Trigger and Content Warnings

Content Warning: Discussion of trans violence

Sculpture by Georgina Wellstead – Image Description: A photo of a ceramic sculpture. The sculpture is the head and shoulders of a woman. she has an orange top, blue hair and eyebrows. Her face is a bit of a caricature.

I was recently scrolling through my Facebook, and I came across a post by a friend discussing her PTSD, including very graphic descriptions as to why she has this PTSD. I tried to suggest to her, politely, that she add trigger warnings. She said she was trying to be honest just like the way I am discussing my gender or sexuality. I pointed out that gender and sexuality do not hurt anyone, but her descriptions could. She felt I was trying to shut her down and silence her voice. I wasn’t. I have unfollowed her entirely, because personally, I have chronic illness, and I’m queer, including non-binary and my life is not without difficulty. I’m often not well and low on energy, seeing these posts of hers, involuntarily, effects my mental health. I would like to see her posts, I would like to offer empathy, but I need my own boundaries and I need to be able to offer her these things when I am well enough to, not have them forced onto me.

The reason we use trigger and content warnings is so we can discuss and share difficult subject matter. These warnings are not about closing people down, trying to silence them or telling them not to speak their truths, they are about protecting other people who might be in a fragile place. A simple comment could be enough to push someone over the edge.

When we share stories about mental illness; domestic violence; sexual assault or violence, we often don’t know who will see these stories, what their personal experiences are, or how they are travelling mentally.

Providing a content warning or a trigger warning allows us to speak, whilst doing our best not to hurt others. Giving a trigger warning or content warning is not bad, it shows care.

Social media or any other type of public platform can be hard to navigate. It is often filled with horrible stories of one kind of another. It is also full of stories where people are trying to raise awareness about issues. This is a good thing; we should not stop sharing and personal stories are important and a way of connecting to people. However, give this a thought. Someone who is feeling fragile and who is directly affected by a particular thing, does not need to see post after post about that particular thing. It can make them feel worse and cause (further) damage to their mental health.

A good example of this would be violence against trans people. Trans people themselves know about this violence. We are acutely aware of it. Whilst it is good to remind people about this violence it can be very wearing on trans folk. Also, if you are an ally, do not send unsolicited images or articles about trans violence to your trans friend, asking them ‘Have you seen this?’   It’s great you want to share and connect, but it would be better if you messaged them and asked them if they wanted to see it first, or if is an open post, give a content or trigger warning first, sometimes it’s a good idea to put the main article in the comments, and consider not tagging your trans friend.

Another example of content that is hard to see is constant discussion and articles about JK Rowling. As a trans person, I know that she is toxic. I also know that many trans people found her Harry Potter books to be something that gave them hope. This means there has needed to be discussion about her and about her books. However, post after post about this, is wearing. Because each post has the underlying message ‘This person hates us and doesn’t think we should exist’.  It drains resilience, so it needs trigger warnings.

I know I must listen to my own words more often. People, have a thought about how you share your content and be kind to others.

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