Safe Spaces, Free Speech, and the Internet: On Your Right Not To Be Triggered

triggerwarningI should start this probably by saying that I am a big supporter of free speech (the Constitutional concept) and also a fan of the trigger warning, when used by people who are trying to create a safe space.  Trigger Warnings are actually a great way to enhance free speech and allow yourself space not to self-censor certain topics, while also making it easy for those who are bothered by the subject to avoid it.  That said, that doesn’t mean that every space gets absolute free speech nor does it mean that every trigger gets a warning.

I am, personally, not a big user of the Trigger Warning in my own work.  Not because I think people shouldn’t use it if they’d like, but because I rarely talk about subjects that traditionally require them, I find them bulkier than tags, and don’t really think they work for Facebook/Twitter, which is where I do most of my textual interaction.  They are, to my mind, most useful when linking to something else that someone might not want to click on because it is graphic, like a NSFW warning.  I generally don’t have a problem with the idea that people are, at times, disturbed by my content.  Many are disturbed by my atheist content, some by my language, I don’t feel the need to warn people that I am going to talk about religion disparagingly and with bad words.

This post was inspired by two separate events that happened in the last couple weeks on Facebook.  The first was a post that someone made in response to MRAs trying to hurt rape victims in which the poster said in anger that they wanted to hurt the MRAs for doing that and, in the comments below, said that some people need killin’.  Some people then got angry at him for talking about violence in hyperbolic fashion about people he doesn’t know without self-censoring, because any reference to death made people “uncomfortable” and suicidal people could be triggered by it and immoderate words could lead to immoderate actions.  (It was unclear if anyone was being triggered themselves, or just concerned that it was possible; since distancing language is common when trauma is involved, I don’t make any conclusions.)  The argument escalated to basically an insistence that, to be a good person, one should be willing to self-censor anything that might be triggering.  Not to simply warn that there was content, but to completely bar yourself from speaking on the topic in shared spaces, like Facebook.

Now, to me, my Facebook page is not a safe space for other people; it’s a space where I talk without self-censorship to my friends and followers and they can tune in or shut me off, either is fine with me.  No one is obligated to listen.  It is my space to rant and complain and cope with horrible things and share exciting things and get angry at things that are terrible and happy about things that are adorable.  That doesn’t mean that what I say there is beyond criticism in comments, but I am not going to NOT talk about something because someone finds it triggering, in the same way that I don’t always avoid spoilers.  Facebook is therapeutic for me; it is how I process anxieties and questions and my own struggles with mental illness and trauma of many kinds.  There are some things that are for my gratification, and it took me a very long time to understand that that’s OK, I get to do things for myself sometimes.  I balk at the idea that who I am, the experiences of being me, require a content warning every time I open my mouth to talk about surviving them.

On top of that, I’m not going to try to stay on top of every possible thing that could trigger someone that follows me, because it’s just not possible.   I do not advertise any of the spaces in which I write to be universal safe spaces, because they aren’t.  Which leads me to the second incident.

I am a member of a Facebook group that claims to be a “Safe Space” and has a very long list of Content Warnings that anything to do with the subjects in question has to be hidden behind many returns so that people can avoid the content if they’d like.  One of the things on that list is the word “trigger,” which is apparently a trigger for people; hence, CW rather than TW.  Another thing on that list is People in Drag — there are to be no pictures of people in drag in this forum.

This made me very angry.  I expressed this anger in a constructive form, simply saying that I thought it was inappropriate for drag to be on the list, because it was creating an unsafe space for other individuals for whom drag was a part of their identity.  Would it be OK to put “black people” or “women” in your list of content warnings?  “Sorry, any pictures of someone who is not a white heterosexual male must go behind a cut.”

The person who’d asked for the warning to be added responded, saying that they were traumatized by the sight of people in drag and the moderators defended it saying that there doesn’t have to be a reason for a trigger, it just is one.  Except this person wasn’t *triggered* into having PTSD symptoms and flashbacks, they were just grossed out by it.

The result is that, in this community, because the list of triggers is so long, everyone just hides every post and tries to come up with a CW for them, often in vague useless ways or ways that are far more disturbing than the sentence long update.

This is, of course, this particular group’s right, and they can create a safe space for whomever they want, whether it includes me or not.  And it is my right to feel mildly horrified that people are equating seeing a picture of a drag queen and being grossed out with people seeing graphic depictions of rape and having flashbacks to their own trauma.

I want to be very clear here, being upset at something is not the same as being triggered by it.  I am deeply upset by many gruesome images and I dislike seeing them, but they don’t trigger me.  Almost all of my triggers are really mundane, and they happen inconsistently and without warning — I can’t ask the number 864 to suddenly stop existing, right?  I don’t have an expectation that people generally avoid anything that might trigger me, I just have strategies with coping with what it’s like to have a brain that isn’t always my friend.

In much the same way that you don’t have a right not to be offended, you don’t have a right not to be triggered.  You have a right to feel your feelings and express those feelings.  You even have a right to ask for certain spaces to be different.  But I also think it is unfair to expect friends to self-censor every public thought for your benefit and that it is insulting to equate being grossed out or upset by something to being triggered by it.  I get to ask for consideration of my needs, but I also have to accept that other people have needs as well and, sometimes, they are in conflict — and while my need to not have flashbacks does seem, on the face of it, like a greater need than someone else’s need to vent, it’s not really my place to decide that for them.  I get to decide what spaces I expose myself to and how to respond if someone else can’t make a safe space for me, but someone needing to talk about things that might trigger someone else doesn’t make them a bad person.

10 Things I’d like to do in 2014

pusheenresolutionsI never make resolutions, I tend to think of them as lies we tell ourselves through the month of January.  But I do have some goals for 2014.

1. Make people call me Doctor.  I am still in the proposal process of my dissertation, but since my advisor is leaving in May, I really need to get everything done by then.  I also just want to be finished.  Honey Boo Boo and me gonna spend some quality time these next four months.
hbb
2. Take advantage of having decent insurance.  I have had pretty awful school insurance for the last several years and, while the insurance I now have is not super fancy, it is enough that I can go see someone about my growing list of things that need attention.

3. Watch all the rest of John and Hank Green’s videos and read all John’s books.  I’ve watched both series of Crash Course history, all of vlogbrothers, Mental Floss, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and maybe 1/4 of hankgames, which leaves Crash Course sciences and literature, Sci Show, Emma Approved, and the rest of hankgames. The books are: Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Will Grayson will grayson, The Fault in Our Stars (I’m halfway through this).

calvin-hobbes-resolutions4. Learn to cook some new things (I welcome recipes for picky eaters who hate to cook.)

5. Record more ukulele videos (I consider requests!) and blog at least once a week even if it’s just about my New Years resolutions

6. Finish writing my novel and novelize my screenplay.  I mean, what else am I going to do with my free time when I’m done dissertating?

7. Do something amazing for my 30th birthday (Cage diving with sharks? Tour Britain and see Cornwall, Wales, Scotland? Australia and New Zealand?? Hawaii?)

8. Be vulnerable, feel feelings, risk rejection, be OK with how I feel rather than anxious about how other people respond to my feelings.

9. Figure out where I am going to live.

10. World Cup. Experience this one and figure out how to attend the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.

Happy Nerdy Christmas — Santa Baby, Geek Edition

Geeky santa
Slip a Catbug under the tree
For me
Been an awful big nerd
Geeky santa
And hurry down the chimney tonight

Nerdy santa
A chameleonless TARDIS too
Bright Blue
Hope it’s bigger inside
Nerdy santa
Hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of all the cons I’ve missed
Think of all the morons that I haven’t dissed
Next year I’ll be comprehensive
If you make my hobbies a bit less expensive

TV Santa
Explicitly gay Sherlock
It’s not a lot
Moffat’s teased us for years
TV santa
Hurry down the chimney tonight

Science santa
Fill my stockings with Bill Nye
and Ty-
son. For a dot we do fine.
Science santa
Hurry down the chimney tonight.

Come and deck my Festivus tree
With Companion Cubes bought from ThinkGeek
I really don’t believe in you
But free Amazon Prime might change my mind

Bechdel santa,
Equal representation too
From you
It just can’t be that hard
Bechdel santa
Hurry down the chimney tonight…

DFTBA tonight…
Live long and prosper, tonight.

To those of us fighting the good fight

I wrote this, originally, to console someone who was sick to death of her efforts being met with rape threats and death threats and inaccurate accusations.  I debated posting it, knowing it would undoubtedly bring with it some backlash.  I spend my free time volunteering for atheist, humanist, and skeptic causes only to be constantly met with people telling me that I am not a “real” activist.  There are other things I could be doing. It is hard to watch all of the misogyny and sexism go on in this movement.  It’s hard to watch people as wonderful as Pamela Gay be torn down for coming forward with her story.

It’s exhausting to know that there are people who hate you and believe ridiculous, untrue things about you, no matter how clear and unoffensive you have tried to be. I am tired of being accused of being in it for the money when being involved in atheism costs me loads of money every year — travel costs I don’t ever expect to see returned by my blog. I’m tired of every post being a target and rage commenters trying to tear me down for my appearance, education, and family. I have never been targeted by religious people the way I am by atheists. And how much worse is it to be targeted by a group of people you spend your free time working to help.

I am tired of being worried about legal threats and hackers, people who have targeted me as “collateral damage” to others as well as those who’ve directly targeted me. I am tired of getting flooded on Facebook by people I don’t know whenever I post something vaguely in the area of things they label social justice warrioring. I’m tired of everything being a fight. I’m tired of trying to be the bigger person. I’m tired of feeling like all the abuse is pointless because there’s no movement. I’m tired of people with power laughing or shrugging off sexual assault and harassment. I’m tired of people making value judgments about those who’ve been harassed — demanding you have had certain experiences to be able to comment on them and then mocking you if you come forward with those experiences.

I am, in short, very tired. And I don’t have it the worst, by any stretch of the imagination.

But then, sometimes, strangers come up to me or email me and thank me. They thank me specifically for talking about things that get me the most bile. There are people who hear what you say and change their mind, but they’re usually not very loud, because changing your mind is hard and takes a while and is difficult to talk about when you’re in the middle of it. I have many friends who became not very close friends for a little while because I was on the SJW side of things and they weren’t sure which way to go who are now among my strongest allies.

That said, I’ve had a hard time blogging lately because, on top of all the drama of day to day life, it’s so infuriating and upsetting to deal with the internet assholes. It’s hard to find the reward. Every post is a constant decision to put up with attacks.  I have to remind myself that it’s worth it.  And sometimes, it’s just not.  Sometimes, I am just not in a place where I can deal with the abuse.  Ultimately, while changing minds is a lofty and important goal, it’s also not our responsibility. If you’re tapped out, you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason to subject yourself to this if you don’t find it rewarding. And there are less hostile audiences within the movement as well.  The SSA, for example, has been nothing but wonderful to me.

I don’t know if that helps at all, just know I feel what you’re feeling an awful lot.  You’re not alone.

Atheism as Social Justice

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.

Sarah Jones wrote a post yesterday about why, despite the fact that she’s an atheist, she is not a secular activist.  This made me think long and hard about how our movement receives wonderful activists who agree with us on the God question, and how we sell what our movement is doing.  I have a lot of problems with the atheist movement, and I’ve struggled with engaging with it recently. The level of hostility towards women and hatred for the social justice framework, especially online, makes it really unappealing at times, and almost always exhausting.  But Sarah, sort of ironically, reminded me that I got involved with atheism because of the social justice imperative.

Sarah says:

I care more about social justice than I do about atheism, and I think a person can be a strong ally for social justice causes without being an atheist. Your belief in God matters less to me than your position on gender equality. I don’t strive for a godless world. I would rather see a world defined by respect and tolerance than by spirituality or the lack thereof.

I very much respect Sarah’s greater interest in gender equality and agree with her that respect is a better goal than ending all theistic leanings.  She also has an interest in social justice in the south (particularly Appalachia), which is also close to my heart.  And there is nothing about being an atheist and an activist means you have to be an atheist activist, there’s a lot of causes that are worthy.  If you are someone who cares a lot about equity, racial and gender justice, and you don’t see religion as the primary root of these problems (which I do not), addressing individual issues nothing directly to do with atheism might be more appealing or important to you.  So I have no problem with Sarah’s choice of focus and I think it’s got nothing to do with how secular/atheist she is, and anyone who accuses her of being not atheist enough is being absurd.  And I think it’s a shame that she, justifiably, feels the need to define herself against atheism as a movement.  But I need to push back against the idea that social justice does not or cannot include atheism as a cause.  (The rest of this is not about Sarah, just inspired by her post.)

Atheist equality is very much a social justice cause.

Atheists are not treated as equals in the US.  I know that for my friends and colleagues in various causes I’m invested in, especially those who live in blue areas and big cities, this isn’t always as transparent as it is to those of us from rural, red, or very religious areas.  The amount of social isolation and judgment the non-religious face is shocking.  We are the most reviled group in the US, below Muslims and gay people, on par with rapists.  There’s a reason we borrow the term “coming out” to describe letting people know our non-religious status — because there’s a lot stigma involved in the label and family, work, and social strife comes with openness.

Religious people get special tax consideration. You functionally have to claim religion to be elected to public office.  There are states (including my own) with unconstitutional and unenforcible laws on the books to prevent atheists from holding public office as small as public notary.  We have prisons where only Bibles are allowed as reading material (also South Carolina).  Under God in the pledge, God on the money, court mandated religious drug/alcohol treatment, child custody being determined against non-religious parents because they’re necessarily seen as immoral, discrimination and forced religious events in the armed services, religion being pushed into public schools, inability for non-religious to get credentialed to perform marriages or funerals, and it goes on in ways big and small.

There are a lot of places in the US where it really sucks to be an atheist.  Where your boss will fire you if he finds out.  Where you can’t get jobs if it’s known.  This is not oppression olympics, a lot of people have it worse.  And it’s much harder when you are on the receiving end of multiple systems of oppression.  But a truly intersectional examination of these systems of oppression reveals religion as an important source of injustice, socially, politically, and legally and atheists as victims of the cultural majority.  I think a lot of the anger in the movement is drawn from feeling disenfranchised because of minority status and the evangelism comes partially from wanting people to also be “freed from the shackles of religion” but also so that there are more people like you to be around.

But the resistance to unfairness that drove me to fight for LGBT issues, to fight for women’s rights, to fight racial injustice, to fight economic injustice, to work for progressive causes, to work in reproductive justice, is the same drive that brought me to atheism and keeps me here, despite the high level of pushback from a vocal minority in the movement who are more interested in being mean and boundary policing than effecting change.  I can’t blame anyone for leaving, I can’t promise never to leave myself, but it’s good to know why I am here.

20 Random Things Friday

1. The threat of 30 has been looming over my head, but Hank Green has cheered me a bit with the concept of Logarithmic Aging.  “So that you have more birthdays when you’re younger, when you like birthdays, and fewer birthdays when you’re older, when you don’t wanna think about em!”  Brilliant.

2. He is, incidentally, also right about the eating less meat thing — that we need to stop dividing people into meat-eaters and vegetarians, but instead encourage people to be thoughtful about their meat eating and do it much less.

I was a vegetarian for a couple years and my cholesterol got so low that it was bad for me.  Because even though we’re all “Cholesterol is bad” it turns out your body, you know, actually uses it.  Too low cholesterol is associated with depression, anxiety, and higher rates of mortality!  It also makes you bad at making vitamin D — and I don’t go in the sun much, so my vitamin D also got quite low.  So now I eat meat occasionally and feel better and categorizing me as a terrible meat eater isn’t useful.

3. Christina Hendricks is almost always wearing a wig or a hair piece.  I can’t believe I never noticed it, it’s super obvious.  Beyonce as well.  I feel so lied to.

christinahair

4. I had this thought today: “My flowery galoshes are almost perfect, except that no one can see my dinosaur socks.”  I’m a grown-up.

Galoshasaur

5. Also on hair, I’m trying to re-train my part to be further from the center, partially because I’m not entirely convinced one can train their part and the internet doesn’t have any authoritative claims on that front that I can find.

6. Photos from meeting Annie Leibovitz: https://www.facebook.com/mgafm/media_set?set=a.10100422213881817.1073741832.2605101&type=3

7. Photos from my trip to New Orleans: https://www.facebook.com/mgafm/media_set?set=a.10100422226162207.1073741833.2605101&type=3

8. Video of a real rescued baby sea turtle: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10100422239111257

9. Video of koi murdering a butterfly: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10100422242968527

10. Occasionally South Carolina does something amusing in a positive way.

sclawnmower

 

11. I thought I’d try this whole mindful meditation stuff that Greta is doing but I feel totally incapable of teaching myself to do it and the internet seems mostly filled with hippie dippy woo crap.  Thoughts on where to start?

12. Number one on this list so hard.

13. How many of the world’s 197 countries can you name in 15 minutes? I got to 120. I can place all the country names in the middle east in 1:45.  BAM.  I wonder if there’s a world map where you can place names instead of having to remember them off the top of your head?

14. DRUNK DIAL CONGRESS: http://drunkdialcongress.org/

15. Our prison system is just the worst.

16. Once again when a woman says “Guys, don’t do that,” atheist dudes are there to blow the whole thing up and call her irrational and oversensitive.

17. I really miss google maps Wikipedia plugin.  How am I supposed to learn random stuff about Western China?

18. Rebecca wrote a wonderful article about how useless the police are when it comes to online harassment.  It reminds me of my experience with Eddie Kritzer.  First comment? Go to the police.  I did.  And they told me they wouldn’t file a restraining order unless I changed my email and phone number and he kept harassing me.

19. ARGH ANTONIN SCALIA BOOO

20. Me repeatedly today:

jonwhat

 

mugatu

Lindsey Graham finally responds on ACA shutdown

Two weeks ago, fearing the impending shutdown, I sent my congressman and senators an email about the ACA and why it was important to me.  I got e-mails from all three of them — Tim Scott and Joe Wilson both sent me on topic responses, but I just got a form letter from Lindsey Graham saying that he’d respond later.  And he did, finally.

I am not sure what I expected, but I figured if it took him this long to send me an e-mail in response, it’d actually acknowledge what my opinion on the issue at hand is or give some indication that he (or someone on his staff) at least skimmed my letter.

Dear Ashley:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the vote to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I have always opposed the ACA and proudly voted in support of the House passed bill to fund the government and defund the ACA.  Unfortunately, with Democrats controlling the Senate, they were able to remove the defunding language without a single Republican vote.  The ACA has been and will remain a financial disaster for our nation.  For this reason I will continue to work towards repealing the ACA.  As the Senate considers this issue I will keep your comments in mind.

My job as your United States Senator is to represent your interests.  While I cannot guarantee we will see eye-to-eye on every issue, I can guarantee you I will give your thoughts and opinions the consideration they deserve.  Hearing directly from you about the problems facing our nation helps me better serve constituents like you and the people of South Carolina as a whole.  I hope you will always feel free to pick up the phone, write, or email about this, or any other issue, that comes before the Senate.

If you are online, I would also encourage you to visit my website — http://lgraham.senate.gov — as it has information on the most recent activities before the Senate.  While there you can sign up for my e-mail newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages which will provide the latest information, and my up-to-the-minute views on the major issues facing our nation.

Thank you again for taking time from your busy day to contact my office.  I look forward to hearing from you again in the future and truly appreciate the opportunity to represent your interests in the United States Senate.

You’ve had many opportunities to represent my interests, Senator, I look forward to the day when you actually do.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, transcribed by a Mac

Yesterday I tried Middle English, so today, nonsensical English seemed to be the next best thing.

Twist Briley again the slightly toes,
Did jarring gimbal in the wave:
Almonds you were the Bora Groves,
And the mom race outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the closet catch!
Beware the judge of Bird, and shunned
The feminist benders snatch!”

He took his mortal sword in hand;
Long time the men’s own photo he sought –
So rested he by the tom-tom tree
Instead a while in thought.

And, as an office thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the told you would,
And verbal does it came!

One, too! One, too! And through and through
The vocal blade went snicker snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, might beamish boy!
Of fab just day! Hello! Calais!
It chortled in his joy.

Twist Greg, and the slighty toes
Did John gambling the wave:
On Mimsy were the Bora Groves,
And the Momerath upgrade.

The original:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.