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The Subtext Anxiety
by Shomeret

When I read Lucy's Apology For Criticism I identified very strongly with it even though I'm not an academic, just a gadfly with academic tendencies.  Academics aspire to be neutral observers, but gadflies love to precipitate controversy based on the belief that stirring the pot will cause new and  exciting elements to emerge.  Though gadflies are often despised as troublemakers, we honestly want to improve whatever genre we've set on its ear.  Remember that before you take a swatter to your gadflies and attempt to shoo them away.

I've been the resident gadfly in a number of fandoms. In every single one of them I've noticed an anxiety toward subtexts. Writers never like hearing about them.  There's a reason for this. When critics discuss subtexts, they are pointing out a level of interpretation that is almost always unintended by the writer.  When you write a story, you intend to communicate certain things.  Being told about something you didn't intend may be alarming or infuriating.

Fanfic writers are not the only ones that have problems with subtexts. I first encountered the subtext anxiety in a literary fandom.  I took over an ongoing fanzine series of feminist articles written about a certain science fiction writer's novels.  The author denounced any efforts to find social significance in her work from the podium during a science fiction convention when my first essay appeared.  As a gadfly, I found this to be a very encouraging sign.  I feel that my essays did inspire thought that led the fandom in creative directions for many years.

In slash the anxiety about what you are subconsciously communicating also exists. Although I am bisexual, I have been unable to complete any f/f slash because I worry so much about the potential subtexts.  Since there is so little f/f in the majority of fandoms (aside from Xena), I tend to feel very self-conscious about the sort of lesbian relationships that I would be portraying, and fear that I will misrepresent lesbians.  I always ask myself what my f/f story might be saying about lesbians in general.  Am I feeding into stereotypes?  Am I being too negative?  Am I being too positive?  I don't want to over-romanticize lesbian relationships either. I have written lesbian characters into slash stories that are primarily m/m, but the idea of putting a story out there for other fans to read that focuses on an f/f relationship sets off a panic reaction in my brain.  I have several uncompleted f/f stories in various fandoms, and one completed story that is in a state of eternal revision because it never satisfies me.

Yet there's another serious problem that slash fans have with critical analysis.  In science fiction fandom many people disapprove of science fiction getting any academic attention.  A science fiction fan once actually wrote "Get science fiction out of the classroom and back into the gutter where it belongs."  Like slash, science fiction is a despised genre.  Many fans have enjoyed their liminal status on the margins of society.  They fear science fiction becoming too respectable. In the case of slash, the legality of our writings remains a matter for contention. There is the fear that when the slash underworld is brought to the respectable world's attention through books written by academics, it is becoming too public and thus even more
vulnerable to prosecution.

Yet what about fans like myself or Lucy who post critical comments for other fans to read?  This may also seem threatening to those who fear public attention. Even when we post slashfic on the internet many of us feel that we are not being public.  Our sites may be known only to slash fans in our particular fandom.  Our lists may be restricted or even closed to everyone except the current members.  The belief that we are exposing ourselves only to other peers in the slash community makes us feel safe and secure.  It may be that we critics are regarded as outsiders who are endangering slash even though we are members of the slash community.

How can critics reassure those who are anxious about the consequences of our work?  I can't answer that question.  No one can fully predict all the consequences of any action.  I do know that I don't intend harm to individual slash writers or to slash in general.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction from helping writers privately as a beta reader, and I always hope that any public comments I might make about a story will end up being an impetus to writers, inspiring them to create ever more fascinating and powerful slash texts for me to analyze.

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