I strongly dislike warning on fic. I think much of the time warnings act as spoilers. But you know what? I still put warnings on my fic. Because that's just what you do when you write stuff as dark as I do. You take account of the fact that some of what you're putting out there can hurt people.
This latest iteration of the debate led to trigger_fence being created. I started to think about drafting a warnings-policy of my own that I can link to from my fic headers or wherever. But I found doing so a lot more challenging than I expected.
trigger_fence lists the following as things that are triggering and should be warned for:
Dubcon (sex for which consent is dubious)
Slavery or power exchange
There's one commonly requested trigger warning missing from that list: drug abuse. And another important warning that may not, technically, be a trigger: character death. But for the purposes of this post, I'm going to stick with the list above. I hope no one thinks I'm being an asshole posting this. These are my feelings and my questions are genuine, not snarky. I prefaced this by pointing out that I do warn because I'm not going to debate the principle. Trigger warnings are good. I'm there.
I want to deal with these in groups.
Dubcon (sex for which consent is dubious)
In my mind, these are pretty much the same thing in that they all denote violent or non-consensual acts of a sexual nature. Rape and non-con are not the same thing in my mind, but for the purposes of warning about such content, there's no difference. (Non-con is when the non-consensual sex is between a pairing; rape is when it's not. As in Sam/Dean non-con means "Sam rapes Dean" - or vice versa. Sam/Dean with a rape warning means there's rape in the fic, but it's not between them.) I included dub-con in this because everyone draws that line in a different place and a survivor of sexual violence is likely to put my idea of dub-con into the non-con category.
The only one on that list I'd question is child abuse; and I'm not questioning the need for a warning so much as the definition.
Question 1: Does child abuse in this context mean sexual abuse, or is non-sexual abuse considered just as triggering? Does harsh discipline count as abuse (stuff like denial of food or locking a child in a closet as punishment) or is this limited to physical violence?
As far as my fics are concerned, a lot of them contain references to physical and mental abuse of kids, or child murder. It's just a thing my mind goes to when I'm looking for something evil, especially in my SPN fics. When it's sexual abuse I've always warned for it; generally I put the rest under the general heading of "darkfic". Is this something I should rethink?
Here's another grouping:
Slavery or power exchange
Those aren't the same thing, not by a long shot, but in my fics there tends to be a lot of overlap. As in, if I write BDSM, there's likely to be power-play involved. If I write torture, there'll be bondage, slavery. They mix up. It wouldn't occur to me to warn for "slavery or power exchange" but that's not going to be present in my fic without one of the other two, so at minimum the warning would be implied. I think I'm okay on this one.
I have always warned for character death, but it wouldn't occur to me to warn specifically for suicide as the method of it. Attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts I'd figure belong under a general heading of "angst" and don't, in my mind, require additional warning. But maybe I'm wrong.
As an example: my SPN fic Slouching Toward Bethlehem had a character death warning on it. In that story, Sam has repeated visions of John committing suicide by cutting his wrists. The suicide doesn't happen in the end; the character death warning refers to Sam, who does not kill himself, but is killed in the story. His death leads to John contemplating suicide, as in Sam's visions, but he's prevented from carrying out the act.
So, Question 2: Should I have warned for suicide on that story? Given that it's anticipated and talked about, but doesn't actually take place? (I actually think that, unless the actual word is a trigger, in this story anyone with a suicide trigger would have sufficient warning in the story itself to stop reading before anything triggering occurred. Again, I may be wrong, but everything connected with the suicide theme was well signalled in the narrative.)
I don't think I've ever written something that would fall unequivocally under these headings. I don't write about self-harm in the sense of cutting. I'm more likely to write a character not caring about getting hurt rather than someone deliberately harming themselves. Eating disorders...that one holds no interest for me as a writer or a reader; it's never going to feature in my fic except maybe as a passing reference.
This one is where I start to see the slippery slope argument gaining a tiny amount of credibility. I find it really difficult to figure out where the line is drawn between angsty conflict and domestic abuse. Both ends of the spectrum are clear cut. But somewhere in the middle the lines get blurry. I'm thinking of a specific (slash) story here, and it's not one of mine, where one character is suspicious that his partner means him harm, and seems to have good reason for his suspicions. He becomes increasingly paranoid, eventually engaging in behaviour that might not qualify as abuse if they weren't a couple (shitty behaviour, but not abuse), but almost certainly would if they were a m/f relationship. If I wrote that fic, I don't know if I'd consider it needed this specific warning, or not.
Question 3: Where do you draw the line for a domestic abuse warning? Is Dean taking a swing at Sam "domestic abuse" (assuming they're in a relationship)? I guess I'd see it that way if Sam were female, but guy-on-guy it just seems like typical testosterone poisoning. What if it's more than a swing, and Dean really hurts Sam, but still, it's basically guys being guys? Or does it have to be prolonged, systematic or based on power/domination to qualify as abuse?
This one, I have a little trouble with, if only because of the fandom I'm in - Supernatural. Heck we love it so much we even have our own name for it: Wincest. Seriously, I have a big problem with warning for the obvious. In other words, if the pairing is Sam/Dean, or John/Dean...why add a warning for incest? Anyone in the fandom knows they are, respectively, brothers and father/son. On the other hand, if I'm writing about incest in the context of child abuse (and I'd warn for the child abuse - no question), again, the additional warning seems redundant.
Seriously, correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems to me that this is more of a squick than a trigger. By that I mean, if you're triggered by incest because it implies familial sexual abuse, then the rape warning should be sufficient. If you have a problem with consensual incest - and most of it in fanfic is fully consensual - then I don't think you'd be reading in fandoms where it's the norm in fics, or if you do, then you'd know to avoid certain pairings. The only time I can see Incest being warranted as a specific warning is if it's going to come as a surprise. A crossover might be read by folks not familiar with the incestuous pairing. An incestuous pairing of original character, or of a canon character with an OC sibling would also be unexpected. I guess maybe if the siblings are a rare or unusual pairing within a fandom it would be worth warning for, though again, the pairing should be enough. Shouldn't it?
I guess that's Question 4: Do you really need a separate warning for incest if the context of the story, pairing or other warnings already implies it? Also, how seriously should I, as a writer, take this as a warning? If you're someone triggered by incest, are you likely to be triggered by, say Hamlet? What about fandoms where the incest is canon (e.g mythological pairings like Aphrodite/Ares or Storm Constantine's Beth/Gimel - vampire siblings and lovers in canon)?
I guess that covers my musings on the subject. I don't know if anyone's willing to help me out here.
And just to be clear about the limits on this discussion: I am not interested in debating the merits, or not, of warnings in general and I will freeze or delete comments that try to start that debate. This post is about trying to figure out where the common triggers lie so I (and perhaps others) can work out my own warnings policy.