Saturday, January 29, 2011

On the Argument That Trans Women are Triggering

When people use the old “trans women can’t be in women’s space because they are triggering” argument I just want to stab myself, or possibly someone else, in the eye with a rusty fork.

You know the one: “we can’t have trans women in our domestic violence shelter because they look like men” or “trans women can come to our play party, we guess, but they have to keep their panties on because their genitals are evil phallic symbols of oppression which trigger us (never mind all the CAFAB butches and bois rocking out with their cocks out at all our events).”

There is just so much wrong with this I can hardly even begin to unpack it—

There’s the assumption that all trans women look a certain way. There’s cissexist ideals of what a woman looks like. There’s the idea that what a trans woman looks like is more important than her right to access services for women (and therefore more important than the fact that she IS a woman at all). There’s all the cissexist junk around genitals. There’s the non-consensual projecting of ‘male power’ and oppression onto somebody who is not male and is in fact oppressed by the patriarchy… on and on and on…

There’s all that, and then there’s also the REALLY slimy trick of trying to frame trans exclusion as a freaking DISABILITY ACCESS ISSUE.


I have PTSD. I actually get triggered. And this argument makes me want to scream: You keep saying that word ‘trigger.’ I do not think it means what you think it means.

I can get triggered by ANYTHING. Some of my personal triggers include: yuppie guys with pony tails, motel rooms, tie dye (I am not freaking kidding!), certain songs, any loud or sudden noise at all, and people coming up from behind me. I have known other people with PTSD whose triggers included slightly browned bananas, balloons, and all kinds of other random things you can’t possible anticipate would trigger anyone.

Basically, everyone’s trauma is different, so everyone’s triggers are different.

You cannot co-opt our triggers neatly into one political position— specifically, cissexist pseudofeminism. They will not fit. Some of us may indeed be triggered by that trans woman over there, but some of us are equally likely to be triggered by that mega entitled butch over there, or by the shirt that you are wearing. And guess what? Most of us have realized that our triggers actually have nothing to do with the people and things who bring them on.

Making a space “accessible” for people with PTSD by eliminating all conceivable triggers is not POSSIBLE. ANYTHING can be a trigger.

This is EXTRA SPECIALLY HOLY FUCK TRUE when the space in question is a big old kinky play party with people screaming, fucking, bleeding, getting hit, tied up, held down, etc. all over the place!

People with PTSD who choose to enter those spaces have probably worked through their issues enough to feel ready.

In the case of a rape crises center or domestic violence shelter, the situation is even more disgusting— it privileges the hypothetical triggers of cis women over trans women’s actually safety.

Always, always, cis women’s tirggers are more important than trans women’s.

I hear a lot of people throwing the word “triggering” around who don’t seem to understand what it means. Being “triggered” does not mean “feeling kind of freaked out” or “being squicked” or “being reminded of something unpleasant or painful.” When I say I am triggered I mean I am in a physical state of panic when the adrenaline really gets going, my heart is racing, and my reptile brain genuinely thinks I AM GOING TO DIE.

Is that REALLY what you mean?

Or do you actually mean people will start recoiling in transphobic disgust and fear from the trans woman quietly standing in a corner feeling uncomfortable and wishing somebody would talk to her at your (fucking awful) party? Do you mean people will feel weirded out, grossed out, and phobic? Do you mean they will feel “unsafe” because they’ve absorbed a cissexist idea of what a woman is and have been taught that trans women are dangerous perverts?

Say what you mean, transphobes— and keep my fucking disability out of it.

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