trigger warnings and why they matter
September 12, 2012
I got asked a few days ago if I could write a post about TWs and why they matter. The person was having problems with people going on about how we don’t get TWs in meat space, and how those of us with triggers should just, toughen up or some other ableist shit like that.
Normally a post like this would be all about ableism (and it is extremely fucking ableist and privileged to assert that TWs are pointless or unnecessary) but I’m not going to focus on that. Other people have capably written about this (even if I can’t find a post at the moment).
I will, however, detail some of my own journey towards being more conscientious about TWs. I never used to put them on anything (in part, because I never had an audience before and because I didn’t understand their use or their value).
Trigger warnings, at the most basic level, exist to classify the content of a post. They give the potential viewer/reader an idea about what to expect if they read more, click a link, or whatever. They give people a heads up about potentially upsetting content. Wait. Upsetting is too light a word. Potentially triggering content. Content that could cause a reader/viewer to be triggered (see here for a quick wiki article on trauma triggers). Being triggered isn’t fun.
TWs allow people to make informed decisions about the content they consume. It isn’t about ‘coddling’ people but about empowering people to make good decisions. Decisions that are best for them. Sometimes I see a TW and I don’t read. Maybe I’m at work and can’t afford the loss of productivity. Maybe I’ve already had a bad day. Whatever. Sometimes I see a TW and read anyway, because sometimes I think it is important. But I want this decision to be mine.
TWs are also an act of compassion. They show people that you care. Like, a common TW for tumblr is the one for animated .gifs. Because some people are photosensitive or epileptic and you could ‘trigger’ a seizure. Obviously this is somewhat different than a trauma trigger (both a damaging though). Do you really want to be responsible for causing a seizure? And especially when it is so easy to prevent? Yes. These people have to go out into the real world where they’ll encounter all kinds of visual stimula that may or may not cause a seizure. I’m not sure that the point is, with this. Because we aren’t talking about the whole world, but what you, personally, are choosing to do (or not do).
And I really am coming from a place where I was fucking terrible at putting TWs. I didn’t put them on anything. I only recently started with gifs. And other things.
But I do want to give a personal story about how and why I realized that TWs were important for me to put on content. Not only have I hurt/triggered people on tumblr I care about, but I also realized that my inability to put TWs on things was a deficiency of both compassion and sensitivity.
My wake up call came with regards to images of violence against Black people. I’d been quick to hit reblog (missing e and that one click reblog is a dangerous tool). Until someone asked me to stop… It made me realize that growing up and living in this white supremacist world where pretty much all media images of violence against PoC are graphic and horrible (in ways never done to white bodies) had so desensitized me to the suffering of Black people, that I was no longer really and truly seeing it.
It never occurred to me, until that moment, that someone might look at an image of a Black body and be triggered. That this might profoundly upset a Black person (or anyone else, for that matter). This holds true with other kinds of bodies regularly dehumanized. TWs are one way to show that you recognize that both the subject is about someone human and that you understand that your audience is human. And given that recognition of humanity is foundational for being human, well.
Yeah, people talk about how the ‘real’ world is cruel and triggering. How little concern or care will be given to people with trauma or other triggers. Okay. Sure. I sincerely doubt any marginalized person or person with triggers somehow missed this rather obvious fact about the world. No one actually needs to tell me to toughen up or that the world is tough. This message has been received.
Does this mean that because the world is cruel and triggering, that *I* should also be this way?
No. It really doesn’t.
(I hope that the person who asked finds this sufficient.)
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