I’m going to go as far as saying that the anti-trigger-warning campaign has a lot in common with compulsory sexuality and those sex-positive feminisms which fail to wrangle with compulsory sexuality:
1. They both represent the biggest sin as that of narrowing down possibilities. Heaven forbid that for many people, nasty possibilities need narrowing down before better ones become available. No. At the very moment of thinking about politics, it is sinful - in that exact moment - to remove any possibilities, regardless of what that means for the future or in a context of justice.
Consequently they fail to pay attention (at best) to the sin of forcing people into a harmful possibility. Put another way, the biggest sin is “no”, the biggest virtue is “yes”, yes-sayers are saints and nay-sayers are oppressive. When what we’re trying to say “no” to is the behaviour of an oppressive system and of individuals oppressing others within that system, that metaphysics is a problem.
In doing so, both sex+ feminism and the anti-TW campaign group society into two groups: good progressives who say yes and open up possibilities and bad conservatives who close them down. This forecloses thinking about bad progressives who force others into bad possibilities and good progressives who try to close down bad possibilities.
2. They both presume a certain kind of privileged subject. The subject of naive sex+ feminism is the woman who, until now, has been prevented from choosing sex, and for whom choosing sex is liberatory. This represents a very small subset of women. Certainly there are a lot of women who’d like to have more joyful, free sex, and that’s what the cover page for sex+ feminism says it’s all about. But I like to pay attention to what’s being done not just what people say they’re doing. There can be a gap between the two - sometimes a large one.
The presumed subject of the anti-TW campaign is a little different. In this case we have “subversive, liberal” professors claiming that they need to be able to use traumatic material to break down the smug, privileged subjectivity of white dudes. They have to show rape so that men might realise it’s bad. This is utterly unattuned to the needs of us who already have a good idea, thanks, how bad it is and don’t need someone at the front of the class telling us we have to live in the real world, man, we can’t just pretend this doesn’t happen - who deliberately catches us unaware with it to use the moment of shock as a “teachable moment”. But the kind of pedagogic subject to whom rape is shocking is not - and must not become - the only subject in the classroom.
The line between pragmatism (focusing on finding quick and practical solutions to specific issues) and respectability politics (making ourselves look ‘respectable’ in the eyes of those with power, often by disavowing the more marginalised members of our own community) is in places very thin indeed. I have learned over the years that pragmatism which isn’t built on a solid foundation of principles and ideals generally yields the wrong solutions and that there is a fine art to practising pragmatism without engaging in respectability politics.– Milena Popova, Pragmatism 101 for activists
i’ve been thinking about women, transition, and the infantilization of women. i feel that i often hear trans men talk about being women or little girls previous to transitioning - girls who grow up to be men. similar phrasing, ‘boys or men who grow up to be women’ by contrast, often sets trans women on edge. i don’t have data on this, just personal observation.
lately, i’ve been wondering about the way that our culture infantilizes women and formulates men as adults - full and actualized humans. i wonder if the relative comfort some trans men display with language like ‘manning up’ or talking about their ‘female history’ relates to this infantilization. transition for trans guys doesn’t explicitly challenge the notion that manhood a is full and actualized adulthood while womanhood is a prolonged state of childhood or innocence. in contrast, transition for trans women would violate this narrative by moving us into a full, developed self as a woman having previously (for some of us) held some outward form of manhood (although i can’t stress how laughable i find it to think about any previous ‘manhood’ or masculinity i was compelled to express).
its not that i am blaming trans men for infantilization of women, but i’m curious about how this idea about women interacts with the way that cis people and cisnormative society responds to our transitions and thus what language we find ourselves bristling at or not.
Something interesting is how sexualisation interacts with infantilisation of trans women. I know that infantilisation/sexualisation are associated even for cis women, but for trans women it seems like it goes into overdrive.
I mean, I’ve sat in a gender clinic and heard cis nurses use hyper sexualised baby talk (literally dirty baby talk) towards grown women - sometimes older than them - when asking a woman to come to an appointment or treatment.
It’s all part of a “sense of humour, put them at their ease” strategy but that doesn’t stop it from being hideously misplaced, transmisogynist and damn uncomfortable for everybody around even if that is that particular trans woman’s least-un-preferred mode of interaction with staff (and given how much I’ve smiled and nodded while being treated like shit, that’s basically impossible to ever tell).
[I]n the case of trigger warnings in particular, it is certainly the case that this intervention can be and is misused. I have seen white students say they are “triggered” by having to hear about racism. The intervention of trigger warnings also often shifts from asserting a public space to organize around trauma to creating a safe space from it… Trigger warnings as well as ANY organizing practice we develop will be co-opted in order to individualize and domesticate its potential impact on movement-building. But this reality should not make us lose sight of our larger vision of building holistic movements for liberation.– Andrea Smith, Beyond the Pros and Cons of Trigger Warnings: Collectivizing Healing
[T]rigger warnings cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, they are part of a larger complex of practices designed to de-privatize and collective healing. They came out of the recognition that we are not unaffected by the political and intellectual work that we do. These practices also recognized that the labor of healing has to be shared by all. Trigger warnings are one of many practices that insist that one does not have to be silent about one’s healing journey – that one’s healing can occupy public and collective spaces. And healing can only truly happen when we take collective responsibility for creating structures and practices that enable healing.– Andrea Smith, Beyond the Pros and Cons of Trigger Warnings: Collectivizing Healing
Halberstam’s essay, with its anecdotal observations, presumes a naivety in the twenty-first century student, who are more concerned about selfish narcissism and retweeted micro politics than real activism, like taking down the “global capitalism and corrupt political systems”… With only my own anecdotes, I beg to differ: students now account for themselves within a pluralizing of a public with imaginations resistant to Socratic dialogue and faculty club pedantry. Far from assuming their privileged histories, or lack thereof, TWs set up for us a starting point for a project of transforming rather than leaving behind in how we approach the contexts of our studies.– Aoife Emily Heart, Trig Reciprocal Functions: I’m a Trans Woman Adjunct Prof and I Use Trigger Warnings
I use TW because they enhance the flexibility of approach and interaction, the promotion of safe space — not as automatic attainment but a cooperative endeavour. We know there are no such things as safe spaces, some utopia circle of protection; on the contrary, I make it clear these discussions will be on the table, and I offer students a chance for reflection as to how they might contribute (or drop the course altogether, if that suits them. Interestingly, very few do.)– Aoife Emily Heart, Trig Reciprocal Functions: I’m a Trans Woman Adjunct Prof and I Use Trigger Warnings
In my application, TWs require only a brief amount of preparation, make excellent introductory discussion points to begin classroom interaction, promote an awareness to how all texts function as cognitive events in our interpretations, demonstrate a commitment to respect and conversation, and promote an ethics of intersubjectivity.– Aoife Emily Heart, Trig Reciprocal Functions: I’m a Trans Woman Adjunct Prof and I Use Trigger Warnings