This past week there has been a lot of conversation, much of it quite heated, around the topic of content warnings and how, why and if we should be using them as bloggers. They may also be referred to as content notes and trigger warnings. I am not going to discuss my opinion on the catalyst for this topic to arise on Twitter partly because I wasn’t involved in it, I do however have thoughts on content warnings in general that I’d like to share.
I want to start by pointing out I have a fuck ton of privilege with regards to content warnings because I don’t really need them. There are very few topics any of you could write about that would upset me to the point where that upset stayed with me for any longer than the duration of the post. Yes sometimes I might ponder things you’ve said for a little longer, or maybe what you’ve shared with me will alter my viewpoint or understanding permanently. However, I won’t be plunged into anxiety, panic, or forced to revisit past traumas because of what you have written.
If you feel that way about reading fellow bloggers work too then I believe you also need to accept how lucky you are before you consider the why’s and when’s of content warnings. To make it clearer I can read about domestic violence and I think it is abhorrent and I hate that so many of you have gone through it, but I haven’t, so I don’t have any trauma related to that topic. Likewise with rape, child abuse, suicide or many other topics that we regularly state should have contents warnings. My life has been fairly trauma-free, do you know how blessed that makes me? How bloody lucky I am to remain largely unaffected by situations that have deeply impacted our fellow bloggers and friends? I do see how fortunate that makes me and that I why I use content warnings and it is why I think you should consider using them too.
I think it’s also worth noting what it is to be triggered. I think unfortunately this is a word that has been swept up into our daily usage and now we think every other people is going to be ‘triggered’ by us simply having or own opinions and thoughts. This is not the case. When someone who has past trauma is triggered, it’s not them being a bit upset, it could be them having flashbacks to the events that caused their trauma, it could lead them to self-harm, to isolate themselves and a whole host of other things that I’m sure we all agree we’d rather our friends weren’t having to deal with.
We can’t protect the people we care about from everything that is going to be a trigger for them, we can’t save everyone but we can support them, which is a line totally stolen from Jae Lynn from her post Don’t Save Me, Support Me. I am not equipped to help anyone deal with past trauma, what I can do though is listen to what people are saying with regards to this topic and see how I can support them, a long while back I realise content warnings were a way in which I could offer my support and perhaps avoid one of my posts being the trigger someone would rather avoid.
Freedom of Speech and Self-Censorship
I fund my blog out of my own pocket, no advertising, no affiliate links, I work hard and one of the things I choose to do with my money is pay for a self-hosted blog. One of the reasons I like doing it this way is I can write whatever the hell I like and agree or disagree with me no one else has a say in how I do things here. Now, I could take that approach and be a total dick about it but I probably wouldn’t have much of a readership. Then again places like The Sun and Daily Mail do just that and sadly their readership numbers are tragically high. So who knows, maybe I’d be a roaring success if was a douchebag. Thankfully for my sense of pride and wellbeing I am, I think, a fairly decent human being. So being able to write what I want means something different for me.
I have written about kinks in the past that not only won’t be to everyone’s tastes but may actually be a topic that is going to be triggering for them. I’m not going to stop writing about those things and when I write about them I am not going to censor myself to make things more palatable. I’m going to write about whatever it is I need to say, in a way I need to say it and then I’m going to review what I’ve said and then slap a big fact content warning at the top of the page so my readers can decide for themselves if they are in a good place mentally to tackle a post on a subject that might cause them harm.
If They Don’t Like it, They Can Just Move On
I see this a lot, the notion that if someone doesn’t like what you post, they can just move on. By the time they’ve realised the topic you’re discussing poses an issue for them though it’s too late for then ‘just’ move on. They might already be in the middle of a flashback or having a mahoosive anxiety attack, all because using a content warning seems like what; Pandering? Babying? Restrictive to you as a blogger? Censoring you as a human being? Honestly, I don’t get that logic.
To my mind, if someone visits your blog, has a bad experience with regards to their personal triggers because they did not know to avoid it, then that person very likely isn’t going to return. You are no longer a safe place for them, they can’t have any assurance that at any given time in one of your posts they won’t read something that will be harmful to their sense of wellbeing. So you’ve lost a reader, all because you were reluctant to add another 5-10 words to your post.
Again, if you can ‘just move on’ from reading something you find upsetting, remember that privilege you most likely have, ask yourself what awful things you haven’t experienced, the absence of which allows you to move along to the next post, rather than having to step away from the computer to deal with the return of traumatic memories.
If for some reason you are sat reading this saying ‘yeah, but I have experienced ‘insert traumatic event here’ and I don’t need a trigger warning for that, so why should other people need it’ again I would suggest you need to be grateful for something. Perhaps you got the help you needed when you needed it to help you get through that experience, maybe other people didn’t. Perhaps a whole host of other factors influenced how you processed and view that experience, but I don’t think anyone should be forced to revisit past trauma just because someone else doesn’t have an issue with doing that themselves.
Forced? That’s a Bit Extreme Isn’t It?
Honestly, I don’t think it is an extreme word to use. If you are writing about a topic that you know is one some people might struggle with, omitting to declare that information to people when you easily could, does rather force them to deal with it whether they want to or not.
Now, some of you will say, ‘but it’s clear from the title’. I agree, sometimes this is the case, not always though. Sometimes the triggering topic might on be reflected on in a single paragraph in a much larger post about something else. I guarantee you still know you’ve discussed it though. So why shouldn’t someone else know it’s there too?
At this point, I bet there is also someone saying ‘so, what you’re saying is I had to put a content warning on everything I write?’ Well, yes, if everything you write is triggering as fuck, which honestly in the sex blogging community is no one. The topics content warnings are usually appreciated for are fairly obvious to anyone who has any common sense. If they’re not obvious to you and you feel like I’ve just insulted you, I’d ask you to just take a minute and seriously consider if that truly is the case.
If you genuinely don’t know that topics like domestic violence, child abuse, rape, bereavement, eating disorders, racism, transphobia, abortion, animal cruelty, drug use, body shaming, graphic violence, homophobia, incest, infertility and suicide to name but a few are going to be triggering for some people in our community then I suggest you expand on the blogs you are reading because many fine and wonderful bloggers write about their experiences with traumatic topics in a way that I think is extremely valuable to people who take the time to sit with their words a while.
Once Again Floss is Perfect & Everyone Else Sucks
I always think when I write posts like this and similarly ‘Don’t Be Like Gollum’ I sound like I think I’ve got it all figured out and I know exactly how to not make mistakes or hurt anyone’s feelings, or cause any undue harm. Which is absolutely not the case. In fact, I reckon if someone searched hard enough they could find a post on my blog without a content warning that might need one. My reaction to being called out on this would be to add a content warning, maybe not immediately but certainly as soon as it became possible for me to do so. It would take about 2 minutes of my time and might save someone from discomfort in the future. To me, it is a no brainer of a decision.
I’m also well aware that some of my photos aren’t really everyone’s cup of tea and that is where I perhaps tread a fine line between giving enough warnings and making people uncomfortable. I try even when my photos include something that may cause other people discomfort, for example, blood and bruises, to make the photos as palatable as I can. I have in the past used them for my header images though and as such, they would perhaps be hard to avoid.
I have thought long and hard about why in the spirit of content warnings I don’t just remove them and use something more suitable for all eyes to see, I’d like to give a well thought out, caring answer, but in truth I suppose is just selfishness, I do think though if those were the kinds of images I shared regularly I would absolutely have some kind of pop-up warning of extreme imagery. I’m not going to hide behind a veil of pretence over not censoring those images though, and if someone comes to me to discuss that, then I’ll genuinely listen to them and consider their point of view, knowing that they may be upset by the time they get to me.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I think more people should consider using content warnings, but your blog equals your choice, and I support your right to manage your platform in any way you see fit. However, like with my situation with sharing images of slightly edgier kinks, I do think you should be open, of mind and heart, to people approaching you when your words might have caught them off guard. Sometimes we can make small decisions that are more far-reaching than we can imagine, I think content warnings come under that category. It’s something we can do to support others and might just help someone avoid a day far shittier than some of us can even begin to imagine.