16 June 2013

Itchy Trigger Finger Warnings

WARNING: The following post contains a discussion of TRIGGER warnings. If you are sensitive to TRIGGERS themselves or the results of said TRIGGERS or if you consider the very word TRIGGER itself to be a TRIGGER, please take precautions against TRIGGERING any further TRIGGERS that may or may not have already been TRIGGERED. Due to the TRIGGERING nature of the following TRIGGER-centric material, this program has been rated T for TRIGGERS by the American Association of Abso-fricking-lutely Nobody. 
And if you clicked on this because you saw the word TRIGGER and were allured by what it may hold, well you're just TRIGGER happy, aren't you? 
I've been really, really frustrated with Tumblr lately. By extension, the internet has been bugging me lately, but Tumblr stands as a kind of distilled vertical slice of the pop culture conversation, so I freely admit to potentially picking on it. 
A few weeks ago, I was ranting about how I hated the term "viral" because, for all intents and purposes, it simply means popular. To be fair, it was very kindly explained to me by a friend that it refers to a phase of popularity where it moves from being spoken of in forums, social sites, and the like to being featured in mainstream media venues. The "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" meme is a rather perfect object lesson in how the process works. It still irks me a little bit to hear it because it makes it sound like the internet is still somehow not as legitimate as terrestrial television, print, and radio. It's that whole "medium is the message" phenomenon that McLuhan spoke of all those years ago. Seriously, the internet as we know it has been around over 20 years and we're still regarding ABC News doing a story on Keyboard Cat as some sort of validation. I get it, sure, and I'm not condemning anyone as "part of the problem" because I don't think it's a problem, it simply makes me wonder if either I'm missing something, or everyone else is, with both being terrifyingly equal in likelihood. 
On Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson made a joke about Lancia's R&D department being more than a little behind the times in terms of their engineering. He said, "Guys, we've this brand new invention. It's a clock that you wear on your wrist!" This is basically how I feel when I see a term used for something that already has a perfectly fitting one. Trigger warnings are the wristwatch du jour. 
I never heard the term "Trigger Warning" until a few weeks ago when a friend on DeviantART posted an image of a woman with her mouth stitched shut. To put this in context, horror themes were nothing new for this artist, it had a maturity warning on it, and a special note was made in the description of its theme. None of these things stopped someone from flipping out (or acting like it) in the comments about "triggers" because the needle was visible. I didn't think anything of it because, like I said, it already had a disclaimer among other measures that would have stopped people from being startled or alarmed. 
Later on, someone else I follow posted an <b>Instagram</b> snap to their Tumblr of a spider they found. Given the reaction this got from a certain reader, you'd swear it was a woman with her mouth stitched shut. "THIS NEEDS A TRIGGER WARNING! I DO NOT NEED TO SEE THIS IN MY TUMBLR AT 7 IN THE AM!" my friend responded very apologetically, and even found a way to put a banner over the image's preview thumbnail. As for the person who vehemently insisted on the trigger warning: 
"I'm not mad or anything... arachnophobia is a weird thing to warn for... that picture wasn't all that bad. Just, y'know, future reference." 
It's that last sentence that downright ticks me off in the worst way. I've dealt with this so much in my life, even from people in my family, where they overreact to something, apologize and admit to how irrational they were being, then effectively put the blame back on you for causing that reaction or not being sensitive enough in the first place. If you tell someone, "Don't mind me when I get carried away." you don't get to be mad at them for not minding you when you get carried away. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and stand the Hell by it. Otherwise, either don't say it, or give a real apology that puts the blame exactly where it belongs. If you're going to accuse people of not reading between the lines, make sure that you can actually read what you've written between said lines. 
Later on, I come across a photo of a girl who looks about thirteen with a bit of back hair. Apparently, it's a phenomenon in some eating disorders. There's also the increasingly present discussion about standards of beauty and body hair. I'm not entirely sure what the context of this photo was meant to be, but what had my attention most was one of the comments: 
"I hate my lanugo. I wish I could shave it off without being triggered as hell by the razor."
Let's ignore the fact that lanugo (a word I only learned today) is present in newborn babies and typically shed after 3 or 4 moths or is replaced by what is called terminal hair (in other words, unless you're a baby genius, you don't have lanugo, you just have body hair in an unusual place) and focus on the part where this person explains why they can't do anything about it. The razor will trigger them. 
A safety razor? Not a straight razor or the razors you get for box cutters or the razors you get for really old shavers that I've only ever seen in movies where people are cutting lines of cocaine for snorting, but a damn Schick Quattro? Now, I'm not saying they're harmless; it's very easy to cut yourself with those so-called safety razors if you're not careful. Hell, I nicked the crap out of my legs a few weeks ago while shaving for... You know what, it's not important. Here's what is: 
I do not suffer from PTSD. I have certain phobias and even a few irrational fears, but none of them entail especially severe reactions or cause any debilitating emotional stress. I am not suicidal. I have on occasion had suicidal thoughts at various points in my life, but none have been more than passing thoughts in times of stress. I have never been diagnosed with depression. I have been depressed and I do get depressed (in fact, I have a rule where I don't have so much as a sip of wine if I'm feeling depressed), but that's not the same as having manic depression. The point I'm making with all this is that my heart goes out to people who have these conditions, it really does. However, there's a fine line between being sensitive or even accommodating to someone's disability and walking on eggshells or just being a doormat. 
The fact is that you have absolutely no idea what may well set someone off and send them into a raving panic. You really have no clue. You can make some educated guesses, but they're still guesses, not guarantees. I would argue there are maybe a total of three, possibly four or five subjects that should carry warnings, things I believe most people would agree on as being particularly loaded or charged. This should especially be kept in mind if it clashes with your normal content or typical output. I don't expect everydaysexism.com to have a warning about rape or abuse, because the damn site is called "Everyday Sexism." Some people are terrified of blood, but does my recent short story, The River of Blood, need a disclaimer? 
I want to be sensitive. I do not want to upset anybody to the point of uncontrollable panic attacks. I do not want anyone's repressed memories to resurface and hit them all at once like a ton of bricks. I do not want to set off anyone's suicidal tendencies. I come across as a cynical and condescending dickhole at times, I admit, and it probably sounds like a convenient excuse for me to say it comes from a place of good intentions, of wanting to be proven wrong, and wanting people to do better because I earnestly believe they can, but I mean it. All that said, the fact remains I am not a therapist. I am not a life coach. Hell, Stuart Smalley has more qualifications than me, and he's not even real. I can help you in addressing your concerns. I'm willing to listen, but I can't live your life for you. 
If you're that sensitive to something that the very mention of it can hurl you into a state of blurry, inconsolable hysteria, you need counseling. If you're already in counseling, get more. If you're already getting more counseling, try another counselor because that one's clearly not doing you that much good. I know it can take years, practically the rest of one's life, to overcome some of these issues. I don't expect you cured in a week and unshakable in the face of danger any more than you should expect me to read your mind and know what gets under your skin. I'm not blaming you, but I don't want you blaming others. Is that fair? 
Further reading from differing points of view: 
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