Trigger Warnings: Not Our Responsibility To Keep You Safe, But We Can Inform You

I managed to get into two conversations this weekend about “trigger warnings” – one in terms of fiction, one in terms of college classes.

First, I want to direct your attention to this excellent essay, which I quote below:

What trigger warnings are, when they’re used well, is part of a trauma-informed, survivor centered approach to talking about difficult topics. They’re a way of saying, “This thing here? This is difficult. If it feels difficult, that’s because it’s difficult. You’re not broken or sick or ‘weak’ if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Trigger warnings are not “Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities.” They are a component in creating an environment in which everyone has an opportunity to feel safe, and where the world recognizes that sometimes people have good reason to feel unsafe.

For me, trigger warnings are kind of like NSFW tags.  If I’m looking at a blog post during lunch at work, I skip the NSFW ones (even if I’m on my own laptop).  Likewise, I imagine that folks with trigger issues will skip those sorts of things when they’re low on spoons (spoon theory is explained here).

I hold up as an example the review I did of a friend’s book.  My review starts with:

First: there are depictions of very strong sexual violence, assault, and rape in this book. If these are absolute no-gos or triggers for you, please do not read this book.

It was a horror novel… but I don’t think we, as authors, can use that as a disclaimer.  There’s a huge difference between (for example) a typical King novel and a Poppy Z. Brite novel… but both fall under “horror”.

Yes, there’s entitled idiots who think everything in reality should be padded for their convenience, and misuse the term “trigger warning” horribly.  But at the same time, I think that it’s something that we authors can use to our advantage, as a way to find our audience.

I had a story in Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance.  At a convention, a young (pre-teen) girl saw it on my table and was interested in reading it.  While I would have been okay with her reading my story… many of the others there went straight into softcore porn OR horror territory. 

I let her parents know.  Because at this point, her parents (or even she, later) may remember me.  They might buy something or read something that I wrote… because I took the time to think about her/their daughter instead of making a quick couple of bucks.

But if I’d let that preteen girl go home with that book… the odds are that her parents WOULD remember me… and not in a “buy my stuff” kind of way.

And I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing.


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