Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Trigger Warnings

Trigger warning: the explicit statement that a piece is about to discuss topics that some may find difficult or disturbing. For example, a blog post about Roman Polanski’s crimes may read “Trigger Warning: Underage Rape.” Their use (or lack thereof) on the web is sometimes highly debated. A great definition of trigger warnings and an advocacy of their use is here. You should be reading Shakesville, if you are not already.

On one hand, I think trigger warnings are great. It is a good way to avoid inadvertently sending someone shivering into a corner because you have mentioned something that they actually experienced and still haunts them (or any version of that scenario). This should be a default part of trying to be a decent human being, no? I do not want to be the asshole that does that to someone, do you? A lot of sites I read and respect use them, and a lot of readers appreciate them.

On the other hand, the little writing snob that I apparently have in my head says, “Well, if you write like you are supposed to, with a summary at the top and all, then that is the trigger warning!” This, of course, makes me feel like a crappy writer if I use them. Yes, even when you take into consideration that blog posts are far more conversational than formal. Please do not mistake me; I am not in a position to deride anyone’s writing style. That voice derides my writing constantly, as you can probably tell. Most sites that use trigger warnings, given the beginning of this paragraph, do not need the addition of the words “trigger warning” as they let you know what they are talking about right away, anyhow.

This also makes us de facto gatekeepers of each others’ mental health, in an amorphous way. We are our sisters & brothers keepers to an extent. But how are we to know what is a trigger for each reader? Hell, do you know all of your own? Are you sure? This article talks about it very intelligently, and I highly respect the folks that write at flip flopping joy.

If you were abused and that abuse was facilitated by putting a blue pillowcase over your head, am I a monster when I offer my hospitality and the guest sheets are blue? No. I am a monster if when you stand at the door shivering I do not offer my arm, lead you away, and change the damn sheets. But I cannot do that unless I know to do so, and I cannot pretend to know what may set you, the reader, into that particular hell called being triggered.

So, in essence, I will be giving trigger warnings (because it is the correct thing to do), but usually not using that exact label (because of the snob in my head). I do promise to do my best (which varies on any given day more than it does for most folks - thanks, lupus/SLE) each day to write well, and let you know up at the top if there is problematic content. You are welcome to call me out, if you wish, when I fail. This should both meet the needs of people that need to concern themselves with being triggered, and placate the snob in my head.