safe for everyone.

Content note: self-justifying by very privileged person, recovering trigger-warning denial

I suspect a lot of what makes people react so negatively to the idea of trigger warnings is radically different conceptions of what makes a space feel safe. For instance, this blog is a wildly unsafe space for me (which is why I love it. I don't say that often enough and will try to do better. But it is true that I only come here when I'm up to dealing with emotional stress).

But a space that's safe for me is one where I can defend basically any intellectual proposition without people responding emotionally. That's not what here is for, and I come here to hear what sorts of things other people worry about and to improve my empathetic imagination, and in general to _learn_, so I mostly stay quiet and listen. And I really enjoy that and it's valuable. But it isn't "safe," per se.

So when I see a blog or a forum or any other place that asks for lots of trigger warnings, what that tells me is that the blog won't be a safe space for me. Which is fine--not every space can be safe for everyone and I have plenty of spaces that are safe in my life. But if I had fewer of those and were more stressed out and I really needed to deal with a forum that had lots of trigger warnings, I can see how I'd find that really difficult. (For that matter, some subconscious part of me still process trigger warnings as an attack; I just usually have enough ability to cope to move on).

Rowen said...

One time, I was working in retail, during a VERY cold NYC winter. A lot of the tourists who came through were scared of the revolving door. Usually because it was something new, or they were afraid of getting caught in it (which, btw, I only ever saw happen when 6 people would try and cram into it while the person with the stroller was trying to come from the other end). When it was REALLY cold, we would usually ask people to use the revolving door, because otherwise, the door would stay open and a 5 degree wind would blow through the store, and most of us were wearing short sleeved t-shirts.

Anyway, on this particular day, I had just assisted a young woman in the elevator. Basically, she was claustrophobic, and had taken one of the tours of the building that we provided, and ended up needing an escort because the elevators were triggering her claustrophobia. So, I went up through the office building to find this woman and her other party member, and then use my badge to escort her throughout the rest of the tour, often asking people to not get in the elevator with us, and engaging her in conversation to keep her mind on other things.

So, later, I had asked a customer to please use the revolving door. HO BOY, did she give an earful about how what if she's claustrophobic and what if she has vertigo and what if. . . I spent most of the time trying to find a way to say, "If you had either one of those, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation right now and you probably would have notice that there are no revolving doors on the side of the store that enters into the office building, which then leads to the plaza you're trying to get to."

The woman sort of has a point, but based on my limited dealings with claustrophobia (I'm not claustrophobic, BUT I have had one or two attacks where I was the person who had to be escorted off the cavern tour we were taking. I'm still not sure why I did it the second time, a few years later, but whatever), she's. .. not really presenting an accurate portrayal of the issue, and was using it as an excuse as to why she didn't want to use the revolving door.

So, what does this have to do with trigger warnings? Well, sometimes, to be perfectly honest, that's kinda how my first id-based reaction to some of them are. It's very "ok, so you had a traumatic experience with a baby bird when you were 8. How's being an adult treating you?"

THAT BEING SAID. I would like to point out that that reaction is, in all honesty, my initial gut, most likely selfish, reaction. When I'm online, I do my best to play by the rules and respect other people and . . . well, treat them as I would like to be treated. I also, then, remember how hard I was hit in the head when I was going through a hard time, and watched Dead Poet's Society for the first time.

So, um, yeah. Complicated feelings. I tend to like Content Note more because it feels. . . safer to me, but I also don't have as much of a horse in this race. I hope that. . . kinda helps? (helps what? I'm not sure. Maybe to point out that people who aren't on board with trigger warnings aren't always jerks, but . . . I'm not getting that impression from this blog . . . so . .. yeah.)

Isabel C. said...

The thing about content notes/trigger warnings/etc is that they really don't take much effort. You type half a sentence at the beginning of your post. Or, if you don't know about the trigger in advance, someone says "Hey, can you warn for X?" and you say "Oh, sure!" and type half a sentence at the beginning of your post.

That said, I don't tend to use them myself, because I try--God help me--to be non-controversial on Author Blog, and my unofficial LJ is small enough that it's generally not a thing. I do warn for any detailed descriptions of violence or hate speech, in the same way that TV shows or movies do, and usually post a TMI warning for sex.

It seems reasonable as long as people treat it reasonably. Even without the trigger element, offline...I don't like, say, spiders; I have a friend who really doesn't like to hear about, say, medical procedures. So we try to avoid going into detail about those subjects when around each other. When one of us slips up, the other says "Oh, could you not? That really freaks me out..." and the other says "Ooops, sorry," and changes the subject. If we want to talk about those things on our respective blogs, we'll try to warn, and again, if one of us forgets, a polite request usually takes care of things.

It just...doesn't seem that hard.* And thinking that people should expose themselves to things that freak them out for their own good or to be manly or whatever, when the alternative is typing half a sentence at the top of a post...well, sorry, I don't *want* to live in Sparta.

*The terminology is more of an issue, so I'm cool with that.

Ana Mardoll said...



EdinburghEye said...


One reason why I've tended not to be sympathetic to warnings in general is that for the first twenty years or so of my life in fandom (approx) "warning" was generally used for only one thing: slash. Sometimes for "adult", which meant het erotica then, but people would "warn" for even something like "Kirk and Spock share a sleeping bag". Because if they didn't, anti-slash fans would complain, because, ahem, being reminded my sexual orientation exists is, apparently, a thing for them, and a thing they feel entitled to avoid and complain about if people don't make it easy for them to avoid.

And then Things Changed and suddenly warnings started being for EVERYTHING - and it felt like I could find out the plot of any fanfiction story by reading the warnings list, which, I have to say, is a thing I did not want. And still do not want. When I settle down to read fiction, I actually don't want to know what's going to happen next. Even if not-knowing is going to make me dissolve in tears and sit immobile for a while.

And then I started reading more detailed explanations of Why Warnings (this one is now my new Greatest Explanation Ever, I have to say - *bookmarked* for links when people need an explanation) I get it... except I still want to be able to sink into a novel or a short story and not know what's going to happen next.

I don't set that preference above other people's mental wellbeing, though it's nice if it's possible to do so (I've seen editors note "For those who want to know, there's a warning for this story") and it seems eminently reasonable to use this on blogs.

Brin Bellway said...

Of course, so does presenting a threaded conversation, and yet somehow here we are without that either. (Disqus, bane of conversations everywhere.)

My understanding is that Disqus has the option for threaded comments, but we've* deliberately turned it off so that catching up on an updated thread is as simple as starting where you left off. Threaded comments are more annoying because there are many places where a new comment may have appeared.

*I seem to recall the commentariat had enough influence on this to use "we" rather than "she".

Ana Mardoll said...

(This is correct. The Disqus 2012 version (which I have not adopted yet) is theoretically supposed to allow people to view threads however they please, including threaded views. But it's not working to my satisfaction at the moment.)

DavidCheatham said...

Topics: Safe places, recriminative discussions
(Incidentally, you don't need to mention 'recovering trigger-warning denial'. That's in the original post.)

But a space that's safe for me is one where I can defend basically any intellectual proposition without people responding emotionally. That's not what here is for, and I come here to hear what sorts of things other people worry about and to improve my empathetic imagination, and in general to _learn_, so I mostly stay quiet and listen. And I really enjoy that and it's valuable. But it isn't "safe," per se.

Yes. Although I don't think the word is exactly 'emotional', at least from how I'm thinking about it. I would end that sentence like this '...defend basically any intellectual proposition without people responding critically to words I uses or things my statement might imply or the fact I generalized about something or other things I don't think are very relevant.'

The place is supposed to be a 'safe place' in the sense of 'People will follow these very specific rules in a very specific way so everyone can have a discussion that turns out a certain way.'. I understand that having a place to have a discussion where contributors don't constantly feel under attack, or mocked, or having to explain or justify something yet again. That makes sense and is a very good thing.

However, frankly, such a discussion is not something I'm good at having. I can, with occasional lapses, follow the letter of the law, but that's about it, because my entire idea of the point of a discussion is to say 'What you said is wrong, and here is what I think'. And then the other person is supposed to say 'No, I'm right, because of blah blah'.

That is, from what I can tell, _not_ the sort of discussion that is supposed to happen here. So basically I've given up on trying to discuss most of the on-topic stuff, and end up only in very off-topic things, or a meta-post like this.

And half the time those end badly also, so I was hesitant to make my previous post, almost removing the joke about how 'content note' has probably gone a bit too generic and is almost meaningless a term. Inside my head: This entire post was about people who complained about trigger warnings, although one of their point is slightly understandable so 'content notes' is an alternative. Would pointing out that both terms somehow miss the mark in different directions, but I have one that seems correct, 'topic', be okay? Yes, good. Now, can I explain why 'note' seems off, or is that somehow out of bounds? Does it sound like I'm making fun of people who use it, or am I clearly mocking the term itself? Can I make fun of terms? Is that making fun of whoever invented it? ...Maybe? I don't know? Let's leave it in, and find out. ...wait, is my Disqus snark allowed? (And other stuff that I _did_ remove, and, hence, won't mention.)

I find myself having to constantly self-censor stuff that I'm not sure about, thus resulting in all the work to make this a safe place for some people...making it the opposite of a safe place for me.

Which is fine, I agree, no place can be safe for everyone, and I don't actually need a safe place...I have plenty of spare safe places. Other people _do_ need a safe place.

I just often wish I could discuss these posts _somewhere besides here_.

Rowen said...

"It just...doesn't seem that hard."

Well, I'd say that so are a lot of things, and there's a lot of battles to be fought on an ideological battleground.

Plus, this is the internet, so it's a lot easier to dismiss someone you only know as words and pixels as a special snowflake attention seeking delicate flower drama queen then it is to do the same with a close personal friend.

At least, that's why I think it's a sticking point for a lot of people.

DavidCheatham said...

Topics: fanfic

And then Things Changed and suddenly warnings started being for EVERYTHING - and it felt like I could find out the plot of any fanfiction story by reading the warnings list, which, I have to say, is a thing I did not want. And still do not want. When I settle down to read fiction, I actually don't want to know what's going to happen next.

The real problem here is that we never used the 'metadata' that the WWW is supposed to include, the 'semantic web' stuff. All this, from trigger warnings to relationships to anything, should be document metadata that we can search on, and filter one, and choose to have printed on the screen or not printed on the screen.

If we actually had this, we could easily filter out whatever we didn't want to see, and see only those that fell within what we wanted to read. But we could still choose to not see exactly what each story was.

Instead we get the strange standard fanfiction header, parts of which make no sense at all. (It doesn't even include _what work it's a fanfic of_.) And we get fanfic sites printing relationships and whatnot in the story list.

I get it... except I still want to be able to sink into a novel or a short story and not know what's going to happen next.

My argument is that trigger warnings (And stuff like relationships, and basically anything more than 'This is set in this universe at this time, and is a character piece, and follows canon') are _spoilers_, and as such should be hidden by default for fiction.

But no one cares if a comment in a discussion is 'spoiled'. So trigger warnings there are fine in the text. (Although it would be fine to have them hidable also.)

I wonder if you could get away with ROT13ing trigger warnings in fanfic.

cjmr said...

You said: "However, frankly, such a discussion is not something I'm good at having. I can, with occasional lapses, follow the letter of the law, but that's about it, because my entire idea of the point of a discussion is to say 'What you said is wrong, and here is what I think'. And then the other person is supposed to say 'No, I'm right, because of blah blah'."

See, IMO, what you describe here is not a discussion. It's a debate. If your goal is to convince someone that you are right and they are wrong, it is no longer just a discussion.

DavidCheatham said...

My understanding is that Disqus has the option for threaded comments, but we've* deliberately turned it off so that catching up on an updated thread is as simple as starting where you left off. Threaded comments are more annoying because there are many places where a new comment may have appeared.

Yeah, and I understand that logic.

The problem is: What if a reader is attempting to avoid a specific triggery topic? Threaded forums allow them to keep scrolling until it ends. Unthreaded means they have to be wary of every single post, and hope that _everyone_ remembered their trigger warnings. (This is, specially, when I tend to forget. In my mind, the parent post made it, the parent post warned, and the warning is not my responsibility, it's going to filter down from the parent post...and I forget my post is going to appear nowhere near the parent post.)

Also, I think that unthreaded forums make it very easy for people to misunderstand what's going on. Someone to make a post that makes sense in the context of the post it's replying too, but is easy to misunderstand when reading thirty posts later. Even with quoting. And people forget what the original topic of discussion is in a thread.

And I suspect letting people toggle the layout themselves (As Ana said the newest Disque can do) is just going to cause more of that confusion. That seems to be combining the worst of both worlds.

IIRC, there is forum software that have threaded views, and automatically collapse all read messages. So you load the page, everything's expanded, you go down commenting as you want. Then later, you reload, everything you've read is just a subject line, and new messages are expanded out, wherever they are. (I think I'm thinking of 'Scoop' there.)

Other software does hilighting of new posts, or has a list of 'new posts' you can click on a go directly there in the page.

The problem is those are entirely different CMSes, and can't be added to Blogger like Disqus. So are more expensive, I think.

Ah, the time and effort we have spent reinventing Usenet.

DavidCheatham said...

See, IMO, what you describe here is not a discussion. It's a debate. If your goal is to convince someone that you are right and they are wrong, it is no longer just a discussion.

Yes, that is a debate. A debate, which is 'a form of discussion involving opposing arguments'. That is the type of discussion I am used to participating in online, and thank you for pointing out the specific word for the subset of discussions I was talking about, which would have made my post somewhat clearer.

Isabel C. said...

Right, but that's also why I feel it's important to push back. "It's half a sentence: are your fingers made out of crystal and unicorn tears?" is a good form of pushback, I think. ;)

Rowen said...

Eh, I personally wouldn't do that, because I feel it's a great way to start a flame war, and I don't like arguing with people online, but that's my personal thing. I mean, I think I get what your saying, but yeah.

Will Wildman said...

We do have debates here, on occasion. More frequently, people express differing or opposing points of view without necessarily taking it TO THE THUNDERDOME to decide which is the one true opinion. But debates happen as well, and I know you've participated in some of them. And to be honest I rather cringe when you do, because I've noticed you're rarely more than moments from just flatly mocking people who disagree with you, which always strikes me as unconducive to the whole 'contest of arguments' idea.

my entire idea of the point of a discussion is to say 'What you said is wrong, and here is what I think'. And then the other person is supposed to say 'No, I'm right, because of blah blah'.

This strikes me as less like a debate and more like a debate club, in that there's an assumption going in that people will now take opposing sides and try to win, and the only way that's going to reliably happen in normal circumstances is through the presence of a Devil's Advocate, and no one likes that guy volunteering to critique their lifestyle. No one stops in the middle of a club debate and says 'Never mind, I've realised that you're right', because the point isn't to agree, it's to win. There is zero incentive to seek common ground or understanding. Which I see enough of everywhere else that I have a hard time imagining why anyone would want even more of it in their life, but different strokes and all that.

El Durazno de la Muerte said...

Thanks, Graylor. Your post inspired me to go back to some of my old stories and add content notices. (I still haven't decided whether to place them in author's notes or the summary or where - it'd be nice if ff.net just had a summary like the one you laid out by default. Maybe I should just put something like it at the start of each story? I really want to do this, now.)

Some of this stuff is really embarrassing and problematic, looking back, even the things I had personal or peripheral experience with. I even found a brief torture scene I'd forgotten about in one of them, which appalled me. I can't imagine why five-years-ago-me thought it would be a good idea, especially given the characters involved. It took me about five seconds to think of a sensible alternative and edit it in, so why couldn't five-years-ago-me have done that too? Ah, well. Live and learn and make Orwellian edits to your past material, I always say.

Will Wildman said...

Well done on your part.

Also, and I say this because I keep making the same mistake, Disqus automatically turns the phrase 'ff.net' into a link, but that link does not go to fanfiction.net; it goes to, uh, adult content. You or someone else with editing powers might want to alter that bit of your post.

chris the cynic said...

My past self is consistently embarrassing. So I just dug up something from when I was in highschool, a project I got 90,000 words into and then stalled out, looked back at it, and was already embarrassed then. Concluded I'd written a lot of crap, but never stopped feeling that there was something good in it, that ought to be brought out.

I now feel like Luke Skywalker, "You could be a great story. You've only forgotten. I know there is good in you."

But then when, as today, I read it, I end up embarrassed and cringing and can't go on, so I never get to the editing part in which I'm supposed to bring it closer to what it should have been.

Good for you for editing.

Ana Mardoll said...

This cracked me up. "Orwellian edits" WINS THE THREAD.

TW: Mention of Torture and, Rape

Fan fic can be a really powerful way to work out a lot of dark stuff. I've done "lite" torture and rape fic in Star Wars stuff because it's so deeply established into the narrative for me. (KOTOR 1 players will note there is a lot of "torture to the Dark Side" in that game, and rape is, well, an inevitable result of Because Midichlorians in my mind.)

'Course, that doesn't make it unproblematic. But sometimes problematic things are where our mind goes. I think that as long as we're happy with the result and we remember that it's potentially problematic and warn for it and don't get defensive, then, well, we've done what we can as authors.

Which doesn't mean that you shouldn't make edits if you want to -- this was more of a "oh, that reminds me!" comment than a direct response. Because it's Bed Time here and I'm brain-fried and rambly. :)

Lonespark said...

Huh. That pretty much never happens to me. There are plenty of things I attempted to get somewhere with writing and kind of just petered out. And things from fifth grade that are really embarrassing in a "crappy Mary Sue RPF about Davy Crockett and/or Helen Keller" kind of way.

But, like, the other day I was reading through archives on a kinkmeme, and came across a story that sounded interesting, and realized I'd written it, and it was good, even though I barely remembered writing it. And most of the other ones were really a pleasure to reread, too, even though I don't remember thinking they were hot stuff at the time. I mean, they're just short prompt fills, but I'm very pleased they held up like that.

chris the cynic said...

Lately I have been having more pleasant rereading experiences with the blog, where someone will comment on something, or Ana will recommend it (thank you, Ana), and I'll reread and other than the fact that no matter how hard I try there are always typos, I've generally been pretty pleased with what I've looked back on. But then I've had the blog for less than a year.

Ana Mardoll said...

You should like your stuff, it's good stuff. :)

Possible TMI here...

I think some writing is a little like masturbation. Healthy, pleasurable, good for you, and if you are too embarrassed to show it to others, that doesn't make the act itself bad or wrong. It just means the writings in question are private for you.

That's been my experience. I'm never going to dust off and file the serial numbers from my Mary Sue stuff about AUTHOR INSERT CHARACTER and her adventures with Mozenrath or Sephiroth. My Gray Jedi story might make the cut, but only because Husband really likes it. But it would need a serious re-write.

That doesn't make me a bad writer or the work itself bad. It just makes it raw and private. Nothing wrong with that.

Isabel C. said...

Yeah, this.

I have a fair number of long walks in my life--which is good, because exercise is nifty, but does give my mind time to wander. See also trying to get to sleep, meetings, and car rides where the road's too winding to read. Sometimes, in these situations, I think about stuff I'm writing professionally; sometimes I think about RL and games and boys; sometimes I imagine the adventures that a thinly-to-nonexistently-veiled version of myself has with the Scooby Gang, or the Dark Tower characters, or Conan. And I'm, er, 29.

I am never going to show the last to anyone. I don't even write it down, and as a general rule, it won't translate well--though I have come up with several phrasings I've found myself using elsewhere. But it's fun, so why not?

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who does this while trying to get to sleep. :D

chris the cynic said...

The trouble is that there are some things you want to share with the world, and then they come out not fit for public consumption.

Jadagul said...

Will: I think that's the point, though. Assertively argumentative almost-mocking but non-hostile debates are one of the venues in which I'm most comfortable and happiest. That's one of the discursive modes I most naturally gravitate to, not slipping into that when people disagree with me is difficult, and people who don't respond in kind frustrate me. But lots of people aren't comfortable in that discursive mode and this is a space designed to be safe for, among others, people who aren't really happy with that discursive mode. So I try to stay out of it here and keep it confined to places where it's welcomed. Sometimes for safety's sake that does mean staying out of a conversation altogether.

Now, the difference between this and debate club is that I try to change my mind if I'm convinced I'm wrong. But whatever I believe at any given time I believe at that time, so of course I usually think I'm right and will be trying to convince other people of that.

(Now, sometimes I also play debate club. Because debate club is fun, and defending obviously false positions is also fun. Also I tend to get uncomfortable when I'm in a group of people who are all agreeing, so I'll defend whatever they don't believe in a devil's advocate sort of way: "now, to be fair, the other position isn't as foolish as you're suggesting, and here are the reasons one might plausibly believe that...." But that's a different issue).

El Durazno de la Muerte said...

@Will Wildman: Ah, good catch. I did, in fact, mean fanfiction.net. Unfortunately, I can't edit my post. If it's not too much trouble, could I ask someone with editing powers to shift that?

@Chris the Cynic: I hear ya. When it's merely bad writing, though, the embarrassment is usually cut with laughter. "Good heavens!" I'll tell a friend, "You will not believe how bad this story from my high school days is! A hundred pages of senseless violence and angsty backstories!" "That sounds amazing." they'll reply. "Can I see it?" "NO!" I'll cry, and jump out a window.

@Ana Mardoll: That's a really interesting point about writing-as-masturbation-and-there's-nothing-wrong-with-that. I'm not sure I've ever encountered that perspective (at least not so succinctly put.) I guess it would also work in reverse; sometimes we can read a piece of writing that makes us feel like we've walked in on the author's id, huh?

Ana Mardoll said...

Ah, I see. That does make sense.

My usual probably-not-very-helpful advice is to set the "bad" writing aside, work up an outline that you're happy with, and then salvage concepts and scenes from the "bad" writing, if not the actual words and characterization. But I recognize while typing that that probably isn't very helpful. Not the least because not everyone is an outliner like me. :/

chris the cynic said...

I should point out that I think what you and Izzy said is important.

Ana Mardoll said...

Assertively argumentative almost-mocking but non-hostile debates are one of the venues in which I'm most comfortable and happiest.

This makes sense, and it does play back into "not every space is safe for everyone", I'm afraid.


Re: Debate Spaces in General

A big issue here -- to me -- is that there are (imho) more places on the internet that are "Debate Team Friendly" than there are places that are, well,"Debate team Unfriendly". For myself, personally, I was in an extremely abusive relationship with a Debate Team Guy, so debate team tactics in general are highly triggering for me. (Whether the trigger manifests as "leave board for the day" or "wield banhammer aggressively" depends on the day, I suppose.)

So we come back to, well, does Ana spend all her time cultivating a safe space for HER, or a safe space for others that also happens to be UNsafe for her? And there's only one answer to that, because the alternative just isn't possible -- I don't have the ability to cultivate an unsafe space for me over the long-term; instead I'd just end up walking away.

For people looking for debate friendly liberal spaces, I remember Pandagon being heavily into debates. I left there for Shakesville when someone in the Pandagon commentariat complained about how "delicate" the Shakesville readership is and I was all I MUST GO TO THERE!

Ana Mardoll said...

sometimes we can read a piece of writing that makes us feel like we've walked in on the author's id, huh?

I've seen Twilight described that way.

It's an idea I like, but I think it's more complicated than that. Some people like performing and/or observing the erotica acts of others. To each their own, really. So as long as YOU are not embarrassed to share your masturbatory writings, I don't think there's anything wrong with sharing them for people who will enjoy reading it.

Also, there's a tendency to judge as erotic/private/unsuitable-for-public-consumption things that challenge the dominant narrative. I consider, for example, Jim Butcher's work (OK, I just read two Dresden books, and I realize there are eleventy-billion of them) to be AT LEAST as masturbatory as Twilight, but I see few-to-no calls for him to stop publishing because he's *clearly* a Repressed Mormon Woman Pushing Her Sex Fantasies On The Rest Of Us. I wonder why that is?

(Relevant Facts: He's a male writer writing male fantasies for a male audience. She's a female writer writing female fantasies for a female audience.)

So I wouldn't label other peoples' works as masturbatory or private, because I think that's a judgment the writer has to make for themselves. :/

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes! I'm going through the emails from last night as I speak. Type. Something. :D

Isabel C. said...

For what it's worth, and a heads-up: a lot of people, myself included, really dislike Devil's Advocate Guy, especially in social situations. I ask people not to do it on my LJ, for example, for the following reasons:

1) The devil has plenty of advocates. The people talking are presumably adults; they have access to news and libraries and so forth. They probably know the arguments against their position. I, for example, am really uninterested in going around with "but pro-life people really really want to save babies!" for the forty-fifth time.

2) Devil's Advocate Guy is often taking an abstract academic position, whereas the people talking often feel passionately about the issue. Often they respond accordingly, and then it goes like this:

DAG: "Hey, what about X?"
Person: "No. Jesus. Y totally contradicts X."
DAG: "But if X + 1..."
Person: "But it's not, and it won't be, because of Z. Are you seriously saying that ABC? What's wrong with you?"
DAG: "Hey, I'm just playing devil's advocate! Don't get so worked up!"

And if you're arguing for bigotry, or against reproductive choice or the social safety net or whatever...there's a point where I don't *care* that you're just doing it as an intellectual exercise, I hate you anyhow. I might hate you more, in fact, because you clearly consider something that's important to me as appropriate for convening an improv philosophy class.

I don't know what gender or sexuality you identify with, but DAG is also often a straight guy "having fun debating the other side of" arguments that seriously affect the lives of women or LGBTA people, which doesn't help.

For me, the phrase "let me play devil's advocate" is a cue to walk away and maybe roll my eyes. And while "the lurkers support me in email" is not a good argument, it's also worth noting that most of my friends tend to agree. (Of course, this could be a selection bias: people I'm close to socially tend to have compatible conversation styles, and all that.)

Thought it was worth putting that out there.

Isabel C. said...

Hee! Likewise.

In re: published idfic, I don't know. Butcher didn't come off as masturbatory, but I've definitely rolled my eyes and said something along the lines of JESUS H. CHRIST TERRY GOODKIND I DON'T WANT TO KNOW. And much as I like Stephen King, his Everyone Gets Hit By Some Kind of Automobile phase bugged a lot; see also Joss Wheedon's existentialism and daddy issues, Sorkin's...issues, of all kinds, and so forth.

On the other hand, I'm fond of the Merry Gentry books.

It might come down to the difference between good time idfic, where the author avatar kicks ass and takes names and has a lot of athletic sex with pretty pretty people, and idfic that asks the reader to pay $7.99 for the privilege of being part of the author's encounter group session.

This doesn't explain Terry Goodkind. But nothing does.

Twilight's id-y-ness is actually not the thing that really bugs me. I've mentioned before that the core plot is very Sixteen-Candles-With-Vampires, and I do like Sixteen Candles--if the series didn't bug me on a bunch of other levels, I'd probably find that particular aspect appealing.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's been my experience, too, for what it's worth. I used to do a lot of debate stuff when I was younger, but it was always about stuff that (I thought) DIDN'T AFFECT ME. Funny how those debate things became less fun to debate as they became more personal.

TW: Homophobia, Infertility, Abusive Relationships

Gay Rights isn't "fun" to debate now that I have an openly gay uncle, several QUILTBAG friends, and I privately identify as bi. Reproductive Rights isn't "fun" to debate now that I've been through an abusive relationship (where a pregnancy would have interfered with leaving) and I have infertility issues that could make abortion-as-a-life-saving-measure a real thing I may have to grapple with someday (gods, I hope not). Etc. Etc. Etc.

/end TW

I can't think of anything I "enjoy" debating anymore. It's all too personal, if not for me, then for someone I care about. And, as you say, the Devil already has a whole slew of Advocates. I'm familiar enough with the opposition already.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's the other thing -- as you point out, it's INCREDIBLY SUBJECTIVE. Husband and I both thought Butcher was deeply masturbatory, but I've met so many people who didn't think so, that I've often wondered if we had a different copy of Storm Front than everyone else.

Speaking of Joss Whedon, I have FINALLY started watching Buffy on Prime and am already tired of Xander's "I feel inadequate because the Girl is stronger than me" act, as we are now four episodes in and it has featured heavily in all four episodes. Someone please tell me the character will evolve past that....? I have high hopes that he will.

Just once I'd like to see the timid, nerdy, socially awkward, whatever guy see the hot chick who kicks ass and go "COOL!" Patriarchy hurts men, too, but I have to believe there are at least some boys out there who would honestly react that way. No?

Isabel C. said...

I like to think so, yeah--and I think there are a few among my friends.

Xander...gets over that particular thing eventually, but he takes a while, and he never actually becomes someone I really like, despite Wheedon's the-nerdy-slacker-guy-is-the-heart-and-soul-of-the-group shilling in the later seasons. (Speaking of writerbation...) He just gets all possessive and whiny. Oh, and full of inappropriate advice about romance. And it looks like the comics are heading toward a Xander/Buffy pairing, which a) of course, and b) barfola.

I think the thing with me and Butcher is that I read the first two books, went "meh," and tossed them aside, then picked up a couple of the later ones and got sucked in. Harry qua Harry is amusing, but less compelling than the world as a whole, which I like.

But yeah.

Ana Mardoll said...

Re: Harry. I can see that. The whole time I was thinking "I would like this more if the main character didn't exist". Ha.

One of the things I REALLY liked about Firefly is that Wash doesn't seem to give a shit that Zoe is stronger than he. He legitimately LIKES her being able to protect him and kick ass and such. I found that completely hot and totally realistic because isn't that how we girls are portrayed ALL THE FREAKING TIME? Is it so ridiculous that a weak guy would hook up with a strong gal and go "hey, I've done something GOOD"?

I think not, but it's rare to find these men in fictionland.

And do not get me started on writers pushing the character that no one likes and yet is an author stand-in. I had this whole thing about the latest Muppet movie and I am NOT GOING TO GO THERE because it will make me out to be a Big Meanie With Opinions.

Isabel C. said...

Dude, I know. Also (SPOILERS: V sbhaq bhg Natry xvyyf Tvyrf ng fbzr cbvag, naq qrpvqrq gb fgbc ernqvat gurer, orpnhfr shpx lbh Wbff vf jul.) I myself suspect it's yet another iteration of Schlubby Geek Guy Gets The Girl, Because Hey! The Author Is Or Was a Schlubby Geek Guy! Because that's new and/or exciting.

And having just discussed how I don't mind idfic per se, I suppose I can't write the string of OH MY GOD SHUT UP I HATE YOU SO MUCH that this provokes. Though I could make a pretty good argument against it from a feminist/"die, Nice Guys, die" perspective, I think.

(Also, I am dealing with incompetent property management people and vaguely paternalistic UPS dudes, so my personal meter is pushed waaaay over to "rant" at the moment. I will try to keep this in mind when posting, and exercise appropriate restraint. Some days it's probably good that I can't Force Choke anyone.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Heck, I'm tired of it and "Geek Guy" is my TYPE.

Possibly I'm tired of it because the girls in these stories that end up with Geek Guy aren't me or my self-type, and it's silly to me to see my personal preferences mapped onto every girl in the world. Including the Hot Girls who really love Hot Guys until she wises up and sees that the Geek Guy Has Been There For Her All Along And Deserves Snogging As A Reward. ARGH.

TW: Rape Culture

(I will join you in rant mode. I have what appears to be a rape apologist on my Acacia Moon forums. When I posted a story snippet last night about love spells, I did NOT expect to wake up and see someone advocating for them as not-really-a-big-deal.)

DavidCheatham said...

because I've noticed you're rarely more than moments from just flatly mocking people who disagree with you, which always strikes me as unconducive to the whole 'contest of arguments' idea.

I tend to be a moment away from mocking the _statements_ of people when I think those statements are exceptionally poorly thought out.

And by 'statements', note I stay away from mocking or even disagreeing with certain opinions, even if I think they are not a very logical opinion to hold.

This strikes me as less like a debate and more like a debate club, in that there's an assumption going in that people will now take opposing sides and try to win, and the only way that's going to reliably happen in normal circumstances is through the presence of a Devil's Advocate, and no one likes that guy volunteering to critique their lifestyle.

See, that's a statement of mine that should be mocked! ;) And you did that, although you crouched it a much better way than I do. I probably would have sarcastically proposed assigning debate team partners or something in that regard if someone had said that to me.

Let me try to rephrase: "my entire idea of the point of a discussion is to say 'Here is what I think. This means these specific points of yours are wrong'. And then the other person is supposed to say 'No, those points are right, because of blah blah'."

I don't much see the point of talking about the points we all agree on. I'll usually say something like: I agree with most of that, but...

Isabel C. said...

...ew. Furthermore, EW.

I've played some RPGS that involve love spells or the equivalent myself, and they've been fine, but first of all, the people involved have all been very responsible about it (well, everyone else has and I hope I have), and second, they're treated as pretty problematic. (One of my characters got possessed, unknowingly cast one on the guy she was starting to have a thing with--there was a World of Cardboard thing there, I suspect, as the thing in her head was fae and thought she was just flirting--and man, I have no *idea* whether that relationship will recover now.) Treating them as "oh, sure, just cast this on whoever"...squiiiick.

Also, I agree. I mean, I like geeky guys, but I like them hot, and also the fact that there's no initial attraction is a big deal. It'd be one thing to have a girl who was all "...hey, you're kinda cute, but...nah, I like this other guy, but maybe now that we've spent some time together, he's looking less awesome and you more so." But the explicit thing where she's never thought of him that way and he's really not her type and then he is because he's so nice and faithful and such a good friend...ARGH NO NO NO.*

I mean, I guess that's someone's fetish, and I can see variants being appealing. But that's the other thing about idfic, I think: you have to be really careful to label it as such, or to tone down some of the more problematic aspects. Because a lot of people's fantasies *would* be problematic in reality, and that's fine, but when said fantasies become really really prevalent fictional tropes, that gets into some pretty swampy ground. (See also: power dynamics and consent issues in romance novels, which is an eternal and genre-wide debate.)

*Which means that the later Anne of Green Gables books hold some "...um, well, actually," for me now. Sigh. I can get around it because Gilbert doesn't do the Nice Guy thing, but rather goes off and gets a life, and Anne's subsequent realization is not related to wossname treating her badly, and also she's twenty and sheltered and romantic. But oh God, the pages and pages of "You and Gilbert are meant for each other, you just don't know what you want?" from other characters. SHUT UP, EVERYONE.

Because seriously? I've had people do the "Oh, Bob is such a nice guy," thing to me when I'd turned Bob down for a date, and "Oh, it's so sad that you don't feel that way about him," and...it didn't change my mind. It didn't make me sad. It made me look harder for negative qualities in Bob, and find them, and it made me resent my friends a bit as well.

My not liking a "very nice" guy, even if he is very nice? Not actually tragic.


Lonespark said...

I left there for Shakesville when someone in the Pandagon commentariat complained about how "delicate" the Shakesville readership is and I was all I MUST GO TO THERE!

That does sound like a fantastic argument for the place. I've never been. I like Pandagon, but just as a place to read blog posts, not as a community to participate in.

Lonespark said...

This thread is amazing and awesome.

I also don't enjoy debates, as opposed to discussion, generally, for many of the reasons mentioned. I guess I still could enjoy a debate about policy. Where it's like "how can we most effectively implement policy Y to achieve goal X," where goal X is something we all agree is a good thing and we're all coming from valuable different perspectives where "sure, in an ideal world, program Z, but not with the infrastructure we currently have/cultural values of the population/money and timeframe available." It's usually a debate between a number of good-with-bad-parts choices. And it can still get really heated/emotional/non-productive, and that can be largely due to factors outside of the participants themselves. Education policy is something that comes to mind that way.

Isabel C. said...

I find it comes down to personalities, a lot, there.

I can have a debate with some of my friends where there's give and take. Where I can say, to pick a non-political but still contentious subject, "I really thought the ending of Mass Effect 3 fell down, because in a video game, blah blah," and my friend can say that he sees where I'm coming from, but he really thinks that narratively, we were set up for blah, and we can go back and forth. Where both sides can admit points without "losing", and where there's as much listening going on as talking.

I've found that I can't debate jack or shit with some of my friends, however, because I'll say something and get a thirty-minute lecture on Why I'm Wrong in response. I will generally not get a word in edgewise (and God help me if there's another guy participating, because apparently interrupting and talking over girls is totally cool) and, by the end, I will feel way less like admitting anything ever.

Talking about such an argument with another friend, my take on it was: "...well, I actually agreed with Bob on many points, but after he got started, I found myself arguing against him just because he was so damn obnoxious about it."

storiteller said...

If you're looking for blogs with highly intelligent comments sections that are sort-of Debate Club, well-moderated for asshattery but not purposely "safe spaces," and talk about some controversial topics (although not always), I find both Making Light and John Scalzi's Whatever good for that. Making Light had some moderating problems years ago related to a huge disagreement about whether something was racist or not, but I find they are generally pretty good. Having multiple mods has helped.

DavidCheatham said...

...four episodes in, huh. You're about to hit the Xander episode of the first season.

Xander gets less whiny after he stops crushing on Buffy. So you've got essentially until the end of this season. (And season one is only 13 episodes long.)

Just once I'd like to see the timid, nerdy, socially awkward, whatever guy see the hot chick who kicks ass and go "COOL!"

Eventually, that's how Xander thinks of it. He's just acting weird because he's interested in Buffy. (Although I'm not sure I'd ever call Xander timid.)

Isabel C. said...

I honestly kept going back and forth on the guy. He's weird and insecure and jealous, and he gets over it, and then S2, and he's fine for most of S3 and S4, and even S5*, and then...Jesus Christ, the Riley Finntervention. HAAAAAATE. And S6, but the latter part of S6 never happened.

I have many opinions.

*Honestly, he bugged more because with Xander went Anya, and oh Lord do I have issues with her.

Silver Adept said...

Xander is...unique in his Everyman position. I think that it's okay not to like him, and in fact, to pretend he doesn't exist unless the plot absolutely demands it. And then he sort of gets a Bizarro-world reflection in later seasons from other cast members which only makes things worse.

Back on topic - discussions are preferable to debates for me, because discussions are ether people come to agreements and understandings, and debates are where people try to prove the rightness of their position. In terms of getting actual stuff done, discussion is preferable.

cjmr said...

"Back on topic - discussions are preferable to debates for me, because discussions are where people come to agreements and understandings, and debates are where people try to prove the rightness of their position, according to my personal lexicon. In terms of getting actual stuff done, discussion is preferable for those reasons."

One of the other online spaces I hang out has been gradually moving from a discussion forum to a debate one and I'm contemplating not going there any more. I'm not interested in every single discussion being turned into a theist vs. anti-theist debate. No one is convincing anyone of anything there, just that they hate each other.

Ana Mardoll said...

Interesting thing to say. I've seen studies in the past that indicated that debate can just entrench people more firmly in their own positions. I'm inclined to anecdotally agree.

Ana Mardoll said...

I love Shakesville. Could not recommend it more highly. Shakesville is what I want to be when I grow up, basically. :)

Jadagul said...

Ana: I agree with basically everything you said. There are a ton of places that are incredibly friendly places for me, and I go there and I get into really ranty arguments and a good time is had (hopefully) by all. There's actually one forum I post on despite the fact that the nominal subject matter isn't intrinsically all that interesting to me, purely because I enjoy the absolutely vicious and hyperbolic debates that happen there. But that's not what this place is for, and I try my best to play by the rules here. (And sometimes that means I just have to stay out of a discussion, so I do that).

So this wasn't intended as a criticism of you at all. It was more an exploration of why for years my gut reaction was hostility to trigger warnings and safe spaces, even though on reflection I think they're useful and important.

Isabel: Oh, I'm well aware that devil's advocacy tends to be annoying to a lot of people in social situations. And I try not to do it in most social situations, at least with people who aren't going to enjoy it. Like, I won't discuss politics socially with most people because, as you and Ana and others point out, most people have strong feelings on at least some political issues, and I'll make them unhappy by treating the whole thing as an academic matter and they'll make me unhappy by bringing feelings into what I'm treating as an intellectual exercise, and neither of us will walk away happy and so what's the point? (It took me years to realize this. I'm still really bad at it, and I have a couple of friends whom I've asked to all but physically restrain me to keep me out of political arguments at cocktail parties).

That said, when you say "...well, I actually agreed with Bob on many points, but after he got started, I found myself arguing against him just because he was so damn obnoxious about it," that's a pretty good summation of why I play devil's advocate in the first place.

Will Wildman said...

TW: car accidents

And much as I like Stephen King, his Everyone Gets Hit By Some Kind of Automobile phase bugged a lot

The mental image this evoked was of a novel-length montage revisiting every surviving character he had ever written and having them come into unintentional contact with a moving vehicle, ranging from 'Paul Edgecombe backs into a parked car' to 'Frannie Goldsmith walks into someone riding a bike' to 'Roland Deschaine headbutts a truck'. I have a vague feeling that would actually have been better.

Will Wildman said...

Just once I'd like to see the timid, nerdy, socially awkward, whatever guy see the hot chick who kicks ass and go "COOL!" Patriarchy hurts men, too, but I have to believe there are at least some boys out there who would honestly react that way. No?

Spoilers for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire (that's book one, often just called Mistborn).

I didn't notice it at the time, but the author annotations revealed that Sanderson did this quite intentionally with the main couple, because he was tired of the insecure dude and of the 'why didn't you tell me ALL OF YOUR SECRETS' guilt-tripping. Vin is a Mistborn, can use every kind of metal-powered magic, but has to keep this hidden while mixing with high society, including her geeky love interest. When at a fancy party and unexpectedly attacked, she goes into full wizard-ninja mode, catapulting herself through the air and having wuxia fights in which both combatants can see the future. Her love interests' reactions are, sequentially, "HOLY @#$% SHE'S A MISTBORN" and "...Daaaaang that's cool".

(The Mistborn series does have its other gender issues, of course, but that was a nice one to see utterly averted.)

Tigerpetals said...

There's also the fact that just because one can handle something (and has handled it in the past) doesn't mean that one should have to. Then there's the benefit of being able to choose whether to handle it or not.

If this has already been said, I apologize for repeating it.

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