I know there’s a lot of legitimate reason to be scared out there. I know there are abusers, predators, and worse in the world. Many of us have dealt with abuse in many stages of our lives, in its myriad of disgusting forms. But there’s a reason “adults on the internet” keep telling you to chill about the shipping. It’s because literally the only thing wrong with shipping is not being chill about the shipping.
When you enter the realm of fandom the expectation is that you understand the barriers between reality and fiction. While it’s true that there are individuals who do not understand or respect this rule, ignoring it is like showing up to a restaurant that explicitly asks customers to wear shirts and shoes in wet gym shorts and nothing else. It’s not the norm. It’s not acceptable. And it’s only a matter of time before that person is asked to leave. We’re not going to close down the kink restaurant just because a few people can’t read. With regards to age, another metaphor I’ve used for kink fiction is beer. It’s made by adults and intended for adults. It can be purchased for and consumed by minors, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be used, and those using it incorrectly are responsible, not the ones who brewed it.
I grew up in fandom. I’ve already “grown up”, much to my periodic dismay. I’ve spent more than a decade here, and that’s nothing compared to the 40 or 50+ years some people have dedicated to this hobby. There’s a reason why I know what I know. I make friends with people who are kink-friendly, because that’s what I am. I know and have known hundreds such people, thanks to conventions and the internet. The balance in these people of working their jobs, paying their bills, taking care of their spouses and children and pets and extended families and communities - and also responsibly engaging in the hobby of creating porn for themselves isn’t weird or against the grain. It’s normal. Responsibility and respect are expected. In literally every case of fandom drama, whether it was the Supernatural death-threats or the Snapewives cult or the hot and fresh trend of bullying vulnerable fans into attempting suicide, the problem was never an inappropriate kink, or a pairing that involved two characters with different numbers in their ages. It was a disrespect for reality, an inappropriate action taken that affected other real people. And no amount of shipping “purity” is going to solve or even correlate to that problem.
I get that the world is terrifying and that everyone wants easy “markers” to see which people are the bad ones - the problematic ones - the ones to be avoided. But life is not and never has been that simple. People hide what’s wrong with them if they can. They mask it. Bad people will try to deceive you because they are bad people. Good people will ship “bad” things and bad people will ship “good” things. Good people will have “bad” kinks and bad people will be tame and vanilla. This works in reverse, too, because like I said, there are no easy markers here.
Look to how people treat reality, not fiction. Does it seem like they can’t tell the difference between the two? Are they trying to change or dictate your reality? If so, it doesn’t matter what their kinks are or aren’t. It only matters that they treat other people with disrespect.