In Defence of Trigger Warnings

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

This week I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in a debate about trigger warnings and whether they protect people or create a bubble, you can listen to the episode here. On the panel were psychologist Terri Apter who thinks they stifle debate and Sorana Vieru from the National Union of Students who spoke about their usage in education. I was there defending the use of trigger warnings in the online world because they allow me to actually use the internet without fear.

A Trigger warning is a brief sentence at the beginning of a piece or post that simply informs the reader that there will be sensitive topics discussed that may affect them. For example:

“Trigger Warning: Suicide, brief description of suicide methods.”

A trigger warning is not for every single subject and thing that may upset a reader, but for things that could bring back a painful memory of something that had a deep affect on someones life such as abuse or self harm that could trigger a flash back, PTSD symptoms or even cause the reader to hurt themselves or others.

I primarily write from personal experience, so tend to write about the worst parts of my life that have affected me the most. I do this to tell others they’re not alone, to give hope to others in similar situations and as a form of therapy- it’s very cathartic after all. But just because I write about things such as infertility, abuse, suicide and rape threats doesn’t mean that I have to force others to read it. The last thing I want to do is trigger someone who is going through a tough time, so yes it might mean that person doesn’t read what I write but I want to give them the choice.

I probably use trigger warnings mostly in my daily life within groups on Facebook. As a part of the chronic illness community I’m part of many groups which discuss sensitive subjects on a regular basis. These are groups that include women who cant have children, abuse survivors, trans people and those with mental health problems. Trigger warnings help us all to navigate these spaces and interact safely. There’s an argument that trigger warnings within spaces like that stop people from being active members of communities, but for the most part we’re happy to help members navigate trigger warnings and ask if possible. More than anything it just makes it easier for the person to scroll past something that could harm them mentally. For example if I see that something has a rape trigger WARNING I wont read or view it and it keeps me safe.

Those against trigger warnings argue that it stifles debate, but more than anything they’re there to help prepare and aid the user going into a situation so that if this subject does arose they can either choose to remove themselves or debate safely. It’s knowing that something particularly harmful could be discussed and having the tools at hand to put us on an equal footing with people who may not have had these bad experiences.

Think back to the last show you watched with a particularly traumatic story line, what did the announcer say before?

“The following show features scenes of a difficult nature that some viewers may find upsetting”

Trigger warnings have been around on TV and in films for decades but for some reason its attributed to generation snowflake as another excuse for how we’re “too sensitive”.

Whilst triggers warnings before TV shows are deemed okay, discussing them online is often fought back against, as some class them as “spoilers”. This was something I experienced when I tweeted about “TW Rape in this weeks Game of Thrones”. I did so from a place of wanting to prepare others who could have been affected by it, but what I received in response was about 70 book reading bros telling me who died at the end of the season “spoilering bitch”. I understand that Game of Thrones is an exciting show and you don’t want to have a second ruined, but if I “spoiled” rape for you then we really have deeper issues to discuss.

The introduction of trigger and content warnings in education is in my opinion only a good thing. Whilst it is par of the course whilst studying History that you’ll cover war or that English Literature students may have to read books featuring abuse, it doesn’t mean that every student shouldn’t be prepared for this. By quickly noting at the top of assigned reading or an assignment that the module covers triggering subjects you put survivors on an equal footing to debate or achieve the marks they’re capable. Students should’t be forced to jeopardise their learning for fear of PTSD coming back.

In arguing that we’re creating a bubble by using trigger warnings people forget that we already do that in real life anyway. We cultivate friendships with people who we trust that wont make potentially harmful jokes. We distance ourselves from people who aim to attack us and push this subject on us and we walk away from situations if an argument becomes too much.

By refusing to acknowledge or use trigger warnings we alienate people with PTSD and mental health problems; and could potenially cause them more harm.

When Twitter Went From a Safe Haven to a Prison

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

I’ve been feeling really anxious with Twitter lately.

Over the last 5 years I’ve curated and carved out a place where I can be myself, talk honestly and share what I love. It sounds absurd to someone who doesn’t have an internet community, but it’s when I’m sharing my thoughts with carefully selected strangers that I feel most comfortable. But then just how “carefully selected” can it be when you have a public profile? The answer you’re all probably shouting at me is “Not very, Rach”.

I don’t know when I shifted from loving Twitter to feeling uncomfortable if I spend too long on it, but I can guess that it was some time between November 9th and January 20th. After the election and in the time leading up to the inauguration I watched Twitter with horror, as I did the whole world. The space that once felt like it belonged to me and my friends turned against us- but of course this discourse and hatred has been happening for a long time. Safe in my echo chamber with my other liberal friends I was blind to the darker side of twitter, the one that only seeped in when I spoke of feminist issues and would occasionally scream GET RAPED at me, before I blocked them.

Despite being a bisexual, disabled woman I still hold quite a lot of privilege; I’m white, cisgender, reasonably well educated and in a relationship with a man (I’m not naive to the fact that this means I pass as straight). This means I escape a lot of specific abuse on Twitter and instead I fall under the standard catch all “women are fuck receptacles or not good enough to fuck” banner of online hate. And while being call a c*nt or being threatened was bad, I can speak about it almost nonchalantly because it was a rare occurrence. Most of my time on Twitter was fun.

It has however steadily gotten worse over the last year. There was a fortnight I remember maybe in September where I didn’t go a single day without a man on the internet calling me an obscenity, telling me how wrong I was or threatening me. The threats became expected. But never at the same volume as they were after the election.

For those on the left it was hard for us to stay silent, but it was also hard for us to speak. It was hard to put into words how we felt, when the overlying feeling was fear. Creeping into everything. There’s one day I think will stay with me for a long time.

I tweeted about Marine Le Pen being a fascist and put my phone down, got ready, had lunch with my boyfriend before letting him drive me home. There was a diversion and I had to direct him, something I’m terrible at in the best of circumstances. Absentmindedly as we hummed along to whatever was on radio 2, I checked Twitter. I was immediately confronted by over 100 replies telling me I’m going to be raped by Muslim men without a leader like Marine Le Pen.

This was the first time I’d privated my Twitter in 5 years. I unlocked it again a few hours later when I’d stopped crying, full of anger but still more cautious than before.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I lock and unlock my account on a regular basis at the minute, the last was because me and a pal were having a debate about a celebrities genitals and we wanted opinions. That in itself completely personifies my experience of Twitter, dodging abuse whilst being mildly (cough very) inappropriate with my friends. But it’s all I can do to keep it a fun part of my life and not delete the whole thing on a stupid whim.

My relationship with Twitter has always been a strange one. It’s something that simultaneously makes me feel sick and i hate going on, but at the same time can sit endlessly scrolling or will close then reopen again. I think the weirdest thing is how many feelings I have about a fucking website, why am I so connected and obsessed with a social media platform?!

I’m currently reading Girl On The Net’s book How A Bad Girl Fell In Love, if you’re familiar with her blog you’ll expect the vast amounts of filth but maybe not so much the battle with having an online life and a private one. As revealed in her book, the constant struggle to keep both lives separate led to her eventual breakdown. For me, the anonymity boat has long since sailed- I’ve been using my real name on the internet like some chump for nearly a decade now. But I can still identify with the anxiety side.

I became obsessed with follower counts, felt like I was never doing enough and was constantly checking twitter. If I’m not writing or tweeting or sharing images I feel anxious, but the fear of actually doing those things is even worse. I’ve been feeling my anxiety creep back in over the past couple of weeks. More and more I wake up in inexplicable panic that I’m not doing anything, but so paralysed by fear that I can’t.

I’ve found writing increasingly tougher since November, I feel like everything I’m writing is just silly and doesn’t matter when the world is coming apart at the seams. My once fun hobby blog Happy Little Syllables lies dormant for months at a time as it all just seems trivial.

This post was intended to be a nice lighthearted thing about my DIY cinema light box. But then I started on why I bought it. What seemed like a lovely story about picking myself up with a Treat Yoself on bad mental health day, that stemmed from me being told I wont get a hysterectomy until at least April and culminated in me crying about being called a cunt by a stranger on internet, again, became a massive feelings dump about life. That’s one thing I will always love about writing I guess. It helps me say the things I can’t actually physically say. (I did still publish a post about the light box. which is a lot funner than this)

As the world becomes more and more of a trash fire, social media has gone from being my safe haven to something I dread. It feels like every time I refresh my feed something worse has happened. Something more terrifying seems to have to been announced in the hour I was away.

I now find myself making a conscious effort to take time out from Twitter, on the weekends when I have more distractions and less time to mess around not working. When I can spend time away in the little bubble I’ve created, selfishly ignore the world for a tiny amount of time.

Before I have to refresh again.

How Trump Can Say All Those Things

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2016. All info was correct at time of publishing]

So here we are, Trump meltdown number #235632, and he’s still in the running to be the next President of the United States. A man who can openly tell people to abuse others, who incites hatred and would potentially destroy everything we hold dear could become one of the most powerful leaders in the world. I swore to myself I wouldn’t write about him, I wouldn’t give him space on my page, but he’s unavoidable now. We watched this ridiculous joke candidate turn into the actual Republican nominee, with an army of supporters. And that terrifies me, so I felt compelled to write.

Here are some things we know about Trump:

Anyone with a brain in their head can see that this is a man who must be stopped, he can not be allowed to become the leader of the free world. Yet he’s still gaining numbers, he’s still an actual viable opponent.

Because he’s not alone in his thoughts, not by a long stretch. You only have to look at his rallies to see that. He is surrounded by thousands, millions of people with the same disgusting views as his.

He isn’t popular because he’s a visionary, he’s popular because he shouts the loudest.

He’s been given a platform, a media circus, to air these disgusting views. And he’s supported because these people finally feel brave enough to say it too. And although he hasn’t directly said it himself they can say that they think black people are less human than them. That women deserve less rights than men. To abuse others in the street for being different. To claim that black people, latinos, women deserve to die if they dare to stand up to white men. To say that women should be seen an not heard, chained to the kitchen and men’s to do with as they please. To think that black people should still be owned by white people.

They can sit for hours- days- abusing women online, because that’s what their candidate represents. They can sit behind their screens sending thousands of messages to people like the unsinkable Leslie Jones who’s only “crime” was being black and powerful and female at the same time. People like the amazing Ella Dawson, who when she supported Hillary had her whole life dragged up and destroyed. I myself have had to sift through countless trash can fires in my mentions, every time I dare to speak against him.

FREEDOM! To those who will hopefully never know the fear that marginalised groups do of walking the street late at night alone. The terror when you’re pulled over by a policeman and have to beg for your life to those who are sworn to protect you. Who will hopefully never have to suffer the agony of having their life destroyed by a man like them and instead of being believed find ridicule and anger directed at them.

Trump supporters genuinely think that white straight able bodied people are oppressed; when in fact they have simply become one of many narratives instead of the only one.

They believe that sexual equality relates to the destruction of marriage. And that to be a feminist means that you hate all men and want them dead. They believe that a woman’s body is not hers and that if she should become pregnant then the unborn child has more rights than her. They believe that immigrants are the biggest threat to America, despite there being gun related deaths every day at the hands of citizens. They believe that black people are all drug dealers or gang members and live in fear of what they refuse to know.

They’ve somehow painted this man who was given a “small one million dollar loan” from his father as the every man, a “blue collar billionaire” who will rise up against the establishment. Failing to see how much money he has pumped into the establishment and how much he uses power to manipulate ignorant people like them every day.

Instead of adding to the discussion and debating the issues at hand in the election, Trump and his supporters insist on shouting over those who need their voices heard. They abuse and threaten those who dare to stand up to him then cry that their country is being destroyed and they need to make it great again.

But what version of “good old days” do you want? A one before same sex marriage? A one where black people couldn’t drink out of the same fountain as whites? A one where women were given pitiful amounts for working the same as men or not even allowed to attend higher education? Or was even that not GREAT enough for you? Women and black people still had ridiculous ideals of grandeur then, or so the men in power thought.

I agree that America does need improvements, as does my own country of Britain. 31 million citizens can’t afford healthcareplanned parenthood is under attack from all angles, gun crime is out of control. But Donald Trump is not the person to do this. The only thing he can bring is hatred, the reassurance to the disgusting people of the world that what they’re doing and saying and spreading is ok. And by that point he wont need to build a wall or kick out all Muslims, because his supporters will be dragging anyone different out of their houses or attacking them in the streets.

Donald Trump won’t need to destroy the world, he’ll just watch it burn.

The only way Trump can be stopped is by voting, please don’t think that by not voting you’re protesting. Please do your civic duty and stop this.

Friendship Outside The Box

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

I’ve had a lot of friends over the years; friends from education, jobs, fandoms, activism, support groups and every corner of the internet. There’s been a veritable stream of friendships over the last decade, but most very rarely last for longer than 2 years. You see, I make friends easily, but I also fall out of friendships even easier.

Friendships in your late teens and twenties are strange. If you attend university and then try to make it in the world after, you meet so many people. We’re thrown together as friends a lot in the real world, and in that sort of environment your friends become your family. If you can’t leave the house much due to illness, internet communities are where you find your friends; bonding over a shared hobby, circumstance or fandom initially but you find out more about these little icons and usernames and feel connected.

I fall for friends as easily as I fall for partners, if not easier. I’m obsessed with my friends, their biggest cheerleader and want to know as much about their lives as they want to share. I want them to succeed and be everything I know they can be. I want to be their closest confident and for them to know all my secrets too.

And that right there is my downfall, I’m too trusting. I have always treated others the way I wish to be treated but many don’t operate that way. I’m blunt and brash but I’m also caring, ridiculous and will listen to my friends for hours. My bluntness is often taken for rudeness and negativity, the brashness for oversharing, caring for meddling. So I lose friends easily.

I’ve had break ups that have destroyed my world and left me to rebuild the pieces. But some of the worst heartache I’ve experienced has been when a close friend has blocked me from their life.

It’s taken a while but I’ve realised why this keeps happening. Friendship for some falls into a box. They have their friend they can bitch to, the one they can cry and plot to kill their exes with, the ones who they can call for a laugh, the boozy one with many a sex story and the ultimate agony aunt. I’ve been each of these types of friend to different people and groups, and a lot of my ex friends were just one pigeonhole, but why can’t we be all?

They say that its when times are tough that you discover who your real friends are, and god how I wish that wasn’t true. It was during one of the toughest times of my life at the beginning of the year when it all clicked for me. My world fell out from under me and I couldn’t be the person others expected. Fair weather friends grew distant and eventually disappeared.

And then the stars shone.

The one I hadn’t spoken to properly in years made herself indispensable. The one who had her own life and baby to look after sent me cards. The ridiculous fangirl who was there with memes and pictures of sexy men but also a shoulder to cry on. The one who’d moved an ocean away and back but took me to lunch and made me scream with laughter. The one who keeps me up to date with all the gossip that I can trust. The one who I’d only just met who sent me a mountain of chocolate. The one who sat on skype and told me to find my favourite colour when I couldn’t breathe. The family member I never realised I had so much in common with. The one who knows all my terrible health problems and I know hers. The one who I trusted blindly through circumstance and became so much more. The whole communities of amazing folks who believed in me and saw in me what I couldn’t.

A close friend once told me “its about reciprocation bitch”– yes we all like a good moan, but we should also be there to listen to our friends problems. We don’t need a friend for this and a friend for that when all friends can do everything.

I have less friends now, but a handful of close friends I speak to when I can. It’s took me so long to see that friendship is all encompassing. I pride myself on being the friend pals can ask about weird sexual things, come to when they’re having a bad day and the one who will send them inappropriate memes. And I purposefully only surround myself with people that I know are the same.

I’m done with friends who I can’t be my whole self around. I’m not just the inappropriate sex story teller, the agony aunt, the fangirl, the comedic genius (I was never that one). I’m all those things and more. My friendships are with people I can talk about filth and pain with, then have it interrupted with a gif I had to send them or them showing me their new lipstick. They’re the people who call me a c*nt as a term of endearment, but will also mop up my tears and cheer me up again.

I know that I could message any of my friends with “life is shit” and they’d agree but we’d make the day a little easier for each other. Because life and friendship isn’t all rainbows and happiness. But there’s great things in life too; like musicals, hot men, pizza and orgasms. You need someone who can celebrate, cry, hold you accountable, wrap you in a metaphorical blanket and lift you up.

People don’t fit into boxes and neither should friendship.