Trigger Warnings & Safe Spaces


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A few days ago, in an effort to educate an idealistic young professional about how dark and evil acts can be perpetrated in the real world, even in her profession, I wrote her a long message telling of certain events that had happened in my own life. This was a difficult process that ripped open old wounds from 20 years before, and I cried a lot and have been in very real pain, since I wrote that message. Was it worth it? I don’t know. I suppose it depends on whether this young woman “listened” to what I had to say and whether she took found any of it useful in her own life.

This evening, I watched the second of two episodes of a television drama series, which dealt with similar issues and the terrible damage they can do. As I watched, I wept to the end but I watched. Why would I watch this, especially after ripping open my own wounds? I’ve often thought about this question. Why would I participate rather than just end the conversation? Why would I watch instead of changing channels?

These experiences and how I’ve handled them are just part of why I am totally against so-called Trigger-Warnings. My opposition is not, as some may think, simply an academic philosophy related to how I approach my own life and my art. No matter who you may be, you cannot run from the terrible things that may have been done to you in the past nor hide from the fears of your present. At some point, they will leap out of the shadows where they hide. You cannot escape them.

Instead, admit they are there. Stand your ground and face them down. It’s better and safer and will probably save some money on analysis, counselling and drugs. That’s what I do. Whether it’s painful or not, it works.

Trigger-Warnings are a bandage on a gaping wound. No matter what happens, triggers will pop up out of the darkness and you will be in agony. But it will pass, and the next time will not be quite as bad. Believe me.

I’ve been through some very dark experiences and have “survived” them, but not without lifelong damage done to me and a terrible ache in my heart. I regularly encounter “triggers” in my personal life and in my work as an artist, and they hurt me terribly. Still, I believe this is less damaging than retreating ever-further into some dark cocoon, led by warnings others have decided you need, until your life withers away.

Many people who know me will know that I don’t speak publicly about these things. Other trusted friends will know that I do talk to them in private if times get too tough and we share stories, hugs, and tears. Seeing in my writing and collages a darkness they don’t see in me, others will realize that I bleed off some of my agony into my art. The pain must be addressed and expressed, not kept in some secret place to fester and grow.

This is not an artist’s opinion; it’s a human being’s real-life experience. In a world where one cannot always be protected from danger or even the perception of danger, Trigger-Warnings are as dangerous as any other act of oppression.