It’s two weeks before Valentine’s Day folks. The day of built up expectations and chronic depression, of obligatory romance and likely disappointment. Valentine’s Day is can be pretty depressing for those who aren’t in a relationship when February 14th comes around. Which is why I’d like to do some posts about women, men, and sexuality that don’t have to do with relationships. (Take that Cosmo!)
For the next two weeks I’m going to explore Slash fans, working women, female masturbation, women directors, Zooey Deschanel films, and constructions of masculinity and femininity in Star Wars, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones. Let’s open with this video. Because everything should open with this video.
Any same-gender relationship that appears to be more than “just good friends.” Primarily used for male/male relationships, partly because male intimate friendships tend to be more tabooed in conservative cultures and partly because it’s more attractive to the kind of people who write fanfic.
This homoeroticism has become fetishized in the fan communities, particularly among fan fiction writers. For those who don’t know the term fan fiction, I offer two explanations: 1) From TV Tropes and 2) my friend Jessica’s blog Feeling Elephants. (I lean more towards the TV Tropes definition because I feel that using the word “fan” to describe the authors of Wide Sargasso Sea and Wicked is to do a disservice to them. A view I elaborated on for Jessica’s feature on fan fiction. You can read it here.)
Anyway, this homoeroticism is often brought to the surface in fan fiction to pretty much become outright homosexuality, often with explicit sexual content. The fan term for this is “Slash,” as in Holmes/Watson, Sam/Dean, Kirk/Spock, Harry/Malfoy, etc. (The term has been sometimes carried over to heterosexual pairings but doesn’t seem to be widely accepted as such.)
I’ll allow Dean and Sam from Supernatural to illustrate the icky parts of this interest:
Slash has a pretty long history in the fan fiction community, and it’s fitting to see it in connection with Sherlock Holmes, considering the Sherlock Holmes stories were one of the first franchises to develop a fan fiction community when the fans rebelled against Conan Doyle killing off Holmes and decided to write and publish some stories themselves.
The term “fan fiction” didn’t really appear until the original Star Trek fanbase found each other, but soon Kirk/Spock was the first real example of overt slash in terms of the stuff that was published in [explicit] fan magazines.
Slash sometimes seems to dominate the fanfiction community, probably because it’s the easiest thing to sensationalize. Why do all these women (yes, fanfiction writers tend to be women.) like having all these sci-fi and fantasy characters bone each other all the time? Even the ones that it makes absolutely no sense for them to be romantically involved with each other? And why do they publish it?
Well, for one, sometimes the grounds for a sexual relationship actually are there. Just look at this passage (from an actual Sherlock Holmes story):
Clearly our moment had come. Holmes touched my wrist as a signal, and together we stole across to the open trap-door. Gently as we moved, however, the old floor must have creaked under our feet, for the head of our American, peering anxiously round, emerged suddenly from the open space. His face turned upon us with a glare of baffled rage, which gradually softened into a rather shamefaced grin as he realized that two pistols were pointed at his head.
“Well, well!” said he coolly as he scrambled to the surface. “I guess you have been one too many for me, Mr. Holmes. Saw through my game, I suppose, and played me for a sucker from the first. Well, sir, I hand it to you; you have me beat and –”
In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes’s pistol came down on the man’s head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair.
“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”
It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
“It’s nothing, Holmes. It’s a mere scratch.”
He had ripped up my trousers with his pocket-knife.
“You are right,” he cried with an immense sigh of relief. “It is quite superficial.” His face set like flint as he glared at our prisoner, who was sitting up with a dazed face. “By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive. Now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?”
He had nothing to say for himself. He only sat and scowled. I leaned on Holmes’s arm, and together we looked down into the small cellar which had been disclosed by the secret flap.” –from Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” [Italics and bold are mine.]
This is not to say that a codependent, loving, homosocial relationship always has a sexual component:
Interviewer: You [Robert Downey, Jr.] made a statement that “Holmes and Watson seem to be two men who happen to be roommates, wrestle a lot, and share a bed. It’s badass.” That might be a misquote but..
I: Of course there’s a relationship between any two men who are very connected and close and whether we should even hint at…
RDJ: Well if you hint at it or touch at it or if we meant to play it that way we certainly wouldn’t not talk about it now. The truth be told is we felt we had some understanding of what it’s like for two guys who get very intimate and in close quarters and can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other but the great thing is it was inherent in the storyline that Watson is really trying to get away from Holmes. […] He’s fallen in love. He has a practice. You know that situation. “I love you dude but I have to maintain my…I have a real life outside of clubbing and gallivanting and almost getting beat down by bouncers for you.” […]
Jude Law: It’s also sort of sad that people always think codependency means that there’s something sexual going on. These are two guys who need each other’s company, don’t want each other’s company, support each other, back each other up on their failings. There doesn’t need to be something sexual in there. It’s friendship.
[You can watch the whole interview here.]
Why do these fanfic writers see things that [supposedly] aren’t there? A little thing called desire. Sex columnist Dan Savage has a pretty awesome rule about your personal sexuality. Be good, be giving, be game and don’t apologize for what you like.
Male homosexuality is a turn on for many women, just as female homosexuality is a turn-on for many men. Because female sexuality tends to be taboo in general, a lot of women don’t feel comfortable watching straight or gay pornography. In a world where most stars of television shows, films, and books are male and the female love interests tend to lack dimension, is it a surprise that slash is popular?
These stories don’t have to be based in canon because that’s not what they’re for. (And yes, there is fan fiction that expands universes in interesting and creative ways. Some of it even involves slash. I haven’t read any, but I don’t read a lot of fan fiction.)
Not that queering popular stories isn’t an important reading that needs to be and is done by critics every day. It’s why the discipline of Queer Studies exists. It’s how we further gay rights, by refusing to let homosexual love and homoeroticism be invisible. But even if a fangirl’s love for slash goes deeper than sexuality to an academic and political core, it shouldn’t have to.
It’s okay to write and read what you like. It’s okay for women (and men) to fantasize. Fantasy is great. Though I don’t really enjoy reading slash, I’m glad that writers feel comfortable enough with themselves and their sexuality to publicize their fantasies, their experiments in human sexuality. It’s healthy, and it’s sexy.
Before you go, a few more slash fanvids because they’re entertaining either way.
Classic Star Trek again, utilizing Katy Perry:
Warning: Both Wincest (i.e. slash between the two brothers from Supernatural) and Taylor Swift. I’m pretty sure I’m posting this ironically.
And finally Lady Gaga and the Star Trek reboot:
If you have other fan videos you really like feel free to post them in the comments.
Happy Single People’s Week(s) everybody! I made my own holiday(s). HA!