Asking for space for one’s trigger

// 30 October 2012

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Guest blogger Rebecca recounts an episode where she felt sensitive to her triggers. To what degree can we ask for space for our triggers?

Last night a taxi company refused to provide me with a female taxi driver. I was told a female driver was available, but it would be inconvenient to send her because she was too far away from where I was.

The first woman who took the call seemed taken aback by the request and asked me to hold. Another woman, who was possibly a supervisor, then asked me why I wanted a female driver. When I explained it was for reasons of safety she acted annoyed and said that all their drivers were safe. I hadn’t been expecting hostility so I attempted to justify my request.

I told her that I would feel safer with a female driver, as I was a young woman heading home alone late on a Friday night. I said I had been drinking and felt vulnerable. She dismissed my concerns in a way where I felt she was trivializing them. After she repeated that it wouldn’t be possible to send the female taxi driver to me I hung up humiliated.

I wanted a female taxi driver because I was raped a couple years ago and had been badly triggered that evening. I’d had a rough day, but had arranged to visit a male friend of mine so wanted to honour the arrangement. When I arrived I explained about my day and how sensitive I felt, but about half an hour later my friend said, “Oh, here’s a video I think you’ll like,” and showed me a video about rape in video-games. The content of the video would usually not have been a problem for me, but my friend gave me no warning and just pressed play without telling me a thing about it. I sat frozen on the side of his bed, thinking, “But I just told him about my day. Why would he show me this?” When it ended he launched into his own personal summary, which revealed a staggering amount of ignorance to the trauma rape victims feel and the way rape is dealt with in the mainstream media. I cut him off and excused myself, escaping to the bathroom, but not before telling him to Google the term ‘trigger warning’.

Once I’d recovered myself a little I went back to his room and apologised for my behaviour. I referenced the rape a couple years ago and how lately I’d been getting more sensitive about it. I’ve been doing a lot of feminist activism, writing about the sex industry, and nude modeling and I was seeing rape culture more clearly and feeling a lot less safe because of it. I had, at the time, considered my assault an isolated incident by an individual man. But I was starting to view it as a consequence of a culture of permissiveness: from casual jokes to street harassment. My friend was clearly uncomfortable so I tried to laugh it off and change the subject, requesting that we watch an episode or two of a show I knew had few, if any, triggering moments in it.

By the end of the second episode I’d calmed down. Unfortunately I’d also missed the last bus home. Usually I would have stayed at my friend’s house, but I wanted to be in my own bed in my own flat. That’s when I called the taxi company.

My friend was uncomfortable that I wanted to ask for a female taxi driver. He didn’t consider it justified and I was still a bit too upset to explain it to him. It is unfair to label all men as potential rapists and intellectually I know that is not true.

However, whenever a strange man knocks on my door, I feel my palms sweat, even though I know it is probably the postman. When I walk home alone a man engaging me in conversation may be a possible introduction to an assault. I will brush him off and walk away rudely, aware that he might merely be being friendly and that my behaviour is probably upsetting for him. It is not nice to be the source of fear in other people. I know that, but it doesn’t stop me feeling afraid.

Trying to explain this to my male friends is difficult. Trying to explain it to taxi-companies at one in the morning is just too much. After stressing a little and a bit of a cry I let my friend phone a different company and order a taxi without trying again to specify a female driver.

The man who drove me home was perfectly nice and didn’t leer, or make inappropriate jokes, or do anything to make me feel uncomfortable. I have had some lovely male taxi drivers and many more that I could take a little teasing and flirting from. But that night I couldn’t have dealt with it. I felt let down and vulnerable and silly, like my assault was an inconvenience that I was being rude for bringing up.

Surely this is a reasonable justification for wanting a female driver? Or maybe I have no right to force others to accommodate my trauma. When I got home my friend text me to see if I was okay and I told him I was. But I’m not. I’m not okay at all.

The photo above illustrates a taxi driving down a street. The yellow taxi has the words Yellow Cabs printed on the side. The photo is used courtesy of the creative commons license is copyright by Moyan Brenn.

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 30 October 2012 at 4:35 pm

Hi Rebecca,

I’m sorry you were treated this way by the taxi company and that your friend wasn’t more considerate. I think you were wholly justified in wanting a female driver and the taxi company should have accommodated your request, or at the very least let you down in a respectful and apologetic manner.

You have every right to ask for the support and understanding you need as a survivor and people need to learn to listen to your voice and the voices of others who have been raped. Society ignoring your feelings and experiences is part of the rape culture you mentioned and it’s wrong. I’m really glad you’ve shared this story with us so we can help educate people and hopefully create a more caring, compassionate society.

The Goldfish // Posted 30 October 2012 at 5:40 pm

I’m really sorry you went through this – what a truly horrible day!

As far as the taxis are concerned, I would recommend preparing some scripts for these scenarios, because at the time you’re never going to be on best form to work out what to say. The woman you spoke to almost certainly took your initial explanation of “safety reasons” as a slight against her male colleagues, and may have felt your more honest explanation about how you were feeling was back-tracking.

The easiest tactic I’ve found when talking on the phone is to pretend to be your own friend or representative. So you can say, “I’m calling on behalf of my friend, who is feeling very fragile, and I wondered if it would be okay to have a female driver. She’s quite upset because today…[insert whatever explanation] and I think it would be much more comfortable for her to have another woman take her home.”

You can give whatever explanation you like, and it’s easier because you’re not talking about yourself. So you could tell the truth, once removed, “She was raped a few years ago and today all that’s been stirred up again.” or you could say she’s had a row with her boyfriend or father, or she had a bad experience at a party, or even make up something medical that might leave someone feeling horribly self-conscious. It’s much easier to argue your corner if you pretend to be arguing someone else’s – it’s even easier to talk about traumatic events if you do so in the third person.

As far as your friend is concerned, this is a really tough one. I have found that some people respond to the discomfort of other people’s trauma by pretending you’re fine and almost going out of their way to prove you’re fine. After he learnt that I had been abused by my ex husband, one male friend seemed compelled to joke about domestic violence, and violence generally. It wasn’t that he wasn’t sympathetic, I think he was just absolutely desperate to see me laugh about it, to see the subject neutralised. It was a crappy way to behave, but I’m pretty sure it came from a position of panic.

Unfortunately, my only suggestion is to steer clear of people who are this clumsy when you’re feeling vulnerable. Talk to your friends and family when you’re feeling stronger, so they know this isn’t ancient history and is still effecting you. But observe who gets it and who is a slower learner and go to the friend who gets it when you’re feeling unsafe.

I hope this phase is short-lived and you’re feeling much stronger very soon.

Shadow // Posted 30 October 2012 at 7:20 pm

You had every right to demand a female taxi driver but because you are female this supposedly means we must always presume men are safe and trustworthy unless proven otherwise. Too many male sexual predators use the strategy of seeking to engage in casual conversation with women in order to ‘test their female victim to see if she will be compliant when he begins to test her boundaries.’ One of the most common methods male sexual predators use is to tell the woman/girl ‘you’re not frightened of me are you?’ These male sexual predators know we women are trained as girls to accept the lie that men are trustworthy and we must never, ever upset men’s fragile feelings by saying ‘get away from my space’ or ‘you are sexually harassing me.’ Direct language to men is not allowed because we women are expected to massage men’s overblown egos 24/7.

So, you are wholly within your rights to demand a female taxi driver and furthermore that jerk of a male friend who like innumerable men believes the world revolves around him, proved once again innumerable men are selfish self-centered creatures who think they know and understand the after effects of what innumerable women experience whenever a male sexual predator rapes them.

John Worboys was a male taxi driver and no he did not go around with a sign on his head ‘saying I am a male who has/will rape multiple women!’ But this female supervisor claimed she knows her male taxi driver colleagues are ‘trustworthy!’ Really, just because she works with these men does not mean she knows them – men who commit rape are manipulative and cunning and their common personae is one of respectability.

Until such time as men invent an item whereby we women can instantly recognise the mythical ‘deviant predator’ then we women will not automatically assume all men are trusthworthy until proven otherwise. Reason is because male sexual violence against women is endemic and such men do not walk around with signs on their foreheads. The men most likely to be male sexual predators are those men who are known to their female victims. This includes your friendly male neighbour; the male work colleague; the male doctor; male dentist; in fact any male who is slightly known to a woman – because men do not wear signs saying they are ‘trustworthy.’

Furthermore we women do not exist to constantly placate and massage men’s egos and neither do we exist to respond politely whenever a male intrudes into our space or considers he has the right to start a conversation. If men want a conversation then talk to other men because I’m certain there are many males who would just love to have a strange man go up to them and say ‘my you are looking very attractive today!’

Men can do something very simple – and that is – do not harass women whenever you happen to walk past a woman in the street. Do not presume just because you are male this means every woman you speak to exits to massage your overblown ego. Now this more difficult for men – cease talking over women and instead listen to women because you will undoubtedly learn far more than you will ever learn from talking to other men. But that of course means men accepting the fact women do not exist to be men’s disposable sexual service stations but autonomous beings in their own right.

So for a start – men treat women as you would be treated – which means you men do not like other men intruding on your boundaries/space so cease intruding on women’s boundaries.

nick // Posted 31 October 2012 at 9:50 am

shadow …….

are you arguing for complete segregation of males and females ? also , as a male ,am I guilty of every crime possible ? Are you saying that women can never trust any man ?

i am man , i am proud to be a man , just because i have a penis does not make me

better or worse than anyone else.

Rose // Posted 31 October 2012 at 5:55 pm

Not only is it perfectly reasonable to want a female taxi driver, it’s actually quite a common request. There are now some all-female taxi companies.

I think that the situation is best resolved from the business perspective. When I want a cab, I want a female driver, so my business goes to the company offering female drivers. If there is no female driver available – thats not a problem, I’ll phone another company. But it’s important that the first company know why they lost a customer.

As for the compassionate friend issue, personally I’d apply the same technique. I’d take my friendship elsewhere!

Lynne Miles // Posted 2 November 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hi, Rebecca. I’m sorry you had such a truly crappy day.

I don’t know where you are, but in London at least there’s a company called Lady Cars who have a large number of female drivers and exist because they understand that some people for whatever reason would prefer a female driver. I think there are similar things elsewhere.

More broadly, you’re within your rights to ask for whatever you like. To give a bit of self-protection maybe you could go a bit more on the offensive this time. If challenged just say (nicely but firmly) “I just would prefer it. Can you tell me whether you’ll be able to accomodate this as if you can’t I’ll try another company”. You’re a customer, and you can make whatever requests you like and if they’re not willing or able to meet them you’ll just find someone who can. If they want your business they’ll be a bit more polite and helpful.

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 2 November 2012 at 7:12 pm

@Shadow…Rebecca did not “demand” a female taxi driver, she requested one & it was a perfectly reasonable request that, in an ideal World, should have been granted. It really does not help anyone by using aggressive & deliberately provocative language to respond to this article. This is not about men…it is about considering the needs of others & honouring them. Playing devil’s advocate, we need to remind ourselves that our own thoughts & feelings are, more often than not, unknown to observers…we shouldn’t assume that others are inconsiderate, even if it appears that way. I’m sure the woman at the taxi place would be upset to discover that her apparent lack of understanding caused Rebecca distress.

No one wants to live in a society where men are feared…but by the same token we should recognise that for women who have been attacked by men, that fear is very real & should be acknowledged as such by honouring requests for female drivers without question.

SexierThanThou // Posted 7 November 2012 at 6:07 am

“…I was a young woman heading home alone late on a Friday night. I said I had been drinking…”

Victim blaming lingo?

Also, I have to question the comment moderating on this site. How does offensive vitriol such as Shadow’s comment get a pass?

Also, having been the victim of serious racial assault, were I in the same position as the blogger, would it be acceptable to ask for non-black cab drivers? Sure, my fear would be acceptable, but so too would it be acceptable for the cab operator to deny my request point blank and even feel a little insulted.

Holly Combe // Posted 8 November 2012 at 3:15 pm

@SexierThanThou. I’m not sure if I’ve understood you correctly but I don’t think Rebecca telling the company that she felt vulnerable because she’d been drinking is victim-blaming, as she wasn’t somehow saying it was wrong for her to do so, merely that she had been. She also didn’t suggest that a sexual predator would be any less responsible for his actions.

Obviously I don’t know the details about the assault you mention but I’m a little confused by what you say about that as well. Without wishing to derail this thread with an ontological debate about which groups experience structural oppression, I’d suggest it’s pretty obvious that black people as a group do not have a structural power that can be abused to attack others on a “racial” basis. That doesn’t mean there aren’t violent crimes committed by people in oppressed groups but switching wider power relations round in those circumstances to suggest that a violent person in an oppressed group would suddenly be exerting structural power in an area where s/he is normally oppressed is disingenuous (if I haven’t misunderstood what you’re describing).

Equally, there isn’t a widespread problem with women committing sex crimes against men (note, I’m not saying women *never* abuse men) as there is with men committing sex crimes against women (note, I’m not saying all or even *most* men do this, just that there is a widespread problem). This means Rebecca was perfectly within her rights to ask for a woman driver and the person who took the call was being insensitive.

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