I find this a very painful post. I do not like to notice friends of mine saying things which are unfair and not particularly logical. I also prefer to reply in comment boxes. However, I still do not have or intend to have a Livejournal account, and this particular comment was made in a Livejournal which does not permit non-Liveljournal folks’ comments. (For very good and sufficient reasons, btw.)
Second, for those who do not read much fanfic, “slash” refers to a genre in which (primarily) pre-existing media fiction characters such as, say, Kirk and Spock, are written as experiencing same sex attraction with each other, or to be actually engaging in a relationship with each other. Sometimes such characters are portrayed as being “really” homosexual, sometimes as being bisexual. Often the genre, and its writers, engage in deconstructive readings of the TV shows involved, interpreting ostensibly “straight” behavior as being instead evidence of homosexuality or bisexuality. Although more slash writers are homosexual than there used to be, it still seems to be a genre overwhelmingly written by heterosexual women, from the same principle as heterosexual males watching films about Hot Lesbian Action.
It so happens that Ataniell93, a person I know in real life, said this on her Livejournal:
“If your objection to slash is that it ‘turns straight characters gay’? And you mean all the time, not just in specific instances? Yes, Virginia, that is homophobic. Whether or not you intend it to be, it is.”
Let us examine this statement, searching and replacing its more controversial elements to reveal the essential statement itself.
Slash apparently existed before Star Trek, but Star Trek‘s where it got famous. Most people who like the show, and indeed, the creator of the show, like it in large part for the heartwarming portrayal of friendship and family among all the military characters on the starship, and particularly among the three male main characters.
Then, early on, some fans of the show (primarily female ones) begin writing fanfic which explains almost all of the male main characters’ behavior as indicating not friendship, but romantic or even destructive same sex attraction and passion. This fanfic was from the beginning meant to be “subversive” and didactic in certain ways, as well as just being fun and sexually titillating. (In fact, I seem to recall reading some early slash fans who said that writing about homosexuality and bisexuality was inherently feminist, because it subverted people’s ideas about what sexuality was and should be.)
Gee, I wonder why anyone would be distressed by fiction meant to subvert and replace the central meaning of the show with another meaning.
(Btw, Ataniell93 does point out in her post that she feels Kirk/Spock fic is extremely unlikely on a characterization basis.)
Now, it is true that in real life, people are mysterious. They grow, they change, they do incredibly odd things, and they often turn out to have secret thoughts totally different from those they openly share. Certainly my life has been full of such surprises from other people (especially since I’m one of the least people-observant folks of ALL TIME), and I suppose that on occasion, I have surprised others in the same way. I also know some of the real life people whom Ataniell93 cites.
But in general, the idea of fiction is to represent people in a way more coherent than real life. We are allowed to see people’s motives, hear their secret thoughts, and watch all the important things which happen to them — instead of having almost all these things take place in a black box or away from our observation, as they do in real life. In media fiction, the writers spend years of time drawing the characters in a certain way, to lead viewers to certain conclusions.
Gee. I wonder why people might dislike slash fiction — or indeed, any other sufficiently subversive interpretation of a show or comic or book.
In particular cases, subversion is a good tool to show where artists mess up, or why their entire worldview is subtly creepy. But when subversion becomes an entire genre, it is not being used as a tool. It is the hammer that makes every problem — indeed, everything in the writing universe — look like a nail.
Generally speaking, it seems to me that we live in a society that doesn’t need subversion of some monolithic belief system by art. Rather, art should be aiming at reconciling and healing the many scrambled, fractured, and self-conflicting belief systems of our society, trying to make us some kind of sane and healthy modus vivendi. (Obviously, individuals will differ on the details or even broad outlines of what the new system or systems should be. But I think few will disagree that our present situation has a lot of problems.)
Slash fiction as a genre does not seem to be particularly interested in healing or calming anything. Instead, it contends that anything that you or your friends settle today — even their or your sexual orientation — may change tomorrow, or next year. There will never be anybody with whom you can behave in a non-sexual way. Your sexuality will always be the most important thing about you, in fact, and yet, you will never know what it will do next (or perhaps more importantly, how the smallest acts will be interpreted by others).
So frankly, I don’t like slash fiction because I already lived through a situation like that. I called it “the wretched part of junior high which didn’t involve getting beaten up”, and then I called it “the annoying bits of college”. Since slash’s content also doesn’t titillate me or give me warm romantic fuzzies, there is absolutely no way I ever could get into slash.
(For the record, I also dislike, abhor, or just try to avoid the following genres and subgenres: hurt/comfort, purposeless hospitalfic, character torture, noncon, PWP, characters crying huge rivers, characters killing themselves for absolutely no reason, characters giving other characters overly pricey gifts, characters turning out to be serial killers, teenage girls appearing in Middle Earth, Mary Sues, and characters getting killed for no reason in a non-Joe Bob sense. I am sure that a brief visit to fanfiction.net would produce several subgenres I’ve forgotten.)
Subversion, though amusing on occasion, is for the most part annoying and adolescent. I would rather read fic where the characters act like grownups, who dealt with all this stuff long ago. (And the sooner our society likewise gets over itself and makes some enduring decisions about life, the happier I’ll be.)
Clearly, none of this reflects on the place of homosexual or bisexual characters in fanfic, or in fiction itself. That is art drawing from life, rather than a purposefully subversive reading extended to become an entire genre. To rewrite characters who onscreen are portrayed clearly as having relationships with those of the same sex, or who are supposed to be bisexual, as being “really” heterosexual people who are hiding their true orientations — that would be equally distasteful.
And if I rewrote The West Wing, and proved that every character was either really a conservative Republican or fighting against the irresistable urge to become one, and made most of them attend evangelical megachurches and pray the Sinner’s Prayer — well, I don’t think I’d have any right to claim that anyone who didn’t like it was a theiadexiophobe.
No, I’d be sure they didn’t like my changes to, or my subversive reading of, The West Wing. And if I continued this experiment with every show on the air, and attracted a lot of people to write similar works, I guarantee I’d attract a lot of unfavorable attention even from evangelical Republican Christians.
Gee, I wonder why.
But my West Wing analogy is quite apt, I think. In extreme cases, slashfic is the CleanFlicks of fandom. It gets rid of all those yucky scenes of heterosexual behavior and inserts something more appealing to decent homophilic fans.
(I point particularly to the disturbingly unfriendly treatment of Scully by some X-Files slashers — particularly odd if they truly believed she was solely Mulder’s friend. The hatred of other women, as women, occasionally displayed in such stories written by women, is truly amazing to behold. The fact that Scully-hatred became a minor fad was really more than disturbing.)
Finally, if 90% or more of human beings are heterosexual, and no information has been provided to the contrary, it is indeed logical to assume that 90% of characters will be heterosexual. (Although given writers’ affection for portraying the outliers, it would be wise to assume more like 75% or less heterosexuality of characters.) If absolutely no information has been provided, however, it is certainly fair for fanfic writers and viewers to interpret a character however they like, until otherwise informed. This being fandom, we can be sure that people will continue to interpret a character however they like, despite and even because of information provided which they dislike. But if people complain about such interpretation (and they will), I think it is distinctly unfair to claim homophobic behavior. We get exactly the same kinds of complaints about other fannish upsets of opinion.
Say someone writes a moving fanfic series about how Character X is in love with Character Y. The fact that Characters X and Y have never been in the same scene together does not prevent this, of course; rather, it leaves the field open for speculation. Later that season, Character X is shown to be in love with Character Z. The fanfic author sighs, and perhaps plots the tragic tale of how Characters X and Y broke up. The mature fan slots the series of stories into the “alternate universe” box. But the fan who’s taking all this a bit too seriously gets upset. The upset fan may come to hate Character Z for bursting that happy fanfic bubble, but such a fan was generally not intrinsically zedophobic. (Though it’s true that if Character Z happens to be black, the upset fan may reveal previously hidden racism. However, if Character Z happens to have red hair and the upset fan insists on railing against “that redheaded b*tch”, said fan probably doesn’t have deepseated prejudices against those with red hair.)
That about covers my general objections to Ataniell93′s statement. Alas that I am not better at argument, nor more concise. I am sorry that I don’t have more specific or contemporary examples in my argument, but I have to be feeling pretty bored or pretty fond of a specific author to read anything slash.
We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.