Trigger Warning Debate (2009)

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Event: Trigger Warning Debate (2009) (see notes about this title)
Date(s): June 2009
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In June 2009, a Trigger Warning Debate began on livejournal. Its original focus was bandom, though it spread to many other fandoms. It was certainly not the first, nor the last, discussion about warnings in fandom.

Related in some ways to RaceFail '09, the topic this time was warnings on fanfiction. Many of the participants in both discussions were the same fans. These same fans had argued vehemently before about privilege in race and gender issues in RaceFail '09, and were now criticized for their comments which took a seemingly contradictory stance on warnings and apparent dismissal, and in certain cases, of victims of sexual assault. [1]

A 2008 bandom story that is often cited in this debate is A Lifetime Commitment.

This Particular Flashpoint

On June 17, 2009, the Panic at the Disco story Cello Sonata No. 1 in B Minor "Naissance de Libertè" was posted by arsenicjade for Bandom Big Bang 2009.[2] Mods ended up asking for comments on this post to be frozen. The story can be read at arsenicjade's livejournal.

The Bandom Big Bang community required warnings in story headings, and this story originally did not have one. After readers complained, the author added the "dubcon" warning with the statement that she objected to the scene being defined in such a way.

At least one fan brought up a story and, what she felt, was a dogpile from the year before. See the story A Lifetime Commitment.

Other fans continued to post about warnings, and these posts contained complaints that there was a disparity in the way some authors, due to their BNF status, were treated regarding required warnings. In other words, as usual, there was a lot more going on under the surface.

Two major commenters were impertinence and zvi.

Name of the event

There doesn't appear to be a consensus among participants or observers on the name of this event; Trigger Warning Debate (2009) is merely the page title used here on Fanlore. Fan History Wiki used Privilege Wank, and fans have referred to it variously as a warnings wank or debate or a Bandom warnings wank or debate.

Short Sweet/Unsweet Summary

On July 1, 2009, lady_ganesh posted the below at unfunnybusiness, now offline:

1. Someone writes up a big fic and omits a warning.
2. Someone says, 'hey, please warn!'
3. Author warns.
4. Some fuckwit writes a three-comment whining about why warnings are IMPORTANT.
5. Everyone tells fuckwit to stfu as the warning has been given.
6. An asshole, deciding the fuckwit hasn't added enough stupid to the discussion, complains that anyone asking for warnings is stupid, that her friend didn't get treated so gently when she wrote her Surprise Rape story, and BNFs suck.
7. Internet explodes (part 1).
8. Assault survivor writes up interesting and heartbreaking post on exactly how triggers work and why warning for The Big Things is important.
9. Internet explodes (part 2).
10. Amidst the assholery (much of it involving challenging and/or not believing aforementioned assault survivor), a few people make interesting posts about warnings, and the sockpuppet trigger_fence decides to make a list of authors who do not warn.
10a. Trigger_fence includes BDSM as warning-worthy, which makes many people offended.
11. Internet explodes (part 3).

What Resulted

  • a lot of hurt feelings and anger
  • many apologies
  • some fans saying they were going to leave LiveJournal fandom [3] and/or the Internet; some of these were flounces

Links to Comments

June 18, 2009

  • Incendiary thoughts ahead by megyal ("Remember how I had this thing about wank, and how you should avoid it or jump in? Hey, how about you explore with me. The main issue here is about warning about dub-con in fic. That is a very delicate issue to deal with, an extremely loaded aspect of writing. But that is not what I'm looking at now. See, I tend to remember things. I remember when TK, that's ficsoreal, posted a little fic called "A Lifetime Commitment." It's with Brendon Urie and he got assaulted with a speculum. I totally spoiled you all, you guys! Get over it. But you know what happened? Fucking dogpile on ficsoreal. Readers attacked TK, personally. I believe she was called the antichrist. Or an attention whore. I didn't inspect the comments closely because I was kind of confused at the time, and I didn't have the balls to defend my friend. No, seriously. Yeah, I know. I'm not disregarding how one's personal experiences have influenced an approach to reading fic online. Please understand that. It's just that am I seeing is that there's a repeat of the same situation; TK didn't post a warning, or one that was clear enough for some, and people were upset about that. Upset enough to become pissy over it. It just appears that the same set of people that jumped down ficsoreal's throat, or who were conspicuously silent, like me, are now preaching about constructive criticism and not personally attacking the writer. I could be very wrong, okay? It might be two different things completely, or a different set of players. I went through that previous wank kind of on the sidelines and it really affected me on how people view warnings, and I was simply amazed at how how fandom kind of exploded over it. And the same thing is happening, and it's like the rules have changed...")

June 19, 2009

  • Warnings and such; page 2; archive link page 1, , archive link page 2, by iamtheenemy ("I refuse to engage anyone in the argument happening right now, but I need to say something, because holy shit, people are being so incredibly condescending and insulting right now, I can't stand it. Expecting warnings for common triggery things like rape, death, incest or dubcon isn't priveleged, for fuck's sake. It's expecting some common courtesy from the community that we're all involved in. You know what is priveleged, though? Having the luxury to be able to complain about people needing warnings, because those specific issues don't trigger you personally. And no, that doesn't mean people should warn for everything under the sun: spiders, colors, uses of single words that people might not like, for instance. It means warning for the most common triggers. Ignoring that that's what people are trying to explain is deliberately missing the point. If, for instance, a person doesn't like repetition of the word "cock", then guess what? THEY'RE PROBABLY NOT READING GAY PORN. THIS COMPARISON IS SO STUPID I LITERALLY CAN'T SPEAK. If your trigger is a specific color, then you learn to use style=mine. Or talk to the owner of a particular LJ that's causing you problems. I'm sure if they understood the issue, they'd be happy to try and accommodate you, because we're part of a community, and that's common courtesy.")

June 20, 2009

June 22, 2009

  • by the way, the brothers bloom rocked by nextian ("login required)
  • Sometimes, the obvious isn't.; archive link, by darkrose ("Two things bother me most about the warnings discussion. The first is the assumption that there are only two kinds of authors: those who always warn, and those who never warn. If you always warn for some things, but fail to warn for something that turns out to be a trigger for someone, you are automatically lumped in with the "never warn" group, and labeled selfish and thoughtless for not warning. The second is the idea that there are certain things that are triggers, and that there is a universal agreement on what these triggers are. Failure to warn for one of these triggers puts you in the "never warn" group.")
  • On the responsibility of warnings by wistfuljane (login required)
  • I am sorry by wistfuljane (login required)
  • I suppose it's not suicide until I hit 'post.'; archive link, by phoebe-zeitgeist ("Here's the thing: most of the debate that I've seen, at least from the pro-warnings side, seems to come down to a sort of primitive version of cost-benefit analysis. The writer, it is argued, incurs no meaningful cost by including a warning, while a susceptible person who hits a trigger because she wasn't warned for it incurs a very considerable cost. Therefore, it's only reasonable and kind for writers to always make sure they do the warning thing....The insistence that the costs of warning are negligible misses a number of the actual costs of a mandatory-warning standard. First, and most generally, it completely ignores what we might call diffused costs of mandatory warning. I've seen a certain amount of distress at the idea that mandatory warning for certain currently-agreed triggery subjects would create a classic slippery-slope problem, wherein warnings most or all of us would agree on now morph uncontrollably into demands for mandatory warnings for everything under the sun, moon, and stars. And yet, it seems to me that the issue is a real one. The problem isn't so much with the idea that warning for rape will lead to warning for haircuts, so much as it is that a norm of loud upfront warnings for potentially harmful ideas in written material in general is a troubling thing to contemplate.")
  • the other part of it's for you; archive link, by reflectedeve ("People are saying a lot of things. They are behaving as though someone was attempting to attack and censor them, and lashing out accordingly. They are saying that protecting oneself from debilitating mental/emotional harm is solely one's own responsibility. (I'll get to this in a minute.) They are following these statements up by refusing to take even a tiny step towards helping to make their community a safer, more comfortable place for a large number of its members. They are comparing triggers from sexual abuse to food allergies. I find most of this to be, quite honestly, insane. Yes, it is true that fandom is a broad, loose set of communities that have no absolute ruling standard. This hardly means that we can't suggest and advocate for a standard, as much as possible. Like a lot of people on the pro-warnings side, I completely fail to see how asking someone to place warnings on their fic for the most obvious and broad triggers (such as various levels of consent issues, child abuse, suicide and self-harm) is so oppressive that it's not absolutely worth saving people enormous amounts of pain. People who have been subjected to so much pain already!")
  • Thinky Thoughts: Rape vs "Non-Con"; archive link, by were-lemur ("Warning: may be triggering. So I've been avoiding the discussion of rape because dammit, I know my triggers, and I'm not in a place where I can afford to be jumpy and flinchy for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. So yeah. But then events transpired, and while it's not part of the discussion (to my knowledge, since thinking about this is making me edgy enough without going back and reading everything), I'm trying to figure out the implications of a particular bit of terminology. Why "non-con"? Why not call it what it is: rape? Or maybe there really is a difference, at least when it comes to fanfic?")
  • On warnings and analogies by untappedbeauty (login required)
  • again? we're having this debate again? by thingswithwings ("how many times do we have to have the warnings debate before we all stop arguing for our privilege to intentionally hurt people? here is just one random comment that infuriates me - a comment by someone whose writing and personality I like, on the journal of someone else whose writing and personality I like, and it really upsets me. This post discusses one statement made in that comment, briefly, and then goes on to address (in the form of a numbered list because it's how I roll) several other arguments I've seen in multiple places over the last few days.")
  • Thinking about triggering; archive link, by flourish ("First off, I understand the meaning of "trigger" and what happens when one is triggered. I understand that one cannot just close the fic when a triggery subject comes up. And I understand that while some people have idiosyncratic triggers, there are some triggers that are much more common, such as the graphic description of rape. It isn't a valid argument to say "people have differing triggers, and it's impossible to warn for everything, so let's not warn for anything." That's disingenuous. On the other hand, I also strongly agree with [personal profile] zvi 's point about how people who need warnings should behave in a world where not everyone warns. It isn't necessarily fair that people should have to proactively take steps to protect themselves from triggering stories, but there is something very strange about people refusing to take those steps. Saying "I am so very, very angry with you for not warning me" when you already knew that the author might not have warned you about the story's contents might be reasonable, but it's also a little disingenuous.")
  • Warnings (2009 post by zvi) by zvi ("There have been a lot of things I have said which have not been understood as I intended them, and I will take this opportunity to clarify a few.") -- zvi asks that you read Apology for AbilityFail; zvi, first

June 23, 2009

  • Community; archive link, by airgiodslv ("What I'm trying to say is that we're a community, and we look out for each other. We inform each other. We share stories, and we teach, and we try to make the world a better place. We provide a support network that every single one of us can turn to in times of need. I'm not saying that I've never posted a story without proper warnings, because I have, in a moment of careless oversight. I'm also not saying that I've never made a post which people within my community felt was strongly offensive, because I've done that as well. What I try never to do, however, is to knowingly hurt a member of this community, or to hurt someone without then apologizing for it and doing everything in my power to rectify that mistake. We are a community of minorities, of all colors and sexual orientations and gender identities and religions. We have a responsibility, to ourselves and to each other, to do no harm. Part of what this means is that just as we inform each other, we look out for each other. Part of what being in this community means is that every person in it has a right to feel safe.")
  • On triggers and warnings; archive link, by vassilissa ("I eat peanut butter. A lot. I like it, and as I'm a mostly-vegan person, nuts are an important part of my diet. Right now, I'm making a delicious cauliflower and noodle dish in a homemade satay sauce. As a result, my entire house is not a safe place for a person with a nut allergy. My food's not safe for them, it's not even safe for them to walk in the door, given how nut proteins travel on the air when you've been cooking with them. And that's OK. I have a right to eat peanut butter in my own home if I want to, and to serve it to other people who can eat peanuts. It's a bit inhospitable of me to people who do have peanut allergies, but that's OK too, I can wash my hands really well, don't eat peanuts right before I see them, and meet in a neutral place. Here's what would not be OK: if they asked (and they'll always ask) "I have a serious peanut allergy, do you have peanuts in your house?" and I responded "You'll have to find that out for yourself. You can always leave if you smell peanuts. It's your responsibility, not mine."")
  • Regarding Privilege by impertinence (one the of main posts referred to again over and over again in this discussion, login required)
  • Warning: wank; archive link, by queenofhell ("So, for the past few days fandom (starting with bandom, but beginning to circle out) has been wanking about warnings yet again. (Context on how it started, with context for the wider argument. The majority of my post is in response to the comments here, although the same thing is popping up plenty of other places.) And here is my thing: it is completely insane to me that we even have to have this discussion at all, and it is deeply, deeply depressing that we are having in this particular fashion. Some of the arguments I’m seeing are frankly mind-boggling, and unfortunately really familiar.")
  • WARNING THIS POST CONTAINS SUBSCRIPTS AND VARIABLES; archive link, by quettaser ("I'm still sorting through my Iran news for the day, so that entry is forthcoming, however I wanted to address the warnings wank briefly. Allow me to indulge in some simple moral math: What is the net cost to the fandom community - measured in some made-up unit of personal effort/thought - of warning vs. not warning?")
  • I Don't Care Abut Blair Sandburg's Hair; archive link, by fairestcat ("I want to have today's fight. I want to state my case and make my argument and I am more than willing to discuss and defend that argument. I'm even willing to discuss arguments being made elsewhere during this iteration of the debate. What I'm not willing to do is discuss, defend or be held responsible for what someone else said some unknown number of years ago in a completely different section of the internet before I was even in fandom. I don't care that once upon a time someone demanded warnings for cutting Blair Sandburg's hair. In fact, if I never hear another word about Blair Sandburg's goddamn hair, it'll be too soon. It's a straw argument and it's derailing and I'm sick and tired of it.")
  • Warnings & How To Do 'Em, page 2; archive link page 1, , archive link page 2, by amadi ("I have this much to say about the whole warnings debate: my feeling is that where one can take steps to be considerate to other people, particularly where that consideration helps people who have an issue in their lives which presents an impediment, those steps should be taken. The details from there are up to the individual but there are guidelines that exist which present a reasonable starting point. Further, fic is not, in any substantial or meaningful way, like any of the following: books, movies, television shows or baked goods. Lastly: it is important to not discount medium. The immediacy and interlinked nature of hypertext creates an atmosphere as well as particular challenges that have no parallels in traditional media. We as creators and we as consumers do well to both recognize and adjust to the difference.")
  • odds are, you won't like what it is; archive link, by reflectedeve ("Far from attacking, I don't think most pro-warning people have been trying to (forcibly) change things in fandom quite as much as they've been trying to raise awareness of an important issue (hoping, of course, that people will then understand and choose to change their non-warning practices). Hell, in my experience, this practice is pretty widespread; these are just reasons why it should remain so. I don't think this enormous fuss was particularly necessary.")
  • untitled; archive link), by darkrose ("Being required to warn for BDSM is a trigger for me, because it feels like I'm being told once again that my sexuality is deviant and wrong and something that "normal" people need to be protected from. I recognize that no one is actually saying that, but you know what? Triggers aren't necessarily logical. I bring this up because again, the discussion seems to be framed as the only reason someone would not want to warn is because they are selfish and insensitive. I don't believe that's always the case, and it's why I'd like to see some discussion about what is reasonable to expect warnings for.")
  • It's too late to worry about slippery slopes; we're already on one.; archive link, by telesilla ("BDSM -- So here we come to it. There I've been talking about death and rape and child abuse and then all of a's something that is an integral part of my sexuality being compared with those three things. Somehow fandom has decided that a form of consensual sex needs to be warned for, like it was the same as death or rape or child abuse. I'm a sadist who likes hurting people who like being hurt. Asking me to warn for BDSM is telling me that I'm no better than a murderer or a rapist. Wow, that makes me feel welcome in fandom. That makes me feel like fandom is my safe space, where I can take my experience and write about what I know and not be judged for it. Except of course, where all of you who insist on being warned for BDSM are, in fact, judging me. You're saying that my form of sexuality, which does not involve rape, under-aged sex or death, is still so bad, so dangerous, so WRONG that it needs to be warned for. And you wonder why people bring up the slippery slope argument? Because fandom wants me to warn for my brand of consensual sex. There's your slippery slope right there.")
  • Warnings Wank In Bandom, Archived version by doriangrey in unfunnybusiness (offers a recap: "arsenicjade, a popular bandom writer, posts a story to bandombigbang. It contains a scene that could be taken as dub-con, and a few people comment, politely asking her to add a warning. She explains equally politely that she didn't mean the scene to read as dub-con, but promptly adds a warning for consent issues. So far, so good, right? nightengale comments, long after warnings have gone up. Her comments take three comments to write in full, and are a long, condescending, garbled explanation of why it's important to warn for consent issues (itself rather confusing, since no one was arguing that warnings weren't important). She begins by citing her 'authority': eight years in fandom and a B.A. in Creative Writing. Comments on the post are screened now, but her essay is screencapped here [4]. Many people (including the people who had asked arsenicjade or warnings in the first place) comment to tell her how rude/inappropriate/bizarre her comments are. The matter probably should have ended there, but megyal steps in. megyal has a friend, ficsoreal. Over a year ago, ficsoreal posted a story called A Lifetime Commitment in which Brendon Urie of Panic At The Disco runs as a frat pledge, and is drugged and then raped with the aid of a speculum. She posted it to her journal and to fic comms without any warnings, and when asked by many people to include them, refused on the grounds of artistic integrity...")

June 24, 2009

  • further clarifications on warnings; archive link, zvi ("I am not able to talk to people about warnings, triggers, and all of the associated issues raised in the entry Warnings or the entries to which it links, A couple of notes on warnings and An additional statement on warnings. You* do not have my permission to comment on any of my dreamwidth entries on these issues, you do not have permission to private message me on these issues, you do not have permission to e-mail me on these issues, you do not have permission to speak to me in chat about these issues, you do not have permission to talk me on the phone or in person about these issues, you do not have permission to send me physical mail about these issues.")

June 25, 2009

  • On Being A Village Elder: An Essay On Community Responsibility by oliviacirce ("Yesterday's fights are incredibly important. We learned from them, and they inform our fights today. Yesterday's fights were as important to the community once as these new fights are to the community now. But each new fight is new, because there are new people involved in it; each new fight teaches somebody, somewhere, something that they did not know before. Each new fight is a way of adding to our shared understanding of the way our community works and should work. There is a lot of shit in every fight, and a lot of that shit is not productive, but just because the shit is not productive, or because you can't see how it might be productive in the moment, does not mean it is not also essential to the ultimate process of growth. Plants need fertilizer, right? So does community.")

July 6, 2009

  • On bandom as a fannish community, or: what the hell, people? by kudra2324 ("before i start talking, i want to say that even though i am going to talk about the incident that kicked off last week's epic debate about warnings, this post is not a debate about whether fic should have warnings, and i am not interested in hosting that debate" and "... in case i wasn't clear, this is also not a post for debating what bandflesh is.")


  1. Warning: wank; archive link, , by Proserpina (queenofhell), June 23, 2009
  2. Cello Sonata No. 1 in B Minor "Naissance de Libertè" by arsenicjade in bandombigbang on livejournal.
  3. If only there were some way to take authors out of the equation . . . ., merricat, July 2, 2009
  4. screencap of nightengale's post, Archived version