Recently over on Tumblr, I received a message from someone who asked why I didn’t post trigger warnings on certain posts. It was sent anonymously, of course. They weren’t being fully shitty, but they weren’t really asking me, either. They were implying that I should. They also didn’t point to a particular post they felt was offensive or full of triggers and their tone (especially the parts that included “tbh” and ended in “k thx”) was, I felt, patronizing. I didn’t answer the message. Not publicly and not privately, either. I didn’t even keep it. I typed probably four responses before deciding that I was too hot-headed to reply in any way that might make me the better person and I remembered that Tumblr loves whatever the fuck they think “social justice” is, so I trashed it and tried to forget about it.
But I can’t.
I mean, first of all, I really don’t post anything offensive on my Tumblr. I feel it fits with my regular sense of humor, which means no race jokes, no rape jokes, and nothing about the Holocaust. There’s no point in making jokes about things that aren’t funny, let alone things that are completely terrible and disgusting.
Second, I’ve been thinking about my feelings towards trigger warnings. It’s not that I think they shouldn’t exist, or that I roll my eyes at anyone who posts them. As long as trigger warnings aren’t mandatory by the rules of the Internet (and I’ve seen enough gaping buttholes to know there are no rules of the Internet), people are free to use them as they wish, and I completely understand why a rape victim or PTSD sufferer would not want to stumble unawares into a situation where they are nearly incapacitated by something that’s not even happening in real life (not anymore, anyway).
What I don’t like it when people mistake the decision to post trigger warnings with the notion that trigger warnings are absolutely essential to everyone’s enjoyment of the Internet and world at large. And this may sound extreme, but believe me, there are a lot of people who share this notion. Typically, these are the kinds of people who have tag lists of potential triggers longer than your mom’s dick (hey-O), which are usually quite similar to the hashtags that accompany their cross-posts from Instagram (and tell me how your so kawaii bathroom selfie has anything to do with #addiction and #self-harm again?). And again, fine, post whatever you want with as much subtext as you desire, it just feels little tedious to me and I wonder how the world looks to a person who thinks this way.
The thing is this: as with seeking any information or experience, when using the Internet, you assume a certain amount of risk. The risk in this case is that you may locate information or images that you didn’t want or might find personally upsetting.
While I understand the desire to go exactly where you want to go to find exactly what you want to find without the opportunity to accidentally see something you might find gross, degrading, or traumatic, I think that snapping on restrictive blinders (or, rather, demanding that other people snap them on for you) is incredibly limiting. Damaging, even, since the only person who can really know your triggers is you, and that leaves it up to anyone else to decide what a trigger might be. I’ve seen “poverty” on more than one list of tags. Poverty! Like, sure, everyone, let’s just ignore poverty because it’s sad and someone might be reminded of how it affected them once. That way, it won’t hurt anyone anymore. That’s fucking insane and the total opposite of the Internet ideal, which is to share knowledge and communicate freely. Plus porn, of course.
At this point, you’re not seeking information. You’re demanding the narrowest, straightest path and you’ve decided to be completely closed off from vast swaths of communication from all over the world. And you’re getting pissed at people who don’t play along.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Bad Old Days of the Internet. Most people I knew didn’t have computers or Internet access until high school. Access was slow, screechy, and, we were told, extremely dangerous. We weren’t supposed to provide people with our personal information and there’s no way that I ever would have ever sent anyone a photo of any part of me that wasn’t wearing clothing (call me a prude, but I’ve saved myself epic amounts of embarrassment on this point, I’m sure). Because of this time and these standards, I understood that using the Internet was full of risks. Some risks were realized by accident (Goatse), some I avoided completely (blue waffle). But I knew all along that the onus was on me to figure out how to navigate it and deal with the consequences.
It’s not that I think trigger warnings amount to censorship. Because they don’t. I said before that they’re not mandatory, and even if they were, they could always be ignored. I just think it’s…well, kind of silly to stamp “proceed at your own risk!” before every fucking thing online, because it’s a filter that we should be building into our own damn brains instead of haranguing strangers into employing for our benefit.
I don’t use trigger warnings because I’m not being offensive. Not broadly, anyway. I’m not aware that anything I’m posting – on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or here – is trigger-heavy. And if it is, if someone out there determines that there lies a trigger in something I’ve written or reblogged, then as far as I’m concerned, they have found me of their own accord and can leave as soon as they like. It’s not my job to control anyone’s experience or babysit anyone’s psyche.
K THX, you whiny little asshole.