Is Methos a Woman?
The proximate cause of this column is "My God Spock, You're A Woman" by Rachel Shave. She suggested that the symbolic woman dynamic might be applied to forms of slash other than K/S. Those who were around K/S fandom when the Joanna Russ essay that Rachel discusses ("Pornography By Women For Women, With Love" in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts, CrossingPress, 1985 for those who didn't read Rachel's essay) was published, know how controversial it was in K/S fandom. Russ' analysis was widely rejected. Expanding her theory to other fandoms would probably be equally controversial, but I think that this discussion provides a useful departure point for addressing the dynamics in Duncan/Methos fanfic.
I don't ask whether Methos is a woman because I think that is really the case, but something is going on in D/M fic that has made me uncomfortable for quite some time, and I am apparently not the only one. In Redressing a power imbalance by Rachael Sabotini, Rachael protests the predominant portrayal of Methos as passive in fanfic dealing with a slash relationship between the ROG and Duncan MacLeod. As a Methos fan she wants to see him as active and heroic. She cites instances from HL episodes in which Methos shows himself to be heroic. So we know from the evidence of canon that the ROG continually behaves in contradiction to his own anti-heroic philosophy and that he is really far from passive. Why would so many fans portray him that way?
I have seen an insistence among some slash fans that Methos is gay. On the face of it, this goes completely against canon. Even if we assume that his romance with Alexa was never consummated because of her failing health, the flashback scene in Indiscretions in which the ROG definitely does the horizontal mambo with the slave Charlotte, would seem to be an indication of flagrant heterosexual tendencies. How can any fans call him gay?
Fanfic in general is based on the premise that the aired episodes represent only a small percentage of the characters' lives. This is particularly true of immortals on Highlander. Centuries or even millennia of their existence have never appeared on HL: TS flashbacks.
Slash exists because television is misleading about sexuality. If we accepted what we are shown on television as the truth about the general population, then we would have to conclude that 99.9% of people are 100% heterosexual. I hope I don't need to furnish statistics to prove that this is highly inaccurate. The few exceptions to the nearly uniform heterosexuality among continuing series characters are relatively recent. The bisexual Bayliss on Homicide provides an interesting opportunity for slash fans, but the fans of most series are not so fortunate. Slash fans are almost always forced to go outside canon. The fanfic impulse to elaborate on the characters' lives beyond series canon is the foundation for this slashfic.
Since Methos is 5000 years old, it is reasonable for HL slash fans to conclude that Methos might easily have a history of sexual relationships with men that has never been mentioned on the series. In the context of canon, many fans feel that there are slashy implications in The Modern Prometheus or the double quickening in Revelations: 6:8, but this is not explicit. Gen fans of HL don't perceive these implications and wonder what slash fans are talking about. It makes sense to me to hypothesize that any character has the potential to be bisexual for the purposes of slash, and I would certainly include Methos in this hypothesis.
Yet the same slash fans who insist that Methos is gay, tend to also insist that Duncan MacLeod is 100% heterosexual, and never had any sexual experience with a man until he uncharacteristically falls in love with Methos. Methos is an exception for him, and he often struggles with internalized prejudices about homosexuality in D/M fanfic. These fans say that Duncan was born in a homophobic culture. Yet he is 400 years old. He may be a child compared to Methos, but he has been around the block a few times. He has traveled to a wide variety of cultures and expanded his horizons in a number of areas. He has changed his mind about Jacobitism, and the value of fighting in mortal wars over the centuries. Why couldn't he also change his mind about homosexuality in the light of his experiences? It is also true that homosexuality existed in Scotland historically. There was even a homosexual Stuart monarch. So Duncan may have been exposed to homosexuality in the culture of his birth. I feel that any immortal who has lived more than a century has seen enough of changing sexual practices and mores about sexuality around the world to be included in the category of characters who may be potentially bisexual for the purposes of slash. To me, this is self-evident. I have never accepted Duncan as a heterosexual who is making an exception for Methos. This approach to slash has always been alien to me.
The idea that characters are heterosexual and making an exception to their heterosexuality in slash is not a new one. It was a common belief in K/S fandom from the beginning. I railed against this concept in K/S newsletters. Why couldn't Kirk and Spock be potentially bisexual? In the early stage of slash development this was rarely considered as an option for the characters. Most K/S fans thought that Kirk and Spock were both too macho. They could never imagine such masculine men in gay bars or with other male partners. Although I have not been active in K/S fandom recently, I believe that Kirk and Spock making an exception for each other is still the dominant paradigm in K/S.
I consider this approach a prejudice based on stereotypes about gay men. As someone who has associated with gay men since the seventies, I am aware that gay men cannot be defined by a single set of traits. The Stonewall Riot in 1969 had a major impact on the way many gay men viewed themselves. It became fashionable to be macho and assume macho personas in the gay community. Although the participation of gay male transvestites in the Stonewall Riot is well-known, post-Stonewall politics have not validated effeminacy. Yet the stereotypical view that all gay men are effeminate has persisted. Effeminate means behaving like a woman. The same cluster of traits that define womanhood in the realm of stereotype also define gay men. This is not a coincidence. Our culture is dominated by heterosexual men who have an investment in perceiving women and gay men as subjugated and passive. When women and gay men fall outside these stereotypes, the status quo is threatened.
So it seems to me that Methos is being portrayed as passive in D/M slashfic because he is believed to be gay, just as Duncan is portrayed as active in these stories because he is perceived to be totally heterosexual. These fans have built a house of cards based on a foundation of outmoded stereotypes, and it's high time that it toppled to the ground.
There is some HL slashfic that transcends stereotypical attitudes. I congratulate Bone for her lovely rendition of a slash relationship from Duncan's past in her story "An Uncommon Want" which I regard as one of the finest D/M stories ever written. I am enthralled by the portrayal of Duncan in Zen and Nancy's HL/Sentinel crossover saga. This is a Duncan who is as masculine as always, yet he is not enmired in homophobia and has no problem accepting his sexual relationships with Blair and Jim. I think that Zen and Nancy made this decision because the position of recovering homophobe was taken. It was dramatically necessary for Jim Ellison to assume this role. I personally feel that it's far more realistic for a mortal cop to suffer from angst over homosexuality, then to ascribe this to an immortal who has been to China, Japan, India and many other places where his Western values would have been challenged.
I sincerely hope that I will see more stereotype-smashing in D/M fanfic. Bone, Zen and Nancy have led the way. Maybe this essay can bring about some fruitful dialogue that will be an impetus for more D/M writers to expand their portrayals. of both Duncan and Methos.