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Saturday, April 15, 2017

(You Probably Didn't) Ask Jackson - Triggered By Bodies

So I have a thing where I love reading around trans male/masculine forums and commenting where possible, because I like helping my community, even when they're annoying or entirely misinformed or even kind of offensive.  But every once in a while there's kind of a "theme" where I'll see multiple trans people ask the same question, or different questions in the same general ballpark, and it strikes me that maybe this is something people need to know.

This serious is questions that, well, you probably didn't ask me, but which I read from multiple people.  I'm not direct quoting conversations or naming names, as these could invade somebody's privacy, but instead am writing questions based on questions from multiple people (although I may focus on just one story if it's a particularly good example).

The first subject I'd like to write about Q&A style is triggering bodies.

Dear Jackson,

I am a trans man who is living with another trans man.  This trans man is "genetically gifted," having a very naturally flat chest, and because of this he walks around shirtless freely around the house.  He refuses to put a shirt on.  This is very triggering for me; how do I get him to stop?

Triggered By Bodies

Dear Triggered B. Bodies,

I picked this to address because although your particular case is very individual, what isn't individual is the concept of a trans man (or really anybody) being triggered by the bodies or expression of... well, anybody.  Not just other trans people, but other cis people as well.  Maybe you're triggered by the sight of some body part or contour that you don't have, or one you do have but desperately wish you didn't.  Maybe you're triggered by the idea of trans men and boys wearing Instagram-fancy makeup or skirts because they remind you of things you have been forced to wear.  Maybe you're tokophobic and the idea of a trans man getting pregnant really makes you feel repulsed and frightened.  Although I'm going to focus on the presence of a well-"passing" trans body, all of these are in this category.

I'm also picking it because I have a body that, well, a lot of other trans people don't like.  I have a couple of traits they're envious of and then an expansive variety of traits that make other trans people uncomfortable on account of my audacity in not having them changed.  And I'm super sick of being asked to hide these traits--bind my chest, wear clothing where clothing isn't required, etc.--because other trans guys aren't comfortable with them.

Anyway, although the advice I am going to give you is almost certainly going to really suck for you, I want to point out that being triggered is not a choice, and I'm not claiming it is.  People can be triggered by absolutely anything or anybody that reminds them of a trauma they've experienced (for trauma-related triggers, anyway, which is what this original example is).  None of this should be taken to mean "hey, you're a terrible person for being triggered by your roommate."  But we do need to look at what we're reinforcing with how we respond to being triggered (speaking as somebody with quite a few absurd triggers).

In social justice communities, we put a lot of the onus of trigger management on other people.  This is usually fine because the most common triggers are very common, disturbing to more people than just those actually triggered by them, and often involve very concrete power-over situations.  Things like sexual assault, for instance, are woefully common, very upsetting even to people who haven't experienced it, and often based on misogynistic power structures, so universally requesting warnings about content regarding it is perfectly reasonable.

Since we want to be kind and supportive of people with traumas, we kind of go with it without question, and there are even communities out there where if anybody requests a form of censorship (putting asterisks in a particular word, not using a particular word) or warning on something, suddenly everybody is obligated to do it.  I've seen a number of these communities get absolutely ripped to shreds eventually just due to the absurdity of their rules and the extreme potential for abuse as trolls start requesting everything from meat to hair dye be censored.

Where this becomes a problem is when you talk about things that are fundamentally about somebody's very existence, especially the body they occupy.  And it's not that this is never appropriate--spaces devoid of white people and men come to mind as necessary exceptions, speaking as somebody in both those categories--but insisting a marginalized person censor his body because it triggers you is absolutely not appropriate.  And what gets me here, Triggered, is that your entire question starts with the assumption that your roommate is doing something wrong and you must find a way to encourage him to stop for your sake.

This is ridiculous... nobody should be forced to pretend their body doesn't exist in their own home, and that's exactly what you're requesting.  If somebody's existence is triggering to you, you should not be living with that person.  And if you absolutely can't (or refuse to) move, what you need is a self-care strategy and a way to take time away from seeing your roommate, not to change his behavior.  Because insisting somebody else change because their appearance happens to upset you is a terrible precedent.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson