TW: mentions of rape, sexual violence, ptsd, police brutality.
I love trigger warnings. This is a controversial topic and I have trouble understanding why.
For those who don’t know, a trigger warning is “a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).”
But a quick search on urban dictionary has some pretty nasty things to say about people that need trigger warnings. Like…
- Its purpose is to warn weak minded people who are easily offended that they might find what is being posted offensive in some way due to its content, causing them to overreact or otherwise start acting like a dipshit. Popular on reddit SRS or other places that social justice warriors like to hang out.
- Trigger Warning is a disclaimer for [redacted cuz it’s too offensive] emotionally unstable people who cannot read certain words without having a self diagnosed ‘panic attack’ due to their self-diagnosed PTSD.
This is one of two arguments against trigger warnings. We’ll call it the ‘internet bro argument.’ Internet bros think that those who ask for them are “weak” “stupid” or do not actually suffer from PTSD.
The other argument, interestingly, comes from academia. It is the belief that trigger warnings give people an excuse to not engage with troubling content. That it gives people an easy out. Professors (and deans) argue that trigger warnings create coddled and entitled students.
As someone with PTSD I truly need trigger warnings to function in the world. Recently I finally sat down to watch “13th“. I was prepared to see the violence in the film, the police brutality, the topics that such a film would obviously include. Part of the way through the film there was a scene pulled from “12 years a slave” which depicted graphic rape and sexual violence. I was not expecting that.
Partly it was my fault for not checking the film to begin with. I normally do not watch films without checking first, and if you know me personally you know I choose to not engage with most media. What is just a 15 second clip of abuse or rape in a film or show may pass before most people’s eyes without much issue. For me when I am not prepared to see it I am triggered, severely. I often start sweating or crying, I can lose the ability to speak and communicate. Those images stay with me forever.
I don’t need to toughen up, I don’t need to “get over it.” I am fully capable of engaging with disturbing content, I just need some time to get ready. That is all anyone asking for trigger warnings wants.
I will offer a response to both arguments against them.
To the internet bros…just stop. Your way of looking at and experiencing the world is not the same as everyone else’s. Your shock humor and your edginess is stupid. I’ll probably never convince you that my life and experiences matter, but I hope you will try to understand and stop being so fucking mean one day.
To the academics…None of your students are looking for a way to not do the work, to not engage with content. They’re looking for a way to move through the world in a way that keeps them alive. Many people when given a warning choose to stay and interact with the content. Warnings are not a ticket to disengage, they are a way for me to stay engaged. If you present me with disturbing topics without a warning I will be physically and mentally unable to continue to engage. In my four years of college I left class after a trigger warning one time. Survivors and individuals with PTSD are strong. When you tell us we’re looking for an easy out it’s almost as laughable as it is deeply offensive. Trigger warnings show us that you trust us and that you care for us.
I don’t wanna not talk about it, I just want to know we will be talking about it. Is that really so much to ask?