K/S - A Personal Experience

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Title: K/S - A Personal Experience
Creator: Della Van Hise
Date(s): June 1986
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic:
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K/S - A Personal Experience is a 1986 essay by Della Van Hise.

It was printed in the zine Naked Times #10.

"A FEW ADMITTEDLY DISJOINTED THOUGHTS ON THE SUBJECT OF K/S, K/S FANDOM AND WHAT-HAVE-YOU IN WHAT WE CAN ONLY LOOSELY CALL AN ESSAY OF SORTS. (And If you survived the title of the article, we congratulate you already!)"

"What is K/S? Aside from the fact that K/S is short for The Kirk/Spock Relationship, what IS K/S...and why are so many people enthralled, obsessed and enamored of the idea? And perhaps even more importantly, why are just as many people threatened, horrified and down right frightened by it?"

Some Topics Discussed

  • fannish bickering
  • K/S
  • some fans' statements that people over 30 shouldn't be in fandom
  • Kirk and Spock as We're Not Gay We Just Love Each Other
  • prejudices against homosexuals
  • David Gerrold's perhaps-inadverdant promotion of K/S's visibility
  • the novel Killing Time
  • how smart and educated Star Trek fans are
  • fans should expect Kirk and Spock to choose women; to do so is to "expect either of them to "settle down" with some half-witted inferior" which "would be ludicrous"
  • Spock fans as less mature than Kirk fans

Excerpts

I realize that a lot of people have been trying to answer those questions and a lot more since they first learned about the existence of K/S literature; and in this "essay of sorts", I really don't think I can do a much better job than anyone else. Primarily, I wanted to offer this essay for a lot of reasons — some personal, some professional, some just for fun. Since the publication of my first professional Star Trek book, KILLING TIME, I've had an opportunity (that's one word for it!) to see a lot of reaction to K/S. Some of that reaction has been very positive, some has been negative, and some has been positively appalling. In fact, I had hoped never to have the need to write any kind of "explanation" for K/S. Those who read it certainly don't need that explanation, and those who are opposed are usually so set in their ways that it won't make any difference. But... after getting several dozen letters from folks who have read KILLING TIME, as well as letters from K/S fans and anti-K/S-ers as well, I think it's time for someone to take the proverbial bull by the horns and set a few things straight (No pun intended, of course).

... it is commonly rumored that KILLING TIME was pulled from the shelf because of "blatant K/S elements". And, as I've said countless times before, it's all in the eye of the beholder. If you want to see K/S in KILLING TIME, you might be able to look deep enough to find it. But if one reads what's there, I personally don't see it at all — and neither do the majority of people who have read the book. In fact, I've been at a lot of conventions where people come up to me wondering why there was such a furor over the book. Basically, most fans who aren't in the "heart" of Star Trek fandom don't even think about the possibility of K/S unless someone goes out of their way to point it out to them. And when it is pointed out to them, the reaction is usually, "By ghod, I never even considered it. Got any K/S fanzines?"

As to the hooplah over KILLING TIME. I would like to state for the record that the book was not pulled because of K/S elements. It was, quite simply, re-edited and re-printed because the wrong manuscript originally went into print by mistake. Due to several changes of editors at Pocket Books during the production of KILLING TIME, the version which had been edited by Paramount was misplaced, and an unedited version was typeset and put into galleys and finally into print. No one had any reason to suspect anything was wrong until the wrong version had been on the shelves for quite some time. And then, of course, based on the fact that I have long been associated with the K/S genre, it became a foregone conclusion that KILLING TIME was pulled because of K/S. After all, that made a much better rumor than the truth, so... it's not surprising at all that the rumors became so wide-spread as to increase sales of the books by several percentage points.

Trek came along at a time when the world was crumbling. Then again... when isn't the world crumbling? In 1968, for example, it was Vietnam. In 1986, it's Libya, Chernobyl and the continuing crisis in the Middle East. In a lot of ways, the world is in worse shape now than It was during Star Trek's original network airing. And. in a lot of ways, we need Trek more than ever right now. We need the hope it represents, the vision It gives us, and the love we constantly saw displayed between the characters.

On a broader scope, perhaps the Enterprise can be said to represent planet Earth with all its races of people, all its religious beliefs, all its sexual taboos, and so on. And since the Enterprise is basically a closed environment, it becomes vitally important for everyone to learn to live together tn some semblance of harmony and peace. On planet Earth... we seem to be constantly looking for reasons and excuses not to. Of course, planet Earth is somewhat larger than the Enterprise, but the analogy remains the same. We (as citizens of planet Earth) can "get away with it" for a little longer for the simple reason that we have more room to spread out and snipe at one another from our separate corners. Try that on a starship. and I'm afraid there wouldn't be much left but debris after a single confrontation with Kiingons, Romulans or any other potentially "dangerous invader".

Now... what does that have to do with K/S? Maybe nothing... or maybe a lot. To narrow the field down just a little, it's sometimes interesting to have the Enterprise represent Star Trek fandom. Encompassed in fandom is every race, creed, color, religious belief and sexual preference on the planet. Recent fandom surveys have shown that the I.Q. level of fans is generally much higher than that of the population as a whole, and that Star Trek fans are, for the most part, in professional, white-collar jobs. Amongst the "ranks", we have doctors, lawyers, computer designers and programmers, accountants, consultants, psychologists and so on. We also have house wives, house husbands, janitors, sanitation workers and truck drivers. We're all represented, and we bring to Star Trek fandom our individual likes, dislikes, beliefs and. let's face it, our personal prejudices.

And yet... get a group of Star Trek fans together, and they can usually talk for hours — even days at some of the longer conventions — without a cross word of a need to resort to our "lowest human passions" such as greed, hatred or bigotry. In Star Trek we can all become equals, can all share the same dreams, can afl work toward the same future. Until we start to learn more about one another. Why is it that, the more we learn about another person, the more we search for reasons not to like that person? Why is it that John Doe can be a wonderful humanitarian, can support every charity on the map because he feels it. can adopt tt orphaned children, and can give freely to help stray animals... but the moment we discover that John is, for example, a homosexual (gasp!), we tend to forget that he's also a wonderful person? Are sexual preferences so important that they start to outweigh everything else in a person's life?

For the most part, fandom is a microcosm — a bunch of little "countries" which have split off into factions, which, in turn, have split off into smaller factions, and so on. And. like it or not, there are the civil wars which result from this continuous splitting. One group decides that it only likes McCoy and splits into a sub-fandom. Another group will support only Spock. Another backs Kirk, while yet another is interested only in Sarek and Amanda.

The sad thing is that none of it is necessary. When we can step back and look at the overall picture, it often seems ludicrous that Star Trek fans spend a lot of time fighting among themselves. And, let's face it, K/S is often at the heart of many fandom civil wars.

Before I go any further into this, I think it might be interesting to point out that I didn't start out as a K/S fan whatsoever. Just the opposite! When I was first exposed to the idea of K/S, I literally ran screaming in the other direction — not because I was offended by the prospect of a homosexual encounter between Kirk and Spock, but because I could have been a potential "Mary Sue" who wanted to keep one or both of "the boys" pure and chaste for myself. It's a hard thing to say, and yet I feel that this type of attitude may be a lot of the underlying problem with some of the most verbal anti-K/Sers.

I've had an opportunity to talk with a lot of anti-K/Sers — people who feel that K/S should
 not exist in print, in thought or in a writer's private fantasies. And yet, when I've really gotten
 to the bottom of it, it seems that most of these people have never even read a good K/S zine.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of K/S stories which tend to give the whole genre a bad name.
On the other hand, there are a lot of bad stories in any genre, so I think it's a matter of these 
anti-K/Sers being willing to read some of "the good stuff" with an open mind. But that's another
 subject entirely.

Back to the point at hand. As I stated, many of the most adamant anti-K/Sers have never read any K/S whatsoever. They object solely on the basis of "principle" — on the basis of that tried and true "prejudice" which states that men shall not sleep with other men and a woman's place is rn the home... or other such nonsense.

The fact of the matter is that most K/S does not treat Kirk and Spock as "homosexuals". Rather, it seems to be the general concensus among K/S writers and readers that Kirk and Spock are blatant heterosexuals who just happened to find love within someone of the same sex. When we took at aired Trek, it's pretty easy to see that very few of the love interests for either Kirk or Spock were "equals". In most cases, the female love interests were weak, often simple-minded, and usually just plain dead by the end of the episode. That isn't to say that all women of the 23rd Century (or any other century) fall into this "weak" category -- only that, in the Star Trek universe as it was written, there was never a permanent love-relationship for either Kirk or Spock.

Okay... down to the nitty-gritty. Recently, I've gotten letters from about 5 different K/S fans who keep asking, "Why am I so obsessed with this K/S thing?" "Why can't I sleep at night for wondering about this and trying to figure myself out?" "I'm not gay, and I'm not a voyeur of gay sex. so why is K/S so important to me?"

Wetl, for starters, I've never felt that one has to be gay or a voyeur to enjoy the feeling which emanates from "lovers" of any sort. For example, when I'm walking down the street and I see a couple holding hands, obviously very much in love, it gives me a good feeling, too. By just looking at those people for a moment, I can "share" some of their love for one another and offer them a smile In return. It makes no difference If that couple is male/female or male/male or...?

So... when I read my first K/S story, my reaction was similar to seeing lovers walking down the street. My feeling was something along the lines of, "I grew up with these two heroes, I know more about them than I do about my neighbors, and wow!, I'm glad they're finally happy with one another!" In many ways, reading my first K/S story (which was, by the way, Leslie Fish's SHELTER), was like going to the wedding of two very dear friends. In their happiness, I was able to see what it is that makes all lovers happy — the unity, the diversity, the commitment to share one another's lives. I was able to see qualities in Kirk and Spock that I wanted to have in myself — qualities that I found myself wishing everybody could have.

To those fans who keep wondering why they are so drawn to K/S, let me simply say that it's different for everyone I've ever talked to about it. Some fans just think that "it's a lot of fun". Others feel that Kirk and Spock represent the full human potential where love relationships are concerned. In other words, to some folks. Kirk and Spock represent themselves and their own relationships. In reading about Kirk and Spock's relationship, some people are able to "visualize" what's right or what's wrong with their own marriage or relationship. Perhaps that's because most K/S stories present the K/S relationship as an "ideal" — an almost-perfect pairing of two strong individuals who are also equals. As I mentioned previously, the love interests in aired Trek of the 60's were pretty "pitiful" when ail was said and done. While some of these women came close, none could quite maintain the "equality" which seems to be a vital part of any good relationship — not because they were women, but because Kirk and Spock as they were/are written in Trek are "larger than life". Most heroes tend to set their sights on lofty goals and far-flung hopes — and Kirk and Spock are no different. To expect either of them to "settle down" with some half-witted inferior would be ludicrous.

PLEASE don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm as much of a feminist as anyone out therel It's simply that the women of Star Trek were never designed to be equals, for the simple fact that they were never designed to last more than one episode. For that reason, K/S became a "logical conclusion" in the minds of many writers and viewers. As human beings, we want happiness for our heroes — and when those heroes couldn't find their happiness in the arms of their one-episode lovers, some of us concluded that there were reasons for that. While the female Romulan Commander of THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT or Edith Keeler of CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER might have been spiritual/emotional/intellectual equals, they just weren't going to be around when the lights went down on that starship at night. And, again as humans, we demand happiness and security for our heroes on an hourly basis. So... K/S literature was bom and continues to flourish.

Besides being a lot of fun, there are other reasons why most K/S fans are fans. For many K/S writers, it's a genre where believability is an absolute must. It's much easier, for example, to have one's readers "believe" in Kirk with some voluptuous woman than it is to write a story wherein Kirk feels that same love and passion for Spock — not only a male, but a Vulcan. Not only a Vulcan, but a Vulcan's Vulcan. To me, it's always been a challenge to write a K/S story which not even the most rabid anti-K/Ser could refute as being "unbelievable". Perhaps the one K/S story which comes closest in this regard in [Gayle F's] DESERT HEAT. For the one person out there who hasn't read DESERT HEAT, the premise is that Kirk and Spock are trapped on a backwater planet awaiting the Enterprise's return, when Spock unexpectedly goes into pon farr. Kirk, of course, does what he has to do in order to save Spock's life, and I would defy anyone to use the argument of "Kirk wouldn't do that."

Bullshit.

To put oneself in the same position usually helps. If your very best friend in the whole wide world was dying "for lack of a lay" as Cayle so eloquently puts it in DH, what would you do? If this friend was someone you had trusted and depended on for years, could you possibly turn your back on that friend because you both happened to be the same sex? Those who could or worse, would turn their backs on the friend for that same-sex reason probably aren't worth calling "friends" in the first place. Those who would or could turn their backs on that situation, knowing that the friend's death would result certainly aren't made of the star-stuff that Kirk and Spock are made of.

Spock-oriented K/Sers tend to identify with the feelings of alienation they may have experienced throughout their own lifetimes. Many K/Sers — in fact aM of them that know — started out as Trekkers first; and many Trekkers certainly started out as Spock-fans. It's been said by psychologists that Spock fans tend to identify with the vulnerability and the strength which Spock portrays, but that Spock fans are usually less "mature" than Kirk fans. In some ways, I can see the argument, though I do not agree with it. It's been my experience that Spock fans come in two different varieties for the most part — those who see the Vulcan strength, mysticism and mystery, and those who identify primarily with the vulnerable alienation. There are, of course, at least six thousand off-shoots and sub-fandoms even within the character of Spock, though it's my impression that most Spock fans can and do identify with the balance between the strength and the vulnerability. Additionally, many Spock fans cite the telepathic rapport which Vulcans seem to require for "marriage" (i.e., the references to the two minds being linked together in AMOK TIME).

Until David Gerrold's re-written version of THE WORLD OF STAR TREK was released, K/S was basically confined to a very limited underground press. When David made the K/S literature a topic of public conversation, on the other hand, he essentially made a lot more people aware of it who might otherwise never have given the possibility a second thought. It seems that many people are "threatened" by the very existence of K/S, while many others find it a fascinating possibility. And, in the end, it really doesn't matter whose "side" one is on.

What does matter is when those civil wars I mentioned earlier start breaking out on all fronts, and Star Trek fandom .becomes a battleground rather than a place to relax and be among friends. There will, of course, always be controversy in any new idea; but one of the very basic tenets of Trek was that we need Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. We must learn to respect one another's opinions even if we don't always agree with them. Unfortunately, there is anything but respect recently — not only for K/S, but for many other aspects of Trek fandom as well. It's as if we've lost that concept of IDIC — the ability to learn from other beliefs, no matter how different from our own. Of course, it's always "easy" to argue against respect of differing ideas and beliefs. Some lunatics would go so far as to say, "Does this mean you would respect the beliefs of a child molestor?" Of course not, so let's not even delve into ridiculous analogies that only a hyped-up evangelist would use in an effort to convince us that AIDS, for example, is "God's wrath against homosexuals". Let's be realistic.

In the end, I think it's important for everyone to realize that Star Trek is — or should be a place where people of many different beliefs and ideas can come together to share and to learn. If we start failing into the time-worn pattern of "I'm right and you're wrong", then maybe it's time to go back and watch about a dozen old episodes to get that "Star Trek feeling" again. Whether we're into Trek because we love the stars or because we like Kirk or Spock or McCoy or a tribble really doesn't matter — so long as we're not in Trek for the sole purpose of conducting "wars" on a smaller scale than thermonuclear conflict. Sometimes, it seems fans can be so cruel to one another that we wonder why we're in it at again. We start to wonder why we put up with the arguing and the bickering and the snide comments and the nasty bitchery that seems as widespread as Chernobyl's radiation. And... in the end... we keep coming back. Maybe because we do see something worth saving. Maybe because we just happen to enjoy slipping into a "fantasy" universe where everyone gets along and the Klingons always lose.

Whatever the reasons, I hope we always keep coming back full circle -- back to Star Trek itself, and to the plethora of ideas and beliefs it has helped spawn in each of us.

References