or, My Mini-Adventure in Modern Progressivism
I never thought I would share the email which brought me quite a few enemies of the progressive kind in New York City.
But my friend, a brilliant, compassionate woman studying at a prestigious university, just confessed to me that during her spring semester, she was kicked out of a class simply for mentioning her decades-old, horrific gang rape without giving a ‘trigger-warning.’ So I have no choice but to share my experience with the suffocating outbreak of ‘triggerism,’ a phenomenon threatening free speech and scaring the crap out of college students throughout the land. Here is my own attempted one-man battle against the nightmare of this millennial phenomenon.
A few years ago, upon the release of The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story (Algonquin Books), my memoir which detailed my survival from a massive cerebral hemorrhage, I took a national press tour. I decided to promote my book in left-of-center establishments, one of which was a certain well-known progressive-feminist bookstore in the Lower East Side of the city. The event, which I would be headlining, would be called “Brain Injury Warriors,” and as the title implied, it was to be a night of readings from authors who had suffered brain injury in one form or another. After contacting the store and suggesting the event, I was told the managers would consider the reading, but only if we strictly followed the store rules: we could do nothing which would provoke triggers, memories of physical violence or traumatic flashbacks, and we were not allowed to even wear any deodorant, for fear that we would could provoke even more triggers through fragrances. What follows is the email I sent them.
To whom it may concern,
I went to your website, and as I was looking over your list of do's and don'ts, I realize you are absolutely not the right venue for our books and our event entitled 'brain injury warriors.'
We are all brain-injury victims and survivors, and do not have the specific 'sophistications' or boundaries to know what would or would not trigger negative responses. (many onlookers, not knowing our cognitive and motor limitations, often incorrectly assess us to be drunks. According to your 'rules on drunkenness' I suppose many in my community would be kicked out of your bookstore).
In fact, EVERY SINGLE reader could trigger something, since our tales are all about our survival, which often have dealt with rather shocking and provocative situations.
One gifted writer is a trans-punk queer yogi who was driven into a pole by his boyfriend, which left him brain-damaged beyond repair. in addition to writing, he now works full-time at anti-violence project, helping all same-sex couples deal with domestic violence, which, in this heterosexist society, is a problem unfortunately met with little seriousness.
The other reader is a pro-sex feminist blogger, whose blog deals with womyn undergoing glass-ceiling post-stroke lives.
I myself am a brain-damaged indian american who has battled racism, bashings, and cultural identity divisions. Of course, the most extreme situation has been my near-fatal brain hemorrhage provoked by a masturbation-induced orgasm -- which has left me epileptic, wrapped in erratic retrograde amnesia, dealing with a skull affixed with titanium plates, and harshly blinded.
It is rather unfortunate to see your 'rules,' as i do believe you do force issues and topics (such as brain injury survival) to never be dealt with in your venue. it seems to me these are the rules of faux-"liberal" folks who do not have to live othered, or orientalized, or disabled lives, and can thus create a big-brother type world which eases their own guilt of living without genuine oppression. also, i wonder if any of you have heard of 'auras' -- sensations which provoke severe seizures due to the natural 'human' odors and scents found in humid situations). the nerve of you ordering customers to refrain from scenting themselves reveals a shocking insensitivity to those (people suffering from epilepsy) who need odor-control the most.
it is rather odd to me that yours is a place which happily sells 'smutty fiction' while at the same time being so oblivious to how many trigger responses those books would create for unsuspecting customers. i have many female friends -- many of whom have proudly marched as dykes on bikes -- in your area who are mortified with the shock of seeing 'female health' books in your store. they have no issue with dealing with menstruation literature, but do wish they could have been warned. my own extensive work in queer and trans studies both in America and abroad, I believe, have given me a basic knowledge on what is considered, academically, misplaced progressive activity. and i know very well the case of 'trigger issues.' (which is explained without any of the concept's inherent complexities in the link you posted). however, never have i seen triggerism so frighteningly -- and lazily defined as in your 'safe space' rules. creativity, honesty, and pure expression are stifled if one were to follow the 'rules' per your efforts.
And by the way, when white men, or white womyn, discuss social politics from the vantage point of their privilege, they already cause trigger responses by people of color -- who have grown traumatized by ivory royalty of the hegemony claiming 'revolution.”
In the words of my sex-positive lesbian feminist professor back in NYU: when the phallic femmes and the medusan femmes choose to create too many silly restrictions together, there will be no freedoms, but rather, a conflation of wrongly-manufactured tolerance and disarming bigotry.
All the best.
I received no response.