This is our truth, tell us yours
I am writing this rather than play my favourite RPG, Skyrim. It is rated 15 for strong violence, and excessive arrows to the knee. (Sorry injoke). I may pause to get a snack, sadly the multipack of spicy niknaks informs me they are not gluten-free, so I will have to be healthy and have a piece of fruit. I don’t have any nut allergies, so luckily do not need to check for that, unlike a friend’s son who has been airlifted to hospital already this year, a horribly scary moment for any parent. The bag the apples come in warns me to keep it away from small children, due to the risk of suffocation, although no warning to keep away from small children due to the risk of headaches. Later, when the rain stops, I may go for a walk, I don’t have to check air pollution levels to see if they are safe for asthmatics, or UV levels to decide if I need to put on sun screen. I live in Northern England, that last is a rare occurence indeed!
I am sure you have got my point by now, we live our lives surrounded by warnings, some of which apply to us, and some which don’t. I may not need the nut warning, but for others it is a life or death matter. I may allow younger family members to play Skyrim, deciding my role as a parent is to take the final decision on such things. However the warnings are there, and accepted by most people who do not think the world should revolve around them. So why the fuss about trigger warnings and why the insistence by some their rights are somehow violated by seeing or using them?
Firstly I suppose we need to decide what is a trigger warning? It is usually a short message before you read something that highlights content that some people may find disturbing. Being triggered, in the psychological sense, is more than being disturbed, it is a response first described in sufferers of PTSD where the emotions associated with a traumatic event are relived, and sometimes the traumatic event itself. I have experienced this, and it is horribly frightening. You are overwhelmed by emotions that seem to have come from nowhere, fear, and anxiety were my main ones. I could not move, or do anything except cry, My heart raced, my breathing was panicky, it was a full body response. The two times this has happened were caused by very different things, one by attempting to read The Handmaidens Tale, the other by a friend discussing a family funeral.
Of course this is not how some people use the word triggered. Like depression it has entered common parlance, a bad day is not depression, and being a little squicked by something is not being triggered, (which to be quite honest is why I prefer the term content note) however that’s how language works. Words are not set in stone, their usage and meaning changes over time. Trigger warnings have come to mean there is content that some people are likely to find upsetting or disturbing, a good trigger warning will explain what the content is. Just as the flapjacks will list gluten and peanuts, rather than just giving a random “allergy warning”
So I struggle to understand why people have an issue with trigger warnings. They presumably do not want others to be needlessly upset, just as they would not wish someone to have an epileptic fit from flashing lights on a TV show. (Another common warning). It seems to be, well I don’t need this, so why should I include one? Surely the most selfish attitude of all is to demand a world that revolves around only our concerns? The issue of spoilers comes up, and I suppose if your creative content is so poor that its only merit is that a shock event is needed then yes, a trigger warning may be a spoiler, frankly I find it very hard to care. Would you not read Macbeth because of a brief warning it contained violence? Would you decide that the only merit in Of Mice and Men was destroyed once you knew it contained a sexual assault? Perhaps you would, perhaps as a world we have become addicted to the shock, to the instant gratification rather than taking time to absorb and process. That may not be a good thing.
When it comes to erotica specifically I would not want someone to read one of my Non Con stories who did not understand rape play is a huge fantasy of mine. Why would I want to do that to someone? I would hope that my writing had more value that shocking the reader, that arousal was from the quality of it, not an unexpected event.
The idea suggested by the Guardian that trigger warnings are censorship is just laughable, as if writing one line somehow impacts on the rest of the content. Recently I touched on a very private side of myself, and my relationship with Carter. A twitter friend who is not a kinkster and knew nothing of age play asked, very politely, what was happening in the paragraph where I described calling him Daddy. They did not demand I change it, but their question made me realise that we are read by a wide variety of people, and I added a brief content note. The world does not revolve around me, and accepting others have their own view of it is at the heart of this blog. So another person needs a line to make explicit what I thought was obvious. Who am I to say which of us is right?
The reference to toothpick comes from Douglas Adams who despaired when he saw instructions on a packet. Whilst he was writing for comic effect I wonder why someone would care about something that doesn’t apply to them. If you don’t need the warning, or instructions, fabulous, move on. For those who do, why insist your way of being is the only one that matters?
Oh and a brief postscript, my views on this have grown massively, largely by reading the ever compassionate @stavvers