I Was Wrong About Trigger Warnings

Back in 2016, when I was (to my shame – I’m not proud of this fact) covertly flirting with alt-light ideas, I wrote an article called, “A Curmudgeon’s manifesto,” in which I established my personal rules for engagement and code of conduct. I still stand by much of what I wrote in that article, but you can hear my savagely wounded pride as an undercurrent in the piece. I’d recently been the victim of twitter hate from people I thought were my friends, and I’d never experienced such a thing before. I was wounded and disoriented, and the experience almost pushed me away from my fellow queer progressives and into the sweet, deadly embrace of the alt-right.

I now understand, with some time and maturity, that such an act would have been a relinquishing of intellectual integrity. To believe or disbelieve something because of how I was treated might be understandable, but it would have been a forfeit of reason. I need to believe things because they are just, right, and sound, not because of how people who hold those beliefs treat me.

The bitterness that’s laced into The Curmudgeon’s Manifesto was the result of being pounced upon by my fellow leftists, and I was teetering on the edge of alt-rightdom. There’s much that I could amend in my writing from that time, but one thing that I want to revisit in the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto article is my refusal to use trigger warnings. I wrote: “I don’t use trigger warnings, because I find them aesthetically monstrous.” At first, I swallowed the right-wing hook, believing that they were indecorous and coddling. I’ve since changed my view on this, because I now understand that I was a hypocrite:

When I was in the process of coming out of the closet, and recovering from the horrors of ex-gay therapy and the closet, my mental health was in a fragile place. I needed love, support, therapy, and antidepressants, and I had little of any. A single article on facebook about the sinfulness of homosexuality would send me spiraling into a black void. I would self-injure, I would drink, I would have reckless sex with strangers. My psyche had been flayed, and I was nothing but raw, exposed nerves to the open air. Lay a hand on me, and I would writhe and wish for death. Certainly, I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t in a healthy headspace, and that I needed to heal out of it eventually, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Trigger warnings are for the vulnerable, for those who have been so shredded by pain or abuse that they need extra care. As much as trigger warnings may offend my pride, I realize that I needed them. I would have benefited from some online blinders, and some road signs of danger ahead. Can trigger warnings be overused? Without a doubt. But are they necessary, especially in circles of great wounding? I think so.

I now realize something unattractive about myself, and I offer this realizations to others who might balk at trigger warnings: I wanted to see myself as liberated, strong, and in control of myself. The idea of needing a trigger warning smarted. I sometimes wonder if people in places of personal power find the care we give to the wounded offensive, because it exposes their own vulnerability and fear of weakness. It certainly did for me.

I apologize to any of my readers and listeners who were hurt by my dismissal of trigger warnings, or any thing else I’ve said online. I now understand that I was wrong, and I hope to create a more loving and gentle place.

I continue to believe in the value of pushing people, and offering a hospitable, uncomfortable place where everyone can grow. But that dedication to growth must never push people past their limits.

6 thoughts on “I Was Wrong About Trigger Warnings”

  1. Excellent post (and your humility consistently challenges me to be a humbler, more gracious and compassionate person), I think it takes a great deal of wisdom to know when to push people and when to respect emotional needs, and so there’s a great deal of doing it wrong both ways in the world … but I honestly think it’s wise to err on the side of compassion. For myself (and I’ve mostly run into this reviewing books), I try to use trigger warnings when there’s a potential for someone having to relive trauma–anything where there’s violence or abuse, for instance, which absolutely includes the abusive (and sometimes outright violent) treatment of LGBTQ people through religious or societal bigotry.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! That was actually deliberate – alt-light is a term used to describe figures who orbit on the periphery of the alt-right.

      Like

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