I'm a millennial writer who doesn't use trigger warnings in her personal content.
📌Now, obviously if a client desires a trigger warning on their content, I add it without question.📌
But I don't use them. Why? My personal content consists of essays, poetry, and creative non-fiction narratives surrounding sensitive subject matters such as depression, anorexia, substance use, sexual assault, fibromyalgia, and recovery. My entire canon of work can be arguably wrapped up and labelled with a trigger warning. The people who read my work know this and appreciate its rawness as it relates to their own journeys. They tell me so. They also tell me they know what they're getting into when they read my personal work: It will touch and expose pain but it will not leave you undone. It will inspire, encourage, and support your journey. It will leave a mark.
My book Ana, Mia & Me has sat on several tabletops and nightstands and bookshelves without being read for weeks—months in some cases. It takes the right moment to sit down with this kind of uncensored content and see how it relates to your own personal journey or experience with loved ones. I do not need to tell my readers this. They know it personally. This could be triggering content.
When you write about mental health, it's implied you will bring up content that is unsettling and uncomfortable and, yes, potentially even triggering. In this way, writers who address taboo topics reframe the concept of 'triggering' from something to avoid to something to face. We are doing the work to face these demons and share our story to support (challenge) others so they can do the same some day.
Safe and brave spaces
Last night on The Real Housewives of Potomac, Wendy Osefo, political commentator, professor, mom, and wife, said that while she believes in safe spaces, she also believes in brave spaces. While she said it in context to Monique's weak attempt to stir sympathy from the housewives after she 'blacked out' and attacked Candiace. While the meeting was deemed a 'safe space,' Wendy highlighted the importance of spaces also being considered 'brave.' Bear with me here for a sec.
Admittedly, I've been out of university for some time now and this is the first I had ever heard of brave spaces. However, the minute I heard it, I knew I needed to dive deeper.
According to National Association Student Personnel Administrators, the concept of brave spaces came about in 2013 as a direct response to the criticism around the term safe spaces and its implications for freedom of expression. The rebranding takes into consideration that truly risk-free spaces do not exist—something marginalized groups have known since forever. Brave spaces encompass safe space ideology, but also encourages people to actively challenge themselves. How does this relate to my personal content?
When I craft content, I do so with my readers in mind. Always. I only share what I think is necessary for the purpose of activism through writing. I do not sensationalize or embellish. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I do not add a bunch of external details to my dialogues and descriptions because I want my reader to focus on the narrator's words, not their setting. My narrators tell more than they show on purpose.
This is what I consider creating safe content and practicing safe reporting. This happens on my end—before you ever see a sentence.
But there is still nothing truly 'safe' about exploring the inner workings of how these topics play out in the world of a narrator going through the thick of it. We know this, don't we? This is why we keep the book shelved until the right time, and take breaks, and realize it is okay if it makes you uncomfortable and cry and reflect on painful parts of your own journey.
This kind of work encourages intellectual and emotional challenge and, arguably, a little bravery.
A trigger warning can't encompass that.
Last thoughts on trigger warnings
🛑 Trigger warnings deter readers. 🛑
They say, "This is going to be a negative experience, so please consider alternatives if you don't want to feel the things." They say, "You can go through / relive trauma by engaging with this content."
I have sat through trigger warnings in Gender Relations classes because I did not want to announce victimhood. I have sat through horrifying visuals in the name of academia without trigger warnings where I felt unprepared for what was coming and still cannot unsee what has been seen.
But bearing witness has its purpose in our growth and expansion. When you become an older millennial, a 30-something millennial, there will be so many cuts and scars that you really can't be sure what will be or won't be triggering. You get a choice though, based upon your own story, what kind of content you engage with and which you avoid. You decide what is triggering for your experience. Not me.
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