Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
A few weeks ago I wrote about how trigger warnings are effectively censoring books. I feel the need to unearth this topic again because the most recent cry for trigger warnings on literature came from Columbia, where there are students who believe that Greek mythology needs a trigger warning. Four students from Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board wrote that ‘”these texts wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”‘
This is insulting to both books and survivors of trauma or whatever background you come from. In my opinion, books that discuss serious topics exist, intentionally or not, as a safe vehicle to navigate these topics from the safety of the written word. Not only do these students really need to search within themselves for why the written word can cause such distress for certain people, but they also need to stop assuming that all survivors of trauma will react the same way, and they need to realize that books can help you recover from trauma.
Keep in mind that I’m writing all of this from my own perspective. This does not mean I am trying to speak for other survivors of trauma. I’m simply presenting one perspective to make a point that I am probably one of many who will not be traumatized by the written word and so neither needs nor desires a trigger warning.
Books have helped me with my trauma, my mental illness, anything unfavorable that has ever happened in my life. Books understood me when people couldn’t. I could relate to the characters in these books when I couldn’t relate to anyone else. They have been part of my healing process. Books are another lifeline I can add to my list of possible lifelines. And believe me when I say you want as many lifelines as possible.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story helped me through my first psychiatric hospitalization because it gave me a glimpse of what to expect. Letting Ana Go did not enable my eating disorder, but it gave me a horrifying, much-needed glimpse of what could eventually happen to me if I kept down my self-destructive path. By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead helped me through suicidal ideation because it presented the story of a girl determined to eventually take her own life–but a lot of good things happened to her despite how she felt. It made me realize that you aren’t telling you to die but your illness is. Amy Reed’s Crazy finally gave me a character with bipolar disorder of whom I could relate with. Even though I read Faultline months and months before my sexual assault happened, I was at least able to draw upon that book afterward to keep me from becoming something the assault wanted me to be. And that book is very dark. But I appreciate its existence because it doesn’t ignore that sexual trauma can negatively, horribly impact a person who sees him/herself beyond help.
If any of these books had trigger warnings, I, personally, would be thoroughly insulted. I am not so fragile that I’m going to collapse into a panic attack from reading a story about someone in the throes of an eating disorder. Books don’t need to censor themselves to cater to fragile feelings. Fragile feelings need therapy, not trigger warnings.