I woke up yesterday morning to a social media storm. UChicago, my dear old UChicago who I dreamed about attending when I was a little girl and who chewed me up and spit me out when I wasn’t strong enough to take it, UChicago released a letter to the incoming freshmen saying it didn’t support “trigger warnings” and did not condone the creation of “intellectual safe spaces.” And I found friends on my Facebook feed crowing and proud of their alma mater who had dared to stand up to the forces of political correctness and those that would silence their right to free speech.
It was almost four years ago now that I was sexually assaulted. I was sick, really sick, I had laryngitis and I’d completely lost my voice. So when my boyfriend went out to a party, I stayed home to sleep. He woke me up in the middle of the night. He was drunk. I had no voice. He couldn’t hear me screaming. When he woke up the next morning I was curled up at the bottom of the bed, still shaking and crying. He touched my shoulder and I flinched away from him. He begged me, with real fear in his voice: “Please tell me I didn’t rape you last night.” And I looked up at the first man I’d ever fallen in love with and I put a smile on my face and I shook my head. “No,” I whispered, “no, of course not.”
Think about what you’re saying when you disparage trigger warnings. Think about what you’re saying to those of us who need them. To those of us who walked away from the worst moments of our lives not only bowed but broken. Shattered like glass into a thousand pieces that cut. Think about what you’re saying to us when you say trigger warnings are infringing on your right to free speech. When you imply that our avoidance of flashbacks, of our minds taking us back and forcing us to re-experience over and over the moments we would most like to forget, makes us close minded.
I can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with gender. I can’t help but wonder if one in four men on campus were veterans and colleges were defending surprise renditions of the 1812 Overture in the quad complete with cannon fire, whether this would even be an issue. Whether people would be insisting that the 1812 Overture was an important piece of musical history and if veterans weren’t prepared to be met with surprise renditions of it in the quad, maybe they’re not ready to be back in school.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with denial. Denial of what our society is, what it does to those of us who can’t fight back. Maybe this is our world rolling over and finding us curled at the bottom of the bed and begging “Please tell me I didn’t hurt you like this, please tell me I’m not that bad.”
Think about what you’re saying.
Think about what you’re saying to every person of color who has to track the movement of the cops and keep their hands out of their pockets just in case. Just in case. Think about what you’re saying to every queer person who escaped the hell of beatings and insults in their Midwestern high school only to get to college and find out their university doesn’t support “safe spaces.” Think about the one in four women on campuses around the country who are going to find out just like I did exactly what it feels like to be totally without control. Think about what you’re saying when you tell them their right to feel like there is one corner of the world that understands them is not as important as your right to speak your mind.
And I understand, I understand the worry of going too far. Of coddling. Of allowing intellectual cowardice and partisanship to prevail. But what you fail to understand is how much we are hurting. You roll over in bed and see us shaking and crying and flinching to the touch and you think “Surely I can’t be that bad. There must be something wrong with them. They must be weak to be in so much pain from something so small.” But it isn’t small and we are in pain and you, you being the world out there, are really that bad. And if we have the bravery to uncurl ourselves and call you a rapist then it’s time you listened because that is exactly what you are.