[META] Slash does not equal porn

Science fiction author John Scalzi and TV star Wil Wheaton are getting a lot of blogospherical mileage out of their commissioning of a piece of art by painter Jeff Zugale featuring them as cracktastic SF or fantasy characters, and their asking for “fan fiction” based on the painting. You can read about their event on Scalzi’s blog, Whatever.

It’s for a good cause, the Lupus Alliance, and they are going to pay the winner of their fiction contest.

But they made a mistake that a lot of not-inside-fandom people do. They conflated slash (romantic or intimate stories about two male characters) with porn, and then when commenters objected, they realized the mistake and corrected their terminology, and also linked to the Wikipedia entry on slash.

I see this mistake in mainstream culture all the time — anything with a gay or lesbian or queer theme is automatically assumed to be Adults Only. Which is very limiting and also not true.

One antidote to this attitude is, of course, reminders like the ficathon community known as queerlygen on Dreamwidth.org, which features fan fiction about queer characters doing stuff that doesn’t involve an intensely romantic or sexual plot. Characters who happen to be queer, having adventures, being in a relationships, fighting aliens, caring for aging parents, having a bike wreck, whatever.

Its user profile page states, “We want to create a space where people can tap into the rich range of experiences that queer and genderqueer people have, which extend far beyond simply who we fall in love with or who we take to bed. We want to challenge the idea that works featuring people who aren’t heteronormative or cisgendered are automatically ‘adult’ or unsuitable for some audiences.”

Not that erotic fiction isn’t a big part of fandom. Of course it is. But it can be slash or femmeslash and G rated, and not about romance. In 2010, this shouldn’t be news.

  • zvi

    Slash does not equal dudes, either. Slash includes female/female stories as well as male/male stories, and your post elides this. D:

  • Dana Sterling

    Zvi: I am most familiar with using the term ‘femmeslash’ to mean female/female stories; are you seeing a conflation of that term into the term ‘slash’?

    I do mention femmeslash in the conclusion, but since the post was about what would be m/m if it did somehow get written, that’s the term I used and that’s what I was thinking of. But of course femmeslash (and other kinds of relationships as well) are important categories of fanfic. It was not my intention to erase any of them here.

  • http://khellekson.wordpress.com Karen Hellekson

    I’ve seen “slash” as the umbrella term for all sorts of same-sex pairings, regardless of the gender of the characters. But I think this is a thing that is not standardized in fandom because I’ve also heard the reasoning you suggest, @Dana.

    The context of Scalzi’s post is m/m slash; the post has nothing to do with fem(me)slash.

    I wrote my own take on this very thing here. I was more struck by the bizarre “this is fan fic!” assertion. Where’s the well-known canonical source? Where’s the community of writers?

  • Dana Sterling

    Yeah, I agree that calling the stories they are soliciting “fan fiction” is kind of a stretch.

  • http://rm.livejournal.com rm

    Glad to see this being covered since I was part of the go ’round with Scalzi on this that led him to clarify.

    As to the slash/femmeslash issue. In my experience slash is generally meant to be be M/M and femmeslash is specifically designated as such. This distinction, however, frustrates me, as I think it puts fan works about queer women into a marginalized space, one that feels particularly appalling considering the numbers of queer women in fandom. It’s these little things (much like the “what’s wrong with warning for slash?” problem) we keep doing to ourselves that concern me.

    • Dana Sterling

      RM: I’m working on a future post about the history of fanfic that tackles some of this, and also zvi’s concern that femmeslash tends to get elided. It troubles me when fandom, as you put it, “puts fan works about queer woman into a marginalized space.” I know there have to be a lot of complex reasons why that happens, but yeah. Not good.

    • http://havocthecat.dreamwidth.org havocthecat

      Except that, well, when you say that “femslash is a part of slash,” well, you’re erasing f/f, because when people say “slash,” most fen think of the large quantity of m/m, and f/f is only an afterthought. Or they bust out that excuse when called out on not specifically including f/f, and they want to try to placate the femslashers. (Who are not, in fact, placated by that one the majority of the time.)

      I am SO TIRED of being an afterthought in fandom.

      Femslash has its own conventions, its own BNFs (such as we can have among such a small proportion of en), its own big fandoms, and even its own tropes. We have our own meta, our debates, discussions of what we think is or isn’t fannish or possible. We have our own wank. we encompass more than one fandom, because it’s hard for us to find one single fandom to play in, and we can’t always agree on things. But we write and create art and meta and squee all on our own.

      And we also get ignored and marginalized, not because we’re called “femslash” instead of having “slash” used as an all-inclusive term, but because people who aren’t interested in female characters just plain ignore femslash. Fandom has, in my opinion, a huge problem with prioritizing male stories. Maleness and the gay male experience is certainly considered the default.

      The thing is, I see what you’re saying, and why you’re saying it. Except, speaking as someone who is deeply enmeshed in femslash fandom, a lot of us want our differences to be acknowledged. We want to have what we have to say to be considered, not as part of the m/m perspective, but as part of the f/f perspective. I’m not marginalizing myself or ghettoizing myself. I’m asking that I and other femslashers be acknowledged, not subsumed in the overwhelming tides of m/m slashers.

      Ultimately, despite having a difference of opinion on this matter, it seems like we can both agree on the underlying causes of the problem. :)

  • Dora

    Most people I know use “slash” to mean m/m and f/f pairings both; femslash is a subset of slash. (But here’s no definition of slash that everyone agrees on.)

    • Dana Sterling

      Dora: Thanks — that’s exactly what Zvi was getting at, I think. I’m used to separating them, but I do see how they can be conflated. I in no way was wanting to suggest that f/f stories didn’t exist.

    • http://havocthecat.dreamwidth.org havocthecat

      I am not someone who writes a “subset of slash.” I am not a subcategory writer. I write femslash. I like femslash. I do not like m/m slash in the same way, or nearly so much as I like f/f. M/m has different conventions, fandoms, BNFs, different meta, different squee, different PEOPLE, most of the time. It. is. not. the. same.

      People continually have to explain over and over that “slash means m/m and f/f,” I notice, because so many people assume initially that slash means only m/m. How is it that this happening continually doesn’t clue in anyone (but the people who are regular femslash fen) that there’s a problem with the terminology?

      I understand that this sounds like specific irritation with you, and I’m sorry, but this is, in fact, years of fannish irritation and having to have the same discussion on a regular basis.

  • cofax

    I guess it depends on how you define “fanfiction” in that instance, because I can see an argument for this as RPFish fanfiction in the sense that there’s an external narrative built by both Scalzi and Wheaton’s public performance as internet personalities. So you get AU RPF.

    While I also agree there’s no community of fanwriters, I disagree that that’s an absolute requirement for something to be fanfiction. (Because such a requirement would leave out all the kids madly scribbling SGA/My Little Pony crossovers in their diaries at night…)

    • Dana Sterling

      I guess I was pondering Karen’s concern for the presence of a fan fiction reading community in her definition, if you followed the link to her blog, but yeah — there’s plenty of drawer fic out there that should count — at least that’s what it feels like to me.

      I had a childhood friend who was writing LOTR Mary Sue fan fiction and TV-based fan fiction all on her own in the early 1970s and I’m pretty sure she was doing it without connection to a community. So you’re right about that.

      *pondery*

  • http://dameruth.livejournal.com DameRuth

    It’s worth remembering that the “slash = porn/adult material” confusion still exists in some portions of fandom, too — it’s not just a mainstream issue. I’ve seen situations as recently as this year where people or fic archives have considered slash to need a warning label (regardless of content), similar to warning for explicit het sex or explicit violence in a story.

    The attitude is, correctly, being challenged more and more often and becoming increasingly rare. But it’s out there. Small wonder, maybe, that more mainstream portions of fandom are confused if even the ficcish world isn’t always consistent on the point.

    • Dana Sterling

      I was going to wait on that history of fanfic post I was doing but I may move it up, because you point out something I was really going to focus on — how societal attitudes toward queers have changed so much since the first SF slash fanfic, and how that history has affected attitudes about m/m slash.

  • http://fanbeatsman.livejournal.com/ Clare

    I always find this discussion a bit of a double-bind. On the one hand, the assumption that queer sexuality is purely hyperphysical, and that grand emotions like ~*True Love*~ are somehow exclusively the property of hetero relatonships, is undoubtedly pervasive and damaging, as is the belief that queer sexuality is by definition “adult”.

    On the other, I sometimes find the reaction discourses kind of wearying, too. The problem I have is that even when us queer people are seen as hypersexual, actual queer sex is still pathologised and made invisible wherever possible. And where we insist that we’re more than what we do in bed (which, of course, we are, and it does need saying, and that’s the double-bind), and spend so much time asserting and recuperating the emotional dimension of queer sexuality, well, queer sex is once again made invisible.

    Idk, I think my issue is that a big part of my queer politics is the desire to have all kinds of sexual expression and representations of sex be open, frank, thoughtful, and not having to be something secretive or shameful or furtive. I see writing sexually explicit slash and femslash, and in doing so exploring my queer female gaze, and coming up with new ways of representing and narrating sex, as part of that – and so when I see the assumption that slash = porn, I’m torn, between the desire to speak out against the problematic attitudes underpinning it, and not wanting to elide just how important and politicised the “adult” aspects of slash are for me. Like I said, a double-bind.

    • Dana Sterling

      What you’re saying really resonates for me! And then I combine all that with the difficulty US culture has in talking about sex in any kind of a meaningful calm way, and yeah. It’s a tough topic.

  • rez

    For an alternative view of the “slash includes femslash” question, see (for example) this discussion. I’ve come to feel that “slash includes femslash” is uncomfortably close to “man includes woman” in the way it actually functions.

    • Dana Sterling

      Thanks for the link! I want to take the opportunity to point out that unlike most blogs, in this blog we have a policy of not linking directly to Livejournal or Dreamwidth posts without explicitly getting permission from the owner of the journal — even public posts. This may seem like bending over backwards, but for TWC it’s a way respecting and taking note of the fact that fannish spaces are kind of a semi-public, “insiders” type of community, hiding in plain sight on the net, if you will. So if you are clear that the owner of the journal is fine with it being hotlinked, we can leave it as it is.

      I am less familiar with femslash than with other kinds of fan fiction and am fascinated by its history and am looking forward to exploring how its writers and readers connect with other subgenres — exploring how much overlap there really is! In fact I am working on a post about this. So thanks again.

    • rez

      Makes sense, and thanks for the correction.

    • rez

      Adding: I can’t speak for Havoc, whose post I linked to; I’ve dropped her a note with a link back to this post.

    • Dana Sterling

      Thank you; if she doesn’t want it linked we’ll delete.

      It’s a good discussion, though. For sure.

  • http://havocthecat.dreamwidth.org havocthecat

    I would prefer the link to stay. It’s public and my standard link to refer people to when they tell me “I consider femslash to be the same thing as m/m slash.” :) So the link was used for its intended purpose, and I’m rather pleased by that!

    I definitely appreciate the consideration, though. Thank you!

  • Dana Sterling

    Havoc: Thank you for confirming that you are okay with the link, and thank you for your take on the idea of femslash. I am used to giving femslash its own category, too, though just way the words are constructed can be problematic, too. as your journal post says — maybe boyslash and girlslash would be better. the way fannish coinages get going is fascinating.