"Alternative" Thoughts

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Title: "Alternative" Thoughts
Creator: Gerry Downes
Date(s): September 1978
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: Star Trek: TOS, slash, K/S
External Links:
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"Alternative" Thoughts by Gerry Downes is an essay about fanfiction and K/S and contains extensive comments about her seminal zine Alternative, one which she describes as "... a celebration. It is primarily an examination and a revelation of feelings, a collection of poetry, line sketches, and short prose that, for all its fluid structure, does tell a story when taken as a whole."

first page of the article

The article was printed in Enterprise Incidents #6.

Some Excerpts

One of the most fascinating things about the Star Trek format is the endless possibility for examining new story themes and expanding character development. On television the possibilities were limited by considerations of time and money, as well as the temper of the times, but a fanzine story has no such constraints. The limitations are only imagination and talent of the writer, and the tolerance level of the reader. Even this last is minimal, because fanzines are, by definition, small circulation publications, and the readers tend to gravitate to those writers who portray a view of the Star Trek universe that is similar to their own. Because the universe as delineated on television is wonderfully rich and complex, and often contradictory, it is possible to have many different interpretations from the same basic data, all equally valid. It becomes simply a matter of choosing the view you like best.
It has been said, perhaps rightly, that for each one of us there is but one perfect friend, one complementary soul with whom to share a life. To many of us, Kirk and Spock have found this 'perfect' friendship. They have demonstrated time and again respect, concern, and even devotion for each other. And there is a selflessness to this devotion, a willingness to sacrifice career and even life for one another -- it is this selflessness that lifts the friendship above the more ordinary definitions of the word. Honor to either is honor to both, for as their friendship developed, they have, in a sense, blended into a composite personality composed of two distinct and complete persons, but with a dual nature that is greater than the sum of both parts -- they no longer need words to communicate; a look or a touch can convey essential messages. One does not need to look over his shoulder to assess the other's position; he knows the other has automatically taken a supportive stance, regardless of the situation at hand.
'Believability' probably accounts for the numerous 'trapped together in pon farr ' scenarios -- one fan written series based on this premise is truly an elegantly erotic classic [1] -- but the premise itself has serious drawbacks. Aside from the fact that, at its most simplistic, it is only a transmutation of the standard human rape fantasy (wherein one is forced, and is subsequently glad), there is the very real possibility that the relationship could be spoiled precisely because it had been forced, leaving Kirk to feel virtuously self-sacrificing, and Spock overloaded with guilt. The 'hurt/comfort syndrome/ is also popular, and while it eliminates the 'forced' aspect, there is plenty of physical and mental suffering to set things off . There is also the nagging doubt that, if circumstances had been otherwise. . . In other words, 'If these things had not happened, we would not have chosen this.' In order for love to flourish, there must be free and open choice, not just a convenient rationalization. If this choice is not made in the beginning, and of times in the beginning the inter-relatedness of all aspects of a relationship are not apparent enough for a choice to be made, at some point the issue must be faced.
One flaw in some of the stories that have been printed since ALTERNATIVE, and in some of the objections as well, is that these are 'homosexual' love stories. They are not, in the generally known sense of the term. Specific acts of intercourse may be labeled 'homosexual,' there being an infinite number of ways humanoid bodies can interact, but homosexuality, per se, involves a same gender sexual fixation -- in male homosexuality it's a male to male fixation -- and that is not in operation here. Kirk is profoundly heterosexual in his orientation, and Spock functions quite effectively with women whenever he chooses to do so. While they may eventually come to appreciate maleness as an erotic stimulus, the relationship does not begin that way. The emotional attachment and committment come first, and anything else that may occur can happen only because of that attachment.
The central problem is not that the "lovers' are both of the same gender -- these two people love each other very much; it just happens that they are both male. The problem is, rather, the eternal conflict between the desire to give oneself and the need to remain separate, and the self: directed doubt that 'if you really knew me, how could you still love me?'
When ALTERNATIVE was printed, there were predictable cries of outrage from people who simply could not transcend the gender question, and protests from those to whom any work with an erotic focus is pornographic. Still, the initial reactions to ALTERNATIVE were generally about what I had hoped for. They showed that the majority of readers were willing to look beyond the surface levels of relationships. I was, admittedly, a little afraid to publish it -- by its very nature and theme, it is vulnerable to criticism. Even when finished, it was still open in structure -- perhaps too open; some readers to this day insist it is not really one story, but three separate endings -- and the poems themselves have a lyric simplicity, an idealism, even romanticism that leaves them utterly defenseless to anyone wanting to reject the theme -- they do not explain themselves; they simply are. There was also a furor over the price, though anyone who disliked the book could have a full refund . And in a way, perhaps it was just as well that it was expensive to produce; it kept ALTERNATIVE from being purchased from casual curiosity. Some readers thought it intensely masculine, some thought it far too feminine . The reaction here may very well depend on what the reader himself has brought to the work; it is difficult to remain outside this particular story, and if you are not comfortable being inside . . . Often the responses were touchingly candid; people were thinking, examining not only the story's characters and motivations, but their own feelings as well. "I know I shouldn't like this, but I do." was a common reaction. There was also the sentiment, "I still don't agree with the idea, but I like the way it was presented" and what is actually quite a tribute, "I don't like this idea, and I don't believe this could ever happen -- but while I was reading ALTERNATIVE ... I did." The most common response, and the one I still get most often as people borrow copies and pass around xeroxes is that, "I've lost count of how many times I've read this." To which I can only answer, "So have I."
There are other, more explicitly erotic K/S stories being printed these days, and I often hear from people who say that they can now read and appreciate the layers of meaning in these stories -- for them, ALTERNATIVE opened mental doors. The topic is receiving more serious analysis than was possible before, and I have made contact with a great number of thoughtful, caring people, who on an intellectual basis at least, have become friends. I have also written a K/S story in answer to a specific request by a fan for a story in which Kirk and Spock were lovers , but where this was only a part of the background, not the main focus. More than a few readers have said they hoped this would become the proto-type for future Star Trek stories. It's good to see love once in a while -- and to see that love works. That is essentially what we are doing with the Kirk/ Spock theme -- exploring the varieties of human behavior , questioning the established, but not necessarily 'normal' roles people play, and in the process, growing. That makes it a valuable story theme, even for fans who don't read these stories -- because as we understand more about each other, we're going to write more and better stories regardless of the theme we examine. And our favorite fiction universe should 'live' for all of us -- for a nice long time.

Reactions and Reviews

This is the single best article in EI#6. I have not read ALTERNATIVE since it is impossible to obtain, but I have read some of the newer ones, such as Companion and Thrust. The subject is, as Gerry Downes states, very controversial. While I don't believe there was a single example of this relationship in the aired episodes, within the confines of these zines (especially COMPANION), I believe the possibility could exist. G. Downes' article is very thorough and well written.[2]
An intelligent and well-written article to justify the writing of the "let's-not-talk-about-it-theme." But again, anyone who can write as well as Gerry Downes should be able to create her own heroes and situations to great advantage. I suggest that the same substitution be applied for the characters of these erotic stories. To use established characters is still imitation, no matter how well done. To write Star Trek for fun is fun. But to believe that expanding and elaborating on these characters is the one reason for writing is self-defeating. It may also be one of the reasons that for anyone who does not know and love Star Trek and all its characters, and who happens to read one of these stories, may conceive Star Trek as something entirely different. I also am of the opinion that Mr. Nimoy, Mr. Shatner, and Deforest Kelley may feel that their privacy is being invaded and we don't do that to friends.[3]
I read everything by Gerry Downes [a] minimum three times. Gerry is rational, articulate, sensitive. She also is not garrulous. She speaks when speech is necessary. I truly wish everyone who was interested in the fandom phenomenon would get EI #1-6.[4]
... the Kirk/Spock relationship, which to me has always been one of the most ideal and perfect formats upon which to develop friendship and brotherhood, is being "explored and developed" into a homosexual relationship is immensely disturbing to the point of fury and indignant outrage... A deep breath and several house of reflective and contemplative introspection later, I calmed down -- a little. Whether it be rationalization, self-defense of my ideals, standards and precepts, or whatever, I asked myself who is Christopher Randolph, [5] Gerry Downes and ENTERPRISE INCIDENTS that their opinions, standards and viewpoints should so upset me? Answer: Because I am succumbing to a basic ego/personality weakness of mine, that of crediting the opinions of others as more valid and defensible than mine. Poppy-cock! I disagree with Christopher Randolph and Gerry Downes. Yet, as I think Gerry Downes indicated in her article "Alternative Thoughts," the exploration of the varieties of human behavior, questioning the established, the roles people play and way, does offer an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. My opinions, standards, and views differ immensely from theirs, yet it is not total and absolute for I found some of what they had to say interesting, agreeable, thoughtful. I am just taken aback at the difference of conclusions that can come from the same foundation. Nevertheless, the difference does compel me to look within myself, examine my concepts, beliefs, and opinions, and consciously establish and express my own stand and viewpoint and its validity, for myself, and someday -- if by some miracle my abilities develop to such a point -- to others. From my own self-analysis I believe what has disturbed me the most is my ability to put aside that which so intensely bothers me so as to 'see' and enjoy what was formally a pastime of immense delight, recreation, and pleasure as I once did. By that I mean that I am very angry -- both at myself and those of differing opinions -- that I can no longer read and enjoy a Kirk/Spock story without wondering and being on my guard as to what the author is implying. I guess what I'm experiencing is the 'death of innocence' and the deep emotional/psychological turmoil such a process entails. On an intellectual level I say that perhaps one day I may be grateful and appreciative for what is in all probability an opportunity for me to grow and develop a stronger awareness, confidence and ability in myself, but at the moment I can only feel that I have lost something very dear and cherished. This naturally leads me to want to break off all chances of further upsets which would be not to purchase your fanzine ever again, stick exclusively to the fan fiction of writers whose views, opinions and outlooks are similar to mine and there to be trusted, accepted and enjoyed without reservations, and keep my own fan fiction to myself.[4]

References

  1. ^ She is probably referring to Shelter and Poses.
  2. ^ from Elaine H in Enterprise Incidents #7
  3. ^ from Fern L in Enterprise Incidents #7
  4. ^ a b from Enterprise Incidents #7
  5. ^ This fan is making a reference to the author of The Many Faces of Fan Fiction, an article which also addressed and explained K/S