Today, a link to the blog post called “You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma,” written by queer academic Jack Halberstam, popped up in my Twitter timeline. I started reading it, I rolled my eyes, I read some more. I got angry. I read it to the end. I even read the comments, which, unfortunately, confirmed my worst fears about who would be delighted about that text and who would argue with it. Spoiler: I mostly agree with those who argued with it. (Then I did my taxes, because that’s the glorious life of a freelancer.) I considered writing a well-thought out response, but then I neither had the time nor the energy for that.
So I’m offering you a snarky approximate summary of every paragraph of Halberstam’s text instead. Because I’m funny like that! I even put in a footnote or two (because you can take the girl out of the university but you can’t take the university out of the girl)! I tried to make up for that with copious amounts of exclamation marks! Yay!
Trigger Warnings, I don’t Understand How They Work! Or: We Used To Talk Differently Back In The Day And I Don’t Like How Things Changed (Also: Sometimes Assholes Abuse Good Ideas)
by TeiledesGanzen, impersonating Jack Halberstam in a totally unauthorized way
Look, we now have reached the point where feminists accuse other feminists of being humorless. Someone had to do it! We can’t leave all the work to the anti-feminists!
The very white cisdudes of Monty Python et al. are great models on How To Do Funny Humor for queer feminists!
Hurt feelings are pretty much the same as severe allergic reactions to airborne chemicals, so I can totally conflate them! And while I’m at it, I’m going to also make fun of certain kinds of chronic illnesses (that affect people who were assigned female at birth to a higher degree than those assigned male)! No one but “weepy white ladies” ever gets one of these, and they probably deserve it! (And look at me not being a weepy white lady! I’m a snarky white butch/transmasculine being , and I’m not sexist at all!)
Also, newsflash! No one in feminism ever focused on economic issues beyond “equal pay for equal work” before the super-fun intersectional feminists of color came along around the 1990s! Not even feminists of color/working class feminists! And if they did, they always made sure to be super fun about it!
Since I haven’t given enough credit to Monty Python yet, let me also point out that they basically kicked off the ongoing Oppression Olympics where you get more points the more oppressed you are. Only theirs were FUNNY!
There have been complaints about the term “tr*nny,” especially from trans women and other transfeminine people! I think the term is awesome and should be used! After all, other terms of abuse have also been reclaimed by the people they were used against! Like “queer,” which is now universally embraced by literally everyone
in my circle of friends! And while I’m not a transfeminine person, I can quote one(!) who – surprise! – totally shares my opinion! Many coincidence. Such proof. Very politics. Wow.
Calling yourself a tr*nny is just like that thing in that 1979 Monty Python movie! (By the way! Monty Python is a super important pop culture reference for
dudes who were young in the 1970s/80s everyone and we should totally promote more stuff made by white dudes! After all, they knew How To Properly Do Humor, unlike feminists these days! Why, I might even write a Serious Academic Thing about Monty Python soon!)
Anyhow! People are asking me (and also my friends!) to think about the language and the images we use in our public stuff, can you imagine that?! The cheek! Really, it’s so inconvenient to change my habits, so I’d just rather not. Furthermore, a club in San Francisco changed its name! Now I have to get used to its new name, and that will be so confusing!
And why do these people who dare to speak up about transmisogynist and racist performances not read this stack of highly academic books about How To Properly Conceptualize Their Trauma first?! Why do they need to be so emotionally involved in this?
Freud! Another great white man who should be celebrated some more! (Well, he did refuse to accept the fact that a strikingly high number of his female patients were sexually abused by their fathers, so he decided that they must have been making it up due to [psychoanalytical jargon]. But we can’t dwell on such minor points.) He is an expert on trauma and we should refer to him!
Those young queers just don’t understand that talking about your own trauma is not the Right Way To Do Social Activism! In fact, it’s censorship! Yes, I’m totally serious here! If a trans woman says that she is reminded of her trauma caused by transmisogynist violence when other queer people (who are predominantly NOT trans women) use the term tr*nny, that is CENSORSHIP! Just like when a government prevents the press from writing about what the government does! Or keeps its citizens from accessing large parts of the internet! Because trans women totally have the power to force other people to do their bidding (why, it’s almost as if Janice Raymond was right all along, and trans women have now infiltrated women’s spaces to force their Evil Male Agenda Of Not Saying Tr*nny Unless You Are Describing Yourself onto us!)!
And how dare those young queers still think of themselves as suffering from gendernormative, anti-gay, and/or anti-trans discrimination and violence when they clearly have it so much better than we did back when there was no Tumblr and no “It Gets Better” campaign?! Some of them don’t even get kicked out of their parents’ homes or beaten up by their schoolmates anymore! So really, they should stop making such a fuss about the few remaining issues and perhaps watch a Monty Python movie or two until it’s their time to gay-marry. (Also, us middle-aged queers totally win at Oppression Olympics! Ha, take THAT, kids!)
And what’s with all those demands for “safe spaces”? We didn’t have safe spaces when we were your age, so why do you need any? How will you ever become battle-hardened, middle-aged queers like us (who only discuss their trauma in extremely private spaces or in extremely academic books instead of on the internet where people can see you cry and be Not Okay) if you have it so easy? (And what do you mean, there are LGBTIQ people of my generation who didn’t make it to their 40s and 50s but might have if they had had access to safe(r) spaces and/or public acknowledgment of their trauma?)
Asking for safe(r) spaces in feminist/LGBTIQ circles is also exactly the same as gentrification by middle-class/wealthy lesbians and gays! Basically, all that gay mainstreaming is only happening because people want to have LGBTIQ/feminist spaces with as little racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia as possible! But only privileged people demand content warnings and point out shit! (No, there is no contradiction in this paragraph whatsoever!) (Also, there are some academic books I read!)
And now, join me for the declaration of something completely NEW and previously unthought of! Sexual orientation is not the only issue that is relevant for queer people! Race and class are IMPORTANT! Many urban white middle-class lesbians and gays are actually not in immediate danger of experiencing police brutality or have limited access to education or career opportunities! (No, no, people of color and/or working class/poor people never said that before me!)
Uh, can I distract you from that by repeating that the only people who talk about their trauma and ask for spaces to be as accessible and discrimination-free as possible are the privileged ones?
P.S.: “Queer” used to mean something different in the 1990s than it means now (for some people). And I’m strictly against words changing their meaning over time (it’s even more confusing than clubs changing their name!). Let’s move on to watching more Monty Python movies!
Well. That was super funny, right? But then I’m a queer person in my 40s, so of course I know how to do humor (probably because I watched a couple of Monty Python films in the late 1980s!).
You know what? I could even write an actual analysis of the intersections of current LGBTIQ/social justice/Tumblr culture. I actually consider myself a member of that culture, despite my old age that puts me roughly in the same generation as Halberstam. I could explain the different ways and reasons people are using content warnings (aka trigger warnings) and how the emphasis on discussing various kinds of pain and suffering (including but not limited to trauma) shapes that culture (and I could compare and contrast that with how these things were talked about in the early 1990s). I could even criticize some aspects of current LGBTIQ/feminist discourse! OMG! I could totally also find examples for how the rhetoric of trauma can be used to actually bully and/or silence people (but what rhetoric can’t be used in awful ways as well as awesome ones?)! I mean, I can actually name and quote a Glee episode that is giving us a perfect pop cultural example of just that ! Not to mention all the things I could criticize about mainstream LG(B)((IT)) politics! We could be here for days!
But I don’t think that Jack Halberstam or the people who report feeling “more sane” after reading Halberstam’s post are in any way interested in that kind of nuance or that degree of engagement. Why, they might have to start considering potential coalitions and alliances with Queer Kids These Days, and we can’t have that. Better not touch the separation into different age categories and the accompanying cultures. Better not learn anything from people younger than us. Or with them.
P.S. Kommentieren/diskutieren auch gerne auf deutsch!
Edit: Other people have written some worthwhile and well-argued replies to Halberstam’s blog post, too. Here, have some links:
- emotionallychargedtowel: “rhetoric of trauma my ass”
- useyourwordsasher: “Fuck Jack Halberstam, as usual”
- shuraloves: “Re: the ‘debate’ on trigger warnings (as triggered by my reading a dismissive article by a queer academic who I wasn’t gonna name but there’s a quote below so do what you will)”
- Tobi Hill-Meyer: “Triggers, Accessibility Needs, Discomfort, and Conflict”, plus this reply by revengeroadtripmixtape (sorry, the last one is visually hard to read, if that’s a problem, perhaps you can try this (verbally identical) reblog instead?)
 I’m uncertain how Jack Halberstam currently identifies in terms of gender. They used to refer to themselves as butch at the time of writing “Female Masculinity,” so I’m estimating here.
 Kitty (to Artie, who is rolling along the hall in his wheelchair): “Hey, Crippy Longstocking, wait up.”
Artie: “You know what? That’s offensive.”
Kitty: “Aw, boo hoo. I have a disability, too. My disability is that I can’t tell when something’s offensive, and for you to point that out is bullying.” (Glee, “Wonder-ful” (4×21), full script here)