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Cure and Trigger Warnings

helenaff's picture

This is my reflection of trigger warnings and cure, prompted by Eli Clare's book Brilliant Imperfection, as relates to my experience as someone with burn injuries.


Clare’s discussion of how trigger warnings are not possible to accurately predict for everyone, and so there’s no guarantee that all triggers will be covered even with the best intentions really resonated with me. In my own experience, it’s also possible for people to not recognize that they would have appreciated a trigger warning until they have their first experience with a triggering situation. This happened to me my first time reading Good Kings Bad Kings, when Teddy was severely burned and then passed away. Although the severity of Teddy’s injuries are different from my own, I really struggled with the circumstances, since I saw a lot of parallels. The water from a faucet being scaldingly hot, having limited mobility, and being alone. And clearly, what happened to Teddy was triggering for its very specific similarities, similarities that I had not expected to ever encounter, and certainly have no expectation for others to predict. I think Clare handled trigger warnings well for his book, listing a bunch of potential triggers while also acknowledging that he missed some things simply because triggers can be so niche.

“Cure is such a compelling response to body-mind loss precisely because it promises us our imagined time travel. But this promise can also devalue our present-day selves. It can lead us to dismiss the lessons we’ve learned, knowledge gained, scars acquired.” (Clare 57)

Clare’s discussion of cure also relates to my experience as a burn survivor. He talks about how cure centers around a desire to return to “normal and natural” (which he notes doesn’t really have meaning for those born with their disabilities). People, who all have legitimately seemed well meaning, have frequently brought up laser treatments that would lessen the noticeability of my scarring. Quite frankly, my scars haven’t been all that noticeable to general, and have gotten less so as they’ve grown with me, but they still attract enough attention that some people see them and feel the need “to help” me cure them. Some of this has also come from my mom, who’s excitedly told me about new technologies as she hears about them. When I was growing up, I was so confused by all of the comments, because I didn’t see my scars as a fault, or something that was in need of correction, a similar relationship many disabled people have with their disabilities. In their desire to help me, fix me, people made me aware of a “problem” that I didn’t know I had, and instead created a problem with my self confidence and self image. But after undoing all of the damage, and now being able to tell people “I’m happy with my burn scars and don’t want to change anything about them” they’re the ones who get to be confused. Even though they only understand the cosmetic part of it, not the pain of damaged nerves, the itchiness of scar tissue, or the increased likelihood of skin cancer, they still have trouble grasping how I can be completely comfortable in my own skin and everything else that comes with it.