Slash vs. Gay

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See also: Slash Controversies, Homophobia in Fandom, History of Slash Fandom
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Cover of a 1992 slash zine. The rainbow motif, very common in design in the early 1980s but rare in zine art, is most likely a reference to the Star Trek movie poster and not to gay pride.
Interior art from a 1993 gen zine

As long as slash fans have been calling their stories slash, there have been conversations about how slash relates to LGBT literature.

Are slashed characters gay by definition?

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?"?[1] 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.

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." [2]

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.[3][4]

'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 [5]
Most of us who identify as queer understand the complexities of sexuality. Many of us struggled with claiming our identities and defining them. Were that not the case, we would not have the alphabet soup of the LGBTIQ community, would we?
That said, fetishizing the sexuality of others is still a blatant form of sexism, homophobia, racism. When you fetishize another’s sexuality, you make them less than. You make them Other.[6]

Interestingly enough, some slash fanzines are now part of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

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. It is reflected in the everyday world in the idea of men who have sex with men without identifying as gay.

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.[7]

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?"[8]

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.

Citing LGBTQ Visibility as a Rationale for Canon Same-Sex Shipping

In the 2010s, many fans have begun communicating to The Powers That Be via Facebook, Twitter &c., supporting their favorite slash pairings and suggesting storylines in which they could be made canon. They make strong arguments in favor of establishing relationships between male stars in shows with fannish appeal; science fiction and fantasy, magic realism, "buddy cop" shows and action-adventure series. These fans often cite the need for more visible LGBTQ characters on television, making their petitions in terms of a call for visible diversity rather than a personal obsession or kink.

This has particularly been the case with Supernatural. Fans claiming to be LGBTQ, or to be supportive of same, have lobbied heavily for canon relationships between Dean and Sam Winchester, and especially for Dean and the angel Castiel (Misha Collins). Dean has had relationships with women in the past, especially Cassie (Megalyn Echikunwoke), to the chagrin of slash shippers. When Castiel had romance with a woman (April Kelly, played by Shannon Lucio) at the end of season 9, negative fan response pinned the meters. WB executive Chad Kennedy's Twitter account blew up after he said that the producers had not intended for either Dean or Castiel to be bisexual. He clarified that he did not write the show; that no one had pitched him an episode in which the male leads had romance with one another; but that he would not rule it out if such a script did come to him. [9]

Meanwhile, Misha Collins has done his part to fan the flames by making statements at conventions such as "Destiel is canon and the writers know it."[10]

Sherlock has received similar attentions from fans, including online petitions, but creator Steven Moffat says he has no intention of allowing the famous pair to consummate their relationship physically. [11]

Yaoi vs. Gay

There have been similar arguments over the depiction of gay men in yaoi.

In his landmark study of Japanese comics, Manga! Manga! (Kodansha 1983), Frederik Schodt touched briefly on female fascination with gay men, or at least men having same-sex encounters. In Japan, this style dates back to the 1970s. Sex roles in Japan are comparatively rigidly defined and standardized, and there are "men's comics" (shonen, written and drawn by men) and "women's comics" (shojo, written and drawn by women) accordingly. Women's stories featured female protagonists exclusively, but often had an underlying theme of bisexuality.

In 1970, some shojo writers began to create stories with male leads. By 1976, these stories began to depict erotic love between teenage boys. Middle-school and high-school girls were the main consumers of these stories at first. An editor explains that girls of that age have no sexual experience, but are intensely curious. They find love between males "pretty" and distant enough from their own reality that they are not threatening.

Schodt also discussed the "binanshi" figure, better known today as bishonen. Junè magazine devoted an entire issue to this attractive male figure. "In his advice column, gay counselor Yanagi Kawabata, in answer to a young girl's question about what love between males was really like, told her that it was similar to love between men and women but not always so pretty as the comics implied. Ignore harsh reality, he told her, and continue to fantasize about gay love on the aesthetic level of girls' comics."

See Akiko Hori's translated essay in a 2013 issue of TWC.[12]

See also


  1. There are men who have sex with men who do not identify as gay or bisexual, and there are men who identify as gay but do not have sex with other men.
  2. from the preface to A Real Good Life
  3. Cintra Wilson, W4M4M?. Out, August 17, 2010.
  4. Victoria Brownworth, The Fetishizing of Queer Sexuality: A Response. Lambda Literary, August 19, 2010.
  5. Lezlie Shell, 'Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows', retrieved October 21, 2010
  6. See more at: Victoria Brownworth, The Fetishizing of Queer Sexuality at Lambda Literary.
  7. thoracopagus. [meta] The Slash Debate: Queer vs. Female Space, 14 January 2010. (Accessed 07 September 2010); WebCite.
  8. princessofgeeks. Escapade 2010 Panel: "Gay Is Not Slash", 01 March 2010. (Accessed 07 September 2010); WebCite
  9. Regarding Chad Kennedy at The Fandom Debunker, October 23, 2013.
  10. See tenoko1, Per Misha Collins: Destiel is Canon. October 29, 2012. Collins made these statements at the Supernatural convention in Chicago on that date.
  11. Alyssa Rosenberg, Steven Moffat on Sherlock’s Return, the Holmes-Watson Love Story, and Updating the First Supervillain. May 7, 2012.
  12. 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.
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