The Generic Slash Defense Letter

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Open Letter
Title: The Generic Slash Defense Form Letter
From: Susan Beth
Addressed To:
Date(s): January - March 1995
Medium: online
Fandom: slash
Topic:
External Links: ftp://ftp.lysator.liu.se/pub/blake7/misc/slash.defense
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Contents

The Generic Slash Defense Form Letter is an open letter written by Susan Beth and posted to the Lysator Blake's 7 mailing list in 1995. The letter, which was a compilation of Sue's thoughts and quotes from many other fans gathered from two mailing lists (Lysator and the Virgule-L mailing lists, was written to address some of the many arguments raised by fans against slash fan fiction. The letter had many elements of a mailing list FAQ with the objections placed in the form of commonly asked questions followed by answers. Shortly after the letter was posted, Susan Beth went on to form Space City, the Blake's 7 slash mailing list and the letter was posted to the Lysator FTP server, and later website, where it has resided ever since. Over the years many fans have simply linked to the letter whenever anti-slash fans debated the merits of slash rather than responding to, what many feel, is an endless parade of the same tired old objections being raised over and over again.[1]

Because the letter was initially posted to the Blake's 7 mailing list, many of the quotes reference the characters, actors and creators of the Blake's 7 TV show. However, the arguments themselves predate the mailing list and can be found in early Star Trek and Starsky & Hutch letterzines almost verbatim.

Timeline Surrounding The Letter

  • Almost 30 years of the same anti-slash objections raised by fans across multiple fandoms
  • Jan 2, 1995 - Susan Beth proposes the letter on Virgule-L after watching yet another anti-slash debate take place on Lysator
  • March 5, 1995 - Susan posts her first draft which includes quotes from mailing list members on Lysator and Virgule-L and requests feedback
  • March 29, 1995 - Sue posts the letter to Lysator
  • Feb 4, 1996 - Sue posts to Virgule-L that she is updating the letter using additional quotes from Virgule-L members.
  • November 28, 1996- Slash is now a defined term on Yahoo's website index with links to web pages discussing slash. The Defense Letter is the first website listed, presumably because, by then it has been posted to the Lysator website. Other slash webpages listed:
  • September 30, 1999 - the Defense Letter is referenced in a SF Gate article about fan fiction[2]
  • May 7, 2004 - As late as 2004, the Defense Letter is cited in Metafilter threads discussing slash.[3]

The Generic Slash Defense Form Letter (text)

Written/compiled by Susan Beth [e-mail omitted]

Purpose: two or three times a year someone (often but not always a newcomer) posts a message expressing amazement/revulsion/horror over the existence of slash zines. Generally this leads to a gusher of posts vehemently arguing both sides in what has been described as "our traditional semi-annual 'Slash: Disgusting Sleaze or Legitimate Subgenre' debate."

The problem with this is that it has all gotten *incredibly* old. Anyone on the list for more than a few months has already heard it all many, many, many times. Those who don't like slash are not convinced by the arguments in favor. Those who do like it are equally unmoved by the arguments against it. And the vast majority, who simply don't care much either way, wish the whole subject would just go away.

This post lists the objections that anti-slashers have made in the past, followed by the major rebuttal arguments that pro-slashers have responded with.

I will post it in its entirety each time the subject is re-introduced.

Hopefully this will accomplish what any FAQ list does: not foreclosing discussion of the topic, but ensuring that debate does NOT have to start over fresh from Square One.

NEW objections, arguments and insights are genuinely welcome, of course.

Overview

First, for those who may not be familiar with the term "slash", my definition:

Slash is fan-written fiction that posits that characters of the same sex from a media show are sexually involved with each other.

Sexual activity may or may not occur during the story, and may or may not be described in explicit detail, but at least one of the characters must realize that he or she IS sexually attracted to the other. Many male/male bonding stories, and a lot of Hurt/Comfort stories, have strong homoerotic undercurrents (IMHO, IMHO, IMHO) but it doesn't count as slash if neither of the characters involved recognize it.

Why Slash Is/Isn't "Wrong"

1) Slash zines are pornography: Writing/reading about sex in graphic detail is offensive pure and simple.

"I don't think a discussion of what is and is not pornography is practical or resolvable. It is very PC to be anti-pornography, whatever that means, but sex and human interest in it, whether doing it, reading about it, or watching it, are part and parcel of our human psychology and very unlikely to fade. People have different tastes and express them in differing degrees but there is nothing inherently 'wrong' in liking slash. Textbook detail can be rather tedious but almost anything is better than the approach to sex which hides the action behind closed doors and the cover of darkness.
It doesn't seem to me that there is anything inherently 'wrong' with sexually explicit writing. It is obviously not to everyone's taste, but that is not what's wrong with slash. It's simply someone's opinion of why they don't like it." (Catherine Salmon)

2) Stories centering around physical sex are inherently boring.

"I was under the impression from my attendance at con panels and my reading _about_ slash that for at least a large minority of the authors (and works) the intent has nothing to do with casual sex or meaningless encounters, and everything to do with exploration of characters, relationships, love, affection, longing, loneliness, and the possibility or impossibility of communication between human beings. And I was under the impression that B7 slash, in particular, specialized in these things." [Dawn F.]
"There is good slash and bad slash, like any any other genre. The good slash, in my opinion, deals with complex emotional issues, sexual and otherwise. The bad slash, for the most part, deals with plumbing, or with emotional issues in a cliched or overwrought way. The best writers of Blake/Avon extend the characters in ways far beyond what is possible in a tv series or in most gen stories." (Susan Hill)
"I like variety, and sometimes smut for smut's sake is fine with me. Besides, character interaction is what I'm reading for, not gadgetry and convoluted plots. So as far as I'm concerned, character interaction is enough to sustain a story -- Blake and Avon working out their differences is enough of a plot." [Sue C.]

3) Slash stories aren't as well written as gen stories.

"I do wish that the anti-slash faction would stop phrasing their objections to the genre in terms of literary value. For one thing, I very much doubt that any of you have read enough of it to know what you're talking about. And why should you? The only reason to read fanfic at all is for fun, and there's certainly no point in forcing yourself to read something you know you won't like just so you can argue more coherently about why you don't like it.
But surely you must be aware that many (not all, but quite a lot) of the people who write your favorite gen stories-- the ones published in zines like Gambit or Southern Seven or Star One - are also writing slash. Do you imagine that all their literary skills desert them as soon as they turn to subject matter you don't approve of? Actually, I've found that writers are usually pretty consistent stylistically. A good gen writer, if she also does slash, will probably do it well; a maudlin gen writer will write maudlin slash. As for knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, that's just as relevant to, say, a fight scene, as it is to a sex scene. How convincingly it's handled depends on the skill of the writer, not the genre of the story." (Sarah Thompson)

4) Homosexuality is perverted and depicting the characters that way demeans them.

"Value judgements such as 'perversion' reside in the mind of the perceiver. If something was truly a 'perversion' or 'against nature' it logically would not exist. It is only a perversion to someone who would not do it, but not in the larger, reality-defining sense of the word." [Nicole C.M.]
"Well, I understand what you say, but totally disagree. I do not believe that there is anything unhealthy about homosexuality. Admirable? No, I suppose not, but I don't think heterosexuality is admirable either. It just *is*." [Claudia M.]

5) Homosexuality is against my religion.

"I believe that there is room for critical thought within most faiths. I ask you to consider -- are you opposed to homosexuality? If so, is that because you see it as harmful? If so, how? Is it because it's proscribed in the Bible? So was eating pork. And I'm not being flip. A lot of the rules in the Bible were necessary in the society in which they were presented. Doesn't make them universal rules." [Claudia M.]
"If you were Jewish and didn't eat pork, would you demand that no one else eat pork and that it is wrong/sick/perverted to do so? Different religions have different views on any number of things from beliefs to rituals and just because one religion follows one set of beliefs/rules, all religions and people are not required to subscribe to those beliefs. If my religion upheld the belief that technology was evil, that does not mean that I have the right to prevent others from using that technology. If I chose not to, that would be my choice but I do not have the right to impose that choice on anyone else." (Catherine Salmon)
"Religion is extinct in the B7 universe (see "Pressure Point"). Homosexuality sure isn't against _their_ religion.
Oh, against (your) religion, you mean? Eggrolls and Sweet and Sour Pork aren't Kosher, but I don't see any rabbis picketing the Chinese restaurants hereabouts. [DK]

6A) The actors are/would be offended by them.

"The actors are not the characters they played. Making a character he played homosexual does not imply that the actor is. Playing a role does not make it one's property. It can be played by others. It can be played differently with a different interpretation. Slash merely offers a different interpretation of a character (or two)."(Catherine Salmon)
"An actor, like an athlete or anyone else who has a public persona, should be able to separate his or her identity from that of the character and the fans' fantasies about that character." [Erszebet Bathory]
"If we're going to worry if slash victimizes the actors, why don't we worry about whether sexually explicit non-slash does also?" [Nan E.]

6B) Slash artwork uses the faces of real people who might be upset.

"The characters depicted are works of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, either living or dead is purely coincidental." (T'Rhys)
"A fan artist pointed out that what she does is perfectly legal -- creating art based on actors, no matter what that art depicts, does not violate any laws." (Alexfandra)

7) The series' creators would be offended by its distortion into slash.

"If we find slash repulsive, the only adult option is to never read any of it again. The characters are not the private property of any one reader. Whether we choose to manipulate those characters via poor writing, weird alternate universes, insertion of Mary Sues, crossing universes or putting them into 'slash' situations, we (as Blakes 7 fans) have to live with it. The only person with an even moderate claim to a valid objection would be the original creator of the characters, and to my knowledge, Terry Nation has never voiced any viewpoint on the issue of slash, pro or con." (Leah Rosenthal)
"*No* media fanfic is legally pristine or exempt from the charge of tampering with the original writers' work and intentions. Why should slash be a special case? Sure, it adduces sexual relationships for which we have no explicit onscreen evidence. So does every *straight* combo but Blake-Jenna, Avon-Cally, and Dayna-Tarrant -- and I'm being generous about what I consider evidence here. So why don't Avon-Jenna stories become a target for indignation and contempt? Why isn't Blake-Cally considered anathema to the writers' intentions?" [Dawn F.]
"It's well-known and thoroughly documented that Blake was supposed to be killed in 'Blake.' I understand that Gareth Thomas had it written into his contract that Blake died and was seen to be dead. So, there's no dispute about what the creators intended: Blake is bereft of life. He is no more. He has ceased to be. He's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-Blake. So fans who write stories in which Blake survived his wounds, or wasn't really on Gauda Prime at all because It Was The Clone, are flatly contradicting something which the original writers did their level best to make uncontradictable.
It does puzzle me, though, that I've never read any indignant denunciations of live-Blake PGPs on the grounds that they're frequently gushy, represent wish-fulfillment on the part of fans, and distort the vision of the original writers.
Which takes more liberties with 'Othello': a production in which Iago is portrayed as having a homosexual attraction to Othello, or one in which Desdemona isn't killed?" [Brooke B.]

8) Slash stories written by women are offensive/hurtful to gay men.

"Do you honestly mean to say that only gays are 'allowed' to write about gays? Do you hold that to be true about other divisions? Are white author's 'allowed' to have black characters in their books? Can Christians include Jews? Can the able-bodied have a handicapped character? Can the young write about the old? Honestly, this is one of the strangest literary prejudices I've heard of." [Susan Beth]
"You know, there are a lot of slash fans I should introduce you to--they would be seriously offended that you even dared suggest that slash is about gay men. It's not. It's about media characters (you know, those figments of someone's imagination) whom we place in a situation where they have sex/romance with someone of the same sex. That's it. There are precious few stories that are about 'gay men', fewer about the so-called 'gay lifestyle' (as if one life fits all) and of those few, almost none are in B7.
No, I don't know what it's like to be a gay man. How many writers know what it is to be shot by a space weapon? Have our minds fiddled with? Be a cowardly, drunken thief whose mind adjustments didn't 'take'? And if they write a story wherein Avon is sociopathic and/or schizophrenic, do you expect them to check that no-one with a mental illness will be offended by the story? Or do you save such odd constraints for slash only?
Does slash offend gay men? None of the gay men I know who've read it have been offended. Nor have I ever heard any complaints from any of the gay men to whom several other people have shown slash. Some of them did, however, laugh. And some of them turned green with envy! I won't distress you by telling you why. But stamina, frequency and talent had a *lot* to do with it!" (M. Fae Glasgow)

9) It is wrong to put any explicit sex in fanfic since there wasn't any in the series.

"As for sex in the B7 universe, its absence in portrayal is only a matter of the BBC forbidding obvious sexual activity. We know people have sex in Blakes 7 because people are born, people engage in foreplay, people wear seductive clothing and people discuss sex." (Leah Rosenthal)

10) There is no evidence that homosexuality exists in the B7 universe.

"We did have Dorian eyeing Avon with some interest, and Gun Sarr all set to paint a scarlet H on his forehead. And then there was Egrorian's obvious interest in Vila. (In fact, I've always been suspicious that that's why Avon picked Vila to accompany him in the first place--he somehow knew of Egrorian's interest in fair young men, and Vila was the closest match.)" [Betsy R.]
"There are four times I can think of where a homosexual interest is suggested, but since some of the characters involved have also shown interest in the opposite sex, maybe the word bisexual is more appropriate. Servalan and Veron in 'Pressure Point'; Krantor and Toise in 'Gambit'; Dorian and Avon in 'Rescue'; Egrorian and Pinder, and Vila in 'Orbit'." [Susan C.]

11) All slash is out of character since these guys simply aren't homosexuals.

"If anyone objects to stories that make Avon homosexual, why don't they object to stories that make Avon out to be a paranoid psychopathic killer? Hmmm? The implication is, of course, (you all knew this was coming, didn't you?) that it is somehow 'better' to be a thief, an embezzler, a traitor, a psychopath and a killer than it is to be a homosexual." (Ann Wortham)
"What sort of truth are we worried about? The characters aren't TRUE either; they're fiction, and just because they don't pee on-screen doesn't mean we can't assume they don't answer the call of nature sometimes. If you can enjoy a PGP story (at LEAST as improbable as A/V!), then slash fans can define the 'call of nature' however they want." (Lynn C.)
"These are fictional characters. We can't hurt them. We're allowed to kill them off, turn them into vampires, have them make ghastly mistakes." [Dawn F.]
"How can we know whether or not a particular character is heterosexual or homosexual? The only way to be sure would be to catch him in the act and inventory his partner's genitalia -- and we'd have to do that *every time* to rule out bisexuality." [Susan Beth]
"Who says the characters can't be gay or bi? It is never addressed on screen, but then, we rarely see characters doing many normal daily functions on screen (using the toilet, masturbating, etc.). If 10% of the population is gay, why not our guys?" [*]
"Sexual orientation is not manifested in physical appearance. The sterotypical image of a homosexual male is not, for the most part, what most gay men are like. They are not all effeminate, in fact, the majority of them are just like you and I. And unless you plan to creep into their bedroom, you aren't going to necessarily find any "proof" of their sexual orientation. Witness the surprise when celebrity homosexuals are outed. Twenty years ago, who would have guessed that Rock Hudson was gay." (Catherine Salmon)
"What about Cally and Avon, do you think they might have been lovers? They aren't shown in bed together, but there are things to support this supposition. (Looks, smiles, conversations in bedrooms, touches...) If you allow some of this sort of 'evidence' to count, then the average slash fan will be able to point at the same kind of 'evidence' for Blake and Avon, or Avon and Vila." (Lynn C.)

12) Adding sex distorts the relationships between the characters.

"The emotionally-charged relationship between Blake and Avon is one of the qualities that hooked me on the series. Although I sneered the first time I heard someone say what I'm about to repeat, I've found it to be true -- the relationship is not dealt with enough in genzines to suit me and slash is the only reliable source of what I want. I want more about the two of them and only slash stories seem willing to get into that tangled and fascinating ball of string on a regular basis." [Sue C.]

13) Why add sex? It isn't necessary to deepen or explore the relationship between the characters.

"The simple-minded answer is: sex is what lots of people use as the medium for expressing affection and exploring relationships -- real-world affection and relationships, I mean, as well as fictional ones." [Dawn F.]
"Because that's the aspect that interests us.
I can't speak for anybody else, but I'm not trying to get any 'point' across in my writing. I write slash because it's an intriguing way to deal with the characters and their issues, and because it's something I feel *moved* to do. And it's fun.
Freud said that dreams are the Royal Road to the unconscious. Sexuality is like that, too." [Erszebet Bathory]
"Maybe it's the fact that sex allows you to add yet more emotional intensity into an already intense relationship. It's one more thing for them to argue over. How do Avon and Blake handle a sexual attraction when they hate each other's guts? To get into bed with someone requires making yourself vulnerable.
What if you attempt sex as a way of trying to come closer together and then find it hasn't worked?
Alternatively, maybe it is the only thing that will bring two people together when all else has failed (not a version I go for much myself)." (Judith Proctor)

14) Slash unfairly shortchanges the female crew members.

"When the writers give all the good lines to the men, then the most interesting emotional relationships in the show will be the ones between the men; and those relationships will be likely to have a passionate intensity that would certainly be interpreted by most viewers as evidence of mutual erotic interest if one party were female. A viewer who's not horrified by the idea of homosexuality can easily imagine a further development of the story in which that emotional intensity slides across the line into something sexual. It wasn't what the writers intended at all, but they did lay the groundwork for it when they downplayed the female characters and focused exclusively on the men. Frankly, I think it's poetic justice that members of the sex they chose to slight now take pleasure in an interpretation of their work that they consider perverted." [Sarah Thompson]
"So Jenna and Cally don't get their fair amount of ink in slash zines? And exactly how is this different from the situation in any other set of zines?" [Susan Beth]
"I'd say a lot of the really bad Jealous Jenna stories are misogynistic. But then again, there are plenty of *gen* stories that qualify as misogynistic, as well--slash is not the only culprit. There are slash stories that fit into *every* negative category you can name...some are poorly written, some do warp the characters completely, some are misogynistic...but for every literary sin committed in a slash story, I can find a gen story just as bad..." [Michelle M.]

15) Why in the world would women want to read/write slash any way?

"My best guess is that if one man is a turn on, then two men are doubly so. My second guess is that if somebody wants to write a story that draws on the strong relationship between two characters, then they just extend that relationship as far as it will go." (Judith Proctor)
"As to why we like slash, I really only speak for myself, but I think most of us are drawn by the intensity of the relationship between the two men. I love the relationship between Blake and Avon whether it be sexual or not. Certainly it can also, the slash that is, be a 'turn-on', but it is not just any two men together, not even any two men I find attractive. It is the particular combination that I find so...interesting." (Catherine Salmon)
"Men tend to be stuck with emotionally frozen roles. Slash is a good way of unfreezing things." [Janice A.]
"While many slash stories are not sexually explicit and the nonphysical aspect of the relationship is often paramount in slash stories, some of us also like to read stories that make us press our thighs together and shudder (and then excuse ourselves for a few moments of solitude.)" [Sue C.]
"Why ask why? Are men constantly asked why they like seeing two women having sex? Are male porn video makers asked why they insist on putting in sex scenes with two females even if the actresses aren't into that sort of thing? Likewise writers of 'adult' books, which are, moreover, supposed to appeal to women as well? Are men cross-examined on their motives, psychological reasonings--and are they frequently characterised as being weak, needy and perverted just because, gosh, golly, gee, whiz, they like women with women? I honestly don't think there's any difference (apart from a reversal of gender here, of course) in men liking female/female and women liking male/male.'" (M. Fae Glasgow)
"Those seeking further understanding of the slash issue might wish to read "Textual Poachers" by Henry Jenkins ISBN 0-415-90571-0 (HB) ISBN 0-415-05972-9 (PB) In addition to studying median fandom as a culture in its own right, Jenkins explores the subject of fan fiction and devotes the whole of one chapter to slash. He considers the origins of the genre, the reasons why people read and write it, and the typical structural elements of slash stories. It's an academic approach, but an interesting one. He quotes several writers of Blake's 7 slash whom he has had correspondence with." (Judith Proctor)

16) Children, or people who don't want to be exposed to slash may come across it accidentally.

"Virtually all slash publishers are very careful to: 1) label their zines appropriately; 2) give warnings about the contents in their flyers; 3) require age statements. Despite these precautions, it is probably inevitable that occasionally some 'innocent' reader will be offended. This is unfortunate, but not nearly as undesirable as restricting *all* fiction to the level that would be suitable to the youngest or most naive person in the world.
And, after all, slash zines are hardly our society's only or most common source of references to homosexual activity." [Susan Beth]

17) Why can't you pro-slashers just shut up about the whole subject here? Why not just let the anti-slashers express their opinions?

"I didn't notice any slash fans out there posting questions to the effect of: 'How many of you out there AREN'T slash fans, and why the heck not? When so many zines are produced with slash in them, what's keeping you from broadening your interests in fanfic?' --Questions that, as a slash fan, I would love to hear answers to." (Lynn C.)
"Scenario: Suddenly slashfen take over the Blake's 7 fan fiction publishing in toto. All you can find to read is slash. Everything else is burned because rabid slash fen don't approve. Don't like being told what to read/produce by someone else's arbitrary whim? That's how _I_ see the opposing point of view as stated by several people here." [Joan C.]
"I don't remember anyone arguing that the antis didn't have a right to have their opinion and to air it here. My impression has always been the opposite: it's the antis who want the pros to shut up: don't speculate about slash here, don't post reviews of slash zines, and for heaven's sake don't write them." [Susan Beth]
"I think the main reason why slash writers/readers are so vocal in defending our right to read/write what we want is because we keep on (and keep on and keep on) coming across people who state quite openly, too often nastily, that we should NOT be allowed to read/write what we want. Or perhaps other slash fans leap to the battlements so quickly because they feel as I do: that we are singled out, that we are subjected to comments and attitudes that I don't see being made to/applied to other segments of fandom. Or perhaps we are so quick to fend off attacks on our freedom to read what we want because we've had so much damned practice." (M. Fae Glasgow)

In Conclusion

In conclusion, two quotes that I feel deserve to be reread and pondered on:

"I haven't read any slash, but I sure as hell wish those that have something against it would keep it to themselves on this list. From what I can see, the good slash stories have to do with a person's emotional attachments to others. Well, damn if that isn't true for ANY good story.
You don't like slash? Fine! Turn the bloody page! That's what it is there for." [Ken C.]
"Liz S. once made the most wonderful comment about this very thing (and Liz does _not_ like or read slash). She said that she had never heard of a slash zine following someone around, flapping its pages and screaming 'Read me, read me.' It's true of any material someone wants to censor. Censor it for _yourself_, then." (Ann Wortham)

Reception to the Defense Letter

Written/compiled by Susan Beth, this is a thought-provoking defense (but not apology! Hell no) for slash. I felt like cheering, and I'd never heard of the fandom constantly referred to in examples." ~ Bennie Robbins[4]

Some fans felt that the letter served its purpose well, by reducing the amount of circular debates regarding the existence of slash: "I really want a Generic Fanfic Defense Form Letter, like the Generic Slash Defense Form Letter that got created when I was in Blakes 7 fandom (which really did cut down on the length of the semi-annual slash debate)."[5]

Years later, the letter has found a positive reception amongst slash fans, even those unfamiliar with the mailing list or the Blake's 7 fandom: "This is not a writer's guide, but I'll [link to] it anyway: The Generic Slash Defense Form Letter. For whenever someone whines at you for being an evil slasher. It's a short collection of very intelligent and very articulate comments from slash fans from way back when. Surprise surprise, it's from a Blake's 7 mailing list. Just seeing the amount of brains in these comments is enough to give me a nerd boner. See what I mean about B7 slash fandom being hardcore, kids?"[6]

References

  1. From the Department of Redundancy Department by cesperanza, dated Jun. 21st, 2005.
  2. WebCite for "Spock Does Mulder / Woman-written 'slash' fiction couples male characters from film and TV".
  3. WebCite for What if Kirk had a three-way with Leia and Xena?.
  4. MetaFic accessed November 17, 2011; WebCite.
  5. mierelle719, dated December 15, 2007 (post now locked).
  6. How to write readable fanfic: a linkdump by snowgrouse, dated February 21, 2010.
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