Trigger Warnings (revisited)

triggersBack in May 2014 I wrote a post on trigger warnings and so did many others. My post back then was sparked because of some nasty comments I received on one of my posts. Not on the post itself, but on Twitter and I saw it by accident. I was never approached directly. The conversation on Twitter was that trigger warnings on posts and books should be made compulsory and in my post about trigger warnings, I said that I totally understand trigger warnings, but I just didn’t want them to be compulsory.

I still stand by that. I don’t want trigger warnings to be compulsory.

But…
I have changed my mind on trigger warnings. I know this is confusing as I just said that I stand by what I said, but allow me to explain.

Back then I never stopped to think whether a trigger warning might be necessary on a story. When I am writing, I do think about whether it would be acceptable, whether it’s not to hard or harsh, whether I am not crossing some ‘unwritten rules’. I always try to keep my stories within certain limits (which are difficult to explain but might have something to do with my own sexual and moral boundaries). I never thought it necessary to put a trigger warning on any of my stories. On that I have changed my mind.

A post that has always stayed with me back when ‘trigger warnings’ was a prompt, was the one written by Ruby Goodnight. I think my mind started changing back then, but it took quite some time for me to get to the point where I realized my thinking was different. Ruby made me realize that putting a trigger warning on my writing is only another way of classifying my story. Putting a trigger warning on my story doesn’t mean that I will scare all readers off. It doesn’t make my story bad. It’s just a courtesy to whoever wants to read it, to make sure that they know there might be something in there that might trigger a bad memory in their lives.

I recently attempted to read ‘120 days of Sodom’. I wish there was a trigger warning on the book. Okay, I know, it’s been written by Marquis de Sade, so I had to expect ‘something’, but this was going to be my first ever book I would read of him. And, I love anal sex. So why not start with this one. Wrong! I put it down when I was about one third, maybe a quarter through. By then I had skipped so many paragraphs that I knew it was senseless to continue reading. Even though I was appalled at the ages of the kids that were ‘recruited’ I tried to see it in the time frame of back then. I didn’t mind the talk about anal sex, not at all. But I just couldn’t read about faeces and all they did with it. When I read how one of the young girls ate the stool, I literally got nauseous. I skipped a couple of paragraphs, continued reading, skipped paragraphs, read, skipped, read, skipped, skipped, skipped… and then just stopped. I couldn’t stomach it anymore. Literally!

It was a recent post by the lovely Oleander Plume that reminded me that I wanted to blog about trigger warnings again. I have a soft spot for Oleander. She’s a kind person, always willing to help, always enthusiastic about everything and she’s been through a helluva lot. These words touched me very deeply:

Since the writer in question did not label her story as “non-consensual”, a landmine exploded in my face. Shortly afterward, I was caught in the throes of a panic attack that three Xanax and four shots of whiskey wouldn’t touch.

 

Here I am, a survivor of sexual abuse and thanks to god knows what, I have no trauma because of it. Or, as I have said in other posts, maybe I do and maybe this was what influenced some of my life choices upon which many had frowned. However, I can read about sexual abuse and not have the same reaction Oleander had. Reading about her reaction was enough for me to understand: trigger warnings are good, not bad. Like Oleander said:

Trigger warnings are NOT censorship. They are a kindness.

 

I like to think of myself as a kind person. I hate hurting others. I’m a people-person. That said, in hindsight I don’t understand why I never added trigger warnings to stories before, because yes, there might be a couple on my blog that needs a warning. Maybe I just thought they were not ‘hard enough’ for trigger warnings because I was okay with writing it and putting it out there. I never thought it might trigger negative reactions in others. Over time I will go search for those stories and add trigger warnings and future stories that need them, will definitely have trigger warnings.

For those of you who still doubt whether you should or should not use trigger warnings, this is why you should:

  • It’s not censorship.
  • You won’t lose readers.
  • You will gain respect.
  • It’s an act of kindness (thanks Oleander for this one!)

I would, as before, love to hear your thoughts on trigger warnings.

© Rebel’s Notes

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7 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings (revisited)

  1. I agree with the ‘act of kindness’ idea – it’s new to me. However we have this at Uni, should we protect our students, warn them, of stuff they might read that might trigger. The debate is mixed about responsibility to care and to expose them and duty to challenge their ideas. Do you have an equivalent duty to challenge? I suspect not. So it probably works here.
    But how can you convince others that CNC can be sexy and safe for example if your readers self censor and never allow themselves that reading? But maybe as your readers are adults they should be given the respect and courtesy necessary for them to make that decision about what they read and when thy are ready/open to it and by not having warnings maybe authors deny them that option?
    However I find the ‘just another way to classify’ argument less convincing, I think because this classification is so loaded with judgement (it’s a normative bias) it’s not the same as saying ‘adult content’ or ‘contains scenes of a sexual nature’. It is a value judgement. It frames an expectation of negativity. I would prefer an alternative way of communicating to readers of forewarning and that can be woven into the story.
    Sorry for replying so late.

  2. One of the problems for me is where to do they start and where do they end. Should I be putting a trigger warning on my ghost story or what about when I write about period sex, should that have trigger warnings on it? As Tabitha said, do we really need to put a trigger warning on a picture of a spider?

    Mollyxxx

  3. Thanks for this. I echo the comments above — so wonderful to see your thought process on this.

    I, too, hadn’t really conceived of trigger warnings as “a kindness” … or “another way of classifying.” Thanks for helping me grow.

    xo M

  4. Oh, Marie, thank you so much for this. You are a kind and empathetic soul, and this is such a touchy subject. You handled it with more grace than I did. I appreciate how you worded this, that it is a way of classifying your work. I

    Love,

    Oleander

    xoxox

  5. What a wonderful and thoughtful post.
    I worry about trigger warnings – mainly because, what if I should have put one but I had no idea! For example – I put a photo of a beautiful spider up on twitter because, well, it was beautiful to me but some of my followers were upset and said I should have put a trigger warning. That was just one instance where I felt on one hand I’d let my friends down, but on the other, it was a lovely natural photo.
    I will try and be more thoughtful. Oleander is one of my favourite people in the whole world.
    x x x

  6. I like how you define it as “another way to classify”. That makes a lot of sense to me.

    I didn’t think trigger warnings were necessary for my writing either, but like you, I read what others had to say and listened with an open mind, and in reading about how upset some become, I now understand that I should add the warnings.

    The biggest, and most careless, mistake I’ll make now is just forgetting to add them.

  7. Hi Rebel,
    This is a great post and it’s very it interesting to read how you’ve come to change your mind about this topic.
    I have used trigger warnings sometimes when I’ve written about self harm, depression, or CNC rough sex. I think it’s only fair to allow people to chose whether to read something that could cause issues from their past to reemerge. I’d hate to think someone read my blog and felt worse afterwards.
    I agree that it’s not censorship at all. It’s simply allowing people to make an informed choice about what they read.
    I will try to revisit an old post today… Sadly I seem to have lost my writing mojo but I’ll try!
    Kat x
    ps yes you are a kind and lovely person with a sweet soul Rebel x

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