Social Justice and Trigger Warning

I have always struggled with handling trigger warning in my own writings and presentations when they have a description of abuse and violence.

Usually, I write my stuff, and then go back to read it to see if any part of it requires trigger warning, although whether something requires it or not cannot be objectively determined.

But as soon as I start trying to come up with a warning, I get lost. I suddenly realize I don’t know how to warn people, and that I don’t even know why I want to give a trigger warning.

Don’t get me wrong. I take trigger warning seriously. I take abuse and violence, and psychological trauma that arises from them, very seriously. I myself am a survivor of sexual violence and have appreciated every single trigger warning that I have encountered.

But I don’t know what exactly I am trying to do by providing trigger warning.

I saw this post on Feministing the other day, looking for some answer to my question, but to no avail. Some say “everything is a trigger for someone” (I value trigger warning for gods sake!). Quite a few people there say they use trigger warning “to be polite” (what’s the purpose of being polite? to feel better about yourself?) This Melissa person even says (quoted), “because we don’t want to be the asshole who triggered a survivor of sexual assault because of carelessness or laziness or ignorance” (so that’s it? you’re not an asshole, and you’re happy?)

I wanted answers and I found none. I could’ve done google search but I was already tired by the time I finished reading the comments like the ones above.

True, I don’t want my readers to experience panics or flashbacks as they read my writing. I cannot force them to read. I should not. But the whole purpose of writing something and publishing it online is for people out there to read it. Whether it’s my own opinion, a piece of information I want to share, or someone else’s idea that caught my attention, I want people to read it, hoping that some of them might actually think it’s useful or insightful.

And by providing trigger warning, I lose a certain audience. I discourage certain people from reading my writing. Part of this is my ego. I want to be seen, read, and heard. But also, if my writing includes information that I think is very important and must be shared, why do I give trigger warning and prevent the very people who most likely need that information from acquiring it? Or, if I am writing about my experience because I hope people with similar experiences can relate and will leave a comment, those people are exactly who I want to reach, and exactly who need trigger warnings.

In the most recent conference presentation I gave, I talked about child pornography. I gave a trigger warning at the beginning, saying, “My presentation includes some description of sexual violence, so if you feel uncomfortable hearing the talk, please feel free to leave the room whenever you need to.” Looking back, I really, really regret using those words.

I mean, this trigger warning was a very unwelcoming, unfriendly, and indifferent one now that I think about it. “Feel free to leave”? I have no right to decide for the audience to stay or leave in the first place. And——this probably is the most important point I’m trying to make here——even if one feels uncomfortable hearing the talk, they might stay, despite the discomfort. And I don’t have a say in their decision to stay or not to stay.

Besides, why did I say, “feel free to leave,” when I was there to be heard, and hopefully understood? It sounded as if I couldn’t have cared less about who and how many people would listen. I sounded very indifferent. That, now I think, was disrespectful to the audience.

But then, should I have not given a trigger warning but just jumped on to my presentation about child pornography? Definitely not. But what could I have done differently?

One thing that just came to mind is that, maybe it’s better to write without depictions of abuse and violence in the first place, than write them and drive certain people away by giving trigger warning. This should not be exercised to the extent that the content lacks enough information for the audience/reader to understand it. But certainly, in many cases, we can apply this strategy to write less details when they aren’t necessary, to write in a way that does not require graphic description of abuse and violence.

But there will always be situations where trigger warning is appropriate. I don’t know how best to warn your readers/audiences, but maybe there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I really could use other people’s input on this.

Queer By Choice and Ex-gay

I have always been sick of the born-this-way rhetoric that mainstream gay activism has so proudly spread all over the U.S. I don’t have anything against those who were born gay or born whatever, but feeling that one was born gay and saying so are two different things.

I understand that the born-this-way rhetoric has served many of the causes for social justice for most gay and lesbian people (and to a lesser degree, transgender people, too) especially during the AIDS panic where the gay-by-choice rhetoric was used against homosexuals as an excuse for the government’s taking no action about the epidemic.

But it also has created another dividing line between queers, between those with coherent identities and those who experience no such thing. And I fall into the latter category. I have been 100% straight. I have been 100% gay. I have been somewhat bi. I have been definitely bi. I have been “probably bi.” I have been somewhat genderqueer. I have been comfortable and uncomfortable around my assigned gender. I have felt lesbian. And I don’t know what I will be in a 3-year, 5-year, 10-years time.

Whenever someone says homosexuality is something that you’re born with, I feel left out. Me feeling left out is probably nothing important to mainstream gay activists, but I can see that we are going to have a problem if we stick to the born-gay rhetoric just because it comes handy at this moment in this culture. My take on nature vs. nurture is that asking the nature-or-nurture question is itself homophobic most of the time. If it’s nature, so what? If it’s nurture, so what? I mean, anti-gay folks have used both of those rhetorics to attack gays!

And I’m telling you, and all other by-choice queers are telling you, that not every gay is born gay. Just fucking accept that and stop saying “we are born gay” as if it were a universal truth.

I don’t buy the by-choice idea, either, to tell the truth. I don’t think our sexuality is that easy to control. By intentionally, consciously trying to change one’s sexuality, she or he may be able to eventually change it some day, but such effort is just one factor that influences his or her sexuality among other things like upbringing, media representations and languages that she or he has been exposed to, etc. etc. I’m not queer by nature or by choice. I just like what I like and I don’t care if that’s based on my biological disposition or environmental influence, and I won’t let anyone to attack me for loving what I love.

I said I’m not queer by nature or by choice, but I was gay by choice during high school. I (stupid me) thought identifying as gay would open a door for me to mainstream (read: white) New Zealander culture. But it turned out that being gay didn’t cancel out my racial difference, but only added crap to my life. So I stopped identifying as gay. So I could probably be classified as ex-gay, even. But I’m definitely queer in its most vague sense. And I didn’t choose to be queer, nor my queerness is something I was born with.

So my understanding of sexuality and gender identity is pretty much in favor of “right now, right here,” which means what one describes herself or himself as, who they feel like they are at the moment. And this has also led me to be shocked by comments made by pro-gay people to attack ex-gay movement.

A lot of anti-ex-gay people say there’s no such thing as ex-gay, and that if someone is gay he’ll always be so (and I’m using the male pronoun here because lesbians are rarely talked about in this kind of context). So, in their view, ex-gays either are liars (gone back in to the closet) or were straight all along since the day they were born. And I DON’T FUCKING CARE!

The reason why ex-gay movement sucks is not because they’re in the closet or they are straight or they identify as ex-gay, but because their politics sucks, their movement is harmful, and their paternalistic view on sexual diversity is annoying. So just stop saying ex-gays are liars, stop denying what they now identify as, and just focus on criticizing their politics, not their identities!

Don’t you remember the time when homosexuals were called liars just because they didn’t come out to everyone they met? Don’t you realize that calling someone’s identity fake is such a hurtful thing to do with which many transgender people have unfortunately been so familiar? I don’t know – some ex-gays might still be gay, or maybe most of them are still gay. They might be liars. But hiding in the closet is not wrong. Most of us have been there, and are still there. What’s wrong about ex-gay movement is what they do by using the ex-gay identity i.e. attacking homosexuals.

By nature or by nurture, exposed or hidden, our (and everyone else’s) identities should not be denied. Scrutinizing identities, whether to find out what’s causing them or to expose the “truth” to the public and humiliate others, is not the direction that I would like queer activism to go. Acceptance is a big word in mainstream LGBT activism today. But I find it hypocritical if we are not accepting of other people’s identities (that may change over time). I really hope that we will soon live in a world where even ex-gays join queer activism and fight for queer rights i.e. a world where people who used to be gay do not get questioned by other queers but can live as our fellow queers who have experienced a “queer” (in the original sense of the word) history of sexual preference changes.