When does the person stopping the triggering become the person pulling the trigger, asks Cath Janes. Trigger warning: contains many triggers.
You see, recently a customer of Kraken Kreations, my online shop, asked me to embroider a festive hoop that read, “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot” for her gay brother. He adores the song. Thing is, when I showed it to my customers I received a lone message, out of dozens of approving ones, telling me that the word ‘faggot’ was so offensive that I “may cause a few deaths”. Said message included links about suicide.
Here’s the rub, though: I had a breakdown a few years ago and while I can happily deal with this criticism now, had I received this message during my pill-counting, rope-knotting, knife-sharpening days I would certainly have landed in a mortuary drawer.
So at what point does the person stopping the triggering become the person who pulls the trigger? And when did we start referring to normal responses to shitty incidents as triggering?
Now, I know all about safe spaces and trigger words. After giving birth I had PTSD which meant I had flashbacks, panic attacks, sweats and palpitations every time I used a toilet and – get this – travelled past a hospital. So I’m not talking about shouting the word ‘rape’ at victims or showing gory flashcards to people who’ve survived war. I’m talking about the way in which the word ‘triggering’ is now used as the new version of ‘depression’.
Know those giant fuckspangles who say they are ‘depressed’ because they can’t find the right brand of coffee beans? Even though their vague annoyance bears no resemblance to the harrowing mental illness itself? Well, triggering is flouncing down the same bloody path. I actually know people who say that Mothers’ Day triggers their parental grief and so they’d like to stop the annual celebration. It’s not just the logic of the terminally dim, it’s making genuinely triggered people look like utter bell-ends.
It’s not just me who is sweating spinal fluid over this either. A cracking September 2015 article in The Atlantic explains how far triggering has gone on US campuses. It reports how some Harvard professors have been asked to not teach laws about rape, because it’s too distressing, and how some students have asked for The Great Gatsby to carry a warning because it includes misogyny. The article concludes that rather than protecting students, this robs them of the ability to negotiate a world where, for now at least, they need to be fully armed with the ability to reason, argue, defend and win.
“As much as no one wants to feel fear and sadness, to eradicate them by labelling them as triggering is the equivalent of being tickled while wrapped in a 15-tog duvet.”
Surely we have to get a grip of nuance and context, ideally before we narrow down the OED to a 15-word pamphlet. God knows, if it wasn’t about nuance and context, writing this very piece would have me sawing at my arteries again. Perhaps I’m a sociopath but, then again, perhaps I’m not so wrapped up in my own angst that I’ll happily police the world for synonyms of ‘mum’.
More than that, what’ll happen to our language and culture when we’ve triggered the shit out of it? Again, I’m not talking about being deliberately bell-endy to victims (that’s for Ched Evans supporters, obvs) but if we stop referring to traumatic events, don’t we also remove our ability to talk about them and defend ourselves against them?
Remember 40 years ago when no one used the word ‘condom’ at the dinner table and we suffered as a result? Give it another 40 years of non-triggering behaviour and we’ll be in the same spot.
And that’s not a spot I want to be in. I’m raising a daughter who is currently eight years old and the very notion of limiting her ability to speak openly about rape or abuse or depression makes me spit. If she ever has to tell me that a man flashed at her while she was on the bus I want her to know she can use the terms, ‘pervert’, ‘penis’ and ‘I punched the cunt’ when she tells me about it.
I don’t want those terms to trigger anyone but, even more, I don’t want that triggering silencing my child. Which I why I think we need to start taking responsibility for our own issues.
During my psychiatric counselling I was taught to discern between the fear and sadness of depression and the fear and sadness that’s naturally caused by things that are just, well, fearful and sad. Because as much as no one wants to feel fear and sadness, to eradicate them by labelling them as triggering is the equivalent of being tickled while wrapped in a 15-tog duvet.
So the jury’s still out on the faggot hoop. It’ll hang in the home of a proud gay man and I might sell more but only if I’m not wrestled to the ground first for quoting a fictional character dreamed up by Shane MacGowan. That is unless I’m offending the people who want to be offended on behalf of everyone else.
Still confused? Yeah, me too. I’ll stick with my husband who, when I mentioned the word trigger, thought I was talking about Only Fools and Horses.
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Cath Janes is the brains and stabbed fingers behind Kraken Kreations, which sells shouty, hand-sewn home decor and accessories for modern women. She also sews feminist and anatomical embroidery, dances in her sewing shed and once had a snapped sewing machine needle embedded in her right tit.