Question of the Month: June 18th, 2019.

What do you think of content warnings in ace spaces?

Do you use them? Would you like people to warn for content they usually don’t post warnings for?

Content warnings are so regularly used on this blog I sometimes forget they’re a contentious issue in other places and for other people. To me they are an integral part of ace spaces. I’ve been reading about content warnings as part of my PhD research and am surprised by how many people don’t agree with their use, from university professors to fiction authors like Neil Gaiman. I think this disagreement is based on a misunderstanding about what content warnings are and do.

I personally think content warnings are a bare minimum accessibility accommodation for people with trauma history and helpful for a variety of reasons for other people. They should be used in blogs when appropriate, academic articles, university classrooms etc. At their best content warnings create access and at their worst they create the illusion of access. In my experience just having a warning or heads up isn’t enough to access material. It’s so much better than not having them! But I’m also excited to think about, ok we need content warnings, and now what else? I’m curious if as ace people who regularly see and use content warnings our community might have some special insight.

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing Blizzard video games and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is
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15 Responses to Question of the Month: June 18th, 2019.

  1. raavenb2619 says:

    I’m in favor of content warnings, since if you don’t care about them, you can just skip past them, but for the people that want them, they can be really important. As a sex-repulsed ace, having content warnings for things like mentions of sex and genitals is something I really appreciate, because it lets me skip content that might be hard for me, as opposed to just stealing some emotional energy.

    OP, I’m not sure if I caught a typo:

    In my experience just having a warning or heads up isn’t enough to access material. It’s so much better than not having them!

    do you mean a heads up is enough to access material?

    • Talia says:

      Thanks but that was intentional 🙂 Maybe I explained it poorly?

      My point was many people say content warnings create access because by being informed readers can make choices about how or when they read the content. For example they can read the blog post when they are calm, take breaks, read while knitting, etc. But what if you read a content warning and go oh damn, there is no way I can read this blog post, no matter what mind state I am in? Maybe there is a great article about asexuality but one sentence mentions sexual assault. The content warning doesn’t tell you the level of detail the assault will be described in, if you can skip the part about assault and still understand the point of the article, what part of the article is actually triggering etc. In this case the warning itself is not enough to create access. It rather signals a lack of accessibility for some people. The content warning becomes a heads up to not read something rather than actually giving you a way to access the content without being triggered. Of course this isn’t for all cases, but I find it increasingly happens for me.

      • raavenb2619 says:

        Oh okay, that makes sense. I was a little thrown by the juxtaposition of the two different ideas. Maybe “…isn’t enough to access material, but it’s still so much…”
        Re: lack of accessibility, do you think having a second warning right before the paragraph (if it’s an article, for example) would help? (I know some youtubers will put something in the description, and then put say a timecode you can skip to right before the triggering content. Is this a good model to base other stuff off of?)

        • Coyote says:

          That seems like a pretty good method to me. Limited to applications where a discrete separation like that is possible, of course. I’ve also seen something similar in text form, ex. besides a general warning at the top there would also be an interjection with brackets, like:

          [content warning: noun/phrase]

          example example example example

          [end content warning]

        • Talia says:

          Ah I see! Just potentially unclear writing on my part.

          Yes I think a warning right before the paragraph could be really helpful. I’ve played with the idea of using different font, changing font colour, or using in text symbols like * to indicate content warnings without disrupting text flow. A professor editing my work encouraged me to see content warnings as part of the text and not exterior to them. I really like that idea but am still thinking about it. It would also be good to find a succinct way to indicate at the beginning of the text that the author will indicate when the content warning starts so they reader just doesn’t skip the whole article. And yeah Youtubers putting a timecode to skip is amazing! I had forgotten about that option 🙂

  2. Coyote says:

    huh. I already disliked Neil Gaiman for a completely unrelated host of reasons. He didn’t have to go and add another.

    Frankly I hadn’t even noticed how often they’re used on TAA just because I’m so used to them in general. It does make sense, though, even setting aside crosspollenation with Tumblr communities, for content warnings to be important to community where aversion, repulsion, etc. is a common experience. I wonder if things look different on other platforms, though. I’ve no idea what Ace Facebook looks like.

    • Talia says:

      Yeah I am also curious if content warnings are just as common on other ace platforms or not. Like you I think it just makes sense for them to be part of a normal ace experience because aversion, repulsion etc. are common experiences for community members. If I ever write about sex in any way it just seems like common sex to warn for it because I’m very aware that many people won’t want to read about that.

  3. Siggy says:

    I’m in favor of content warnings/notes being used in all sorts of contexts. And they needn’t be limited to trigger warnings for people with trauma, they should also be used for other things like spoilers and other things people might care about. Upfront information is just a good thing to have. Descriptive titles are a completely uncontroversial way to convey information upfront, and content warnings should be established as another method.

    As far as trigger warnings go, I do have a few concerns. First, I would express the same concern as the OP, that trigger warnings are only the bare minimum accommodation, and they risk creating only the illusion of accessibility. My second concern is that people who are directly affected by triggers have relatively little voice in the public conversation about trigger warnings. The result is that few of us are well-informed about how to make effective trigger warnings–that is, what kinds of things ought to be labeled, and with what degree of specificity?

    • Talia says:

      Good point that people who are directly affected by triggers have relatively little voice in the public conversation. From what I’ve seen it’s people who don’t want trigger warnings versus groups who support trigger warnings but largely don’t talk about their personal experiences.

      Many trigger warnings are vague and I personally like a high degree of specificity. There’s a big difference between someone briefly mentioning a topic versus going into explicit detail about it for two paragraphs.

  4. demiandproud says:

    I’ve come to see trigger or content warnings as a bit of an extension of informed consent culture, and they seem to be more present in queer spaces in general. That said, I think each community and person probably has their own conventions and it has a lot to do with what you think or know will be considered shocking or mature content. Or what you predict an audience might wish to be warned about. I would not warn for non-graphic descriptions of abortion in a story in Dutch, for example, any more than I would for a broken leg. I would in an English story, because I know there to be a cultural movement going on about regulating reproduction in the States on par with that in the sixties and seventies.

  5. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    I’ve recently made a list of possibly triggering material in my stories. Like the tag collections and archive warnings you can find on AO3.
    So, on the one hand, yeah, it’s not good to put the onus for research on trigger warnings in novels on the people who have triggers, because that might mean they have to come out as having a history with whatever.
    Most of the time, for an individual piece of writing or film: Yeah. Makes sense.
    If you, however, ban all potentially triggering reading material from classrooms, there’s a) a very small body of literature left and therefore b) there might be a lot of necessary discussions not taking place. So I guess I can see where the academia are coming from.
    Also, a note on demigray’s comment: There’s a whole lot of cultural influence there, too. E.g.: Swearing. There’s an AO3 tag for it, too, which I don’t get, living in modern day Germany. More than two swears in an US production and you get an R rating? Whut?

    • Talia says:

      I’ve never seen people ask for there to be a ban on potentially triggering material from classrooms. Students in the US in 2014 started asking for content warnings to appear in university syllabi and to be given by professors. They aren’t asking for the content itself to change or be removed, just to be given a heads up about it. Some people are worried that labeling some content as potentially triggering could lead to it being removed (on both sides of the pro and against content warning debate), but no one I have seen is actually asking for that. It’s just a fear of, if we label things, then maybe this will then happen.

      And yes the tag collections and archive warnings on Ao3 are a great example of content warnings 🙂 That totally slipped my mind even though I used to use them regularly.

      • Carmilla DeWinter says:

        Well, I’m only following the discussion from the very, very outside, so “fear of material being banned” was actually what I thought the profs are afraid of. Probably they are, too. Huh.
        So there’s the “can we be more considerate, please?”-faction and the “the end of western civilization is nigh!”-faction. As usual.
        Maybe refer the naysayers to AO3 as proof that this stuff works?

        • Siggy says:

          “fear of material being banned” was actually what I thought the profs are afraid of.

          I think that is what people are afraid of. But it’s based on a misunderstanding/misinformation of what trigger warnings are for. Bloggers often add trigger warnings to their own content; they are not trying to ban their own content!

          What I’ve seen in conservative news outlets, is that they often like highlighting some particular case, where some students are apparently calling for content banning under the guise of demanding trigger warnings. It’s hard to say what’s really going on there. Are these unusual examples, repeated endlessly by conservative news hoping they’ll stick? Or are they simply misleading accounts of events? Either way, that’s not why I support trigger warnings. It’s a frustrating argument, because the “other side” barely talks about the issue at all, and instead substitutes an unrelated fiction.

        • Talia says:

          Yes exactly there’s the “can we be more considerate, please?”-faction and the “the end of western civilization is nigh!”-faction as you phrased it. There’s a big gap in between and the people who support content warnings often attempt to engage with the other side, but that engagement isn’t going both ways. For example, people against content warnings rarely reference trauma or PTSD and seem unaware of its history or role in the discussion. It’s like they just didn’t read what other people are writing.

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