Well, as a NEW fan, people would ask me what I liked most about slash, why I had got involved in it, etc. And then would appear shocked when I said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s the sex!” The standard answer was still the “love, romance, caring,” etc., and the majority were very taken aback when I said that I was open to any fandom, as long as it was slash and as long as we had at least two men buggering each other into next week. Now no-one bats an eye at that.
– M. Fae Glasgow, “Two Heads Are Better Than One”
When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them a reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches u s how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings.
– Henry Jenkins, “Confessions of a Male Slash Fan”
Green, S., Jenkins, C., & Jenkins, H. (1998). Normal female interest in men bonking: selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows. Theorizing fandom: Fans, subculture and identity, 9-38.
I have a soft spot for this paper for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it addresses what I jokingly refer to as the foundational question of Fan Studies: why do straight women enjoy writing about men banging? (There are of course many answers to this, one of which is that we’re nothing like as straight as we may have initially appeared.) Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking is rather unorthodox for a research paper. Recognising that we fans are perfectly capable of theorising our own experiences, Jenkins worked with two fellow fans to pull together extracts from fan discussions on a couple of mailing lists he himself was a member of. Green, Jenkins and Jenkins grouped these into several themes: Watching Television, Creating Slash; Rewriting Masculinity; Misogyny; Homophobia and Gay Identity; Inappropriate Fantasies; A Universe of One’s Own. There is very little editorialising or analysis from Jenkins here – rather, he lets fans speak for themselves. What emerges is a complex picture of a diverse, sometimes discordant community in all its glory. Jenkins himself speaks as a fan on one or two occasions – a different voice to that of Jenkins the scholar.
First published in 1998, some of the views and debates expressed in Normal Female Interest may seem a little dated, but others are still remarkably relevant to today’s fan communities. This paper is both a fascinating look into fandom’s past and a great challenge to how we do Fan Studies.