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18 August, 2008

Something Appealing, Something Appalling

Questioning Transphobia raised the issue of excluding trans women from areas because a penis -- or a former penis-possessor -- might be "triggering" to abuse survivors. Lisa Harney wrote a followup discussing her own triggers.

So here's the thing.

I am, in fact, triggered by penises; that's the most consistent thing that sets off my flashbacks to the assault. (Other known triggers include the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which I didn't successfully watch again until a few months ago as a part of a really intense scene, certain phrases, and, apparently, attempting to discuss the events in any detail with the shrink.)

Being triggered by penises is really annoying if one is pretty much exclusively interested in male sex partners. For the first ten years or so I was sexually active, I kept the lights off if at all possible, and rarely looked south of the ribcage.

Being triggered by penises is really one of those things that almost never comes up in the ordinary world. I'm more likely to have my unrelated mostly-mild phobia of mirrors pop up than random unexpected penises -- people put mirrors every-damn-where, but it's not often that one encounters a random penis. (Warning: link to random penis includes random penis. Art by the delightfully wacky Ursula Vernon.)

And the reason it doesn't have much relevance boils down to, mostly: trousers.

I live in a part of the world where people, for the most part, wear clothes. The penises the people around me have, if they have them, are irrelevant to pretty much all interactions I have with them, whether they were born with them, had them generated via modern medicine, got cybernetic implants a la Star Wreck's encounter with the Bored, or have a sparkly purple one that lives in the drawer next to the bed. The penises just don't come up, or if they do, they don't come up thoroughly enough to escape the trousers (or occasional kilts).

Hypothetical penises that may or may not be there are not triggering for me. I am not speculating about what is in your trousers right now, whether you are male, female, or not, whether you are cis or trans, whether you are wearing a thong or boxers or nothing or whatever. So long as your clothes are on, your hypothetical penis is hypothetical. With your clothes on, you are as sculpted and nippleless as Barbie to me, though presumably better-proportioned and able to flex your feet.

But ah, you say, what about those circumstances where people may not be clothed, what about those penises?

What about them, I say.

The thing is, my trigger is my problem. Which is not to say I don't appreciate people who are willing to make accomodations for it, as I do, but I can't find it reasonable to demand that other people go to exceptional effort to pad the corners for me.

Let me walk away if there's a penis and I'm upset by it. Don't make me stare at your naked dude spread. Give me space if I flip out. These are levels of consideration I expect from you as a decent human.

Ask me to tell you if I'm being triggered so you can determine if you feel you need to make accomodation to my issue? Sure, that's something I don't expect, but do appreciate, and I consider it a gesture from a friend.

Ban penises in my vicinity, just in case one of them might set me off? Presume to tell people "You can't bring that penis in here, she might have a flashback"? Free clue: my neuroses don't have a right to run my life, let alone the lives of innocents. I have the right to live like a normal person, and let other people likewise live their lives.

It sucks to have to manage triggers. But it's something that I have to do. It's something I've worked on, actively, gentle exposure to the occasional penis, going so far as to look at a few (though rarely for long, because it makes my brain itch in unpleasant ways due to, y'know, triggeryness). But I have to do it, because that's the price of living in my head. Like sometimes walking with a cane is the price of living in my body. I don't get to opt out. If I were crippled by the possibility of encountering someone with a penis unexpectedly, I couldn't go get the mail, let alone have a satisfying life including my partners.

I don't want to be oh-poor-babied and have my fragile spots coddled until I'm made of nothing but twitchy shards of overprotective mess. I'm not going to tell you to leave your penis at home any more than I'm going to forbid you to hum "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid", but I may remove myself from your presence at times if I can't handle it right then.


Lisa Harney said...

Thank you for writing this - it was weird to realize that most of the conversations about triggers and penises I've seen were always about hypothetical other women who might hypothetically trigger at the sight of a penis - or at the sight of someone who looks "male."

And also, how other potential triggers were practically never brought up, or even much discussion of triggers beyond "trans women trigger cis women."

Anonymous said...


Trinity said...

Well said.

belledame222 said...

I live in a part of the world where people, for the most part, wear clothes.


SunflowerP said...

I think you're being too diplomatic with the contingent who believe responsibility lies with Everyone Else.

Hmm, though... I do have a post gestating about cockeyed attitudes about responsibility, particularly though not exclusively in feminist contexts; perhaps when I go into auctorial labor I'll put some emphasis on this aspect of it, tear a strip or three off that contingent, and link to you.


SunflowerP said...

On reflection, I don't think I was clear that your diplomacy is a minor quibble, in the midst of a resounding, "Well said!!"


Dj Connell said...

Wonderful post - honest and powerful, as in empowered and thoughtful.

Thank you for that.


P.S. If you ever want one, you might like this Earthwise support groupz'

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