Why I Write Slash
One recent evening on IRC I fell into a discussion about slash fiction
with two friends: a woman who reads and writes slash, and a man who doesn't.
I think he was a little surprised by the whole idea. And maybe confused.
So he asked us, "Why?" He wanted to know a)why people read and write slash in general, and b)why the two of us read and write it in particular.
The "in general" question has a lot of possible answers.
One: We're taking the passive medium of television and making it active, making it interactive, transforming it from something one simply sits and watches to something one engages in. (That's an explanation for fanfic in general, not really for slash, but it's a start.)
Two: We're taking the subtext of queer romance and making it text, which neatly subverts the dominant paradigm. Hear ye, pop culture: you may think heterosexuals rule the airwaves, but we're rewriting your narrative to include a spectrum of possibilities. We're living proof of the ascendancy of postmodernism; everything is surface, and we're scripting new worlds in the interplay between episodes.
Three: Most fanfic writers are women, and in writing erotic fanfiction we're taking control of our own sexual and sensual drives. The pen is mightier than the sword, and in our hands the pen is feminine. When you look at the scope of recorded human history, women haven't been writing for very long. So writing is, in some way, a subversive act. When you look at the scope of recorded human sexuality, women haven't been in control of our bodies for very long. So writing about sex is twice as subversive as writing. Writing slash fiction is radical.
I think our friend followed these arguments pretty well. But he kept referring to what we write as "gay porn," which bothered me. I don't write porn. I'm not knocking porn; if it's what you're into, it's what you're into. But there's so much more to writing slash than triple-X language. When I write stories or poems about Jim and Blair, I'm not just getting my rocks off; I'm indulging my inner romantic.
My inner romantic loves to play with The Sentinel. Is it "true to the story" of TS to
write Jim and Blair as lovers? Certainly it changes things. Watching TS with slashy
eyes one sees all sorts of things that might or might not "really" be there. (That's the nature of subtext, after all.) What I like about it is that slash transforms the show, transforms its universe. And isn't that what romance does, in the best of all possible worlds? Think of the first time you realized that someone loved you back, wanted you back, needed you back: didn't that transform your universe? That's what we're doing for Jim and Blair. We're creating their world anew.
Slash fiction is a shared universe. It's a community. And the friend who doesn't get slash, doesn't really get internet community either. He's afraid it draws us away from our RL communities, leaving us further alienated. On the one hand, I can see his point; reading and writing slash fiction and poetry can be a kind of escapism, at least for me. It's delicious. It's low-pressure. It's an easy thing to and it keeps me at my desk instead of out in the world. Yes, I have qualms about internet community sometimes.
On the other hand, I think community is a complicated thing. The best comparison I've come up with is, the slash fiction community is kind of like the Jewish community. There are Jews all over the world; there are slash fen all over the world. I'm similar to some Jews and dissimilar to others; likewise with slash fen. The ideas and stories and beliefs of some Jews delight me, and those of others frustrate me; again, likewise with slash fen. Sometimes I interact with Jews in person, as when I attend a synagogue or celebrate holidays with friends and family, and other times I interact with Jews online or through phone calls or letters. Again, (surprise), likewise with slash fen.
I also think it's possible to belong to several different communities, and several different kinds of communities, without conflict. I belong to a RL community where I live, and I like that. I sing in a local chorus. I work for a local paper. I also belong to a Jewish community, RL and virtual. And I belong to a community of scattered college friends. And a community of scattered former fellow madrigal singers. And a community of slash fen. Is our slashy community perfect? Do we always agree? Are we always nice to each other? No, of course not. But we're people, and we're connecting with one another, and that's a good thing.
All of this aside, our male friend seemed simultaneously fascinated and distressed by the sexual element of slash. Why would women want to read and write about men with men, he asked? "If one man is hot, two men are hotter - something men have been saying about lesbians for years," quipped my beautiful fellow slash defender.
What I think confused our friend is that we -- my fellow slash-writer and I -- aren't fitting neatly into any sexual boxes. There isn't a convenient label for a woman who writes about men with other men. Real sexual identities don't fit neatly into categories. That I read and write about a fictional gay male relationship doesn't make me less (or more) of a woman; doesn't mean I wish I were a man, straight or gay; doesn't mean anything except that I like what I'm reading and writing. Sexuality is, as someone famous put it, "polymorphously perverse." This is a perfect example. And rather than come up with increasingly detailed sexual labels, I'd rather let the labels themselves fall by the wayside.
Ultimately, this whole discussion comes down to a matter of taste. I can analyze the post-structural feminist gender implications of fanfiction as a genre until I turn blue, but fundamentally I read and write Sentinel slash fanfic because I like it. I like thinking about Jim and Blair together. It gives me some kind of emotional energy I can't put a finger on. And I find it sexy. I can't explain that any more than I can explain any other sexual kink. Some people like fairy tales, some people like Playboy, some people like m/m slash.
And if you like it, you like it; and if you don't, you don't. I'm not sure there's much of a way around that. I like it. So that's why I read and write it. And now you know.