Our Blog

Trigger Warnings

by Laureen Hudson
December 2, 2015

Recently, on an editorial group I’m part of, the topic of trigger warnings came up.

Predictably, a huge outpouring about the ridiculousness of such warnings was vomited forth by, frankly, a bunch of older white men.

I posted the following in response:

Just because some people may possibly, by your estimation, not require a trigger warning, doesn’t mean that you are fully aware of everyone who does. I don’t think that it’s within the purview of editorial services to judge who may or may not possess a trigger response to given stimuli. There are people who have come through some extreme circumstances (refugees, for example)… and there are people who’ve come through some typical human experience (miscarriage and child loss, for example) that deserve a bit of acknowledgement. Previously in our culture, the discussion and expression of the feelings engendered by some forms of experience (war, for example) was severely repressed, resulting in the sorts of secondary cultural issues reported by the children and spouses of those folks, suffering in silence (Patrick Stewart has spoken eloquently about spousal and child abuse related to unacknowledged PTSD). Airing, and exploring, uncomfortable emotional situations, and acknowledging that the feelings are going to be challenging, is in my mind a mark of cultural progress, and is to be encouraged.

Given that 1 out of 6 women is a victim of sexual assault during her lifetime and 1 in 33 men (reported), for example… and given the preponderance of rape as a sloppy plot device in the fiction material I see come in through the slush pile (and also in mainstream pop fiction — I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones)… the likelihood is high of someone being made uncomfortable enough that they are going to have to divert at least some mental energy from considering the material, to controlling their own emotional response to the material. I think that a trigger warning is simple good manners.

Predictably, the outrage shower continues. And I’m left shaking my head, wondering why it is so very, very hard for some people to recognize that their experience is not the only experience, that the world is big enough for many experiences, and that it’s entirely possible that even though you personally have experienced nothing that induces difficult emotional response in you doesn’t mean that the people sitting around you haven’t either?

I’ve been ranting a great deal on Facebook lately about toxic masculinity, and this dovetails on that. It’s toxic to insist that someone else not have emotions because you aren’t comfortable with them. It’s toxic to insist that your experience is more relevant than my experience, if what we’re talking about is something that I’ve experienced and you haven’t.

I will continue to support trigger warnings where appropriate. I will continue to stand up for the idea that people with traumatic pasts be able to inhabit public spaces of discourse without courting racing hearts, sweaty palms, hyperventilation, and panic. I will continue to argue for the idea that everyone’s fighting a hard battle you know nothing about, and that the point of the world is not to make everyone harder, but to hopefully help lift everyone else up, through education, discussion, and raising awareness.

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write this, The Mary Sue chimed in.