As foreboding as the headline may be, there is no need to clutch your favorite smut to your chest. As far as I know, there’s no fear of another fandom purge, and all dicks will be allowed to remain in their designated places. No, this kind of fandom ‘castration’ is more concerned with censorship for and by the audience and its shift in recent times.
Similar to how Pius IX is said to have ‘castrated’ male statues in the Vatican, and then later replaced all the genitals with fig leaves, fandom has steered into a strange arena where everyone argues over censorship and whether or not it’s mandatory. And while Pius may not have committed the biggest crime against the arts, we still have to ask ourselves where is censorship necessary and where is it appropriate? Is a fig leaf truly enough to keep our collective pants on, or is it just plain patronizing?
Add in the increasing awareness of mental health in fandom and the broad variety of content available, and it’s not surprising that the discussion of trigger warnings and filtering systems has become a flashpoint of controversy.
Some are wholly against trigger warnings, whether it be because they are not personally affected by the topic or the problems with spoilers it inherently presents. Others, in turn, demand a more thorough tagging system for triggers, and there are even some who want others to abstain from ever creating content that includes these difficult topics at all.
As a creator, this can put a lot of pressure on the individual about how they should operate. So let’s go over some of the biggest arguments and questions often addressed in what we have now dubbed The Great Fandom Castration.
But why tag at all?
Generally, tagging is a convenient way to categorize one’s work, making it easier for readers to find, or ignore, the content they do and don’t want to read. While this may sound counterproductive to building an audience, many readers rely on tagging and rating systems for a safe online experience.
But it’s the demanding that it not exist that has always been the problem for the creator, understandably so.
But how do I tag?
Unfortunately enough, there’s no Trigger Warnings for Dummies that clearly defines what, or how, to tag. In the same breath, since not everyone has the same triggers, working out which to tag can be increasingly difficult.
AO3 has made an attempt at it with archiving warnings, providing umbrella terms with which an author can shortly categorize their work and readers can filter out if necessary, covering a variety of common triggers.
However, the main argument they still see is why allow those stories on their website at all, especially since authors can choose not to rate. And while most aren’t satisfied with the answer always provided by admin, it has at least remained consistent. AO3 is first and foremost an archival service. They take an all or nothing approach. They also do allow the rating ‘Choose Not to Use Archive Warnings’ that states that the reader had better be prepared for anything, and they enter that content at their own risk.
Do people still complain? Sure. But AO3 has and seemingly always will offer the most content-creator friendly platform without limiting artistic license and integrity.
But why go through all that and not moderate in the first place?
As the above policy by AO3 states, they provide a platform for everyone, allowing content creators to work through sensitive and triggering topics through their work.
This does not mean that AO3 doesn’t have an abuse policy in place, though. They allow works to be reported and most importantly, they do state that child pornography will not be tolerated. In spite of most claims, the lack of censorship has never meant the lack of boundaries. Simply a chance to start discussions on taboo topics.
But AO3 is not the only place that fandom works exist, though it is very recognizable. Thus the voices being raised about censorship and tagging, while valid, can be overreaching at times. It is up to the reader, as much as the author, to be aware of what each person’s responsibilities are when online.
Is there a right way to do things? Or is it all a gray area?
Communication is key. Fandom lives and thrives on an abundance of people coming together to obsess about it. Stopping the conversation when it gets uncomfortable may not be very productive, but maintaining your mental health, whether online or in-person, still must fall on the shoulders of the person who may or may not be affected. Not the creator. Tagging is a form of communication for fandom, and it is just as important as expressing your boundaries to an IRL friend.
Authors are not perfect and neither is anyone else. They will fail to recognize triggers sometimes, but preaching at them to stop writing because someone is either not interested in a topic or it bothers them immensely is not the job or the responsibility of the reader. You cannot hope to better your own fandom experience by depriving others of content they may need.
In the end, we all share the same passions and the internet provides us with the platform to embrace them, however that may be. Subsequently, authors are incredibly available (and vulnerable) in this space, more so than even traditionally published authors. Simply being aware of that resolves a lot of issues. Approaching someone as sensitively as possible about an issue may be all that’s needed to resolve your problem.
So, be nice. Tag your work as best you can. Don’t be mean to each other. Communicate.