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Wednesday, August 19, 2015 

Trigger warnings and sexual fluidity? Yeah, this is going to go well.

Trigger warnings, doncha love 'em?  Well no, not really.  To Lindy West, they are merely the equivalent of a newsreader warning that the next item contains "scenes you might find upsetting or distressing".  It's basic human decency.  Not everyone wants to see images of starving, crying children, corpses washed up on the Libyan coast or blood-stained pavements where the injured after a bombing are screaming in agony, and I wouldn't for a second force anyone to see such things.  I would argue though that within reason we should look at such things, precisely because like it or not, such images depict life, not as we want it to be but as it is.

West objects strongly to the idea that asking for such warnings to be included on college syllabuses might be about censorship or not wanting to engage with ideas that students rather wouldn't.  On the whole she's likely to be right, and so long as professors themselves are making the choice to include the warnings, there's little to be concerned about.  The Oberlin case she swiftly brushes over though didn't involve the teaching staff, and more than gives the impression the aim of the students, consciously or not, was to avoid discussing subjects they disliked as a result of their political views.  Such a position is worrying regardless of the politics of those involved, as the Oberlin professors made clear in getting the proposals thrown out.  You don't need to be an opponent of "cultural Marxism" or "SJWs" as the new online right present themselves to worry for instance that the great giving and taking offence wars have gone too far, as the reaction to the attack on Charlie Hebdo surely demonstrated.  Political correctness, as far as such a thing actually exists, should be as West argues about common courtesy; it has the potential to stop being that however when the privileged affect to speak on behalf of minorities, something that both the right and left are equally capable of doing.

Concluding, West states that "People hate trigger warnings because they bring up something most don’t like to remember: that the world is not currently a safe or just place, and people you love are almost certainly harbouring secrets that would break your heart."  She's right, only she's got it completely back to front: people dislike the idea of trigger warnings because however much we want the world to change, we still have to deal with it as is.  Life does not come with a trigger warning, regardless of how corny that sounds, as abuse victims will know all too well.  Not confronting difficult subjects isn't a solution, rather the opposite.

Somewhat related are the reports on a YouGov poll from the weekend on how we're all sexually fluid now, or rather that 1 in 2 young people say they are not 100% heterosexual.  This is rather less surprising when you dig further down into the poll (PDF): 1 in 2 young people might not say they are definitively either straight or gay on the Kinsey scale, where you rate yourself between 0 and 6, but when specifically asked if they are heterosexual, gay, bisexual, other or prefer not to say, the results are almost boringly as you'd expect.  The original Kinsey surveys suggested 1 in 10 were gay (the ONS by contrast suggested that only 1.5% of the population was gay in 2013), and this poll pretty much backs that up: 81% and 83% of the young (18-24s and 25-39s) say they're heterosexual, while 10% and 11% say gay (2% and 4% say bi).  I know I wouldn't put myself as 0 on the Kinsey scale, despite sadly being as straight as they come, for instance.  The obvious explanation for the difference between the young and old when it comes to the Kinsey scale is again, rather dull: there's no reason whatsoever to believe that older generations are any different in terms of sexual preference, they're just not as comfortable in saying so.

More interesting is why some continue to believe that regardless of this evidence, their own sexual identity or rather lack of wouldn't be welcomed or understood back in their home town, despite everything suggesting that we've never been so tolerant.  Some of it might be down to just how silly the labels themselves are: Alice, 23, from Sussex is apparently a "bisexual homoromantic".  Or translated, "It means I like sex with men and women, but I only fall in love with women. I wouldn’t say something wishy-washy like, ‘It’s all about the person,’ because more often it’s just that I sometimes like a penis."  Some others might more succinctly call it having your cake and eating it, although that has often been the judgemental accusation thrown at bisexuals.  Alice's description of her sexuality does nonetheless seem a recipe for more than the usual amount of hurt feelings and misunderstandings, at least outside of a close social group, while also hinting towards narcissism.  Does the owner of the penis have a say, for instance?  When Alice then talks of feeling entitled to be who she is in London, but doesn't feel the same way in the small town in the home counties she hails from, where she never experienced discrimination but puts this down purely to "passing" as straight, you do have to wonder.

This isn't to pretend that there isn't still prejudice, or lack of understanding, it's more that it's likely to become more and more confined to specific sub-cultures and localised areas.  Keegan Hirst no doubt genuinely thought that he couldn't be from Batley, be a rugby player and be gay, and no doubt it's why despite having always been gay he went down the path he did, but it often takes just the one breach for the whole dam to burst.  The belief that you need to move away from "backwaters" in order to be yourself, that anywhere outside of the major cities is the equivalent of social death or likely to be homophobia central just doesn't ring true any more.  It is however an eerily familiar way of thinking: just like we tend on the whole to say crime is low and public services are decent in our local area, we imagine that everywhere else there be monsters.  It might well be the case there will be more snorts of derision should someone declare themselves to be a "bisexual homoromantic" outside of the M25, but err, is that necessarily a bad thing?

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