Warning and Advising: A Community Conversation, Part Two

Handdrawn illustration of a yellow pasture against a background of hills and sporadic trees. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/grey/black stripes of the aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Discussion Post sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

This is a collection of discussion points and questions on the subject of broadening the aromantic community’s understanding of content advisories and building an environment that doesn’t alienate, other or sexualise allo-aros in seeking to protect aros who experience repulsion.

For more information on why I think such conversations are necessary, please see part one of this post.

Warnings for Attraction and Identity

Are tags like #pansexual and #allosexual sufficient advisory for any discussion about or references to sexual attraction (as distinct from sexual experience) when paired with aromantic tags? If something is tagged #alloaro or #allosexual, is there any reason to warn further for discussions only referencing sexual attraction?

Do we need to warn for romance mentions when tagging works with the names of romantic-attraction-experiencing identities like #lithromantic? Is it reasonable to assume that these tags should also serve as sufficient advisory for romance mentions and references?

Should we handle either circumstance differently when lithromantic or allo-aro works are also being crosstagged to #aromantic or #safeforaro? What are the community expectations for warning when it comes to crosstagged content in general aromantic spaces? We need to help aros who experience attraction understand what’s expected of us in shared community spaces, because fearing that we will misstep leaves us too afraid to speak at all.

Should we create a tag or tags for use by aros who choose not to warn for sexual/romantic-coded content, references or depictions of sexual/romantic attraction in our posts? This means we can post in general aromantic spaces without extra warning tags (as many aros may not be able to provide these!) but still allow aros who experience sexual/romantic repulsion to blacklist said posts.

Warnings and Repulsion

We must recognise that aros who experience sex/romance repulsion aren’t the only aros in need of protecting when it comes to warnings. A warning culture that protects repulsed aros at the expense of the safety, respect and inclusion of attraction-experiencing aros is a community that treats a lack of attraction as the default aro experience. Nothing about that is welcoming to many aros, particularly allo-aros.

We must make it a community goal to acknowledge and support access needs regarding repulsion while avoiding as much as possible the othering of attraction-experiencing aros. We must decide as a community that all future conversations regarding warning, tagging and content should seek to avoid sexualising or mislabelling experiences of or behaviours associated with an aro’s attraction.

We must also acknowledge that some expressions of sex/romance repulsion posted in general aro community spaces use language demonising and disparaging experiences of sex and romance. This must be warned for. It is hypocrisy that the aro community doesn’t question unwarned-for sex/romance-negative language use–language that mirrors the antagonism directed at LGBTQIA+ aros for experiencing attraction–in general aro tags. “Ew, sex” and “kissing is gross” posts in general aro spaces need warnings for negative language.

If conversations referencing allosexuality and sexual attraction, however non-explicit, are something for which aros must warn or tag when in general aromantic spaces, should we treat conversations referencing asexuality the same way? While asexuals have reasons to want to avoid allosexual narratives, allo-aros also experience alienation from asexual narratives. Yet not all posts referencing asexuality in aro spaces add additional #ace or #aroace tags. If it’s important for aces to be able to blacklist #alloaro or #allosexual aro content, isn’t it just as important for allo-aros to be able to blacklist #asexual aro content?

Content and Structure of Warnings

Do we know what content actually needs warning for? Should we make polls that find out what our advisory needs are, both in terms of what we need as audiences and what we need as creators? For example: many aros dislike heart-themed visual art, while I (a loveless aro) dislike narratives that suggest all aros love in non-romantic ways. Are we not warning for content that needs warning or warning for content that doesn’t need it?

Should we shift, where possible, to warning for acts/behaviours over warning for identities, categories or qualities? “This story depicts romance” is a common warning, but doesn’t mean anything concrete in a world where romantic-coded behaviours can also be non-romantic. Because of this, allo-aros can write non-romantic pieces that trigger other aros’ romance repulsion. “This story contains kissing, handholding and sex, and mentions the word ‘romance'”, conveys specific advisory information.

Can we make guides listing common things to warn for and the tags/labels in use by the community? Is there a website page or checklist that people can read through before posting a work or piece to general aro spaces to be sure they have covered at least the most common issues?

While warning, we must avoid sexualising other LGBTQIA+ folks’ sexual/romantic expressions and behaviours. For example, warning for specific sex acts is acceptable. Warning for “gay sex” or “romance between two women” should never be acceptable. Warning for “sex talk” on a piece that only discusses allosexual attraction identities or pride should never be acceptable.

When a piece needs to warn for both problematic content and identity or non-harmful experiences, how do we keep from contextualising the latter as the former? For example, the line “Warning: violence, depictions of sexual attraction” treats sexual attraction as equivalent to violence. Is it reasonable for works to include two warning lines, one for problematic content and one for community-specific advisories, like kissing or sex references? If so, how do we determine what is and isn’t “truly” problematic?

Should we develop different ways of warning when we’re dealing with sex mentions versus sex depictions? (For example: the line “Yeah, my best friend and I had sex last night” with no further elaboration in the post or piece.) Are people in our community so repulsed that the recognition or reminder that some people have sex or kiss will serve as trigger enough? Or is it safe to post that line without warning? What message are we sending to allo-aros if the word sex without elaboration is something for which we warn?

Aro Community Norms, Spaces and Culture

We must establish that the aro community’s needs for warning and advising will be unique to the aro community. They shouldn’t be modelled on the ace community, the general LGBTQIA+ community, general creativity communities or mainstream society. We can be inspired by other communities, but any wholesale borrowing of their norms will hurt members of the aromantic community.

We must recognise that creating aro community norms based on on ace community norms, without purposeful examination of their suitability for all aros, already harms allo-aros. Some community norms and customs will suit us, but only with prior, active and continuing interrogation of their suitability and impact on all aros. Assuming asexual norms creates and strengthens a current culture where allo-aros feel as though we are not allowed to be allosexual in aro spaces.

We must establish that experiencing no attraction is not the default aro experience any more than is the experiencing of attraction-related repulsion. We cannot make an environment in which we treat aro content that doesn’t experience attraction as the default from which we deviate when we warn for attraction and attraction-related or attraction-coded experiences.

We must develop a clear understanding of what unwarned-for content is welcome in shared spaces, like #aromantic or #safeforaro. Likewise, what are the base-minimum warning requirements for posting to general aromantic tags? What do more detailed warnings look like in comparison?

Should we create a culture of content creators and archivists/collators voicing their approach to content warnings and advisories in information/about pages or description boxes? This may make it clear if bloggers wish to opt-out of warning for something, anything or everything; this allows followers to make informed decisions. How much additional effort is it reasonable to ask of creators given that warning takes time and energy?

Warning and Accessibility

We need to recognise that providing warnings, while making content accessible for others, may not be within the abilities of some creators for a variety of reasons. Disabled and ESL aros, in particular, may struggle with warning! How can we make it easier for people to warn? How can we easily demarcate creators who don’t or can’t warn? Are there ways abled, native English-speaking aros can step up to ease the burden of warning on disabled and ESL aro creators, bloggers and archivists?

How far do we go in providing detailed warnings when warning too much may make these warnings inaccessible? For example, posts with many warning tags may mean nobody reads through all of them. Posts with very precise tags may not be picked up by followers’ blacklists.

How do we handle a post or story that has a large number of subjects or references for which the community expects warning? How do we prioritise if there’s too many warning tags for a single Tumblr post or for the creator to easily remember and use all of them? Is it reasonable to skip individual tags for #sex, #kissing and #hugging in the one story in favour of a #physical intimacy tag?

We also need to establish what kinds of warnings belong in the body of a post and what kinds of warnings/advisories are used in tags. Warning only via a post’s tags doesn’t help anyone who sees a tag-less version of a reblogged post. (Not warning in the body of the post also shifts the burden of warning onto everyone who reblogs, not the creator.) Warnings in tags, however, makes it easier for people to blacklist. Are creators expected to do both?

What is Romantic, Anyway?

We must establish a community understanding that what comprises romance is shaped by age, gender identity, culture, ethnicity, experience, sexual orientation identities, romantic orientation identities, ability and neurotype (at the very least). No two people can or will have the same understanding of what is and isn’t romantic. Trying to force a singular definition of what is and isn’t romantic will harm otherwise-marginalised aros.

We also need community acknowledgement that specific acts like kissing, embracing and other forms of non-sexually-explicit physical affection and intimacy are often romantic-coded but are not always romantic. While people can and do experience repulsion towards them, these things still belong in aromantic expression, communication or storytelling. Even when they are intended as romantic, they still belong in some shapes of aromantic expression, communication and storytelling!

We must also acknowledge that most sexual behaviours are also coded as romantic by amatonormative Western society, which means allo-aros in particular will engage in, non-romantically, behaviours other people perceive as romantic. This doesn’t make our posts, creative works or experiences romantic in any way unless we believe them to be romantic, and our warning culture must never contextualise them as such.

This post is just a beginning, one shaped by my experiences as an abrosexual nebularomantic/idemromantic (allo-aro) who doesn’t always grasp the difference between romantic and non-romantic content. I hope to see folks voice even more concerns other aros have with our warning culture, shaped by their experiences as all sorts of different types of aro.

I have every faith that we can find and create solutions that allow community access to aros who experience repulsion without alienating, othering, miscategorising or sexualising aros who experience attraction and enjoy attraction-related behaviours. We just need to start talking.

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