My take on trigger warnings

The main reason why I have chose ‘trigger warnings’ as the subject for this week’s Wicked Wednesday, is that one reader (yes, one) said that one of my stories had to have a trigger warning on it, since I promoted rape with the story. Okay, the way the reader said it was a bit more nuanced, but still, reading his words made me go all cold and warm and tingly with pure… yes, pure what? I think fear and humiliation. I thought I did something terribly wrong. I thought I was useless as a writer. I wanted to stop – stop with writing, stop with twitter, stop with Marie Rebelle. I was clearly on the wrong track and he pointed that out to me. I felt like I was exposed as a fraud.

Those feelings lasted only a couple of seconds, because I read on. I saw the conversation, people reacting to his words. I was not wrong! People told me the story was hot, very hot and that with a trigger warning, it would not have been as hot. I agreed and I also agreed that the story didn’t need a trigger warning. I only replied to tweets that were directly directed at me. I did not want to get involved in the discussion with that one reader, because I didn’t want to come across as thinking I have to defend myself. My honest opinion was that I did not need to defend myself; I had done nothing wrong. The person who had critique on my story never once spoke directly to me.

The reader missed the consent in the story, because he stopped reading halfway through and just ‘scanned’ the text for the consent. Had he read on, he would have seen that my main character realized that the man who inflicted this situation on her did not mean her any harm and she surrendered to the feelings because this was her fantasy, her dark fantasy and she wanted to experience it. And she wasn’t drugged, like he suggested. No, she just had too much to drink and confessed her fantasy to the man who put her in the situation she was in.

Jay Caspian Kane wrote an interesting article in The New Yorker, called ‘Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind’. One paragraph really stood out to me:

A good reader may very well finish “Lolita” and conclude that the book is about the systematic rape of a young girl, or that such a troubling text should require a trigger warning, but a writer should have the freedom to look at “Lolita” as nothing more than a series of sentences that exist only for their own sake. If reading, as Joyce Carol Oates wrote, is the “sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul,” a trigger warning, even through gentle suggestion, guides us into that skin. For writers, who cull everything from what they read, any amount of guidance will lead to dull conformity.

 

You have to read the entire article to put this paragraph into context, but mainly what spoke to me is the piece that says that a writer should have the freedom to look at other’s sentences as just that – a series of sentences that exist only for their own sake. And, think about the last sentence in the quote. Is that what we all want? Dull conformity? To all be the same? Isn’t that a form of censorship? Something like… you are allowed to write, as long as you do it our way. No, thank you! I will much rather think of my readers as intelligent people who want to be challenged, who want to make up their own minds about the story and not have it made up for them by someone else who wants a trigger warning on the story.

I do not want to belittle the fact that there are people out there who had suffered from terrible things and that reading some text that deal with the same subject, can trigger negative feelings in them. I  have been sexually abused as a 9-year old girl and I know I am one of the lucky ones who have not been traumatized by it. But this doesn’t mean that I have never shed a tear about it or that I cannot remember the man’s face. It happened almost 40 years ago, and I still remember what he looked like. I was about 22 when I sat in a shopping center with my mom and a man resembling the abuser walked by. I froze, I panicked, I cried. That was the day I told my mom everything, because of the way I reacted. Seeing a man resembling him was the trauma trigger back then, but reading about abuse is not.

However, I suffer from another trauma trigger. I have been abused some 20 years ago. Not sexually, but mentally. And physically. I still have a scar on my breast where a burning cigarette butt touched my body. The physical abuse happened only on two occasions and that did not traumatize me at all. Hell, had he not hit me when he was angry and upset with me, but in a different setting, that might have been my first real experience with BDSM and pain. In this case it’s the mental abuse that has left it’s mark. I am an intelligent, strong woman with a managerial position and as a matter of fact I run this blog (and the 4 other blogs I maintain) as a business. I make decisions and act on them.

One thing that totally triggers me into panic and tears is when someone talks down on me in a stern and/or angry way. That already makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong, but when the words “do you understand?” are added to it, I get angry and sad and those feelings of being abused 20 years ago come back. I am not dumb. I read and speak 3 languages. I understand words on paper. I understand spoken words. I do not wish to be talked to like I am dumb or like I do not understand simple words. If in the rare case that I don’t understand the words, I will ASK, but do not assume, never assume that I might have problems with understanding. Why does this upset me so much? Because 20 years ago I was made out to be a dumb woman and was not allowed to make decisions and whenever I did make a decision, I was called out for being stupid and I was physically abused. Hit to the floor. Hair literally pulled out. Burned with a cigarette.

trigger warnings
Picture borrowed from T. Frohock

You see, I do understand trauma triggers as I am a survivor of trauma. The two I mentioned, and some others. My life was not easy up to 12 years ago, but you will (almost) never hear me about that. I prefer to look at the positive side of life. I have worked through them and put them behind me and I will not allow those traumas to define me. When I stumble across text that upset me, I stop reading and I don’t make a fuzz about what I have read. I move on. Another great piece I read is of T. Frohock. She echoes my feelings exactly. The piece is short, please read it.

Like I said, I understand trauma triggers, but I just don’t want them to be compulsory on literature – whether on a blog or in a book. To every rule there’s an exception, but that is not the purpose of this blog post. Books have blurbs on the back telling you what the book is about. If a book is about incest, you can bet your ass on it that I will not read it. Not that I have experienced incest, but just the mere thought of it makes me nauseous. My blog is about sex. In the sidebar I mention that I am owned by Master T. Simple calculation will tell you that I might write about some darker subjects.

And, to get back to the story that triggered the conversation on Twitter, how much of a trigger warning do you need when the story is called ‘Dark Fantasy’?

© Rebel’s Notes

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16 thoughts on “My take on trigger warnings

  1. So very true on the story’s title. And reading the back of a book. I, too, was abused sexually at 8, mentally abused for years in my 20s, and some things will trigger it, but it will be nothing that I read. The back of a book is suffice to tell me what I want to pursue, like the previews in movies.
    And as my sister pointed out in her take on this topic – if something does trigger a memory for me, I sort it out and move on. Life happens, I grow stronger and more aware of myself in dealing with things.
    Well done for tackling this subject head-on, and invited otherwise to add their own voices in an intelligent and open-minded format.
    -M

    • I know there were quite some people who saw it differently from you and me, but that’s okay. We are all entitled to our own opinion and the reason for this prompt was to get all those opinions voiced. It sounds like you and I have exactly the same opinion, and yes, I can also understand why some people want TW’s on posts/books.

  2. Another interesting and personal point of view.

    I feel that warnings on classic literature are pointless, many of them have been around for so many years that more than enough is known (or can be found out) about them that any warning is superfluous.

    I do however feel that if an author/writer feels the need to add a warning to their fiction then that is their choice and I for one would appreciate it.

    ~Mia~ xx

    • I agree, it should be the author’s choice. I might have chosen my words a bit awkwardly in the post, because I was more or less angry when I wrote it. The author should choose whether a warning on his work. It should not be forced on the author. That looks too much like censorship to me.

      Rebel xox

  3. I had no idea these TW’s even existed, let alone what they meant. Thanks for your post Marie, I feel like I’m part of ‘the well educated’ now. 🙂
    Since I had no knowledge of their existence, I haven’t used TW’s in any of my books. I do however put a warning on one of the first pages of each book, saying if people have no clue what BDSM stands for, they might want to chose to read a book of a different genre.

    Best Regards,
    Lex.

    • I think the warnings that you put on your books, can be considered to be TW’s. As long as TW’s are not made compulsory, they are okay. The author should be able to choose whether he wants to use TW’s.

  4. As I mentioned at the time I don’t think your piece needs a trigger warning. I think people can read it and make their own conclusions. I think trigger warnings do nothing to further the collective conversation about trauma, if anything they stifle it because they label it as something to be avoided rather than faced and understood.

    I find it really interesting that so many people who have experienced issues have written posts to say that they find trigger warnings unhelpful and unnecessary in their experience

    Mollyxxx

    • I want to thank you once again for easing my mind at the time and now again. I am not planning to put any warning on any story of mine.

      Like you, I love reading all the opinions, and especially those of people who have suffered traumas.

      Rebel xox

  5. Well said, I hate trigger warnings. I hate the fact it takes the edge off the story, I feel I look out for the part of the story that is the trigger and I’m always disappointed that it’s not half as bad as the warning suggests. I hate the fact society seems to feel the need for Molly cuddling. Let me decide what I am able to read and let me decide if I can’t read any further. Just imagine the warnings that would be on Shakespeare, it wouldn’t be allowed in schools!!

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