Enlarging the borders of imagination

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Title: enlarging the borders of imagination
Creator: fabularasa
Date(s): May 10, 2003
Medium: Livejournal post
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: enlarging the borders of imagination - Slash Philosophy, Archived version
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enlarging the borders of imagination is a 2003 post by fabularasa at Slash Philosophy, a Livejournal community.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

All right, I'm going to say the ultimately offensive thing here, for which I expect to be thoroughly pilloried. Here it is: no one entirely straight, of either gender, sits down and writes a graphically explicit story about two men getting off. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. In some unexplored region of your mind (or other bodily organ) you are interested in what one might call sexual alternativism, either as voyeur or participant. Now, I have rarely asked my online friends such an intrusive personal question, so I confess I am speculating here, based on half-hints and other gleanings. My gut feeling, though, is that most of my correspondents (and most slash writers who are not confused 14 year olds) are bisexual, as am I. (Full disclosure and all that.)

Now, can anyone imagine a group of gay males sitting around reading graphic erotic literature about female homosexual activity? Trust me, it just doesn't happen. And yet my lesbian, couldn't-be-bi-with-a-gun-to-their-head online friends are gleefully getting off on reading stories of male on male homosexual activity. Any number of factors obviously comes into play here: a tendency (which I certainly share) to project one's literary persona as male; an interest in sexual egalitarianism and re-shaping the balance of power equation in a romantic relationship; and a corresponding inability to see male/female relationships as anything but hobbled by millennia of cultural baggage and expectations of dominance and submission. This latter I find especially of interest, because I know in my own writing, and certainly in most slash I have read, there is a tendency to shy away from the stereotype of one partner as dominant top and the other as submissive bottom. In my stories, as in most others I enjoy, the partners share the pleasure of experiencing penetration in a fairly even, off-hand way. Slash seems to me to be about the destruction of all those boundaries, and to the criticism that "real life" male homosexual relationships do not quite work that way, I would respond that we are idealising when we write. I, for instance, write a world in which pretty much everyone is cheerily bisexual, and everyone tops or bottoms with gleeful abandon, and that's that.

At any rate, my point, buried somewhere in here, is that female sexuality is by definition, and to a much larger degree than I had thought before encountering an online community, an entirely different creature from male sexuality. Female sexuality, when it "queers," so to speak, becomes a broader, not a narrower thing. It becomes possible for a woman to imagine (and relish) all sorts of different scenarios in a way that I am genuinely unsure a man could do, of whatever persuasion. A queer woman is in all likelihood going to be aroused by reading (well-written) het, slash, and femslash -- perhaps not in equal measure, but to some degree, I believe. A queer man is likely to get off only on slash, while it is conceivable that a straight man could get off on het and femslash (and I've got billions of Playboy magazines to back me up on that latter. No, I don't mean I HAVE them. You know what I mean.) So there is almost a kind of narrowing of the fantasy/imagination that goes on when male sexuality "queers," as opposed to the broadening I see in personal experience and in the stories of lesbian friends. And I find this a source of endless fascination, and further fuel for my slashing furnace.

Some Comments to the Post

[lasultirx]:
I'm not sure if you're being offensive, but I do think you're incorrect. An personal interest in 'alternativism' is not the same as a personal interest in non-heterosexuality - many straight people are into bdsm, non-monogamy, and various nontraditional sexual customs while still retaining their heterosexuality.

I have known my friend Maya IRL for several years, and I am convinced that she is 100% heterosexual. She still writes slash. Why shouldn't straight women (and I consider myself to be of their number, with the occasional quibble) write about graphic homosexual sex acts between men? Quite apart from all the other stuff, men pretty.

Now, can anyone imagine a group of gay males sitting around reading graphic erotic literature about female homosexual activity? Trust me, it just doesn't happen. And yet my lesbian, couldn't-be-bi-with-a-gun-to-their-head online friends are gleefully getting off on reading stories of male on male homosexual activity.

I won't comment on these lesbians, but your analogy doesn't hold for straight women writing m/m slash. Because they are interested in males erotically.
[coffeesama]:
*raises hackles* I feel the need to point out that not all 14 year olds writing slash are "confused." I'm perfectly certain of and fine with my sexuality, thanks.

This is the kind of statement that tends to turn me off to the rest off your arguement/discussion. I admit that the first time I read your post I stopped at that line because I felt that if someone felt the need to make a statement like that, then I really don't have that much interest in the rest of what they have to say.

It's a valid point to bring up, that of people exploring their sexuality through writing slash, but insinuating that, a. All 14 year olds are confused about their sexuality and b. only people around the age of 14 are still exploring their sexuality, is not the way to do it. This may not be what you meant when you made that remark, but it is the sense that I got from it, and in the end it's not what you mean to say about someone that matters, it's what they understand you saying about them....

I agree with a lot of peoples' opinion in that I don't think most people are exclusively a certain orientation, I believe it's more of a position on a continuum as opposed to an either or. As such, I'd say I'm about 95% gay. When I have sexual thoughts, they're about guys. I don't think I'd ever have any form of sex with a woman. But I can in a somewhat less than abstract sense see the appeal of the female body.

I read and to a much lesser extent write slash almost exclusively. I've read maybe three gen stories that I liked. I've never actually gone out and searched for a het story, but I have read ones by some of my favorite authors and actually enjoyed them. I've read exactly one erotic het story, and since it was written by God's gift to smut fans (zed_adams), I actually found it enjoyable on both an intellectual and a sexual level.

As to femmeslash, never read it and don't particularly plan to. It's not that I have anything in particular against femmeslash, it's just that a fic with a complete lack of cock is *VERY* unlikely to do anything for me.
[isiscolo]:
no one entirely straight, of either gender, sits down and writes a graphically explicit story about two men getting off.

Do you believe the sexually converse to be true -- that the men who consume (or only produce?) those Playboy-style two-chicks-in-a-hot-tub fantasies are not entirely straight, as well? Or is this part of your argument that male and female sexuality differ? (For the record, I believe that this converse is not true. I am not sure about your original assertion, although I boggle at how many m/m slash writers self-identify as lesbian.)

Are femslash writers strictly lesbian or bisexual, in your view?

Any number of factors obviously comes into play here: a tendency (which I certainly share) to project one's literary persona as male; an interest in sexual egalitarianism and re-shaping the balance of power equation in a romantic relationship; and a corresponding inability to see male/female relationships as anything but hobbled by millennia of cultural baggage and expectations of dominance and submission.

As seen in Jenkins and other scholarly works on slash. I agree that these are powerful reasons, for me personally as well as (I suspect) for writers in general.

One of the more interesting differences between male and female sexuality that I've found is that men generally prefer pictures, women prefer words. I wonder if this is one reason behind the skewed gender ratio in erotic fanfiction writership/readership.
[fabularasa]:
No, I think grooving on two chicks in a hot tub is pretty much the litmus test of straightness, from a male perspective. Grooving on the two guys is a litmus test, too, but in the opposite direction. If you like the thought of two guys in a hot tub, I think you're in the minority of straight women; if you want to read a story about what those two guys did in that tub, you're in even more of a minority; and if you want to write a story about what they did, you're in what they call a niche market, baby. I think the percentage of completely straight women who groove on that image is extremely small, for whatever reason. And I don't know the reason. My startling and original idea is: men and women are radically different. That's all.

I am probably off base in the way I see people's sexuality, which is very likely more a self-projection than anything: in terms of percentages. I tend to the belief that very few people out there are completely, dyed-in-the-wool, 100% straight. Most people, I feel, fall along the 80/20 line, with maybe some 90/10s out there, a few 70/30s, some more exotic 60/40s, and the rarer 50/50s. There is, of course, absolutely no study to back this up; in fact, everyone from Masters and Johnson to Kinsey has shown rather the opposite to be true: most people do have "extreme" sexual identities, with much smaller percentages falling in the middle. On a chart, that's a valley, not the idealised bell curve of my dreams. So my personal experience is really reflective of nothing but rarefied hypereducated pretentious artloving martini-sipping freaks.

And yes, I think the word/picture thing accounts for the skewed gender ratio in fanfic. Although I would say it's a finer distinction than that. There's plenty of gay porn out there, but very little of it is character-driven, plot-based, or has any interest in showing you what happened to those two guys the next morning at work. And women of all sexual interests want the full emotional tableau; it's just a need.

As for femslash, I don't know. Most people who write femslash also write m/m slash, as far as I know. Most of the femslash I've looked at, in the hopes of discovering another bonanza, has really disappointed. So I'm not much of an expert in that field.
[lasultrix]:
If you like the thought of two guys in a hot tub, I think you're in the minority of straight women; if you want to read a story about what those two guys did in that tub, you're in even more of a minority; and if you want to write a story about what they did, you're in what they call a niche market, baby.

True. But I believe this has a different cause - women aren't supposed to like erotica. Men (straight men) are supposed to like 'the more naked women, the better' as you pointed out. Women are supposed to like one man, their man, and not to have exotic fantasies.

So it takes more for women to liberate themselves to the point of enjoying slash. Bisexual women have already broken the 'what women are supposed to want sexually' taboo. They're not going to angst over whether two men in a tub together should turn them on. Straight women might well.
[yonmei]:
No, I think grooving on two chicks in a hot tub is pretty much the litmus test of straightness, from a male perspective. Well, yeah, that's what their propaganda says... ;-) I disagree.
[aleph 0]:
Would you say, then, that writing slash fanfiction is an inherently queer act? I would, in a sense - it's obviously not as queer as going out and having hot sex with someone of the same sex to you, but there's something about it that is Not Straight. The writing process involves so much getting into the minds of your characters (when done properly), that you are temporarily forced to identify with them in order to work out how they'd behave. A fluffy slash fic is promoting homosexuality because it's saying it ain't a bad thing, and showing that it can have just as much romance and general niceness as het. Of course, there's the question of how you define queer, but it seems to me like a pretty broad church. It's not just about having sex with people who've got the same genitals as you, because it includes transexuals and transgendered people. BDSM is queer, as it's non-mainstream. A straight woman who gets off on two men having sex is in a minority. Quite possibly part of the reason why most straight women don't dig gay sex (in the same way men like lesbians) is socio-cultural conditioning (female sexuality is historically something that's been oppressed and limited) rather than an inevitable consequence of having the brain and hormones that make you female-gendered, but nevertheless, straight girl liking slash is atypical sexuality, and so queer.
[fabularasa]:
I would agree entirely. I'm not so sure that women these days steer clear of gay sex because of social conditioning, though. The internet was built to cater to the secret lustful thoughts we have after midnight that we would never share with anybody, and still, slash hasn't taken the world by storm. I think most women stay away from it because it just doesn't appeal . As for queer, I agree, it's a big tent. There's something a little queer (in all senses of the word) about your sexuality, from my point of view, if you're a straight girl liking slash. I mean, it occurs to me it's not the sort of thing you would share with a guy on your first date, or even your second. Kind of like a little cross-dressing fetish. So maybe deviant is a better term than queer. I think if you' re reading this, you're a de facto deviant. Which I mean in the nicest possible way. Believe me. Honest. Have you taken a look recently at normalcy?
[switchknife]:
Of course you aren't offensive, my friend--this community is about the discussion of such things, and I'm jumping in quite happily. *splashes*

I don't think the writing of m/m slash necessitates the author's being bisexual (if the author is indeed female). In fact, it is also possible for a male homosexual to write and/or read f/f slash. I know people of either sex, and those in between, who read pretty much everything under the sun which interests them. Our interests our not necessarily based on our own sexualities (alone).

The thing is, sexual preference in life is different to sexual preference in fiction. Fiction is all about transcending boundaries, and empathizing with other human beings, other characters, in experiences different/similar to our own. It's a playground of identities--a wonderful anarchy of the soul--wherein we can explore a vast variety of experiences. I've read everything from detailed accounts of a Mexican grandmother's cooking style to a solitary pedophile's ponderings, and it all comes down to empathizing with human experience different to your own. (In some way.) If erotica is well-written, for example, it could feature anything from bestiality to gentle consensual love, and still be burningly arousing. The key is being able to 'get into' (no pun intended) the characters' experiences. It is true that some of us prefer particular kinds of experiences in fiction to others, but that doesn't necessarily have to correlate with our real-world sexualities. Fiction is fiction, and not always as strange as truth.

I don't think sexual preference in fact or fiction is quite as simple or straightbentforward as it might appear to be. Boundaries tend to be imposed on what is otherwise fluid--in real life, there are boundaries (either personal or societal) which can be banished in the world of fiction. Virginia Woolf said (somewhere--can't remember where now!) that for a writer, a certain kind of 'intellectual androgyny' is necessary, in order to be able to write from varying gender-viewpoints. (Gender being a fictional construct itself, put in place by society.) In fiction you can let go of the self you 'wear' in RL, and enjoy the fruits (again, no pun intended) of another writer's imagination. It doesn't matter what you are--male, female, neither, both, straight, queer, bent, obtuse--as long as you're human, open-minded, and relatively adventurous.

Let me reiterate.

- Fiction is fiction. The rules that apply to the world of fiction (if there are any) do not apply to RL. The rules of RL (of which there certainly are many) don't always apply to fiction either.

- It is possible to prefer many different kinds of sex and romance in fiction, and not to prefer all of the same situations in RL.

- Hence it is possible for a gay man to get off on f/f slash, and for a lesbian woman to get off on m/m slash. And any other permutation you'd like to think of. ;)

- THERE IS NO GENDER-BASED DIFFERENCE OF PERCEPTION IN A WELL-WRITTEN SLASH PIECE. I don't think women can 'get off on more things' than men can, queer or otherwise. I don't think that 'male queers' have a narrower field of play. Nope. I've read gorgeous femslash smut written by gay men, enough to get me off several times, and... yeah...

*cough* Interesting, isn't it, how you didn't mean to make that Playboy confession of yours, and I never meant to say this... :D

- In the end, there aren't any simple rules. Each one of us has our own reasons, our own motivations, for liking what we do in slash/femslash. And for liking what we do (which may be completely different to our 'fictional' preferences) in RL. Desire is its own creature, rather nocturnal and hard to pin-point. There are desires that span across several spheres of our lives, and yet there are other desires which are limited to particular situations and/or experiences. Writing and/or reading slash is just another sphere. Whether it carries the kind of import you imply, to our outer and inner lives, is entirely individual and cannot be predicted by saying things like 'all women who write m/m slash are bi', etc.

- That is all. Let there be slash.
[sighbunny]:
If a women enjoys male eroticism, then she would be attracted to GIRLS? You need to rearrange your thoughts, man.

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