MacGeorge's Musings on the Nature of Slash

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Title: MacGeorge's Musings on the Nature of Slash (on the essay), The Nature of Slash (on the index)
Creator: MacGeorge
Date(s): June 25, 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: Highlander
Topic:
External Links: Wordsmiths - on line publishing: List of Essays, Archived version; MacGeorge's Musings on the Nature of Slash, Archived version
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MacGeorge's Musings on the Nature of Slash is an essay by MacGeorge. On the blog's index, it has the subtitle "from a Reluctant Slasher (tm)."

The Essay

I was first exposed to slash well after I started writing Highlander fanfiction. My initial interest was in this wonderful heroic fantasy world featuring a gorgeous, dark, angst-ridden hero who had faults, but was a genuinely 'good' man. Like many others who write and read heroic fantasy, it was not about admiring such a hero. It was about wanting to be such a hero. Strong, sensitive, caring, stoic, driven, conflicted -- all those traits so common to our (or at least my) fantasies.

Then I fell into the clutches of the wonderful and talented Maygra de Rhema who had the good taste to actually like some of my fiction, and who gently urged me to read this stuff called 'slash.' My first reaction was 'eeeeuw!'. But that was before I read what she had recommended, and (more specifically) read what she had written.

Much to my surprise and no small discomfort, I was first intrigued, then drawn in, then sucked in (if you will pardon the expression) to the unique universe of slash fan fiction. All the time I was reading, and then actually writing, these strange relationship stories, I ruminated on 'why?' it should be so fascinating and, sometimes, such a turn on.

I've read some of the essays, but none of them made me think "Yes! This is what is going on!" So I just let it stew in the back of my brain for a long time. Recently, those busy brain cells, working quietly while I wasn't listening, came up with the following notions:

1) Women generally enjoy thinking about, looking at and fantasizing about beautiful men. Not body builders or showoffs, but men who have a natural grace and athleticism. This may not seem like a great revelation, but there are many who (in my experience) would be embarrassed to admit that reading, looking at and thinking about the male body is an enjoyable pastime. Such prurient sexual fascination is relegated to the realm of guys in wrinkled trenchcoats who buy magazines with brown paper covers and rent triple x-rated videos.

2) Women are almost universally self-conscious and extremely self-critical about their own physical appearance, regardless of what they see in the mirror. When I read a heterosexual love scene between the gorgeous male described in 1) above, and some lithe, perfect female, I can enjoy it if it is well written and is in the context of a good story, but it does not usually get me viscerally excited because I do not identify with that lovely female. That's certainly not who "I" am, or who I could ever even truly fantasize about being. Therefore, as a reader, I am always slightly removed from the action, unable to completely lose myself in the emotion and events.

3) But if you combine the elements of two gorgeous male bodies, complex personalities and relationships that allow both romantic love, as well as the rough-and-tumble "just fuck me because we both want it so bad" alternatives, you have incorporated all the desirable elements of physicality, emotion and circumstances, and you have provided an opportunity for total suspension of disbelief. The female, heterosexual reader does not have to mentally compare her own perceived shortcomings with either character. She can immerse herself (again, pardon the terms) in either (or both) of these hot, sexy characters having mind boggling intercourse with a beautiful, sensitive, intelligent man without even having to subliminally acknowledge that this does not and will not occur in real life. That is the essence of true fantasy. A lifting out of oneself. A lovely and uplifting moment of wish fulfillment. I am gorgeous and strong and heroic and loved, without any of that nasty backpack of self-perceived faults that might intrude if the situation were in any way comparable to 'real life.'

Reactions

I read with interest MacGeorge’s "why slash" essay. Like MacGeorge, I came to slash unintentionally, and I agree with most of what she offers as an explanation for the attraction of slash. I definitely agree that slash indulges a prurient female desire that is rejected by society. Discovering a forum where such desires are acknowledged and acceptable is empowering in its own right. But I think if that's all there was, I'd have grown bored of slash already, and I haven't. So for me, there’s an additional factor.

Another part of what I find continually fascinating, both as a writer and a reader, is addressing the power variances in a same sex relationship. Or, more accurately, writing about a couple without preconceived ideas and expectations about gender roles. When I compare my experiences writing a het pair (which in my case was a crossover with Methos and Scully) I had continual issues of gender stereotypes and expectations, even with two characters I had every reason to believe wouldn't buy into them. "No, she wouldn't do that because she wouldn't want to make him feel less masculine," I’d say to myself. "No, he wouldn't do that because he respects her independence and ability to take care of herself." It was a constant battle, and even when I felt like I was overcoming it, it was always there. I was writing a romance and I wanted to be romantic. To me, to some extent, that means the man feeling masculine and the woman feeling feminine. I find it difficult to admit this, but impossible to deny it. And those expectations and stereotypes foreclose options for me as a writer -- and I hate that.

What I love about slash is that there are no inherent gender roles -- the only expectations that do exist are the ones that fanon has created. For me those are much easier (and more enjoyable) to debunk than male/female expectations that are similar, if not identical, to those I deal with as a woman in a male-dominated work environment on an everyday basis -- just like, not coincidentally, Scully.

Instead, slash lets us turn those stereotypes on their head, and wonder what would a romantic/sexual relationship be like if those expectations didn't exist? If you were starting from scratch? What kind of balances could be stricken between two strong personalities? Who makes what kind of sacrifices for the other? How far are they willing to go?

Every so often someone asks if I prefer Duncan or Methos on top. The answer? Yes. I definitely prefer Duncan or Methos on top. I can equally see both possibilities, interchangeably existing in the same universe. Two strong guys who temporarily surrender that strength by choice, not because society says they're supposed to, but because they really, really want to. To satisfy both their desires and their partner's. And that just makes my heart go pitter-patter. [1]

References

  1. Slash: Another View, comment by Melina, July 1999