Why I Like Slash

2017-11-13

I am a queer person, and I use the term queer to describe non-heterosexual/non-cisgender people. If you don’t like that term, you may not want to read this article.

There’s a nasty stigma around slash fiction that all the enjoyers and creators of it are crazy fangirls that fetish same-sex relationships between men. But in my experience, that’s only a very tiny minority. Most slash writers are women, yes, and queer women at that. Here is a forum that talks a bit about the phenomenon of transformative fiction, and why generally women and other minorities are drawn to it more than to straight, cisgender, white men. Basically, minorities enjoy expanding past, or even straight up changing, canon because they crave representation, and material they are able to relate to.

But I’m not here to get into a big conversation about demographics and socio-political zeitgeists. I want to talk about why I like gay fanfiction.

To clarify, when I say “gay”, I don’t mean just mean gay male fanfiction. I have almost as many female/female ships as I do male/male. It’s sad that, as many queer women are involved with fan fic, that the amount of femslash pales drastically in comparison to dudeslash and het fic. (More on that at this link.)

First of all, fan fiction is not exclusively smut. Sex scenes do take up a good portion of the medium, but in most cases, smut accompanies real plot lines, usually a buildup of romantic tension between characters. Most fan fiction sets up the scenario where the characters in question finally admit their feelings for each other…which is usually then followed by sex as a form of catharsis for all the romantic and sexual tension that’s built up over time. The sex is usually a celebration of the getting together, not just porn for the sake of porn.

Second of all, I mentioned above that most slash fan fiction is about two (usually white) cisgender males, written by female-aligned persons. My friend Gemma made a YouTube video about that phenomenon, which you can watch here. It’s easy to pass off male/male fan fiction as young straight women using it as masturbatory material, but, I also stated that most slash fiction writers are queer themselves. So why would gay (I’m using that as an umbrella term here) women spend their time writing about the relations between two men? Sexually, aesthetically, and emotionally, what do homosexual relationships between men have to do with us?

Right now, on Fanfiction.net, the dominating fandom in TV is Supernatural, with over 120,000 fan fictions written for it. On Archive of Our Own, the number of fan fictions is over 170,000. Of those AO3 fan fictions, the top three most commonly written about pairings are all gay relationships between two white men, one of which is incestuous. Dean Winchester/Castiel (Destiel) takes up almost 40%, Dean Winchester/Sam Winchester takes up 14%, and Sam Winchester/Gabriel takes up 6%.

The loathsome BBC Sherlock series has 102,021 fan fics (as of this writing) on AO3, and over 50% of them are Johnlock. Again, two white guys. This leaves the next dominant pairing of the fandom, Sherlock/Molly, in the dust with only 6855 (currently) fics to its name.

And the pattern continues. Marvel Cinematic Universe? Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes, Steve/Tony Stark, and Clint Barton/Phil Coulson. BBC Merlin? Merlin/Arthur. The entire pantheon of Star Trek? Kirk/Spock. All of Star Wars? Kylo Ren/Hux. ALL WHITE GUYS.

But, maybe with the exception of Kylux, pretty much all of the fandoms I just named all feature white men as their main characters. They are the most developed and central to the story. And usually, their connection to each other is the most meaningful, even though both parties may have female love interests in their life:

  • Except for his brother, Dean Winchester’s most important connection is to Castiel. The angel even says himself that he and Dean have a “profound bond”. Even though Dean’s supposed “love of his life” is a woman named Lisa, who is promptly shunted to the side whenever the plot shows up and eventually put on a bus, never to return to the show.
  • Bucky Barnes is Steve’s best friend for life, and when forced to choose between Bucky and his loyalty to the Avengers (not to mention his own personal freedom and safety), Steve picks Bucky without a moment’s hesitation. Even though Steve is maybe? dating Peggy Carter’s niece?
  • And everyone, even non-slashers, sings praises to the deep friendship of Kirk and Spock, the slash pairing that more or less started it all. Even Gene Roddenberry himself wrote into the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that their connection “had been the touching of two minds which the old poets of Spock’s home planet had proclaimed as superior even to the wild physical love which affected Vulcans every seventh year during pon farr” and called them soulmates. Even though Kirk is the essential “ladies’ man” and Spock is “supposed” to have no feelings.

Even a fandom like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which is dominated by strong female characters, a good amount of which are lesbians/queer, the second most popular relationship tag on AO3 is a non-canon m/m pairing (two white dudes, of course; ones who have little to no significant interaction, I may add). The first and third are het couples, and the very prominent lesbian pairing that is canon comes fourth.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. The Once Upon A Time fandom (I wrote a bit about feminism, or lack thereof, in the show in this post), despite the fervor of the Emma Swan/Captain Hook shippers, currently has more Emma/Regina Mills fics on AO3 than any other pairing. A f/f pairing! And one of them is sort of a WOC! (Lana Parrilla is Latina, but her character isn’t necessarily. I mean, Mills is a pretty white last name.)

But this is not about me trying to convince you to ship what I ship, or even have a deep in-depth conversation about the nuances of fandoms in cases of race, gender, or sexuality. I’m just trying to explain why I like slash.

Kirk and Spock. Dean and Cas. Steve and Bucky. Holmes and Watson. These are indelible bonds that endure the test of time. Kirk loved Spock so much, he threw away his entire career just for the chance to bring him back from the dead. And to quote the greatest movie of all time: death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

When I ship characters together, it’s not because of how attractive they are or if I think they’d have hot sex scenes together. I see this connection between them, this kindredness in their souls that scream that they are at their strongest together, and that they make each other feel whole and content. And I’m sorry to say, but I usually see that in pop culture between the main man and his “bro” rather than between the two heterosexual love interests. Very seldom do I see the protagonist and their opposite sex partner share that intense yet tender bond (there are the exceptions: Buffy and Angel, Smallville‘s Clark and Lois). Maybe that’s because screenwriters don’t know how to write meaningful romance. Or maybe actors have trouble portraying that deep need. Whatever the cause, for the most part, slash just seems to work better. So until Hollywood dramatically improves its m/f relationships, I’m gonna keep on shipping the gay. ~TRL

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Gender Starts At Childhood, Not Birth

I’ve been a member of the LGBT community for a few years, and I’ve had friends scattered all over the gender identity and sexual orientation spectrums. I don’t claim to know everything about the nuances of sex, gender identity, and romantic/sexual orientation, but I would consider myself an accepting individual, and am always open to learning more about people and their identities. So when I first encountered the idea of gender fluidity and non-binary identity, I was intrigued.

When I was born, I was declared female and I was pretty much raised that way. That’s not to say I was a girly-girl: I loved playing in the mud, I disliked jewelry and the color pink, Legos were my favorite toys, and I opted to play on the boys’ team when participating in girls vs. boys games on the playground. But I wasn’t a tomboy either; I loved playing Barbies and dress up (even though usually I was a firefighter or a railroad engineer), and I didn’t really have an interest in sports (although that was mainly because I was never good at them, not because they were “for boys”). I guess you could say that my gender expression as a young child was fairly gender neutral.

I do remember one instance when I was six where I was insisting to my mother that I was a boy, because at that time I thought of myself as a tomboy because I wasn’t super ultra-feminine like the other girls at school. Finally, my mother convinced me that I was a girl because I peed sitting down rather than standing up. But my notion that I was a boy never stemmed from a desire to actually be a boy, but rather that I should be because of the gender roles society enforces on us at youth. Never in my life have I suffered from “penis envy”. I’m glad I was born female, and I doubt I’ll ever change that.

That being said, now that I’m older, and have learned from my friends and my online community that there’s more than two genders, if I was asked, I would say that I don’t really feel like I have a gender—that I’m agender, if you will. Sheltered from such ideas until up into my late teens, it never occurred to me that I could be anything other than what my parents, my doctors, and society had classified me as. I still wear feminine clothing, but that’s because I find women’s clothing appealing. I dress for me, not my gender identity. I go by feminine pronouns (she/her) out of convenience, not because those pronouns particularly feel right or wrong.

But I always come back to that one moment when I was six and my mom convinced me that I was a girl.

I think it’s important to listen to children, because despite popular opinion, they aren’t stupid. No one knows us better than ourselves, and childhood is one of the most important developmental stages in our life, second only perhaps to adolescence. If our teenage years are the time that we come into our own identity and realize who we are, then childhood is the time that we collect the building blocks—morality, opinions, personality—that will someday form into ourselves. When my parents made me believe I was a girl, that had an indelible effect on who I am as a person, and I’m not unhappy the way I am. But I’ve often wondered: what if I’d been allowed to continue believing I was supposed to be a boy? Would I still be the person I am today, or would I be someone completely different? Would I dress the same, act the same, have the same beliefs? Our actions can shape people in ways we can’t imagine, and our parents arguably have the largest effect on us all.

I decided a long time ago not to have children of my own, but someday I might adopt kids. If I ever do, I know what kind of parent I want to be: a loving, understanding one. One who her children can confide in about anything. One who really listens to them. One who her children aren’t afraid of, but who rightfully earns their respect, and respects them in return. One who will sit on the front row at their wedding and cheer them on, no matter who they’re marrying, or whether they’re wearing a tuxedo or a wedding dress. ~TRL

Review: “Elena Undone”

I am a queer person, and I use the word queer as an umbrella term for for non-heterosexual/non-cisgender people. If you dislike the term "queer", you may not want to read this post.

Finding movies with LGBT+ characters is difficult. Finding movies that focus on LGBT+ people is even harder. Finding movies on LGBT+ people that isn't about AIDS or social condemnation or being rejected by family or any of the other depressing tropes that seem to come with queer narratives is damn near impossible. Most queer stories end unhappily, like Blue Is The Warmest Color, and most of the time in horrible tragedy, like Brokeback Mountain.

But as I was perusing the gay side of Netflix one day, I chanced upon a movie called Elena Undone, a lesbian romance between a pastor's wife and a free-spirited writer. It sounded like a cookie cutter lesbian romance (shy, innocent straight woman falls for mysterious, seductive lesbian and cheats on her neglectful husband with her), but I was bored, so I thought "what the hell" and hit play…and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, as I predicted, it pretty much follows the standard formula for lesbian romance films, but I still enjoyed the movie. In this instance, the plot felt less like a tired old tread and more like a cozy blanket to wrap myself up in. Warm, soft, and familiar.

It's an indie film, and its format is unusual. Tyler, a mutual friend of Elena (the pastor's wife) and Peyton (the writer) narrates the film through his sparse cut scenes. Tyler is a "love guru" and believes in the idea of soulmates. Elena and Peyton's actual story is interwoven with clips from Tyler's informative video about finding one's soulmate, and therefore serves as a narrator of sorts for the evolving romance between the two women. It's an interesting idea, and works surprisingly well.

And then of course there's the electric chemistry between the two female leads. Both actresses exude affection, intimacy, and desire when they're onscreen together. Their making out/love-making scenes are luxurious and pulsing with heat. I haven't seen two lead characters with such a magnetic attraction since…well, since I watched the third season of Hannibal.

But the best part is, the women get a happy ending. They have their issues, as real people in real relationships do, but in the end, they find each other again and realize that they were meant to be together. It's a poignant yet simple ending.

The movie isn't perfect (the pastor character and the homophobic church member are a little flat), but it's a movie I'd gladly watch again. I'm a romantic at heart, and I've always loved the idea of soulmates, so I was glad to have found a real movie about two women were perfectly made for each other. If you can get past the dumb title, I recommend this film as an effective feel good story for when you're blue.

Oh, and for all you Supernatural fans out there, Peyton is played by Traci Dinwiddie, who was Pamela Barnes, the psychic who had her eyes burned out from trying to see Castiel. ~TRL

Destiel Subtext in Season 11

**This post is a bit cynical.**

Hey guys, it’s time I talked about a fandom I haven’t brought up in depth for a while: Supernatural. The past season has been…evocative, to say the least.

The question on everyone’s mind is: are the writers foreshadowing Destiel to become canon? Destiel, if you don’t know, is the romantic pairing of main character Dean Winchester and his best friend, Angel of the Lord, Castiel. There have been in-canon references to the pairing, even going so far as to say the ship name in season 10’s fifth episode, “Fan Fiction” (apt). The actors themselves are supportive of the fandom’s zeal for the pairing; even actor Misha Collins (who plays Castiel) himself is an active shipper of Destiel. But it’s been made clear by the writers and directors time and time again that Dean and Cas will never be together romantically on the show.

So why all the foreshadowing then, SPN staff???

One could argue that Destiel has been forming since season 4, episode 1, “Lazarus Rising” (Castiel’s first appearance), but while Destiel has been nothing more than fan speculation and “cheap gay jokes”, it seems that since last season, Destiel has been treated with more reverence, and even some of the subtext seems to be pointing toward that Dean and Cas being together is endgame.

Let’s go to the sixteenth episode of season 10, “Paint It Black”. While in a confessional booth, Dean claims, “There’s things, there’s people, feelings that I want to experience differently than I have before, or maybe even for the first time.” Which, playing devil’s advocate, could just be referring to how Dean’s always desired a normal, non-hunter life. But he has experienced that, when Sam died in season 5 and Dean went to live with Lisa and Ben. So it wouldn’t be for the first time. Plus, it’s just a really strange thing to bring up in the moment, like it’s some big, deep dark secret. But it’s not. We know Dean wishes he had a normal life. So it’s got to be something else. (Like Dean admitting he’s queer and in love with Cas.)

Then there’s Amara. When she kisses Dean, Dean feels that they have a spiritual connection, but he says it himself, it’s not love. It’s whatever magical blood tie the Mark of Cain has bound them together with. The Qareen comes to Dean in Amara’s form in episode 11×13, “Love Hurts”, as Dean’s “deepest desire”, but Dean doesn’t want her, he wants to kill her. In 11×11, “Into The Mystic”, Mildred senses that Dean is pining for someone. You’re supposed to think it’s Amara, but if Dean doesn’t love her, then why would he be pining for her? Simple: he’s not.

You might be saying right now, “but how could Dean be in love with Cas? Dean’s straight!” If you want further proof of Dean’s attraction to men, let’s look at how Dean reacts to Dr. Sexy and Gunner Lawless, Dean’s favorite wrestler. Dean’s fangirling and Sam’s crush on the female round caller are direct parallels.

And speaking of parallels, in 11×17, “Red Meat”, the married couple, Michelle and Corbin, are mirrors for Dean and Castiel (Supernatural, like Sherlock, loves to use mirroring, but the difference is that Supernatural is lot more obvious and heavy handed with the parallels). Corbin has been infected by a werewolf, Cas was possessed by Lucifer. Corbin (or the inner wolf) strangled Sam, Lucifer is constantly strangling and assaulting Sam. Michelle, all the while, keeps insisting that Corbin truly is a good man, and that she loves him. Dean wants desperately to save Cas and expel Lucifer from him. So Michelle and Corbin are Dean and Cas, and they’re a married couple. Interesting.

And speaking of married couples

This past episode of SPN featured Sam and Dean teaming up with a gay hunter couple, and boy oh boy, do these guys remind me of Dean and Cas. Jesse is an vengeful hunter who lost a member of his family when he was young to supernatural causes and has devoted his life to hunting, but is deep down a big softie. Cesar is Jesse’s close friend; he’s supportive, badass, soft-spoken, and dedicated to helping Jesse find peace. Dean seems very interested in what domestic life with another hunter is like, and is eager to help them achieve their happy ending. It reminds me of how Sam is constantly asking Dean if he’d like to settle down someday, with someone like them, a hunter, someone who knows the life. That’s not Amara. (Sam is such Destiel trash. And look at that Jesse’s brother, the one who died, was supportive of Jesse being gay.)

And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how Dean stays up all hours, researching a way to defeat Amara, all to save Cas. Now that Cas is in danger, the rest of the world has taken a backseat in Dean’s eyes. So yeah. The Destiel game has gone 0 to 100 this season real quick.

But I’m doubtful that the SPN execs have plans to actually make Dean and Cas canon. They’ll most likely just throw in some Mary Sue lady hunter to be “the love of Dean’s life”, because that’s just the way Supernatural goes. It’s a heteronormative, queerbaiting mess that jumped the shark in season 5 and should’ve ended there. The only reason I continue to watch is because I love the characters too much.

If the writers are planning to turn Dean and Castiel into an explicit couple, then that’s great, keep up this…whatever it is. It’s a beautiful setup. If not, it needs to stop right now, because it’s queerbaiting, it’s disgusting, and it’s dismissive of a large portion of its devoted fanbase.

Willow Rosenberg and Bisexual Erasure

This has been a topic that’s come up over and over again in discussion, but it was this video that inspired me, a bisexual woman, to give my own input on the matter.

Buffy was a ground breaking show for its time period. I absolutely love Joss Whedon, regardless of how he likes to emotionally abuse me by killing characters I dearly love. Buffy ran from ’97 to ’03, a time before explicitly queer characters, and more than that, same-sex relationships, were deemed acceptable to show on basic cable. Nowadays, it’s a bit more tolerated, though we do have some kinks to yet work out, but in Buffy‘s time, attitudes toward queerness weren’t the most positive.

The secondary female lead of the series, Willow Rosenberg, played by the amazingly talented Allison Hannigan, is a character that starts off exclusively liking men, namely Oz and Xander (Willow even admits to having had a crush on Giles at one point). Then, after Willow and Oz break up due to Seth Green wanting to leave the show, Willow enters a relationship with another witch from her Wicca group at UC Sunnydale, Tara. Their relationship wasn’t explicitly announced as romantic at first, until Willow finally says out loud that Tara is her girlfriend. But even before that, Wil and Tara have moments of tenderness, like Tara claiming that she is “yours [Willow’s]”. Faith is the first character to pick up on their relationship, as Willow has trouble coming out to her friends at first, and states, in mild surprise, “Willow’s not driving stick anymore”. But, I’m off track here.

The main debate about Willow is, is she a lesbian, or bisexual?

Willow herself claims that she’s gay. A lot of people get pissed about that terminology and complain that Willow isn’t a lesbian, but bisexual, because she has been attracted to men in the past. But many lesbians have had romantic or sexual encounters with men in the past before they discover their true nature. Cynthia Nixon, star of Sex and the City, for example, had been married to a man for years and had had three children with him before realizing she was a lesbian. To be human is to change with time.

Also the term “gay”, while the literal definition is homosexual, has become an umbrella term for anyone who isn’t straight-this includes homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals…etc. Maybe bisexuality just wasn’t as much of a recognized identity back then for Whedon to decide to label her as such. I’m not saying that being bi wasn’t a thing back then; Roman emperors Nero and Calculus were historically bisexual, for God’s sake. Maybe Whedon thought that the idea was just too confusing for an audience of the late 20th century to handle. Human nature tends to want to categorize things neatly. Many people have issues with the concept of being attracted to both genders, and tend to believe that bisexuals are either homosexual and won’t come completely out of the closet, or actually straight, but using the label for attention.

But I tend to go by what an individual labels themself as. For example, my last relationship was with a non-binary person. I consider myself open to anyone of any gender – male, female, non-binary, transgender, or none of the above. Some people have tried to tell me that I should call myself pansexual instead of bisexual, but the fact is, the decision of what to deem myself is up to me and me alone. I choose to consider myself bisexual, simply because I feel most relatable to that word.

But Willow Rosenberg is a fictional character, therefore, she belongs to anyone who enjoys Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So how you interpret her sexuality is up to you, the viewer. Is she homosexual? Is she bisexual? It depends a lot on your personal definition of those words. It’s one of Buffy‘s most important reoccurring themes: choice. You make the choice to assume your destiny, to leave a loved one for their own well being, to sacrifice your own happiness, or sometimes even your own life, for the greater good. You didn’t expect that element to actually affect you as an audience member, did you. ~TRL