originally published September 22, 2013
I’m not going to lie, today’s topic passed the border between odd and skull-thwackingly screwy about a mile and a half ago, didn’t pay the toll and stomped on the gas without losing a beat. As a writer who has often struggled in the snowy scavenger hunt for inspiration, I understand that stomping out a wholly new and fresh path can be daunting. This is why I don’t have a problem with fan-fiction, at least as an exercise.
Frowning at a blank screen, refusing to plunk a single consonant onto the page until you’re certain your characters will be afforded the appropriate amount of depth and intrigue is not going to make you a writer. If it helps to grease your gears by penning a fresh adventure starring Ferris Bueller and his buddy Cameron, go for it.
Just don’t ask me to read it. And if your fresh adventure involves the two characters having sweaty sex in the passenger seat of that 1961 Ferrari GT California, then… well, now you’re riding down the crazed highway of today’s topic. Yes, this is a real thing and they call it slash fiction.
Slash fiction is not, as some may believe, just another bi-product of the twisted collective brain-squirts known as the internet. Its origins date back to the late 1970’s, when people (often young female fans) began penning fan-fiction involving Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in a relationship that stretches its toes a little beyond the implied bromance of the show. These stories were usually differentiated from the standard fan-fic entries via punctuation; a Kirk & Spock story was simply a tale of the two characters, but a Kirk/Spock story could include hand-holding, kissing, or some full-on Vulcan wang-melding.
This would be so easy to dismiss as the squishy hormone-soaked hammerings of teenage girls upon hungry typewriters, except that as early as 1985 respected authors like Joanna Russ were looking at the phenomenon through academic eyes. By definition slash fiction involves male characters, which suggests either an unprecedented expression of homosexual tolerance in the late 20th century or a curiosity regarding the boundaries of a close male-male friendship.
These were the early days of fandom, when devotees had to share their mutual love of a movie or show via postage, phone calls or meeting in person. While I have no idea how someone would approach a friend and say, “Dude, I just wrote this story. Starsky totally does Hutch on the hood of his Gran Torino,” somehow these stories were written and distributed en masse among those who weren’t completely skeeved out by the idea.
Slash fiction has never been embraced as a key component of queer theory, that post-structuralist analysis of homosexuality in culture. While it’s significant that the majority of slash involves man-on-man action, its authors are often foregoing a textured and thoughtful analysis of the homosexual experience. That said, the genre stands in complete opposition of the mandatorily hetero romances that have defined sci-fi and fantasy throughout most of history. So while this stuff won’t be compiled in leather-bound tomes in your local library, there is a cultural statement being made here.
While the Winchester brothers on the show Supernatural appear to be the focus of a disturbing amount of slash fiction (called ‘Wincest’ by its fanbase, combining the brothers’ last name with ‘incest’), slash-fic etiquette appears to vary from series to series. Same-sex pairings among homosexual or bisexual characters (like Willow and Tara from Buffy) is frowned upon. Also, as Mulder/Scully sex stories began peppering bulletin boards and Usenet groups throughout the 90’s, slash purists shook them off as non-genuine due to their heterosexual nature.
Transsexual and transgender themes found their way into slash stories, prompting another debate as to whether or not they counted as true slash. Once the internet showed up to bridge together all the weirdness in the world, these debates became wider and louder. You may be scrunching up your nose in disgust at the thought of Seinfeld and George getting it on, but somewhere there’s somebody who takes that idea really seriously.
LucasFilm was firing off cease-and-desist letters to fans who were writing sexually explicit Han-boning-Chewie stories as early as 1981. J.K. Rowling is a big supporter of fan-fiction, even linking to some of her favorites from her website, but she has made a point of stating that tales involving Harry and Draco boinking are definitely not canon.
These stories have even crossed into classical literature, with popular author Ann Herendeen’s bizarre takes on historic characters. In Pride/Prejudice she posits a couple of same-sex relationships between characters from the Jane Austen novel.
So where does it end? And how much popular acceptance are these stories going to acquire?
There are probably a dozen annual conventions for slash fiction around the world, mostly in (surprise) the United States. The genre has been around so long it has developed its own terminology and yes, subgenres. A No-Lemon story features no explicit content. A Squick is a warning in the story’s header about some of the more controversial components therein (like rape, incest, or… male pregnancy?).
Femslash features a focus on female-female relationships. Captain Janeway/Seven-of-Nine was the most common Star Trek pairing in this subgenre, though I’m sure you could call that twisted Monica-Rachel-Phoebe triumvirate you’ve always wanted to write as a legit example. These stories are actually quite uncommon, partly because heterosexual girls tend not to have an interest in writing them, but also because there aren’t a lot of fandom-inspiring series with two strong female characters.
Chanslash refers to slash stories involving underage characters. Somehow child pornography is a universally accepted taboo, yet these stories (and artwork) are considered groovy among their fans. Someone needs to draw a line in the sand here.
As boy bands became one of the more insipidly adhesive phenomena of the 1990’s music scene, real-person slash also became a thing. People wrote stories that paired up Joey Fatone and Justin Timberlake because why not? I suppose somewhere there was some twisted brain penning a hot sauna encounter between Al Gore and Secretary of State Warren Christopher. It’s the internet – everything is possible.
If slash fiction is not your cup of meat today then it’s likely you’ll never develop an appetite for stepping out this particular branch of the weirdness tree. That’s fine, as long as you understand that it won’t go away, and that its earliest fans are probably in their 50’s now which almost makes this mainstream.
And if you do enjoy it, that’s okay too. Just don’t ask me to read it.