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Slash is a type of fanwork in which two (or more) characters of the same sex or gender are placed in a sexual or romantic situation with each other. Slash can also be a verb; to slash is to create a slash fanwork or to interpret the chemistry between the characters in the source text as homoerotic. The adjective form is slashy.
History of the Term
Fannish tradition holds that the word "slash" originated with Star Trek The Original Series fan fiction, when K/S was used as the label for a story where the relationship between Kirk and Spock was laced with sexual tension, whether it was acted on or not. This label allowed fans to differentiate those sexual relationship stories from the ones about Kirk and Spock’s friendship, which were sometimes labelled using "&". As fandoms gathered around new films and television series, the / mark became common as an indicator of a sexual relationship between same-sex characters.
The term "slash" was *not* in use in the 1970s or early 1980s. The virgule was. It has always been used in fandom, as a form of shorthand, to denote relationships--heterosexual, same-sex, romantic, sexual, friendship. For example, Juanita Salicrup wrote a Spock/Christine series and Mary Louise Dodge wrote a Kirk/Uhurua series. By the mid-seventies there was a growing subgenre of stories about the friendship between Kirk and Spock. These were usually referred to as Kirk/Spock stories or Kirk/Spock relationship stories. When "the other kind" of story began seeing publication, in order to distinguish between the two types of stories, people started referring to those as K/S stories. That designation took a while to become common usage, and for the first few years there was still some confusion, as people referred to Kirk/Spock friendship stories as both that and as K/S stories. Eventually it settled into its current usage. 
Terms like gen and het arose to distinguish these types of stories from slash. Although heterosexual narratives can of course be explicit on the level of an R, X or NC17 rating, they were more acceptable than slash at that time. Labeling a story as slash could provide a warning of criminal risk as well. In the early 1970s, any literature depicting homosexuality, even if not explicit, was considered pornography in most states (see Slash Controversies#Illegality of Slash) and illegal to be sent through the U.S. mail.
History of the Genre
See History of Slash Fandom for the main article.
Fans certainly wrote and kept private, or shared with only a few friends, homosexual stories about Holmes and Watson, Bruce and Dick, Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie, Ilya and Napoleon, James and Artemus, or Buz and Tod, but it was Star Trek: The Original Series that popularized the slash subgenre. The first such story may have been The Ring of Soshern, written by Jennifer Guttridge in 1967 or 1968 and circulated only privately.
The first slash story to be published in a fanzine was "A Fragment Out of Time" by Diane Marchant, published in Grup in 1974. After this, other Star Trek slash stories appeared in some fanzines, slowly picking up steam through the end of the decade with entire fanzines devoted to slash, and eventually slash conventions.
In the 1980s, more fandoms joined the slash scene, including Starsky & Hutch, The Professionals, and Blake's 7. As more male/male pairs were slashed, fans started to conceptualize slash as a genre unto itself rather than individual phenomena unique to particular characters or shows.
The absence of slash in Robin of Sherwood 1980s fandom provides a case study of how insecure slash fandom was about itself and its legitimacy, but in the internet age, slash has become increasingly normalized.
Today, Rule 34 illustrates the wide variety of slash pairings and combinations, that any conceivable fictional or real people pairing, inanimate object anthropomorphic, or crossover, has probably been written (and if not, there's always Rule 35: if there is no porn of it, it will be made.
Because the early slash community kept such a low profile (as above), there weren't clearly written definitions of the term that people could refer to as they got on the net and came in contact with the existing community. So a term might experience fannish drift as newcomers used the term according to the way they interpreted it, rather than how the existing community used it. Slash was a term that experienced fannish drift in this manner. It has also evolved over the years in response to canonically gay characters and relationships becoming more common in mainstream television shows and movies.
During the initial era of K/S and other early slash pairings, and issues of "slashy subtext" and "slash goggles"aside, no one suggested that K/S and other pairings were established deliberately, as a matter of canon. Slash was defined as fanfic containing noncanonical same-sex media character pairings. As is easy to see on countless discussion forums these days, the definition of slash has become more elastic. Many fans consider slash to mean, simply, a same-sex pairing (thus, they refer to Queer as Folk fan fiction as slash, though the characters are gay in canon). Still others look at, say, Stargate: SG-1 fan fiction pairings of Jack/Daniel and Jack/Samantha and consider them both to be slash relationships, because neither is canon and both are designated with a slash mark.
Thus, at different times, fans have tried to define exactly what slash is, and what it is not.
|"It's only slash if it's about a same-sex couple."||In the X-Files, stories of romance between Mulder/Scully would occasionally be labelled as slash; in this sense, slash was being used to mean any non-canon relationship (there were indications that certain fans wanted it to be known as het slash). The focus of the definition slipped, and the heterosexual aspect of the relationship was irrelevant to it being slash. However, in nearly every modern fandom, the definition of slash has settled down to mean same-sex pairings only.|
|"It's only slash if it's about a non-canon (or 'unconventional') relationship."||The same fannish drift that led to the definition of slash as any non-canonical relationship then led to some fans objecting to canonical same-sex relationships being called slash. Generally, in current usage, writings which include pairings of canon same-sex couples (for instance, Christian/Oliver on Verbotene Liebe, Brian/Justin on Queer as Folk US, or Willow/Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are usually called slash, or femslash if about women.|
|"It's only slash if it's about the slow evolution of feelings between partners."||This was one of the first definitions; however, it leaves out enemy!slash, as well as a lot of fun crossover pairings.|
|"It's only slash if they were both straight before they met each other."||This was apparently a rearguard action to preserve we're not gay, we just love each other or men having sex with men (MSM) without considering themselves homosexuals: by this definition, if either half of the pairing was gay or bi before they met each other, it would be gay fiction, not slash.|
|"It's only slash if it's part of an established slash fandom."||This was a reaction against the proliferation of small fandoms, arguing that a necessary component of a slash story is that it is produced by a member of a slash community, as a way of having a conversation about the characters—either building on, or disagreeing with, concepts from previous stories.|
|"It's only slash if it's written by a slasher."||This argument is possibly a reaction against the increasing public awareness of slash; these days it is easy to find slightly mocking parodies of slash written by people outside of fandom. Some would argue "it's not slash if it wasn't written by fans, for fans".|
|"It's only slash if it's written about characters from an existing source text, not original characters."||As the popularity of this specific type of m/m romance as a genre has grown, some people have begun using the term 'original slash' to refer to original m/m fiction (published or amateur) that feels more like slash than traditional gay porn or what is considered typical of literature portraying gay relationships, e.g. Mary Renault. However, many slash fans feel that slash can only refer to fanworks, never original fiction.|
Controversies Over Slash
See Slash Controversies for the main article.
Slash has been surrounded by controversy since its inception. Some topics:
- early objections to Kirk/Spock sexual stories in the 1970s—often by well-known fans. One fan recollects Bjo Trimble describing K/S slashers as a "bunch of twisted sickos".
- entirely justified fears of legal prosecution: copyright and obscenity laws
- slash as inherently out of character
- disagreement even among slash fans as to "what is slashy" and "what should be slashed"
- present-day objections to Kirk/Spock slash by the Star Trek creators, including David Gerrold
- present-day statement by D.C. Fontana flatly denying that the Star Trek creators intended slash to be implied or subtextual canon
Slash and Gay
See Slash vs. Gay for the main article.
As long as slash fans have been calling their stories slash, there have been conversations about how slash relates to LGBT issues. In early years, it was thought that slash was by definition about two heterosexual men. Some gay men have voiced opposition to heterosexual women appropriating gay male experience. Literary questions of the differences between slash and published LGBT fiction have also been discussed.In 1998, a fan, Lezlie Shell, wrote:
Homosexuality has as much to do with Slash as Civil War history did with Gone With The Wind. Burning Atlanta gave Scarlet something to deal with and homosexuality has given Bodie and Doyle something to deal with. But GWTW wasn't about the causes of the Civil War, the plantation economy, battle strategy and slavery, just as slash isn't about gay rights, creating positive gay identities for Bodie and Doyle, or exploring the gay male sex scene. Two heterosexual males becoming involved in a sexual relationship is my standard definition of slash. … I view slash as a product of female sexuality. … I am not physically attracted to homosexual men. Portraying Bodie and Doyle in a 'realistic' gay milieu is taking them from the realm of my sexuality.
Slash as a Revitalizing Agent, Slash as Same-Old Same-Old
Some fans feel that slash offered a new take on an old fandom, bringing new writers, readers and their interests to the table:In 1984, one famous zine's author said:
I hoped Thrust would make some kind of mark, both as a forum for writing and as a forum for the analysis of the K/S theme…. But it was the K/S theme itself that electrified fandom. As it added a dimension to the relationship between the two men, it added a new and lively dimension to fandom, providing a complex and invigorating idea to ponder, an emotional reference that took fandom by storm. I believe that the K/S theme has played a large part in keeping active fandom alive.
In 1991, another fan writes:
Years ago before there were Star Trek movies, ST had become pretty 'rutty,' too. Then along came K/S. No matter now you feel about homoerotic literature, I think you have to give K/S two things: One, it blasted ST fan fiction out of the ruts [editor's comment: some would say that now, years later, it's created its own ruts!]; and two, it kept ST fandom alive and kicking --and fighting--until the ST movies came along and revitalized the whole fandom. Now I'm not suggesting that SW fandom needs slash fiction to save it; although I'll admit I've always been puzzled by the lack of good SW slash fiction. I'm just suggesting that SW fanfiction can be saved--if the people responsible for producing it are sufficiently motivated.
Other fans feel that slash is simply retreads of hetero-normative subjects given a new hat, often by casting one person in the couple as "the girl". [need examples] See Portrayals of Masculinity in Fanworks.
Somewhere In-BetweenA fan in 2002 wrote:
I am continually astounded by slash's audacity, diversity, and constantly changing nature... and continually frustrated by its repetitiveness, naiveté, and lack of imagination. Try as I can, I can't stay away.
A question every metafan feels compelled to answer. See: Why Slash?
Slash and Male Intimacy
While the majority of Textual Poachers is not about slash, it was one of the first academic books to address it respectfully and thoughtfully. At a 1993 panel at Escapade, the book's author, Henry Jenkins, described his beginning awareness of slash and what he felt were its possibilities:
... yes, I am both a male and a slash fan, and have really become excited, because I think that slash really speaks to men, including straight men, in a way that a lot of popular culture doesn't. The sorts of themes I talk about in terms of slash in the book, that breaking through of the barriers to intimacy between men, the creation of communication across the kind of walls that we as men put up around ourselves, is a very profound fantasy that a lot of men have. And I think back about the reality of my friendships with other men... One of my best friends as an undergraduate just about died of cancer, and I didn't know it. He just had disappeared for nine months. He couldn't communicate to me this vulnerability, and he was seriously ill before I ever found out and went to his bedside and we talked about it for the first time. But that was the reality, that I didn't notice, he wasn't communicating, and we were both into our little walls to the point that none of the stuff that's in slash was a possibility. The thought of crying, of communicating, of talking between men is so rare in our culture that slash really represents to me one of the few places where you can talk about those questions, where you can engage with it and fantasize about it. And I wish I had friendships with other men that were as good as the sorts of images that crop up in slash. But it's something that politically is very important to me, that I, going back to an undergraduate, during the same time period, ironically enough, was doing male consciousness-raising sessions. And I had been talking about masculinity as an issue, and a lot of my own writing that isn't about fandom deals with questions of gender or masculinity in one way or another. But it was slash, I think, that really opened me up fully to the implications at a most personal level of what I was actually talking about, and helped me understand that much better. So this book has been both personally and professionally a really important one to me. It's one that was intended to be written as a fan as well as an academic, to both academic and fan audiences. I've been gratified by the responses on both sides.
Outsider Reactions To Slash
Outsider reactions vary. Fans often do not distinguish between academics or the press writing about slash - both carry the same potential (in fannish minds) for ridicule and mischaracterization.
Fan fiction is often synonymous with slash in the press. Non-fans reading these articles could easily receive the impression that all or most fan fiction is slash.
Slash has also been misdescribed in the press as a genre exclusive to straight middle-class women, and even as a kind of "mommy porn" written by housewives in their copious spare time. Many slash authors may have portrayed themselves in this way in order to keep anonymity, since writing and mailing explicit homosexual narrative (fanfic or not) could get you jail time in the '70s. The real slash demographic has always included Lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender women along with trans men and male-identifying gay and straight men. (see the Livejournal community Men Who Slash) -- who, even today, might use female names just to fit in.
Slash Meta/Further Reading
See Category:Slash Meta.
- Wikipedia entry on slash fiction, and its talk page offers a somewhat more outside perspective on slash, with lots of discussion
- Usage of the word "slash" and the virgule "/" alone, at Alternate Universes: Fanfiction Studies, accessed 5.10.2011
- Material quoted on Fanlore at Klangley's request.
- Dr. Fredric Wertham, writing about comic books' contribution to degeneracy and criminal behavior in his book Seduction of the Innocent, wrote that not only did Batman and Robin's adventures contain gay subtext but that their relationship was obviously homosexual even to child readers. He later testified about this before Congress. Cultural reviewer Will Brooker revealed in his book Batman Unmasked that gay men had told Wertham in interviews that they saw Batman as gay; he did not make it up. It's very likely that fan fiction or fan-drawn comics of this nature existed, no doubt kept extremely private, perhaps similar to Charles Crumb's work featuring child actor Bobby Driscoll.
- Considerable evidence points to The Man From UNCLE being the first media fandom, embraced by the same science fiction writers and fans who would go on to enshrine Star Trek. See Francesca Coppa, "A Brief History of Media Fandom" in Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays, ed. by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (McFarland, 2006), p. 41.
- A Senate probe into the role of television in juvenile delinquency focused on Route 66 because of its strong appeal to children and teenagers, questioning the appropriateness of sex and romance in the storylines. A memo from CBS network head James Aubrey, used as evidence in the hearings, specifically asked for more sex on Route 66, saying that neither protagonist had expressed the “normal wants of a young man... to get involved with a girl or even to kiss her”.
- Fans respected a polite request from the show's creator Richard Carpenter and refrained from publishing slash stories based on this show's main characters.
- For examples, see Steven Universe, Torchwood, or Welcome to Night Vale. There are many others. The first canonically gay couple on television was Gordon and George in the 1975 sitcom Hot l Baltimore.
- Other than by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, that is. The story of how they maneuvered Gene Roddenberry into considering Kirk & Spock's friendship in terms of "the Greek ideal" has become legendary.
- 'Must. Not. Comment.', retrieved October 4, 2008.
- Iron Man 2: The Edge Of Reason (Tony Stark/Mr. Darcy), last accessed November 10, 2008
- Dusk Peterson, What is Original Slash?, retrieved November 21, 2008
- In May 2016, Fontana responded to a question by a Fanlore editor on "canon slash" in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Amok Time": "In answer to your question, NO - there were no homosexual double-entendres in the script - at least none that were deliberate. If some viewers chose to read that into the dialogue, etc. that's their point of view, but certainly not ours. Writer Theodore Sturgeon was trying to reveal Spock's inner human in a struggle with what his culture, his upbringing and his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage had instilled in him about emotion and controlling it in an out-of-control situation. It also was a peek into the Vulcan culture that no one had seen before. That's ALL we were doing."
- Lezlie Shell (in Green, Jenkins & Jenkins, 1998), quoted in Young, Female, Single…? A Study of Demographics and Writing-/Reading-Habits of Fanfiction Writers and Readers
- from an interview with Carol Frisbie in Not Tonight, Spock! #3
- from a June 1991 LoC in the Star Wars letterzine Southern Enclave: Southern Enclave, June 1991.
- The Annex Reviews, 4/14/02, post to alt.sex.stories.gay.moderated