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Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 08:34 pm
This is very hard for me to write, so I apologise if it's disjointed. But I keep seeing people I like and respect behave in ways that claim to be about protecting abuse survivors yet are actively harmful to me as an abuse survivor. I have a probably vain hope that by explaining how it's hurtful we can find a better way to help all survivors in fandom, and generally make fandom more safe and enjoyable for everyone.

The aspect of "anti" shipping culture I have a problem with is the tendency to classify certain fictional relationships are inherently harmful and working to prevent them from being portrayed or discussed positively under any circumstances, as well as other behaviours I will go into. I'm not talking about people who publicly dislike a certain ship but don't actively try to silence those who like it.

Content warning: Rape and abuse, both real and fictional. I'll try not to be more triggering than I have to be but given the topic there's only so much I can do.

A little about me to start with: I am a survivor of rape and abuse. I'm non binary but identified as a woman at the time. I have an anxiety disorder and identify as disabled. I'm on the asexual spectrum and often find sexual content triggering, especially anything dealing with rape, incest, or underage sex. Most of the fiction I write is fluffy het, gen or femslash about adults, with a strong emphasis on consent and any sex being fade to black. I tend to prefer ships with no major power imbalances or age gaps, though I do have an unfashionable love of hateshipping.

I've been in fandom long enough to have suffered through the pre-warnings era when everyone seemed to be expected to be either homophobic or Really Into Kinky Porn and anyone asking for trigger warnings tended to be mocked. This was not a good time to be a survivor in fandom. I am 100% in favour of working against real life abuse and helping abuse survivors. The "anti" fannish approach grew out of legitimate concerns about these problems and many of it's staunchest supporters are survivors themselves. So you would think I would be in favour of it!

Unfortunately this approach may help those survivors, but it is often harmful to many others, myself included, for reasons I will lay out below. This fact is glossed over and our needs and concerns dismissed, which is also very hurtful. The concerns of non-survivors are also dismissed, but that is at least less hypocritical.

I think the only way we can genuinely help all survivors in fandom is by listening to everyone, and accepting that there's no perfect solution. Then we can work together towards finding a compromise that works best for all of us.

As much as possible, I'm only going to discuss this as it relates to depictions by adult fans of adult fictional characters. I find real or fictional incest and anything sexual involving minors too upsetting to discuss. Please avoid bringing them up in the comments. I realise that makes it impossible to create a Unified Theory Of Fandom Ethics but that's not what this post is for.

Some things I do not have a problem with:
  • Strong ship preferences as a matter of taste or emotional reaction eg "I just don't think he sees her that way" or "it sets off my student/teacher squick".
  • Asking people to help you avoid certain ships or types of fiction via tags and labels.
  • Arguing that a particular relationship is abusive etc in canon.
  • Arguing that a particular relationship can never be written in a healthy way while remaining in character/canon consistent.
  • Criticising broad fandom trends.
  • Criticising a specific work for the specific way it portrays things, as long as you don't cross the line into bullying etc.
  • Arguing that certain kinds of works have a damaging effect and people should avoid posting them.


Note that I am only ok with this kind of argument from people who act reasonably when other people argue back.

What I find hurtful:


Not everyone who is an anti-shipper does all or even any of these things. But they are all more common than they should be, including amongst people I had expected better from.

Bullying, doxxing etc



It seems like it should be clear why an abuse survivor with an anxiety disorder would find an environment where people get harassed and doxxed for creating the "wrong" kinds of fanworks bad for their mental health.

Assuming depiction = endorsement



There is an underlying assumption to a lot of these discussions that what you portray in fiction is exactly what you want to happen in real life. Not just rape and abuse, but even portraying bigotry, having bad things happen, writing characters as flawed and so on.

I have no problem with fluffy fanworks about people being nice. Many of my works fit that description. But I also like creating works exploring what it's like to feel bad, to overcome difficult circumstances, and to work through troubled relationships. I have a lot of issues with self esteem and connect much more easily with people who are flawed and have genuine reasons to dislike themselves. The idea that exploring what it's like to be a flawed person and have bad things happen to you makes me a bad person really doesn't help with my self esteem issues! And the idea that, say, writing about a character overcoming homophobia means I, a queer person, am in favour or homophobia, is just apalling. I sometimes need a break and enjoy fiction set in worlds where homophobia isn't an issue, that doesn't mean other kinds of fiction have no value. And it's the same with rape and abuse.

If you want to only consume works where good people have good things happen to them, that is absolutely ok. But don't tell the rest of us we're bad people for having different tastes.

And yes, there are people who do create fiction containing bad things like homophobia or unhealthy relationships because they are legitimately in favour of them. And if that becomes apparent, then it's fair to criticise them. But you can't start out from the assumption that literally everyone is doing that when it's clear that many people aren't. How to decide where to draw the line is complicated, and worthy of extended discussion. But "If it's bad you shouldn't write about it at all" is definitely not where the line should be drawn.

"There's too much of this kind of work" as an excuse for attacking individual works



The fact that there is too much of a certain kind of fiction is a good reason to try and create other kinds of works. But that doesn't mean noone should ever make it, or that it's ok to make blanket condemnations of anyone who does.

For example: there are a disproportionate number of able bodied protagonists in popular culture. This is a good reason to try to create works about disabled characters. It's a good reason someone might be sick of able bodied protagonists and try to avoid them. But it's not a good reason to tell everyone who writes able bodied protagonists that they are ableist and promoting ableism, especially because many of us are ourselves disabled.

And just because mainstream media over uses rape and sexual trauma doesn't mean noone should ever write stories containing them.

This is just as true when it comes to ships. The "het is homophobic"/"Slash is sexist" accusations have been going since before I got into fandom, and are incredibly frustrating to me as a queer person who ships f/f, f/m and m/m. There are definitely conversations to be had about, say, the specific ways het and het fandom can be homophobic, but once again they need to be more nuanced than blanket generalisations.

And it is always, always used for ship wars, and in the most transparently hypocritical and logically strained ways. That's true about all of these points, really. As it happens I tend to be attracted to the kinds of ships people consider unproblematic, but I have sometimes happened to have my tastes fall on the wrong side of shipping discourse, and the nastier that discourse gets the more anxious I become.

Highly inconsistent standards



Firstly: It frustrates and upsets me that fanworks are held to a higher standard than canon. For example, while I respect the show Jessica Jones I had to stop watching because of the visceral depiction of the psychological aftermath of rape. If it was a fanfic, it should have been tagged, amongst other things, "Non Con, Jessica/Kilgrave". Yet I saw people praising the show while simultaneously saying that any fic tagged Jessica/Kilgrave was inherently pro-rape. Why is the show allowed to explore that relationship but fans aren't? Why is the show allowed to explore rape as a story device but fans aren't?

Now people will say "Oh but those fics are exploring it badly". And I'm sure some of them are, though I suspect my definition of "bad explorations" is narrower. But what I saw was blanket condemnation of anyone who wrote Jessica/Kilgrave, on the assumption that while tv writers are capable of exploring unhealthy relationships, fic writers are too stupid to write anything but ships they think would be good in real life. It's hard not to read this as sexist and elitist, given the way gender and power tends to vary betwen pro writers and fandom.

Another example is the tumblr popularity of Persephone/Hades as a happy fluffy ship. This is literally shipping a rapist with his victim, but because it's about Greek mythology instead of a tv show etc it somehow gets a pass. I have no problem with people portraying Persephone/Hades as a happy fluffy ship, even though I personally find it unpleasant. I just don't like the double standard.

Not that pro writers get off the hook entirely. I have seen people literally say that a story containing rape makes it inherently unfeminist, that there is no value to stories like Jessica Jones, Mad Max or Utena. My counterargument to that is above.

Also, it feels like the more indie and marginalised the creator, the more they are treated like a fan. As a marginalised creator of original fiction, I feel like it's only a matter of time before I get attacked for writing my diverse characters as flawed, and thus Bad Representation and a Bad Influence On Young People. See for example how Steven Universe creators are treated. This is pretty scary!

There's also a huge double standard for people's friends/the ships they like etc vs people or ships they don't like. There have been multiple instances of people being harassed for relatively minor "problematic" works by fans whose own works are just as bad if not worse. And in every case I've seen it turned out to be because of some petty grudge, with "fighting abuse" etc used as a smoke screen. Because that's how witch hunts work. When huge mobs of people react unthinkingly to any usage of buzzwords like "abusive", they become useful tools for actual abusers and bullies. See for example 221b Con and Graceebooks.

So even though my works are generally "unproblematic" I don't feel secure. The danger is not from what I make, but from whether or not I manage to piss off someone unscrupulous enough to come up with a compelling argument for why I should be harassed. And there is no way to be safe from that while fandom is so accepting of harassment.

Using any flaw in a relationship as an excuse to call it abusive



I have been in an abusive relationship. I have also been in flawed but non abusive relationships. They are not the same thing. You can say you don't ship something and think people are bad for each other without labelling it abusive. I don't find every use of the word "abusive" triggering but it's overuse is still very unpleasant, especially when applied to relationships which seem mostly ok to me. It minimises what abuse actually is, which is much worse than simply a not entirely functional relationship.

Here's what an abusive relationship looks like. If a relationship is bad but not abusive, say so, call it "unhealthy" or "triggering" or "not going to work out". Those are still perfectly good reasons not to ship something.

Even if a relationship is abusive in canon that doesn't mean people can't create happy versions of it if they want. These are fictional characters, not real people. And they can also create works which portray abuse, because like I said above, it's ok to depict bad stuff happening in fiction.

This exaggeration/escalation happens with rape too. For example, reading someone's mind against their will is a violation, but it's not rape! I find the idea of shipping a rapists with their victim really triggery, so being told I'm doing it based on this kind of logic is very upsetting.

Equating kinking on fictional rape with being pro rape


Sexuality is like dreams: illogical and sometimes disturbing, outside our control and connected to all sorts of weird subconscious issues. Judging someone for being turned on by "bad" things is like judging them for having "bad" dreams. People can't control the contents of their heads, but they can control their actions, and that is the only reasonable thing to judge them on.

More than half of women have rape fantasies. "Getting off on rape" is so common that not ever getting off on it is the notable quality. I know this is a very unpleasant and even triggering thing for some rape survivors to confront, and the fact that human sexuality works that way is unfortunate! But that's how it works.

A similar argument can be made about other "bad" fantasies, like enjoying screwed up or violent relationships.

I'm not comfortable going into the details of my sexuality in a public post. But it doesn't really matter: I have triggers around sexual shame in general, including the idea that people are bad for having "bad" kinks, even when they're kinks I don't share. I used to feel a deep shame about having a sexuality at all, and my rapist took advantage of that shame. That said, the reason I was raped is that my rapist wanted to do it. As far as I can tell he's a serial abuser with a very flexible approach, so he'd have found a way to get under my skin even if I'd been 100% unselfconscious about sex. The problem was him, not me.

********************************************
**** description of rape ****
******************************************
One of the key tools in the rapists toolbook, and one mine certainly used, is making the victim feel like a bad person who deserves gross things to happen to them. Specifically, he would turn me on against my will, and then go "See! You want it!". Because people have no control over what turns them on, and being turned on by something doesn't mean they think it's good. And one of the reasons he got away with it is that I was raised with the idea that female sexuality is inherently dirty and shameful, and that "slutty" girls deserve what they get.
******************************************
** end description of rape ****
********************************************

Now there's an argument to be made that it's fine to have "bad" fantasies in your head, but that certain fantasies, such as rape or abuse fantasies, promote bad behaviour when shared with others. But (a) The line between fantasy and promotion is complicated and requires a lot more nuance than it's usually given and (b) A lot of the time simply admitting to having these fantasies at all is enough to be labeled "a creep who gets off on [bad thing]". There's a really unpleasant undertone of sexual judgement, where all "perverts" are equally bad whether they only get turned on by bad things in their head or make them happen to real people in real life. Rape and abuse are bad because they hurt people, not because they're gross.

Equating writing fiction that contains rape or abuse even as an off screen, non sexualised trauma with being in favour of them



Rape is a thing that happens in the world. People should be able to explore it in fiction, including in fanworks. Specifically survivors, but other people too. There is a discussion to be had about how it's depicted and when that depiction crosses over into endorsement, but what I'm talking about is the argument that it should literally never be written about at all. For example...

Attacking anyone who tags their works as Non-Con etc regardless of specific content eg creating lists of "bad" creators



There have been multiple lists made and circulated of any creator who has works tagged "non con" within certain fandoms.

Asides from being an awful thing to do to survivors who are working through their own experiences etc, this encourages everyone who creates Non-Con to stop tagging it as such. And that increases the odds of people like me with rape triggers accidentally seeing works that trigger them. How on earth does this help survivors?

Not that I think non-survivors who create works containing rape should be attacked anyway. But since this is done with the excuse that it helps survivors, the fact that it hurts us is relevant.

Tacked on disclaimers that "it's ok if you ship to cope"



I do not just ship "bad ships" to cope. I do explore issues of consent and power in my fiction, and my experiences as a survivor affects that. But I have always found messed up relationships interesting.

If this kind of work is damaging, it is always damaging. The writer's motivations make no difference to the reader's response. And if it's not always damaging then it's not, and we need to discuss when it is and isn't ok in a more nuanced way than blanket condemnation.

Also, this attitude often puts survivors in the position of having to disclose deeply personal, traumatic personal details to avoid being labelled little better than a rapist. I have been put in this position, even before I was comfortable describing what happened to me as rape or abuse.

An emphasis on "purity" and "wholesomeness"



The idea that everyone needs to be Pure And Virginal is part of mysogynistic rape culture. It is used to make rape victims feel like they have been sullied by having sex. It is used to make us feel like bad people who deserve to be mistreated for having sexual thoughts.

As somone on the asexual spectrum who sometimes finds sexual content triggering I am all in favour of people being able to avoid sexual content when they want, and for positive depictions of non sexual relationships. My problem is this kind of thing being treated as morally superior instead of simply a preference.

And personally I find the way this attitude manifests in those stories that do contain sex disturbing and even triggering. I can't deal with depictions of underage sex, and the level of sexual innocence and childlike wonder at sex displayed by supposedly adult characters in these fics hits that button for me. I'm ok seeing it as Not My Kink and just avoiding it...unless it's held up as The Standard For Unproblematic Fic That Noone Is Triggered By, with fics I like but the author finds squicky decried as Problematic Kinks Noone Should Read.

It also feels homophobic to have non sexual same sex relationships being depicted as More Pure And Good than sexual ones, rather than simply of equal value.

Accusing anyone who disagrees with any of the above, even if we're survivors ourselves, of supporting abuse or rape



I can't describe how upsetting this is. I have spent years feeling awful about all this and only slowly gaining the ability to work past that misery enough to talk about it. I feel like if I talk about this openly in public I will have people combing through my backlog to find "problematic" works as proof that I am basically a rapist and thus a non person who deserves no sympathy or voice.

Is triggering and terrifying survivors into silence really how you want to "protect survivors"?

"If your action hurts even one survivor you shouldn't do it" then coming up with excuses for why it's ok that their approach hurts many survivors too.



I am a survivor. This approach hurts me.

**************
Description of abuse
**************
One of the ways my ex made me feel bad was with his triggers, though he didn't use that word, he just accused me of (deliberately or accidentally) reminding him of his (afaict genuine) past trauma. Almost anything could be twisted into a trauma trigger, eg he said me being so passive and conflict avoidant forced him to make all the decisions and thus be overbearing, which traumatised him, but whenever I tried being more outspoken he said that was traumatising too. Yet he also deliberately set off my anxiety, and used it an excuse to dismiss my opinion because it wasn't a result of trauma, just me being "crazy". The fact that I do have "proper" trauma triggers now as a result of his abuse is darkly ironic, but the experience has left me unable to deal with any rhetoric which takes a hard line simplistic "anyone who sets off trauma triggers is the devil"/"those who have not exprienced trauma are not allowed to complain about how survivors treat them" etc approach.
**************
End description of abuse
**************

Yes, the existence of non-con works, and works about abusive relationships, is damaging to some survivors. But attacking such works is damaging to other survivors.

I do not think most of these people mean to hurt me. I do not wish to hurt them, either, but I am sure many of them would find reading this post very upsetting. There is no one size fits all solution. Survivors are going to be hurt whatever we do. This is awful, but ignoring it won't make it untrue. So we have to move past simplistic approaches and discuss different approaches compassionately and rationally, without accusing other survivors of being liars or pro abuse if their needs are contradictory to our own.

Here's some suggestions off the top of my head, but just as a starting point. There's no way to fix this problem without people with different needs having a genuine, compasaionate conversation in good faith. This post is intended to help start that conversation, not as an end to it.
  • On AO3 and tumblr etc: tag ships, characters, and common triggers in as transparent and consistent a way as you can. For some this may mean as little as tagging "choose not to warn" or saying in their sidebar that they don't tag.
  • Avoid angrily attacking people or rhetoric which applies anyone who does [thing many survivors do] of being pro abuse. This doesn't mean you can't argue that certain kinds of work have a bad effect on society, but you need to make that argument in a compassionate, reasonable way.
  • Don't overgeneralise or exaggerate. Don't equate "some works of this type contribute to rape culture" with "this type of work promotes rape" etc. In general, don't use words like rape/abuse/abusive/pro-abuse etc unless absolutely warranted.
  • If your OTP or kink is upsetting to a lot of people, be aware of that and tactful when you bring it up eg don't go into raptures about how hot you find rape scenes in the middle of a fannish discussion about something innocuous or, worse, real life rape.
  • Don't put down "dark" works or "fluffy" works, or assume/imply anything about people based on these kinds of tastes.
  • Accept other people's needs, such as triggers, even if they seem odd or 'over sensitive'. Where possible, help accomodate them.
  • Accept that people may not be able to accomodate your triggers.


Some further links:

(Posting this publicly so I can link back to it as necessary, since usually when I want to make these arguments I'm too triggered to be coherent. It's basically the same as the locked draft I posted, but with a few edits here and there)

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