Let me explain something to you, to all of you on the left. I hate the vast majority of you. I think your ideologies are stupid and that half the time you are acting as the oppressor. Every single leftist connected group and organization has does something actively horrible and oppressive, personally, to me over the last 28 years. But if Trump tries to oppress you, I still consider it my responsibility to try to stop it the best I can, because that’s what a real leader does.
I ain’t Mexican but if Trump comes for Mexican people I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the Mexican people I love, and if you don’t have anyone who fits that demographic that you love, maybe you are the problem.
I ain’t queer but if Trump comes for queer people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the queer people that I love and if you don’t feel that way about people you claim to love, maybe you are part of the problem.
I ain’t black but if Trump comes for black people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him do that shit on my watch without any opposition. You don’t come for people I love without my fighting like hell for you.
I have people I love in every marginalized group in the leftist coalition and I have since I was a kid and we fucking look out for each other. He comes for one of us, he comes for all of us.
But even if I didn’t have people that I loved in these categories, even if I hadn’t experienced poverty and gender violence and oppression firsthand, I would still fight anyone who would seek to hurt other human beings because that is the right thing to do. It is just the right thing to do. Everything I have ever done in social justice has been for someone else. I did not benefit in any tangible way from starting FLIP. I alienated myself socially, professionally, and personally defending the marginalized. I have a list of actual physical beatings I have taken for other people and injuries I’ve endured defending the defenseless. I did this stuff while I was homeless, while I was sick, while I was myself being tortured and abused. I don’t do any of this shit for me or what I can get out of it and I sure as fuck don’t do it for my mental health. This is service, if you aren’t willing to do it, that’s fine. This isn’t for everyone and I respect that, but if you call yourself a leader then the first thing you need to learn is that it isn’t about you. If your work costs you nothing, I doubt it is as subversive as you think it is.
I don’t stand in solidarity with specific groups or ideologies. I don’t have particularly strong affinities for any of your parties or for the work that most of the left does. I’ve never had a home on the left, and the left has done almost as much to oppress me as the conservatives. I do my work in solidarity with the people and the children. If you can’t handle doing that, it’s not something I would brag about and it certainly isn’t a legitimate policy position for a movement to have.
And before you lecture me about self care, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve been going through a hell that none of you can even imagine over the last month and I have still managed to be strategic and thoughtful in my organizing. Let me tell you about some memories that I’ve been battling over the last month and half since Trump has been elected and you guys have been whining about the mourning you still have to while giving a fascist advanced warning of terrorist acts that you half-assedly planned. I’ll name just three, but there are more. 1) It turns out that my family has tried to kill me on four separate occasions all occurring before the age of 13, two of which happened when I was an infant. 2) When I was 9, I was so violently raped by my father as punishment for resisting his advances that I needed 6 stitches in my vagina. My own mother helped him cover it up. 3) I was trafficked as a child more than once , at least as early as 8.
I’ve been spending the last month and half processing all of that while listening you guys whine and complain and give privilege lectures, and you guys can’t even be bothered to properly plan things so that you don’t screw over the working class with your bullshit. So look, if you don’t want to stand in solidarity with all childhood trafficking victims, and everyone who has gone hungry and anyone who might be the target of state repression, then fine. Now you are corroborating with the oppression of others. And if you are doing that, frankly, I’m not terribly interested in your help or your opinion about anything.
Don’t you think it works to Trump’s interest if we are constantly doing this to each other? They are planning for us to do this and you are playing right into their hands. Divide and conquer is a very old strategy indeed. But you guys aren’t actually interested in doing anything to stop him are you? Because you live in a magical land where the consequences never affect you and where the working class will take all of the bullets for you anyway. You’ve lived there for so long that you can’t even properly plan basic safety tips for a protest during a Republican administration. We don’t need more “leaders” who put their own needs first. We don’t need more “leaders” who expect other people to act as their cannon fodder or pawns. That is not good leadership, that is childish. This is service. You are here to serve. If you are not here to serve then WE DON’T NEED YOU. You are no good to us until you get the ability to make decisions that will put other people’s needs first. Social justice is not a brand. It is not a t-shirt you put on or something you wear when it is convenient. Social justice is about liberating the actual people who aren’t free yet, and if you have the luxury to say, “I won’t be disciplined and thoughtful enough to do what is needed to free the most people that I can” or “I won’t be adult enough to put aside my own feelings for the good of others in the name of liberation” then I don’t know what form of imprisonment you’ve experienced but it was very different from the one I experienced.
When you are hungry, there is no room for error.
When they can and do torture you, there is no room for error.
When the consequence is death, there is no room for error.
When rape is a form of punishment, there is no room for error.
You sure as fuck don’t make mistakes because you are too lazy to plan if it means someone is going to kill you, what is even more monstrous is to make these mistakes on someone else’s behalf when the consequences don’t affect you. Do you know what it is like to be threatened with someone else’s pain and to offer to take the beating instead? I do.
My bottom line is this: all this theoretical bullshit was fine when it was on your college campuses and no one was getting hurt. But if you become a reason that people might get hurt, even if it’s because you are incompetent instead of just straight evil, then you are right that we aren’t in solidarity with each other. Because I consider you part of the problem and you can either get your shit together or else you can find out just how fiercely I fight on behalf of the oppressed.
Here’s something I know about all of you, you hit like a bitch.
Since getting married, people keep asking me and my husband if we want kids. Since neither of us has ever expressed even the slightest interest in procreation, it seems odd. But the really odd thing is when people argue with us about it after we try to politely demure. You could stop with the question when we say no, and I politely talk about how grateful I am that other people have them, but instead you keep interrogations going. Since we are getting tired of repeating ourselves, here’s the list of reasons.
Prepare to be horribly offended.
- We don’t want to.
- Kids will cramp our style? Why? Because our style is called “being irresponsible” and “sleep.”
- You all frown on people who smoke weed around their children
- People keep telling me how brilliant our child will be, and that might be true, if we win the genetic lottery. But they’ll also be insane, and we’ll possibly produce a Lex Luther.
- Don’t you all think I’ve done enough damage to my body?
- Listening to the cries of children gives me horrible flashbacks to my childhood.
- I’ve already taken care of lots of kids, so I know better.
- My husband straight just hates kids, you guys.
- OR… we can both write.
- We’re just a pair of selfish assholes.
- OR… I can continue to play subversive aunt to all of your children
- I literally can’t do it all without dying and frankly I like writing and activism better than raising kids.
- Between my husband and I there is only one fully functioning adult and we both agree it’d be best to raise kids with two.
- I wouldn’t wish my medical conditions and epic-genetic trauma on my worst enemy.
- Just general laziness.
- Neither one of us wants deal with the fallout of possibly having a douchebag. Which is to say, we’d have to hate our own child.
- After 28 years, I’m finally getting good sleep. Fuck you for asking me to give it up.
- Children aren’t fluffy and they expect to be fed more than twice a day on a regular schedule.
- Our cat wouldn’t like it.
- Christmas and Disneyland are usually involved in our descriptions of hell.
- Do you REALLY think it’s a good idea? I mean, if you know us? DO YOU?!!
- Because we are too irresponsible but also responsible enough to know we are too irresponsible.
- It’s all fun and games to tell children to rebel against authority until you are the authority.
- Children’s birthday parties.
- Pregnancy, for either of us.
- We’ll never like our child as much as we like each other and we’ll both also do a poor job hiding it because of aforementioned laziness.
- “No, honey, Santa isn’t real. He’s just something some white people made up to get people to spend money. Sure, go ahead and share that information with the masses.” Do you really want my child in school with your child?
- Children are like biological weapons factories and my body is basically virgin soil for the all the good my immune system does me.
- I don’t actually carry the gene that makes me addicted to baby smell, because I’m a mutant.
- I secretly hate taking care of kids even though I’m really good at it.
- I’m also really good at physics but I have yet to see such a mass campaign to get me into scientific fields.
I have PTSD. I was diagnosed when I was thirteen after putting away the man who sexually, physically, and verbally abused me from the ages of 2-13. It is a complex, challenging condition that I spend a lot of time working to combat and control so I can be a functional human being. I had it in high school, I also had it in college as a history major at an elite institution. I will never not have it, my therapist says too much damage was done for me to ever not have nightmares, which is to say my entire existence on this planet will involve never sleeping like a normal person. My triggers are so numerous and severe that to avoid them all would require that I never leave the house. Here is a brief, non-comprehensive list of things that trigger trauma associated memories and panic attacks
- Hamburger Helper
- Fly swatters
- Rubber bands (specifically being hit with them)
- Being approached from behind
- Having a white male “square up” to me
- Home Depot
- Depictions of incest, rape
- Depictions of violence
- Most crime dramas
- Depictions of methampehamine
- Cigarette smoke
- Phone calls
- Christmas trees (Christmas in general is rough, Thanksgiving ain’t much better)
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point here, each and every single one of those has a specific association to trauma for me. Now, imagine for a second that I decided that the best way for me to deal with the trauma is to avoid it. HOW THE HELL WOULD I LEAVE THE HOUSE?
How did I study history? Or literature? Or anything, really? It’s almost like avoiding triggers doesn’t actually liberate you from trauma at all!
Or maybe they do for people that have a specific trigger or instance of trauma, I don’t know but it’s not my experience that this approach helps.
But my bigger issue with trigger warnings is conceptual. When it comes to the treatment of a severe mental health problem, where does the responsibility lie? I’d argue that the only people who should be telling me how to treat my PTSD are me and my doctor, but most certainly not university professors who don’t have training or classmates who don’t have the disorder themselves. Although I’m very public about my struggles, I also still think that my compatriots who chose to deal privately have the right to do so and we should respect that. So when a university administrator or classmate demands the removal of a reading, or even a content warning (for adults… did you guys actually follow content warnings as kids, I know I didn’t, and I took great pleasure in subverting the man in that way), on my behalf, it feels a little patronizing and, well intended, but particularly destructive if it means that it changes what conversations we are having.
I really want to believe this is well-intended, and I think for most it is. I think most professors are just trying to do what’s best by their students and that students are trying to deal with these issues. But we’ve made it such that saying, “hey, I don’t think this is the best way to do this” is now somehow a form of oppression and it isn’t. I was a poor student at Stanford with PTSD and I don’t believe trigger warnings are the best way to liberate me, and other people do. And that’s fine. You can disagree with me because this is America, and you have free speech, but the point here is that this issue isn’t one sided. Reasonable people can disagree about this.
But some of this doesn’t feel well intended and it’s because of the way people describe what happens when they are “triggered” by books like Antigone. They say it “makes them uncomfortable.” Now, I’ve had a lot of panic attacks and flashbacks and uncomfortable is not how I would describe the experience. I would describe it as debilitating, painful and challenging, but it also didn’t stop me from reading things for class because I recognize as someone who has spent most of my existence on the planet feeling “uncomfortable” (hungry, sick, tired, poor), that sometimes I’m going to feel uncomfortable. And sometimes I’m going to learn things from that discomfort. It just strikes me as an insane level of entitlement to assume that you’ll NEVER BE UNCOMFORTABLE during your educational experience. Are we sure that’s the goal, here? Because my goal is to get more services for the poor and to force the rich to deal with the challenges that face the poor. I actually don’t give a shit whether or not people at elite institutions are uncomfortable when encountering challenging readings. I hope the folks with PTSD get treatment to make real triggers manageable and I will fight and have fought for that treatment, but I don’t understand why I’m supposed to care about the discomfort of a bunch of kids who are supposed to be learning and who live in a contained, safe space to do that while the rest of the people their age are trying to survive poverty and war. But what really bothers me is that these words, “makes me uncomfortable” are the same words that were used to silence me as an undergraduate.
“Heather, don’t talk about your childhood, it makes me uncomfortable.”
“We can’t use the term low income because it makes people uncomfortable.”
“We shouldn’t talk about rape/incest/poverty/racism/sexism because it makes people uncomfortable.”
The reality at most elite campuses is that the children are extremely unlikely to have PTSD. How do I know? Because Stanford doesn’t even have a PTSD specialist on staff, but they have 13 eating disorder specialists. PTSD wasn’t covered in my health insurance when I was an undergrad. And when I was an undergrad, openly discussing my PTSD, most of my classmates told me that I shouldn’t talk about it because of how it made them feel. They described It as awkward, uncomfortable, and like experiencing the pain of cognitive dissonance. They were not telling me not to talk because it was triggering THEIR PTSD. They were telling me not to talk because they didn’t want to deal with real life. So my concern is that we have very privileged college students setting the agenda of what we talk about and what we read about. A “hey, this has rape, its ok if you need to step out” was common educational practice before trigger warnings, and if that’s all that was happening from the movement to include trigger warnings, I’d be on board. But that’s not just what has happened, it has actually shaped syllabuses around the country and my feeling is that the minute books get banned, you become a fascist.
Since most of human history has involved rape, murder, genocide, and war, most literature and history would need a trigger warning. Can you study history and avoid trauma? Should the only people studying history be those without trauma? Should we be making that choice for other people? Who determines that? Who has the power to dictate what we read? Why do college students have that much control over the syllabuses of professors? Should they? It strikes me as a profound level of entitlement and privilege to assume that its ok to demand the right to shape the syllabuses of professors. My working class, PTSD having ass would never have assumed I had that right, so I’m trying to figure out how oppressed these college kids are if on the one hand they wanted nothing to do with my attempts to advocate for more mental health services for the poor, and on the other they are demanding (and succeeding in these demands) that professors exclude readings based on the personal preferences of the students in the classroom.
Since I taught real history, obviously my students encountered content that was challenging and probably deeply reminiscent of real oppression for most of them, on a regular basis. My students with anxiety and PTSD had never had such a sympathetic home. I created a space where we could address these feelings in a safe, academic environment that was full of love. When we talked about the victims of Japanese sexual violence, I, of course said to my students,
“This video will be difficult for some, and by that I mean at least 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted before the age of 18, which means this will be personal to several people, myself included, in the room. If you need to walk out, that’s ok. I ask the rest of you to respect this conversation.”
But this has been common educational practice for some time, so what UChicago and other university professors who are worried about the trigger warning situation is something else. It would be different if the trigger warning discussion hadn’t resulted in texts being removed or in the media being banned from public protests. Those are the tools of fascists. And here’s what I’ve learned about fascism, no matter how sympathetic the fascist is to my group of people, people like me do not survive fascist regimes.
Because we “make people uncomfortable.”