This was recently posted over on my new blog Nicholosophy. I’ve taken the liberty to cross-post this as I think it’s very relevant to what we often deal with within the Fat Acceptance community. As a warning, I mention the terms ‘weight loss surgery’ and ‘sexual assault’ but do not talk about these topics.
I’ve had this topic in my drafts bin (which is where I keep all the things I want to write about) for the last few days but I’ve been putting it off. I think it might be that I’m concerned about what I’m going to write and how it is going to trigger me. Now it’s funny that I should start a post on triggering with how I think my own writing might trigger me. I haven’t even explained what it is yet, so perhaps I should get onto that.
A trigger as defined by the Wordnet (r) 2.0 dictionary is “an act that sets in motion some course of events”. As an example, you turn the key in your car and you trigger the ignition system to start the car. It could be the fact that you stand on your dog’s foot triggers it to growl. These sort of situations make sense – you do something which causes a reaction. However triggers don’t have to relate to setting off some sort of physical event. They can be emotional as well.
Triggering is the concept that some things, when said or written, can trigger a bad emotional response. A blog post or video or tweet is considered ‘triggering’ if it sets off someone to have a bad reaction because it brought up some situation or issue that they have faced in the past.
I’ll give you an example of an emotional trigger that happened with me the other night. I was washing up the dishes and “Australia’s Funniest Home Videos” was on the television. Like any home video clip show, they often show things that are perhaps funny to some but just make other cringe. But you don’t expect much of an emotional response, except perhaps laughter.
Well the clip they showed was of a fat man on a water slide. The voice over went something like “Now I know why the attendant wanted to grease me down before I went on the slide”. The man was stuck – not because the slide wasn’t wide enough but because he must have been sticking to the slide. He then gets up and starts to walk down the slide. Apparently this is considered ‘funny’. But I was upset, not laughing.
Back in the 90s I went to the local water park here called “Wet ‘n’ Wild”. I was a teenager and I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to roller coasters, speed slides or anything of that nature. This time I thought I’d get on the speed slide. They have mats bu
t since I was concerned that I would end up going too fast and crap myself, I decided I didn’t need one. No one said anything to me suggesting it would be a good idea. So I got in and pushed myself off.
Cue me half way down a speed slide unable to move because I was sticking to the slide. The embarrassment and shame of being the fat kid stuck in the slide still hits me today. I had to get out of the slide, walk down the maintenance strip on the side of the slide and come down to the bottom. To make matters worse, I cut my foot open on some wire and had to get attended by first aid.
A little piece of me died that day. A little piece of me went away and locked itself so tightly inside that it would never get hurt again. Any time I think of that day I end up in tears. Hence why I’ve put writing this off until now.
Consider someone who has been sexually assaulted, bullied or who has been bashed up because of their race of sexuality. Any time something comes on TV or the radio or the internet that reminds them of that time, it triggers an emotional response. A very innocent situation or words said that would not make most people react can cause them to become upset, angry or even (in the extreme) violent. And it is all perfectly reasonable for that to happen, because they are dealing with a hurt unlike anything else that most of us experience.
My experience on the slide that day is significant to me. I can’t imagine what it is like to have someone overpower you, take away your dignity and sexually assault you. I can’t imagine what it is like to be spat on and kicked to the ground because you are gay. I’m sure it hurts and haunts much more than my experience. So if a TV show can trigger an emotional response in me, it must be worse for them.
In the Fat Acceptance community, talk about weight loss and weight loss surgery is considered triggering. The first time I ever learned about triggering was when I posted a blog post on Axis of Fat which was an interview with a lady who had gone through weight loss surgery. The idea was that I wanted to learn more about it so that my opinions could be formed based on fact and not conjecture. What I didn’t realise was that my post would trigger emotional responses in some people that crushed them inside.
Now when I write a blog post and I think the content might be triggering, I warn the reader at the outset. That way they can make up their mind whether they want to read on or not. I don’t have to stop writing about the triggering subject matter. I allow the reader the chance to have the choice about whether they read about it. This is actually fairly standard practice in the Fat Acceptance community.
I need to keep in mind every day that everything I write here, or on Twitter or Facebook can be read by someone I don’t know too well. I don’t know about everything that has happened to them and even with my closest friends, they could have some secret trauma that they have locked away for their own self preservation. I have to keep in mind to be sure that what I write won’t be triggering for someone. If I think it will, I either don’t write it or I warn people in advance. Quite often it is probably better to just leave it well alone.