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Triggers, Accessibility Needs, Discomfort, and Conflict


Or How Jack Halberstam is Playing The Victim and Dismissing Real Concerns by Crying “Reverse-Abelism”

A few days ago Jack Halberstam - Or Jock Halberslam as I am tempted to refer to him from now on - released an article about how the “triggered generation” of millennials are preventing any real work from getting done because we are just whining about minor unimportant things. But for some reason he chose two examples that run counter to his point to focus on: accessibility needs and trans women working with others to reduce transmisogyny.

So to begin with, yes there are folks who misuse the word “trigger” when they really mean “I’m uncomfortable and I want everyone to cater to my needs and desires immediately.” And yes there is a fixation among some to try and point out every slightly oppressive thing others are doing as if that scores them points as a better activist.

That said, the article doesn’t make a distinction between folks who are misusing the concept of being triggered this way and people who are actually being triggered. It encourages people to dismiss or even mock accessibility needs. Yet Jack depicts people with allergies or MCS as yelling and biting someone’s head off over minor things that don’t matter. But as someone with MCS, I can tell you it isn’t minor. It can and will make me very sick, yet despite that I’ve *never* yelled at someone for smoking or wearing perfume because I’m often quite afraid to speak up for my needs.

He isn’t actually trying to discourage a victim mentality, he just wants everyone to see him and others who have to listen to our accessibility needs as the real victims. Considering how much pressure there is already to keep quiet about accessibility needs this is really messed up. I’ve often chosen to get sick (even once losing my voice) because I was afraid to speak up and create an imposition. 

One time I hosted an event and created a scent free policy as a requirement of my being able to host it. I got hate mail for days. People demanded their right to wear perfumes that would make me too sick to give my presentation. Others demanded I take some unknown shots that would solve the problem. A few even threatened to boycott. That’s the behavior Jack is encouraging when he tells people that my accessibility needs are minor and that even my timid attempts to get them met are an affront to those I’m asking a minor accommodation from. 

The other thing, too, is that I see it as very common for any criticism or concerns that trans women raise to quickly get interpreted as over-emotional tantrums and screaming at people. I actually was very involved in the conversations around Trannyshack and it was very positive, cordial, and constructive. The organizers of T-shack thanked us for our input and designated our organization the beneficiary of their show. We gave them an award. Everyone was happy and thought it went great. Then a bunch of bystanders simply assumed that we must have strong armed them into it through whining about being triggered. Folks who weren’t involved in the conversation wrote about how terrible trans women are for censoring and being PC police. Hecklina from T-Shack wrote up her perspective trying to clarify that wasn’t what happened and that in fact she got way more pressure from cis fans demanding she not “give in to the trans women word police” but her words never got the same reach or publicity as the folks complaining about emotionally reactive trans women.

The fact that Jack relies so heavily on this example, when in reality no one was complaining about being triggered but instead were having a reasonable conversation between organizers about how the event would be received and how to strategically frame it to best benefit the community, really undermines his point. Yes, a lot of the “triggered generation” he’s talking about are not trans women, but it really makes me wonder how much of a problem “trigger whiners” are and how much of it is a matter of other people characterizing someone that way in order to dismiss them.

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