A Brief History of Slash

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News Media Commentary
Title: A Brief History of Slash
Commentator: Morgan Leigh Davies
Date(s): September 19, 2013
Venue: online
Fandom:
External Links: A Brief History of Slash - The Toast, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A Brief History of Slash is a 2013 blog post by Morgan Leigh Davies.

The post has 173 comments.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

...the explosion of slash as a substantial subculture can be tied directly to two cultural phenomena: the birth of the internet and the rapidly shifting public attitude toward homosexuality. Unlike the pre-Wildean Victorians, we have very clear definitions of what it means to be gay or bisexual, though the ever-expanding umbrella of queer sexuality now includes a wide array of terms whose meanings have yet to penetrate the mainstream. And unlike the Star Trek slash fans who used to pass around zines at fan conventions, we have the entire expansive reach of the internet, where everything exists and everything is Google-able.
Like most things, fandom and fanfiction are neither inherently good nor bad; they simply are. In many ways the communal vibe of fandom writing spaces is warm, encouraging, and rewarding; fanfiction’s general refusal to play by the rules of capitalism can be refreshing, rendering it a form of pure play and expression rather than work. From another angle, though, the tendency of young women writers to funnel their efforts into this sphere can be seen as a preemptive act of isolation, of self-protection, of avoidance of the much more brutal world of publishing.
As many other people have pointed out before, slash is much more about women and female sexuality than it is about men or male sexuality, for all that the characters on the page (or, well, screen) are male, and in possession of biologically male genitalia. As my friend Caitlin wrote in a Tumblr post on the subject, “any understanding that slash is only meant to or required to depict real world relationships is a false understanding of what slash is.” The psychological attractions of same-sex pairings are myriad, many of them fairly straightforward: when the players in your romantic drama are both men, or both women, the necessary societal complexities that manifest in male/female relationships need never come up. Though slash in the past focused more often on issues of gay oppression and homophobia, internalized and externalized, that trend has mostly been supplanted by a kind of fantasy world in which characters rarely struggle with their sexualities and sexual identities, in which two men falling in love is a remarkably straightforward phenomenon, typically unquestioned not only by the characters in question but also by the world surrounding them.
Slash can be understood most simply and potently as an indirect dialogue between women and their bodies. Many fans have historically been eager to categorize this dialogue as inherently sexist, as resulting purely from an internalized misogynistic disgust with female sexuality and specifically with female genitalia.
But it is also an oversimplification to pin the popularity of slash purely on internalized misogyny, or to criticize it for being an outlet of women’s – particularly young women’s – complex relationships with their own sexualities. I’ll quote Caitlin one final time: “For many women, particularly young women […] it’s a way of working out ideas about sexuality and romance without worrying about their own position as women.” I like, particularly, the use of the phrase “without worrying” here. No matter how women want to engage with sex and romance – and that may, indeed, be “not at all” – we all must engage in that complex dialogue with our bodies as sexual (or asexual) objects, and understand ourselves as sexual (or asexual) beings precisely because the prevailing cultural narrative around female sexuality is so dominated by men. It is difficult to be a woman with a body, no matter what kind of body you have, and it is difficult to be a woman with any kind of sexual or erotic identity that does not match up to the narrow – perhaps impossibly so – category the male-dominated culture has deemed suitable for us to inhabit.
Slash, then, is not merely women expending their literary energy on romantic stories: it is also the site of enormous anxiety, and while it is not somehow immune to problematic undercurrents or tendencies, it is also a way of processing that almost impossibly weighty anxiety and turning it into something else, into an act of play, of subversion, of uncomplicated erotic arousal and romantic satisfaction. If the culture were free of misogyny – if the patriarchy, that is, did not exist – it would not be necessary, or would be the simple equivalent of men getting off on watching lesbians get off. But right now that culture is an unattainable dream: all of us women, for the foreseeable future, will have fraught relationships with our bodies. So we have to talk to them, and if we have to do that through the shadows of ourselves we’ve transformed into men – well, as far as I’m concerned, we could be doing a whole lot worse.

Comments at the Post

sednarea51:
This is so thoughtful and wonderful- it helped me uncover a little of why I find this genre so attractive. I particularly like the discussion of how slash allows women to explore sexuality in a space somewhat separated from cultural pressures (body image, patriarchy, misogyny). I feel like you really hit the nail on the head there (at least as far as my personal experience goes). Thank you for writing it!
mirandawmeyer:
idk, on the one hand, I feel you, but on the other...one of the oft-bemoaned tropes of fandom is that we always go for the conventionally-attractive young thin white men and ship them above and beyond whoever else. Like, I've already seen Ichabod/Headless Horseman fic go up on AO3 for Sleepy Hollow despite the fact that Ichabod/Abbie is RIGHT THERE STARING AT YOU and also really where are you getting this. (Also, that fic was tagged "neck kissing" and I am VERY CONCERNED for what that means when the Headless Horseman is one half of the pairing.) Or the relative paucity of Tony/Rhodey fic or even Tony/Natasha or Steve/Peggy or Natasha/Pepper, or Thor/Loki vs. Jane/Darcy, or Wincest and Destiel vs. Dean/Cassie (WHICH MY GOD IS A CANON RELATIONSHIP) or or or or. (I except Hannibal from this somewhat because while I love me some Will/Beverly or Bev/Freddie or Freddie/Alana, Hannibal/Will is also RIGHT THERE STARING AT YOU.) So like...the character basis for shipping Gimli/Legolas is already there...WHAT'S STOPPING US, EH???? Short grizzly bearded dudes can be hot too, amirite? *tips hat to first boyfriend*
lyetteann:
I'm so pleased to see an in-depth piece on slash that doesn't come from the POV of "sweet jesus, what is this? Hide yo kids, hide yo wives!" I wish I had time to read all of this right now, but I promise to come back and provide my Old Fandom Hag perspective later on!
[an owl in moonlight]:
CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE INAUTHENTIC SEX IN M/M SLASH VS. F/F SLASH.
lyn:
On the one hand, I completely agree with the point that slash is often used to create safe fantasy spaces for young women to think about sex and masculinity. On the other hand, I'm still troubled by those Ao3 stats, especially because they are likely even more skewed in favor of (white, white, white) M/M than they suggest -- people often tag F/M into a story when they only mean to briefly mention or even break apart the pairing. So many young girls in fandom are eager to erase fictional women, and to justify it by setting impossibly high standards for female characters. Does this come from internal anxiety about their own identities? Probably. But it's still distressing.
ahoj:
I remember a couple years ago on the Pinto (Chris Pine/Zach Quinto) community, they had a poll up where members could choose from multiple options about why they liked slash. SURPRISINGLY the overwhelming majority of self-reported answers was "I just like imagining pretty boys together, OK?" and not "I'm threatened by my own sexuality" or "Focusing on two males allows me to subvert patriarchal expectations and roles about relationships." It was interesting because I think a lot of people in fandom probably don't even realize why they're doing what they're doing... I certainly did not at the time.
MalloryOrtberg:
I mean, I think it can definitely be both. There are lots of young women who get a ton out of writing and reading slash, and there are a lot of grown-ass women who are centered and reasonably well-adjusted and who have given a lot of critical thought to sexuality and culture and still love the stuff, so it's not necessarily something that needs to be examined away.
mirandawmeyer:
I remember reading a thing a while ago that was basically saying that slash, really, is women making love to one another mentally via male bodies (and that that is great but please at least understand some basics about how anal sex works), and I think that's a huge part of it. I haven't done this, but I personally know women who write back and forth to each other in the form of porn not even about two male characters but about some male character/actor making love to the other woman. At that point, it really does become something very close to sexting at length by proxy, and I think that's very telling about how fanfic or slash culture can be a medium for female relationships and desire.
chaosprime:
Just so you know, every time somebody from the fanfic/fanworks community uses the term "fandom" to refer exclusively to that community, as you did several times in this piece, I hate that community a little more.
[MalloryOrtberg]:
Duly noted. We have written it down in our Book of Souls.
[ aja ]:
from the perspective of someone in that community who often sees "fandom" used to refer to sci-fi/fantasy-based communities that seem to stop just short of roping in fanfiction and other fanworks, to me the choice of fans within those community to self-identify as "fandom" is done in part to make those other communities aware that we exist, not to claim that we are the only fandom or the end of fandom. Lately I try to clarify that when I say "fandom" I am referring to "fanworks-based, internet-based fandom community" :)
craniest:
I remember long long ago, many many moons ago, pre internet ago, attending a wonderful slash convention in Santa Barbara where everyone was trading zines and duping videotapes and there were only a few men registered]] (one as a guest, the rest attendee) and by "few" I mean "fewer than I can count on one hand". I forget who the guest was but one of the attendees was Henry Jenkins, author of "Textual Poachers" and former MIT professor who actually taught classes on media consumption and the role of fanfiction in the way consumers experience media by making it interactive. Now all you kids get off my lawn :-D
keristar:
The main reason I was drawn to slash as a wee teen in the 90s is that I'm a lesbian and I like romance stories, but I was really tired of the male/female couplings. The first slash I ever read (and does it really count as slash) was Xena/Gabrielle at the tender age of 13 and also that was how I realized my sexuality (well, partly) (turns out I'm an asexual lesbian and I didn't learn that word until I was 20) (I have little to no sex drive or urge, but what little there is likes the ladies). ANYWAY I learned that it doesn't have to be m/f, but the only place to get not m/f was in fandom and slashing and m/m was more popular, so I'll take what I get and be happy that it's not more heteronormative stuff (even if it often wraps itself up in male-female rolls, which, ugh). Weirdly, I haven't been in a fandom since Xena where there were two strong female leads that I liked enough to put together. There were a few people in HP fandom that did good f/f stuff, but I only read it because of the writer, not the pairing. The characterizations and the way two characters play off each other are way more important to me than the hotness of the sex or mashing them up just because.
theziot:
Really enjoyed this piece, especially the mention of the generous gift-giving ethos that informs fan culture. I tend to write stories not for general consumption (even if I post them publicly) but as birthday and Christmas gifts for close friends, or cheer-up stories for bad days, and love receiving the same. It's a way of expending effort and care on someone in a non-financial and imaginative way, and I really value that aspect of my life. I and a good number of my friends who write are not what I would consider candidates for professional-writerhood, at least not of fiction -- it's nice to have an outlet for writing that is low-stakes. But I have at least one friend that I would like to propel out of fanwriting-for-free and into the literary limelight, so your point about the isolation of the young female writer is still well taken. I have very diverse pairing interests now, but I was more exclusively into m/m when I was a teenager or in college, which makes me think that part of it was due to a more distinct dearth of queer representational options in media. Things are by no means as utopian and widespread now as I (or anyone) would like, but I find myself more eager to seek out media with canonical queer ships rather than constructing my own. This was the Torchwood turning point in my life. (Hence an overlong struggle to justify watching Glee, now ended. I love you, Santana, but I can't do it anymore.)
morgandavies:
I love the gift-giving culture of fandom, too, and I know a lot of people who write fic who either aren't quite good enough to get published for real and/or just don't have any interest in that, and I love that there's a space for them to be creative that's so welcoming and positive so much of the time. I find myself more and more irritated as time goes by, though, by how many people I know who are actually INSANELY talented and should really have book deals and who I think are just kind of afraid to leave that comfortable space. I mean, I totally understand why they feel that way - it can be really hard! But it's also important that women (generally speaking) do that, so that we get to be part of the mainstream literary culture and conversation too. AT LEAST, THAT'S HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT.
[ lian ]:
Slightly OT! So actually, because of the fanfic/publishing intersection -- have you heard of the Captive Prince phenomenon? I mean, I'm a huge fan, but it's also simply interesting to watch a fandom-inspired, self-published origfic get picked up by a major publisher. Makes you sit up and pay attention -- if this succeeds, what's next, you know?tl;dr 50 Shades forced even major publisher to look at fandom as a resource?
vera:
I have to say as a fanfic author, one of the joys is the responsiveness of the community as well. When I did get published in a more mainstream way, the lack of instant critique was a jarring change. It's a wonderful thing to put out your stories and hours later have comments from people who love what you love immediately.
morgandavies:
I think that het pairings probably get written less in certain circles because they're more often fulfilled in canon - like, I am a huge crazy Homeland fangirl, but a) there's not a real fandom presence around that show, and b) THE SHOW IS PRACTICALLY FANFICTION ANYWAY. I did do Homeland for Yuletide last year which was incredibly fun and rewarding, but like, I don't need to read a ton of fanfic about Carrie and Brody's fucked up relationship; it's already all there on the screen, you know? Whereas slash tends to thrive on subtext and the fact that the fan's desires will never be gratified within the text of the show - hence, the satisfaction of writing about it yourself.
Thischarmingand:
Fanfiction does best in those little lightless (and possibly moist?) gaps where plot sunshine doesn't reach. Like, I cheerfully ship the hell out of Black Widow and Bucky Barnes, say, or CJ and Danny on the West Wing but I expect the show to actually fulfill my needs and I am not picking up your slack, Sorkin, goddammit. But I also keep having a think about this re: femmeslash, as someone who is basically only active in a fandom with one gay and one lesbian pairing, both canon, who has very little interest writing about the latter, even though I am devoted to it in the context of the original source media. Part of me wants to distill it down to 'the gay dudes are funny and the lesbians are tragic and banter is the sole reason for my existence' but that is super reductive because the lesbians are also hilarious (well, one of them) and the gay dudes keep making me sad. So.
morgandavies:
Well I think sometimes we just like things that we like, also. I mean, I am all for self-analysis (SEE ABOVE), but I think at a certain point just being able to say, like, "I like this thing because REASONS" is kind of nice/important, too. Like, lots of fangirls like lots of white dudes making out - so yeah, we should think about why that is and what societally has created that situation and critique it, but that doesn't mean we have to, you know, stop liking those ships, or problematic things generally. I have watched and enjoyed a lot of TV that had seriously problematic aspects and I was aware of them but I liked the shows anyway. WHICH IS FINE.
tragicallyludicrous:
Yeah. I watch a lot of TV, but only want fanfiction for a fraction of it. I like fanfiction for what canon doesn't provide, and usually for shows/movies that, for whatever reason, feel incomplete to me. Like, when the Tudors and Rome were both on TV, I wanted fanfiction for the Tudors, but not for Rome, because I was getting more out of the Rome canon. Whereas the Tudors was a lot sillier and had great shirtless wrestling scenes,. If the canon works, I don't need fanworks. But I've got a friend who is really into reading more of the canon pairings, so I guess that's not how it works for everyone.
yasaman:
I generally feel like shipping het pairings is a lot less fan fiction-focused than slash pairings are, because the het pairings either are/become canon, so fans feel less need/desire for fic, and the bar for shipping it is lower. Like, you can say you ship Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny, because they're canon and you like those pairings in canon and maybe you enjoy some fanart or fic about them sometimes, but that's about the extent of your engagement with shipping it. But if you ship Harry/Draco or Remus/Sirius, well, there's a bit more work involved there. The canon there is limited to subtext and a few interactions, so your energy in shipping it tends to go towards long-ass meta essays on why the pairings work and fic about the pairings. Obviously this is not true of all fandoms, but it's been my experience that het ships get less attention by virtue of being canon.
Nadadoll:
I've read a /lot/ of writers trying to explain slash, but this is the most complete and parsimonious piece I've seen that hits all the right notes. Slash offered me a safe way to explore sexual fantasy without heterosexual politics, and it offers others their own outlets. Also I wrote a TON of lesbian fic. FYI.
The Wub:
So, I'm curious if the dominance of m/m slash is because women are uncomfortable with channeling their sexuality through female bodies, or if it's because fictional women, for the most part, fill fundamentally different roles from fictional men. When I think of my most feelz-inducing fictional relationship formula - relatively balanced m/f protags do some exciting shit, spend some time together, learn to respect each other, build up some tension, and get together in the end - that formula (minus the end) is by and large mirrored by all these men and their sidekicks/nemeses. It seems like an abundance of well-balanced m/m duos and a dearth of non-love-interest lady costars leaves the fans to write their own emotional endings that are m/m by default. If there was a better balance of badass leading dudes and ladies (not to mention an all-woman cast) who aren't already banging in canon, we might see a more balanced representation in fanfiction. tl;dr: representation in fanfiction mirrors representation of interesting characters in canon?
mirandawmeyer:
I think there's also some element of knowledge about sex, especially with younger writers. Like, we get so much more information about what sex is like for men than it is for women, and a lot of M/M slashfic basically features M/M penetrative (i.e. anal) sex as a thinly veiled stand-in for PIV sex, whereas if you're not LOOKING for it, you're not going to find a lot of information about what lady-on-lady sex is like just floating around in the media, or even PIV sex from the woman's perspective. So M/M--especially M/M as a stand-in for M/F--just becomes straight-up easier to write about (no pun intended).
[Polly]:
I used to follow several Livejournal fandom communities as a teen, and slash would occasionally pop up...to be honest, I felt like the appeal for me had something to do with two (often previously "straight") men expressing physical affection for each other in a way that's not really normalized at least in the United States. I'm not sure what was so fascinating / titillating about men just blatantly loving each other and showing it, but it made me feel warm and fuzzy. And meanwhile I was reading romance novels and such, so I don't think it had anything to do with fearing my own M/F sexuality or lady parts, as far as I know. I guess different people get different things out of it! (And meanwhile a few of my friends and I are completely different visually, preferring to watch only F/F pairings, but to read M/M ones...ahh sexuality, you are so varied and unique and interesting.)
bastardsnow:
So as a former fanfic author who also happens to be male and straight, I have to admit that the prevalence of slash in the Buffy fandom (which is where i lay the vast majority of my tales) was (to my then-19-year-old-self) very surprising, but also one of those things that I eventually just didn't even really register unless it was something truly weird.

Unfortunately, the *vast* majority of men who wrote in the Buffy fandom were: a) militantly anti-slash; b) huge, huge fans of making Xander into a Marty Stu; c) horrible writers; d) thought the concept of teenage girls fighting monsters was a stupid one and whoever came up with it should be shot, which, why are you in Buffy fandom again? They also mostly hated Buffy. So again with the why.

Anyway, I really appreciated this piece! Took me back a number of years to when I was still functionally writing, and that's always a good time. Also one of the best fics I ever read was a Stargate Atlantis fic that was subtly slashy of McKay/Sheppard and also completely amazeballs. One of three or four fics to ever get my eyes watery.
BSD:
Great piece. I read some research a few years back that either slash, the term/typography for it, or both, originated not with Star Trek, but with Starsky and Hutch. Obviously not terribly important to the actual issues in and around slash and slashfic, but interesting re: timing and the question of origins from genre fandom.
mirandawmeyer:
This rings as potentially really true to me, because one of my best friends in high school (who is a lady-leaning bisexual person) was OBSESSED with Starsky & Hutch, despite the fact that we were in high school in the 2000s, nowhere near when that show was airing. I have wondered before, when reading essays on fandom, whether Starsky & Hutch deserved a place in this history.
NerosLyre:
This whole piece is amazing, especially the point about the baby Franzens of the world.

I wonder if there isn't also a subconscious (or maybe conscious) desire to see men more sensitive and submissive. Not just talking about who tops but in a lot of the fic I've read the men usually talk about feelings more and the acts described seem to be het substitutes. For instance, I don't think spontaneous rim jobs happen as often in real life as they do in fic.

This is why Harry Potter is the best fandom. Need a wash down and some lube? There's a spell for that.
CaitlinPodiak:
I have read very little slash but in pondering the phenomenon and reading this post and comments, it seems likely to me that the preference for M/M pairings is a rebellion against our culture's obsessive glorification of machismo. It strikes me as an ingenious method of undermining traditional straight white male dominance.
Chicagoartnerd:
I really appreciate this article actually talking about misogyny in fandom and how that is a problem when out of the 100 or so top pairings on the archive only 3 are F/F. I write a decent amount of femslash and hell even my het pairings are more Queer than anything else. But I've noticed a massive difference in views and kudos if I post some m/m slash. Like astronomical difference. So it's not just what people are writing but it's what they think they want to read as well.

One issue I did take with this is that it mentions that fandom is a mostly woman dominated space and seemed to hint that most of the people partaking were heterosexual using male characters as proxy. Which does account for a good number of people I won't deny but I feel like this excludes a sizeable portion of fandom as well. Women who are Queer and trans*/non-binary folk.

I'm going to be honest and mention that all the people I know who are trans*/non-binary and Queer are all nerdy people. All of them find comfortable spaces there in one fashion or another. The ones I know who write specifically write mostly m/m stuff which is insteresting. I think it might just be the first thing we were exposed to as young Queers looking for love stories about people like us on the internet and we imprinted a bit.

I actually never read much slash in fic but I read all of the yaoi in book form. So much yaoi. So I know where people who are super into m/m are coming from.

But now that I'm an older Queer non-binary personage and once again in fandom I find that the sole obsession with guy on guy slash kind of less engaging. I want to hear more about women, Queer women, women of color, non-binary people, genderfluid Queer people, trans* people, all the people who I never see mainstream representation of. Because that is half the battle of fandom spaces, to take the mainstream media that doesn't do what we want it to and make it better, more diverse, more Queer, more radical. But for the most part fandom seems to leave it male and try to add the rest in. It's troubling.
mirandawmeyer:
This is interesting for me, because a) I thought Morgan made a pretty clear effort not to be binarist and to be inclusive of trans* and asexual people in the phrasing of her article (though I'm sure I may be missing things! I'm bi, but cis), and b) because my first fic fandom was The West Wing, which actually did feature a fair amount of het (though, IIRC, almost no F/F). Also, though, I share your interest in off the beaten path stuff--don't get me wrong, I still read plenty of M/M, but I'm always intrigued by femslash, fic with trans* or genderfluid or asexual characters, pairings that (COULD IT BE??) include POC, etc. I think I'm very lucky in having found my way into corners of fandom that are pretty explicitly interested in/promoting of so-called "offbeat" or rarepair fics, especially because I really got into the scene pretty late in life, relatively. (I didn't really properly enter fandom until I was 23 or so, and my impression is that most people get into it earlier. I read The West Wing fic when I was fourteen or fifteen but sort of as a diversion--it wasn't important to me the way fandom is important to me now--and I dropped out completely between then and a couple years ago.)
[ Squidgie ]:
Just poking my head in - as a male slash writer. We are definitely few and far between, but we're out here! I can't tell you how many times I've been referred to as a woman; but then again, I'm one of only two slash writers in my LJ communities... Plus, it's fun to play with people's heads a bit when they realize they think they're talking to a woman, when it's really a guy. We're having a "Squee Weekend" at the end of September - a bunch of us slashers in the Stargate Atlantis community are gathering for a weekend of McShep (McKay/Sheppard) and Porne (Parrish/Lorne). Just me, a gay guy, and about twenty women. FUN!!!!
steelspork:
(I'm situating myself chronologically within the late stages of Yahoo Group mailing lists and the rise of Livejournal up to Tumblr. It really fascinates me how the comment thread runs the gamut of 40 plus years of the fandom experience, btw.)

The use of the word "anxieties" in the last paragraph really resonated with me. For the longest time, I've been uncomfortable with the rah-rah empowerment meta that surrounds discourse of slash within the fandom community, because while queering texts and primarily female-identified writing space are definitely parts of the appeal, I can't really ascribe a consciously activist viewpoint on the 14-year old me voraciously reading frankly misogynist Gundam Wing slash fiction.

I think part of the appeal came from the negotiation between "received" knowledge (ie. from school, mass media, family etc.) and the kind of culture I had to seek out for myself as a fairly sheltered person who studied in an all girls' Catholic school in a Cathoic society. Queer relationships have been pretty much present throughout my young adulthood but it was often vilified and characterized as deviant. It was a weird space for me to inhabit as a person who is largely straight-leaning but with obvious queer desires and no inclination to have sexual or romantic relationships. So I had to negotiate a lot for myself, and slash was one of the ways I could piggyback on the explorations of sexuality politics (since I'm primarily a reader and not a producer) without having to, horror of horrors, talk about it with people in real life.

Without slash fandom to engage with at a young age, I would still end up being the sort of emotional and anxious mess I am now, but those energies would most likely be channeled differently. Though I can't even fathom how. However, it's also interesting that while I read novels that span a wide number of genres, the kind of books that really hit the pleasure centers of my brain still involve male romantic relationships such as Brideshead Revisited, Mary Renault, etc. So my "it's underground" ethos doesn' fly that well anymore.

I don't quite agree with your point re: young Franzens accumulating more potential cultural capital than largely pseudonymous young women who write slash, however. While they don't necessarily put their names on the slash fics they write, these women still develop relationships with their betas and fans, many of whom are often connected with academia or the publishing industry. Just think of the numerous YA and genre writers who have leveraged their fandom popularity into actual meatspace book contracts. I think we're a generation or two away from award-winning female literary writers with a firm background on slash.

I'm also skeptical that a woman engaging in a Franzenesque literary landscape instead of accruing slash writing experience would be in any kind of level playing field, or would end up writing the kind of stories they really want anyway.
Megano!:
I hope one day we find a cache of letters from the Victorian era by a bunch of women to each other that is essentially round robin Sherlock Holmes slash. But I guess even if we don't, we're kind of making up for that lack now.
MsRook:
A really interesting article - I've done my share of silent pondering why slash is so popular (and why femslash... isn't) and some of these points I've never even considered.

Personally, I suspect a part of the reason is that we are taught to relate to, and focus on, primarily the male characters - even if we ourselves are female. Even when the show/book/movie has female characters, their stories are told from the male perspective, in relation to the male characters, furthering their character arcs etc. (there was a great post about this in relation to Amy from Doctor Who, but I sadly lost the link) When you relate more to the male characters, you're more likely to care about their emotions and relationships.

All this ends in a disaster for femslash - not only you don't get that many characters to choose from, you're also not paying them enough attention to even think about them as "shippable".
Grey Bard:
I'm a lesbian who gets my queer fiction fix mostly through slash. I read more slash than femslash because there are far fewer shows that have at least two female characters who are single, have personalities, and get along. And then, from among that pool, I need to find pairings I like! ... And then I need to find fic about them. It narrows the field. I read a lot of gen (no sexual or non-canonical romantic content) for all of my canons, but frankly, I don't read heterosexual fic unless I'm really in love with the pairing. Partly because heterosexual fiction is everywhere, and partly because many het fics fall into gendered romantic cliches even when they don't fit the characters. Not because people who write slash fics are better writers, but because when you write het fic, you're fighting a lot of cultural force and inertia to tell a story that says anything other than "They bickered, she swooned, he became the center of her entire life and then they had 2.5 kids". The level of history and assumptions behind that template isn't as strong when you're writing a story that isn't heterosexual. Not that a huge percentage of het fics don't manage to defy that pressure, but it's an extra step. When you're reading about Mulder and Scully you don't want to get to chapter 30 and find she's basically turned into a Stepford Wife and quit the FBI to have babies and not investigate weird stuff.
Elspeth:
+1 both on the greater difficulty of finding good f/f pairings to ship (which in my case is made harder by the fact that I largely prefer genre fiction and most television shows with predominantly female casts suffer from a fatal lack of shoot-outs, explosions, aliens, superheroes, or crime-fighting) and on the fact that some het fanfiction has a bad tendency to replace the female lead with a Stepford Wife pod-person. A lot of slash and yaoi does the same thing to half of the pairing and uses the same sexist storytelling tropes copied straight from het romance, but at least when Tony Stark is being turned into a swooning fragile flower for Steve Rogers to rescue the gendered implications are less blatant.
Elspeth:
For me, m/m slash definitely helped me process anxiety about sexuality, but it was less anxiety about my own female body and more anxiety over being LGB. Slash introduced me to the idea of same-sex desire as something normativised and even idealized, and since it was focused on men and written by straight women as well as queer women, it was less 'scary' to my teenage self than purely lesbian-focused stories would have been. Joining slash (and yaoi) fandom let me "baby-step" my way into queerness.
Tanabeth:
I like this article a lot! I didn't agree 100% with the your conclusions, but since slashers have been discussing this question FOREVER, that's not surprising. I'm also glad that I read your other article about Teen Wolf fandom as well, because it clarified your relationship with slash a little bit for me (that you are young, and yet still have realized you will probably never "grow up" and get over fandom). At 28, I feel the same way.

When I initially read this piece, I was troubled by your emphasis on "young" slash readers: you constantly refer to "young" women writers and, in particular, your comments about One Direction fans tend to suggest that all slash writers and readers are young and impressionable. I don't think that's the case now, and I doubt it ever was. AO3 is proof of that, surely--it could never have been founded by a bunch of teenage or even early 20s people. It was founded and is still maintained by a group of mature, highly intelligent women. Virtually all of my favorite slash authors are grown women, many with babies and husbands and fancypants professional or academic jobs--all the markers of conventional success--and many have been writing for, quite literally, decades. (I emphasize this not because I think those things are necessary, but because the stereotype of a slash writer is either confused teen or pathetic old cat lady.) These are not people incapable of self-reflective thinking. Many of them have masters degrees or PhDs, and fandom has been asking itself these "meta" questions since it begun. I don't think you necessarily down-played this, but I think you perhaps overlooked it a little bit.

Nonetheless, I really liked your comment that "we all must engage in that complex dialogue with our bodies as sexual (or asexual) objects, and understand ourselves as sexual (or asexual) beings precisely because the prevailing cultural narrative around female sexuality is so dominated by men" in particular rung very true for me, although--as always--I think there's more to it than that!

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