Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Katharine Scarritt

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Katharine Scarritt
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: Katharine Scarritt
Date(s): March 7, 2015
Medium: audio
External Links: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Katharine Scarritt
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In 2015, Katharine Scarritt was interviewed by Franzeska Dickson at Escapade as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

The interview's length: 49.25. A written transcript is available.

For more information about the origins of this interview, where it is housed, contact information, suggestions regarding future interviewee candidates, and how to become volunteer interviewer, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.

Some Topics Discussed

  • her introduction to fandom: a Star Trek con in Houston after 1980
  • attempts from herself and others to define slash
  • slash and homophobia
  • the trope We're Not Gay We Just Love Each Other
  • the freeing nature of being able to write from a man's point of view
  • the perhaps implausibility of mens' view of "lesbian porn" and women's view of emotional porn; the pitfalls of gender and writing gender as one wishes it could be
  • her early use of the terms snark and crackfic
  • W.H.I.P.S and almost being kicked out of that con for selling the zine Out of Bounds, see Banned from Tulsa
  • the first IDIC Con and some fans' thoughts about God's smite and the fact the air-conditioning units on top of the hotel being taken out by lightning
  • the fact that "het" is a newer term, not one ever used by fans "back then"
  • Lezlie Shell and her creation of the Wave Theory of Slash
  • much on early vidding, a focus on the Highlander vid Scarborough Fair


.... the woman [I met at a Star Trek con] that became my best friend, and has been for the last thirty years, she got up to go to the bathroom and when she got back discovered she'd been elected the president of the Star Trek club. [laughter]... And since she would be very energetic about projects like that, she, by the next month rolled around she had roped a bunch of people into working on a fancy newsletter, and was really on a membership drive, and all that. We went to her house for the meeting. My car broke down, and so she, we had to have it towed home, or something like that. And she helped me with that, and that was just sort of it. It went from there. She knew a couple people in fandom that she'd met here, and one of them was very involved in the fanzine world. And so I got pulled right in to that, and that was fantastic. I really, really loved it. I also kept going to science fiction conventions at the same time, so, and, you know, I don't know if this still is the case, a lot of media fans, or, here, Star Trek fans, are silly, goofy, they're not serious science fiction readers, writers, or serious people. You know. So there was a big divide between the two of them. And, in fact, I got a little grief from my media fan friends about going to science fiction conventions, or staying involved in it... But it, honestly, really, I'd never had friends like that in my life. I mean, I don't think people hated me, exactly, but I certainly wasn't a popular kid. I didn't have, you know, tons and tons of friends. I was too odd, or argumentative, or whatever, you know. Or maybe just lacking whatever it is that makes it easy for some people to make friends. I don't think it was quite to the level of the being “the loner”, and the quiet guy that you have to watch out for... I didn't even know it. I just realized that life got much, much better right about that time. So, especially those first three or four years, were just absolute, you know, it was just magical, when you finally find a bunch of people who have the same, you know, think that the same things are important as you do. I also think that as we grow older, things go out of fashion.
I took [Desert Heat] away and I read it and I thought, well, number one, it was obviously, just the writing alone was, I believed every minute of it. It was just like, it was an episode. She sold the whole product, up one side and down the other. Now, once the idea's in your head, of this kind of relationship between Kirk and Spock, and you've seen a way that it's 100% totally believable within their characters, you, the next time you see it, even if it's not as believable, even if that person doesn't present it as in-character as the first story, it doesn't matter. You've already crossed the threshold of believability.... Later on, I became a Blake's 7 fan, and I had as my goal was to write that same story, the story that, once people read it, they wouldn't be able to unread it, so to speak. That that idea would now have a legitimacy in Blake's 7 that it really didn't have before. I don't know if I succeeded. It succeeded for some people; some people told me that I did. But I won't go any further than that about that. But it did, again, it made that story, it made the concept of slash, just as real as it could be. And it conditioned my view of what it was. I doubt I've changed it in all these years. That it is not about about homosexuality in the classic sense of the word; these are not coming out stories. You could write a coming out story if you wanted to, but slash in its purest form is not about that. And we spent hours at the time discussing what it was, what it wasn't, what was important, what was not important. What was important in relationships, and how such a relationship could happen between people who were ostensibly heterosexual.
... later in fandom there got to be this entire, you know, business of, “Well, if you believe that, then you're homophobic.” Which just, you know, we were flabbergasted, many of us, from here on. “Where are you getting this from?” The fact that people are ostensibly heterosexual, that we make that assumption – if you go to China, you are going to assume that somebody speaks Chinese. You might very well be running in to somebody who's, you know, from France, and is visiting relatives, and speaks no Chinese. I mean, that's possible, but, you know, what are the numbers? At the time it was thought, whatever, maybe 10% of the population was gay. So to assume that someone is most likely heterosexual is not homophobic. I, mean, I just never really, I just couldn't go there. [laughter] It was just one of these, you know, and unless you were in a certain community, or a certain part of the country, or certain areas, then it was like, well, the chance that somebody's gay just went way up.... And I'm gonna ask that question. There was such a brouhaha about that for a while, it just really – and people basically started to essentially redefining what slash was. And that was a, I found that very frustrating.
I spent a good bit of time trying to, you know, to discuss this whole concept of defining slash, but I also got a lot of, you know, not necessarily directly – I didn't get any hate or anything - but there was a just complete negativity towards, number one, defining slash at all, in any way that excluded, was exclusive... And, it just, no willingness to even consider that there was no malicious intent behind this. No, that this wasn't about prejudice at all, you know? It was about truth in advertising. I think of a story, if they call it slash, this is what I want to read. If I want to read a gay romance – and even in the eighties that was relatively recently available in print – and in pretty quick order in the nineties, relatively recently, available online. There was even stuff where people wrote fantasies about characters or actors that was floating around on the side, not in fandom, so you could, if that's what I wanted, I could find it. I didn't need to come to fandom for that. I was strongly felt that anything I did in fandom, in the things that I wanted, I wanted something quite specific and unique that was not, that you could not get anywhere else.

Slash as written, as “Desert Heat,” that is not something you could do anywhere else. You have to have the well-defined characters, and the familiarity with the characters. And, you know, you have to have the mentality where you spend a lot of time thinking of the characters and their background, all that kind of stuff. And you just can't get that in a gay, and by redefining the characters as gay was just like, “Why are you doing this?” It's like, make don't you just make one of them a woman, then. What 's your deal?

I think about the same time people got in to this, oh, older people are too, I don't know what the word would be, squeamish, perhaps, about sexual details. And a lot of them were, actually. A lot of them were. They never grew up writing porn, you know... One of my friends, I was friends one time with someone named Pamela Rose. She's never used a pseudonym. But she came from a background, she was from a farm in Indiana. And she said the first zine she got, the first slash zine she got, she threw it across the room, you know? But a little later she went and picked it back up again. [laughter] She became – at the time she was one of the very popular early writers of K/S, so. She [giggle] so, yeah. They were, a little bit. And I don't think anybody objected to more explicit stories by any means. But this was seen as a badge of, I don't know, something. We're revolutionary in that we were writing more explicit stories.

Or people had been reading a whole lot of gay porn, and writing it that way. Even though those early stories weren't as explicit, you know, they had a lot of, both emotional and sexual power because they were coming from peoples', you know, I guess, from their guts, in some way. And this stuff was very taboo, so that was sort of infused into the stories. To be sure, if you didn't grow up with the same taboos, then it didn't hit you like that. But, you know, I, the lack of perspective in fandom disappoints me a lot. Lack of historical and cultural perspective that exists out there. They're out there championing their, how open-minded they are about homosexuality, blahdy-blah, while at the same time they're denigrating the experience of these people who did live through some confusing and difficult times.
it was a very intense experience, when you are writing always from a man's point of view. And people ask, what do you want to do that for. What do you want to do that for? Well, it was freeing....It, thinking like a man, or talking like a man, suddenly you could think thoughts that just wouldn't come to you naturally as a woman. But again, once you've thought that thought, you're like, “Why not?” I know a lot of people that it had had a beneficial effect on not just their day-to-day life, it had a beneficial effect on their sexuality. In the same sort of way, you're just suddenly, your eyes opened to a whole world of, “Well of course this is fun. This is something I want to do, this is something that's part of me.” It's just, you know, I hate to say “natural”, because that sounds so hackneyed, but it's organically part of you. It's not just something you have to have over in a little box that you keep separate for special occasions. And that's something that men grow up with naturally, you know, partly because their different anatomy makes it impossible for them to pretend that they're not sexual, you know? ...Women can kid themselves, but men can't, so. So looking at, you know, like I said, I just felt like there was a big divide there at that point, where new people coming in, instead of saying, and that's where you hear a lot of this, you may have heard in panels even now, this, it's a little tiny bit of bitterness on the part of older fans, really. “Younger fans aren't listening to us, or taking us seriously.”
I was also the one who invented apparently the term “crack” for fic... Inadvertently, because we were talking about whether stories should be good, and what reasonable expectations people should have of writers, and things like that. And I said, you know, you get something out of stories – I don't remember the exact analogy now. But it was something like, now people want to go to a story just like going to a crack house and get your fix. They want their fix. They're not interacting with the story, and once that fix is done, they want another new story. I was talking about how we used to reread stories over and over again, just like we watched episodes over and over and over again. Trying to get every, you know, suck every last little piece of juice out of it. Rereading was part of the entire pleasure of fanfic... And that made it therefore really important therefore the write the story as best as you could, because if people reread it, they start noticing flaws. You rarely, if a story's got a good feel to it, you rarely notice a lot of flaws on the first read-through. But you read it again and again, you're going to, errr. We were writing for those people who were going to read it five times. So yeah, I said that, and apparently that got picked up on, and by now “crackfic” is like a meme, you know? It's like, wow. [laughter] I've been an inadvertent vector for a couple things. “Snark” is another one. They used it on a small mailing list that was about The Sentinel, and I used the word in some context about snarking, because it was actually used on Homicide. And that mailing list, they picked it up immediately as “snarking” as, “snarking” was criticizing something in a funny way. And then those people posted it to Television Without Pity, and once that happened, it was out there. It spread like wildfire.... It was like, I saw that meme originate.
I think people, older fans in general, just, they want credit for what they did do. And for many of them it was a much greater risk to do this stuff than, not just professionally. It was professionally for some people, but also, personally. They had to struggle with their self-image about it. I remember trying to, I remember sitting around at a meeting. God, I would have been – I'd been in fandom for what, maybe a year and a half? And I made some comment about female slash relationships, and the possibility thereof. And the room went dead silent. I mean, dead silent. Nobody said anything. Nobody got mad, they just all looked at the floor, or looked away. I mean, it was a group of women. I was, forget it. Just, it was like, when the conversation picked up again, the moment later, it was like I hadn't said anything. Right in to the black hole. And that's what I mean. I know people started, that started coming up more and more often as more younger fans got in to it, and as it began to be, as slash fandom began to be perceived as a safe place for homosexual discovery, or whatever you want to call it...Thought, exploration – I don't know.... Yeah. Queer is, that makes sense to me, because that's like, yeah, that's exactly what it is. It's queer even in its original meaning...

Our initial premise of slash was that these people had evolved a relationship in which there was a level of intimacy that they were never gonna get with anybody else. And so, given that human beings at least, certainly have sexualities far more fluid than they would generally like to believe - that it was right and proper, or that it was a good thing for them, to proceed to, because otherwise they would be forever split. You know, they'd have their sex here, and their intimacy there. And that's not a good thing. They should find all that together. And to some extent it's a woman's point of view, too, not – men would be like, “Yeah, what's your, what's the problem?”... So perhaps it wouldn't be realistic, you know, in that sense at all. But, you know, I’ve had men read stuff that I have written, or other stuff, things like “Desert Heat,” and they're like, well, yeah, you know? They remain very uncomfortable with it, straight men, with even the concept, because they go to that same place, like - “Well, but I'm not gay.” It's like, ah well, you know.

Or that, “We're not gay, we love each other” became the meme, which was then labeled as being homophobic. And it's like, I do understand that for years in the gay culture, there was a lot of guys who said, “I'm not really gay, even though I'm doing this all the time.” But these are guys who are picking up strangers, [Laughter] saying they're not really gay, you know, just for a quickie. It was a different, even though some of the words are the same, it was actually a whole different take. I mean, most of us, we became ultimately acquainted with, again, just because you are doing this stuff, you become ultimately acquainted with the gay subculture. But before then, I had no idea that this stuff went on. None, you know?
[Franzeska Dickson]: No, no, no, see, that's interesting, because fandom still, I think, debates those kinds of questions. I mean, I think it is more common now to write a character who's always been secretly bisexual, or what have you, but there is certainly still debate, about, like, is slash appropriative of gay stuff, like what does it mean for women to be blah blah blah, how many, you know, women who write slash are really straight, you know, with various different opinions about what the answer to that question is. [Katharine Scarritt]: Yeah. To me it's like, well, of course they're straight. I mean, if one's good, two's better, you know. It's that sort of thing. It's the same thing as, you know, men write lesbian sex. And men write lesbian sex as if these two women are desperately hot for sex that that's all they want to do is get down and fuck like bunnies kind of thing. And that's, you know, they're drooling all over each other, and women write men having these long, intense, passionate conversations [laughter] with this deep, serious, emotional relationships. You know, and either way, how realistic are either one of those? We're putting our own sexuality, or elements of our own sexuality, on to the opposite sex, to create some level of satisfaction that we want. I mean, that's how men wish women were. Or sort of, in some sense.
We went up to a convention in Tulsa, some time around that time, '82, '83, '84, somewhere in there, and, to sell our, to sell zines. We bought a dealer's table, and to promote, I don't know if it was IDICon, or something. And Lezlie, they had their zine, Out of Bounds, which was, they called it that. They were writing what was, at the time, transgressive stories. Stories that didn't necessarily have a happy ending. Stories where Kirk and Spock were not necessarily totally good guy heroes in relationship to each other. So, I mean, most people probably find stuff like meh, whatever, these days... It was shocking at the time. Well, we went to Tulsa. And we had our, Mary and I had done a Kirk-focused zine that was just regular, I mean, gen, as they called it at the time. There was no, I mean, it was R-rated, but it wasn't slash....

So, I wasn't at the table when it happened, which is probably just as well. Somebody – I don't know if it was somebody from the convention, or an off-duty fire marshall – I'm not really sure - said they weren't allowed to sell that at their table because it was pornographic. Yeah. And there was a whole big deal was made out of it. They had to, we had to, they had to take their stuff off the table. [laughter] The Tulsa experience, I know that a fic was, I mean, a filk song was made up about it, “Banned from Tulsa,” you know, based on “Banned from Argo.”

You know, our zine was allowed to be kept on there, but we took it away on Sunday, anyway. It's like, “This is ridiculous. This was what we paid for that dealer's room table, we paid for it.” And it wasn't like we were showing the stuff, you know.... And Pam and Lez's covers were very, you know. I mean, they still had [ Gayle F ] art on there, but it was stylized, and whatever. And you'd have to sit there and stare at it a long time, if you weren't familiar with it, to realize. And for the most part, they weren't sitting it right on the table with this stuff out in the open. The rest of the zine had no illos, so, you know, there wasn't anything. No, it was just ridiculous.

And so, that would never, nothing like that would ever happen now. Not even in Tulsa.
I guess I'd been at somebody's house, and they showed these vids, Starsky and Hutch vids. And they were to art, for the most part, they were just music put over relatively long scenes. And they meant a lot to the people who were big Starsky and Hutch fans, which I was not at the time. I did not watch Starsky and Hutch until about twenty years later. But I was fascinated! It was like, because what I saw, even though I knew nothing, really, or very little, about the show. The combination of the music and what they were doing, you know, was extremely evocative, and so, “I wanna do that. I want to do something like that some day.” But clearly you had to have specialized equipment. So I was coming back from a convention, and I heard, what was it, “She's Always a Woman,” and it just [snaps finger] snapped me that that was just perfect for the character on Blake's 7, Servelan. And I had a, I mean, I talked about it to somebody, I had a friend who had some equipment, and, you know, had the video equipment that was needed, and I made it.

And I was just, I loved it. I loved doing it, making the vids... You know, and so, I went on to make more Blake's 7 vids. I did “Desperado” because that had been the Starsky and Hutch thing that I'd seen that so impressed me, so it was like a little homage to that in my own mind, you know....

I evoked, I mean, I had seen other people's vids. The California Crew were the ones who impressed me the most, because they were very good at keeping with the rhythm of the song, and their cuts were good, and stuff like that. And to me, I felt that that was something that, if you didn't do that, what was the point, right?...It was about the music first, and exactly what images you used were second. If it didn't fit the music, if the music didn't create the right mood, and if it was completely inaccessible, as some people's vids, music vids were, if the music itself was something that was a huge acquired taste – then you weren't going to have a successful vid....

But at the same time, you had to do something that was unique, or specific to that particular show, you know?... Instead of doing something generic, or something that was, I can't remember what they call it, there was a phrase they used to use for that. But against the actual content of the show. You could take something that was implied, or under the surface, the same way you did with fanfic, and pull it out. That we appreciated. But something that was completely opposite - And my sense now is that there's no, the stuff isn't tied to the shows the way it used to be, in that very sense, you know?
And I remember, Morgan told me, asked me about “Scarborough Fair”, which, once I, you know, those first vids I did were extremely successful. I mean, people just loved them way more than I expected. I mean, I thought I was amusing myself. I did one for, you know, I used songs from musicals, I used whatever, and people just loved it. And I guess I really felt like I just nailed the characters in each of these. And I tend to do character studies. And then later on I went, very shortly after I gotten The Professionals, and I got the same thing, the same sort of reaction. So I was just, God, I don't know, “obsessed” is not the right word, but I wanted the technology, the better equipment, because I wanted to control those cuts. And that's one of the things Sandy and I bonded over, is we were both really good with our finger. We could get the cuts, you know?... Right on there, where you didn't have the flashes, you didn't have the whatever. We just bonded with our video machines. [laughs] Because I thought there were so many things you could do, if you only had, you know, access to this equipment.

So when I got into Highlander, again, first thing I wanted to do was vid, and I'm a person, I always go by the song. The song is always first. If I'm looking around, and the song isn't there, then, there's no vid. I will not just find something half way. And so I found the song “Scarborough Fair” that was perfect for Duncan. Well, as you know, “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel is actually two songs that are layered together....

And the voices are layered. It's beautifully done. So it, one of them's about war, and one of them's about love. And so it was like, I should, I want to be able to layer the video together about Duncan, war and love, same kind of thing.

Well, eBay was brand new then, a couple years old, and I think, invisible to most of us, digital was taking over in the professional industry. The beta, whatever it is, some kind of HD beta was what was used for broadcast at that point. They weren't using three-quarter any more, they weren't using some of these kinds of things. Well, equipment that had previously only been available to professionals, price-wise, was now available on eBay for something reasonable. So I got a, I was able to buy a mixer, for seven hundred dollars at the time, and it would mix two video streams together. And it was a real mixer, too, it wasn't just a color thing like they talk about. It wasn't just a thing, but it would actually mix the two video streams. But you had to do it live. So you had to have the two things coming together. So basically I had to make one whole vid to the one song, and another whole vid for the other, for the other part of it. And then I played them, and I mixed as I went.

But, you know, it came out beautifully, and, I mean, it was done, it was very successful. What year was that? 1997, I think. And I had three other Highlander vids that were just done traditionally, with the, you know, tch-tch-tch-tch.

I would have loved to have done more digital vidding. About the time, unfortunately, when it came out, I think, I got cancer, and I got, basically, I missed the leap to LiveJournal, and Facebook, and all that, and never never caught up. I never had a fandom that I was so crazy about -
Fandom, like any social group, has its ups and downs. It's, I have to say, I mean, I was what, twenty-one or something when I first got in to it? So it's totally shaped my life. My parents were involved in a theater group when I was a kid, and it felt like that. Fandom did to me. It felt comfortable in the same way where they did activities together, and they put the shows on together, and they hung around together sometimes. You know, they had parties at each other's houses, and, you know. So I guess somewhere in the back of my mind this was sort of a model, but I'd never run in to it anywhere, except fandom....
You know, one thing people with Enterprising Women and all that stuff got right is this is something particularly about women, and women's feelings and issues and all that. Even though there are some men here and there in the fandom, and so that's very important. I know one thing Sandy has talked about is how she really didn't want men to come to Escapade because women tended to defer to men, and it just ends up as an inhibiting factor. Because we're automatically trained to do that, and especially, any of us, again, over thirty, that is in us, whether we like it or not. I don't want to be that way, but I find myself doing it too, sometimes. And so, if they're looking for the key to it, or whatever, that's where it's going to be found. But it's women saying things they way they want it to be, not the way they are told it ought to be, even by the women's movement. They're trying to bring the things that they think are important in to aspects of their everyday life. Some of them are powerful stories come out of the day-to-day life in like, Starsky and Hutch. It's contemporary meant that it was also dealing with contemporary issues. And contemporary living arrangements, and cars, and all these things, so it brought home these issues very strongly for people. That's a, I don't know, it's also a place to be fun, and creative, and do whatever, and have a good time, you know? It beats joining the Elks Lodge. Fandom, fans are weird, but it's like, these guys put on antlers and dance around. And you're calling us weird? Come on. [laughter].