Musings on "We're Not Gay" in slash

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Title: Musings on "We're Not Gay" in slash
Creator: princessofgeeks
Date(s): March 16, 2006
Medium: journal post
External Links: Musings on "We're Not Gay" in slash
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Musings on "We're Not Gay" in slash is a 2006 essay by princessofgeeks.

By letting our fic purposefully jettison the reality of 21st Century Gay Culture, are we learning things, experimenting in fiction, about the nature of gender? As grievous_angel used to say, the plumbing can be truly irrelevant; it's all about the characters and the love? If I think along these lines, I get equally interested in the other Big Discussion We Always Have in Slash: Feminizing Male Characters, and What That Means. What is masculine? What is feminine? I love that debate, too, as you know....

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts from the Essay

I've heard people around here ponder that that trope, and an emphasis on smarm as opposed to slash, can be a sign of some kind of buried reluctance to embrace or accept the whole RL gay thing on the part of the slash author; kind of a way for us female slash authors/readers to enjoy our beautiful male characters here without having to actually cope with RL issues regarding gay rights and gay identity and gay culture in 21st Century society.

I don't know if I believe that or not, but I think not. In three years here in several slash fandoms, I have only run across one slash reader who seemed to put "enjoying gay-ness in fiction" in the same category as "enjoying noncon in fiction" -- that is, equating the two as things that should not happen in real life but that we are allowed to enjoy as a fantasy. Let me stress: I DO NOT think that's a viable comparison AT ALL. And I have a hard time understanding how someone could enjoy slash and be the least bit homophobic in real life! But that's not my point.

That's all controversial and liable to rile people up. That is a rant for another day -- how fantasy and reality and fiction overlap or don't overlap. (I mean, I'll admit to reading chan and noncon, but I am against child molestation and rape in real life, okay? I think beizy covered this whole topic very well some time back, but I didn't keep the link to the discussion.)

But anyway.

Back to the WNG trope. This interests me, not so much for the foregoing reasons, but for other reasons.

I'm not sure if the WNG trope is more used in some fandoms than others, or if it's an underlying issue in all slash. Some slash turns on the character arc of "I love you -- I guess I want you, too, OMG -- Am I gay?" Some slash assumes a bi or gay, as we understand it out here in RL, identity for the characters from the get-go, and the character arcs are something different.

To me, slash undoubtedly, among other things, indeed gives us a way to write about sex and romance between men without having to grapple first, or at all, with the conventions of what gay life in modern times is really like. (This kind of relates to the discussion of "how much reality in our fiction is enough?" Like, how realistic does the sex have to be? Must there be lube? Must there be condoms? Etc.)

Science fiction can do the same thing. You can set up society and the sexes however you want, and it can bear NO resemblance to any Earth historical time period. You can have two genders, three, more, none. Changeable gender roles, whatever. Remember "The Left Hand of Darkness"? So yeah.

"Sacred Space" talks about a soul-deep bond between the two protagonists that slowly, over time, gets expressed as sex. And the Blair character, who narrates the story, sees it as WNG for himself. In this story, the Jim character is written as gay from the outset. In this story, Blair sees his connection with Jim as underlying or transcending or something --- anyway, the connection they have is the point and the sex thing or the sexual attraction thing is not the main point. The bond he feels with Jim gets expressed through sex, but it's very metaphysical. I don't think we are intended to see Blair as in denial here, as an unreliable narrator. I think Justine wants to explore this idea of sex being, in the words of the naughty musical, not the cause, but the symptom.

And Justine is definitely a good enough writer to pull that off!

On the other hand, another story of hers, "And So It Goes," takes the same characters and treats their relationship as more realistically gay, or bi, and plays with the power dynamic between them, and has another character arc entirely. I love that story, too.

So by thinking about "Sacred Space" I realized that, yes, there is definitely a WNG theme in some of the stories I like, and that I don't think it necessarily involves a rejection of dealing with actual gender identity issues as we see them today. You all know I'm very interested in gender studies, as an amateur, and the way slash and SF inform our understanding of them. So this is part of that, to me.

Of course, I fell in love with a LOTR RPS pairing, Elijah/Astin, in which you pretty much have to cope with these identity issues and try to make them plausible in your fic. I absorbed the fic and started writing my own without thinking much, on a meta level, about these tropes or issues or themes, and only now am getting to that. I loved the stories of rakshi and shaenie, who both have explicit discussions in their fic, which I was willing to sit still for! And did not find preachy! They are both that good, in their own ways! I mean discussions, as dialogue within their narratives, about the nature of gender identity and sexual attraction. So anyway.

The classic Elijah/Astin plot in Lotrips involves Astin falling for Elijah and then, because of that, having to rethink his own sexual identity -- allow himself to embrace a bisexual or homosexual part of himself, something that had not occurred to him before. Those of us who write Lij/Astin have to deal with this because the Astin character is married in canon. So you have to cope with that. (This makes me realize that I never "got" Elijah/Dom or Dom/Billy because certainly the classic plot for them was something entirely different! Those of you who wrote those pairings, was there a common theme? I have a few classic Lij/Dom stories printed out; I should reread them with that in mind. Usually I just revel in the hot sex, you know? Not looking for a character arc? But PWP is not enough for me anymore. Grown-up authors like mirabile_dictu have totally spoiled me. I want meat with my sex! Every time! Hee hee. )

But then when you, like me, get to thinking about how that squares or doesn't square with what we know about gender identity and sexual attraction in real life, you are back into the "how realistic does slash have to be" arena.

Some writers, like Fennelseed in LOTR FPS or Francesca in Sentinel and SGA, can write the purest crackfic and make me believe in it wholeheartedly. The way they build up details, and the psychological plausibility of what they do, makes it possible to "go there" and keep every iota of my disbelief suspended. These "cliches" or "conventions a go-go" challenges used to do that on purpose. Fun.

And, in a way, I guess, if you're writing realistic fiction with gay characters, slash romance is a type of crack fic! Hee hee. That's why I, as a mostly straight person, like it when actual gay or lesbian or bi or whatever people write slash and comment on it. I'm interested in that intersection of fic and life, but of course I don't think one HAS to be interested in that in order to revel in slash. Not at all.

Fan Comments


that's it@! it's all about the emotional porn, the soulmate's not that RL issues maynot be important to the reader and writer...they just aren't here in that space of that fic that hits our emotional kinks of a love that loves beyond gender boundaries not because of them...

i agree that there are fandom issues but alao seems to me the reality kink had a big push in the very late 90s maybe (to me always represented by Fraser in a wheelchair handing out how to have gay sex ewhen disabled pamphlets and mulder having a meaningful talk with skinner during his post anal sex bowel movement [and i may have made up both examples or misrepresented the stories but those scenes somehow became my screen memory for the reality kink *g*]) and now it's more of a personalthing.

interestingly, the debates often center around sex much more than around gay lifestyles...and then again, maybe we're ahead of the curve? if BBM is so revolutionary, b/c it shows gay men who are not in urban environments with a culture supporting them...well, that's whatwe're doing, right???


yes, we're, mostly, not showing gay men in urban environments post-AIDS with a culture supporting them, but the fact that BBM was not doing that either, is not why BBM was revolutionary, to me. But I'll defer the BBM postings to others!

and the reality kink -- interesting. you've been in fandom much longer than I; I dunno about that. But interesting.

I do think we're ahead of the curve, though.


Sorry. BBM does not feel like slash to me, and I can't figure out why.

I agree with you that it was very realistic, and was a picture of what the culture did to gay men in the early 1960s and on through the 20 years or so that their relationship continued.

BBM was revolutionary, imho, but for a totally different reason than slash is.


clearly there are a lot of slash fans out there who are writing BBM fanfic, so my definition of what attracts me as slashable, and their definition of what would be a cool fanfic text to riff from, is not the same. which is fine....

i learned alot from listening on that discussion, where i made your acquaintance, about the realism in stories about same-sex relationships, and about slash, and about the WNG trope.

Clearly to me there's something especially compelling about subverting canon -- something I can't quite put my finger on. Somehow it's getting more elusive the more I learn about the meta landscape of slash. Something about obstacles to romance, too, appeals to me. I do vastly enjoy same-sex romance in fic of any sort -- pro fic or fan fic -- so it's not that I ONLY want fanfic. But I'll just have to go on thinking about it for the time being....

hyel: I'd never heard of it referred to as WNG before, but I know the phenomenon. It's a staple of original yaoi and shounen ai and yeah, seen in slash all around too. There's something romantic and sexy about the idea that there could be a love connection or an attraction between two people of the same gender who are not used to being attracted to their own gender. Their love transcends gender limitations omg! And the sexy part is the confusion and resistance to attraction that is overcome by the strength of the attraction. It works. The most basic reason for WNG's popularity is that it's romantic and sexy - rather than being a denial of the gay culture. Or that's how I see it, anyway.


Since you asked about common themes in other pairings, I'm weighing in. *cracks knuckles*

As you know, I write both Sean/Lijah and Monaboyd. While one can write Dom and Billy doing practically anything and have it work, if the characterizations are right, there is a very common theme that says that Dom is gay or bi and Billy is straight and must be convinced (by Dom, himself, another cast-mate, etc.) that it's worth taking a new path to be with Dom, if for just a while. Rarely, this is reversed in rather interesting ways. Most typically, the first time between them involves fairly copious amounts of alcohol having been consumed by one or both of them.

I find Sean/Lijah much harder to write convincingly, partly because of the very strong canon issues and partly because of the enormous differences between them. They are adorable together in RL, and they are clearly enormously fond of each other, but Sean is so much the proud husband and daddy that it's very tough to keep a good balance in writing him in a romantic relationship with someone other than his wife. Billy/Dom just tends to flow, for some reason, even though I take great care in writing them. The intensity of their friendship helps that along, I think.

This is an interesting post. I really haven't felt the need to deal with the WNG thing except as it pertains to the issues one of the characters has over his own sexuality. (Wouldn't that be more like 'ING'?) I think it's unrealistic to imagine that most people don't ponder their own sexuality these days, albeit with varying degrees of resistance. As one who believes very strongly in equal rights for all, and who has no trouble with homosexuality, I am unlikely to use WNG in the way you posited at the beginning of this. However, I do think that it's worth using it (with care and good judgment) as a way to explore stereotyping and pigeonholing. I think that exchange in BBM is one of the strongest for many reasons, including the facts that guys don't have to be effeminate to be gay or bi, and that labeling people by sexuality is always a dicey proposition, at best.


I've read a lot of slash. All types. I've also read Gen. I've read in several fandoms.

I can tell you how I felt after reading several Sentinel stories (I think it was Sentinel) in which the guys were WNG. The first couple of stories I noticed it, but basically didn't think much about it and then it happened again and again. I don't know why, but there was a lot of stories with the guys doing the WNG thing and it began to really bother me. I didn't find it romantic or sexy at all. I found it to be a rejection...equating gay with bad. They weren't gay. Ohhhh no. Couldn't just be gay or actually come to grips with being bi or just plain sexual. They seemed to be making the point that they were NOT gay. Maybe my feeling is a carryover from real life where gay bashing is so prevalent in schools, etc. Gay as a cuss word or an exclusion. I see the WNG as just another exclusionary tactic. It's my personal reaction. I know the authors may not or even most likely didn't intend it to come across that way, but that's how I felt while reading it.

In most of the WNG fanfic there seems to be an assumption that the men are truly heterosexual. It's only this one particular guy who manages to overcome all their previous urges and if something were to happen to him then they'd revert back to heterosexuality. They truly aren't gay in WNG. They don't look at other guys, never crossed their minds.

Ennis may not actively go out and pick up guys like Jack, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have desires. I think Ennis does desire men. Ennis was ruled by fear and that's what kept him from having relationships with men rather than some strange magical thrall that Jack had cast upon him. It wasn't because he didn't want to have a relationship with a man. Jack didn't have that terrible fear to overcome. In the end, after Jack's death we see that Ennis is finally opening up. He's going to try. He agrees to attend his daughter's wedding. That is a pivotal moment because I think he's trying to actually be the man he really is. The man that he let Jack see and that Jack loved.

So, yes. Both Jack and Ennis say they're not faggots because they really don't think of themselves as the people their parents and society have described to them as faggots. They really don't have a clue as to who they really are, but I thiink Jack definitely knew what he needed to make him happy. Unfortunately, Ennis didn't discover his courage until Jack was gone. But, I think Ennis, if he keeps to his promise, 'I swear', will try and discover that happiness again with a man instead of a woman this time. That's how I see it a possibility, one possible future. Which is quite different from WNG fanfic because if Jim lost Blair he would revert back to relationships with women, that sort of thing.

kyuuketsukirui: I came into slash fandom through yaoi, mostly original stuff rather than fanfic, but still the trend there is overwhelmingly to have the guys not be gay, but rather to be, sort of...lowering themselves to sleep with another guy because they love the person's soul so much. And I can see the romanticness of it, that it's not necessarily people being homophobic. But for me, I'm looking for something a little more real life and a little less idealistic romance. I'm glad I discovered slash fandom, but there is definitely a lot of it that's not any different from the yaoi tropes that I wanted to escape. :-/ Yet gay porn is no better, as from everything I've seen, it's entirely unconcerned with good writing. I wish there were more gay literature (even if it didn't have scads of explicit sex, though that would certainly be a bonus).


the recent commenters have really touched on some of the points I felt about this.

I had not pondered the extent to which one could use the WNG trope to actually reject m/m in that backhanded way, or create a hierarchy of loves. I like it because of the way it can let us see how or if love and desire transcend physicality, or not, and it makes us expose and critique our mind (or soul)/body dualism if you want to go there.

Yeah, you can posit Lij as the Only Guy Sean Would Ever Go For, or Daniel as the Only Guy Jack Would Ever Go For, if you want to -- it does let you wire around the straightness of the characters in canon. But I appreciate the pointing out, in this thread, of the potential anti-gay backlash that can be perceived in that.

I actually don't think it's very realistic, based on what I know of actual gay people in real life, but it's a pretty small sample compared to the population, and of course I'm just an amateur here. I have no idea what the latest research is on how attraction and desire work on a Kinsey scale or some such.


I think it's an interesting and important question on two levels:

What do the characters think is the difference between having a specifically sexual love for another man, and being gay?

And what do fanwriters get out of drawing such a distinction?

I read BBM as being about the amount of harm--including collateral damage--that ensues when people are precluded from living an honest life.


What do the characters think is the difference between having a specifically sexual love for another man, and being gay? And what do fanwriters get out of drawing such a distinction?

Yes yes yes! Exactly.

The three fandoms that I have most often seen this situation you have, where a formerly straight-behaving guy gets interested in a man, are in Lotrips with Billy/Lij or Astin/Lij, some of the Jack/Daniel fic in SG-1, and some of the fic in The Sentinel.

In those situations, the trope is invoked, if you will, because of the unavoidable fact that the guys have female lovers and/or are or were married. You can deal with that by positing bisexuality, or by positing that despite a previous straight orientation or behavior, that (usually) Astin, Billy, Jack and Jim fall for Lij, Blair, and Daniel because those guys are so compelling as to make the issue of same-sexness "go away," with greater or lesser degrees of difficulty.

In fact, this exact plot may be a staple of slash: "OMG! We're straight in canon, and I was always straight before -- why am I lusting after/in love with YOU!!!!" Maybe slash by defition starts from WNG.

I dunno. In writing about this because of this post and another post I made a while back about het in canon here ...

... I am understanding that this kind of subversive warping of the subtext is indeed one of the things some writers really really love about slash -- the WNG but I love you anway, and I love you so much that the plumbing has become SOOO irrelevant. That is deeply romantic to some writers.

When I wrote Lij/Astin, I generally allowed Astin to discover Hidden Bisexual Depths, or some such. I don't think the Great Sublime Romance thing is very realistic, just in my experience, and so I didn't usually go there. In Jim/Blair, of course, you have the Sentinel/Guide thing that gives you carte blanche for We're Not Gay but We're Certainly Soulmates... So.... Plot, brought to its most beautiful fruition in Dasha's long stories in the "I Still Believe" series, and perhaps also some of Lemon Drop's work, like "Principles of Ecology."

But that may be unique to The Sentinel, I dunno.

Until this very thread, I never really thought about how some conflicted authors could use WNG as a way to deny the gay-ness of slash. See, I never wanted to deny the gayness of slash. I am fascinated by issues of sexual identity, probably because of my own personal experiences, and so I write about them alot, and was probably drawn to the Lij/Astin pairing for just that reason, but I love slash fic that "lets" the guys be out and out gay; NOT having them be gay is NOT a definition of slash for me.

I am not sure what fanwriters get out of drawing such a distinction, but I am very grateful to this discussion for making me think about it more deeply.


I'm giving the short version, because people who know me have heard the long version 8000 times already.

In anything taking place in realistic settings, and in fact in a lot of science fiction settings, it's assumed that relationships are supposed to be monogamous, so an important issue is not just "are two male characters involved?" but "what is the impact of a person who already has a spouse or partner falling in love with someone else?"

And I can understand that it would sure be boring to have every slash story stop dead for Gay Lib 101 (although I have certainly read LJ posts by people who could use it) but there are plenty of work-arounds for that other than the characters saying "I'm not gay." And even if the characters say that, why do the writers believe them when it's obviously Not Just a River in Egypt time.

princessofgeeks: ...I am SO enjoying the slash stories that are really plotty and have not only the romance and the sex, but the backdrop of politics or whatever. Like "Recording Angel" by mirabile dictu, in SGA, where the relationships are woven into the plot. I do enjoy slash where the romantic plot IS the plot, but I am coming to crave other kinds of slash, too. But in a lot of fandoms, the readers and writers I know are mostly in it for the OTP and/or the porn, so not everyone wants those plotty stories. I have barely checked out the gen sides of my fandoms, but I'll bet there's some great stuff out there. I just came for the slash, you know? So I always want that along with my fanfic.


Surfing in randomly from Meta_fandom. Read some of the comments, not all. Cause I got hit with a thought.

What happens, what would we call it, what discussion comes up, if there's a gay character who ends up with someone of the opposite sex. I'm not gonna bring Will & Grace into this, since I don't watch the show and the commercials all make me think Will&Grace are married at any rate.

I know I've read a book, where one of the characters was an actress playing a lesbian who fell in love with a man while amnesiac. But that's a far out concept in itself.

Is it the WNG can encapsulate the possibility of soul to soul / personality to personality, bypassing the societal labels and stereotypes which is what -makes- it seem romantic and about the two people, specifically, who're involved.

So that if you turn it on it's head and it's someone who'd only ever had gay experiences, falling for someone of the opposite sex (whether or not that person was also gay) that it still reads as romance and clicking and not as denial ?

I mean, would you say such a character was denying their homosexuality? Or would someone say they were finally embracing their heterosexuality ? Or would either of those comments be all about how outside forces viewed the relationship and have nothing to do with the characters themselves thinking they were still whatever they were before they met this individual?

And does that all dilute down to everyone being fundamentally bisexual but being conditioned by society to be only one way. And in effect, being conditioned by society that if you accept your attraction to the same sex, then you've made a 'choice' and bought into a community, and to move on / away from that somehow, to 'betray' that, would be to suddenly turn around and become involved in a relationship that mimicced the status quo?

Does it objectify the relationship, taking it apart from the individuals and circumstances that created it, to ponder gender and sexuality issues ? Or is it just part of living in society?


yes, exactly. this is exactly the train of thought, the types of questions, that thinking about this WNG trope brought up for me.

Some of these questions, IMHO, arise for us as slash writers and readers exactly because there is a dearth of realistic, three-dimensional, non-stereotyped gay characters in US movies and television. In slash, we are on our own here, creating things that please us, with a greater or lesser degree of reality. We don't have any touchstones for how we're doing this.

And logical turning the trope around, making it We're Not Straight instead of We're Not Gay, nicely exposes the cracks and oddities in the arguments. Excellent.

I tend to think that writers write, and don't always step back and look at their work, which is a good thing, so we can happily pot along here in our slash subculture with our own rules, plots, devices, fanonicity, etc., and only occasionally, or often, never, compare what we're doing tohet romantic novels, to gay novels, to gays in real life, etc. We can be all on our own here, and a lot of us like it like that.

That's why it's fun when something like QaF or BBM comes along and we compare what we're doing to that. Or "Tales of the City" or "The Frontrunner" or "Swordspoint" or "The Left Hand of Darkness." But I think our meta dialogue and meta criticism and meta writing about slash is so new that we're only just beginning to weigh this.

Personally I think there's something specific going on about slash that has to do with three things: It's women writing for an audience of women, mostly about male characters. It's mostly subtext. And it's mostly about us fucking with the traditional romance narrative going back to, oh, Jane Eyre or maybe Romeo and Juliet.

I think it has more to do with that than it does with comparing what we're doing to actual queer culture, but I may be all wrong about that.


Fascinating as always. As a reader I am just interested in whether the writer makes WNG viable as a part or parcel of the story. It is not a plot I look for in a fic, though and if the writer belabors it hamhandedly I am gone.

Gay isn't an issue with me in most of the slash stories I enjoy. Bizarre admission when held up to view in the 'real' light of day, huh? The 'smarmista' I am is only interested in that good buddy/soulmates -I would die for you - relationship and if it leads to sex, yays but if it is a gen story I am avidly there, too.