"Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking": Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows
Edited and introduced by Shoshanna Green, Cynthia Jenkins and Henry Jenkins

"Yes, fans analyze because they're fans. Or are we fans because we analyze?"
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," Strange Bedfellows #3, November 1993

"[Is slash] anything other than normal female interest in men bonking?"
-- 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" zines.

(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 romance.

(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 folk culture.

(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.

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 in television:

"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, November 1991

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 straight."
-- 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 men:

"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 studs?"
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," TNU 9, Winter/Spring 1992

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 responsibility:

"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. [...][1] 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."[2]
-- Sarah Katherine, "Writing From the Margins,"[1]TNU 12, November 1992; [2]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 misogynist?

"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 character."
-- Sarah Katherine, "Writing From the Margins," TNU 13, February 1993

"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. [...][1] 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.[2] […]
-- Barbara Tennison, "Strange Tongues," [1]TNU 3, August 1990; [2]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, May 1993

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

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 of slash.

"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 sexuality.

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 objects.' [...]

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 the above.

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 1992

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 1991

"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 1992

"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, November 1992

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 of AIDS:

"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

Others responded:
"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 1992

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" sexual content.

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

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. [1] [...] 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. "[2]
-- Teresa Hehir, "To Be Announced," [1] TNU 9, Winter/Spring 1992; [2] 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 1991

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