"Normal Female Interest
in Men Bonking": Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and
Edited and introduced by Shoshanna Green, Cynthia Jenkins and Henry
"Yes, fans analyze because they're fans. Or are we fans because
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," Strange Bedfellows
#3, November 1993
"[Is slash] anything other than normal female interest in men
-- M. Fae Glasgow, "Two Heads are Better Than One," Strange
Bedfellows #2, August 1993
Slash is one of the most pervasive and distinctive genres of fan writing.
Most fans would agree that slash posits a romantic and sexual relationship
between same-sex characters drawn from film, television, comic books,
or popular fiction. Most often, slash focuses on male characters, such
as Star Trek's Kirk and Spock or The Professionals' Bodie and Doyle.
However, the parameters of slash are under constant debate and negotiation
within media fandom. Many fans would point out that the relationships
are not always romantic, that the characters are not always drawn from
other media, and that the central characters are not always male. Slash
stories circulate within the private realm of fandom, published in zines,
distributed through the mails, through email, or passed hand to hand
among enthusiasts. The non-commercial nature of slash publishing has
been necessitated by the fact that these stories make unauthorized use
of media characters.
Although a private, subcultural practice, slash has, over the past five
years, increasingly become the focus of academic and journalistic scrutiny.
The slash fan's peculiar relationship with American mass culture has
become almost emblematic of recent work in Cultural Studies, referenced
on the cover of The Village Voice Literary Supplement or ridiculed in
Lingua Franca, cited in law review articles and discussed at the Modern
Language Association conference. If the initial academic interest in
slash came from people who were themselves tied to the fan community,
attentive to its traditions and familiar with its own theoretical and
critical categories, slash has quickly become a point of reference for
writers who know of it only secondhand and who seem to have no clear
grasp of the concept. (More than one writer refers to "slasher"
fan fiction, for example, while literary critic Mark Dery uses the term
"slash" to refer to all forms of "textual poaching,"
as if it encompassed the full range of fan production.) The differences
in the ways academics and fans talk about slash are striking:
(1) Most academic accounts center almost exclusively upon Kirk/Spock
stories, primarily because academic writers and readers are most familiar
with Star Trek references. In fact, slash is written about a broad
range of fictional characters, and some slash fans speak of being
fans of slash itself, rather than, or in addition to, being fans of
a particular show or set of characters. Many fanzines, both slash
and nonslash, publish stories based on a variety of sources; fans
call such collections "multi-media" rather than "single-fandom"
(2) Academic accounts of slash tend to deal with it in isolation from
the larger framework of genres within fan fiction. Fans, on the other
hand, understand slash in relation to many other re-readings and rewritings
of program material, such as hurt/comfort (which focuses on nurturing,
but not necessarily sexual, relations between characters) and heterosexual
(3) Academic accounts of slash seem preoccupied with the question
of why straight women write stories about gay male characters, seeing
slash as a heterosexual appropriation of queerness. In fact, lesbian
and bisexual women have always participated alongside straight women
in slash fandom and people of all sexual orientations have found slash
a place for exploring their differences and commonalities.
(4) Academic accounts tend to focus on slash's uniqueness, its difference
from other forms of popular culture. Fan critics are interested in
exploring slash's relationship to other forms of commercial fiction
(ranging from gay erotica to popular romances, from Dorothy Sayers
to Mary Renault) and to traditions of retelling and rewriting within
(5) Academic accounts often consider slash to be a static genre, making
generalizations that assume a consistent subject matter and thematics
over time and across all slash stories. Slash fans, on the other hand,
see the genre as always in flux, and are interested in tracing shifts
in its construction of sexuality, its story structures, character
relationships, and degrees of explicitness.
(6) Academic accounts have tended to be univocal in their explanations
of why fans read and write slash, looking for a theory which can account
for the phenomenon as a whole. Slash fans, on the other hand, are
interested in exploring the multiple and differing motivations that
led them to this genre.
Almost all of the theoretical explanations of slash which academics
have proposed are refinements of theories that have long circulated
within the fan community. This article presents some fannish discussion
of slash over the past five years, selecting excerpts from two apas:
the Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows.
The word apa originated in science fiction fandom as an acronym for
"amateur press association." It describes a sort of group
letter, regularly circulated to its members. Each member writes a contribution,
called an apazine, and makes a number of copies of it, one for each
member. She or he then sends them to the apa's editor, who collates
all the contributions together and sends a complete set to each member.
Apas can serve as forums for discussion, as a way of circulating fiction
and other writing by their members, as regular business conferences,
and the like.
The Terra Nostra Underground (TNU) was founded in the fall of 1989
as a quarterly apa for discussion among slash fans; it began with eight
members, and its membership had reached twenty-three when it folded
three and a half years later. Shoshanna Green founded Strange Bedfellows
(SBF) as a successor to the TNU, and its current membership is thirty-seven,
including Cynthia Jenkins and Henry Jenkins. Members are mostly female,
but three men regularly participate at present and others have in the
past. The group includes bisexual, gay, and straight people. About half
of the members have written fan fiction and/or published fanzines, and
that proportion is not, we think, too far above that in media fandom
as a whole; the fan community tends to assume that everyone can write
and that some people simply haven't done so (yet). There is no sharp
distinction between readers and writers in most of the discussion that
follows. Both are considered creative. Apa members come from various
educational and class backgrounds, although most are middle class and
tend to have at least a college degree; most are American, but there
are eight European members (including one living in the United States)
and one Western woman living in Japan. As far as we know, all the members
are white, but since the apa is conducted through the mail rather than
in person, we are not certain.
Discussions vary widely. In addition to the kinds of analysis excerpted
here, members talk about everything from the NAMES Project quilt to
their summer vacations, from Tailhook to ice skating and the exigencies
of apartment living. Apa writing can be personal and confessional or
more abstract and speculative. Often, arguments are made through collaboration
and brainstorming among group members, and are understood in relation
to previous discussions both within the apa and elsewhere in fandom.
In any one issue of the apa, then, there are up to three dozen apazines
written by as many members, ranging from three to thirty pages long,
each adding to ongoing conversations and introducing potential new topics
for discussion. It's rather like a party with many conversations going
on at once, and people moving from group to group, or like a printed
version of an electronic bulletin board.
This article excerpts some of the discussions undertaken in these two
apas over the last five years. We have chosen these particular apas
as sources, rather than any of the many other apas, letterzines, and
the like that we might have used, simply because we are members of them.
This meant, first of all, that we had easy access to the five years'
history of these discussions; but it also meant that we compiled this
essay as fans as well as academics. We participated in many of the conversations
we are reproducing.
We are not claiming that the membership of these apas is statistically
"typical" of slash fandom as a whole (although we don't think
it is misrepresentative, either), nor do we mean to imply that the topics
we have selected for presentation here are the most important ones to
fans. As we circulated drafts of this essay among the fans we are quoting,
some argued strongly that certain themes we were pursuing were secondary
and misrepresentative of overall fannish concerns; often these same
themes were ones which other members felt were central. What is central
often depends on where you are standing. We drew on discussions which
seemed important and which could be clearly and interestingly presented
here. Some complex and important discussions could not be included,
exactly because they were so involved; they were too long to be summarized,
too complex to be excerpted, and so embedded in media fan culture that
nonfans would require long explanatory prefaces. These included such
things as: fine grained analysis of particular slash stories; meditations
on subgenres within slash and the attitudes of fans and academics toward
them; arguments about the mechanics and ethics of fan publishing; and
much more. We want our readers to remember that we cannot do justice
here to the full breadth, richness, and variety of fan discussion even
in these two apas, let alone all of fandom. We are simply offering a
sampling of a complex, rich and sophisticated conversation, allowing
fans to speak in their own words, to other fans and to non-fan readers
of this book, about what we do and how we think about it all.
WATCHING TELEVISION, CREATING
Where does slash come from? Does it originate in the series text
or in the fan's reading of it? These questions have occupied fans much
as they have interested academics. Cat, a French fan, has offered one
explanation for why female viewers construct homoerotic fantasies. Her
account focuses on narrative conventions and female identifications
"Why are so many women interested in slash in the context of media
related material? TV is a convenient source for fictional material that
can be shared with a great number of people and benefits from the structure
of general fandom. [...] This explains why slash is media-related and
why I have never heard of any mainstream Fag-Hag APA to this date. [...]
To enjoy television that way, empathy with the fictional characters
will have to be strong and rewarding. The woman (me, you, whoever) views
the fictional piece from the character's point of view, and her emotions
parallel his: anguish when he is hurt, triumph when he wins, etc....
(One identifies with more than one character, usually, and can easily
switch from one to the other according to need, but let us say that
the 'hero' is the main reference.) So in this society, someone enriching/feeding
their fantasy life with TV fare will come across variations of the traditional
pattern: the hero (dashing); the buddy (his confidant and accomplice);
the screaming ninny (his romantic interest). In this threesome, there
are reasons to identify with the hero:
(1) He is usually the main character (the heroine being seen less
often, usually a supporting character).
(2) He does all the exciting things and seems to enjoy them. He is
the one to whom the adventure happens and the one who makes it happen.
He must pit his wit and resources against danger and foes. (If the
woman has spunk, it is not a value in itself but a source of excitement
or annoyance for the hero. At worst, it is considered as cute.)
There are reasons not to identify with the heroine:
(1) A woman, having internalized the values of our culture, might
feel that women are devalued per se, regardless of script, thus the
woman-heroine becomes a worthless object of identification.
(2) When female characters are shown to be effective and powerful,
it is often through their 'feminine wiles' (unless they are ugly frustrated
lesbians. Who wants to identify with a loser, the Russian general
played by Lotte Lenya in From Russia with Love?) As to women powerful
through the use of their beauty and seduction (i.e. their power to
manipulate men to further their schemes), they could easily become
alien, incomprehensible creatures for 'average' women full of self-doubt
or teenage angst, since they represent values that are not only difficult
to achieve, but also considered obsolete. [...]
So you don't want to be her, you don't want to enjoy the emotions she
feels. The male hero is easier to 'feel' the adventure with: what he
is made to feel you enjoy. And if you are of the daydreaming kind, you
will 'borrow' him, to make him feel some more interesting things.
If you do not want sex or romance to be absent from your daydreamings
and you are identifying with the male hero, seeing the adventure from
his viewpoint, who the heck are you going to use as a romantic interest?
Not him, because since you are living the adventure through him, the
point is to make him feel the feelings of sex and romance, and then
identify with it. So he has to have a relationship with someone other
than himself, with someone who produces emotional reactions in him that
you find interesting. And that person is unlikely to be the screaming
ninny (because, if you liked her, you would have identified with her
and 'tinkered' with her to start with). Of course, you can daydream
a female character you'd enjoy identifying with or fancying, but to
create from scratch an original, interesting character is hard work,
and she might not feel as real as the faces on the screen. Also, by
that time, you could have internalized enough of our society's values
to make the prospect unexciting. Or you can daydream yourself into the
script. (Hi there, Mary Sue.) [...]
This is where the male buddy comes in, since he is the only one (with
the screaming ninny and the enemy) who shows a sustained interest in
the hero. The woman who has empathy for the hero will enjoy the emotions
produced in the hero by the Buddy. (She does not have to find the buddy
breathtakingly attractive herself [some are willing to overlook Napoleon's
chin for Illya's sake, for instance], but it helps.) And what type of
relationship do buddy and hero have? One version could be that on the
screen, there is a caring relationship. It is not tainted with sexism,
with expectations of a given role, because the one is female and the
other male. It is equality. Not in practical terms: the buddy can be
less or more strong or skillful than the hero. But his weakness is not
perceived as something that makes him in essence inferior or
different. It has a different cultural meaning. They are attracted to
each other's personalities, not because they're made blind by their
gonads or 'devalued' prettiness. [...]
That was one version. If that relationship is attractive because it
is equal, why is there a non-negligible number of slash-zines where
one male partner dominates the other[...]? Why do they often seem to
be motivated by raving lust rather than sheer delight in each other's
intellect? [...] Seems that even if some fan fiction depicts one partner
as dominant and the other as whimperingly submissive (Vila is a prime
offender here) the lovers are not different in nature: a woman can safely
indulge in S&M and rape fantasies, submissiveness, aggression and
a whole load of other non-politically correct behaviors without guilt
feelings, without it being gender identified. [...] Identification with
the other gender means liberation from one's own gender related taboos.
However, we have no personal, direct, experience of the cultural constraints
the other gender has to submit to, so these constraints, although known
to us, are not felt as being as binding as our own. This I would call
the 'Tourist approach.' One feels freer to behave differently in a place
that is not directly relevant to everyday life, and where the landmarks,
although not very different, have shifted enough to create new perceptions:
you are free of the rules of your country of origin, but not bound by
the rules of the holiday country because you don't know them, or if
you do, they don't mean the same things to you as to the natives."
-- Cat Anestopoulo, "Darkling Zine," TNU 3, August 1990
Barbara offered a different explanation for the slash potential
of a program; she stresses that the ways women watch television shape
their responses to the conventional representation of male sexuality:
"One explanation I've heard about why slash seems so natural to
fans has to do with how fans perceive TV characters. Instead of taking
emotions and speech as directed at the audience, the fan game is to
see everything in context of the show itself. If an actor, or a pair
of them, are busy projecting rampant sexuality, the fan mindset is to
look within the program for the object. In a cop-partner show (for instance),
there are typically two men projecting subliminal sex appeal for all
they're worth, and nobody else on screen with any regularity. Certainly,
no female characters. Strictly within the show framework, there's nobody
but the two men themselves to justify the sexual display, so the concept
of slash (instead of the fan just thinking what a sexy, appealing show
it is to her, herself) arises."
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 6, May 1991
M. Fae Glasgow, among others, rejects the idea that her interest
in slash involves identification with the characters, asserting a pleasure
in exerting her own authorial control over sexy male bodies:
"Oh, such delight! Someone else who doesn't think that the slash
writer necessarily inserts herself into one of the personae! Isn't manipulation
and watching so much fun? That's what I do; I never, ever, insert myself
(perhaps because I lack the necessary plumbing? Sorry. Facetiousness
is a hobby of mine...) into the character or the story. I may be present
in the form of a narrative voice, but that's more because of my heritage
of storytelling and the typical Scottish style of writing which almost
invariably has a very strong 'voice' or lyricism to it. To be honest,
I don't even identify with any of the characters. I'm just fascinated
by them. Plus, I'm prurient and salacious and simply adore to watch."
-- M. Fae Glasgow, "Two Heads Are Better Than One," TNU 8,
Sandy and Agnes contributed observations about why slash's focus
on male protagonists may facilitate identification more easily than
stories focusing on female characters would:
"As an experiment last week, I gathered all of the female slash
I had into one pile (largely Blake's 7, since it has more strong females
than the rest of slash fandom's favorite shows put together...) and
read it all one after another. I realized that my distance from the
material is different in female slash. I have all of that equipment,
I have sex with women -- I wasn't able to go with the flow so much.
There was an intermediate level doing the rather stupid job of checking
each piece of action and thinking, 'would I like this,' 'have I done
this,' 'would I do this with (Jenna (Y), Beverly (Maybe), Gina (Y),
Trudy (Y), Cally (Y), Dayna (YES, YES, YES), Servalan (not unless I
had someone holding a gun on her at the same time). I don't know what
this means, but I'd love to hear from other women about it--queer and
-- Sandy Hereld, "T-shirt Slogans Are Intellectual Discourse,"
TNU 12, November 1992
"Your comments to Barbara about female slash, about familiarity
(with the equipment, the activities, etc.) making it more difficult
to 'go with the flow,' reminded me of the discussion of 'PC slash' on
the email list, when a few folks complained about the tendency of some
slash to be too 'realistic' or concerned with accuracy to the real world
as we know it, which they felt interfered with the fantasy. I've been
trying to figure out ever since discovering slash just why it might
be that two guys getting it on would be exciting to women, and especially
to lesbians, and I think this may have something to do with it. Writing
(and reading) about things we can't experience directly, we can fantasize
that these relations can be far beyond the best sex WE may have ever
had, not limited by or interpreted through our own direct experience.
I'm reminded of a passage from Henry Miller (in one of the Tropics,
I think -- it's been a while) comparing the size of his childhood universe
(a few blocks in reality, but limitless in imagination) with that of
his adult world (far more extensive in reality, having traveled widely
and seen many parts of the world, but as a consequence proportionately
limited in imagination, because once he knew what some place was really
like, he could no longer imagine it any way he wanted) -- so that, in
a curious way, the more he experienced in his life, the smaller were
the possibilities of his imagination."
-- Agnes Tomorrow, "Notes From Tomorrow," SBF 1, May 1993
The question of the role that identification plays in reading and
writing slash is frequently raised in the context of why straight women
would be interested in the intimate relations between two members of
the same sex or why lesbians would be interested in the sex lives of
"By now it must be obvious that slash readers include women of
all gender preferences. A more universal form of your question about
why lesbians would want to read about men is, why should anyone want
to read about characters who aren't anything they could ever be, and
would actively dislike in life? Why do we read (with relish) about space
pirates, neurotic rock stars, or melancholy Danish princes? Fiction
isn't about reasonable wish-fulfillment or simple identity matches.
Why should any of us watch Professionals, starring as it does two macho-prick
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 9, Winter/Spring
As both fans and academics agree, slash represents a way of rethinking
and rewriting traditional masculinity. Sarah argued that slash's appeal
lies in its placing "emotional responsibility" on men for
sustaining relationships while men in reality frequently dodge such
"In a letter I just wrote to Jane Carnall, I talked about it in
terms of seeing men take on emotional responsibility for, and interest
in, relationships. If the story is between two men, and if it depicts
a somewhat satisfying relationship, you're guaranteed at least one man
who's actively involved in the emotional realm. I know for me that's
extremely sexy[...]. It explains why we already see, or read, sex into
TV shows whose male characters have a supposedly platonic, yet intimate
relationship on screen. We see that intimacy and experience sexuality.
[...] I think part of what slash is about is reading intimacy between
peers as itself erotic. They don't just happen to have sex, their sexuality
is a natural product of their mutual feelings of closeness.[...] We
need our pornography to be about people we know and we are interested
in exploring as many different scenarios as we can imagine. [...] In
a way, just as the characters' sexual relationship is an expression
of their intimacy, we as slash readers also need that intimacy with
the characters we write about. That's where the sexual excitement for
us comes from; or at least that's one source of it."
-- Sarah Katherine, "Writing From the Margins,"TNU 12,
November 1992; TNU 13, February 1993
Henry suggested that slash addresses some of the social forces which
block intimacy between men:
"When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that
moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk
stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both
of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard
against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have
so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk
his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the
series. Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the
two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed.
And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take
away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical;
the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which
prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which
block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens
when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male
friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash
is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring
beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress
or hide those feelings." -- Henry Jenkins, "Confessions of
a Male Slash Fan," SBF 1, May 1993
The female slash writers have struggled, however, with the genre's
primary, if not exclusive, focus on male characters. Should they be
writing stories about women? Should slash deal with lesbianism as well
as male homosexuality? Is slash's frequent exclusion of female characters
"My only problem with slash is that I miss women. Sometimes reading
about male bodies feels foreign, and I find myself wishing for the familiarity
of a woman's body, or even just a significant, three-dimensional, female
-- Sarah Katherine, "Writing From the Margins," TNU 13, February
"A thought occurs to me about the unfortunate lack of female slash
stories. The majority of slash is based on characters who have a preexisting,
strongly emotional relationship in the show where they appear: a lot
of slash is expansion on something to be seen in the show (as the slash
fan sees it). Female characters, even if you can find more than one
in a given show, are unlikely to have an intense, highlighted friendship
with each other -- if they have any strong relationship, it's likely
to be with a male character. [...] Male buddy-shows are attractive
to us because they show something that's rare in men. One point is that
it's not rare in women. [...] It's the cold-loner depiction of a woman
that stands out in the media; and by their nature, cold loners don't
run in pairs. In one sense, slash shows men as honorary women: doing
what women-as-we-perceive-them do normally. It's extraordinary and sexy
because the men don't (usually) lose the strengths of men-as-we-perceive
them; the slash character is a hermaphroditic combination of the best
of both types. [
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 3, August 1990;
TNU 11, August 1992
"The writers of the series [Blake's 7] showed much more
imagination when pitting the male characters against each other, in
complex multi-layered interrelationships which continue to stimulate
discussion, while the female characters were primarily pawns and patsies,
taking little active part in the working out of their destinies[...].
I think it's commendable that there have been so many fan stories involving
the female characters, given the material as presented in the series,
and that this demonstrates the determination of writers to expand on
potential barely hinted at."
-- Agnes Tomorrow, "Notes from Tomorrow," TNU 3, August 1990
"I still think that misogyny plays a significant part in some
segments of slash writing and reading. Some stories leave women characters
completely out. For instance, even though The Professionals routinely
depicts women as full members of CI5, many B/D slash stories posit CI5
as an all-male force. Other stories will 'feminize' a male character
(Doyle, Vila, Illya, sometimes Avon) and then pile explicit sexual humiliations
on him with the overt or covert implication that he 'really wants it';
this shows a certain amount of homophobia as well, i.e. bash the 'pansy.'
Some stories portray strong women characters in a show as jealously
shrewish, completely evil bitches; some of the depictions of Ann Holly
or Dr. Kate Ross (both from Pros) or T'Pring (Trek) immediately come
to mind. A few slash readers, writers and/or editors have expressed
overt distaste or disgust at the idea of Lesbian sexuality, all while
extolling the glories of male/male relationships.
But I'm now sure that misogyny is not the only reason for the vast
overabundance of men.[...] As women, reading and writing about men in
a mostly women's 'space' may be a way for women to deal with their feelings
about men in our male supremacist society. Even Lesbians have to learn
about how to deal with men (most of us can't go off into a 'womyn's
paradise'). Lesbians don't usually engage in sexual relationships with
men, but we see men in their positions of power. Straight and bisexual
women usually have to deal with men in a more intimate way."
-- Nina Boal, "Lavender Lilies, addendum" TNU 6, May 1991
"I'm still bloody insulted by people in general insisting that
I need 'strong female role models.' Some of us already have one. It's
called a mirror."
-- M. Fae Glasgow, "Two Heads are Better than One," SBF 1,
Nina, who has written slash stories involving female characters,
commented on some of the difficulties she has encountered:
"Actually, I've found it MUCH more of a challenge to write about
female/female sexuality. First, I find I have to wean the women from
the feeling that they MUST center their lives around men. Then I have
to convince these characters that they DON'T have to then 'retreat'
to a lesbian separatist commune. It's not rejection of men, it's affirmation
of women. Once that is done, men can become human rather than be gods
whom women are supposed to worship. It definitely goes against the grain
of societal conditioning to make the women the center of the story rather
than adjuncts to the male characters."
-- Nina Boal, "Lavender Lilies," TNU 4, November 1990
HOMOPHOBIA AND GAY IDENTITY
Making the characters in a slash story lovers leads to the question
of whether they are gay. Some slash stories explicitly situate the characters
as gay or bisexual people facing a homophobic society; others briefly
raise the problem of homophobia only to dismiss it; and some deny that
the lovers are "gay" at all. Some stories relocate the characters
into science fictional or fantasy contexts, putting them in cultures
which are not homophobic or in which "sexual orientation"
itself may be a meaningless concept. For some fans, a queer awareness
is a crucial part of slash; for others, it is irrelevant or intrusive.
The question of whether slash is or should be about gay and bisexual
men, the existence of homophobia both in slash writing and among slash
fans, and the relationship between gay male and female sexualities have
been topics of conversation and debate in the apas since the founding
of the TNU. In the first few issues of the apa, several fans explicitly
connected their own sexual and political orientations with their enjoyment
"I am a lesbian, so some of my approach to slash is political
-- I want to see how a gay couple (of any gender) reacts to and is reacted
to by their society. The stories that assume society accepts such couples
without question are a lovely relief and often fun to read, since they
can concentrate on the individuals and their relationship. Stories which
try to face a here-and-now reaction to homosexuality are more, well,
contemporary and realistic (though I admit they're more fun to write
than to read...usually). [...] I firmly agree that much attraction in
slash is the concentration on what is common to all humans, since sexual
differentiation has been bypassed. The characters have to relate as
different individuals, not as members of different sexes."
--Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 2, May 1990
Fans who see queer identity as part of slash are distressed by what
they see as evidence of homophobia in the slash community. Nina's and
Shoshanna's comments, below, sparked continuing discussion.
"Most people who are involved in slash fandom are hetero women.
Some of these women bring their own homophobic baggage into slash fandom.
They thrill at the idea of two men doing it, and they see themselves
as INCREDIBLY open-minded. But this sort of fan would be repulsed by
the idea of two women doing it. [...] Homophobic slash fans also tend
to say things such as '(the partners) aren't Gay, they're heterosexual
men who just HAPPEN to fall in love with each other.' I've even read
a letter in a Kirk/Spock letterzine where a fan said that K & S
aren't 'limp-wristed faggots; they're MEN!'
Fortunately, I've met many slash fans who aren't homophobic. They speak
out for Gay rights, and sometimes do such things as volunteer for AIDS
organizations. And they'll speak out for Lesbian as well as Gay male
rights. When I show them my Uhura/Saavik story, they read it with interest
and curiosity. [...] I have a feeling that Lesbian slash makes some
women uncomfortable because they fear exploring the varied aspects of
their own sexuality."
--Nina Boal, "Lavender Lilies," TNU 2, May 1990
"Having recently read a huge stack of Bodie/Doyle and Napoleon/Illya
slash, I'm on a slow burn about homophobia in the genre. [...] Many
writers generally accept without thought, as something natural and inevitable,
the marginalization of gay people, pairings and love which straight
society tries to impose, and participate in it, continue it, in their
stories. Sometimes it's the 'they're not gay, they just love each other'
excuse (which I paraphrase as 'we're not gay, we just fuck each other.')
Often the authors seem to think that it wouldn't bother the characters
to have to hide (which N/I would have worse than B/D, since they're
ten years earlier), that they wouldn't get frustrated and humiliated
and angry. Blake's 7 slash is generally not so bad at this, but often
only because they haven't got a conveniently handy tawdry gay underculture
to denigrate. ("Have you ever -- done this with a man before, Napoleon?'
'Y-yes...but they were only one night stands; it's never been like this
before.") The 'it's never been like this before' can be another
form of marginalization by putting the love affair on a pedestal-- it's
so wonderful nothing else could ever compare, therefore it is entirely
different from everything else and has no relation with anything else.
(It can also easily slip into really dreadful misogyny -- 'no woman
could ever understand/be so good a lover/make him feel so secure.')
Without denying the existence of homophobia, both in their settings
and quite possibly in the characters themselves [...] it is still possible
to create a story in which the men are gay and human both."
-- Shoshanna Green, "For the World is Hollow and I Fell Off the
Edge," TNU 2, May 1990
"'They're Not Really Gay, But...' usually goads me too! Often
though, it's a matter of whether that opinion is that of the author
or of the characters. Denial is part of coming out, and a couple of
old closet cases like Illya and Napoleon really would have a hard time
with that. I can believe they'd deny it to themselves even while they
were doing it -- but a good writer will make it clear that's a symptom
of their times, their agency, their lifestyles and NOT something the
reader is expected to agree with. [...] I'm not defending homophobic
slash with these comments. They only touch on a couple of borderline
cases to try to clearly see that line and fine-tune the definition.
There is homophobic slash. It's ugly. Most of the time it's repulsively
blatant. Liked your point about 'It's So Wonderful Nothing Else Could
Ever Compare.' What I find ironic is that both excuses are things I've
heard often from people in the process of coming out. At the point where
they haven't come out to themselves and they're scared to death. These
ideas can be gut-real and gritty if the writer knows what comes next
in the process and makes some progress towards getting there -- or points
up the tragedy of it if the characters don't grow. [...] Is it possible
that this type of homophobic story is the same process for the writer?
That slash writers who aren't gay still have to go through a process
of coming out to themselves about their own stories and accepting that
they like them? "
-- Adrian Morgan, "Criminal Love," TNU 3, August 1990
"Nice to know I'm not the only one who gets annoyed with slash
fiction where the characters never have to worry about being openly
gay, and other unrealistic depictions of gay/lesbian/bi life. Another
thing that boggles my mind to no end is the type of slash story where
A is desperately in love with B and the fan author decides to solve
it by simply having character A blurt out his undying love to B without
ever having given a thought to B's reaction to the news that A is gay
in addition to his being in love with B. Super-unrealistic happy ending!
I'm not against happy endings but such hastily written stories leave
out the weeks or months of soul-searching it takes to work up the courage
to approach that other person who is of your own gender because you
don't know whether or not she is straight. Sometimes, I've had a crush
on another woman and I've never told her my true feelings for her because
I was so in love that I was afraid of losing a friendship...forever."
-- Nola Frame-Gray, "Wonderframe," TNU 5, February 1991
"I have heard the statement a lot that many female writers, particularly
the early ones, are not interested in writing about gay men. I have
heard and read the rationales behind this many times. I'm still baffled
by the whole issue. For me, it is vitally important that slash IS about
gay men (and/or lesbians). Slash doesn't work for me unless the characters
are clearly gay (even if they are in various stages of denial about
it). The vibrant fantasy here for me is that the flaming hets I see
on TV come out of the closet and turn out actually to be GAY!!!!"
-- Nina Boal, "Lavender Lilies," TNU 7, August 1991
But, for other fans, slash is not a gay genre and should not be
evaluated by political criteria.
"Homosexuality has as much to do with Slash as Civil War history
did with Gone With The Wind. Burning Atlanta gave Scarlet something
to deal with and homosexuality has given Bodie and Doyle something to
deal with -- sodomy. But GWTW wasn't about the causes of the Civil War,
the plantation economy, battle strategy and slavery, just as slash isn't
about gay rights, creating positive gay identities for Bodie and Doyle,
or exploring the gay male sex scene.
Two heterosexual males becoming involved in a sexual relationship is
my standard definition of slash. Why specifically 'heterosexual' males?
Because I view slash as a product of female sexuality, and I'll be frank
here [...] slash is an intricate part of MY sexuality and a sexual outlet.
Bodie and Doyle are both men, so homosexual is technically accurate,
but hardcore porn is technically heterosexual but I don't see my sexuality
in that, either. What I want as a woman, how I view sex and intimacy
is not reflected in male homosexuality.
My attraction to a fandom starts with the televised character. If I
am attracted physically to at least one guy and the character lends
itself to being slash (this isn't a given with me), then I'm hooked.
I am not physically attracted to homosexual men. Portraying Bodie and
Doyle in a 'realistic' gay milieu is taking them from the realm of my
Two heterosexual males becoming involved in a sexual relationship.[...]
To me slash is the process of getting these characters into bed.[...]
This process can be Pon Farr, a knock on the head, the gradual dawning
of whatever lust/love, the point is that beginning with the aired characterizations
gives us a common starting point. And like the Math test where the teacher
wants to 'see the work' seeing the author's process X let's us recognize
the guys who end up snuggling in bed together.
Two heterosexual males becoming involved in a sexual relationship. To
say that there is no relationship between homosexuality and slash is
absurd. To say that slash is just another name for homosexuality is
equally absurd. We have appropriated men's bodies and sexual activities
for our own gratification. Sounds a lot like complaints about male porn
made by women, doesn't it? I'm waiting for a demonstration by gay men
where they carry placards complaining that we are using them as 'relationship
Three years ago I wouldn't have made a distinction between sexual and
homosexual. Since the beginning, slash writers have appropriated what
we want from the physical side, adapted it to fit female hot buttons,
and pretty much kept the relationship female oriented in terms of 'true
love,' virginity, h/c, monogamy, etc. Now the situation has changed.
Somewhere along the line, our appropriation of the physical act of homosexual
sodomy [...] has been coupled with the obligation to portray these acts
realistically and to also give the characters the emotional make-up
of homosexual men. The failure to do this is taken as evidence of the
writers 1)naivete; 2)homophobia; 3)social irresponsibility; 4) all of
My question, selfish and self-serving, is where do I fit into this?
Something that was an extension of me is now being reality checked to
fit the sexuality of a group of people who don't even READ slash because
-- like Wilford Brimley and oatmeal -- it is the right thing to do.[...]
Why is it our duty to accurately reflect the gay male experience? Is
it the duty of gay male writers to accurately portray the lives of spinster
librarians? How they interpret my life will be done through the filter
of their own sexuality?
What is the difference between the slash and gay characters? 'Slash'
characters excite by being extensions of female sexuality while the
'gay' characters excite by being a window into an alien sexuality, that
of homosexual men. It is internal vs. external in a way. The writers
who prefer their characters gay can find more conformity because they
are reworking a culture that actually exists -- that of homosexual men.
There is no island of slash men with sociological texts detailing their
behavior. To find where slash comes from we must look inside ourselves.[...]
My 'sick' stories (the one I'll never write) are the dark places in
my sexuality. The issues I will write about, power and trust, concern
me as a woman, not Bodie and Doyle as gay men. I am fulfilling my kink,
not accurately portraying the kink of gay men.
That said, if YOUR kink is gay men, then state it as a kink, not as
the realistic way to write slash or the morally responsible way or the
two letter designation that also abbreviates Personal Computers."
-- Lezlie Shell, "W.H.I.P.S., Women of Houston in Pornography,"
SBF 5, May 1994.
Barbara offers an alternative account of the relationship between
women and gay men.
"As long as you ask, I'll be happy to ramble on about how and
why slash stories are written about gay men, yet are not 'about' gay
men. (This is normally so obscure a point that I see no reason to bore
people with my fine gradations of meaning.) Slash stories are, typically,
narratives featuring two male characters from a TV show who fall in
love. And have sex, usually. This defines them as carrying on a homosexual
affair, and characterizes them as gay or bi within the meaning our society
understands. [...] At the same time, the writers are (with few exceptions)
middle-class British and American women, expressing their concerns to
an audience of peers through story-writing. Their reasons for writing
are not gay-male reasons, but female-middle-class-sexual-orientation-unspecified
reasons. The stories are written to address, not gay men, but the author's
own feelings and sometimes those of her friends and fan audience. The
male leads become metaphorical representations of the writer and, if
she communicates well enough, the story's readers.
On the level of writing that creates plot, surface detail, and setting,
a slash story about male TV characters is about gay men, and should
plausibly include gay male styles of action. (Bodie should wear leather
and not lace in public; government employees in Britain fear losing
their jobs; Starsky finds that being fucked anally feels good (or bad).)
The less immediately-obvious aspects of a story, such as theme and moral
stance, are very much governed, in slash, by the female writers' perceptions
of the world and their ideas of what is good and bad. Much slash is
primarily about love or lust -- which are shown as positive in general,
and as the catalysts for a permanent relationship. This is an expectation
trained into our culture's women. The emphasis on partnership and cooperation
(even in stories that don't postulate the characters as lovers) is also
something women are taught is important, while men more often focus
on competition. The sexual descriptions often reflect what women know
about their own erotic feelings, and omit what they don't know about
men's; extensive foreplay, for instance, and extragenital erogenous
zones are common in slash sex scenes, but not in men's descriptions
of their own sexuality.
In good writing, these two sets of meanings work together to reinforce
the overall message. Slash is so evocative and important to its fans
because the position of gay men in society and the position of women
correspond in many ways: excluded from the entrenched power structure,
emblematic of sexuality, having an often-clandestine network (or a need
for it) with other gays or women, able to communicate nonverbally with
other gays or women to a degree, suspected of even greater communication
and collaboration with other gays/women than is true, seen by straight
men as 'artistic' and 'emotional,' and so on and so on. A story about
men in a tight relationship, as a metaphor for how women see love, can
illustrate that both sexes need affection and support, that the need
is simply human. [...] The cross-gender metaphor carries much of the
bite of slash: men and male couples as symbols (not really stand-ins)
for women suggest what we feel we are, as opposed to how we're seen,
how women are forced to think of themselves, in our culture." --
Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 9, Winter/Spring
Members of the apa often debate what is and is not homophobic.
"I don't think it is (always? primarily?) homophobia that leads
to the I'm not gay, I just want to fuck you. Sometimes it is just a
cheap device to up the stakes of their relationship. In romance, the
more rivers they have to cross, more mountains they have to climb the
better. [...] I don't want to belabor the point, but if neither of them
has ever acted on a homosexual thought, it "shows" how special
their love for each other must be." -- Sandy Hereld, "But
T-shirt Slogans Are Intellectual Discourse" ...," TNU 8, November
"I don't like stories in which the author, usually through Bodie
and Doyle's mouths, maintains vehemently that they're 'not gay.' [...]
I believe that this vehement protest often indicates an underlying belief
on the part of the author as well as the characters that, first, there
are two alternatives, gay and straight; second, that being gay is distasteful
or unpleasant; third, that B & D's involvement is qualitatively
different from that of any two given men, because 'any two given men'
would be gay and B & D aren't. Their sexual love is something else,
something above, and hence not gay and distasteful.
A: Gays are icky.
B: Bodie and Doyle are not icky.
C: Therefore, Bodie and Doyle are not gay.
[...] This is homophobia. It's also a form of biphobia, if only in the
absolute invisibility of bisexuality. [...] Of course, it's possible
for the characters to think being gay is icky, while the author does
not. It's also possible for a story to be good -- well written, well
paced, good characterizations -- while still displaying political views
which I dislike."
-- Shoshanna Green, "For The World Is Hollow and I Fell Off the
Edge" TNU 8, November 1991
"Just as these intimate fantasies of ours (rape, anal sex, romance
and happily-ever-afters) need no justification, neither do the stories
that merrily ignore the threat of AIDS, syphilis or herpes. [...] Sandy,
thank you for wording so clearly the 'I'm not gay, I just want to fuck
you' argument. You said,'...if neither of them has ever acted on a homosexual
thought, it shows how special their love for each other must be.' There
is no malice on the part of the writer of such a scenario; in fact,
those people who have come to enjoy slash fan fiction generally tend
to become the greatest proponents of gay rights. It serves as a consciousness
raising tool for many of us."
-- L. S. Willard, "Wellington's Womblings," TNU 9, Winter/Spring
"I have never seen slash writing as being gay writing. Rather,
it has always struck me as being what Joanna Russ called 'the first
truly female writing' -- by women for women without any political agenda
or being filtered through the censorship of commercial publishing. Sure,
there are fannish conventions and taboos, but these have been broken
since day one. There's always howls of outrage, but that's the point
-- if we aren't free to write what we like in fandom, where are we?
This doubtlessly accounts for [another member's] perception of a lot
of fannish writing as two heterosexuals transposed on same-sex couples.
A lot of the early readers of slash seemed to me (sweeping generalization
here!) straight middleclass women from the Midwest/East. But there's
always been a much higher gay component of slash writers and readers
than what I'd observed in media fandom in general, which has brought
in a genuinely gay perspective as well." - Kathleen Resch, "I
Used to be Trek Monogamous, but Now I'm a Media Slut!," TNU 12,
FACING THE REALITY OF
How far reality should intrude on our romantic and erotic fantasies
and, indeed, when reality becomes intrusive, remains a long-debated
issue. The encroachment of AIDS upon us has given new impetus to this
old question. If slash is about gay men, as some apa members argue,
then do those characters need to be aware of safer sex practices or
confront the risks of AIDS? Responding to concerns raised by another
apa member, M. Fae, a prolific fan writer, wrote about her own treatment
"Nina, I've just done a pile of stories that deal with AIDS to
some degree or other, simply because of the time in which they were
set. I understand why a lot of people don't want to deal with it, and
that's fine, but I can't thole sweeping it under the carpet in a setting
where to ignore AIDS is both stupid and suicidal. I'm interested that
you found my story 'Silence=Death' depressing and had to write a somewhat
more upbeat sequel: isn't it a bit of a contradiction to want stories
to deal with AIDS yet not be depressing? How can it not be depressing
that Bodie has just wasted away and died, leaving an infected Doyle
behind to face his own death alone? AIDS is the bane of our existence
and before we can get people activated to fight it, we have to show
them the horror of what it is, in a way that will touch them personally,
eg. having their favorite characters suffer and die from it. I recognize
that you want to show that AIDS is not necessarily a complete destruction
of personality and living until death finally claims the patient, and
that there is still a kind of hope, but 'Silence=Death' wasn't about
that. It was about what our society, in its blindness and its deafness
and muteness, is condemning so many of our people to." -- M. Fae
Glasgow, "Two Heads are Better than One" TNU 8, November 1991
"I think that as much as we like our slash fiction set in an ideal
world where bigotry and homophobia do not exist or can at least be easily
hidden from, we need realistic stories that deal with everyday horrors.
From a purely educational point of view a slash story on AIDS may be
the only place some readers can see the grim reality of the disease.
Even today AIDS education is not exactly top of the list in health education,
at least it is not in England -- I don't know about the USA. Yes, we
need fantasy and fantasized reality but we also need the true reality
and it sounds like your [M. Fae's] AIDS stories provide that."
-- Teresa Hehir, "To Be Announced," TNU 9, Winter/Spring 1992
"I've been thinking about my reaction to AIDS stories. I guess
basically it's this; all the Professionals AIDS stories I've seen have
fallen without exception into two categories. In one, Bodie or Doyle
have to go for an AIDS test, suffer a lot during the waiting period,
but prove negative and presumably live happily ever after. In two, Bodie
or Doyle have either just died or are dying of AIDS, and that is just
another death story with AIDS as a minor twist, and for death stories
'I have a loathing of such depth that you could never measure it.' The
reality of AIDS for me is walking around for three or four days being
hit, every five minutes, with 'So this is it, he's going to die.' The
reality is having a friend who tested HIV positive, most of whose friends
tested positive, some of his friends have died of AIDS, he is now in
second-stage AIDS. The reality is for a week not even knowing if he
would get AZT and the other treatments on the NHS (and if he hadn't,
basically, he would be dead or dying now.) It lasts a lot longer. It
hurts a lot more. I'm not ready to write a story about it now.
-- Jane Carnall, "Not Cat's Darkling Zine," TNU 9, Winter/Spring
The push towards realism or explicitness in slash writing has provoked
some uncomfortable responses within the fan community. M. Fae, one of
the more "adventurous" slash writers, discussed the relationship
between her highly psychological stories to the larger slash tradition.
"Well, as a NEW fan, people would ask me what I liked most about
slash, why I had got involved in it, etc. And then would appear shocked
when I said, 'Oh, that's easy. It's the sex!' The standard answer was
still the 'love, romance, caring,' etc., and the majority were very
taken aback when I said that I was open to any fandom, as long as it
was slash and as long as we had at least two men buggering each other
into next week. Now, no-one bats an eye at that.[...]
By the way, I think there is some room for the argument that I often
don't write slash. I don't follow many of the rhythms of slash stories,
I frequently approach the same topic from a diametrically opposite point
of view from fan canon, I often discount such supposed cornerstones
of slash as love, romance, friendship, equality, trust and of course,
happily ever after. I rarely write my stories from the traditional skew
of 'how do we get them to love each other forever and/or commit to each
other?': I almost invariably write them from the point of view of 'what
makes people tick? What would motivate a man like this, if we were to
focus on this aspect of his personality?' Apart from that, it's usually
for the sex itself, or to explore some interesting question that's come
up either in the programme/book or in society in general or in slashdom
[...] I rarely feel the need to write the nicer stories, simply because
there are so many good ones already being done.[...]
I'm very well aware of my own world view colouring certain things I
do -- but equally, the characters very frequently express things that
are purely them, and opposite to me. I really don't write slash as any
kind of allegory for women's issues: they are simply allegories for
human issues, which I consider transcends the limits of gender. They
are also, to get to the core of it for me, stories of sexual and/or
emotional satisfaction, attractive fictional men manipulated as much
as possible to give as much pleasure as possible." -- M. Fae Glasgow,
"Two Heads are Better than One" TNU 10, May 1992
Have fans increasingly broken from the conventions of the traditional
romance in more recent stories? Fans have debated what to make of a
growing number of stories that incorporate less overtly "romantic"
"YOUR PORN IS OK, MY PORN IS OK
I agree with you that romantic slash is more tolerated because the fantasies
are "acceptably feminine" whereas rape, hurt/comfort etc.
are not. Looking at larger societal debates over pornography, the anti-porn
movement, when they admit to positive sexuality at all, seems to want
to distinguish between good sex (feminine sex that is relationship oriented,
caring, tender, and based in mutual love) and bad sex (typified by the
bulk of mainstream pornography, which is alienated, emotionless, sometimes
not sweet and frequently does not occur within a secure relationship).
[...] The dominant streams of thought within this movement do not allow
much room for fantasy. Somehow all fantasy and representation are seen
as leading towards actualization of the ideas or images. [...] The assumption
seems to be that our fantasies control us, not that we control our fantasies.
In many ways slash can be seen as the ideal "feminine erotica."
It is relationship oriented as hell, oh so caring and tender, and all
about love. The hiccup comes in with some of the harder edged slash
that has started to surface more recently. There is a temptation to
see romantic slash as good porn, which is to say as reflecting a feminine
sensibility, as erotica v. harder edged slash as bad porn, which is
to say reflecting a more masculine sensibility, to see it as pornography
in the negative-value-laden sense of the word. [...]
The types of fiction that provoke virulent response are precisely those
that draw on the tropes of male erotica. Those slash stories mess up
all those nice neat categories people are used to thinking in. Rape?
Tying up your partner and flogging him? Esoteric practices like pissing
into his bladder? Long tender descriptions of mutilated bodies? These
are tender scenes of love?
The damnedest part of it is, that for the most part, they are.
When slash develops s&m or b&d it usually does so in the context
of the same relationship that structures more vanilla stories about
sex and love. The relationship is consensual and the sex is the expression
of a very mutual, caring and usually permanent bond. Part of what is
curious is that the anti-porn argument suggesting that inherent power
inequalities make it impossible for women to give real consent to participate
in sexual games involving power (like s&m scenes) falls to pieces
if both characters are acknowledged as masculine. [...] But slash stories
assume that games can be just that: games. Or they assume that roleplaying
can serve some therapeutic purpose. But they virtually always see the
people as controlling the games, not the other way around. They actively
construct an argument against anti-porn fears that power differential
is fixed, that it is invariably harmful, and that pain- or power-centered
imagination and bedroom practice will corrupt the way we interact outside
the bedroom. The point of the stories is to situate these practices
in the context of a relationship and examine how they function as a
part of that relationship. [...]
Rape stories, though they may start out with male porn cliches about
desire overwhelming control, or some such, usually go on to deal with
the ramifications of the act. The point of the story isn't the rape;
it's how the characters deal with the rape. Can they salvage anything
from the wreckage created by the violence? Do they want to? Alternatively,
if the rape is rewritten (either within the course of the narrative,
or within sequels) so that it isn't really a rape (he really liked it)
the narratives still focus on the dynamics of the relationship.
Hurt/comfort stories often contain enough gore to send shivers down
the back of activists concerned with the conflation of sex and violence.
[...] How can anyone get off on seeing a character suffer from gunshot
wounds or auto accidents? Why does this so often lead to sex, and so
often to highly improbable sex, at that, while the wounded partner is
still suffering to a degree that renders erotic response improbable?
It is as if the vulnerability of the physical body is being used symbolically
to illustrate the vulnerability of the emotional makeup of men. The
breakdown of the physical body leads to a breakdown of personal barriers,
of emotional defenses. And this (in slash) leads to a breakdown of physical
barriers and to sex. Yes, there is lots of pain and suffering, sometimes
very precise descriptions of which bones are broken or which internal
organs are bruised, or how bloody the wound is, or how labored the breathing
patterns are. But once again, unlike the material I suspect h/c is implicitly
being analogized to, the hurt is not so much directly erotic as it is
the means by which a sufficient degree of vulnerability and openness
is achieved that an intimate relationship can develop.
So the sub-genres of slash that all too often provoke wondering looks,
or less polite queries as to how the fan could like that, strike me
as curious hybrids of romantic feminine-style sex and elements of masculine
porn that are central to debates concerning the availability and impact
of sexually explicit material. Those elements of the pornographic imagination
that are least accessible to many women are co-opted and explored within
the context of the familiar romantic relationship. True, romantic stories
are seen as acceptably feminine, but I would argue that slash stories
about beating your partner until his backside glows in the dark are
also "feminine" by the same criteria.
Thoughts? Does this make any sense?"
-- Cynthia Jenkins, "Menage a Deux," SBF 3, November 1993
A UNIVERSE OF ONE'S OWN
Many fans feel freer in fandom than outside of it to express themselves,
ask questions and discuss alternative viewpoints. Teresa commented on
what have been for her the benefits of participation in the slash community:
"I still find it incredible writing to people and being able to
talk about 'slash' and use all those words that polite Catholic girls
are not supposed to know (you know the ones -- penis, cock, fucking)
-- as a Catholic, I knew Sodom existed as a town, but didn't dare ask
what Sodomy was. [...] I think the reason I like slash fiction has more
to do with the emotion in the story than the act itself. Our house was
emotionally very cold. Any emotion had to be hidden -- I grew up feeling
embarrassed if I looked happy in public let alone if I cried in public.
I like the emotional romances that just don't seem to exist outside
of slash fiction. Mind you, I like the pure sex ones as well.  [...]
People like Leslie Fish and M. Fae have taught me so much about the
human body and also about the human mind. The ideas bound up in some
of these stories about what constitutes male/female good/bad acceptable/unacceptable
sex have opened my eyes to the way society forces its ideas on us. "
-- Teresa Hehir, "To Be Announced,"  TNU 9, Winter/Spring
1992;  SBF 2, August 1993
What many slash fans enjoy is the sense of creating their own culture,
of participating in the emergence of a new genre that more perfectly
expresses their own social visions and fantasies:
"What I love about fandom is the freedom we have allowed ourselves
to create and recreate our characters over and over again. Fanfic rarely
sits still. It's like a living, evolving thing, taking on its own life,
one story building on another, each writer's reality bouncing off another's
and maybe even melding together to form a whole new creation. A lot
of people would argue that we're not creative because we build on someone
else's universe rather than coming up with our own. However, I find
that fandom can be extremely creative because we have the ability to
keep changing our characters and giving them new life over and over.
We can kill and resurrect them as often as we like. We can change their
personalities and how they react to situations. We can take a character
and make him charming and sweet or coldblooded and cruel. We can give
them an infinite, always-changing life rather than the single life of
their original creation. We have given ourselves license to do whatever
we want and it's very liberating."
-- Kim Bannister, (untitled), SBF 1, May 1993
"The multiple perspectives of fandom on the same set of characters
allow us to do one thing better than virtually any other form of contemporary
literature; they allow us to know one set of characters with tremendous
depth. People are not as simple as even the most complex literary character
in a single presentation. Any breathing human being is really many people,
many of whom are contradictory. Reading overlapping versions of Ray
Doyle, for example, leads to an understanding that is in many ways more
real for its breadth and depth, detail and yes, even its contradictions.
I do not think it is coincidental that so many fans have been or are
drawn to mainstream literary universes consisting of multiple retellings
of the same sets of stories by different authors -- Arthurian myths
and the Robin Hood legends spring immediately to mind as two other 'evolving'
universes. How is what we do different?"
-- Cynthia Jenkins, "Menage a Deux," SBF 2, August 1993
"I think part of what makes slash so alluring is not so much that
it's taboo, although that does give it an extra edge, but that we create
it, our community, unhindered by all the rules of creative writing professors,
of publishers and of marketers. We create the fiction we want to read
and, more importantly, we allow ourselves to react to it. If a story
moves or amuses us, we share it; if it bothers us, we write a sequel;
if it disturbs us, we may even re-write it! We also continually recreate
the characters to fit our images of them or to explore a new idea. We
have the power and that's a very strong siren. If we want to explore
an issue or see a particular scenario, all we have to do is sit down
and write it. It gets read and instantly reacted upon in a continuing
dialogue among fans. You can't do that very often in the 'real' world.
For me, that's one of the strongest callings of slash in particular
and fandom in general."
-- Kim Bannister, "Desert Blooms," SBF 2, August 1993
"I certainly do agree with you that fanfic of any type allows
for a 'much wider range of use of sexuality.' Well hell -- it's not
commercially oriented in the usual sense, and when you have to subscribe
to commercial concerns and mores then you immediately restrict and censor
yourself. Heaven forfend (as the wee Scot [M. Fae] always says) that
fanfic should ever want to go aboveground. Fanfic's greatest strength
is that it is underground and alternative. I rejoice in a system of
government which tolerates this freedom of expression, this grassroots
explosion of communication! Marginal our efforts and our writing may
be considered, but an explosion it is and it is vast."
-- Nancy, "Two Heads are Better than One" TNU 8, November
What has sustained this discussion for more than five years is the
complex set of questions which slash poses and the absence of easy,
satisfying answers. Morgan and Barbara examine what they see as the
power and the "paradox" of slash.
"Slash makes you think. It presents you with scenarios and situations
that confront and transgress our nicely constructed ideas of the 'norm.'
It flat refuses to swallow the party line about who has what emotions
in what circumstances. It is produced, mainly by women, in an effort
to search through questions and answers about ourselves and our constructed
sexuality/identity. In slash, we do what is unthinkable, we put the
'wrong' people in bed, in the 'wrong' situations. In a world that creates
the individual's identity in terms of sexuality, we respond by challenging,
rearranging, that sexuality, that identity."
-- Morgan, "A Different Eye," SBF 3, November 1993
"Paradoxes surround slash literature. Slash has been confusing
everyone including its creators for years. But isn't this because it's
an expression of the hopelessly confusing and contradictory world women
live in, and the confused and contradictory view society has of sex?
[...] Slash is defined and shaped by women, and if it seems contradictory,
or seems to tell more than one kind of story at times, maybe there's
a reason. The writers aren't following anyone else's guidelines; they're
writing, as best they can, what they feel."
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 4, November 1990