When Worlds Collide

What do you do when privilege and triggers collide?

Which is to say, when multiple things are intersecting at once and not everyone involved understands the nuances and the context, and you are still managing to be an ass, what do you do? After all, you’re the one being an ass.

It’s not as simple as taking responsibility for your privilege and how it manifests, although this is, of course, important. Indeed, more than that, it should be the first thing, yes, even when you are shaking and self injuring and going to a Bad Place In the Mind, because your hurt does not outweigh the hurt you have committed upon others.

And it’s not reasonable for people to expect you to discuss your triggers when even thinking about your triggers is upsetting, let alone trying to articulate them. Let alone being asked to explain the roots and reasons behind them. It is your right to protect yourself, even if doing so means denying people context.

And it’s not reasonable of you to expect that people know context when context is embedded in over four years of entries, and all of the context isn’t even visible. And it’s not reasonable to expect people to know everyone’s triggers when triggers are so personal. It is reasonable to ask people to stop when what they are doing is hurtful, but it’s not always possible for people to know that they are being hurtful when it involves an intensely personal trigger.

And it’s not reasonable of people to use abusive language, ever, no matter how wrong the target of their language is.

This creates conflict.

It is possible to be oppressed and oppressor simultaneously; it is even possible to be actively abused even while you are abusing. How do you balance this? How do you deal with owning your actions and trying to make honest amends when you are being hit with a flood of triggering experiences? How do you explain that even as you are hurting people with your privilege, you are being hurt by the privilege and assumptions of others?

How do you say “I realize that I am stabbing you in the heart right now, but you are also stabbing me in the heart,” without turning it into Oppression Olympics? Because there is no Oppression Olympics. We are all here, in this, together. Hurt others do to you does not outweigh the hurt you do to them. There is no free pass for wrongdoing.

I don’t know the answers to these questions.

I don’t think that bad behaviour can be excused with “there’s more going on here than you realize.” But…sometimes there is more going on that you realize. And when privilege and triggers intersect, things get messy fast. Because when you are being legitimately called on your thoughtless privileged actions, saying “woah, hold up, there is more going on here than you realize” is not going to work out well. Even when you don’t intend it in a dismissive sense, at all. Because “but think about the context” and “think about the tone” are the arguments that oppressors like to use when they are evading responsibility for their actions.

Context is important. But context isn’t everything. An action, objectively studied on its own, can be bad. And can be hurtful. The context behind it doesn’t matter.

Trying to construct context, to point people to it after the fact, often turns out badly. Sometimes one must accept that those calling out do not care about context, will not look at it when it is presented, will not consider it. They care about what is happening right now, what is in front of them. One must accept that people are going to think things about you that are wrong. Are you interested in correcting these wrong assumptions? Or are you interested in owning your actions? Because you probably will not be able to do both.

When privilege and triggers and disability collide, as they have done for me today, a situation seems all about you, and is, to you, but it’s larger than you. And you can make the choice to acknowledge that, or you can make the choice to focus it back on yourself. Personally, I prefer taking responsibility for my actions, even when doing so actively hurts me. Not because I secretly believe that I am right and others are wrong, but because in owning my actions, I am denying the role of triggers and disability. I must deny myself because my actions have hurt others. Because this is how we take responsibility for our actions, this is how we improve, as people, this is how we become better advocates for social justice.

The oppressor does not get to decide what the amends are. The oppressed do. That is, I guess, the best answer to this question; when triggers and privilege do collide, you make amends to the people you have hurt with your actions. And you try not to let it happen again.

2 Replies to “When Worlds Collide”

  1. I know you like substantive comments, but all I got is: thank you. No cookies. But thank you.

    I am curious, as new to the site: have you written about these particular triggers before? I’m not asking you to now, obviously, but I would like to know more to try to understand, and to know if there’s anything I can/should do to help.

  2. People only get cookies when they deserve them. Being a decent human being? Not grounds for cookies.

    I have written very obliquely about them, primarily because they are so intense and personal. For the most part, I am really good at avoiding them, and things that people think might be triggering often are not (for example, parents talking about their kids=not triggering; kids are part of their lives and I enjoy hearing about it and will actively seek it out to read about it). It’s one of those things that’s so hard because you usually can’t identify it until it’s already happening; sometimes I feel like I should carry around a set of red cards or something.

    I, unfortunately, am really bad about pushing through my triggers and then slamming into a wall, which is really not healthy. I guess a lot of people do this; I think if we lived in a society where people could be more open about triggers and their origins, it would really be better for all of us.

    That still doesn’t mean that being triggered is an excuse to be an ass, though.

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