trauma porn teaser
trauma porn teaser

Stop Casting Us in Your Trauma Porn. We Don’t Want the Part.

This post is also available in: Português

I’ve always considered writing to be a vehicle of liberation. Conversation is helpful, but my stream of thought is often interrupted by those overly anxious to get their point across — or by follow-up questions soliciting answers requiring deeper thought.

Writing isn’t merely an educational tool but a means of meditation, reflection and an opportunity to process pain. A ‘process’ is a specific set of actions taken in order to achieve a particular end. The only people who should be determining the end are those processing the pain.

When amplifying the stories of marginalized communities via radio, television, film or print, screenwriters, directors, producers and editors help kick off the conversation — but should never co-opt it. In fact, many often consult black, brown, indigenous, femme, queer, trans and non-binary people as a best practice in keeping the dialogue authentic. But if you’re going to consult us please trust that we know the lens through which these stories must be told.

When I recently created the #ThriveOver35 campaign the goal was to spread awareness and education while inspiring black trans women to thrive. The statistic is that the average black trans woman doesn’t live beyond the age of 35 years old. I didn’t want to simply focus on the description of the problem; I also wanted to present a prescription for the problem. #ThriveOver35 wasn’t solely about underscoring the gut-wrenching statistics we face. My chief objective was to help black trans women reimagine ourselves somewhere other than an open casket.

Several media outlets began covering the campaign, and it spread like wildfire. Other outlets requested I write essays for their publication, unpacking the experiences of trans women of color and my motivation for the campaign — including what I hoped to achieve. As with most of my essays, I opened up with my experiences from a first-person perspective, navigated the nuances and arrived at the need.

I discussed employment discrimination, which leads to unemployment and homelessness. I dove deep into the lack of emergency housing due to strict gender policies and grant restrictions prohibiting trans people from accessing services (including safety hazards). I also mentioned the undocumented trans experience before highlighting organizations like TransCanWork, The Los Angeles LGBT Center, Trans Latina Coalition, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and The Transgender Law Center.

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I addressed domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, survival sex work and access to testing, health care and social support. I amplified the work of organizations like the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team (APAIT), Minority AIDS Project (MAP), Friend’s Research Institute, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (SWOP), the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) and St. John’s Well Child Center.

I even explored preventative measures by delving into the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) studies and how it dovetails into the work Amita Swadhin’s organization Mirror Memoirs is doing for queer and trans people of color who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

With a bit of talent and skill set I unpacked all of the aforementioned in under 1,100 words. Unfortunately, when editors from a few of these publications sent my work back for revision they suggested I trump up the tragedy and trim down the hope.

They’d completely sanitized my work, even editing down my own personal experiences. It was as if they wanted me to rewrite a version of the truth they found convenient. But marginalized people are tired of prioritizing the comfortability of others above our own. Using QTPOC writers to promote white cis-heteronormative perspectives is essentially editorial blackface.

When editors present the problem without allowing writers to explore tangible solutions they are promulgating re-traumatization while holding detrimental statistics in place. Doing so is an abandonment of their social responsibility to the communities they profit from.

Stop using us to feed your insatiable addiction to trauma porn while sensationalizing our shame and drawing dark delight from our demise. While it’s rarely intentional it’s still yet another deep-rooted facet of white supremacy that still needs to be uncovered and unlearned.

Consider this an activist-writer’s clap-back to clickbait culture. If you aren’t actively working with us to dismantle the various forms of oppression we face, you’re benefitting from it. Your voyeuristic observations of our plight add nothing to the conversation. In fact, acknowledgement without action is nothing short of abetment. Don’t be complicit by silencing writers committed to speaking up for those who don’t have access to the same platforms.

An op-ed has the potential to make strong allies of its readers, but solid information is required. We can’t assume every reader has access to an ivy league education or that they’ll even know the terminology to google in order to learn more. The very article they’ve stumbled across may be the only point of access to the information being discussed.

It’s enough that writers have to shrink our experiences down to 300-1,100 words. We should at least have full autonomy over how we position those words in order to tell our stories. Otherwise there’s no real authenticity in the text, only meaningless fluff — taking up precious domain space.

Sure, some writers are lazy enough to pass up an opportunity to activate their readers, yielding half measure to their writing. Yet for those of us who write from a place of purpose and not a price point, it’s not about the monetary ‘change’ but change that births movements.

The next time you read a published piece that fiendishly feasts away on the trauma of an oppressed class of people, comb through the text for action-based asks. If there aren’t any, ask the writer/editor(s) about their objective in publishing it.

Like any other addiction, those addicted to trauma porn aren’t always aware of it until an external intervention takes place.

Ashlee Marie Preston is a media personality, producer, writer, speaker and civil rights activist. She’s the host/executive producer of a podcast/vodcast entitled Shook with Ashlee Marie Preston, which examines news, politics, entertainment and pop culture through a social justice lens. Stay tuned for Ashlee Marie’s TEDx Talk in September of 2018.