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Synonyms: m/m
See also: Femslash, Yaoi, The Premise, Hatstand, Slash Cons
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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.

Slash more commonly refers to male/male pairings, with femslash being used more often to refer to female/female scenarios.

Usage and Notation

The term 'slash' refers to the virgule (or forward slash [1]) that links two names in a slash pairing—for example CharacterA/CharacterB. However, virgules are also often used to label heterosexual pairings. In both cases, the virgule is typically used to denote a relationship (often, although not necessarily sexual -- see UST) but only m/m and f/f are referred to as slash. To denote friendship an ampersand is often used.

While it had been used earlier and often to describe a close friendship, one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest, usage of the symbol "/" to specifically describe a sexual relationship between two characters was in a humorous limerick published in Obs'zine #1 (March 1977). The limerick was dedicated "To the Kirk/Spock premise, may it rest in peace," referred to the USS Enterprise as "the celestial ship Thunderthighs" and posited that Captain Kirk might not survive an encounter with Mr Spock's Vulcan Genitalia.[2]

An older term used in the U.K. for slash, was "stroke." One can see it referenced in first known use of the word "slash" in correct context where it occurs in S and H #18 (February 18, 1981): "Actually, my main complaint about S/H is the term 'Starsky *stroke* Hutch.' It is just too coy. I like *slash*. It sounds so masculine, like passion in the night and lust that strikes like lightning. *Stroke* sounds so cutesy. *Slash* sounds dynamic, dominant, daring, and exciting." One interesting note on pronouciation: "This does suggest, however, that early S/H slash writers pronounced their pairing "ess slash [or stroke] aitch", while early K/Sers were (they inform me) saying "kay ess". [3] And because in fandom there's always a difference of opinion, a fan writes that she prefers "stroke": "very appropriate and nicer than slash." [4]

History of the Term

Fannish tradition holds that the word "slash" originated with Star Trek TOS 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 the ampersand symbol. The use of the virgule as an indicator of a sexual relationship became entrenched as new fandoms arose—Starsky and Hutch (Starsky/Hutch), The Professionals (Bodie/Doyle), Blake's 7 (Blake/Avon, Avon/Vila)—eventually becoming the name of the genre itself sometime in the late 1970s, early 1980s. [5]

Another early reference can be found in the STW Directory #16, published in August 1977. There, a listing for Thrust describes it as a "Ultra Adult' zine. K/S relation. SASE with age statement required." [6] Also in August 1977, a fan wrote a letter to Obsc'zine #2 objecting to the setting of a K/S story in the Kraith universe:
"I am not trying to attack a Kirk/Spock sexual relationship in general. It is just that when an author uses terms from a particular 'alternate universe', that author ought, in my opinion, be limited by the boundaries of the universe that the terms imply. I don't believe that a homosexual relationship for Spock and Kirk is legitimate in the KRAITH universe, and I therefore object to certain aspects of "Aftermath" the KRAITH universe, Spock could never come to such a state. He has affirmed the continuity and represents his family on the high council...As the series progressed, Spock became more and more Vulcan and certainly more respected and revered there. It is illogical that in such a universe Spock could come to view Kirk as an object of sexual desire."[7][8]

In the November/December 1978 issue of Scuttlebutt, the editor of Dreadnought Explorations mentions K/S as a genre all its own: "Sure, maybe you're not Jean Lorrah. Or Spockanalia. Or writing Kraith. Or a member of the Landing Party Six. Or a K/Ser." [9] Another early example is in Star Canticle #2 (June 1979) where the editor recommends several zines, some with this warning: "Please note: some of these 'zines contain explicit material and/or K/S material. If you object to one or the other or both, do not purchase the 'zines." These three zines were Alternative 2&3 ("K/S"), and Matter/Antimatter #2 and Mahko Root #2 (both with the notation "adult K/S"). The STW Directory in spring of 1981 had this disclaimer: "Adult = age statement required, K/S = Kirk/Spock homosexual premise." [10]

Another look at the written record of fandom's early days fills in more pieces of the puzzle. According to fandom historian Klangley56:

The virgule, or slash mark ("/"), has been in use from the earliest days of fandom, including being used to designate relationships--both friendship pairings and romantic/sexual pairings. For example, Kirk/Spock often was used as a shorthand designation for the friendship between Kirk and Spock and Spock/McCoy for that friendship. Romantic opposite-sex pairings also might be referred to this way, e.g., Spock/Christine and Kirk/Uhura. But no one referred to any of these types of pairings, either verbally or in writing, as slash stories.[11]

When "those" stories about Kirk and Spock starting appearing in publication, fans referred to them in many different ways ("Kirk/Spock erotic love stories," "Kirk-Spock homo stories," The Premise, etc.).[12] Gradually, as a way to distinguish them from the Kirk/Spock friendship stories, the fans adopted "K/S" and made it the term to refer to the romantic/sexual premise--although the first printed use of the term “K/S” was in gen zines edited and published by Nancy Kippax and Bev Volker (The Mirage, November 1976, and Contact #3 and #4 in 1977), and it was used to refer to the friendship premise. Some confusion continued for a few years, with K/S and Kirk/Spock being used interchangeably--by some to mean the friendship stories and by others to mean the sexual/romantic premise.

Sentinel Jim/Blair "/" zine with the virgule on the cover (2007)

When Star Trek fandom opened up into Media fandom, other fandoms developed their own noncanonical same-sex pairings. They adopted the naming convention of K/S fandom: H/J for Harry and Johnny in Magnum Force, S/H for "Starsky and Hutch," B/D for Bodie and Doyle in The Professionals. With these and, still later, other pairings being published in fandom, fans started discussing this type of fan fiction as a whole. Needing a way to refer to all such pairings and the entire genre of writing, they referred to them and it as "/" (they typed the punctuation mark by itself--a stand-alone virgule, usually within quote marks, sometimes with none). This was in the early eighties.

When verbalizing this punctuation mark in conversation (from the early eighties on), it was, of course, said out loud as "slash." Eventually (primarily in the mid- to late-eighties) the term itself ("slash") started appearing in print. That is, fans wrote or typed "slash" and not "/". The earliest printed reference I found using the word "slash" is in a LoC to the S&H Letterzine #18, (February 1981), but that was an extremely rare reference. It didn't become common in print for several more years.

Today one can still find "/" used to refer to slash, but that's much less common. Also, nowadays a slash pairing is as likely to be designated as, for example, Jim/Blair and Jack/Daniel as it is to be called J/B and J/D. (Not to mention the much more recent mash-up naming convention that applies to both same-sex and opposite sex pairings, such as Clex for Clark/Lex and Spuffy for Spike/Buffy.)[13]

From a 2014 discussion at Fail-Fandomanon:
[Gen] originally stood for "general". You had slash zines and general zines. General, at that point, also included het, though the het porn was usually categorized as "Adult" - but it was still filed with the General stuff. [14]

Sometime in the early/mid 90s, General and Relationshipper split off from each other. At that point 'shipper exclusively meant het. Slashers were not 'shippers. So you had General, Shipper, and Slash. (I think the split came in X-Files fandom, which invented the entire term 'relationshipper', which is where we get ship from, and had the Mulder/Scully vs No Romance wars, but don't quote me on that.)[15]

Then, in the early 00s, 'shipper lost it's apostrophe, lost it's -per, and just became "ship". It stopped meaning exclusively m/f, and started meaning all romantic relationships in fic, which is when we start calling things "het".

General, which had long since lost it's -eral, therefore became exclusively about non-romance sometime in the mid 90s, because the romance camps had so firmly split themselves into separate categories by that point. [16]

History of the Genre

See History of Slash Fandom for the main article.

an example of Rule 34, as well as a reminder to use proper punctuation. From "xkcd, A Webcomic of Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language. n. 923, published July 7, 2011"

While it is possible that fans wrote and shared slash stories about Holmes and Watson, Ilya and Napoleon, James and Artemus, or Buz and Tod, 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. Star Trek slash stories first began to circulate in the mid-1970s, 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 m/m pairs were slashed, fans started to conceptualize slash as a genre unto itself rather than individual phenomena unique to particular characters.

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).

Defining Slash

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 canon same-sex pairings) 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.[17] 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). 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.

Defining Slash
"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[18]). 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 [19]. 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 gay literature. However, many slash fans feel that slash can only refer to fanworks, never original fiction. [20]

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 in the 1970s by well known fans to the idea of Kirk and Spock together. One fan recollects Bjo Trimble describing K/S slashers as a "bunch of twisted sickos".
  • 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"

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.

Slash as a Revitalizing Agent

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. [21]

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. [22]

Why Slash?

A question every metafan feels compelled to answer. See: Why Slash?

Outsider Reactions To Slash

Main article: Attitudes Toward Fanfiction

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 Meta/Further Reading

See also Category:Slash Meta.

External Resources


  1. from S and H #32, "I understand that's 'slash' in American [the U.S.]... in English [the U.K.], it's usually called a 'stroke.'"
  2. "Limerick" by P.M. Muelenberg printed in Obsc'zine #1.
  3. December 17, 2002 comments by Mary Ellen Curtin at ASCEML
  4. The LOC Connection #44 (August 1992)
  5. ‘A Usenet experience of the history of slash’, retrieved October 4, 2008
  6. This is also the first time the term age statement was used in the STW Directory.
  7. S. Bridges LOC on the story Aftermath published in Obsc'zine #1 in March 1977.
  8. Homosexual Vulcans are inconsistent with the basics of the Kraith universe, where it is established that Vulcan is extremely underpopulated to the point that birth control and abortion are both illegal and immoral. The only Vulcans who are forbidden to have children are those who missed the Affirmation of the Continuity ceremony.
  9. from Scuttlebutt #10
  10. from STW Directory #25
  11. Actually, in the very earliest days of fandom, pairings and relationships were not the focus of most fan stories. You never even heard the word "pairing". The objective was usually to create a story that could play out in the mind's eye as an episode of the show. This isn't to say there weren't stories in which love and sex figured prominently ("Time Enough" or the Federation and Empire series), but the slash mark was not used, stories were not labeled, and the only designation a fan story was likely to get was an MPAA-style rating.
  12. In his 1984 review of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock for Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, Harlan Ellison referred to "Kirk-shtups-Spock soft porn stories."
  13. Klangley56: "I researched the following when Mary Ellen C. asked about the origin of the term “slash” on one of the lists several years ago, and I realized from the subsequent responses that the older fans on the list (of which I am one) were relying on perhaps imprecise recollections—and I’m all about the documentation. So I researched thousands and thousands (and thousands) of pages in fiction fanzines, letterzines, adzines, newsletters, etc., spanning multiple fandoms. This was the result. Note: In some cases I refer to a fan by his or her full name, and in others not, because, as we know, some fans have issues with their names being on a public website. In the cases where I have indicated the full name it is because I know it is a pseudonym, and/or the fan does not have a problem with it, and/or is deceased, and/or already has been referred to by full name on [Fanlore]." Personal communication to Arduinna, March 28, 2009. Material quoted on Fanlore at Klangley's request.
  14. This changed the original meaning of "gen", which was a fanwork that took place in the canon universe, but with none of the original characters. Nu Ormenel was gen in this sense.
  15. It was, in fact, fans of The X-Files along with fans of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
  16. March 23, 2014, at Fail-Fandomanon; WebCite
  17. 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.
  18. 'Must. Not. Comment.', retrieved October 4, 2008.
  19. Iron Man 2: The Edge Of Reason (Tony Stark/Mr. Darcy), last accessed November 10, 2008
  20. Dusk Peterson, What is Original Slash?, retrieved November 21, 2008
  21. from an interview with Carol Frisbie in Not Tonight, Spock! #3
  22. from a June 1991 LoC in the Star Wars letterzine Southern Enclave: Southern Enclave, June 1991.
  23. WebCite

Related Concepts, Fandoms, Terms, Fanworks
See also Slash Goggles, Slash Tropes, Timeline of Slashed Sources, Essential Links for Slash Readers, Why Slash
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