Slash vs. Gay
|Related terms:||slash, meta, gayfic|
|See also:||Slash Controversies, Homophobia in Fandom, History of Slash Fandom|
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As long as slash fans have been calling their stories slash, there have been conversations about how slash relates to LGBT literature.
One of the earliest variations of this conversation was a question about the very definition of slash: "How can a story be slash if it is about anything other than two heterosexual men?"? Over time, this part of the conversion has faded, as today it is common to have at least one character with some background bi or gay thoughts, if not experience. The idea that, as Lezlie Shell said in 1995, "slash is the process of getting two heterosexual characters into bed" would seem extreme to most modern fans.
- See also The Wave Theory of Slash
From the preface of one 2006 zine: "We're not writing gay porn. We're writing slash. Gay porn readers are, of course, welcome to partake if they like slash, but the story is meant for a slash audience.... We're writing sexual fantasy, not sexual reality. Fiction isn't about the ordinary, it's about the extraordinary." 
The question now, in the on-going conversation about slash is more likely to be: "What is the difference between slash and LGBT fiction?"
This leads into conversations about whether slash is or should be female-centered sexuality appropriating male characters, or whether it is or should be realistic in its portrayal of gay male sexuality.
'Slash' characters excite by being extensions of female sexuality while the 'gay' characters excite by being a window into an alien sexuality, that of homosexual men. It is internal versus external in a way. The issues I will write about, power and trust, concern me as a woman, not Bodie and Doyle as gay men. I am fulfilling my kink, not accurately portraying the kink of gay men. -- Lezlie Shell, 1995 
The second part of the question was whether in writing two male characters in a sexual relationship meant that the characters should be read as having a gay identity. The follow-on question was whether slash writers had an obligation to fit slash into the real-world or literary gay experience. The common counter-argument of slash fandom ("we're not gay, we just love each other") goes back to slash fandom's earliest roots.
In 2007, Natasha Solten, an early K/S writer and fanzine publisher was interviewed as part of the K/S Legacy project. In that interview she discussed how early K/S fans grappled with whether Kirk and Spock were to be read as homosexual. So many K/Sers "fought hard to NOT label them as homosexual. [...] It is not because of prejudice, but I think in spite of it. I think Star Trek itself, [...] taught principles of a kind of open-mindedness that saw people as people and not just labels. Also, K/S writers saw this relationship as special, not one of a series of affairs Kirk or Spock might have. And therefore, the specialness meant that this relationship defied labels and boundaries. [...] it was and is a different kind of thinking because [Star Trek] is, after all, in the future and science fiction." (Legacy, vol 1, pg 142).
While the addition of science fiction elements may have enabled early slash writers to focus on the character's inter-personal relationships, rather than having the characters examine and redefine their sexual orientation, later reality-based fandoms such as Starsky & Hutch and The Professionals could not. In those fandoms writers often had to make a conscious choice to either ignore the sexual orientation question (need example) or to confront the issue head-on (ex. "Shadows Over the Land", a Professionals novel in which one of the main characters discovers he has AIDS). Most fan writers chose to fall somewhere in between, briefly bringing in sexual orientation as a backdrop before moving on to the main story of the growing romantic and sexual relationship. And many simply skipped past the issue altogether feeling that it detracted from the main story.
In late 2009, the question of whether slash was to be viewed as an expression of female desires by which women help one another reclaim their erotic power or whether it is to be seen as misappropriation and misuse of the male gay experience was vigorously discussed among Livejournal bloggers in the context of the tensions between original slash vs gay fiction.
One blogger summed up her stance:
The LGBT community cannot, as supporters of sexual liberation, demand that a woman stop consuming gay porn, stop writing gay erotica, stop consuming gay erotica. I cannot demand that my right to be sexually aroused by women, as a woman, be accepted, then demand that straight men stop being sexually aroused by the image of two women together. It would, in a way, be like asking me, or gay men, to only find people who share our sexual interest attractive and stimulating. I don't want my sexuality, my sexual response or fantasy life, to be policed. I don't want to police yours. What people can demand is that care be taken when presenting characters as homosexual....But I don't think slash writers should deny LGBT people and allies the right to criticize their portrayal of gay men, gay women, or the gay community.... But realism of gay characters isn't impossible to achieve, and it is not oppressive or criminal to demand that slash writers write gay characters as people.
The discussion (appropriation or legitimate expression) continued in person during an 2010 Escapade convention panel.
One audience member discussed her soul-searching about this same issue -- women writing about gay men, something outside her own experience.... She said this is what helped her: To consider the audience she was writing for; in other words, that her choices in ficwriting needed to be informed and directed by the fact that her goal was about women’s pleasure, pointed toward what would be enjoyable to a woman reading the fic, and that having that as her goal really clarified for her the question of "what should I be doing?"
In short, the debate over slash fan fiction, the role it does (and should) play in women's erotic lives and the role it does (and should) play in the gay community is not one that is likely to be ending anytime soon.
Yaoi vs. Gay
- from the preface to A Real Good Life
- Lezlie Shell, 'Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows', retrieved October 21, 2010
- thoracopagus. [meta] The Slash Debate: Queer vs. Female Space, 14 January 2010. (Accessed 07 September 2010); WebCite.
- princessofgeeks. Escapade 2010 Panel: "Gay Is Not Slash", 01 March 2010. (Accessed 07 September 2010); WebCite
- Hori, Akiko. 2013. "On the Response (Or Lack Thereof) of Japanese Fans to Criticism that Yaoi Is Antigay Discrimination." In "Transnational Boys' Love Fan Studies," edited by Kazumi Nagaike and Katsuhiko Suganuma, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 12. doi:10.3983/twc.2013.0463.