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You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma

by Jack Halberstam

I was watching Monty Python’s The Life of Brian from 1979 recently, a hilarious rewriting of the life and death of Christ, and I realized how outrageous most of the jokes from the film would seem today. In fact, the film, with its religious satire and scenes of Christ and the thieves singing on the cross, would never make it into cinemas now. The Life of Brian was certainly received as controversial in its own day but when censors tried to repress the film in several different countries, The Monty Python crew used their florid sense of humor to their advantage. So, when the film was banned in a few places, they gave it a tagline of: “So funny it was banned in Norway!”



Humor, in fact, in general, depends upon the unexpected (“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”); repetition to the point of hilarity “you can have eggs, bacon and spam; spam, eggs, spam and sausage; or spam, spam, spam and spam!”); silliness, non-sequitors, caricature and an anarchic blend of the serious and the satirical. And, humor is something that feminists in particular, but radical politics in general, are accused of lacking. Recent controversies within queer communities around language, slang, satirical or ironic representation and perceptions of harm or offensive have created much controversy with very little humor recently, leading to demands for bans, censorship and name changes.

feminist_humor_fbDebates among people who share utopian goals, in fact, are nothing new. I remember coming out in the 1970s and 1980s into a world of cultural feminism and lesbian separatism. Hardly an event would go by back then without someone feeling violated, hurt, traumatized by someone’s poorly phrased question, another person’s bad word choice or even just the hint of perfume in the room. People with various kinds of fatigue, easily activated allergies, poorly managed trauma were constantly holding up proceedings to shout in loud voices about how bad they felt because someone had said, smoked, or sprayed something near them that had fouled up their breathing room. Others made adjustments, curbed their use of deodorant, tried to avoid patriarchal language, thought before they spoke, held each other, cried, moped, and ultimately disintegrated into a messy, unappealing morass of weepy, hypo-allergic, psychosomatic, anti-sex, anti-fun, anti-porn, pro-drama, pro-processing post-political subjects.

Political times change and as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, as weepy white lady feminism gave way to reveal a multi-racial, poststructuralist, intersectional feminism of much longer provenance, people began to laugh, loosened up, people got over themselves and began to talk and recognize that the enemy was not among us but embedded within new, rapacious economic systems. Needless to say, for women of color feminisms, the stakes have always been higher and identity politics always have played out differently. But, in the 1990s, books on neoliberalism, postmodernism, gender performativity and racial capital turned the focus away from the wounded self and we found our enemies and, as we spoke out and observed that neoliberal forms of capitalism were covering over economic exploitation with language of freedom and liberation, it seemed as if we had given up wounded selves for new formulations of multitudes, collectivities, collaborations, and projects less centered upon individuals and their woes. Of course, I am flattening out all kinds of historical and cultural variations within multiple histories of feminism, queerness and social movements. But I am willing to do so in order to make a point here about the re-emergence of a rhetoric of harm and trauma that casts all social difference in terms of hurt feelings and that divides up politically allied subjects into hierarchies of woundedness.



At this point, we should recall the “four Yorkshire men” skit from Monty Python where the four old friends reminisce about their deprived childhoods – one says “we used to live in a tiny old tumbledown house…” the next counters with “house!? You were lucky to live in a house. We used to live in a room…” And the third jumps in with: “room? You were lucky to have a room, we used to have to live in a corridor.” The fourth now completes the cycle: “A corridor! We dreamed of living in a corridor!” These hardship competitions, but without the humor, are set pieces among the triggered generation and indeed, I rarely go to a conference, festival or gathering anymore without a protest erupting about a mode of representation that triggered someone somewhere. And as people “call each other out” to a chorus of finger snapping, we seem to be rapidly losing all sense of perspective and instead of building alliances, we are dismantling hard fought for coalitions.



Much of the recent discourse of offense and harm has focused on language, slang and naming. For example, controversies erupted in the last few months over the name of a longstanding nightclub in San Francisco: “Trannyshack,” and arguments ensued about whether the word “tranny” should ever be used. These debates led some people to distraction, and legendary queer performer, Justin Vivian Bond, posted an open letter on her Facebook page telling readers and fans in no uncertain terms that she is “angered by this trifling bullshit.” Bond reminded readers that many people are “delighted to be trannies” and not delighted to be shamed into silence by the “word police.” Bond and others have also referred to the queer custom of re-appropriating terms of abuse and turning them into affectionate terms of endearment. When we obliterate terms like “tranny” in the quest for respectability and assimilation, we actually feed back into the very ideologies that produce the homo and trans phobia in the first place! In The Life of Brian, Brian finally refuses to participate in the anti-Semitism that causes his mother to call him a “roman.” In a brave “coming out” speech, he says: “I’m not a roman mum, I’m a kike, a yid, a heebie, a hook-nose, I’m kosher mum, I’m a Red Sea pedestrian, and proud of it!

And now for something completely different…The controversy about the term “tranny” is not a singular occurrence; such tussles have become a rather predictable and regular part of all kinds of conferences and meetings. Indeed, it is becoming difficult to speak, to perform, to offer up work nowadays without someone, somewhere claiming to feel hurt, or re-traumatized by a cultural event, a painting, a play, a speech, a casual use of slang, a characterization, a caricature and so on whether or not the “damaging” speech/characterization occurs within a complex aesthetic work. At one conference, a play that foregrounded the mutilation of the female body in the 17th century was cast as trans-phobic and became the occasion for multiple public meetings to discuss the damage it wreaked upon trans people present at the performance. Another piece at this performance conference that featured a “fortune teller” character was accused of orientalist stereotyping. At another event I attended that focused on queer masculinities, the organizers were accused of marginalizing queer femininities. And a class I was teaching recently featured a young person who reported feeling worried about potentially “triggering” a transgender student by using incorrect pronouns in relation to a third student who did not seem bothered by it! Another student told me recently that she had been “triggered” in a class on colonialism by the showing of The Battle of Algiers. In many of these cases offended groups demand apologies, and promises are made that future enactments of this or that theater piece will cut out the offensive parts; or, as in the case of “Trannyshack,” the name of the club was changed.


As reductive as such responses to aesthetic and academic material have become, so have definitions of trauma been over-simplified within these contexts. There are complex discourses on trauma readily available as a consequence of decades of work on memory, political violence and abuse. This work has offered us multiple theories of the ways in which a charged memory of pain, abuse, torture or imprisonment can be reignited by situations or associations that cause long buried memories to flood back into the body with unpredictable results. But all of this work, by Shoshana Felman Macarena Gomez-Barris, Saidiya Hartman, Cathy Caruth, Ann Cvetkovich, Marianne Hirsch and others, has been pushed aside in the recent wave of the politics of the aggrieved.


Claims about being triggered work off literalist notions of emotional pain and cast traumatic events as barely buried hurt that can easily resurface in relation to any kind of representation or association that resembles or even merely represents the theme of the original painful experience. And so, while in the past, we turned to Freud’s mystic writing pad to think of memory as a palimpsest, burying material under layers of inscription, now we see a memory as a live wire sitting in the psyche waiting for a spark. Where once we saw traumatic recall as a set of enigmatic symptoms moving through the body, now people reduce the resurfacing of a painful memory to the catch all term of “trigger,” imagining that emotional pain is somehow similar to a pulled muscle –as something that hurts whenever it is deployed, and as an injury that requires protection.

k5715Fifteen to twenty years ago, books like Wendy Brown’s States of Injury (1995) and Anna Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief (2001) asked readers to think about how grievances become grief, how politics comes to demand injury and how a neoliberal rhetoric of individual pain obscures the violent sources of social inequity. But, newer generations of queers seem only to have heard part of this story and instead of recognizing that neoliberalism precisely goes to work by psychologizing political difference, individualizing structural exclusions and mystifying political change, some recent activists seem to have equated social activism with descriptive statements about individual harm and psychic pain. Let me be clear – saying that you feel harmed by another queer person’s use of a reclaimed word like tranny and organizing against the use of that word is NOT social activism. It is censorship.

In a post-affirmative action society, where even recent histories of political violence like slavery and lynching are cast as a distant and irrelevant past, all claims to hardship have been cast as equal; and some students, accustomed to trotting out stories of painful events in their childhoods (dead pets/parrots, a bad injury in sports) in college applications and other such venues, have come to think of themselves as communities of naked, shivering, quaking little selves – too vulnerable to take a joke, too damaged to make one. In queer communities, some people are now committed to an “It Gets Better” version of consciousness-raising within which suicidal, depressed and bullied young gays and lesbians struggle like emperor penguins in a blighted arctic landscape to make it through the winter of childhood. With the help of friendly adults, therapy, queer youth groups and national campaigns, these same youth internalize narratives of damage that they themselves may or may not have actually experienced. Queer youth groups in particular install a narrative of trauma and encourage LGBT youth to see themselves as “endangered” and “precarious” whether or not they actually feel that way, whether or not coming out as LGB or T actually resulted in abuse! And then, once they “age out” of their youth groups, those same LGBT youth become hypersensitive to all signs and evidence of the abuse about which they have learned.



What does it mean when younger people who are benefitting from several generations now of queer social activism by people in their 40s and 50s (who in their childhoods had no recourse to anti-bullying campaigns or social services or multiple representations of other queer people building lives) feel abused, traumatized, abandoned, misrecognized, beaten, bashed and damaged? These younger folks, with their gay-straight alliances, their supportive parents and their new right to marry regularly issue calls for “safe space.” However, as Christina978-0-8223-5470-3_pr
Hanhardt’s Lambda Literary award winning book, Safe Space: Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence, shows, the safe space agenda has worked in tandem with urban initiatives to increase the policing of poor neighborhoods and the gentrification of others. Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence traces the development of LGBT politics in the US from 1965-2005 and explains how LGBT activism was transformed from a multi-racial coalitional grassroots movement with strong ties to anti-poverty groups and anti-racism organizations to a mainstream, anti-violence movement with aspirations for state recognition.

And, as LGBT communities make “safety” into a top priority (and that during an era of militaristic investment in security regimes) and ground their quest for safety in competitive narratives about trauma, the fight against aggressive new forms of exploitation, global capitalism and corrupt political systems falls by the way side.

Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs? Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that “we owe each other everything,” we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.

I want to call for a time of accountability and specificity: not all LGBT youth are suicidal, not all LGBT people are subject to violence and bullying, and indeed class and race remain much more vital factors in accounting for vulnerability to violence, police brutality, social baiting and reduced access to education and career opportunities. Let’s call an end to the finger snapping moralism, let’s question contemporary desires for immediately consumable messages of progress, development and access; let’s all take a hard long look at the privileges that often prop up public performances of grief and outrage; let’s acknowledge that being queer no longer automatically means being brutalized and let’s argue for much more situated claims to marginalization, trauma and violence. Let’s not fiddle while Rome (or Paris) burns, trigger while the water rises, weep while trash piles up; let’s recognize these internal wars for the distraction they have become. Once upon a time, the appellation “queer” named an opposition to identity politics, a commitment to coalition, a vision of alternative worlds. Now it has become a weak umbrella term for a confederation of identitarian concerns. It is time to move on, to confuse the enemy, to become illegible, invisible, anonymous (see Preciado’s Bully Bloggers post on anonymity in relation to the Zapatistas). In the words of José Muñoz, “we have never been queer.” In the words of a great knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “we are now no longer the Knights who say Ni, we are now the Knights who say “Ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-PTANG. Zoom-Boing, z’nourrwringmm.”




369 replies on “You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma”

Very well thought-out and very well articulated assessment of the culture of umbrage in which Americans (of all political stripes) currently find themselves. Thank you for this superb piece of writing.

Just checking. Your rebuttal consists of “Is not!” and “Typo!”? You’re right about the typo, but you may want to read a little more about neoliberalism. I recommend David Harvey’s book, which pretty much backs up Halberstam’s argument. For example: “Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.”

Agreed. There is an inflation in terms, when the use of the word trigger no longer refers to a neural reaction that bypasses the rational mind but just to a bad memory. The sad element is that it becomes harder to discuss real traumas of all kinds when the scientific terms become buzzwords. Believe me, you are not traumatized by the use of the word “tranny”.

Apologies if this point was already made before. I’ve definitely been feeling the deja-vu and irritation with the current movement following the more negative aspects of the second wave feminist movement – in particular the lesbian community of that era. In that part of your blog I totally agree and felt quite heartened to see someone writing what I have been trying to articulate to my friends who have been having the same discussion. Where I believe you took a left turn was at the description that “not all” LGBT has had trauma and that the It Gets Better Movement encourages people to think of themselves as victims. I think it detracts from your main argument and gets into a battle of hair splitting. Of course people who are LGBT have faced incredible alienation and violence. Not everyone, yes. But it does put one in the line of fire. For example the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and her husband who were beaten at Pink Saturday, an event that they put on. And no one lifted a finger to help while it was happening. Some even cheered it. In writing about this, what I am trying to say is that I believe that there is trauma and the trauma is legitimate. However, (and I think this would strengthen your argument), it is the job of the trauma survivor to take care of themselves. This does not mean that they engage in the Sisyphean task of attempting to get their environment to conform to their perspective of what their personal needs are. DBT, which is a great therapy tool for trauma survivors, is the work of learning that one can self-regulate their emotions. That one’s moods and anxieties are ultimately under one’s own control and not actually thrown off my some external random threat. Sure, something external may cause a reminder of something in the past that was beyond horrid. It is then the job of the trauma survivor to figure out what they need to get their own self regulated again.THAT is wellness. Telling other people what words to use or that they can’t wear certain colors or shut a door because of a childhood memory is called being a gigantic controlling douche.

Brilliant points. Expecting the world and its inhabitants to conform to one’s own (highly personal) trauma response is indeed an exercise in futility. Doing so also constitutes the very kind of ‘safety behavior’ (in CBT terms) which most likely maintains said trauma response.

” it has become a weak umbrella term for a confederation of identitarian concerns. It is time to move on, to confuse the enemy, to become illegible, invisible, anonymous” . . . and get out of the classroom and back on the streets

How do you connect Hanhardt’s book about the history of neighborhood movements and the shifting relationship of those movements to the state and police, and activist calls for “safer space,” calls that ask the group to be accountable to each other, not to outside state actors? Or do you think they’re all of a piece?

Hanhardt’s book, in part, traces the transformation of a multi-racial politics of alliance in queer communities to an anti-violence agenda. This narrowing of queer politics to issues of safety and personal security is important to understand in terms of the new discourse of triggering, harm and trauma.

This link between safe space and policing is a valid observation. An explanation might be that third sector funding is increasingly tied to outcomes that measure hate crime reporting, anti-social behaviour, health problems (STDs, addiction, mental health, HIV), community safety etc.

Overall, this is a very well argued article and I agree that identity politics has perhaps travelled too far into the cul de sac of triggered feelings and blame. I have some sympathy for this point of view because I have seen activists tear each other’s reputations and self-esteem apart over personal choices and semantics…

However, I agree with the first part of the following statement but not the second, “saying that you feel harmed by another queer person’s use of a reclaimed word like tranny and organizing against the use of that word is NOT social activism. It is censorship.”

Allow me to elaborate. While I feel that organizing against follow activists is a poor use of energies and counter-productive, I do not see it as censorship…rather, I see it as the right to reply. Everyone has their own preferences, choices and opinions. If you call me a tranny, I might call you a bigot, but if you call yourself a tranny I might assume you are either suffering from internalised phobia OR that you are a defiant, kick-ass activist who is reclaiming a pejorative as a badge of honour. That would be my opinion, neither endorsement nor censorship.

For me, compassion is needed here. We activists understand oppression because we have experienced it up close and personal. Chances are, if you feel triggered than so does the person who is reclaiming the word…that is why they are reclaiming it! It is rather like the practice of using a small amount of poison to innoculate oneself against poisons.

Unfortunately I cannot reply to the comment from Liberty Mahalakshmi, but I wanted to let them know that I am about to put their last 2 sentences into my favourite quotes list.

Thank you for one of the most thoughtful essays on this issue that I have read. As a professor who teaches a class about science, gender & power, I have struggled to deal with the sudden emergence of this issue.

Thank you!!!!! This is the smartest commentary I have read on activist politics since….. Well, maybe the ’90s. Reminds me in tone of perplexity of Stuart Hall’s essay on Thatcherism…”toad in the garden.” And urgent plea for a sensible radicality. your points are made with such integrity, layering, intelligence and transparency. Pure brilliance. As a folklorist I teach on the subject of humor (and race, sexuality, stereotypes, etc) in my intro classes… And it is one of the hardest sections of the entire semester.

Thank you thank you!!

Your point about “safe spaces” and the tie-in to security made me think… “safe space” almost never gets tied to critiques of security regimes, or to struggles for/over land. “Triggering” doesn’t seem to extend beyond the first world. LGBT in the military somehow doesn’t *literally* trigger.

I really love this article but realized that I didn’t want to link to it on my Facebook because a lot of my Facebook friends might be triggered by even just the title suggesting that maybe I wasn’t taking their triggers seriously. 😦

I had a similar thought, but I posted it with a simple “Interesting read” so as to share it in a somewhat detached way. Passive aggressive I know, but does the job.

This critique needs to be expanded to other realms as well beyond queer and feminist politics, it seems to have become a universal problem on the left.

I think this may be related to a specifically U.S. context. I am British and I don’t find that most people I encounter on a day to day basis really think like this. Having said that notions of ‘safety’ and ‘compliance’ are really popular in professional contexts like the media and education. My grandmother is in her 80’s and although she is very racists it can be quite refreshing to speak to someone who lived through WW2.

I am an American who has been living in England for 6 months attending Uni and I have seen this kind of rhetoric way more in England than I have back home… I think it’s a young person thing, or you just have to be around the right people.

I go to a UK uni and definitely identify with this. Everytime I tried to do anything in the LGBT*Q+ society it got such backlash because it triggered someone that in the end I just gave up. It made my charity work and art shows and education events etc. impossible to run.

Bravo. This so needed to be said in exactly this emphatic and undefensive way. Thank you!

Could you suggest some basic reading and resources for responding in constructive ways to the culture of the aggrieved? Thank you!

I won’t be able to fully capture what this article means to me. I recently quit a doctoral program at the University of Denver because this exact type of infighting made it impossible for me to learn there. Scholars supposedly dedicated to social justice seemed to be more about self-promotion and ego protection. My queerness was rendered irrelevant by my white male face, and when I called out the pragmatic concerns regarding the overemphasis of personal narratives, I was accused of employing my privilege to oppress the voices of others. I feel more sane for reading this. Thank you, deeply.

Also, Jack, how I’m the world do you get from “trans people don’t like cis folks using to anti-trans slurs” to “trans people are assimilationist”? It’s almost as if you can only come up with the most insulting explanation possible, perhaps because you’re a shitty academic with an ugly soul.

You are right, it could be my ugly soul but here’s the thing Assimilationist Tranny – not all trans people mind the T-Word – that’s what I am trying to say. Some of us like it!! It was never a medical term and not only a slur, it has a long history as a term of affection used by trannies for and about trannies and like many other queer slang terms, it does important work: dyke, queer, fag. I am sorry you found the explanation offered here offensive but if I hit a nerve, maybe it is worth thinking things through just a little…thank you for reading.

Real safe space should allow for the word tranny because it reflects the very specific experiences of some of the people in that space. Some people claim that word and it’s important to them and by putting it down you’re triggering them, usually to anger.

I’m sympathetic to your general argument, but I don’t think that it the argument accurately describes the motivations animating the “t-word” controversy as cleanly as it seems you believe. A better frame of reference is the “n-word” debates among african americans, and notions of intergroup vs intragroup usage. From what I hear from trans folks who’ve expressed opposition to the casual use of the word, I don’t think personal pain is really the issue as much as collective dignity. (Note: dignity is not an assimilationist goal.) In any case it’s easy enough for white dudes like me just to not say the n-word, and it’s easy enough for cis people like me to just not say the T-word.

It was certainly impressive how you managed to link queer youth trying to create safe spaces to the military industrial complex. That’s the sort of theoretical chutzpah that lets you call grass roots resistance to reactionary rhetoric “neo-liberal” and still paint yourself as a queer outsider resisting assimilation.

Wow, Genderqueer, you say nothing so eloquently. Also, other person, tranny cannot be in any way equated to nigger. Why are we so afraid of words! It’s not like we’re using them to oppress. We’re talking about them. How do you talk about something and not name it? What does that do psychologically? Rhetorically? Transvestites were not physically enslaved in America and then politically and economically enslaved for… well, they still are. That word carries with it all of the racism and violence of those actions. It’s a word used to dehumanize. As a cisfemale bisexual monogamist, I never used the word tranny as a slur. As soon as I was told by a genderqueer youth that it was a slur (not because I’d used it, but out of context), I never used it again. Except in this kind of conversation. In fact, in my job as a rhetoric teacher, I have corrected students who have used it descriptively, unaware that it is offensive because they often live in little bubbles of unawareness that education is supposed to pop, not reinforce with steel and barbed wire.

@quendergeer (no reply button) “….It was certainly impressive how you managed to link queer youth trying to create safe spaces to the military industrial complex. …”

We live in a society today where young boys doodling a cartoon which includes a picture of a gun in class or shooting their hands like guns in the schoolyard has led to the police being called out to the school.

Meanwhile the (real world) wars rage on and nobody does anything or even cares.

It sure does suit the military industrial complex to keep everyone distracted by training them to (a) focus exclusively on themselves in the most self-obsessed way. Me, me, me! (b) equate group conformity with being good (and thus individuality as bad).

Perhaps you might like to explore the links between the military industrial complex and, say, Hollywood which – when it isn’t putting out movies glorifying violence and military intervention as the ‘go-to’ solution to all the world’s problems – is putting out movies which normalise and promote narcissistic, egotistical, self entitled, attention seeking, morally bankrupt personalities as normal, functional and even desirable character traits. Go figure.

This victim-culture style of self obsessed me, me, me ‘outrage’ is a million miles from TRUE MORAL OUTRAGE born of true empathy, compassion and the genuine pursuit of virtue.

I love this, Spinning: “Hollywood which – when it isn’t putting out movies glorifying violence and military intervention as the ‘go-to’ solution to all the world’s problems – is putting out movies which normalise and promote narcissistic, egotistical, self entitled, attention seeking, morally bankrupt personalities as normal, functional and even desirable character traits. Go figure.” Thanks.

wow, this is incredibly poorly reasoned, reactionary, and loaded with assumptions. i am a queer person in my mid-20s who used to really value your work, but the refusal to take trauma survivors and people with disabilities seriously is really not as radical or edgy as you think it is. i can understand how a culture of sharing more openly about trauma and its effects could feel alienating to an older generation who perhaps took experiencing trauma and abuse for granted, as a normal experience that should just be gotten over, not dwelled upon or talked about in public. but this doesn’t mean that the shift is wrong. i am pleased, not resentful, when i see younger youth advocating for themselves in ways that i wasn’t able to. calling it neoliberalism feels like a pretty egregious leap. it’s also pretty wild to assume that all queer youth now have supportive parents! yes, it’s more common than it was in the past, but it’s certainly not universal. i’ve known many queer people my age and younger who have survived abuse (by parents, by police and prisons, by partners) that would be considered horrific by any metric. uc santa barbara, one of the schools that has been in the news for students advocating for trigger warnings in courses, was recently the site of a misogynist mass shooting. are we really saying that that is not legitimate trauma?!
there’s much more i could say but i don’t want to spend my whole day picking apart every faulty point here. this is boring, irrelevant, and full of shit.

I think the biggest problem is that people constantly see themselves as victims. If you see yourself as a victim, then yes, everyone will look like an attacker. It’s okay to feel hurt, but running away from it by calling something a “trigger” and not dealing with it doesn’t help anyone at all, least of all oneself.
There is a huge difference from responding with a victim mentality and advocating. It’s usually pretty obvious to tell the former from the latter when someone opens their mouth (or types on their computer).

The thing is, though, that triggers can affect trauma survivors whether or not they “see themselves as victims.” There’s also a big difference between hurt feelings that you can shake off, and panic symptoms and other effects of PTSD. Let me offer an example: having slurs thrown at me is simply upsetting to me, but I experience autonomic and sympathetic nervous system stimulation (raised heart rate, shortness of breath, and other symptoms of panic attacks) when I smell the cologne my attacker was wearing, or when I kept seeing him running across campus back before he graduated. The latter is what triggering is, and the former is not, at least for me. People landing in the realm of the former might benefit from toughening their skin, as you would suggest, but those of us who experience triggered panic attacks as a result of verbal, visual or other sensory stimuli can’t just toughen our skin. Trust me, we would if we could; but the brain doesn’t work that way. If it did, I might be able to understand where all this is coming from, but for the moment I just feel like the debate this feeds into, about triggering and trigger warnings and the new trendy attitude condemning them, will only hurt people, because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what a trigger really is.

TL;DR – Triggering is short for ‘triggering a panic attack or other fight-or-flight nervous system activity,’ and the now-trendy “i refuse to put trigger warnings on this or acknowledge the PTSD experience so suck it up” attitude is damaging and gross. Equally gross is the willful ignorance of people who’ve appropriated the word and used it to mean that they just feel hurt, angry or sad because of something that was said or shown to them.

I don’t think the author is failing to take trauma survivors seriously. The overuse of “triggering” is actually taking the concept away from them. “Triggers” in the psychological sense aren’t things that make you feel aggrieved or mildly uncomfortable, which is the way it started being used in social justice spaces.

For fuck’s sake, Iv’e literally seen a post dealing with sexual violence being trigger-warned for “misogyny” but not “sexual violence”!

I think the problem isn’t that trauma is being acknowledged and brought into the open, but that it’s being assimilated into a neoliberal institution of biomedical care that reduces complex emotion to diagnostic checklists, and strips grief of its political meaning. I think that plays a big role in perpetuating the idea that the grief of others ought not to be touched — an idea that creates isolated lifeworlds, one per person, making the suffering of queer people outside of richer countries seem too far away and too small.

Excellent phrasing: “asssimilated into a neoliberal institution of biomedical care that reduces complex emotion to diagnostic checklists, and strips grief of its political meaning.” And yes, I think that goes to the heart of the problem. What we call trauma used to be called life.

Speaking of boring, irrelevant, and full of shit, as a trauma survivor I find the constant grasping of people for special consideration of their triggers to be venal bullshit.

Real triggers are very seldom as neat and self explanatory as people often claim they are, and being triggered is often evidence of healing. 2 years into treatment this view would have had my full sympathy, 10 years out it has my contempt. Crying for protection and kid glove treatment only slows down the healing process. Trying to score political points this way is just cheap.

Using your cultivated and curated pain to shut down discussions, especially in an academic setting, is reprehensible.

For the sake of the article, which makes some interesting points, I can understand “trigger(ing)” in relationship to hyper-individualism in current activism. However, I think the outrage about the mere notion of trigger warnings is misplaced when put into proper context.

In reality, a trigger warning functions along the lines of “spoiler alert” (which also has its share of critics). The term seems closely linked to the Internet and serves to allow a person to make the decision to engage or not with specific content; it does so because we live in a world where the Internet lives in our pocket and we tend to mindlessly scroll through Facebook, Reddit, Twitter etc. at any free moment of the day (not all but any). There are times we’d prefer to avoid certain content for very practical reasons: in the 15 minutes before a job interview or business meeting, while we are procrastinating studying for an important exam, just after a fight with a partner of loved kne, after a difficult therapy session. The list goes on.

This also analogous to spoiler alerts, because people are very sensitive to having a movie of tv show they want to see ruined before they have chance to view it. They can and probably will return to the content after having viewed said tv show or movie. Trigger warnings do the same thing; they allow someone to decide when the appropriate time is to engage with certain content.

This has a natural extension into academia where students are expected to employ critical thought to various material and maintain a certain grade point average while doing so. Allowing a student to decide what time is best to engage with potentionally triggering material doesn’t create a culture of victomhood; it simply empowers a person. Students don’t take one course per term; they take many. Sometimes a student has lots of obligations and doesn’t feel that confronting triggering material is appropriate for them at that time. That doesn’t mean that they are running away from their problems and will never engage with material that triggers them, nor does it mean they will perpetually avoid any material that triggers.

You can link the term to individualism and neoliberalism, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it creates a culture of victomhood. I run in social activist circles and don’t hear people shouting about triggers in person. It came from the Internet and still mainly occurs on the web. If anything it’s a symptom or expression of Internet culture.

While it’s true that some people suffer terrible childhoods of abuse and trauma, it’s always good to maintain a sense of perspective.

It is the people who make false claims of their own trauma who are really causing harm (by trivialising the concept of trauma). Calling them out (see video) is a positive thing for everyone …… *including* genuine victims of trauma.

“……uc santa barbara, one of the schools that has been in the news for students advocating for trigger warnings in courses, was recently the site of a misogynist mass shooting….”

This is a perfect example of how victim culture distorts reality in order to invent or maintain a ‘threat narrative’.

The guy you refer to (Eliot Rogers) killed more men than women. He stabbed men to death with his bare hands. And yet he is labelled a ‘misogynist’ by feminists. Feminist bloggers all over the internet have been caught out referring to him as “That misogynist guy who killed all those WOMEN” (what about the men he killed?)

That is like labelling a meat eater a ‘vegetarian’, and ignoring the fact that he just won a hamburger eating contest.

We now live in a society where people want to enhance their own (group’s) victim status so badly they are willing to distort reality, omit FACTS and barefaced lie to themselves and everyone else.

This is not healthy or productive.

You missed some of his points. Trauma is real, but pursuing individualized responses orients us away from collective solutions. He discusses the hard hard work of decades of thinking and research on trauma and oppression and how those hard fought understandings are not considered (even with with a counter-argument) but instead simply ignored. (where’s the respect there?) His argument is not reactionary, but social and collective and concerned with how individualized ideas of suffering obscure collective violence and oppression. Here’s a section I’d like to hear your thoughts on:
“books like Wendy Brown’s States of Injury (1995) and Anna Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief (2001) asked readers to think about how grievances become grief, how politics comes to demand injury and how a neoliberal rhetoric of individual pain obscures the violent sources of social inequity. But, newer generations of queers seem only to have heard part of this story and instead of recognizing that neoliberalism precisely goes to work by psychologizing political difference, individualizing structural exclusions and mystifying political change, some recent activists seem to have equated social activism with descriptive statements about individual harm and psychic pain.”

Point, to be taken gently so as not to trigger: When the “t* slur” is written or spoken it simply works to let the speaker of the phrase of off the hook of uttering the the word tranny. Sadly, as reader, I have to fill in what the asterisk after the “t” might be in the context of the sentence. In this case, the *=ranny. Slurs are linguistic sand traps, sometimes.

i’m assuming everyone here does not understand how PTSD works (doesn’t want to talk about it by name because clearly, if validity comes from institutions, putting these “queer and trans gentrifying youth” firmly into the DSM is a threat to Jack’s made-up authority on the subject), but thanks for the meaningless quip of a first sentence

that may be true, re: how to talk about a slur when not a member of the group it does violence to (hint: AFAB people are not a member of the group this slur does violence to, despite all of the masculine entitlement that wants to grab up every instance of victimization — funny how that works, in the context of this garbledymook post — it can). i am listening to my trans/* sisters on this one, though, and i have been told not to write it out, in the same way i wouldn’t write out n* because i actually listen to other people because my head isn’t so firmly lodged up my own ass

also, everyone making the “WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WITH REAL PTSD” argument are literally doing the equivalent thing to “WE’RE NOT TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WERE REALLY RAPED”

that percentage of “fakers” for “attention” is around 1%, y’all. i realize center disabled students, friends, nieces, nephews, kids, coworkers, etc, is really difficult, but that doesn’t mean you get to have a tantrum on the internet and think anyone outside of your queer theory ala 1994 circlejerk wordpress clique is going to like it

A powerful and thought-provoking post! It gets at issues you have so eloquently raised in the past about “the speaker’s privilege” in relation to claims of victimhood. While I don’t see these issues as “either/or”–that is, we don’t necessarily have to ignore questions of personal pain or safety in order to broaden our focus to more structural issues–I think you have articulated something that has the potential to provoke a truly necessary dialog within queer communities.

Sometimes I wonder what things would be like without any men telling us that we women are ruining feminism with our stupid whining.

Sometimes I wonder what things would be like if people used well reasoned arguments to discuss and counter other arguments instead of using claims to identity and standpoint epistomology to smuggle in facile ad hominems.

“Well reasoned arguments” such as, for example, references to Monty Python sketches?

Mesmerising essay, though I should point out The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch wasn’t a Monty Python sketch. Rather, it was written by some of the Pythons for an earlier series called ‘At Last, The 1948 Show’ and was later used by the Pythons on tour.

Despite this extreme insensitivity to my nation’s comedy culture I find it in myself to forgive you. I hope we can both bloom into better human beings thanks to this.


Major James Worrad (Mrs)

I read it right after coming home. It is really great, and long overdue. I am so looking forward to discussing it in Queer Theory this Fall. xoxo

Meaning it would be ok to be mini-Hitler as the professor (which I would be by the virtue of bringing this piece up)?

This generation of activists are in general unworthy heirs to the sacrifices made by those who came before us, in the civil rights movement, at Compton’s Cafeteria and at Stonewall. Under much more challenging circumstances, these brave ordinary folks put their lives and bodies on the line to take a stand against injustice. Stonewall was not a safe space. There were no trigger warnings. There was plenty of alcohol to be had. Yet when Puerto Rican trannies and NYU gay boys stood up to the mafia and cops, the neighborhood had their backs. The anti-oppression/privilege neo-feminist gender studies academics, activists and advocates would have crumbled up and blown away in the wind. Too many play dates has created a generation that never had to deal with anyone who they did not like. Thus, anyone who challenges their politics must be doing so because they hate them personally.

I don’t think this romanticizing of the past is accurate. Many people at the Stonewall riots were homeless. They were the marginalized among the marginalized. They weren’t braver, they were just more desperate.

There was not homeless to speak of, not as we know it now, in NYC in the late 1960s. Homelessness as we know it did not arise until the early 1980s when Reagan began to clearcut the safety net. Stonewall and Compton’s era queers fought back when confronted, took risks, and did not call a time out to process being triggered. ACTUP era queers took risks and fought back, no safe spaces, no trigger warnings. Freedom is not free, you have to fight for it and defend it.

“The anti-oppression/privilege neo-feminist gender studies academics, activists and advocates would have crumbled up and blown away in the wind”

Cute, calling people weak for having ideas that offend your delicate sensibilities. Why can’t they be brave and iconoclastic?

“Too many play dates has created a generation that never had to deal with anyone who they did not like. Thus, anyone who challenges their politics must be doing so because they hate them personally.”

Take your whitewashed neoliberal rhetoric back to FAUX-news, please. There are lots of blatantly oppressed/homeless (!) lgbt people these days, they might not be imprisoned but it’s ludicrous to call them “unworthy” just because the middle class is large.

Many adherents to these narcissistic philosophical frameworks are confrontation adverse when it comes to confronting actual sources of real oppression yet when it comes to attacking people who appear to think like them, there are no holds barred. Snap, snap.

Any criticism of the articles of faith implies that the critic must identify with the worst opponents of the vulnerable one. Hence, any critical analysis of identity politics, anti-oppression organizing or trigger warnings means that critic, no matter how radical, is tantamount to Fox News. Either one is with you or one is against you.

We plumbed the depths of identity politics and radical feminism 30 years ago and abandoned them for a reason, they do not resonate with the communities.

The homeless and imprisoned LGBT are not the unworthy ones. The unworthy ones are the activists, advocates and academics who refuse to take risks, refuse to put their bodies and lives on the line and yet have no compunctions about attacking their allies for personal conduct or choice of worse more so than their opponents bad acts

This notion that advocate becomes the communities they advocate for is the height of narcissism. Without democratic legitimacy of the communities in question, the advocate is really speaking for themselves or whomever is funding their advocacy operation, the government or corporate foundations. There are reasons why the presence of organizers in a community does not mean that the community is organized.

Blargh. A couple points:

1) Affect is not the same as emotion. It is not the same as cognition. It does not respond to the logic of neoliberalism, or for that matter, much logic at all. Massumi? Sedgwick? Hello, is this thing on?

2) Much of your arguments about the professionalization of “safety” and “safer neighborhoods” were blatantly ripped off from INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, and not cited, which in addition to being plagiarism, is pretty racist.

3) #dontlucidturndownforwhat? as the kids say.

Blargh! A couple more points:

1. censorship has always been bad for feminist and queer communities…hello? Mic check, Butler, Vance, Lorde.
2. The professionalization of safety and the critique of anti-violence campaigns in place of multi-coalitional anti-racist politics comes via Christina Hanhardt’s excellent book…
3. #getonwithityourmotherwasahamsteryourfathersmelledofelderberries as the kids say?

Hrmmmm “free speech” is about the most neoliberal of neoliberal concepts. “Free speech” is a lot like “free markets”: only the strong survive. I’m gonna (CONTENT WARNING) hang myself by saying this, but though McKinnon was wrong about a lot of things, I think she was right about that.

And there are a lot of kinds of censorship out there, but a grassroots movement of some disabled college kids asking for a simple accommodation is I think about the least of anyone’s worries about some kind of Maoist cultural crackdown or w/e people are afraid is gonna happen.

Asking for accommodation is one thing. Stopping the show to act out and blamethrowing at anyone who does not divine the appropriate term that does not “trigger” the secret history of the individual is something completely different.

2) No. Stop that. Even if there was plagiarism, it’s not ‘pretty racist’ just because those plagiarized from are of color.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I often have trouble articulating these types of concerns myself and frankly in the current political environment on the progressive side I feel like a villain for having them.

I agree with a lot of the comments here – the current generation of activists right now are in no way worthy to carry the banner that their forefathers and foremothers fought for. Its deeply troubling to see what ought to be a united front against institutional oppression degenerate into the worst sort of factional identity politics and ideological infighting.

Even more troubling is the knee-jerk reaction to excommunicate anyone and everyone for any perceived transgression against the current orthodoxy. Its an immediate presumption of bad faith and an impulse to subject everyone straying from the ideological orthodoxy to the least charitable interpretation possible.

I’d like to echo another reader and ask if you have any suggestions on further reading regarding the emergence of this authoritarian streak in LGBT activism. I’d be very interested.

Thanks again!

Than: having been in the romanticized era you write about , here, I have to point out there were plenty of “factional identity politics and ideological infighting” among feminists, queer and all racist activists. Lesbians were excluded, marginalized (and told to “blend in better”) or in hiding among the leadership of the feminist movement; women of color were not “invited to the table”; and transexuals were butts of jokes, relegated to the next room in “women-only” “safe” spaces, or “didn’t exist” for most of the white, middle class feminists; no one even talked about AIDS, for way too long.

Believe me when I say this current generation is no worse and, in most ways, much better. Don’t write the youngsters off quite yet. We elders weren’t all “worthy” of the banners, either, but we carried them, nonetheless.

As someone who is a part of this, I do feel myself looking at well-mannered people as “attackers” because of this mindset. BUT, on the same hand, MANY LGBT persons have been abused. while I don’t find language not directed at me as “triggering” (and often find the word childish), it’s important to realize many LGBT persons were and are abused. At the very least bullied as children (which CAN leave a lasting, painful mark) and at most, such as trans women of color, afraid to walk around without being literally attacked (which leads to a high murder rate of trans persons, especially women, especially women of color). While I rejoice in the reclaiming of words, many people find them hurtful — I believe a balance needs to be found between the whining cries of “you’re triggering meeee”, and people who are actually experiencing flashbacks to abuse.

“(which leads to a high murder rate of trans persons, especially women, especially women of color)” do you know this to be a fact or is it a political talking point. I just ran the numbers from the Department of Justice and the murder rates of trans vs non trans and within a margin of error you have just as much chance of being murdered trans or not, this is statistically congruent with people of color as well. In other words a woman of color is just as likely (actually the numbers indicate just a tad bit more so) to be murdered as a trans woman of color. Taking race out of the equation you will find the same results compared to the rest of the population…your actually just a tuny fraction LESS likely to be murdered while trans than any other person in the united states based on population numbers from the census and the murder rates from the DOJ in 2012.

Alo that begs the question, were these murders BECAUSE these people were trans or was it that they just HAPPENED to be trans?

If I plan to jump off a building and then smoke a joint and do it, did the marijuana make me jump because they found THC in my blood during the autopsy? Or maybe, just maybe they are just using numbers to justify a political agenda?

Actually, if you are a trans woman of colour you are far more likely to be murdered or a victim of violent crime, particularly in the Americas. Look at the TDOR website. I know that Sarah Brown in the UK did the maths a few years ago and posted them on her ‘Aunty Sarah’ Blog.

How on earth does “being afraid to walk around without being literally attacked” lead to “a high murder rate of trans persons?” That’s just dumb.

People who experience “flashbacks to abuse” in the course of their day-to-day existence need to deal with that, not expect to be sheltered and protected from “triggers” by everyone they encounter.

Am I mistaken, it could happen!, or did this article not begin with an analysis of the lack of humour that plagued second wave feminism? No one punching you down, rather you seem most desiring of that subject position. I have to ask: what exactly is the appeal of safe spaces, safe zones, safe words, et al? What affects are found within this bubble of safety?

a 3rd wave feminist (with a acerbic sense of humor)

A good question. Safe space should be a place where we can share our experiences, without ridicule, so we can learn from them. Those are political safe spaces. It’s also important that we feel safe personally, say, in our homes or walking down the street. That is,we should be safe from direct physical harm. A lot of people don’t have those basic kinds of safety and we should be worried about it, it’s making us an unsafe and unkind society. That said, we live in a hard world and we all have bad experiences that stay with us, some are worse than others, this article isn’t talking about people with real PTSD say from being in a war, that need safe space. What people who feel triggered want is attention. People not getting enough attention is also a big problem in this world. I hope that explains it. Sometimes we all need safe space, and sometimes we just need to deal with it.

These comments are really fascinating. Thanks for writing this — I also didn’t want to post it to Facebook and then did anyway after noting the irony. It’s a really useful piece of writing, and captures so much in a very brief set of paragraphs.

What does it mean when older people who participate(d) in decades of queer social activism without recourse to anti-bullying campaigns or social services or multiple representations of other queer people building lives are angry that younger queer people still feel and are abused, traumatized, abandoned, misrecognized, beaten, bashed and damaged?

Angry at the claim to an identity, a request for space, an appeal to protection?

We enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.

i find this a thoughtful piece that can unfortunately can be easily misconstrued or misread to justify reactionary ideas. it would be even better if you could touch upon why/how trigger warnings and the idea behind safe spaces came about. otherwise, while you speak from within the leftist queer community, without putting up a larger context like that, the ideas in the post can easily swing rightward.

for instance, let’s be clear: there’s no such thing as a safe space–only a space that seeks to be a safer one. there is nothing in this world that is free from the economic system that it lives in. capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, heterosexism, transphobia, national oppression… they permeate everything, including our own minds. to falsely advertise a space as “safe” is to actually bring people to harm by leading people to believe that the space can achieve perfection in a world that is thoroughly harmful and objectifying.

in addition, trigger warnings are still very important for the people who are traumatized by rape, murder, child abuse, etc. but being triggered in this world is a constant reality. we should seek to put trigger warnings on things (and specify what the warnings are) without silencing the need to discuss those painful topics. trigger warnings are what they are–warnings–so that certain people can avoid the topics for self-preservation or come back later when they are able to manage their trigger responses better. it is not an excuse for silencing important topics. i don’t often like to talk about rape. but i do because rape exists–thrives–in the atmosphere of silence. we talk about painful topics to seek to abolish the oppression about it. want to end rape? we have to end patriarchy. that includes discussing its many aspects and contradictions within a class society.

true, it took a long careful read to make sure that the article wasn’t being mean.. I think the point that could be made more obvious from the start is the fact that this triggering can be used against communities doing good work, as a kind of trolling that divides and conquers people who are trying to do good work.

“Censorship!” argument is used by those who are used to having unrestricted freedom by the state, erasing slavery/imperialism/colonialism.
In order to combat neoliberalism, it’d be more strategic to address structural inequality that creates trauma than those who experience it.
Sometimes white academics use “neoliberalism” to obscure the reality of black suffering. “Point to the structure! I’m not complicit in it!”

I think that you have a point. AT the same time, you missed the point, and may not experience the reality, that many of those who demand “trigger warnings” for themselves and for people adjacent to them who may or may not want them have NOT experienced any trauma. Most of the loudest voices demanding trigger warnings are white kids in college. The irony of a bunch of kids at UC Santa Barbara, one of the wealthiest communities in California, one of the most expensive states to live in, demanding “trigger warnings” to protect them from trauma in their elite school would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

It seems to me that it is something less than productive for a person who is not a trans woman to presume to instruct trans women on the propriety of semantic constructions which are used primarily, or even exclusively, to attack the validity of trans women. Trans women don’t need CAFAB gender dilettantes to tell us what should offend us.

So … what you’re saying is that only trans women have the right to speak on this topic at all?

no, that is not what gemma is saying. she appears to be pointing out the obnoxiousness of non-trans-women folk (aka jack halberstam) telling trans women how to feel about the word “tranny,” which is a word that historically and presently is usually defined by cisgender folk and many times trans masculine people with a steady infusion of microaggressive and oppressive stereotypes toward trans women.

And I thought that it was short for transvestite. You presume to not only know what it best for everyone, you presume to know the mind of people who use a word, and assume who they are and declare their sameness. You obnoxious trans-womenfolk are all alike.

In response to Lilee: knowing the minds of the users of the word is irrelevant. The material consequences of ‘tranny’, in marking out the AMAB woman as a class against whom slurs and thus open discrimination are acceptable and normalised, who are fundamentally men performing femininity, fall overwhelmingly upon trans women. Drag queens, crossdressers etc: these groups only rarely and conditionally suffer the abuse and assaults and restrictions arising from that acceptable-target category, because they are only rarely and conditionally visible as members of it in public, and categorisation as men is (by the testimony of members of those groups) accurate. Feminine AMAB agender/gender-variant people may or may not, situationally and depending on their presentation, experience those consequences. Trans men and AFAB people of all kinds do not.

So if there is one group with a substantial portion of members reporting experience of severe real-world consequences because ‘tranny’ is normalised in the wider culture, and on the other hand a group primarily composed of those upon whom the consequences are severely diminished or totally invisible (and a few who do experience those consequences) clinging to it as a sort of in-group signifier, it’s obvious to me which a movement which apparently aspires to solidary and unity and the material wellbeing of its members should prioritise. That this is the opposite of what’s happening in many Queer spaces – where trans women are hearing ‘shut up, this is different to the slurs which target us!’ alongside the usual lazy allegations of assimilationism and censorship – says everything about the value of Queer ‘solidarity’ for us.

Many of us obnoxious trans women are certainly alike in that we’re thoroughly tired of Queer embracing and defending TERFs, empowering abusers and reconstructing systems of masculine privilege, while expecting to be immune to the criticisms these behaviours would warrant if they came from ‘outside’.

I miss words. Why is “T” even part of LGB? It seems like “T” is a category unto itself that has nothing to do with lesbians, gays, or bisexuals. Was it a mistake to merge the movements? I despise the words “erasure” and “invisibility” because I see them overused to the point of rendering them meaningless. Doesn’t anyone read George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language anymore?

Are you suggesting there is unity of sentiment amongst trans women on the politics of trigger warnings, identity politics and anti-oppression/privilege activism and how these politics are played out in political groups?

And this is exactly why I am suspicious of any author doing this type of rhetorical backbends in order to silence a group of people. To bury this point in talk about “trigger warnings” and pretend this isn’t about one group having a tantrum about being told not to use the word “tranny” is insulting.

Remove the phrase “being told not to use” from Deena’s comment, and I agree 100%.

No one’s telling you not to be offended. You’re being told that your offense is your own problem to deal with.

Except many trans women have historically defended the use of “tranny.” What Halberstam is saying here is literally nothing new, and certainly not a function of DAFAB folks telling DAMAB folks what to say or think. Trans women aren’t a monolith or hivemind; stop trying to speak for everyone in a large and varied group.

In a joint statement, the People’s Front of Judæa and the Judæn People’s Front acknowledged that their proposed merger is on hold due to the inability of the two groups to agree on a name for the new organization. The statement continued that they remain hopeful.

Well said! I find the practice of trigger warnings unsettling and makes me further regret the overprotective culture of fear and paranoia in which we have raised our children.

These type of microscopic arguments over language etc [like Facebook’s 70 gender definition dropdown menu] are a sign of political impotence and the perfect mechanism with which to perpetuate one’s victimhood while avoiding the real Social Justice battles, you know, the ones that involve Money and Power.

Reblogged this on The Talking Cock-up Blues and commented:
In a post-affirmative action society, where even recent histories of political violence like slavery and lynching are cast as a distant and irrelevant past, all claims to hardship have been cast as equal; and some students, accustomed to trotting out stories of painful events in their childhoods (dead pets/parrots, a bad injury in sports) in college applications and other such venues, have come to think of themselves as communities of naked, shivering, quaking little selves – too vulnerable to take a joke, too damaged to make one. In queer communities, some people are now committed to an “It Gets Better” version of consciousness-raising within which suicidal, depressed and bullied young gays and lesbians struggle like emperor penguins in a blighted arctic landscape to make it through the winter of childhood. With the help of friendly adults, therapy, queer youth groups and national campaigns, these same youth internalize narratives of damage that they themselves may or may not have actually experienced. Queer youth groups in particular install a narrative of trauma and encourage LGBT youth to see themselves as “endangered” and “precarious” whether or not they actually feel that way, whether or not coming out as LGB or T actually resulted in abuse! And then, once they “age out” of their youth groups, those same LGBT youth become hypersensitive to all signs and evidence of the abuse about which they have learned.

Thank you for highlighting the emergence of a hierarchy where the most traumatized and triggered voices are becoming the standard to which all discourse should be normalized. Being able to characterize other people’s language and identities as “triggering” is a construction of the speaker’s privilege, and is driven by the belief that one’s own experiences and beliefs are more valid than those of others.

To quickly dovetail on this note, the further entrenched we become in this speakerly insistence on being triggered, traumatized, and violated we mimic the Monty Python skit: A house? We lived in a room! You’re lucky, we lived in a corridor. Corridor? We lived in a hole in the ground. We got evicted from our hole in the ground.

Far from normative, myself, this linguistic slide is far from anti-normative. Rather, it’s the Olympics of agony. Except no one is landing a one foot vault like Kerri Strug in 1996.

“Censorship!” argument is used by those who are used to having unrestricted freedom by the state, erasing slavery/imperialism/colonialism. <– right on

i'm with you here also on this article being used to defend abusive behavior and that helping professionals/organizers sharing this are demonstrating their untrustworthiness (particularly as allies).

Allies to whom? A few hundred people steeped in this insular theory? Or allies to whole communities who, by and large, cast a gimlet eye at those activists, academics and advocates who spew out this incomprehensible psychobabble jibber jabber on their behalf ?

But putting linguistic handcuffs on professors because of the sensitivities of theoretical injuries is real censorship and real danger.

Halberstam’s situated context, geopolitically and academically, provides his perspectives on the t*word and trigger warnings with a privileged platform.

While I understand that, yes, privileged activists are increasingly overusing *trigger warnings* and participate in oppression olympics, trauma, violence, discrimination and oppression are very real phenomena.

The sanctioning of the t*word’s usage also denies the privilege Jack has in growing up within the U.S., or a place in general where violent forms of cisheteronormativity, cissexism, heterosexism, misogynies and violence (structural, physical, material, emotional) are still thriving.

It also ignores how a word like tranny is used to justify violence and discrimination. It ignores the rankling possibility of tranny being a triggering word, because of its usage vis-à-vis trauma such as rape or violence.

It’s also easy to be like, if there’s a historical precedent for acceptance, let’s ignore people today who’s experiences with the terminology have been rampant and violent. Or in places where trans rights are not existent. Or trans hatred and ignorance still cause tangible, material, physical consequences for trans people, especially for those without access to adequate mental & medical healthcare.

It’s also easy to speak with such grandiloquence when a lot of poor uneducated trans (and queer) folks can’t. When they’ve been kicked out of their homes and taken to the streets. If and when a history of trauma is their history. When something like survival sex work is maybe the only viable quick-fix way to avoid starvation. When the word tranny is used by police, other violent state members, and bigots to justify violence. When you’re not discussing the intersections of race, citizenship, language, religion, (mental & physical) disability, education, access to discourse, but glossing over them to emphasize gender & sexuality.

Capitalism fucks us all over (besides those churning its cogs), but that’s based (at least in the U.S., but many places globally as well) on former histories of imperialism, colonialism, slavery, transnational domination&extraction. You ignore how the gender binary is itself instigated by racist-colonial projects. You ignore your privilege in currently passing as masc when some of us “trannies” are not afforded or cannot afford such privileges.

So disappointed in this argument, even though I know where it’s coming from. One cannot see the struggles of truly marginalized communities from the peak of the ivory tower.

Using your privilege to further egalitarian discourse is not “ignoring” privilege. If we pathologically reduce one’s speech to where one comes from (as so many Halberstam critics are doing), we are unable to see where one’s speech can lead to. This critique, almost like a deep freeze, undermines decolonization. It rehearses, reiterates, and reproaches the status quo. I’ve yet to hear a critique that substantiates the dangers of the word tranny as it is co-opted. No one is arguing against the violence of this word contextually; it fact, greater violence can stem from it’s monolithic interpretation. It saddens me to see such a conservative trans-community, but glad the conversation has many who are willing to listen. Along a similar state of affairs: Israel justifying the genocide of Palestinians based on their “right to self defense”. A tacit example of the trigger’s necropolitical results.

Sadly, I think you are right that abusers will use it to justify their rudeness and insensitivity but that doesn’t mean the article is rude or insensitive. Abusers often have a knack of twisting any side of the argument.

As a survivor of DV with PTSD I have to admit this comment is a perfect example of why this article is necessary. No, someone disagreeing with you is not a form of abuse. Making that comparison is incredibly disrespectful and ignorant. And appropriating the language of trauma is not a valid way to silence people you disagree with intellectually.

Yes, let’s all jump in line and be good little lockstep soldiers in someone else’s war. God forbid we question whether the in-group we’re told we’re supposed to identify with is actually doing things that benefit us, or whether the actions of elements within it materially harm us just as much as those of the wider culture. More, in fact, when the members of Queer who a structurally misogynist, masculinist, ciscentric society considers most acceptable and grants a voice are those who least represent the needs and struggles of the most marginalised. God forbid we refuse to hand out free passes just because someone drew a line and put us on the same side as people who attack us.

If there’s one lesson we delicate (yet dangerous!) Bad Trans People must learn, it is apparently that we are incapable of accurately identifying the things which do us harm. If only we’d stop telling you you’re hurting us when you’re hurting us, eh? If only we would just *understand* that your desire to have an edgy ‘reclaimed’ slur naturally trumps the fact cis culture treats your use of ‘tranny’ as permission from within Queer to keep trans women in a non-serious, non-female, acceptable-target category and subject us to all the consequences of that. Consequences which don’t fall on you, fall on drag queens only occasionally and gender-variant people conditionally, but which fall on trans women every single second of every single day. Or is the word of all the trans women who report those consequences suspect, because we’re not strong, resilient and radical-masculine like you?

I’ll tell you this: if you want these awful, divisive trans people to become wholehearted members and supporters of Queer, the route to it is right in front of you. Solidarity must be earned, not demanded. Understand that it means making sacrifices, and that the dominant male and masculine voices within Queer have given up very little and gained everything. ‘Tranny’ is a tiny concession, and yet apparently not one which unity would be worth your making.

First of all, your “every single second of every single day” isn’t at all hyperbolic or too extreme to be taken seriously. This “all or nothing,” if you’re not for us, you’re against us,” “Ally is something you EARN, not something you claim” attitude is it helping anything or anyone? Or is it just fueling rage? Is it just making people feel good about bad-mouthing the very people who stand in front of grocery stores gathering signatures on petitions to put LGBTQ issues on ballots? Because I’ve done that, and I’m tired of people who enjoy the freedom my parents’ generation won for them in marches and protests telling us to all go fuck ourselves because we cannot grasp the depths of their pain. Their beloved, precious, self-defining, all-encompassing pain.

“…naturally trumps *the fact* cis culture treats your use of ‘tranny’ as permission from within Queer to keep trans women in a non-serious, non-female, acceptable-target category and subject us to all the consequences of that.”

*Is* this a fact?

What evidence do you have that “cis culture” gives a rat’s ass what goes on “within Queer”?

What in the world makes you think that if all your allies stopped using the word tomorrow “cis culture” would modify its use of the word one iota?

Has marking a word taboo and getting allies to stop using it in various ways ever done anything but intensify the power of that word to be used as a slur by those who use it with that intent?

“Neoliberal” does not mean what you clearly think it means. It most often refers to the Republican / conservative fetishization of Randian-style free market capitalism, free of social programs, free of regulations and free of restrictions on the corporate world. While there is a bit of the free-speech-without-consequence perspective to it (a.k.a. your position, not the position that you criticize), it is a radicalized and bastardized form of libertarianism.

I’m not personally interested in playing oppression olympics or word police, and believe that there’s also a divisive undertone in the “tranny” debate.

That said, it’s not an issue without nuance. One person’s sense of being infantilized and reduced in agency by calls for safe space and focusing on victimhood is another person’s opportunity to exorcise their very real personal pain and start on a path toward healing. We are not all at the same stage in our lives.

So while I see value in some of what you’re saying, trauma does indeed exist, and is not helped by rationalizing the deliberate disrespecting and disregarding of that trauma. And while that might not have been the intended take-away, the “f– yeah” response certainly suggests that’s where readers are going.

It’s a balance. And personally, if that balance leans anywhere, I’d rather it lean toward respect.

If the comments of others in mixed groups that are not blatantly and intentionally abusive is enough to demolish one’s sense of self simply because they do not validate one’s self conception sufficiently, then one needs to seek professional help to deal with that. Nobody is entitled for everyone else to buy their schtick, not in love, not in business, not in friendship, nowhere. That is not the same thing as bullying by any measure.

“It’s a balance. And personally, if that balance leans anywhere, I’d rather it lean toward respect.” **This**! Thank you dentedbluemercedes. It seems to me a mind as dexterous as Jack Halberstram’s should be capable of making these arguments without demeaning so many people.

Well, this is a tangent, but I feel compelled to point out some differences between neo-liberalism and libertarianism.

Neo-liberalism is not a GOP ideology; it is the economic ideology of the Democratic Party (though shared by some GOP members, and with some Dem exceptions). It does, indeed, advocate free markets (“market liberalization”) but it does so on a different basis from libertarianism: utilitarian, instead of “procedural justice” or “natural rights.” It uses the criteria of market failure to decide the appropriate role of government. Libertarianism, on the other hand, uses a theory of justice to say that the government’s role is not empirically determined at all. It resists neo-liberal attempts to remedy market failures. It says that taxation is theft, welfare is exploitation of the rich, etc., on moral grounds.

Neo-liberalism seeks market-based (or “social choice theory”-based) solutions to problems which libertarians believe should not be solved at all, or deny the existence of (when that is more convenient). For example, neo-liberalism says that the solution to global warming is cap-and-trade, whereas libertarianism offers no possibility of solution and that’s why libertarians are prone to deny that the problem even exists. (Similarly, many libertarians are natural monopoly denialists.)

I say all this as an opponent of neo-liberalism, which like libertarianism is fundamentally inhumane in its way of dealing with the working class, and serves as a way of rationalizing and normalizing poverty and inequality. (Libertarianism says that inequality is morally just; neo-liberalism dispenses with justice considerations, saying that inequality is efficient and that efficient economic growth will solve distributional problems.) I’d like to keep these ideologies straight in order to better oppose them. They both stand in the way of the abolition of poverty, but through different means.

Sorry for the tangent. I won’t follow up on this, promise!

I appreciate your attempt to clarify this. I think what confuses many people—and especially people who think in terms of social privilege rather than economic privilege— is that neoconservatives are a subset of neoliberals. Here’s David Harvey: “US neoconservatives favour corporate power, private enterprise, and the restoration of class power. Neoconservatism is therefore entirely consistent with the neoliberal agenda of elite governance, mistrust of democracy, and the maintenance of market freedoms. But it veers away from the principles of pure neoliberalism and has reshaped neoliberal practices in two fundamental respects: first, in its concern for order as an answer to the chaos of individual interests, and second, in its concern for an overweening morality as the necessary social glue to keep the body politic secure in the face of external and internal changes.”

I agree that “censorship” is a bit too strong a word here, but as it can be used in “self-censorship”, it’s meaning is definitely broader than just state censorship.

Also, a term “moralist shaming” could be useful here. It is a way of silencing undesired views by collectively painting them as immoral, insensitive, misogynous, racist etc. without proper analysis or discussion.

While I agree that the overuse of trigger warnings has led to the over-simplification of definitions of trauma, critiques of such warnings are often complicit in this simplification, tending to treat all claims of being triggered as similar instances of harm, whether or not the instance in question is the name of a nightclub or explicit accounts of rape. Curiously, this has also resulted in the construction of a different hierarchy of woundedness, in which older scholar/activists who, we are reminded, “had no recourse to anti-bullying campaigns or social services or multiple representations of other queer people building lives,” tell younger “privileged” generations to “get over themselves.” Certainly, there is a problem with reducing queer politics to arguments over “language, slang, and naming,” but I’d wager that much of the anger surrounding academic responses to “trigger warnings” has more to do with the tendency to treat these warnings as if they are always in service of a larger political goal. As a result, the other side can only respond by pointing out that there trauma is REAL, which doesn’t really get anyone anywhere. Do we need to have a conversation about these issues? Absolutely. But this isn’t going to be initiated by older scholars telling younger students/scholars/activists that they need to laugh and “loosen up” (as much as I may love Monty Python).

yes it is. It has been. We’re having it. You just participated in it.

There is something to be said for “loosening up,” or at least building some resilience. It’s okay to be uncomfortable, enraged, scared, embarrassed, shocked, and other unpleasant feelings. It isn’t the responsibility of educators to protect students, especially not adult students, from opinions, images, thoughts, and words that may produce the above feelings. Resilience is a LIFE skill.

We have to talk about all of it. It’s good for us! It’s good for me, who generally thinks that the upcoming millenials are the biggest group of whiners of all time, to hear that I’m an old, used-up, irrelevant piece of shit! So I can go, “Hey, wait, why do you think that? Am I? Where am I going wrong here? What am I missing. Hmmm. Let’s think about this.” And then I read. I talk to people. I form opinions. I learn. I grow.

Why focus on who has the right or the invitation to start the conversation? It’s started. It will keep going. I, for one, am interested in where it goes.

I stopped reading this after I realized that you were incorrectly referring to Brian as Jesus. Brian wasn’t Jesus, that’s the whole point. His life began with a case of mistaken identity, because he was born in the manger next to Jesus. And Jesus is actually a very small character in the film–there’s a depiction of the Sermon on the Mount where Brian sees Judith for the first time, which leads him to get mixed up in the PFJ. Later, when he’s trying to escape from some Roman soldiers, he gets up on a platform in a marketplace full of prophets and spouts out a bunch of ridiculous nonsense to blend in, and some people hear this and start following Brian around, proclaiming him the messiah. Part of what makes it such awesome religious satire is the idea that any random dude standing on a raised platform can yell a bunch of religious-sounding drivel, and people will latch onto that, because most people are idiots desperate to find a herd to follow.

Oops. Right. I did not re-watch all of the Life of Brian just bits. I watched all of the Holy Grail though and cannot wait to work through all the Monty Pythons again!! This makes everything even funnier. Ta mate!

Thank you Jack Halberstam for this insightful and needed piece. You are articulating around a broadly held concern in many activist communities that people are afraid to speak on for fear of reprisal, censorship or being labeled as supporting oppressive behavior. It’s extremely encouraging to see the overwhelmingly positive response from so many of the readers who share similar critiques. Conflating this critique with “being supportive” of abusive behavior is problematic and what’s needed is honest dialogue and debate around an issue people are clearly concerned about.

I think that while people engage in activism it is also possible to be inclusive and, in doing so, forming a “safe space” within activist circles. But I also think the type of identity politics you were referring to (making struggle a competition) is not the kind I am thinking of that is beneficial and productive. Additionally, sometimes people need to be called out for being oppressive, but it shouldn’t ruin their lives – they should be able to address it, move on from that and continue doing meaningful work because we NEED THEM. But right now I think a lot of SJ-ers aren’t giving people that chance. Over semantics, a faux-pas, one offensive thing they said that they apologized for later…but not everyone grew up in the suburbs surrounded by academics and received a liberal arts education. Humans are going to fuck up. Let them fuck up, let them recover, and move on.

Inevitably, some of the comments have already degenerated into ad hominems and divisive generalisations. Academic memes and acronyms obscure meaning and people flaunt their credentials while denying others’ entitlement to an opinion.

There is (some) validity in everyone’s opinion here. If you disagree, explain why rather than denying someone’s right to an opinion.


There are trans women here who argue that Jack is not allowed to tell us what to think…is that really what Jack is doing? I don’t think so.
There are many trans women (and trans men and genderqueers and drag queens/kings) who use the word to describe themselves.

Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we all agreed to disagree? If we take responsibility for our own opinions and speech, while allowing others the same freedom and responsibility, the debate can move on. Otherwise we will continue to recite the same old arguments and counter-arguments, which is energy-sapping and distracts us from our activism.

Finally a question I can answer! Yes, parrots are pets but I just wanted to make a subtle reference to the “dead parrots” sketch from Monty Python!

“But, in the 1990s, books on neoliberalism, postmodernism, gender performativity and racial capital turned the focus away from the wounded self and we found our enemies and, as we spoke out and observed that neoliberal forms of capitalism were covering over economic exploitation with language of freedom and liberation, it seemed as if we had given up wounded selves for new formulations of multitudes, collectivities, collaborations, and projects less centered upon individuals and their woes.”

This may all be true, and I agree with you on the trigger crybabies, but you’ve got to say, that didn’t really lead to much, did it? None of those projects actually led to the emergence of a strong socialist movement or real political change. We just got Clinton, Bush, Blair, Obama etc.

That’s the problem with the New Left. There’s so much talk about great new ideas and collectivities and stuff, but no on off campus ever cares.

So since trans feminine folks have already called out the way you used this entire article to justify why your are allowed to use the t-slur….

I just have to say that making the issue of trigger warnings about “those whiny kids who don’t know real struggle” instead of analyzing its effectiveness as a way of creating access for folks in movement work is super ableist. (I mean besides the way you make fun of people with MCS for ‘holding up’ what I guess is *real activist work*?) The whole idea that some folks are *actually* triggered but everyone else is just whiny sets up movement leadership as gatekeepers deciding whose trauma is ‘real enough’ to warrant accommodation.

Trigger warnings can be seen as part of a movement that collectivizes work towards increased access in social movements (and I mean we have a long way to go judging by this article and commenters) rather than putting the onus on participants to “manage” their trauma (which is actually a super neoliberal response….).

So yeah do I get to say that this article triggered me? Cause it did. Someone trying to explain away someone else’s trauma is gas lighting and can bring up stuff for folks. But I guess I’m just *too sensitive* and need to stop expecting movements not to re-inscribe the effects of oppression, right? We wouldn’t want to turn into censors who divide movements over arbitrary things (like access I guess lol).

Jack, are you really going to spew that kind of ableist crap? Your audience is imaginary, some straw queers you drew up, quite honestly. Sure there are some people who need to learn the difference between being uncomfortable, emotionally activated, and triggered. And yes I’m sure that the capital “S” Safe Space “agenda” that you and your reference speak to here are real things that operate alongside hate crime legislation and things like that to police and criminalize. But this is not the only way intentional harm reduction works. You have drawn up your suburban, compulsory-healthy/abled, class privileged, all white queer audience just to tear it down (which doesn’t make sense considering your past work) and you know what? It isn’t working. Because your audience isn’t so singular, and it isn’t real. There are ways of attending to the way-too-simplistic broadening of the meaning of “trauma” without throwing people with trauma and triggers into the gutter. Queer and trans folks are not exempt from trauma or what doctors like to call “mental illness” just because some queer/trans people have a ton of (racial, classed, gendered, health) privilege, and you telling us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps is some straight up normal bullcrap. Get over yourself, just because you might not have struggled with mental health or might have worked through it doesn’t mean everybody else is making a big deal out of their own experiences. And just because we, in our communities, ask others to be intentional and careful with our triggers while we heal does not equate to censorship and is definitely not “neoliberal.” Taking care of each other is actually hella subversive. It is part of resistance.

And guess what? Queer and trans people don’t only have gendered/sexualized trauma (surprise!), but every other kind of trauma that is possible because we’re people and we live in the world. And those traumas create verbal, chemical, and visual triggers.

Go head though, Jack, go ahead delegitimizing people’s emotional trauma and dismissing the voices of folks who are struggling. Patriarchy and white supremacy clearly need some help with that.

Thank you for this article, Jack. As someone who works with those who have experienced psychological trauma, I am struck by a glaring irony inherent in the strategies of the ‘aggrieved’ to whom you refer, i.e. a feature shared by just about all trauma-focused approaches to therapy is the progressive attempt to support clients in dropping safety behaviors (such as avoidance) which so often develop following a trauma, e.g. avoiding certain places, people, stimuli which remind one of the original traumatic event. The world will always be rife with such stimuli, regardless of how many times we argue with someone not to say something which ‘triggers’ us. Therefore, it is through processing of the trauma memory, learning to cope with – and alleviate our response to – ‘matched triggers’, as well as challenging (compassionately) the role of learning processes such as assimilation and over-accommodation that recovery ensues. Put simply, we need to actively engage in corrective learning to counter the effects of trauma rather than expect the impossible, i.e. that we can bicker our way to a world devoid of any possible triggers.

Thanks for this very helpful comment Eoin. It is indeed true that within the therapeutic model itself, perpetual avoidance of “triggers” is NOT a healing strategy. And also, the things that “trigger” trauma survivors are never entirely rational or predictable. It could be a certain flower or a certain smell, rather than a literal representation. We can and should have debates over the politics of language, but the trigger warning strategy is not only depoliticizing (imho), but ineffective.

Thanks, Lisa. It seems striking to me that – aside from the few people posting here who have themelves experienced trauma – there is little discussion of the largely therapeutic context in which a term such as ‘trigger’ was likely derived. I have to admit that I’m not as familiar as many here are with theories/frameworks such as neoliberalism, LGBT-related theory, etc. But it seems worthwhile to consider such matters also with reference to evidence-supported approaches used with those attempting to recover from the effects of psychological trauma.

No, I was commenting on language. And, how it works. We know what the t* word means. (I am also one of those folks that has actual PTSD).

Ok. This article really baffled me. I’m going to try to keep my response as brief as possible here.

1) This article really takes issue with the fact that young queers of today aren’t banded together on one united front. I’m baffled by this. I mean, yeah, generally we all have the same goals: economic opportunity, healthcare, safety, etc. But once we move past the platitudes, how much unity of experience IS there?

I think one of the most important developments in queer politics lately is the recognition of the fact that queers are NOT a monolith. Like, yes, things have gotten better for queer people in the past thirty years. But they’ve gotten better to differing degrees for different segments of the queer community. And for some INEXPLICABLE reason, these divisions follow lines of cultural inequality: things have gotten better for white queers than they have for POC queers, things have gotten better for cis queers than they have for trans queers, things have gotten better for male queers than they have for female queers. etc. So yeah, if you’re a white upper middle class cisgender gay boy growing up in SF, your queer childhood is probably pretty good. If you’re a gay trans girl growing up in rural Tennessee, your childhood is probably not as good. And therefore, one of the CRITICAL things to acknowledge is that different segments of the queer community have different experiences and different needs.

Look, I’m a gay trans woman. And one of the things you learn fast while being a gay trans woman is that just because you meet someone else who’s a part of the queer community doesn’t mean they understand jackshit about your experience. Just because somebody is gay or bi or pan doesn’t mean that they have any sense of how to interact with a trans woman or what being a trans woman is like. And you can say that being queer isn’t automatically a death sentence anymore, but I think a lot of the young trans women I know are going to have a long, bitter laugh over that one.

TRUST ME. The days of being bullied, of being assaulted, of being molested and raped, of being attacked are FAR from over. And if you think they are, then you are laughably disconnected from reality for many queers who are marginalized across multiple domains of oppression. All you have to do is read our words and hear our stories to appreciate that.

Are there young queers who are cashing out on a culture of victimhood? Yes. Are there young queers who are passing themselves off as more marginalized then they actually are? Yeah, definitely! There are always assholes. But the fact is, discounting and disbelieving their stories sets a precedent for discounting and disbelieving the stories of every young queer who claims to have been victimized. And that’s a terrifying prospect for a lot of us. For many of us, our stories are all we have. Our words are all we have. We’ve got no other proof, so if you choose not to believe us, there’s nothing we can do. So really, it’s a question of risk and benefit. Is it worth the risk of further isolating the real victims of hatred and violence in order to construct a culture of disbelief so that we can, what, believe that things really truly HAVE “gotten better?” That all of our hard work paid off?

2) There’s this angry, egoistic thread running through this article that really rubs me the wrong way: That previous generations did all the hard work that needed to be done, and that queer kids nowadays aren’t paying their proper respects. In short: “We solved everything for you! We wrote books! Why didn’t you read them!?”

But, look. Queer childhoods are almost by their very nature isolated. We’re pretty thin on the ground, queers, and if you’re growing up in a small town, no matter WHAT era, it’s really easy to think that you’re the only one. You keep thinking that for years and years. Most of us didn’t have older queers in our lives to turn to for guidance. I dunno where you all were at! San Francisco, I guess. But anyway, queers of this generation mostly found out there were other queers when we found the internet.

And surprise surprise, once we had the internet, we didn’t look for the books written by a previous generation. We looked for our peers. And we found them, and we connected with them, and we came up with our own language to describe our experiences, often quite independent of what queer theorists from years before had theorized. Did we benefit from the culture-wide changes that had been wrought, unbeknownst to us, before we were born and while we were babies? Yeah. Did those queer kids with cable TV have maybe a few more queers on television to identify with? Yeah. But did we have individual older queers in our lives to thank? A lot of us didn’t.

I think this is why the language of today’s queers is so incomprehensible to older queers. It wasn’t built with your direct influence. So from the outside, demands for trigger warnings may seem ludicrous, but from the inside, it’s just the way we accommodate each others’ trauma to the best of our ability. To many of us, the concept of a “trigger warning” just isn’t a big deal. This language has been in development online for maybe five years. It’s got a lot of growing left to do. Right now, it’s still somewhat cumbersome. This is why the language seems clunky and over-sensitive: it’s a language in its infancy. By the time we’ve refined it, made it efficient and elegant and subtle, there’ll be a whole new generation of queers starting from scratch all over again.

Should those queer kids of the future be thankful for what we accomplished? Maybe. I’ll just end this section with a quote from Supernatural: “Kids ain’t supposed to be grateful. They’re supposed to eat your food and break your heart, ya selfish dick!”

3) This article seems to completely miss the point that language CHANGES MEANING OVER TIME.

The whole debate over the word “tranny,” for example. Like, I get that at one point, the t-word may have meant something broadly connected to transvestites, drag queens, and cross-dressers. But to people under thirty, the t-word means one thing, and one thing only: a pre-operative or non-operative trans woman, usually naked.

We can try to diagnose when and why this shift happened. Personally, I lay the blame at the feet of porn companies and the American education system. Porn companies made the t-word and that OTHER word, “shemale,” into terms for porn featuring trans women. And as generations of kids, thanks to abstinence-only sex education, turned to internet porn to GET their sex education, they learned that those two words meant one thing, and one thing only: a pre-operative or non-operative trans woman, usually naked. It doesn’t really matter that the t-word used to have broader application. Because the only place that young people ever saw those words was on porn sites, those words developed new connotations.

Whether or not you accept the above reasoning as the cause, the fact is that for most people under thirty, both queer and hetero, both cis and trans, “trans woman” is what those words mean now. So when twenty-year-old boys say someone “looks like a tranny,” they’re not talking about drag queens or transvestites or even trans men. They’re making a disparaging comment about trans girls and trans women.

So with that in mind, does it make sense as to why trans women under thirty might be somewhat put out by (especially young) queer cis gay men and trans men using these words freely and as self-identifiers? Because now that the words have come to mean “just trans women, usually pre-op, usually naked” can you understand why it doesn’t make sense for people who aren’t trans women to try to “reclaim” them? And how feigning an ignorance of this change might make you an asshole?

In short: PLOT TWIST! You can’t just declare a word like the t-word “reclaimed” and wipe your hands of the whole discussion, because words aren’t static! Their meanings change over time! Ahh! I can’t believe I have to explain this to you! Gahh!

4) A lot of this article seems to boil down to this: “queer kids these days are self-obsessed and melodramatic! They take themselves too seriously and don’t have a sense of perspective!”

I would argue this has little to do with kids being QUEER, but has EVERYTHING to do with kids being YOUNG. You’re talking about a group of people who are mostly in our early twenties. It’s the nature of one’s early twenties to be self-obsessed and melodramatic. THIS is the age when we are desperately trying to figure out who we are. For people in their early twenties, ‘melodromatic” and “a bit self-obsessed’ are standard operating procedure. Hell, think of On the Road. Generation after generation of young adults have gone through this phase, and we’ve got the literature to prove it! The ONLY reason it seems worse now than ever before is that all of our diary entries are online.

I mean, be honest: how many people in their forties and fifties today kept angst-ridden, self-obsessed journals in their late teens and early twenties? And how many people ever had access to those entries? Maybe you did readings of them with all your radical friends. All twenty of them. The fact is that now, thanks to the internet, our diaries can be read by thousands of people, so they take up more cultural space. But that’s not the fault of US for being more melodramatic and self-obsessed than previous generations, it’s just growing pains of a civilization adapting to the digital age.

Just some thoughts.

Audrey: Well-done! I completely agree with you. You made my heart sing and give me more hope for your generation than I’ve had in a while. Cogent, articulate, insightful, intelligent, meaningful, accurate and ingenious! I don’t mean to sound matronizing, but I am almost 60.

So, the older generation isn’t hopeless, either. THANK YOU!

@ “OoTTW”: Do you have any data on how many trans/bi/queer/gay youth have an actual diagnosis of PTSD?

Simply claiming to have it isn’t, obviously, the same as being diagnosed with it.

Unless there is solid data on the subject, asserting the widespread presence of PTSD among the above groups cheapens the diagnosis and certainly weakens your argument. It’s one thing to have lived through difficulty, and I do not disparage such a challenge, but it’s entirely another to have PTSD. Facts matter here.

( I recognize that many, if not most, will not have access to the necessary facilities to get a diagnosis, but that lack of access is something you and I likely agree needs to change. Healthcare should be a civil right.)

Tranny, fag, queer are all words that marginalized communities have reclaimed as theirs in the face of oppression. This is a simple historical observation, amply demonstrated by groups from ACT-UP to Dykes on Bikes to Queer Nation. Taking tranny away from self-identified trannies is not only counterproductive, but actively assists those who benefit from a fractious and splintered opposition. My ideological and cultural opponents are Christian theocrats, neoliberal politicians and corporations, heteronormativity and AIDS-phobia. I certainly do not count you among those enemies, and hopefully, you don’t see me, for all my disagreement with you, among yours.

This debate reminds me of the very early days of the AIDS epidemic. Certain people, mostly gay white men working for establishment corporations, had health insurance, while others, mostly people of color, the poor, and the young, did not. Those who had coverage were called “golden life boaters,” and they were accused of being privileged and insensitive to the plight of those without coverage. It was not a productive debate: there needed to be action on developing treatments, establishing support networks, and forcing government action. Eventually, people here in San Francisco developed a model of support that became as inclusive as possible. Shanti (an organization providing practical and emotional support for PWAs, their family, partners, and loved ones) trainings constantly emphasized the need to recognize privilege and to combat it.

Of course, such efforts were imperfect but by forwarding compassion in place of controversy, San Franciscans dealing with a horrifying epidemic were able to achieve enough political unity to develop effective institutions in response to the deadly crisis.

“People with various kinds of fatigue, easily activated allergies, poorly managed trauma were constantly holding up proceedings to shout in loud voices about how bad they felt because someone had said, smoked, or sprayed something near them that had fouled up their breathing room.”

I think this sentence in particular demonstrates this post’s complete failure to understand the concepts of accessibility or self-advocacy. Because, wow, isn’t it just awful when disabled people (whether that be people with multiple chemical sensitivities or mental disabilities) advocate for an environment that is just as accessible to them as it is to non-disabled people?

No. ‘Feeling triggered’ is not a mental disability. That sort of disableist nonsense trivializes actual mental disabilities. Don’t do that.

“Feeling triggered” is not a mental disability, but trigger and content warnings were developed at the grassroots level to accommodate people with “actual” mental or psychiatric disabilities relating to trauma or compulsive or self-harming behavior. Many years ago, before trigger warnings became the source of academics’ ire, small online communities (like LiveJournal) used trigger warnings as a courtesy to friends in their circle when discussing things like rape or disordered eating or cutting. This gave people with PTSD, eating disorders, or who self-harmed the option of looking at the content being warned for or not. Trigger warnings are still used in many communities for those purposes.

So what? Because a handful of marginalized LiveJournal users fostered and enabled the perpetuation of a culture of moral indignation and victimhood, we’re all obliged to participate?

I’m triggered by trigger warnings. They give me flashbacks to the traumatic abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of entitled narcissists. Where’s my fucking safe space?

@Space Crip:
Remember the joke about the girl who dug with such glee and abandon through a pile of manure that happened to be delivered the morning of her birthday. “There must be a horse in there somewhere!” she shouted.

If people want to enlist a small circle of friends or of the similarly afflicted to do this with them, then bully for them. If they want to make their home a place where they can remove their emotional armor, more power to them.

But when they step outside the circle or outside the home and try to impose these behavioral and linguistic rules on the wider community, when they attack allies who don’t share the private idiosyncratic vocabulary of sensitivities, connotations, and definitional associations that they have cultivated with their closed circle, then they become censorious whiners.

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

And, of course, Trigger is a horse.

Also, just stop using the tired old “this demonstrates a complete failure to understand…” line. It comes off both condescending and dumb.

Judith obviously understands the concepts of “accessibility” and “self-advocacy;” he just disagrees with you about effect them.

Reblogged this on syrens and commented:
This piece got my attention because it was about Trigger Warnings. I’m… ambivalent about trigger warnings. On the one hand, I have definitely wound up with tunnel vision and my shoulders up around my ears and my breath coming too fast and too short, due to subject matter that freaks me the fuck out. I definitely would have appreciated a heads-up so that I’d know what I was getting myself into. But I also… have some side-eye for “I’m Feeling Triggered” when, rather than meaning “I am on the edge of a panic attack” it means “I don’t like feeling uncomfortable, and this subject is uncomfortable for me” (particularly when the uncomfortable is due to things like “I feel guilty about my privilege” just as a for-instance). It’s easy to abuse, is what I’m getting at. And this particular post talks about how the “trauma olympics” isn’t a good way to organize (or Organize) ourselves. At the same time, I do give this post a bit of a side-eye about (for example) words that are getting reclaimed by people who were never hurt by them in the first place. The feel I get from this piece – which, given that I’m two drinks in at this point, may not be accurate – is that, because we (as queers) aren’t necessarily getting beaten up, raped straight, thrown in jail, or otherwise brutalized *because of our sexual orientations*, our desire to make our space Safe is… not legit, on some level. Like having a GSA in your school means you can’t think about how you’re X perecentage less likely to get hired for a job if you’re out, or that you can’t be a queer white-collar government worker *and* an incest survivor (for example), or something. I’m hoping I’m missing something on this – that the author is really saying something like “Hey there, white, cis queers, maybe *don’t* be all “I’m So Opressed” just because you’re queer when other people in your (or “your”?) communities are *actually* still getting harassed by Concerned Citizens (sometimes that means cops, sometimes that means gentrifiers, and so-on) because they’re brown/sexworking/trans/all-of-the-above/etc.
I don’t know. Anyway. Give it a read and see what you think.

Cherry-picking extreme, rare examples to dismiss a much broader social awakening that has has a net benefit for survivors of trauma. Dismissing the real danger that still exists for queer people whether or not they faced danger upon initially coming out.

“These younger folks, with their gay-straight alliances, their supportive parents and their new right to marry regularly issue calls for ‘safe space.'”

Not all young kids have GSAs or supportive parents. This is a caricaturization of an entire generation, of which a large number have suffered abuse, because abuse is very, very common.

Going from “These hardship competitions, but without the humor, are set pieces among the triggered generation” to:

“What does it mean when younger people who are benefitting from several generations now of queer social activism by people in their 40s and 50s … These younger folks, with their gay-straight alliances, their supportive parents and their new right to marry”

So. Hardship competitions, eh?

May as well have written “kids these days have it perfect! Back in my day we didn’t even have marriage!” The author is engaging in the same “suffering competition” that the article accuses others of performing, except on the basis of age.

“let’s acknowledge that being queer no longer automatically means being brutalized”

Within very small bubbles of the world. Often, wealthy white bubbles. These bubbles are the exception, not the norm. The author apparently has been living in one of those bubbles for so long he’s forgotten that violence still exists outside of these bubbles—and certainly still exists within as well.

This article is an insipid “omg trigger warnings, what drama queens” rant dressed up as something with substance. Next time remember to actually bring the substance.

Umm, OK. There’s one or two kernels of usefulness here: I appreciate critiques of the tendency in some political circles to over-psychologize oppression at the expense of critiquing systems of oppression that can be way outside of personally experienced feelings of empowerment or hurt. That is a thing that happens, and I agree it’s often linked to neoliberalism’s emphasis of the individual and rejection of actual structural modes of understanding what happens in the world. I also think narratives that dramatize and assign wounded affect to queer youth happen and are at times very much a part of a basically conservative politics.

But the rest of this post and many of the comments are just so grossly dismissive of younger queer folks, and of the marginalization of trans women in and outside of activist / queer / radical circles, and of the notion that there’s political and ethical good to be found in interpersonal decency and thoughtfulness. I think you can critique the over-emphasis on personal emotion and the pained romanticization of queer youth without all this kinda macho celebration of not giving a fuck about other people, y’know?

Like, I’ve seen, on occasion, people ask for or demand trigger warnings, or decry their absence, in ways I’ve found to be dishonest and self-serving. This, though, has in my experience been rare and mostly been from folks who were already pretty privileged and entitled – and this description does not include the majority of queer / LGBT youth. Queer youth aren’t quivering pain-receptacles, but neither are we exclusively problem-free kids who face zero anti-queer violence or systemic discrimination and just mindlessly freeload off the accomplishments of our predecessors on our happy road to assimilation or comfortable bourgeois boheme self-satisfaction.

I legitimately don’t understand the widespread backlash against the act of letting people know when potentially triggering content is in the pipeline. Like, during my undergrad I went to a school that was mostly non-white and largely black, in a mostly black city, and I took a class on the political history of photography in the US, and the professor – who was no social justice warrior, just a pretty run-of-the-mill moderate-liberal art historian – thought it would be reasonable and kind to give folks a warning about disturbing content a couple of weeks before we did segments on how the KKK distributed photos of lynched people (who were mostly black men and sometimes black women, Jews, and white anti-segregationists) and on how the photos of the dead Emmett Till helped expose the horrific violence of white supremacy. Was he doing this because he was cowed by the neoliberal politically correct orthodoxy? No – he warned us about such content because he knew he was teaching a class to many black students who may have been subject to traumatizing racial violence themselves, and students who were likely the friends and family of young men who look a lot like Till. He was being thoughtful and letting people know that there was some explicit imagery of terrible racialized violence coming up, and folks should prepare themselves for such content because maybe they’d experienced something like it, or feared they or their loved ones might. That is not censorship and it’s not necessarily pandering to a neoliberal trauma-centering subject. Neither is asking for that kind of decency. It’s being kind to the humans around you, and trying to create a culture of thoughtfulness about the reality of oppression in people’s lives and the fact that such oppression can be especially upsetting or traumatizing.

Not all trans women or trans-feminine people have had the word ‘tranny’ used against them in violent or threatening or dehumanizing contexts. Plenty have. Not all trans women or trans-feminine folks object to the term because it holds connotations of trans misogynistic violence. Plenty do. For those reasons, it’s really kind of shitty for folks who are not trans women or trans-feminine to rah-rah ‘tranny’ identity when they’re not so likely to have it be used harmfully against them or people with similar identities or bodies to theirs. Misogyny happens, and there’re some expressions of misogyny that hit trans women and trans-feminine people especially hard, and being thoughtful about that type of sexism should be a pretty basic part of feminist behavior.

If the stakes for sharing something are so high as to render someone “untrustworthy” simply by posting an article, then the stakes of your conversation are too high. Of course trigger warnings are important. Of course trauma and abuse are real. And yes, people who repost just to rectify the “trauma” of having felt awkward in a conversation — “see! I was right! you just need to toughen up a bit!!” are missing the point, which is that any conversation that is worth having matters more than any temporary moment of awkwardness. Likewise, the conversation, the alliance, the support system, the context — it all needs to be resilient and able to withstand these moments as well.

That’s not making an apology for bigotry — it’s suggesting that there should be room for people to be able to get things wrong without driving them out of the conversation.

I’ve only discovered this blog now when I saw someone on my twitter timeline link to this superb piece.

As a leftwing feminist from an earlier era (I’m 54) who was very active in feminist campaigns throughout the late 70s, 80s & 90s on issues like domestic violence & gender discrimination – I have grown utterly exhausted and disgusted with the total deterioration of feminist discourse into stuff like this “triggering” crap.

I especially appreciate your citation of a film like Life of Brian. I’ve often said the same thing of that film or films like Blazing Saddles – they NEVER could be made today. Yet I love those films and make no apologies for enjoying them.

I detest the infantilism of this new discourse online – esp among a certain segment of twitter feminists – with whom it is impossible to have any kind of conversation. They use jargon and slang that is utterly impenetrable.

They are totally fixated on the self — on bullying and exclusion.

All you alleged ‘adults’ in your 40s and 50s getting together to have this great big circle jerk about how whiny and entitled the kids today are, and how much tougher things were in your day, and how you had to walk twelve million miles uphill in the snow to deliver newspapers or what the fuck ever… you realise that we’re trying to solve problems that YOU spoiled fuckers caused, right?

“you realise that we’re trying to solve problems that YOU spoiled fuckers caused”

Ah, generational warfare. The identitarian response would be to accuse you of ageism, but that’s because identitarians, by definition, can’t see the real problem. The “fuckers” are, and always have been, the .01% of the population that controls the rest. The most encouraging thing I see in the new generation is a growing support for socialism.

framing vocalization about trauma triggers as a neoliberal affectation is extremely condescending and harmful. equating trauma symptoms with offense is inaccurate, misogynistic, and the oldest trick in the book. it’s disgusting as fuck. you seem unable to handle the fact that a few people — seriously a few, less than 10% of americans have PTSD (and i’m sure than less than 5% of them know what their triggers are) — are actually speaking out in self-defense about the lack of sensitivity towards survivors that our culture exhibits. why is that? because academia can no longer be a giant irresponsible boys’ club? because *oh my god* abusers actually have to start recognizing that their actions have consequences and that the people they harm will speak out? fuck this crappy “thinkpiece.” i care about survivors’ ability to function in a deeply misogynistic and violent world so much more than i care about comedy. this is some MRA bullshit in disguise.

First off, a very interesting read. Thank you for raising these issues – this piece has provoked a fair bit of discussion in my community.

I’d be interested in your take on Bernice Johnson Reagon’s piece Coalition Politics: Turning the Century. She addressed a number of the themes you’re dealing with here, and I think her analysis might be worth looking at. More specifically, I think she strikes a balance between attending to the needs of a coalition and the needs of the individuals who comprise it that’s lacking in this writing. Building a coalition is hard, jarring work – you’re trying to meld together the needs of disparate, often conflicting groups. But, at the same time, you have to be careful to attend to the people who are the movement. There’s a tendency in privileging the coalition over the individuals to erase the same people who always get erased. Sylvia Rivera comes to mind.

That’s my main concern here. While you’ve done an excellent job highlighting how people can be fragile, to the point of being narcissistic, the framing seems to imply that anyone who gets wounded by their coalition partners should just shut up. That makes me uneasy.

It might also be worth taking a look at Ngọc Loan Trần’s piece, Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

‘Weepy, white feminism,’ huh? Let’s ‘unpack’ that–as you grad school types are fond of saying in your overlong screeds. (Let’s also thoughtfully not ‘problematize’ it, as ‘problematize’ is not a gahtdamned word.)
So, weepy and white…
First, I don’t recall ever actually seeing feminist icons of that era like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan or Naomi Wolf sniffling, tearing up, or getting otherwise lacrimosa–but let us set aside this absolute lack of weeping; really, what I think you might have been going for was ‘aggressive,’ ‘ball busting’, and ‘humourless’…wait…no…I think you hit the ‘women aren’t funny’ stereotype. Scratch that. Good work.
Still, nice deployment of the term ‘weepy,’ (i.e. weak and overly emotional) to broadly delegitimise the feminist critique. I think between us we can agree that feminism in that era was probably just on its period. Or perhaps it had its panties in a bunch.
Second, I might just mention the technicality that white racists would not consider any of the abovementioned feminist superstars white. In fact, all three of these women belong to an ethnic group which the white racism of the 20th century in the US and Europe labeled sub-human, discriminated against, and ultimately tried to exterminate through a genocidal campaign. That said, this trivial fact is not meant to infringe on the very important agency of non-white (or progressive-white) racists to decide for themselves, arbitrarily and as individuals, who can be labeled white and subsequently negated through that label.
I think we can all agree it’s more fun to do things this way. Or we’re just super lazy….probably it’s that.
Finally, using sexist ad hominem to dismiss, in a single broad stroke, all ‘white'(ish?), women who took their experience and thoughts seriously, a bit conventional and expected, no?
I think, as a man, using your natural strength, humour and cleverness, you could have come up with something funnier. I say this only because we all know men are funny and strong, as are the people they decide are also funny and strong, according to their whims. Not that men have whims, of course, as they are also super rational.


Terms like “white woman tears” were, in my understanding, originally proliferated in activist / feminist / dyke communities by woman of color who were frustrated by how white feminists and white lesbians would deploy shows of woundedness and sadness in a way that utilized racist tropes about people of color being mean or aggressive, or that treated assertive behavior by women of color as ‘bad’ while celebrating that kind of behavior from white women, or that let white people turn conversations about racism into white guilt and navel-gazing. That’s a thing that happened and happens and it makes sense that people subject to that kind of racist redirection would come up with a short-hand way of referencing it.

I think Halberstam was writing with that history in mind, especially since a lot of their argument here seem to be that there’s currently a harmful and significant tendency to prioritize the feelings of the privileged over structural analysis and activism for systemic change. I think there’s a grain of truth to this claim, though I think this piece over-generalizes and over-states the problem and has a lot of things just wrong. But displays of sadness and hurt can certainly be used to deflect critique and support oppression, and this has been true for a very long time – hence the development of terms like “white lady tears” decades ago. See also: feminists who write about manipulative “man-tears” and the like.

That said, it’s clear that not everyone knows about that history, and I absolutely think deploying that rhetoric as a white, well-off, famous academic of masculine gender has a *way* different tone. There can be good in white activists arguing against the white whine, but not so much without more subtlety than Halberstam offers here. I’m aware of some of the history of “white woman tears” and I still found its use in this piece to be kinda sexist and dismissive while cleverly referencing anti-racist and activist discourses just enough to provide a smug alibi (allybi?). I can well imagine many folks not familiar with the term seeing Halberstam’s use as just plain misogynistic.

So, yeah. Snark as a style of writing, and the self-satisfaction and lack of subtlety that generally come with it, often kinda fucking suck. It’s weird and disappointing to see an academic who wrote things that were significant to me when I was younger make acting like this now.

okay, i never went to a fancy post-secondary school or took a course on all this very heady stuff – so i don’t know if i’m truly qualified to comment here. I have seen the type of discourse you refer to, quite rampantly, especially in (admittedly predominately caucasian) “lgbt” groups, as well as online, but have never understood why. So maybe i’m not qualified to speak to this issue, but i am a person who has been forced into sex-work, extended homelessness, raped nine times, shot, chased down and beaten with a bicycle chain, laughed at in the er when they realized i was trans, assaulted by police just because, had to fight almost everyday in later elementary grades and junior high, been called nerd, weirdo, faggot, sissy, bitch, nigger, “ewww that’s a man”, etc. on countless occasions, had bottles tossed at me, and kicked out of my mother’s home for being a “sick”, “deceptive”, “homosexual transvestite”. I guess y’all’s term for this sort of stuff is “trauma”?

Here in dc (home of the redskins), we’re often called “trannies” or “queens” as a matter of fact rather than insult. But i did not realize “tranny” was an offensive term until i read some person on the internet’s opinion who lives all the way on the other side of the country. I still have never met a person who is offended by the word “tranny” in real life!

Been through alot perhaps, but i used to share a camp with vietnam and gulf war vets – and that little crap i’ve been through is nothing compared to what they’ve seen, been through, and put others through. I’m not trying to belittle anyone else’s experiences, and do believe that people should be far more compassionate and considerate than they are – but it seems (speaking only from my experience) that loving my “enemies”, turning the other cheek, being slow to anger, and exhibiting compassion and consideration, kindness and general respect for others AND where they might be coming from -has gotten those others as well as myself alot further in terms of cooperations, relationships and personal evolutions – than nit-picking over terms which are themselves arbitrary, and necessarily in constant evolution. And this seems to extend to all aspects of life, not just “lgbt” issues, even in today’s over-sensitized amerika… I thought my generation was supposed to be the “ME generation”, but these younguns sure seem to wanna take the cake.

Please try to exercise your own inner strength just a little, every once in a while – and maybe try to be a little less self-centered, perhaps even forgiving, every now and again. You’d be surprised at the results!

Oh yes, and i also thought the article was pretty darn good (and could actually read and understand it too lol).

p.s. the same mother who once called me “sick” and “deceiver” and “homosexual” with soooo much disgust – is now my best friend and i hers

you are absolutely qualified to comment here and your perspective is insightful and your shimmering resilience shines bright like a diamond!

this is exactly the kind of perspective that i feel like jack is advocating for – compassion, a sense of humor, forgiveness, etc.

thank you for your comment. it made reading all that other mess worth it.

I love this article. l have long felt the left and the liberal generally tend to fragment unproductively into injury-privilege, psychobabble, semantic fine points and narrow group identifications. Whereas if we look at the big picture, the enemy is a rapacious capitalist economy every time, & every kind of oppression flows from it & ought to give us common cause.

The problem with radical/queer*/trans*/activist circles is that they’re just that – circles. When queer is reduced to an identity rather than a positionality within a broader struggle it just becomes an isolated subculture which has as it’s foundation policing and attack rather than solidarity and an open orientation towards STRUGGLE. Over the past 20 years the queer circles i’m involved with have become more introverted, and have become more and more specialized in language (especially psychiatric language, something that deserves a much longer look at) — to the point where I wonder how a lot of peeps function in the ‘outside world’, at work etc. Many of my friends have confided in me that they haven’t felt comfortable talking about certain topics with each other out of fear that it will result in triggering, and that this will be dealt with through mass online media posts, shaming, humiliation, isolation from friendship groups etc – is this the world we want to build?

To work together, to have an open orientation towards struggle is difficult and you can’t expect not to be hurt in some way when people who aren’t socialised in the same cirlces say things that attack the core of your self.

I’m a prof at an elite liberal arts college who teaches courses on gender and sexuality, as well as American lit. Been teaching for 18 years. The only times I’ve ever received complaints from students of the nature of “we needed a warning” or “why did we have to watch that” were for depictions of consensual sex between men in a book by Samuel Delany. I also teach about slavery, racial violence, and lynching–including lynching photos. Never received a single complaint about being triggered by that material. I don’t have any problem with profs doing their own thing, but make an institutional policy on trigger warnings and you’ll see a lot of homophobia, transphobia, and the like rain down, with institutional sanction. People will be demanding trigger warnings for representations of homosexuality, of women who choose to have abortions, etc.

I also have to say that the generation gap here is striking. Coming of age in the ACT UP era, we never believed we could live in a safe world. Because you can’t. No one can. That’s just the way it is. People who try to convince that you can are usually trying to seize power in some way–witness the War on Terror, the War on Drugs.

I sometimes feel like a lot of today’s activists were raised in pizza meetings with their college deans. I know that’s more indicative of the generation gap than anything else, but that’s how it feels.

The right to be safe? From what? Life? And let’s not forget: it’s exactly the unspoken promise of the War on Terror: Americans have the historically unique and exceptional right to be safe. And damnation to everyone else.

“Yeah, those entitled kids today, thinking they have the right to be safe from harm. How dare they.”

Well exactly. Because if it isn’t their job to protect themselves, it becomes someone else’s. And why should it?

GIngko, I don’t understand your comment. Also, there is a big difference between protecting oneself, which of course everyone ought to do, and believing one can be, or has a right to be, “safe from harm.” I apologize for not being better at explaining why I think this across what seems to be a very big impasse/divide, but I also don’t see very many people on the pro- trigger warning trying to actually engage this issue, which Murat articulates powerfully in my opinion.

Just because you don’t *mean* for a position to be conservative or eminently exploitable by conservatism doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

As one proud Tranny to another, thank you Jack! People who are overly and unduly offended are truly offensive. Guess what folks, we all suffer! Life is tough! Stop the white whining! Grow a pair! By “A Pair” I mean ovaries, of course! Hope that triggered you!

You claim that getting offended over words such as “tranny”, rather then focusing on real discrimination, constitutes censorship, not activism, thus holding the trans community back. However, considering “tranny” is a short from of “transgender”, I can understand why it might be easier to reclaim then, say, words such as “nigger” or “faggot”, which do have historical weight and have been used to oppress certain groups of people. Additionally, in my experience, the term “trigger” has primarily been employed to warn victims of sexual assault that the content they are about to see includes graphic depiction of sexual assault. In many cases, trigger warning is an act of compassion. Lastly, I think you vastly underestimate the maturity of LGBTQ youth; the majority that I have come into contact with were grateful that they had a strong support system and did not face the abuse that many sexual minority teens do. That being said, to trivialize the suffering of LGBTQ teens (who are 4 times more likely than straight teens to kill themselves) by claiming the majority make themselves out to be victims, is largely false. Speaking as a teen, yes, we occassionally buy into the “my life is so hard” narrative, but generally, teens want to be and want to be seen as strong, happy, and successful.

All these critisisms aside, I do agree with your sentiment that various modern social justice movements need to work together instead of pointing fingers at each other. While I believe words ARE very important, they are not as important as images, behaviors, laws, and other social norms that need to be reformed.

While I can understand your feelings on the cumbersome political acrobatics to avoid triggering folk, I feel that there may be some oversimplification when it comes to the Tranny slur. I personally believe we should reclaim it at some point, but I also feel that in order to do so it must be done by ourselves. No one in the 60’s would want a white ally throwing around “Nigger” to diminish the negative context, just as gay folk wouldn’t want straights to try and reclaim “Faggot” in the 80’s either. You mentioned ACT UP helped turned gay slurs around, and that’s cool, but they were gay- it was theirs to reclaim.

To put it in perspective, transgender people face an inordinate amount of violence and hostility; about half of LGBT murders are of a transwomen (mostly transwomen of colour) despite being an almost invisible minority in size, about 43 percent of us commit suicide, and we lack the same basic rights and freedoms as our cisgender counterparts. Worst of all, most folk don’t even have a clear understanding that Transsexuals aren’t Drag Queens. Forcing us to adapt to a generalized slur for both of us kind of puts us in a rough spot when we’re trying to find a job, partner, or life and all people can think in the back of their head is that we’ve somehow associated with a gay bar novelty. Considering our situation, it’s just not a great time to muddy the waters of a perceptually confused America for flair factor.

I agree with most of this and hate the phrase “trigger warning”, but I don’t think all of it is just whiny bullshit. I especially disagree with the part about the word “tranny”.

I have a lot of feelings and thoughts regarding this post but what is sitting on the tip of my tongue is how ironic it is that Halberstam is suggesting that trigger warning is detracting from actual battles that need to be fought yet this article is doing just that. While I don’t have a problem with the conversation this piece is buzzing because it seems that unlike Halberstam I see these dialogues as essential to other battles but it us vividly ironic and also gas the potential to be manipulated it the wrong hands (such as MRAs mobilizing the censorship train of thought)

I have a lot of feelings and thoughts regarding this post but what is sitting on the tip of my tongue is how ironic it is that Halberstam is suggesting that trigger warnings are detracting from actual battles that need to be fought yet this article is doing just that. While I don’t have a problem with the conversation this piece is buzzing because it seems that unlike Halberstam I see these dialogues as essential to other battles but it is vividly ironic and also has the potential to be manipulated it the wrong hands (such as MRAs mobilizing the censorship train of thought)

A lot of this resonates incredibly strongly with me. OTOH what is his obsession with denigrating “white lady feminists”–he erases black feminists and lesbian separatists from one era, then credits them with saving feminism in a later era. I was part of 90s feminism, but frankly, other than confronting Operation Rescue, we didn’t face or overcome anything as difficult 50s-70s feminists did. And by the 80s, at least we weren’t being actively sabotaged by other women (at least not as much). Birth control, Roe v. Wade, Title XI–does he really think all this was accomplished by a bunch of pathetic whiners?

[…] or wrote a readable deconstruction of language, politics, and identity. Instead, Halberstam waded into the very tired “tranny” debate, and along the way, managed to become the next Dan Savage, Tosh.0, Seth MacFarland of the LGBT […]

Wow, that is a lot of Monty Python references. Definitely getting a fellow child of the seventies vibe.

Great piece, Jack. I’m so sick of trigger warnings and trauma/therapy culture, people glossing over systemic problems in favor of a politics of personal grievance. I keep thinking about the way Foucault talked about confession– trigger warnings are part of this.

In relation to child abuse, Ian Hacking says that “Ever since Augustine, conversion experiences have been associated with confessions– the retelling of one’s own past, the true past that one had been denying. All this if familiar: therapy as conversion, confession, and the restructuring of the remembrances of one’s past.”

Beat up your partner? Something must’ve triggered you, like a flashback. Eat your son’s whole birthday cake at 2 in the morning? We can’t blame you. Defecate in a charity book deposit box? We all cope in our own ways. Enjoy Coldplay’s music? The source of the pathology is apparent.

Be triggered, confess, or whatever: You are hereby absolved of guilt. Amen.

You know what triggers me? The prison industrial complex. Pervasive societal heteronormativity. Rape culture. The AIDS epidemic.

No one is entitled to not feel triggered. As RuPaul said, “bitch, you need to get stronger.”

Yes, rape victims and people with PTSD just need to suck it up.

And people in wheelchairs just need to get over themselves and go for a jog.

And people with schizophrenia need to eat more vegetables.

Seriously, did you even dedicate 000.5 seconds worth of actual thought to this issue before vomiting up that nonsense?

A rape victim should certainly be able to expect that their sweetheart will honor a request not to wear the some cologne the rapist wore, because it triggers bad feelings. But they can’t expect they will never encounter that scent on the subway or see bottles for it in the drug store nor expect everyone who will be discussing the issue of rape to put up a trigger warning. So, yeah, a certain amount of sucking it up is necessary. Because the alternative is the world of Harrison Bergeron.

And people in wheelchairs have to suck it up and realize that others–even people they love–may still enjoy dancing, leaping and running. And they don’t get a trigger warning before Julie Andrews bursts into singing “Climb Every Mountain” at the start of The Sound of Music.

Trying to police the use of a word–especially trying to convince allies from dropping it–only increases the power of the word to do harm. If, as Audrey writes above, the only meaning of “tranny” to those who would use it to torment is “a pre-operative or non-operative trans woman, usually naked,” then silencing those who use it to mean something else only increases its power to harm. The *only* way to be able to stop a word from harming is to reclaim it–to actively change its meaning through changing the context of its use, and that means using it more, not less.

That’s why the biggest applause moment in the original British “Queer as Folk” is Stuart’s self-outing, when he claims every slur and negative stereotype and thereby robs them of their power to harm him: “Because I’m queer. I’m gay. I’m homosexual. I’m a poof, I’m a poofter, I’m a ponce. I’m a bumboy, baddieboy, backside artist, bugger. I’m bent. I am that arsebandit. I lift those shirts. I’m a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, shit-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant, I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I’m Moses and the parting of the red cheeks. I fuck and I am fucked. I suck and I am sucked. I rim them and wank them, and every single man’s had the fucking time of his life. And I am not a pervert. If there’s one twisted bastard in this family, it’s this little blackmailer here.”

You want to carve out a safe space in your home: Go for it. There should be a place in your life where you can take off your armor. But the world is not your safe space and never will be. Whining about that fact makes you weaker. Policing the language of your friends and allies makes them weaker and only increases the power of the policed words to do harm. And only people are people–not corporations, and not identity-based political groups. People may have triggers–usually quite idiosyncratic and unexpected ones (after my partner died of AIDS, I once spontaneously collapsed in tears in the nutrition supplements aisle of the drugstore seeing a shelf lined with cans of Ensure)–groups and identities do not.

The argument is not about sucking it up, getting over oneself, toughen it out. Nobody is arguing the experiences of victims should be ignored. Nobody is dismissing vulnerability. The issue is whether there is a ‘right’ not to be triggered. That’s an entirely different thing, really.

@Murat: If the issue is “whether there is a ‘right’ not to be triggered” then there is no issue to discuss. Of course there is no such right.

You are an academic, not an activist, so please stick to that. And if you don’t like the focus of certain kinds of activists, why not focus on lifting up the work of groups you respect. Maybe even donating some of your neoliberal university salary?

And I hope you avoid neurological trouble, including neurotoxicity, since you appear to be a hater and denier of people trying to get by with chemical sensitivities. I sincerely hope that you never know what that feels like.

everyone’s responsible for their own behaviour/language. if someone says they’re offended or hurt by something you do or say it’s up to you whether you take it seriously, but you don’t tell them to shut up. people complaining about people complaining is absurd. you talk about infighting, about useless discourse? this article is a perfect example. if you want to work on something more productive instead of addressing people’s “neoliberal” butthurt then do just that! why are you wasting time complaining on the internet???

You say there is no humor in the current Queer Liberation movement, but I disagree. Personally I found it hilarious a long established member of the Academy would say street level activists are not being radical enough while at the same time warn them about being unable to find employment in existing institutional power structures if they keep this up.

Was this level of irony intentional and scripted out? Or was it instead a simply a by-product of the desire to be another trans masculine person telling trans women they are not being radical enough in their gender politics?

“You say there is no humor in the current Queer Liberation movement, but I disagree.”

Mocking others isn’t humor—or if it is, every bully’s a comic. Humor calls for being able to laugh at anything, and especially at yourself.

The Life of Brian is not about Christ, it’s about religions in general. Jesus is portrayed in the film, at least two times – once as a baby, and then again during his Sermon on the Mount. The film is about Brian, and how people believe him to be a prophet and blindly follow him (e.g. “Yes, we’re all individuals!” and “How should we ‘fuck off’?”). It’s not a rewriting of Christ’s life, because Christ was in the film. It’s an absurd, and very funny, view on religion.

And next, you say how the movie would be banned in cinemas today, I would disagree. Have you seen the movies put out today? There’s tons of sex and violence, making religious satire look like child’s play. Maybe the scene of Chapman’s penis would be a bit saucy, but there is full-frontal nudity in movies today. And the “scenes of Christ” you mention would surely not be banned today, as 1) the first scene is him as a baby, and 2) during his Sermon on the Mount, he is properly portrayed as a fine man, but it’s the people who “misread” his comments which make the humor (see: “the cheese makers”). Which, again, is just satire on how people misinterpret (or: read what they want to read) religious dogma.

I know I am taking away from the general content of this article, however, I wanted to help clarify what The Life of Brian is about (per what the Pythons, themselves, have said – check YouTube interviews). I have to defend Python and this film, as I love both greatly. This film shouldn’t’ve been banned in Norway, or other countries, because,like you, they believe it was mocking Christ. It’s not. It’s mocking religion.

Thanks for your time.

I look forward to when this episode passes and the queers who object to being called quaking whiners return to their regular activity of throwing bricks and bottles at cops. Or… at least posting pictures of other people doing that 40 years ago on twitter or on the next flyer for their radical nonprofit.

It is also problematic when discourse is reduced to what is essentially a flat paradigm. Conversation is more than stilted when your advance strategy is “I have the right to stop your argument in its tracks if you say anything that makes me feel bad, or reminds me of time when I was made to feel bad.” What is the point of conversation then? Why not eliminate the idea of discourse and rhetoric altogether ( it’s confrontational and oppositional underpinnings were so agressive and patristic to begin with!) and replace it with support groups, where we all huddle together for comfort saying mutually reassuring bromides? There is also a problem in the assumption of a historical continuity between all the different disposessed members of community. Why is it that when attempting to addressing self-identified communities the lexical subdivisions become increasingly nuanced and complex ( you can never use the right term or pronoun), but when it comes to a history of abuse or oppression, they suddenly stand shoulder to shoulder and unified with every victim of a vaguely similar provenance from the present moment all the way back through recorded history? The extension of this argument is also that the offender becomes strangely identified (notwithstanding their intent), with some shiboleth of monolithic cisgendered oppression. It’s an interesting and very unsubtle division. The oppressed subject stands shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed, and the cisgendered oppressor stands unwittingly on the side of the oppressor, given that they are unwitting cogs in the crushing machine of heteronormativity. That’s the big picture, right? But in contextualizing the history of sexuality in this way aren’t we allowing tropes of power to permeate every aspect of our intimate lives? Am I supposed to raise my fist in solidarity every time I have an orgasm? What happened to privacy, indeterminacy, ambiguity? This is part of the larger problem of the politicization of sexuality. If it’s about power sharing, and votes, then there is no room for discourse. It’s about raising up the largest voting block and grabbing your share of ‘safe space’. If its a discourse of power we want, then we don’t want a discussion, we want to negotiate for our own territory, and to hell with whatever you were thinking over there. Which is fine, and understandable- but its hardly a great end game for discourse. My understanding of discourse was that it requires an uknowable ‘other’, something that forces us to shift and refine our position into something that ultimately fits in a larger and ( temporarily unified) paradigm. I thought this was the work of culture. But if culture is so thoroughly permeated by cisgendered oppression that it isn’t fit to stand, then we adopt a revolutionary paradigm, and hope to forge a new space where everyone can define themselves as intricately as possible without ever having to answer to anything that might question their journey of sexuality and individuation. A sexuality, in other words. that does away with the other. Wasn’t it Foucault who taught us to be extremely careful to dismantle not only the content of a discourse but to step back and observe its larger context?

I am going to write more elsewhere. I think. In fact I might not post this here at all but let’s see if I can remain within the point I think I want to make here before I go off and make all the others that are demanding that I write them down or they will keep me up all night.

Disclaimer: this is going to be broad and not directed at any single person writing here. It is also not going to address anything regarding the word we are fighting about–at least not directly. But I am noticing this other point of conversation that maybe I can add a little substance to? I keep reading about people who *really really* have PTSD and aren’t just faking it and I figure I can speak to this a little bit since I really really do have PTSD and have really really experienced multiple “flashbacks” as we sometimes call them, that come out of the blue sometimes and wreck whole days, weeks, months, sometimes years.

So hi. There is more to say about us people with PTSD but the only point I am going to make here concerns the rhetoric of the wounded self and of personal responsibility as complementary neo-liberal devices for discounting cultural violence and cultural responsibility. Because on the one hand, if the wounded self needs to be refigured as something other than an isolated psychological entity, then so does personal responsibility need to be refigured as something other than Your Problem, Not Mine.

That’s all, really. Tangential to the concerns of trans* people except maybe insofar as I am one of those too and untangling everything to deal separately with each identity/label/diagnosis/problem/feature/thing-that-I-somehow-am-although-not-quite-so-much-like-is-usually-described is nearly impossible for me anymore.

If as a culture we are going to address multiple systemic oppressions then I think we have to also look at how Personal Responsibility places many oppressed populations in an untenable position: that of single-handedly addressing and ameliorating the conditions of their oppression, quite without the help of those benefitting from those conditions and certainly without bothering anyone whose lives are not affected by those conditions.

I can be more concrete but since this is sort of a sideline issue except that you all brought up trauma and when you do that sometimes it summons me although most often you wouldn’t know it I am going to leave off here with this:

I am not sure we can have this both ways: either the wounded self gets taken up entirely in political and cultural resistance, not to be told it is Our Problem when it appears something might need to be done collectively about the collective woundedness that remains after the self is dismissed–because it does remain–or we be sent on our way to individual psycho-therapy so that we can take personal responsibility and not bother anyone else and not reenter society until we are “better” and able to function like normal folk and let The Movement get on with its business. Which we would be part of. But we’re broken and must go to the shop for a little while first.

Maybe you see the contradiction that I see here? Maybe not. I will have to try again later.

Ok I kept going. I should probably add then that I do not advocate censorship and have no power to censor anything. Nor do I advocate the reification of personal freedom as primary over our responsibility to each other. In the US that is a very unpopular opinion I realize.

Ok. That’s all. For now. Here. I think.

The piece has interesting points. But I think it also scapegoats millennials, the crowd probably most into using trigger warnings and fighting these little battles over language. You’re looking at a bunch of 15-25 year olds saying, “why are you so occupied with insults when you could fight the neoliberal-capitalist-regime!” as if there aren’t 15-25 year olds doing that, and as if we all just came perfectly formed out of this vacuum to transform the world order and decided to complain about what someone said to us on the internet instead.

But what I would really like to say is: there is a valid place for trigger warnings and being concerned about language. And it does help make us sensitive to the racist, sexist, heteronormative systems of privilege and oppression you would like us to focus on. Taking time to develop humor and jokes that aren’t racially or sexually charged, and calling out the problems they cause, is a ground-up way of confronting large top-down systems. Using trigger warnings helps create safe space, and being sensitive to requests for them validates peoples identities in powerful ways – it says to rape survivors, abuse survivors, LGBT folks that have found themselves subject to slurs and harassment, people struggling with mental illness, whatever: you are a valid person and I recognize that you exist. Instead of saying what I want to say and ignoring your existence, I’m going to acknowledge it and create space where we can all talk together about it.

Do triggers sometimes get a little inane? Yes. Are millennials too busy looking at their cell phones and feeling bad about themselves? Some of us probably are! But that doesn’t mean what we *do* do doesn’t count as activism (the personal is political, after all), or that understanding and subverting the politics of language isn’t a way to fight oppression.

Thank you Jack for taking the time to write this smart, funny and interesting article.
I have been thinkin a lot about this stuff and I have felt censored by my fellow queers for not using the right words.
Wasn’t/isn’t it post-structuralism’s fault really for making the use of the right language so important? And it is; keeping in mind of course we are not static, that language and meaning changes over time and in different ways in different communities, but that is another article – Where we run into so much difficulty and heartache is when we use smart ideas as the stick to beat each other with.
There is a lot of privilege, bullying and judgment that gets thrown around in our queer communities, this is not news or new in marginalized communities; of course so much has been written on that- when we feel so little power-we cant get to the guy who is throwing the baby’s in the water, so we attack the ally right next to us because they ‘have’ so much more privilege than we do; as my late beloved wife said ‘don’t become a leader we eat our own’. A sad state of affairs indeed. but keep up the resistance, even if it feels like it changes nothing- because it keeps us human. Thank you for continuing to do the work you do.
love, a Tranny fag butch dyke

I am in my late 60s and have been in “the movement” since the 60s and haven’t had much contact with this whole train of thought although I do most of my political work with people 40 years or more younger than I am. I will have to say, to me it sounds like the difference between anger and resentment. Stuff you resent, you are actually holding on to, kind of nursing it like a drink, maintaining an attachment to. Anger is a lot healthier; you express it, release it, use it to motivate effective action, and move on. Saying something “triggers” you is giving away a whole lot of power and autonomy to someone else, and denying your own responsibility for your own feelings. Every oppositional movement always carries within it an incorporation of the values and beliefs of the system it opposes; simultaneously that system always seeks to produce a kind of killed-virus version of the opposition (bourgeois feminism, porkchop nationalism, assimilationist gays and lesbians, etc) to inoculate people against the infectious real deal of revolution. People just have to learn not to throw the baby out with the bathwater; to identify the systemic enemy and to engage in struggles that will weaken it and strengthen the forces of liberation. Doing so will require, demand great fortitude, self-sacrifice and the willingness to withstand and overcome serious trauma, repression and loss. Learn a lesson from the CA prisoner hunger strikers, who have been subjected to torture isolation for decades in many cases and have found and expressed a healing solidarity and humanity in their resistance.

A misunderstanding, unfortunately. The point is not that we erode and divide communities with our trauma, and it is not that we are ignoring the real enemies, but that we have discovered over years of organizing with your ilk who our community really is, and who our enemies really are. What you experience as a supposed loss of community is in fact the reality of class conflict – a class conflict in which you are the exploiter class.

“we have discovered over years of organizing with your ilk who our community really is”

People who think in terms of “your ilk” seem to be more interested in fighting than uniting.

Obligatory pedantry: I think you meant ‘hypo-allergenic’ which describes substances which are less likely to trigger allergies. ‘Hypo-allergic’ would designate a person is who not very allergic to anything in the first place.

It’s always amused me how many people defend queer theory and queerness as being attacked by the right without defending it explicitly as being of the left. Queerness isn’t a critique of class; it’s defined as mocking bourgeois normalcy, and that fits in fine with conservatism of the Old Regime, as if does with Reagan and neoliberal America. I remember an agent of a British oligarch say in passing that after his meeting with my boss discussing million dollar deals he was off to a “die in” in midtown. As Johann Hari pointed out years ago “With the exception of Jean-Marie Le Pen, all the most high-profile fascists in Europe in the past thirty years have been gay.” Tell me about Tom of Finland.

The demimonde is never radical; I’ve been around it long enough to know. The utopian collapsing of art and life is a hallmark of both fashion and fascism, and Holly Golightly is an icon of anti-humanism, of anti-political ‘sensitivity’ as opposed to democratic responsibility. The only person I’ve ever heard refer to the tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton as models of homosexual love and honor was Robert Hughes, in 1981.

And if you really want to wonder how things have changed in popular cinema, never mind Life of Brian, check the scenes on the beach in Morocco is Prick Up Your Ears”

Wow, fascinating article. Recently a staunch feminist, I find your perspective very interesting. My opinion is that freedom is the best goal — including people’s freedom from their own sexism (racism, homophobia, or any “ism” or “phobia”). Yours is one to consider, I’ll have to mull this over for awhile. I agree that our fight should be more united. A human is never the enemy.

Although I do not personally have much experience with the subject matter, I agree wholeheartedly with the overall position you present here.
We have come to a point in our society when what is said is not what we mean, what we think is constantly scrutinized, and what we feel is weighed and measured against what others say we should feel. Many have lost their sense of self, and instead have molded who they are into what they think people want them to be. And, your position on trigger words is spot on – it is quickly becoming the equivalent to the young shepherd boy who cried wolf. The voices of those who are truly yearning to be heard are being drowned out by the ones yelling at the top of their lungs because they simply want more attention.

It can all be summed up in four little words: “It’s not my fault!”

That’s right–your sagging health, your dwindling finances, your waves of manic anxiety–these can all be conveniently and cathartically pinned on some outside force. There’s always something OUT THERE that supersedes your own strength, integrity, and personal evolution. Why grow when you can sue?

Nobody argues whether the sun exists because that’s obvious. Well, our intrinsic value and freedom is obvious, too, but we spend all day arguing about it with morons who don’t agree. If you really wanna piss them off, ignore them and have a fantastic life, anyway. Drives ’em crazy and no lawyers.

Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been having this debate with some friends for a while. They want to censor my use of the word “nigga” which I consider a reclaimed word. People say all variations are offensive, but I believe the -er version is the only truly offensive version, and even then I don’t see the point in taking it out of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That just ruins good literature.
I’m actually planning on writing an article on this topic for my school’s newspaper. You’ve given me some interesting things to think about. Now I need to find counterarguments so I can address them as well. Again, thank you for being a breath of fresh air in our overly-sensitive world.

Thank you very much for this well-reasoned, eloquent statement. I myself have suffered from being triggered in the past thanks to my own personal series of traumatic events, but I discovered when working as a part-time teacher at one point that a lot of people take the term “trigger” way too far. Yes, many have faced traumatic experiences and situations and certain day-to-day occurrences may give them excruciatingly painful flashbacks, but the term “trigger” has now become so loosely and freely used that it has lost most of its initial meaning. I’ve been wanting to get my thoughts down into a cohesive set of words for a while but I really couldn’t have said it better myself. This is poignant. Thank you for sharing!

I wonder how much of the substance in this is lost in people responding to the “bully”-ish tone of the polemic (on a site called Bullybloggers – shock!). If I’m reading correctly the critique is targeting a politics that centers self-preservation and security over the risky work of collective liberation.

Courage and resilience aren’t cis-masculinist principles, nor are they aren’t monopolized by whiteness – just as vulnerability need not be the primary, let alone exclusive, mode of blackness/femmeness/gender-nonconformity/wagelessness. Courage and resilience are vital not only for surviving systems designed to contain and kill us, but more importantly for overcoming and smashing them to bits so that we might thrive collectively. Yes, we are vulnerable and radically unsafe, and those of us who act on our radical politics in ways that threaten hierarchies and material structures should expect and prepare to face even greater risk. But we are and always have been more than vulnerable, and we must be more if we want our lives to approach anything proximate to dignity and well being instead of victimhood.

When we identify queerness with possibility rather than location, I wonder how certain claims of disability reveal themselves as cynical unwillingness and complicity in face of fear. But rather than shame people in their resistance against risk, maybe we can follow Toni Cade Bambara’s example in sharing stories and art that “make revolution irresistable”? Instead of determining whether one’s traumas are authentic or whether one’s political authenticity and credibility requires verification within in a hierarchy of traumatic experiences, we might benefit from sharing more stories about people who have moved forward with determination after they’ve fallen, or about the persons unknown who took tremendous risk, who were never caught and live among us. If some people feel compelled to defend the safety of relative innocents or canonize the dead who have been entrapped by the state due to their blackness/femmeness/gender-nonconformity/wagelessness, perhaps the rest of us can commit more resources and imagination toward aiding and abetting those of us that are guilty of wanting something more queer than the present state of things. Some of us call that abolition.

Consider the fact that the author thinks the voluntary deployment of trigger warnings by a handful of academics (an artificial “problem” affecting approximately 0% of the overall population) is more pressing than his own furtherance of dismissive sexist argumentation in a culture which still violently and institutionally abuses women…anyone seen the latest research on widespread non-investigation of rape at universities?
At least someone knows how to think about phrases like the author’s “weepy…feminism.”

Brilliant, Jack: “…saying that you feel harmed by another queer person’s use of a reclaimed word like ‘tranny’ and organizing against the use of that word is NOT social activism. It is censorship.” I applaud your considered thinking on these difficult topics.

I have lived through and participated in most of the “eras” you describe. You forgot t mention the part where some claim that my recognition of my bisexuality is considered false by others. I also insist that most people are bisexual (biologically correct), and that anyone who has even a modicum of attraction, in dreams or otherwise, to both or all genders is bi-, or omnisexual. I get a lot of hate mail for that.
My pet peeve: applauding EVERYONE and exalting mediocrity in the process. Good on ya!

Reblogged this on Sally Ember, Ed.D. and commented:
Brilliant, Jack: “…saying that you feel harmed by another queer person’s use of a reclaimed word like ‘tranny’ and organizing against the use of that word is NOT social activism. It is censorship.” I applaud your considered thinking on these difficult topics.

I have lived through and participated in most of the “eras” you describe. You forgot t mention the part where some claim that my recognition of my bisexuality is considered false by others. I also insist that most people are bisexual (biologically correct), and that anyone who has even a modicum of attraction, in dreams or otherwise, to both or all genders is bi-, or omnisexual. I get a lot of hate mail for that.
My pet peeve: applauding EVERYONE and exalting mediocrity in the process. Good on ya!

I offer my feedback not to contend with your assertions, which I mostly agree with, but hopefully to spark some kind of useful dialectical engagement.

As a person who suffers from mild to intense post-traumatic stress disorder, I wholeheartedly believe that the force of trauma is repeatedly mis-directed within communities of “resistance”. We are generationally conditioned to direct the pure blinding rage of a trauma response either (a) inwards, through actions of self-harm or (b) horizontally, through accusing others who basically, in terms of a global analysis, have the same level of power as we do. Escalation of horizontal hostility is a hallmark of trauma, and is used repeatedly by the state to dismantle and dissolve our movements. What we really need is (c) to funnel the rage upwards in the power system, to direct it as a force at those who would keep a system of global inequity in place.

As a person who spends a fuckton of time both managing my PTSD and pouring my life into anti-capitalist organizing, I am daily left with the question: how do I actually use my trauma responses as fuel for my work? Being “triggered”, having a trauma reaction, is one of the consistently most physically and mentally intense things that happens to me. I become severely dissociated, can often become actively suicidal, am overcome with a sense of learned helplessness and futility about everything, am uncontrollably burning with rage, and often have to spend days managing these symptoms to bring myself back to a baseline functional state. Trauma is pre-lingual, outside of the logic of standard social exchange. I can’t go to an organizing meeting and be functional if I’m hella triggered. I can barely control the rage so as to not harm myself or my comrades.

So my question to you: how do we shift the cultural patterning around trauma to de-escalate horizontal hostility and use it as a weapon in the struggle? The critique your article offers, while spot on in many ways, is almost substantively empty as long as it lacks an implementable framework for action for those of us who, without one, collapse into a quivering sobbing mess. Repeatedly and without end.

I really just barely understand what “triggering” is – I’ve never spent any time in these circles, so I can’t say anything about how they operate. But I think your piece seemed very insightful. The context was much appreciated.

I’m glad for the well thought out delivery of this essay. It’s an issue that I see constantly. A group achieving social change by coloring themselves as victims for sympathy isn’t a healthy way to self-represent. Regardless, of course, for whether the status of victim it is ‘earned,’ which trivializes the term for that group’s members who have suffered.

Thanks for the smart reminder that being (or being recognized as) LGBT, female, or a person of color is not the end-all of human suffering. And it shouldn’t be treated as such for an inclusive society!

I found this a most illuminating read. Its logic reaches beyond the gender paradigm. I struggle with the stultifying politically correct world that we live in in North America where communication has become a bit like walking on raw rotten eggs – one unwitting wrong step and you stink.

Sometimes very simple truths can no longer be spoken, and astonishingly, politicians appear prone to claiming victimhood as a credential in attempting to represent my social and economic interests. I don’t think one needs to wallow in perpetual victimhood in order to develop strength and courage. I think breaking free from it helps. And when breaking free victimizes someone else, where are we then?

Take the perpetual conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – each the victim of the other. That mentality is not serving them in creating a way to live together, is it? We need to get over ourselves and get on with the business of co-existing without becoming abusive about it. Thanks for a great article, Jack.

I disagree with some of the ideas here, chiefly the ones about how we’re evolving into some kind of weaker society within the LGBT movement. We’re not becoming more sensitive: we’ve always been sensitive. We’ve just come into a society, suddenly, where we can talking about feelings without some asshole yelling “faggot!” As for “triggers,” I understand that it can reach the point of ridiculousness, but let’s try to see it differently. The truth is that the very idea of a “Safe Zone” is a farce. There are no safe zones in our society, it does NOT always get better, and there are triggers everywhere. We have to live in society to affect any kind of social change, and that means wading through the muck and a good bit of hate.

But take triggers. For the first time, here are young people who have been subjected to abuse and rape (and who by no means “have it easy” simply because they’ve come from a new generation — on this point, I disagree with you so hard I waggled my fist ruefully at the screen) that are confiding in the general public about their vulnerability. It is an utterly stupid act because it’s not helping anyone by trying to further censorship, but I find it tragic and a tad heartbreaking that suddenly people see this as a weak generation, a brood of idiots and mental midgets who can’t take a punch like their daddies and mommies. They’ve taken just as many punches, statistics about child abuse, the prevalence of rape, and new studies into the damaging effects of such traumatic experiences, especially on young minds are abound.

They’re just having trouble internalizing it and forming a hard outer shell. Let’s not convince ourselves we’re tougher than they are because we cry on the inside.

[…] debate about “call out culture” originated with Jack Halberstam’s post on Bully Bloggers, You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma. Various writers have responded to Halberstam. […]

[…] happy with talking about my own situation in this kind of environment is, sort of, illustrated in this excellent post by Jack Halberstam on the “neo-liberal rhetoric of harm, danger and trauma”. It describes a political situation in […]

You lost me right near the beginning where, during the description of how “excessively politically correct” your activist groups became in your younger days, you add in a few snide words about perfume allergies.
What does that have to do with the topic?
People may choose whether or not they freak out when someone says “tranny” but they do not choose to have physical illnesses. If a person risks an asthma attack or anaphylaxis or even a less visible fragrance reaction like dizziness or headache, if they get exposed, yet they want to participate in a group, why should they not ask their allies to take the easy, painless step of making the meetings scent free? What would you have them do instead- hide at home and not be part of the community, or silently endure exposure & then get sick and end up missing a couple days of work or even going to the hospital? If a person like that asked their group to accommodate and they did, it seems implied that you think those friends were being too soft.
Shall we ignore all physical disabilities as “too PC” – no more ramps for wheelchair users or captions for the deaf? Will your tough love approach give people the backbone they need to shake their allergy, mobility problems or bad hearing? Of course not. Disabilities accommodation is the only way some of us have even half a chance of living a full life. It is not like the other examples you use- it is not a case of people developing a self pitying attitude because they’ve been encouraged to whine.
I really don’t get why you had to take a swipe at physical disabilities. People can’t change their disabilities no matter how insensitively you treat them. That perfume example should never have been included in an article that’s essentially about communication. It is off topic, aside from alienating disabled readers like me, who might otherwise have enjoyed the article.

As a straight white male with only a tangential exposure to queer culture I found this article enlightening.

I think there should be trigger warnings for discussions of violence and rape because the effects of those things on people who have been subjected to them are an overriding concern that trumps other considerations. However, the culture of “trigger warnings” as it currently exists has degenerated into yet another form of wallowing in the sort of self-pitying victimhood that has become so beloved of the left in this country of late. This doesn’t make anybody a stronger person, rather it makes them weak, pathetic, and unable to deal with the real world. This is just one of the plethora of valid reasons that so many people outside the hallowed halls of academia hold political correctness in utter contempt.

Once upon a time, the appellation “queer” named an opposition to identity politics, a commitment to coalition, a vision of alternative worlds. Now it has become a weak umbrella term for a confederation of identitarian concerns” ironically, it also circled back into “q*r/q-slur”. :/

Good points. I have issue with society automatically labeling this phenomenon ‘liberal.’ And now ‘neo-liberal’ which refers to an ideological economic shift in the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton. It’s largely some development at universities that has nothing to do with politics. It’s how the Culture War works, keeping us all distracted from economic and foreign policy issues, real politics. Plenty of ‘liberals’ are sick of PC extremism. My attitude is, let the kids argue and sort it out but keep it out of politics.

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