2017: Reflecting, Revising, Restructuring, Recovering (Part 2)

I’ve been reflecting back on my hard-won personal progress of the past year and making notes about what’s working best for me now, so that I can come back to this post in the future and remind myself of these strategies when I need to. Continue reading

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Asexuality, hypothyroidism, and PTSD

This month’s Carnival of Aces topic is “living asexuality,” and since I saw this ask mention hypothyroidism, it’s been on my mind. I thought now would be a good time to explore it especially in light of this month’s topic. (Warning for medical talk, and brief mention of corrective rape, but mostly this is just focused on symptoms and treatments.)

I think I may have mentioned before that I have hypothyroidism, but I haven’t really gone into detail about what that’s been like—or, especially, its interactions with PTSD and how asexuality complicates both.

Laura also has hypothyroidism and wrote about her experiences here. It’s a pretty common disorder, and more common in cis women—I have met quite a few people who have had it over the years, both before and after I was diagnosed, and all of them by coincidence. Continue reading

Trigger warnings: when to use them and why they help

The following is a comment I posted here about trigger warnings—proceed with caution, the link includes some pointed barbs and many commenters who really miss the point.  The post was specifically about whether or not authors should use trigger/content warnings for books.

Here are my thoughts:

As a person with PTSD, I think that generally, people really, really don’t understand why trigger warnings are important, and in what situations they are helpful.

A trigger warning is there for those of us with such psychological disabilities (and yes, it is that severe that many of us have to go get declared as having a disability in order to participate in things like university classes—especially when sometimes, being enrolled at a university is the only way to get access to treatment). It’s there because CONTROLLED EXPOSURE to triggering material is important in mitigating the impact that PTSD has on one’s life. That’s not to say that we don’t ever read triggering materials. We do, and sometimes it’s actually *helpful* to read them. Engaging with triggering materials can sometimes be GOOD—but only when we’re in the frame of mind to be able to do that. Only when it’s NOT likely to completely take over and make it so that we can’t complete the other tasks that we are supposed to do. If I had adequate warnings, I wouldn’t engage with triggering materials right before I have some sort of deadline, for example.

But most of the time, you don’t get any sort of warning. And saying “oh, well you have a responsibility to research it beforehand” isn’t really helpful, because while I do try to do that, it’s not always something that’s actually possible. For example, say I watch a TV show regularly, and in general I’ve found it to be completely fine, with no triggers. But suddenly, there’s a plot twist which now DOES involve a triggering subject. This is the first time the episode has aired, so I wouldn’t be able to rely on other people to tell me before that comes up. So the plot twist happens and now I’m already triggered, but I have a choice: keep watching, or stop? If this is a show I’m watching as it airs, then I’m pretty invested in the show, so most likely I’ll keep going unless it’s really, really bad. But I’ll start to get more wary of the show, and treat it with greater caution in the future.

And there are of course triggers which are personal, and it’s totally unreasonable for me to expect anyone to know about, or warn me of. I would suggest that the only triggers we should reasonably expect others to care about enough to warn people about are the ones that are very common—especially various types of violence and abuse.

But all of those unexpected triggers ADD UP. And they’re pretty frequent, even if they’re minor. It’s a death-by-a-thousand-cuts type of scenario.

So while you’re not *required* to use trigger warnings, you really should be advertising what sort of content your book includes in SOME way (good blurbs don’t require trigger warnings, because they’re descriptive enough that it becomes redundant information). If you don’t, I’m gonna think you’re either bad at blurbs or kind of a dick (being too scared of “spoiling” your work to adequately advertise what kind of content it contains is kind of narcissistic, in a way—it assumes that everyone reads books for the same reasons, or the same reasons every time), or possibly both. (And btw, I should note that I’m using a general “you,” not talking about you specifically—the blurb for Atlanta Burns was fine as far as I could tell without reading it.)

The situation is different when it comes to blogging and assigning books in a classroom setting.

People blog because they are having discussions within their communities. Not using trigger warnings–or making fun of them–is a passive-aggressive way to marginalize people with PTSD, and edge them out of their own communities. It reduces trust, and makes talking about trauma with the community harder.

Teachers at universities have a responsibility to keep in mind the needs of disabled students, including those with PTSD (who again, may only be still enrolled because they need to stay there in order to get treated at all). That means being flexible enough to have alternative assignments available, allowing students with issues like PTSD to turn in assignments late, having ground rules about content warnings in creative writing workshops, and yes, providing warnings when the assigned material is especially likely to be triggering to students with histories of trauma. I’ve had many teachers not only fail at accommodation in that way, but also create a hostile environment by perpetuating rape myths and making other very inappropriate comments (these not just from literature teachers but also from things like Human Sexuality 101 teachers, who should *really* know better). Being in a hostile environment that you really can’t escape like that REALLY marginalizes people who have ALREADY been victimized. Many bright students just have to drop out because of this.

So… yeah. Trigger warnings are most appropriate for discussion settings like blogs, and especially important for classroom settings. Smart writers can certainly get by without resorting to using them if they’re good enough at blurbs, but the content SHOULD be advertised in some way—or else you’ll just marginalize readers who shouldn’t have been your target audience anyway, and probably get some bad reviews.

Some further thoughts:

  • Trigger warnings have nothing to do with censorship, and they shouldn’t be used to censor.
  • They aren’t about things that people merely find uncomfortable. They are about showing care and concern for those with serious mental illnesses—trauma, eating disorders, things like that. It’s about actively including instead of marginalizing those readers/community members.
  • And it’s SUCH bullshit to call someone “weak” for having any mental illness, and make fun of them for wanting to manage it better, and have the support of their communities in doing so. Also bullshit: centering an author’s goal to “challenge” readers at the expense of those who would re-experience their trauma by reading the material. Challenging material is not automatically better than other material. That’s just elitism. Personally, I like to have a variety of material available.
  • Again, this is especially important in communities and discussion settings, like blogs and panels. And we’re aware that you may not know all of our personal triggers—we don’t expect you to. But there are some things that are pretty widely known to be triggering, and that’s what we want others to try their best to warn us about.
  • It is worth being more specific than just whether or not sexual violence is discussed. That is a broad topic, and can contain many different triggers of varying degrees. Is it just a discussion, or is there actually a rape scene? It can be hard to tell.
  • It’s worth mentioning things that could be triggering to some readers in book reviews—or if you are the author, making spoiler-tagged statements about what sort of triggering material readers might come across.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any specific trigger warnings that would be helpful, but you find often go unmentioned? I’d like to compile a list of trigger warnings for others to consult before publishing blog posts, to make it easier for those with no experience with trauma or other mental illnesses to actively include and show support for us.

News

Well… I was out visiting family last week (so never doing that again, at least not that side of the family), so these past several days since I got back have been spent catching up on things, working on a sewing project, and trying to restore my reserves of sanity. Unfortunately, I haven’t really got back into the headspace that I need to write yet; I have three drafts that I’ve started, and then found myself unable to continue, and then started on a different one, repeat ad nauseum. So instead of doing that I thought I might as well just leave a quick note here on the various recent happenings that are relevant here.

New Zealand Wins Award For Most Asex-Friendly Country of 2008
Okay, there is no such award, but there should be! Probably the biggest news for the asexual community lately is the first ever explicitly asexual TV character. I’m sure almost all of you have heard about it by now, but for the sake of those few of you who don’t read Ily’s blog, I’ll post it here, too. The character’s name is Gerald Tippet, of New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street. I’ve actually known about this for a while, since one of my Kiwi friends is a long-time fan of the show, but what I didn’t know is that the asexuality storyline is now available to watch on YouTube, courtesy of user sootmouthnz, who gains >9000 Ace Points and levels up.

And… that was the good news. Here’s the bad:

U.S. Court Rules Sexual Relations Counts as “Major Life Activity,” Expands Definition of Disability
The story broke here, and Venus of Willendork brought it to our attention here. I don’t have much to say about it other than what I said in the comments, but really, I just didn’t expect M’s ridiculous conclusion to become reality. It hasn’t gotten that far yet, since this is about not being able to have sex rather than not wanting to have sex, but this gives us reason to be concerned. The definition of sexuality used is broad (read: vague) enough that with this precedent in place, it would be easy enough for some sue-happy entitlement whore to come along and say that their “inability to experience sexual attraction” constitutes a sexual disability (nevermind the inaccuracy, we can’t expect the courts to know about that). If that happens, I think I’ll move to New Zealand!

But although on a larger scale we continue to be ignored and invalidated (here in the U.S. at least), on a smaller scale I’ve met some friendly people lately. Some of you may remember my little experiment with online dating. Well, it hasn’t turned up any real prospects yet, but I’ve met a couple of asex-friendly people and had some interesting conversations. It seems awareness has grown, and OKcupid is a friendlier place than it was when swankivy joined, so hey, we are making progress!

Special Treatment?

As a follow-up post to yesterday’s post about asexuality as a disability, I wanted to talk about the idea that apparently, asexuals must be given “special treatment.”

I think this idea stems mainly from the idea that asexuality affects sexual relationships in a way that sexuals are not accustomed to, rather than from any difficulty getting along with everyday life. But even so… what the hell?

Why is it that “special treatment” is required in order to deal with asexuality, whereas homosexuality is dealt with without any such treatment? Certainly, there are differences between the way one would treat a gay man as opposed to a straight one. One wouldn’t walk up to a straight guy and try to set him up on a date with another guy, unless one is looking for a punch in the face. Likewise, a tolerant person would never walk up to a non-closeted gay man and try to set him up with a woman. These are just differences based on different people’s personal preferences. Failing to appropriately modify one’s behavior based on the known sexual orientation of the person one is interacting with would essentially be the same as serving meat to a vegan, or strawberries to a person who is known to be allergic to strawberries. Just a little more insulting.

The essential difference here is that when one makes these kinds of changes to one’s behavior in order to deal with different types of people, it is not demeaning to those people. Their basic humanity and maturity is not in question. But when dealing with asexuals, most sexual people either do not make these adjustments to their behavior, or make negative adjustments to their behavior, believing that asexuality is not real, or if it is, it must be a disorder or in this case, a disability. It is not seen as a natural and healthy pattern of sexual attraction (or lack thereof), but rather as a flaw that prevents us from living a fulfilling life.

Because of course, having sex is the only possible way an adult can find fulfillment.

And so, in order to uphold their own ideology, sexuals must find some way to discount asexuals as fully developed human beings. There is no room for us in their picture of the world, just as there is no room for any evidence backing evolutionary theory in a young Earth creationist’s picture of the world. Accepting us would be inconsistent; therefore we must not count as real human beings. We must be underdeveloped, we must be lacking basic emotions, we must be delusional, we must have some kind of disorder or disability. Thus the idea of “special treatment” which, in any other circumstance, would not be considered special treatment but just regular old consideration for people who are different from you–in other words, tolerance.

This is basically the same attitude that people who think asexuality is a phase have–“Oh, we’ll humor her because she’s going through this phase, just let it be and she’ll come out of it by herself.” Just dressed up in a different mindset. “Oh, I’ll have to humor her because she is disabled.” Instead of being treated as an adult human being whose way of thinking just happens to be different, I am being compared to (direct quote!) “a 5 year old, cross-eyed child.” Yeah, thanks.

Asexuality as a Disability?

Okay, so anyone who’s not a total newbie to the asexual community has heard of the idea that asexuality is a disorder. Right? Well, M had a different idea. A couple of months ago, he told me this:

“Parade your asexual banner around as much as you would like, but in my eyes, you are handicapped; and if you could see yourself with my perspective and understanding of sexuality, I am certain you would understand that conclusion.”

Wow. Never mind the frightening similarity to homophobia–that’s actually an intriguing idea, if only because it’s something I’ve never heard before. It got me thinking. What would happen if, once the ignorant masses finally become aware of asexuality, they all eventually adopted this way of thinking? How would the asexual community react, and what about the disabled community? Is it actually justifiable? Continue reading