This is our truth, tell us yours
We, as in the universe of bloggers, commentators, social justice warriors and assorted misfits who try not to deliberately hurt others unless they consent, must be careful if we discuss triggers. First exactly what a trigger is comes up. Originally the word referred to the symptoms of PTSD, although as I discuss here words change and that is a good thing, a vital thing, part of how language works. Given the multiplicity of meanings anything I write about triggers can only be personal. That said, be aware this post discusses consensual sex, BDSM and rape.
So, picture the scene, I am naked except for cuffs and collar, and I am restrained. Bondage is not unfamiliar to me, in fact its something I love, for the process as much as the end result. To be tied is as much about the tying, the trust, the submission as not being able to move. Bondage is also theatrical and I am nothing if not a show off. This however differs in a couple of significant ways, a spreader bar, attached to my ankle cuffs, and weighed down by a heavy chair means I cannot move my legs, my wrists are attached to the arms of the same chair. I am bent over, unable to move, and I begin to realise, I am petrified. Not the nervous excitement of “ohhh what will come next” but genuine fear.
As I was put back together, with a judicious combination of pain, multiple orgasms and huggles I understood why I had sobbed, and trembled, and wanted to flee. When I was gang raped they held my legs down, at first at least, before I simply went elsewhere and gave up on the body they were hurting. The restraints on my legs had triggered the memory of that restraint, a memory that I did not even know I had. A memory which tore through me, overwhelmed me, and which I was not able to describe or even vocalize until it was understood and processed.
Here’s the thing. I did not ask Carter to stop, and he did not. I am not a doormat, I don’t bend because I have to, but because I want to. I wanted to feel the sweet pain of the cane, even while I was sobbing and trembling. To return to a previous conversation I would not have safe worded because I did not want not to be beaten. I was still triggered by something I did not even know had happened. That’s part of the thing about being triggered, it’s not rational, it’s not controllable and very often it is not explainable. It simply is.
Given that I did not understand what was wrong, and did not know I was triggered, which is my experience of being triggered, understanding comes afterwards, the idea I could have taken control (which is what in essence safe words mean) is not only laughable, it actually verges on victim blaming.
Which brings me by a link worthy of a radio one DJ circa 1985 to Richard Dawkins. (Yes, this will all make sense at some point I hope). Recently he has had a bee (probably not a honey bee) in his bonnet about trigger warnings or more accurately content warnings on course materials and lectures. Apparently this is the end of civilization as we know it. Now a content note/trigger warning does not stop people being triggered, that’s why its a warning. It highlights a few themes or topics which the general population may on balance of probabilities have a reaction too. Some of that may be a strong emotional reaction, some may be triggered (in the classic PTSD sense) others may be upset, or distressed but in the way say I was watching the news from Nepal. An empathetic reaction to events which shows we are human. Any, and all of these reactions are possible. When you give a trigger warning/content note in an academic sense you are simply accepting that these reactions are possible. Not even probable, simply possible.
Imagine if Carter had said before we met that he intended to restrain my legs in a new way that I had not experienced before. Without the knowledge that this would trigger me his content warning would have been meaningless. However what he has told me repeatedly is that he does not find punchbags erotic, that I must speak and the only thing that would anger him is if I faked my reactions. Within this body of knowledge is the fact that if I am being congruent and authentic I cannot do wrong.
When Dawkins as an academic condemns trigger warnings and content notes he is telling a whole host of people that they are not welcome within his academia. Not because they are not able enough, but because he personally dislikes how someone might react. Furthermore he is apparently so upset by the idea someone might be upset that he wants to banish them from his sight. One might say that Dawkins is triggered by people who have been triggered! If Carter had reacted like Dawkins, packing up his toy bag and going home because I dared to express strong emotions I would have been left feeling like a failure as a sub. Simply because he has a typical patriarchal reaction to emotions Dawkins risks leaving thousands of young people feeling like they are failures as students. There is a failure here, one of empathy, humanity and teaching, and the failure is that of Dawkins’.