I've been thinking about Trigger Warnings recently.
When I wrote Renegades, there was some slight trauma that the heroines lived with. For Alethia, watching her mother be abused as a slave, for Rhona the events of being kidnapped and on.
Time is passing in the Tessan universe and as it does, the people taken from Endurance are surviving in worlds hostile to humans. Some of the people who buy them as slaves will be kind. Some will think they are kind. Some will be careless and some will be deliberately cruel.
Because of that, we're going to see many of them surviving abuse. As usual, I refuse to go into the details of it. I don't believe it's necessary. But if I ignore the trauma of it, it won't ring true and even if we don't tell the truth when writing fiction, our jobs is to tell what's true. The emotion, the events, the fall out all have to be true to what would happen if these things were real.
For this book, all four of the leads have been abused.
If you don’t remember Aran, you’ll have met him briefly in my novel The Smuggler’s Radiant. If you haven’t read it, then now is the perfect time to start on the Renegades series.
Aran is an adalan, a member of the third gender of his race and a survivor of long term abuse. When Aran was young, he was idealistic and believed he could change things for the better for his gender. He entered politics with the intent of bringing about the protections that adalan needed and for this reason was targeted by the charismatic business powerhouse Drexan Thalos, whose intent was to stop Aran’s political career in its tracks.
All of this was the unknown backstory to Aran, when he sat in a room with Rhona and Tyne, drinking and preparing her for the nightmare they believed she was soon to suffer in The Smuggler’s Radiant. Not long after, Tyne’s reckless actions led to Aran sacrificing himself, so that Tyne and Rhona could escape. But that left Aran still in the possession of his tormentor.
As a person, Aran is paternal, grounded, and intelligent. He is able to assess people quickly and find ways to reach them, getting his point across where others may fail because of his ability to understand people, their drives and get to the heart of who they are and what they want, quickly.
Over the last six solars, just over six Earth years, Aran has been abused on a daily basis. This has slowly leached his will to live, until he meets a human who has recently been purchased by his owners. The two of them bond and, with Ariana’s determination, Aran finds a new reason to continue going.
It’s always difficult to know where to draw the line when writing abuse. Each reader’s hard line is going to be somewhere different and can depend on their sensitivity, but often it depends on their own experiences. For those who have never suffered abuse, reading about it can be an empathic experience, or simple information to inform characters and their actions later.
But for a survivor of abuse, it can be a trigger to recall their experiences, or a cathartic experience to help them work through their own abuse. It’s impossible to tell how a reader will react to it. This is why I support trigger warnings, because I believe readers should be informed before they read.
People use and abuse the word triggered. Using it to mock any person who has a strong emotional reaction to anything. To me, this shows a lack of empathy in the person doing the mocking.
The term is correctly used for people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It’s funny how we don’t mock a soldier experiencing this, because we understand that they’re experiencing a traumatic event. But so is the person who suffered abuse.
complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or cPTSD has exactly the same effect as PTSD. Being triggered throws them back emotionally into the things they were made to feel during their abuse. But more than that, when you’re growing through stressful times, your nervous system is being overwhelmed with physical reactions to these events and sufferers of PTSD and cPTSD experience those same physical reactions as though they are actually going through those events all over again.
When a person is abused, to protect them, their brains create a closed circuit where it stores memories of the emotion and physiological reactions to their abuse. This is so that the individual can live day-to-day without the trauma being a constant issue. However, when a person is triggered, they can become trapped in that closed loop, recalling those feelings, both emotional and physiological over and over for hours, days, months or years. It can throw them into a deep depression and evoke a host of negative feelings which are usually all directed at themselves, making them relive their feelings, shame, blame, self-disgust, and more.
Living with cPTSD is difficult. Worse is that it’s insidious, it works subtly and a person can be suffering depression for weeks before they realise they’ve been triggered at all.
I mention this because all four of the characters in this book are survivors of abuse. For Aran and Ariana, they are the ones who have most recently lived through it and have yet to come to terms with it. I don’t go into this deeply in the book, as that is not what the book is about, but Aran begins the process here, helped mostly by Ariana.
Over the years of his abuse Aran’s body has been scarred, with Ariana’s help he begins the process of reclaiming it.
So, what is an adalan? Amarans have four genders, though the fourth is very rare. Adalan used to be a race. A parallel evolution on Amara and the two species shared the planet. The Amaran’s were quickly out breeding the Adalan, whose numbers were dwindling. When a new element was introduced to the atmosphere by way of a meteorite, it affected the endocrine systems of the Amaran females and they stopped ovulating. Adalan males were already producing the hormones to make their own females ovulate which was an evolutionary reaction to the dwindling breeding rate of their species and to ensure that the resulting off-spring was their child. When the two species came together, males of the Adalan species evolved to become the Amaran adalan gender.
Females of the Adalan species have all but died out, though they are still occasionally born as a kind of throwback to those pre-convergence days and are known as adala.
Adalan are smaller than Amaran males and their features are more androgynous. However, in all ways they present as male. They still have the darker skin of their Adalan ancestors, which comes with more saturated eye colour when compared to the eyes of their male and female counterparts. Adalan not only produce the hormones to make females ovulate, but their sperm does a partial insemination of the egg, replacing some of the mothers and fathers genes in the resulting zygote, meaning all three genders are needed to produce a child.
Unpacking everything took almost an hour. When she had it all set up and sterilised, Ariana sat back and relaxed, idly sketching out designs. By the time Aran entered the mess a few hours later, she had a table full of scattered papers, filled with several old faithful tattoo designs and a few new ones based on the designs she’d picked out from Aran and Tyne’s skin.
He stopped at the door and watched her for a moment, and Ariana let him take everything in as his eyes ran over the machine, the pads and her, still sketching. Ariana had her feet up on the table, one of the pads balanced on her lap while she held several coloured pencils in one hand. More were tucked into her hair which she’d loosely tied on top of her head to keep it out of her face while she worked.
Aran sauntered over to the table, moving with practiced casualness. He spread the sheets out before picking one up, a small pinch of skin between his eyes as they roamed over the page. A quick glance told Ariana it was the sheet she’d dedicated to some of Aran’s scarification.
Ariana met his eyes. ‘Some of your scars,’ she confirmed. ‘Sorry, I’m fascinated by them.
‘But… you can’t even see this bit,’ Aran said. ‘It’s covered in whip scars from Drexan.’
‘I guessed. Did I get it right?’
Aran nodded almost absently. There was a conflict of emotion in his eyes, which seemed to radiate across his entire being as he stood there. If she was studying Aran to draw him, she’d put the tension up high, where he carried it in his shoulders and upper back. His whole body was tense, but there was a sadness, almost longing to it.
‘How long did it take you to choose your patterns?’ Ariana asked.
A humourless laugh, short and barked, left Aran’s lips. ‘Cycles,’ he said. ‘Possibly over a solar. Hadith, a friend of mine, helped. He’d done his scarification solars before. We researched, finding things that meant…’ Aran shook his head, ‘things that used to mean something to me.’
‘What does it mean?’ Ariana asked.
‘It’s… it’s an ancient language. It’s believed to be one of the languages of our adalan ancestors, before our races, Adalan and Amaran, merged. It tells the story of the first triad. It’s an ancient story. No one knows if it’s real.’
Ariana sat forward, her feet dropping to the floor, she set the pad and pencils down. ‘Tell me about them.’
Aran’s eyes met hers. She could see he was hesitating, but just when she thought he’d tell her no, he sat. ‘Vedian told you about our moon, Athia.’
‘The botanical garden moon?’
Aran nodded. ‘Athia, the caya, female.’ He placed a hand over one cluster of scars on his chest. ‘We have three moons.’ His hand moved to another scar cluster, ‘Tarokan, the dunaar, male and Denisteer, the adalan.’ His hand had moved to another scar cluster.
Ariana moved closer. ‘May I?’ she held her hand towards him and waited until Aran had nodded before she closed the gap and touched him.
Each scar cluster was made up of small marks which Ariana could feel under the pads of her fingers as she moved them over Aran’s chest. At first, they looked random, but as she picked out individual marks, she saw a repeating pattern. ‘What does it say?’ she asked, running her hand over Aran’s warm skin and the marks that made up the image of a moon, Denisteer, the adalan.