To begin, let me state the following: This post may be triggering to some. It might not. Hell, I don’t know.
A lot has been said recently on the subject of “triggers” in fiction — written or on a performance basis. Rape scenes in film and television have ignited a firestorm of debate among authors and critics, readers and writers, creators and consumers. Various “-isms” have been decried in one form of media or another for being the counterproductive bullshit that they are. Words or phrases that leave some people uncomfortable or bring up memories allegedly better left buried are being assembled into lists so that they can be touted as “unacceptable” words.
Read that closely: Unacceptable words. A group of random people on the Internet are banding together to tell you what you can or cannot say, write, read, or shout from the rooftops. If they must be discussed, say these people, then you as a creator or author must place some form of “trigger warning” to let potential consumers know that they may well encounter discussions of sex, suicide, corpses, insects, firearms, spiders, death, abuse, eating disorders, or a laundry list of other topics. They ignore the fact that a true “trigger” bypasses all rational thought and acts as a neural stimulus that brings previous trauma slamming back into existence in the mind of one who has been harmed. A “trigger” is that thing which returns the victim to the scene of the crime, so to speak: The crash of noise that causes the veteran to grab his child and dive for cover, the scent of a particular cologne mixed with sweat that brings the sexual assault to the forefront of the mind and leaves the victim in terror that it is happening once again, the surprise touch from behind that puts the victim of a violent crime into a fetal ball.
The meaning of “trigger” has now been perverted by these faceless Internet people to mean essentially any word or concept that makes them uncomfortable. It has lost its true meaning as surely as has the word “terrorist” — once reserved for those who used terror tactics to advance a political goal, but now simply a euphemism for anyone the user deems opposed to their personal outlook on politics or patriotism.
Blogs have appeared out of nowhere telling writers that this topic or that one is never acceptable to use in your story for any form of motivation: a person once raped may never use that event as grounds for revenge, a person abused may never use that abuse as a reason to become an advocate for the abused, on and on ad nauseum. It might be upsetting to someone who has suffered such an event or trauma in their past. They bypass completely the thought that stories are meant to move the reader, that words are meant to explore, and that what a writer puts in a story is generally there for a reason.
Trigger and trigger bar assembly, GLOCK pistol.
While this image is much more what I see in my mind when I hear the word, “Trigger”, for some the word has come to mean the oh-so-self-centered school of thought that says, “I don’t want to see (or hear or read or experience) anything that might make me uncomfortable, so it’s your responsibility to warn me that it is there!”
Read it again: No.
It is not my job as an author, as a citizen, or even as a fellow human being, to protect you from thought. In point of fact, many would argue otherwise: that it is the job of writers to expose you to new thoughts, ones that make you question the things you once held as unassailable truth. That will always make you uncomfortable.