Recently, or not so recently depending on what time you hail from, a fellow blogger (one-sided rival/unacquainted acquaintance/individual-whose-blog-I-stalk) offered up his own post on trigger warnings. A post which you can read by following the link provided below. Be warned, as his post also contains discussion of trigger warnings.
Now, unlike my friend Drew, I have no fear of losing followers as I take you on this perilous journey (for to lose followers, I must have a following). That being said, I am NOT going to inform you of my usage of obscene language in the post to follow: (Two mild uses of the word hell, two uses of the word shit, four assholes, one mention of heroine and hookers, a solitary crap, one fuck given, one dick, and one open to interpretation use of nuts.)
Nor will I reproduce the definition of trigger warning provided in the link above, as I assume you have already acquainted yourself with the material.
(I will warn that I ended up delving into serious talk about suicide… a warning because, I don’t guess I dig into completely serious subjects all that often. Not while being serious about it at any rate. DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Just a guy with experiences to talk about.)
My aim is simply to answer some of the questions posed in Drew’s post, as well as provide a different angle, given I am an individual who has authored a book that many would find warrants at least several pages of trigger warnings.
(By authored, I mean it’s written. Don’t go crazy falling over yourselves to get your hands on a copy. It’s not available yet. But I promise, you’ll have it sometime before hell thaws out.)
So, perusing the list of triggers provided by Drew, it would be most simple for me to list those that my body of work (as a whole) won’t cover. Here is that list.
Common Triggers I Don’t Write About
If this is an exaggeration, it is by very little. I’ve been called grimdark, and I don’t really like that categorization of myself (that’s a post for another time).
But know this, just because an author’s work includes triggers doesn’t mean they support (or romanticize) those awful happenings. We write about the bad for many reasons.
- For exploring trauma we’ve experienced in our own lives. To understand it as well as speak against it.
- To better understand trauma we’ve not experienced. (Though we will never understand it fully without experiencing it.)
- Plot and conflict are not driven by happiness. A book where nothing bad happens is a book where nothing happens.
- To drive our characters to the point where they either prevail… or break. Because face it, if you’re a writer you’re a sadist, most likely a masochist as well.
But those reasons for why we include those things say nothing on whether or not we should warn of their inclusion. On to the question.
Should We Use Trigger Warnings?
I’ve struggled with this question when sharing anything I write. And struggle more with whether I’m going to include a trigger warning in my book.
Because, going with my gut, I don’t want to provide those warnings. I’ll list my reasons for that and then examine them. (Some of these line up with Drew’s points.)
- Life has no trigger warning. (Yes, this is where some reader’s shit flinging begins.)
- Vicarious trauma will not cause you physical harm. (Do we have any more shit throwers?)
- Should an author’s brand (the way they present themselves) and genre not suggest an inkling of what their books may contain? (No, not always. But my blog doesn’t shy away from darker subject matter and I’m only scratching the surface.)
- Personal responsibility.
- You can’t anticipate an individuals triggers. (For example, nowhere on Drew’s list did I see the Kool-Aid Man or twins in hotels.)
I’ll go into these briefly but I’m not going to beat a dead goblin. Drew already covered a lot of this fairly thoroughly.
Life Has No Trigger Warning
You may classify me as an asshole for this one, and that’s okay. I am a bit of an asshole. But let’s play Devil’s advocate.
Does it not cheapen what it means to be a survivor of these trigger-some experiences if we preface our books with, “DON’T OPEN, RAPE INSIDE?” The victim (survivor) didn’t get the opportunity to see it coming and close the book, why should we?
And of course you’re going to say, “The warning isn’t for you, it’s for the victim.”
To which I reply in correction, “Survivor,” before tuning you out and carrying on.
Is it wrong to want to step into the shoes of someone who has experienced these awful things? I don’t think so. (Though your reasons may or may not be sketchy. Regardless, those reasons are your own.)
Personally, I think this exploration is vital to being human. Vital to understanding myself as well as people very close to me. Understanding the suffering of others the best you can. I don’t believe you can be human without suffering.
And again, you chime in with, “The trigger warnings aren’t for you!”
To which I don’t reply, because I now have Panic! at the Disco stuck in my head.
Or, alright. Maybe I do have something to say.
A trigger can’t hurt you.
(I’m going to bar extreme physical reactions, such as life-threatening convulsions or heart failure. Things of that nature. Not sure how typical those are as a reaction to triggers, but not typical would be my bet. Feel free to educate me if I’m wrong. I’m not a doctor. I only play one on TV.)
But a trigger cannot hurt you. Not in and of itself. It can drive you to hurt yourself, but you have to give it that power. Give? Rather, lose that power to it. Because, face to face with that trigger, it can be a battle. A battle that’s not always so simple to win. Not so easy as just saying no.
If, when faced with our demons, we could just say no and the demons disappear, easy as snapping our fingers or whistling (fuck, I can barely whistle), we wouldn’t have any demons left to fight.
Who am I? Who am I to say any of this? I’m not qualified by anything other than my own life experience, which isn’t yours. My opinion is no more or less valid, and I think the only time an opinion becomes less valid is when its holder considers it inherently more valid.
But enough of that rambly nonsense. Time for different rambly nonsense.
I know that for all the world it feels like that trigger, that dredged up trauma, can step into this world and do you harm. Like running into it will be a run in with death. The pain is real, very real. But it’s just that. Pain.
The greatest harm it can do to you is in what it can make you do to yourself. Drive you to destructive coping mechanisms, self-harm, suicide. This is coming from a deep place of understanding.
Suicide. Gods know I’ve wanted to kill myself. And there’s no shame in that. And I know firsthand, saying that doesn’t make the shame vanish. Regardless, no shame in feeling that way—that’s a fact. (In my opinion?)
Even if you think you should be happy. Even if you are happy. Because guess what? I’m the happiest I’ve ever been (honestly, in a good place) and sometimes, it hits me out of nowhere.
You’ve got to learn your triggers and accept some degree of responsibility for managing them. But this isn’t therapy and I’m not a therapist. We’ll touch on personal responsibility a little further down.
For now, this seems like a good place to plug the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and their phone number. (If you aren’t in America, google is there for you.)
They’ve also got an online chat.
And with that unexpected real talk out of the way, back to whatever the hell I do here.
An Author’s Brand
Maybe this one’s a stretch, but if you see an author’s twitter feed is full of hookers and heroine, a little H&H, and you buy their book because, “Oh, this looks wholesome,” the problem isn’t with the author. They let you know what they are into and you proceeded with your purchase.
(Let it be noted here and now: H&H is now trademarked by me, for use as my next D&D ripoff.)
I don’t try to represent myself as something I’m not. And what I’m not is child friendly. My son got on to me the other day for saying crap in front of him. Good role model I am not.
I don’t write for kids, and I don’t claim to. I talk about dark things, make dark jokes, etc. (Hopefully without coming across as a bigot in the process, but if not… what can I do about it? Not making jokes isn’t an option, because that’s who I am. But we can go into the do’s and dont’s of humor some other time.
“But wasn’t Dr. Seuss a racist?” you ask.
Probably. So holes in that theory. Expecting consistency from an author won’t work. They can’t always be expected to write within their box of personality.
(And now I have Cult of Personality stuck in my head. Why do I do this?)
So, someone will have to examine books more closely before reading them. But who? Who will take on that responsibility?
Drew covered this well.
It is fine for you to take care of yourself and avoid books (or any media) that may trigger you. But expecting every single piece of information to come with a label isn’t realistic.
You have to learn how to handle your triggers when exposed to them, like I do with my suicidal thoughts (and other mental baggage, to be discussed some other day). Part of this is, yes, learning when you need distance from those triggers. (But exposure is another part.)
If you want to curate your environment, that’s your right and responsibility. But you can’t expect this to be done for you in an academic or professional setting. Or walking about the world at large.
“I can’t personally curate media without risk of coming across those topics that trigger me,” you say.
I was getting to that. No, you can’t. Personal responsibility only goes so far. Such as, if you are triggered by violence, maybe don’t show up at opening night of Deadpool.
What do you do instead?
You take care of yourself, skip opening night. Wait for a review.
That’s right! I’m placing (another piece) of the responsibility on reviewers. Reviewers like Drew. But Drew doesn’t like spoilers. How do we solve this problem?
As stated only moments ago, Drew doesn’t like spoilers. And you know what, neither do I.
I’m getting tired of typing, so I’ll offer an easy solution.
Drew, the reviewer, is not at risk of being spoiled. He took the burden of possible triggers on himself. He read the book. Reviewed the book.
He didn’t offer spoilers, because he hates them. He didn’t offer trigger warnings, because they are spoilers.
But suppose Drew (I apologize, Drew, if my constant use of your first name is making me come across as an asshole. Though it has been stated prior. I am a bit of an asshole.) listed the general triggers and put them in a sort of spoiler tag. Free for people to read or skip at their leisure.
This is only a suggestion for the Drews of the world. And one that is entirely at their discretion on whether to take or not. Because who am I to talk when I don’t want to put spoilers/warnings on or in my book.
(Besides, based on Drew’s poll, reviewers look to be pretty evenly split on whether or not they include trigger warnings. So, there are options available if you need to know about a book’s trigger possibilities.)
I don’t even like to tweet about minor book details because I am so anti-spoiler. So, I don’t really want you to have access to spoilers for my books (unless you need them). And I can think of two good reasons you might need them.
- In deciding to buy a book. If you were a fence sitter, waiting on a review, and Drew’s review knocks you off the fence? Then you go from probably never buying my book to either never buying my book or… buying my book. The way I see it, net gain. So, spoilers or not, I don’t care.
- If you need to decide, based on trigger-some content, whether or not my book is for you. If it’s not for you, you can protect your health and not buy my book (and that’s the best for both of us, because your health is more important than my book).
Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is reviews are a good place (THE place) for trigger warnings. Just don’t look to reviews to figure out if the book covers your extremely rare niche trigger (such as unicorns on unicycles).
Because the reviewer can’t anticipate every individuals needs, nor should they be expected too. You can’t even know for certain what might trigger you.
And an author definitely shouldn’t be made to cater to any individuals needs when writing their book. I want to deliver the emotion of life (even the most painful parts), and I don’t want to telegraph it with, “Alright, here comes a punch to the gut.”
Let the book, the art, be real. Let it be raw. Whisper words of wisdom, Let It Be. Living and breathing. If it hurts because its powerful, or if it hurts because it’s trash garbage that should never see the light of day… reviewers will sort that out.
Well, I think we can call this done. This has been a mad-dashed and incomplete exploration of trigger warnings, and perhaps I’ll delve further in the future.
For now, in summary: Take care of yourself and your needs. Those looking to avoid triggers, look to reviews to decide. Reviewers, consider discussing the most common triggers (and put them in a spoiler tag or some such).
Everybody be a working cog in this poorly oiled machine we call humanity (or some other metaphor, one that makes sense).
Dickish of me, but yes. I believe trigger warnings have a place. Just not actually slapped inside the cover of a book. And yes, any reviews I post, I’ll make an attempt at providing trigger warnings (though you’ll likely have to wade through triggers to get to them…)
So, yeah, I’m done. If you take issue, feel free to comment below. Try to keep it civil but if you can’t, hey, I’m open to your angry ranting criticisms. If my views are unpolished, help me polish them.
And if you want, take a look at my other, much less polished content. Stories and rants and what not.
Oh… One last note. For discussion.
What level of detail warrants the need for a trigger warning? Take rape for example. At what point should the reader be warned? If it is alluded to, even subtly off the page? If the word rape is explicitly used (if this is the case, I apologize)? Or only when it happens on the page? (I assume, by that point, regardless of level of detail.)
Final, final note. I should have mentioned this at the start. Sorry if it’s too late, but this post may contain nuts.