This is the final piece in a short series on engagement, avoidance and trigger warnings.
Part 1: A trip to the dentist
Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings
Part 3: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy
Content note: this post mentions food and eating disorders.
I’ve gone on, for thousands of words, about trigger warnings, but I have not yet addressed a very salient point: that I am a massive raging hypocrite.
I often don’t put trigger warnings where they’re necessary.
I want to say it’s because I forget, and at least in part, that is completely true. But there’s a reason I forget: because I am not thinking about my audience, only about myself.
A few months ago, I baked some cuntroversial bread for the first time (yes, I’m still doing it; the starter’s still alive and well, and I have a batch in the oven as I write). This provoked rather a strong outpouring of the entire internet telling me I’m disgusting, and so, for my part, I got a little bit defensive. Not really thinking of anything but my own emotional defences, I went off on one about food hygiene generally.
I probably should have included some content warnings somewhere along the way.
I did lose a fair few followers over that, and it was only from some kind pal doing something they needn’t have done and asking me to please pop up content warnings on the various food rants I was off on that I realised I was being a bit of a dick.
I’d been thinking about myself rather than thinking about other people. And because of that, a bunch of people who had been previously engaged with me on a personal and a political level, disengaged.
I had not been considerate of people with eating disorders, and therefore I had lost some of my audience.
And that was nobody’s fault but my own.
I had, once upon a time, been of the school of thought that trigger warnings might perhaps reduce engagement. I didn’t use them at all. For the most part, I didn’t see much of a necessity: I myself seldom needed them, and only under very specific circumstances.
I only began using trigger warnings because people asked me to, and I like a quiet life.
It was close to zero effort on my part to include a little warning at the top of a post. Just typing a couple of key words, briefly summarising content.
Incidentally, having looked at my own stats, I haven’t lost any traffic on posts that include a trigger warning: in fact, if anything, engagement goes up.
Here’s a funny thing that happened as I started to incorporate trigger warnings onto my own writing: I myself became more conscious. I thought more about how my writing would be received by certain groups of people, I thought more about people who previously had barely been on my radar.
I had sleepwalked along for much of my life, and the doors opened up and I began to think of other people who have historically been swept under the carpet.
Perhaps this is what those who resist trigger warnings fear most: ending up shifting, ever so slightly, away from dominant narratives centring people who were born lucky and stayed lucky.
You may have noticed I tend to use “content note” or “content warning” rather than “trigger warning” on my own writing. This is once again due to my desire for a quiet life.
A lot of tedious bores just love to weigh in when they even see a trigger warning: no wonder they think people disengage at trigger warnings, they themselves tend to use it as their excuse not to bother.
There are also legitimate criticisms of the term “trigger warning”: it’s loaded in assumptions, specifically about PTSD. “Content note” is both more neutral and more inclusive: it encompasses the many things which people might wish to engage with on their own terms, such as other mental illnesses, spoilers, and just generally things people might not want to deal without being forewarned.
A trigger warning, though, is another part of this family of textual warnings, and one where I simply find it bizarre that so many people are working themselves up into such a frenzy over.
Trigger warnings seem like a strange hill to die on: doing something which takes all of fifteen seconds, probably won’t harm anyone and saves you a bit of strife. Even as I built a model for why one may resist trigger warnings, I still struggle to understand the visceral dislike of something so utterly banal.
When I adopted trigger warnings, I expected little to change, and for the most part the only thing that changed was within me: I became a slightly better writer and–I hope–a slightly better person.
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