|Topic:||slash & homophobia & masculinity & an ideal world|
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In it, Smith writes of myth, homophobia, slash, the new area of study of fandom by acafans, and an ideal world.
In the slash novel, there was the usual business about the two men being one hundred percent heterosexual; they only happen to have such a toweringly high regard for each other that they gotta suck each other's cock. Now, this jazz is pretty damn tiresome, as well as hugely unrealistic. Yes, love is a spectrum—you can go from red to lavender and back, but you don't do it without passing through a number of other stages. You also don't act lavender, and call yourself red, without being on some level a liar.
Read by itself, two men who fall into bed half an hour after meeting for the first time, or else who yearn for each other for up to twenty years, forsaking all others, and then, once in bed together, prove to be remarkably sophisticated at sexual positions a trained courtesan would hesitate to try, have got to be somewhere past four on the Kinsey scale. But no; invariably, in slash fiction, they have never even once thought about having it off with another man before. There is also cithcra much-beloved but conveniently dead wife in the past, three dozen "birds," "ladies," or "chicks" in the background, or else an adoring but understanding (or bitchy and brittle) girlfriend who leaves when the first third of the story is over. All as a sort of Good Housekeeping Guarantee of Heterosexuality, I suppose. These guys are so straight, you could use'em as a plumbline. Until now. And now, it isn't the sex that's so much desired (though that is desired) as it is the sheer, simple love of the other man. That's all.
Read by itself, this is so homophobic it hurts, yet it originates within a community of writers who practice a marked tolerance for most forms of human diversity, including that of sexual orientation. Where is this characterization coming from, then?
The fact that this characterization is so unlikely and so unrealistic, but at the same time so prevalent and so independently arrived at, must give us our clue: we're dealing with a myth hero. Myths are ideas that may or may not be factually true, but which we feel are somehow truer than ordinary reality, true on the plain face of them. True because of what they mean, not what they say. In myths, something can be two things at once, or two contradictory things can be not only both true, but the same. Myths don't have to make head sense. They only have to make heart sense.Indeed, this myth may even be a key to that perennial question:" Why do we read and write this stuff anyway?" Joanna Russ, Henry Jenkins III, and most recently Camille Bacon-Smith in Enterprising Women, have successively refined the field of answers from: "because we fans have to create what no one will give us," through" we writers need to define what it is we want created," to " we women want the men in our lives (husbands, lovers, fathers, sons, brothers, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, fellow dwellers on the planet) to be as loving, courageous, vulnerable, sensitive, wise, caring, and communicative as the men we create in our literature."
Thus, if there is one genuine artistic insight to arise from the five hundred slash writers worldwide, it is this: now in history, men have to learn to love each other, and learn not to be afraid of any of the loves in the spectrum. They must love each other, or the planet is doomed. They have to love each other more than they want to kill each other to forestall ultimate war. They have to love each other outside of armies and gangs and other boy-dominated institutions, which are currently the only places where they are allowed to love each other, hewever constrainedly. They have to love each other, to give themselves their missing Fathers. They have to love each other, to be able to give us love that wasn't drained from us in the first place. They have to love each other to dissolve the outgrown cage of thought that is crushing them, us, and all otherliving things on earth.They have to love. To become human.
We are all collaborating, we artists and writers and readers and reviewers here in this loose think tank we call fandom. We are constructing and alpha-testing alternative modes of thought and being, not just for ourselves, but also for others in our lives. We have brought some of these modes of thought and being into actuality in fandom. In this network, mostly of women, we are closer to each other than neighbors, cousins, sisters, mothers and daughters, in many ways.
We may never have dreamt of loving another woman as intensely as we now love each other. We might have yearned for years for someone to understand our hearts and minds as simply and easily as we occasionally understand each other's. We probably have always wanted someone just to talk (and talk and talk) to.
And we have that.
This is wonderful. Why can't more of life be like this? Why can't men?Maybe we could show them how.
Reactions and Reviews
With the unerring insight of someone who must have been quite awhile in fandom. Paula Smith has managed to list in her essay all the pre-conditions and scenarios I love and cherish most in a slash story, and she's thoroughly and mercilessly passed sentence upon them, by declaring how "tiresome" they are and "unrealistic", and "homophobic", and "unlikely". What could I possibly answer to that? Maybe I'm a moron, maybe Paula intended to provoke. Maybe our opinions are really that opposed. In neither of those cases do I feel up to a suitably quiet and thoughtful answer. 
Paula's 'Dream On' is very much food for thought. Paula always manages to make us see things from a slightly different angle or in a different light. Her reasoning is flawless. 
Paula — your essay started off very interestingly, but then it seemed to digress to the point that I don't know what you were talking about. 
... I [was] panned in the early letterzine for saying S&H did not have to be gay or hopping into bed to love each other. It is one approach, but not the only one. I write slash. I wrote all the things in H/J that Paula "condemns" in Dream On. She's right. It's unrealistic fantasy...Writing these love stories answers some need in us to find what we enjoy most, what we're perhaps missing in reality, or just want more than is realistic. When we write unrealistically, we are usually told about it, giving us a chance to learn from our errors or excesses. I find I still want my characters to love one another exclusively, realistic or not. I've tried for years to figure out why I enjoy reading and writing slash. I've decided I'm just a romantic, dirty old broad. 
I did enjoy Paula Smith's article on slash. It seems to me that the reason we like slash — and in factrelationship stories in general, including hurt/comfort — is that we are searching for such a meaningful relationship in our own lives. We want a relationship where everything works out all right. We want someone who understands us perfectly. We want the perfect sexual partner. Sure, it's idealized. And it's okay to idealize it to the point that two formerly straight people could fall in love even though they're the same sex. It does happen in real life... 
I bought WANNA BUY A FANZINE, which has letters and reviews of zines, from Marty Siegrist at MediaWest. Reading through it I came to Paula Smith's column "Dream On" which begins with "I read ENTERPRISING WOMEN, half of BACKLASH, and a slash novel all In the same week. I also was sick one night, but I dont t think that s connected."She continues speculating why we write slash and what changes we want to see. She ends with "We are all collaborating, we artists and writers and readers and reviewers here in this loose think tank we call fandom. We are constructing and alpha-testing alternative modes of lives. We HAVE brought some of these modes of thought and being into actuality in fandom. In this network, mostly of women, we are closer to each other than neighbors or relatives, in many ways."