Speaking Out, triggers

A Trigger is Not a Weapon – a case for trigger warnings

Being triggered is not an excuse to get out of addressing the needs of a loved one; it’s not a way to get out of paying attention to loved ones; it’s not done to shift focus from one person’s very valid needs to the other person’s triggered state. These are all abusive behaviors that are unacceptable and have nothing to do with being triggered.

A trigger is an emotional connection between a relatively benign thing in the present and a traumatic event in the past. In order to cope in the moment that a trigger occurs, a person may need to take drastic self-care measures. This could include abandoning a conversation abruptly. In a circumstance such as that it would be reasonable to discuss the incident later with the triggered person in order to build understanding of why the conversation was abandoned, and revisit any pressing matters from the initial conversation.

A trigger owned by the person who experiences it. It cannot be blamed on other people. e.g. if Bob experiences a trigger because of something Sally said, it’s not Sally’s *fault* that Bob was triggered. (That being said, if Sally *knows* Bob is triggered by a certain thing, and maliciously, purposefully activates his trigger, Sally is an ASSHOLE. But the trigger still belongs to Bob.)

Many of us who have triggers are aware of the types of things that set them off. Sometimes a trigger may or may not fire based on a person’s frame of mind. A trigger warning isn’t a requirement of someone who writes something or teaches a class on something. It’s the way an author can empower her readers to exercise pro-active self care. For example, I’m aware that veterans may have triggers around fireworks. So if I’m having a 4th of July party, and I care about my friends and don’t want them to be triggered, I’m going to include in the invite that there will be fireworks set off. This allows invitees with triggers to fireworks to decided if they are willing to be in that environment or not, and to plan any tools that might help them cope.

A trigger doesn’t automatically “excuse” someone from engaging. It lets us get our head in gear for the topic that’s about to follow so it doesn’t lead to a damaging state where we not only cannot accept the information, but we’re possibly also being retraumatized.

Since it’s impossible to know what someone’s triggers could be, I’ve also heard them called “content warnings” or “content note” (abbreviated CW and CN, respectively). I’m a part of a group that habitually posts a TW/CW/CN note at the top of each post with a brief list of topics included in the post, followed by a string of periods and returns so that the actual post is hidden below the “see more” link. This is not something I choose to do on my posts outside of that group, though I enjoy the format within that group.

courage, Speaking Out, Uncategorized

How Othering Promotes Rape

Othering is not new or unique. Human societies have been describing their enemy as something “other” than themselves or other than human since time in memoriam. Heathens, Nazi’s, the Taliban all have the connotation that they are incomprehensible monsters. You are absolved of having to have empathy for your enemy because they’re not human.

This is also how we conceive of rapists. The man jumping out from behind the bush in a dark street. The pathological, serial rapist who has some incomprehensible desire to rape. These are characters we don’t understand and we don’t want to have to understand.

Unfortunately, the majority of rapes are not committed by these types of characters. The majority of rapes are date rapes. This means a real live human, someone who the victim deemed was worthy to spend time with, committed the rape. Not a monster.

It does us a disservice to consider rapists monsters. It gives us a pass to stop thinking about what motivations lie behind date rape. Without having to think of a rapist as a person, we can dismiss the “monster” and consider the issue  no longer. There is no reparations for a monster. There is no grey area or understanding a monster. There is no path from monster back to human again.

And this leads to the heart of the problem with othering:

I would hazard a guess that the majority of us have had sexual encounters where explicit, enthusiastic consent was not obtained. This is common and understandable, because you’ve probably only learned of the notion of explicit, enthusiastic consent somewhat recently. And this doesn’t change the fact that any of those experiences could have, in actuality, been non-consensual. And, by definition, non-consensual sex is rape. Hopefully some combination of implied consent and reading body language indicates that it was consensual, but you can’t actually know unless there was a yes. By this course of logic it is totally possible that many of us have committed rape.

(Cue the “I am not a rapist” freak out.)

Now that the freak out is out of our system, why is there a freak out about this idea? The root is exactly this “othering” that I’ve been talking about. The idea that you maybe, possibly, by-chance, or poor circumstance committed rape would logically mean that you are not human. You are a rapist. You are a monster. This goes against the foundation of identity. Our identities are founded on ourselves as human and as fundamentally similar to other humans, especially members of our family, tribe or group. We cannot accept the notion that we may be monster.

So don’t. Don’t try to understand yourself as a monster; try to understand rapists as human. If rapists are not monsters then you are not a monster. They are not “other”; they are human. It is human to make mistakes. Plenty of rapists did not maliciously harm but made an ignorant mistake (which also caused harm.) Calling it a mistake doesn’t absolve the rapist of the damage caused; it merely means that the action was comprehensible.

In order to turn our culture of rape into a culture of consent we need to understand what has not worked with the preexisting culture and where ideals of consent break down in practice. We can, and in fact we must, examine this first hand in our own actions. We and rapists hold the common ground of existing in a culture of rape. How are we contributing to rape culture? What changes can we make to our behavior to proactively prevent rape through our own actions? By discovering the answers to these questions there is hope for eradicating rape culture.


I acknowledge that this post leaves opens a delicate, sensitive area about restorative justice, behavioral reform, and forgiveness. These are things that warrant their own post (or five), but in order to not leave the topic wide open and potentially raw, suffice it to say that I believe survivors should always be safe (as defined by the survivor) from their rapists and should never be expected to forgive their assailant. In no way am I advocating the contrary in this post. I’m committed to elucidating my thoughts and improving the clarity of how all this ties together in subsequent posts. Thank you for your patience and understanding. 

Speaking Out

The Courage to write.

For weeks I’ve been planning this blog. I have a list of a dozen things to write about. I have set aside time to write. And here I sit, struggling to find the voice I’ve spent so long cultivating.

As the old adage says, “write what you know,” and right now what I know is the fear of speaking up.

This fear has been so prevalent in my life that it has a certain comfortable familiarity. I think everyone of morals who has faced a tough decision to stand up to someone or to “not make a fuss” for whatever external reason, is familiar with this feeling. And particularly women. We are enculturated to take care of others, to put other’s comfort before our own. So when we desire to contradict someone, it puts us in a tight spot: be true to ourselves and use our voice, or prioritize the comfort of the person we wish to contradict. Or worse, speak our truth, upset the other person, and be completely discredited in the way women so often are.

The reasons for speaking up are great: I have spent so much of my life learning from other’s mistakes, so it is ungenerous for me to not share my experiences and allow someone else to learn from them. I’m pretty freaking good at explaining things and speaking passionately about things I care about. To waste these talents would be an insult to society. I want to make a difference in the world. (I never thought it’d take the shape of a blog.) And most simply: my perspective is inherently unique, and therefore worthy.

I know these things. I’ve acted on these things. I’ve felt the sting of disagreement, of rejection, of discredit, of dismissal. The agony of repercussions, of anger, attacks and discord. These aren’t the things I want in the world. I want joy and rainbows and bunnies!

But the reality is that I’m not creating the problems. The bunnies don’t actually exist. I point out what is. The truth that jeopardizes other’s fiction. And this is what compels me. I don’t take joy in making trouble, in telling you that the Easter bunny is a lie. It’s merely that I know that the truth will set us free. Freedom is superior to bunnies and fictions.

So I will post this blog entry. And I will post many many more. I will stand and face these very real fears; I will use my voice. Because, in addition to the great many reasons for speaking up, there are those who would silence voices like mine in order to preserve their lie. This silencing alone is reason to speak up. This is why I am compelled write this blog. This is why I gather my courage.