“It’s Not Just Us Slashers: The Homoerotic Subtext”

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Title: “It’s Not Just Us Slashers: The Homoerotic Subtext”
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): July 23, 2006
Medium: online
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External Links: “It’s Not Just Us Slashers: The Homoerotic Subtext”; archive link
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“It’s Not Just Us Slashers: The Homoerotic Subtext” is a 2006 essay by princessofgeeks.

The post has 72 comments.

"I’m gonna need a reading list for this, sisters, but maybe you’ll bear with my totally personal happy multi-fandom ravings about how presumably straight guys (gross oversimplification of my ideas about sexual orientation) do in fact flirt with straight guys in canon in some of my fandoms, and that’s not my imagination. This is also about what I’ve observed about guys in all-guy or mostly-guy subcultures in real life, and how that impacts how we write slash. I’d love your thoughts about this place where slash intersects with pop culture and “real life” (again, a gross oversimplification)."

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

RDA’s Jack O’Neill totally flirts with MS’s Daniel Jackson through the whole series -- all those “ “Jack.” “Daniel.” “ moments that we all laugh about, and I, just yesterday, was re-watching S3 “Nemesis”, and Daniel asks Jack if he’s gotten his hair cut, and Jack asks Daniel if he can see his appendectomy scar, and it’s so flirting.

Kind of in the same way James Kirk flirted with Spock in TOS. Daniel and Spock rarely flirt back in canon, imho; but they certainly accept the affection being offered by these tough military guys.

This kind of flirting is what makes us slashers squee, and I’m wondering if it’s something that some actors enjoy and simply just do in these buddy situations, as a way of exploring a particular character type, or if there’s really a analog (unfamiliar to me? but real?) to some behavior in real life, like I saw in that “Hooligans” movie. Something that has to do with the military culture, or jock cultures... not only our fandom desire for slash?

In “The Sentinel,” it wasn’t so much actual flirting between the heroes, not so self-aware and humorous, the way RDA gives us Jack. But in “The Sentinel,” the military tough guy, Jim, instantly reached out to Sandburg, started opening up to him, touching him, yanking him close, and you could see Sandburg simply enjoy it and accept it. The flirting was there, but it was different. It’s a different dynamic than Jack and Daniel. Jim is just a much more touchy-feeling person, yet he denies it and doesn’t want to discuss it. Yet it’s there, it’s part of his personality, and eventually he comes to accept Sandburg’s on the “inside“ of his defenses, part of his inner circle. This is very clear by the episode, is it called “Remembrance“? Where Jim has to face how his father helped force him to repress his Sentinel abilities? I may have the episode title wrong. One of the most important eps for Jim and Blair’s relationship, IMHO. And I’m talking canon here. Not trying to see this through slashy glasses; not at all.

By contrast, canon again, not simply my slash reflexes, I think Jack O’Neill always knew exactly what he was doing with Daniel, flirting with him like that. I see him as a much more self-aware person than Jim, with less denial in his personality. He is very clear sighted about himself and he’s got a great shell, or mask -- a great public persona that he‘s usually totally in control of. He made very conscious choices about what he did, how he treated people, once he recovered from the worst of his depression over his son‘s death and the surreal aftermath of the discoveries of “Stargate: The Movie“ and “Children of the Gods“, the pilot of the series.

I’m not sure how this translates into what I want from slash. I’m positively gleeful when Jack treats Daniel like that in canon, flirts with him, touches him, because I want that, and because it is canon. But I don’t have enough information to know how realistic that is -- if it’s just something the actor put into Jack O’Neill's personality, or if it’s actually part of some kind of “buddy movie genre” dynamic that we translate into slash.

Chemistry between buddies in buddy movies is a necessary element of slash, for me. I understand that people slash characters or “RPS” characters who never meet on screen, or who are enemies on screen, but I have to have some kind of chemistry between the actors for that to work for me. I know, now that I’ve discovered slash, that I do see relationships that scream “slash” to me in the shows and movies I fall in love with. You know the old test, which I’ve seen summarized here from time to time: “If you see two male characters do things which, if it were a female character and a male character, would make you say, “The are so doing it,” that’s slash.” So that works for me.

I do think it’s true that the slow and very welcome, to me, incursion of actual gay culture into the pop culture consciousness of the USA, most recently the commercial and critical success of “Brokeback Mountain“, has changed slash over the decades, and I’ve seen the recent debates around here making comparisons between “old school overly romantic non-realistic slash” and “slash that’s more like realistic stories about gay men.” I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or thing, and there’s this whole other area to discuss about how women use slash to do something very specific for themselves...

Excerpts from Comments

[orca-girl]:

I’ve also noticed, at least where I live, that African-American subcultures allow men to be much more physically affectionate than the white middle-class and white lower-middle-class males I mostly hang around with. It’s only the NFL football players that get to slap each others’ butts, you know? I think US culture must be tons more uptight about homoeroticism and certainly about signs of affection between men than Europe and the UK. I know nothing about Canada, sad to say.

The first, I think, depends on which sub-set of white middle/lower-class culture you come from.

I've run into an interesting example of this recently, in another fandom, where I'm writing a slowly-developing m/m romance in a non-Earth culture. And one of my goals is to avoid feminization -- I want both characters to be *guys*, but guys who get to a point where they can be comfortably bisexual. At any rate, it's interesting, because one of my editors is a guy, and the other is his wife, and they're very very open to this storyline, very supportive of it, but they're also providing a sort of check on, "how is this coming across? too not-guy-like? too obviously slashy for its own sake without being contexualized?"

And sometimes that other perspective is working, and sometimes it doesn't, because... open-minded as both are, they're also both products of their particular time/place in our culture, and also their own upbringing. While I'm the product of mine. This is a long way of describing the fact that a guy who was raised as a Quaker in Oregon, however liberal his mindset, has internalized certain expectations about how guys interact. One of the big things with him and with his wife (not a Quaker, but raised in the same area; nor is he a Quaker any longer) is their attitude towards touching between men and what that means. Evidently, in semi-rural Oregon, men don't touch. Like, at all. So even if you are trying to show only a level of touching like what you see RDA's Jack doing on SG-1... their reaction to it is, "that's *really* slashy". (Whereas, I'm like, "But I'm not *up* to the slashy part yet! That's supposed to be *normal*!")

Because my perspective comes from having grown up on the east coast in Catholic communities where there were large numbers of Irish, Italians, and Greeks. Touching? Between straight men? Are you kidding? Of course, touching, hugging, kissing, arms slung around shoulders, rough-housing, whatever. All over the place.

So I'm middle-class-white, and these friends are middle-class-white, and yet -- our expectations regarding what's normal have been calibrated *so* very differently.

[princessofgeeks]:

i so see what you're doing with the other story in the other fandom, and how that idea of "is it just slashy as we understand slashy" or "is this a plausible development of the relationship in context" can unfold and how you need feedback outside the slash fandom to make sure you're not writing it too narrowly.

this relates to debates I've seen about "Is there a slash style that transcends particular fandoms, and what is it"

Go you.

And your story development is interesting, because so much of slash actually depends on that idea that previously straight guys, or guys we can assume in canon were straight, fall in love and have sex. and how does that happen? How we write that speaks to our ideas, whether inside our slashy romantic world, or ideas that we really have, about how sexual orientation and sexual attraction actually work.

Since I've been talking about slash with a few carefully chosen guys outside of the slash fandom, it's been amazing to me how several of what is admittendly a very small sample will cheerfully admit to "not actually being all that straight, really," thought I assumed they were straight, based on the fact that they were actually married to women, and also not balk at all at the kind of plot lines that I would have not hesitated to label WNG. That makes me blink in a very Daniel like way.

So none of my ideas about the continuum of sexuality from straight to gay and whatever grey areas there are in between are enlightened by actual scientific research, but all the anecdotal stuff about sexual identity that I've gotten into by talking about slash has been quite interesting.

i know alot more about women, of course, esp. women inside the slash community, but yeah.

Expectations about how physical can you get and what that means do indeed vary alot, and clearly the East Coast ethnic cultures you mention are a bunch more touchy feeling than guys I know here in the bible belt.

But you know? That is changing. It's partly generational, and partly cultural.
[orca-girl]:

Part of it too is that in a fandom like SG's, we're used to the idea that "here is where we do slash" and "over here is where we don't do slash". But what I'm doing in this other fandom, is -- the group/context I'm writing in doesn't have that divide. The world (which isn't ours, isn't contemporary) is fairly heteronormative but has an understanding already of some ways that homosexuality occurs within it; in fact to a certain degree that homosexuality is institutionalized. But while the writing group is based in a fannish world, it's all OCs. So there's no "slash" in that sense -- no competing interpretations of characters presented in a canon.

For that reason, most of the people in the fandom/group don't think about "yes, I'm a slasher" or "no, I'm not". The question is more, "do I actively write any homoerotic stories, or not?" But the presumption is that everyone agrees that homoeroticism is part of the canon, so any given story might contain it. (There's also no system of warnings or labels, really, so readers don't self-select what to read in that way.)

The reason I lay it out like that is that I think in a context like that, writing a homoerotic romance is a different proposition than writing slash in a fandom like SG. Mainly because -- in SG fandom, if I write slash and label it as such, I know that the readers I will get by and large are those who like slash and buy it at some level. And then, I also know that we all (or 99% of us, I guess, to be safe) have seen the same canon, even if we don't interpret it the same way. I at least know that *you* know that Jack and Daniel *have* a history stretching back *this* far, that it included these events, that if I refer to the way Jack touches Daniel in particular ways that you will have seen that too, even if I am offering you a different way to think about what you saw.

But in this other thing I'm undertaking, my audience isn't necessarily sold on slash. They aren't even necessarily sold on the concept of homoeroticism, or on what it can look like. (To refer back to another long-winded comment by me -- does it only look like Carson from Queer Eye? Does it only look like La Cage aux Folles? What if you can't tell by "looking" at the guys, what then?)

The folks I'm describing who are giving me the outside-view feedback are interesting -- because they aren't slash fans, but they're sympathetic to the idea at least. And yet I sometimes wonder what their reactions would be if they *didn't already know* I was intending what I'm writing to end up as homo-romantic. That is, do they react to the level of touching I'm writing because they are primed to see the characters' interactions as slashy? What would they think if I had not primed them? Would they still say "ooh, that's so slashy" or even "maybe you don't intend this, but that seems kinda gay to me"? I don't know. I don't know that *they* can know -- because they can't unknow what they now know. ;-)
[princessofgeeks]:

Well, about the actors and their approach to their characters and how they feel about slash: I have a huge lot of opinions about this, because of having been in a fandom, LOTR, where the gay subtext was practically canon, and where the PTB were very comfortable discussing both the subtext and the way the kind of "male bonding" smarmy stuff informed their approach to the characters, and like, I gather, MS and CJ, because these LOTR actors participated in cons, they had to cope with slash fans, and mostly they coped very cheerfully and gracefully.

And also, of course, in a related way, LOTR is one of the big RPS fandoms, like popslash, and that sharpens all those arguments. So I have lot of opinions about this, but to summarize:

I don't hold out for the actors accommodating, or even taking notice of, what we do as slashers. I don't want to "inflict" slash on them. I don't think what we do is wrong; far from it, but let's face it. We are writing sexual fantasies for ourselves, using them, and they shouldn't have to know about that. I mean, I know they're probably flattered to be sex symbols and everything, but really. I dont' expect them to approve or like it or even take notice. If they're willing to talk about it, that's great. But I don't think we should harp on it. Our erotica is normal to us now, but it's not exactly mainstream, you know?

And when it's FPS, I don't think they get to care, even if they disapprove. (I'm setting aside the copyright arguments.)

When it's RPS, I can see them caring more, or being more upset, but the morality of RPS is another argument for another day.

I would certainly, as a fan, like to know how the actors approach their characters, and the bond between their characters, and I do think there's a subtext that MS has referred to between Jack and Daniel, and we pick up on that and amplify it and make it into slash, and as you see by my post here, I do think it's real, and I honestly think the actors could factor that in, if they wanted to, without having to take account of the slash fandom, especially if the slash fandom makes them uncomfortable.

But I haven't read much about what RDA thinks of slash. I do think that that is a separate issue than getting him to talk about how he sees Jack's relationship with Daniel, and why RDA has played the Jack character the way he has. I can't stress that enough.

But maybe because slash is so vocal nowadays in the con and fandom world, there's no way to talk about the homoerotic subtext without talking about slash, and if that doesn't make the actors uncomfortable, well, that's fine, too. I'd love to know how it all works to them, but I can do what I do totally separate and apart from the actors.

Being in an RPS fandom made all this very stark to me -- how in some ways we want the approval and the notice of our celebrities, and I think we have to have very clear boundaries about that, whether we're interested in RPS or FPS. It's porn, what we're doing. If that makes the actors uncomfortable, I can't blame them, but on the other hand, they present themselves as sex symbols, and if knowing about slash or the fact that they have a big female audience makes the PTB pander to that female audience by giving us more of MS and RDA with their shirts off, I'm certainly going to be happy about that.

[orca-girl]:

My thing is: no, I don't really need either the actors or the creators to approve of slash. I think it's kind of neat when they do -- mostly because I think that fanfic and slash is kinda neat, in itself. I have no hang-ups about thinking it's wrong. I can talk someone's ear off for hours about what I think are the interesting and valid socio-anthropological and literary implications/ramifications of both fanfic and slash, and why I think they are positively good things.

I guess that what I feel sometimes when I run across someone who has been inadvertantly involved in slash (i.e. an actor/creator), who's sort of had it imposed upon them, and who has a negative reaction to it -- I guess what I just wish was that there was some way to have an everybody-equal-at-the-table discussion with them about it, only because I often feel that if they're disturbed by it, it may be because they are working from reflexive reactions or misunderstandings, or just that they don't have the tools to think about it in other ways.

(Then again -- for one thing, I don't fool myself that getting people to love the idea of fanfic/slash is merely a matter of presenting them with the perfect argument. Plus, I do understand in some ways why creators/actors may have a visceral reaction against it that they have difficulty shaking. Because of their own unique relationship to the text, I can understand them sometimes being unable to get enough critical distance from the issue to reach a comfort level with it.)

But where I'm coming from with it tends to be *not* "please validate my own liking/participation by being okay with it!" -- it's more just, "I think this is also really interesting and neat, and I wish I could help you see the ways that it is, which might make you feel better about being a part of it in whatever small way that you are, even though you didn't really ask to be".

(I have some issues, too, with the "imposition" thing, but that's a different rant.)

I even have some conflicting thoughts about the way in which -- in re. actors, for example -- we *are* involving them/using them. The extent varies of course. But I don't necessarily buy the FPS argument that "it has to do with the characters, not the actors, so why do the actors care?" I don't think that's true. Case in point: I wouldn't be into fanfic about Jack and certainly not reading/writing slash about Jack, if it was Kurt Russell's Jack. Or if somebody else had been hired to play Jack -- I might have liked the character, but I don't think it would have set me off in the way RDA's Jack does. Sure, it would have set off other people. But I think that for each of us, our relationship to slash particularly is very personal, and we all have a line that we draw, where we slash and where we don't. And the actor is a big part of the decision we make. His performance matters. His physical appearance matters. His body matters. Maybe we love the character more than the actor, but in that sense at least the character is inseparable from who plays him.

So I do get that discomfort that actors can have, even when it's FPS.

References