Open Letter by Mary Lou Regarding Explicit Fanworks

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letter by Mary Lou Regarding Explicit Fanworks
From: Mary Lou Dodge
Addressed To:
Date(s): May 1977
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: Star Trek: TOS, Kirk/Spock, Slash, Slash Controversies, Fan Art, Fan Fiction,
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

While the debate about K/S certainly had its start in smaller ways among fans, it was an Open Letter in the form of a con report from Mary Lou Dodge, publisher of Delta Triad (a Star Trek zine featuring stories with heterosexual sexual situations, of a mild "R" variety), that set off much discussion. Dodge, horrified by what she experienced at the SekWester*Con, wrote an open letter in May 1977 to the convention organizers, Paula Smith and Sharon Ferraro. It was published in Menagerie #12.

It was this letter, and the debate it set off, that gave rise to the Age Statement, and later, Warnings. Modern labeling conventions also began here.

Modern readers should keep in mind that in 1977, Mary Lou's perspective reflected that of most people in mainstream American culture. Homosexuality was considered a pathology, associated with child molestation and bizarre behavior.[1] Literature and film describing homosexual relations, even if not explicit, was considered to be pornographic and indecent by the general public. It was illegal to send such works -- fanzines included -- through the U.S. Mail. In many states, including Michigan, sodomy laws prohibiting homosexual acts were still in place, although several gay politicians had been elected to city councils in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. The passing of a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida that year had sparked a nationwide anti-gay backlash led by conservative gadfly Anita Bryant. [2] This convention, and this incident, did not happen in a vacuum.

For more: see

Mary Lou Dodge's Letter

Since I came home from SeKWester*Con, I can't seem to to get myself back to work on Welcommittee letters or on stories. All the joyous memories of meeting old and new friends, or of the delight in the charming Saturday night sketches -- everything is being smothered by a flood of resentment... The Halkan Council has to all affects folded, T-Negative is dead, Scuttlebutt doesn't take letters... that leaves you (but come to think about it, you[3] helped start the whole business by publishing lovingly written excursions into sadism, thrilling the kids right down to the bottom of their little genitals, leaving them crying for more.) I don't not enjoy being invited to a Star Trek convention, only to find instead a pornography con; I do not relish having pornography shoved down my throat! Along with its concomitants, drug pushing and prostitution, it is an industry which battens off the mentally ill, the desperate, and children. Its products and practitioners are not socially acceptable, and people of breeding do not expose those who they respect to any of them. (I quite realize that collegians are without any taste, but the con committee supposedly consisted of adults, and they must have been aware, when they saw how the fan vote was going, that the motto of the con was going to be 'Praise Porn!' and the final Progress Report should have warned us, so that we could have decided if we wished to endure the mess for the sake of meeting old freinds...) For the first time, last weekend, I was ashamed of being in fandom. I saw us, as we have always resented being labeled by outsiders, a bunch of flakey groupies, hot-crotching it after our favorite stars... I resented the stuff in the art exhibit, the take-over of all the panels by the prurient... and most deeply I resent the calculated insult of bestowing an award of Literary Merit on a professional porn writer for, in her own description, a blow by blow description of an adolescent homosexual's seduction of his crush, while McCoy listens in to add a touch of voyeurism. It was a slap in the face of [several fans' names redacted] and all legitimate writers of quality Star Trek stories -- even you [name redacted]. How does it suit you to be told that careful plotting and a reasonable development of the original characters is inferior to porn. How do I answer the letters now in the face of this trend? 'Welcome, so you're dying of cancer, and "Star Trek" has shown you how to face death with courage... You say you're so glad you found us, someone to share your love for the essentials... the integrity, love, nobility, gallantry -- you'll be glad to know the truth is that Kirk and Spock are a couple of simpering gays, and McCoy's a child molester.' It's going to take a long time and a lot of those happy letters before I stop feeling dirty and disgusted. And from all indications, it's only going to get worse. The zines are obsessed with the latest popular sentimental fad in vice. Last year it was rape, this year homosexuality, and I believe next year is scheduled for incest, particularly with pre-teen children.[4] We are shortly to be inundated by stories of McCoy's rape of Joanna (in fact someone told me one had already appeared). ... I don't know how this sea of sludge can be stemmed; by labeling the zines not an ambiguous 'adult' but 'porn/pervert,' or by dropping them from the directory; by appealing to Paramount (after all, I hear they did refuse to let Bantam publish Jean Lorrah's prissy-porn novel, in a flash of good taste I never expected) to make a stipulation in every contract that the contractor refrain from publishing anything that will that will defame or ring opprobrium the series characters or actors -- even a flat legal prohibition -- better to outlaw zines completely than see them destroy Star Trek... That's it -- I'm mad, and I'm getting madder every day ... and I'm not the only one. There were a lot of tight-lipped people at the Con. Somebody owes a big apology to real 'Star Trek.' You can pass the word along—they wanted to shock and annoy us—we’re shocked and annoyed, and pretty contemptuous of juvenile bad taste and bad manners.

Responses and Follow-Up

Reactions and Reviews: "Menagerie"

See many fan responses at Menagerie #12.

The parodied art from the first supplement of Delta Triad, the artist is John Martin.
from Menagerie #13, a parody of art in Delta Triad, the first supplement, the inscription reads: "Met, how could you? What about the cancer victims? What about the children under 21? What about the horses?, Met? Some of them are only 2 years old! This is disgusting! Dirty! Why, if God meant for us to have sex, we'd have been born naked! I bet Lestwe Fizz is behind this... Mary Sou."
One of the first responses was from Paula Smith, to whom the original letter was addressed; she was the editor of Menagerie and one of the founders/organizers of SeKWester*Con (May 1977):
In a (probably futile) attempt at self-defense:

(A) The Logical Conclusion was not exactly the first Get-Spock story ever written (B) There is a difference between pornography and erotica, and between either and adult or humanistic writing (C) Leslie Fish won Best Writer for ‘The Weight,’ not ‘Shelter’ (D) Both ‘The Kirk/Spock Relationship’ and ‘Porno and Sex in Star Trek Fiction’ panels were mentioned in Progress Reports 2 and 3 (E) Ten people volunteered to be ‘pro’ the K/S relationship; no one volunteered to be ‘con.’ We had to draft the opposition.

Beyond that, I agree ST pornography is a lousy thing — it is so badly written. In the search for titillating themes, good or even credible characterization is ignored, and plots degenerate to the simplest push-push gimmickry. A lousy Get-Together story is worse than a lousy Mary-Sue story, because the reader doesn’t expect a Mary-Sue necessarily to be any good. If it is uneven, juvenile, or just plain silly, that is typical, and the reader is not disappointed. But when a reader takes up a story on an adult theme, she expects an adult treatment, or ought to. A simpering, or brutal treatment of sex is evil in a most fundamental sense, because such trivializes and degrades our greatest humanity—love.

But sex, and sexuality, per se are not dirty and disgusting. Many writers and artists incorporate the sex act into their work in order to, as Norman Mailer had it, come ever closer to this truest act of creation. Or, as Woody Allen put it, ‘The only two things I believe in are Sex and Death; and at least after Death you don’t feel nauseous.’[5]
Dian H. wrote:
...As for the porno debate (pardon, erotica): cool it. I admit to a fascination for the Kryptonite Syndrome[6] myself, but such writing should be done in private until mastered and even then taken in moderation.... [7]
Jan L. wrote:
...I don’t consider Leslie’s winning the Fan Q award a slap in the face...Mary Lou’s entitled to her opinion, but was taking my name in vain... Regarding those cancer patients, Laurie H., who’s a surgical assistant, says she only knows one cancer patient who’s into Trek—and said patient really enjoys K/S get-togethers.[7]
Cynthia L. wrote:
In reply to Mary Louise D., my first question must be ‘What convention did you attend?’ It sure doesn’t sound like the same convention I attended. SeKWester*Con was not a pornography convention. It was a convention that allowed free expression for all its members on any topic they wished to discuss — and I applaud Paula and Sharon for it. In a word, that is called Freedom from Censorship, and isn’t that what we all strive for?

To get specific for a moment, Ms. D. complains rather bitterly about the panel discussions. My only comment on this item is if she were so upset and against the subject matter, where was she when the committee was looking for people to take the ‘con’ side of the discussion? The opportunity was made available to her to state her opinions. She did not choose to avail herself of the opportunity. Therefore, her unhappiness is no one’s fault but her own, and she has absolutely no reason to complain so adamantly.

On the other hand, if the subject matter of the panels disturbed her so much, Ms. D. was under no obligation to attend them at all. There were plenty of other activities occurring at the same time to keep her occupied without having her sensitivities bruised. The ‘explicit’ art did not constitute the entire art show; it was but a small fraction of what was exhibited.

As for her being ashamed of being in fandom, I can only say that it is her loss, not fandom’s. Apparently Ms. D. wishes to be fandom’s judge of morality and to that, I protest....

What Ms. D. fails to realize is that pornography, homosexuality, and all the other vices that the human flesh and/or mind is heir to, is a part of life; granted it is the seamier part but nevertheless, it is a part. In order for society to be capable of dealing and coping with these aspects, it first must be exposed to it. Ms. D. wishes to enwrap us all in cotton batting as though we were all still babes in order to protect us from unpleasantness. That is doing us a grave injustice. Life is not Mary Poppins, and closing one’s eyes, ears. And mind to it will not make it disappear.

The trend in fanfic towards these particular types of stories and art is, I feel, nothing more than fandom reaching out to explore every aspect of its universe. Not to allow us the right to do so is two-fold: first, it does not allow us to grow, to enable us to decide for ourselves our own moral and value judgments; and second, it is, to come down to the nitty-gritty, censorship. If censorship is imposed by the voice of one person, society is being led down the road to a dictatorship. It only takes that first small step. Our society was founded on the principle of freedom and justice for all, and Ms. D.’s wishes to eliminate these types of stories and art do not allow us that freedom. Ms. D. does not have to buy or read those zines which contain this material—that is her freedom. But, please, do not impose someone else’s beliefs on those who do not wish to follow them.

It is my firm belief that, although I personally do not care for the plethora of homosexual and poorly written ‘pornography’ stories and art, I will, to borrow a phrase from Voltaire, defend to the death the authors’ and artists’ right to say it.

Ms. D., you are correct. An apology is necessary; however, you are the one who owes it to us. I am proud of fandom that it is able to explore and develop its members into adults who are capable of coping with whatever life hands them. To do less is criminal. To do more is devoutly to be wished.[7]
Leslye L. wrote:
...‘Somebody owes a big apology to real Star Trek fans...‘ and that somebody is Mary Louise D. One of the philosophies that draws fen together, and the philosophy that made ST unique, is the concept of IDIC—that we should rejoice in our differences instead of striving to become part of the unknown mass. MLD obviously feels that we should all share her values...well, dammit! we don’t!

Her ‘con report’( if it can be labeled as such) was not only naïve, narrow-minded and blind, it was ignorant of the artistic conception. (Dare I use the word ‘conception’? I might offend her puritan mores!)...

Miss D.’s comments were a calculated insult to many of fandom’s best writers. I take particular exception to the slap given Dr. Jean Lorrah for The Night of the Twin Moons. NTM is hardly a ‘prissy-porn novel.’ It is, in fact, one of the best written novels dealing with a very sensitive subject: love. And where there’s love between a man and a woman, there is going to be sex—or does MLD subscribe to the theory that Spock was created in a test tube....

Now, I personally do not agree with the Kirk/Spock homosexual relationship theory. That is my opinion—however, I will defend to the death the right for anyone to write about such a relationship. I may not choose to read it—that is my prerogative. But I have read many. And if all of them were as well written as Leslie Fish’s ‘Poses’ and ‘Shelter,’ I’d probably read them all. Why must good, creative talent be aborted because of one Mary Louise D.?

I was at SeKWester*Con, Too — even did a panel. There certainly was nothing ‘prurient’ about it, nor was there anything even resembling porn or erotica. Did MLD go to the same con as I did? I found nothing offensive there. Methinks MLD protesteth too much.

‘This year, homosexuality...next year is scheduled for incest, particularly with your pre- teen children.’ Low blow! There are only two writers in fandom who really deal with pre-teen children—myself and Eileen R.... I can assure you, that I have no intention of doing a Spock/Sahaj ‘get-together’...however, I damn well have the right to do it, if I so desire.... It is not up to MLD to censure what I write. No one is forced to buy a zine...[7]
Teri M., one of the few commenters to express agreement with Mary Lou, wrote:
It’s no surprise to me that Mary Lou D. was dismayed with certain facets of the recent SeKWester*Con—just look at our decaying moral attitudes in society today; one would expect it to creep into fandom writing as well. Where do these fan writers get off thinking it justifiable because the material may be well-written? I don’t care how good the writing may be—it is still hard porn. Yes, I said hard porn. Although I have never considered myself to be a ‘goodie two-shoes’ by not ordering these so-called ‘adult’ zines, it happened one day while visiting a Trek friend, I paged through an issue of Grup and was appalled at some of the artwork it contained. And of course, I mustn’t forget the controversial thrills of Kirk & Spock — the homosexual twosome — that some fan writers have become obsessed with. That kind of relationship is totally illogical and completely out of context as to how Star Trek presented their devoted friendship! Now, let us not be so naïve to think these well-written and well-illustrated stories are NOT reaching the young fan — because they are. And I can only begin to imagine the kind of artwork represented at the SeKWester*Con — representing we the fan. Mary Lou, you’re not alone when you ask, ‘What ever happened to good ol’ Star Trek?[7]
Anna Mary H wrote:
...The SeKWester*Con, Too reports were very interesting.... While not getting as emotional as Mary Louise does, I share many of her opinions. I don’t like the porn, so I don’t buy the zines that specialize in it, but I have no strong urge to rush around ‘protecting’ anyone else from it. Sex, and sexuality, can be a very vital, enjoyable part of a story, as long as it is PART of the story, and not just stuck in for effect....[7]
Shirley Maiewski wrote:
The Star Trek Welcommittee has no intention of censoring fanzines.... it is the responsibility of the ed/pub to describe the contents of their zine—honestly! The Directory will include ‘Adult’ if the ed/pub requests such a listing.... [7]
Vicki K. wrote:
...Mary Lou D.’s con report deserves support in many areas. I have a feeling all the pro people are going to write and condemn her for speaking out, and it’s time for the rest of us to speak up.

I would not want the freedom of speech or the written word taken from any person. Nor do I intend to set myself up as the Anita Bryant of fandom. The issue of whether homosexuality is right or wrong is a judgment that God, and God alone, will decide. What I do object to is this, people who are purchasing these zines do not know what they are buying, because the ads do not clearly state the contents. Labeling something ‘adult’ means nothing! I think a person new to fanzines would purchase an adult magazine because they might be afraid that some of the zines were too ‘kiddy’ for their taste, but certainly did not intend to read such blatant perverted material. And, too many children are buying adult fanzines. I have a friend who has been reading Grup for two years, since the age of fifteen, but even he has become so shocked at the material, and will no longer subscribe. How many other children are purchasing ST zines without their parents knowing about it? I hope that the Welcommittee will take some kind of stand in regard to the ads they are running for fanzines.

My second issue has to do with the so-called Star Trek Porn. For the most part, it’s truly sad. There have been only a few cases where the author has conveyed the true spiritual beauty of two people sharing love thru the joining of their bodies; they are ‘making love,’ not having sex.

Unfortunately, most writers have become so concerned with the mechanics of having sex, that the story suffers and the characters come across as a bunch of animals with little regard for the feelings of their partners. Grup is a very sad example of sex getting in the way of good writing.... I have reached the point where I will no longer purchase so-called adult zines, because it isn’t adult, and it makes me feel creepy to read such trash.... [7]
Johanna Cantor, editor of a number of fanzines, wrote:
...It seems Ms. D. is upset at two things. A) you write stories on themes she doesn’t care for. B) a con you ran (and very well too) provided a forum for subjects she doesn’t care for.

Well, A) doesn’t need comment. As Gerry Downes indicated in her [con report], if it makes a good story, it’s a good theme. Most of us, including Ms. D., write ‘get’ stories and ‘lay’ stories, using our different degrees of explicitness....

B) also seems very strange to me. The proper medium for such a protest is not an attack on the con committee, but rather a boycott of the con and/or panel, or presenting an argument at the panel, from the podium or the floor. In other words, if Ms. D. chose to present a panel on ‘True Womanliness,’ I’d attend that panel and present my opinion of that mawkishness. I wouldn’t attack the con committee for scheduling a panel on a theme that is repugnant to me.

As to what Ms. D. should tell her cancer victims who have discovered Star Trek, how about ‘welcome’? These people will find, just like the rest of us, that there are aspects of fandom they like, and aspects they can do without. And they will make their own choices in the time they have. Just like the rest of us. Fandom is a kind of microcosm of life, and all the aspects of life of interest to this human race can be, and are increasingly being, expressed through fan lit and art. Some of us don’t like the themes others of us explore. But that’s because we all choose, and have chosen for us, the facets of humanity we will polish and display in ourselves, and those we will turn away from the light, All together, though, mightn’t we have something truly shining? Let us rejoice in our differences, for Pete’s sake. Otherwise, what’s the point? [7]
Gerry Downes writes:
...Reading over the con reports for SeKWester*Con, it’s hard to believe we were all at the same convention. We were all grownups at the con, and many of us had gone specifically for the purpose of meeting each other and discussing subjects of mutual interest. I’m really sorry MLD felt so put upon, but this was a con for serious, creative ST fen, not the typical fan-in-the-street, and we didn’t have to worry about little kids hearing our conversations. It seemed that we were all safe enough to have the kinds of conversation that bothered her so much, but I guess not. It’s a shame that this spirit of camaraderie is being mistaken for a search for cheap thrills. Maybe our mistake was that we had a sense of humor. I mean, here we were, discussing the sexuality of fictional characters as though it was real and important, and at the same time, we were able to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

...The Trek universes in our heads have to be comfortable places, for us to live in our imaginations. I can understand that you might not want some of the stuff I keep in mine. Just like I’m not crazy about a lot of the things in yours. Sexuality is part of life, any serious character study is deficient if it does not touch on this area. Kirk in bed with his first officer has a lot more dignity that the Kirk of the typical Mary Sue epic, that has him all doe-eyed and weak-kneed over some marvelous new female—but a lot of people like Mary Sue stories, that’s the way they like to have it, fine. Go ahead and write ‘em, go ahead and read ‘em. Some readers like stories without any sexual aspects at all—again, fine. Enjoy. If it’s got a good plot, I’ll probably like it too. And whether a story pleases me personally or not, if it’s well- done I’ll recommend it to other people, because I know some of them will like it.

You see, that’s the difference between us. I’m willing to give you space for what you want, but you don’t want me to have any room at all.

...Fanzines are small circulation efforts. And only a few thousand read them on any sort of regular basis. The morals of young America will not be corrupted because someone attempts a difficult or controversial theme in a fanzine story....

The readers ultimately decide what gets written, and that’s as it should be. If something is worthless, it will be left in the corner and ignored, and die a quiet death of neglect. If it’s valid, enough support will be found to keep it going....[7]
Leslie Fish wrote:
...MLD’s account, however, leaves me baffled. Are you sure the lady is talking about the same SeKWester*Con???

First off, there were only two panels at the whole con that were about sex in Trek-lit, and 10% hardly constitutes a takeover. Second, the final progress report did warn people in advance that these two panels were on the program, and anyone who didn’t want to attend them certainly weren’t marched in at gunpoint. For that matter, even if Ms. D. stumbled into the panels by mistake, if she found the discussions that offensive why didn’t she just walk out? As for myself being asked up out of the audience to sit in on the Porn-in-Trek-Lit panel, that wasn’t my idea; the other panelists asked me up there after I commented, from the audience, that as a one-time professional pornography writer I had some ‘professional testimony’ (or whatever the legal term is)[8] about the striking differences between pornography and erotic realism.... I was even more surprised (I think the fitting term is ‘pole-axed’) at learning that I’d won the Literary Merit Award; I’d been expecting Connie F. to take it. I did ask just what I’d won the award for, and learned—right there on the podium, in front of the whole banquet crowd—that I’d won it for ‘The Weight,’ not ‘Shelter’ or ‘Poses.’ How did Ms. D. miss that discussion? I’d like to know where Ms. D. has seen stories wherein ‘Kirk and Spock are a couple of simpering gays and McCoy’s a child molester.’ As I pointed out on the K/S panel, our heroes are obviously not fairyish, obviously are attracted to the female-of-the-species, and could conceivably be lovers not only due to their special friendship—which hardly fits in the ‘simpering gay’ category. I have yet to see any story that portrays the Enterprise’s favorite doctor as a ‘child molester’; and as for the ‘incest’ that Ms. D. hints darkly about, all I can recall on that score is one story in which McCoy discovers, much to his horror, that the willing (and quite adult) bar girl he took to bed the night before turns out to be his daughter in disguise—and even that story was presented as a tragedy, with nothing remotely pornographic about it. [9] I have yet to see anything in Trek-lit about child-molesting, and honestly can’t see why Ms. D. brought it up. For that matter, I don’t know why she insists that porn is automatically connected with ‘drug pushing and prostitution,’ two occupations which I have yet to find practiced among Trek-fans. Even outside Trekdom, porn has about the same connection to prostitution and drug-pushing as Star Trek itself has to the Great Western Railroad, and has no particular relationship at all with ‘the mentally ill, the desperate, and children.’ Where does Ms. D. get all these unreal ideas? I know nothing about Jean Lorrah’s book being rejected by Bantam, much less why; I do know that there’s nothing pornographic, much less prissy, about even the most sexually-explicit of Ms. Lorrah’s writing.

What particularly puzzles me about this letter is that it’s so unexpected. I encountered Ms. D. several times at SeKWester*Con, Too, and about all she had to say to me then was to thank me for my enthusiastic comments about her zine, Delta Triad. If Ms. D. was that ‘shocked and annoyed’ by anything I was doing — whether winning the award, or having written ‘Shelter’ and ‘Poses’ or appearing on the two panels that discussed sex—then why didn’t she say so, right then and there, while I was standing right in front of her? If Ms. D. considers herself among ‘people of breeding,’ then why didn’t she voice her complaints about me to my face, instead of waiting to publish them in a zine appearing three months later?

Much as I like Ms. D.’s zine, I suspect that if anyone at SeKWester*Con, Too was guilty of ‘juvenile bad taste and bad manners’ it’s a certain Delta Triad editor herself. I’m not asking for any apologies, but I don’t think I owe any, either.[7]
Theresa H. writes:
What do you mean you had to draft someone for the con side of the K/S panel? I volunteered.... While I don’t condone Mary Lou’s wilder statements, I agree with her anger and disgust over S-Con.

As for being — or not being — the most stalwart defender of my position on the panel, I would agree with you that I didn’t do too well. There are several reasons. First, Leslie Fish is a very intimidating person. Sitting next to her did not help my courage in the slightest. Second, hearing Amy H. declare herself neutral rather than con, perceived at the time as something of a cop-out, didn’t help much either. Third, prior to the panel, I had discussed the matter with quite a few people who indicated a basic agreement with me, but who all refused to show up, primarily because they were afraid to get emotionally involved—their words. This lack of support also did not help. Finally, I am very poor at public speaking; unless I know I’m among friends, I get extremely nervous. If I may say so, you are extremely fortunate to have had any con side at all. In the end, I think Connie’s excerpt and her subsequent embarrassment at discovering all the wrong people had been effectively forced to hear it probably said reams more in my favor than I could ever have said myself.... [10]

Disgusted? You must be referring to the incredibly bad placement of all the erotic art. I mean, was it necessary to allow it to be hung where the so-called mundanes, who are human beings too, couldn’t possibly avoid seeing it — even if they’d wanted to? And what about the under-sixteen crowd? ((There was no under-sixteen crowd. — ps [This last comment inserted by Paula Smith, the editor.]))...Be assured I will suggest to Lori that she might consider the possibility of placing the erotic art in a separate area or room so that those who don’t choose to look at it don’t have to...Note, I have nothing against erotica per se. What other people like to draw and look at really isn’t any of my business. On the other hand, those of us who, for whatever reasons, don’t care to look at erotic art have rights too. We shouldn’t be forced to look at it everywhere we go....

...I was concerned that those who chose to write X-rated material might think the opposition less powerful than it is—I want no one to think I had to be drafted to stand up and be counted. Perhaps I didn’t present my case well; the important thing is that I was willing to present it at all, especially in the face of what felt at the time like almost insurmountable obstacles.

...I was thoroughly disappointed, and I mean thoroughly. That was a good part of the reason we left early. I got the distinct impression (whether correct or not) that I was being told subliminally that there was no place for me in fandom unless I went along with the garbage being turned out by some of the big names. I accept the fact that we will always have garbage with us, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or that I’m enjoined from pointing it out as garbage. I have been thinking seriously for several months about gafiating as a result, but I will probably stay and fight the only way I know how, through stories that aren’t garbage.[7]
Joan B. wrote:
...On that subject, I did not attend the convention, so am not qualified to judge how many of her accusations are true. However, of course, no one expects her to answer Welcommittee’s letters in the fashion she describes. ...Apparently, judging by Delta Triad Supplement, hetero-sex is O.K., as long as you insist on the age statement from your readers. I have no bias for the gay community and no activity in that direction, but I object to her term ‘simpering gay.’ In a rather wide readership of zines, I haven’t run into any stories that portrayed the K/S relationship in that light (except for a couple of obviously not-to-be-taken-seriously parodies). Rather, it has been shown as a natural culmination of a developing love, and an exclusive relationship, not extended to anyone else. Hardly a ‘simpering gay’ image....

I think more emphasis should be placed on correcting the disservice she did Leslie Fish by incorrectly identifying the writing for which she received her award. ‘The Weight’ is a carefully-plotted, thoroughly researched story with reasonably developed characters from Star Trek and outstanding characterization of her new characters. Of course, it is not written for a pre-teen audience, but demands thoughtful, mature consideration.

Surely there is room in fandom for quality writing on all levels. I feel that writers should not be criticized for incorporating some of the more controversial issues of the day. After all, our newspapers this summer have been filled with discussions pro and con abortion, homosexuality, and civil rights of all groups. Gene Roddenberry took on controversial topics in the series—why shouldn’t we?
Rob McC. writes:
...Ms. D. gave the impression that SeKWester*Con was unnaturally obsessed with porn, and I think it is important to present the true facts for the benefit of anyone who wasn’t there. If we accept for a moment her definition of porn, then there were two panels involved with it, out of a total of how many? Nine or ten? [11] Certainly the majority of the artwork was not what one would normally call porn.... The important thing to remember is that none of these events had a compulsory attendance, so nobody had porn shoved down their throats.

The accusation that everyone was at the con just to hot-crotch it after their favorite stars hardly merits discussion. This was, after all, one of the few ST cons that doesn’t have the stars in attendance.... Ms. D.’s comments got more outrageous as she went along. It is a move of the lowest sort to criticize an author’s work simply because of past activities...Leslie Fish simply accepts the fact that in the 22nd century individuals will probably be free to label themselves as simply sexual beings, without being constrained by illogical fears and prejudice and hatred. It is unfortunate that such attitudes have blinded Ms. D. to the excellent stories around now that do not carry a “G” rating.

...How does Ms. D. answer the letters from someone dying of cancer? Very simply. She explains to them the nature of ‘get’ stories and leaves them to decide whether or not to purchase them. Certainly that person will never just be ‘sent’ fanzines the way it is implied they will... Furthermore, the implication is made that a story with a K/S homosexual premise automatically negates any of the higher character traits such as integrity, love, nobility, or gallantry. That is simply prejudice, and as such can be readily dismissed.

...The fact is that Kirk and Spock have never been portrayed as ‘simpering gays’ mostly because that WOULD be out of character. Similarly, I, too, would be disgusted if I ever read a story where McCoy willingly engaged in child-molesting or incest, and I am sure S. and R. would too. That would indeed be a degradation of Star Trek.[7]
Beverly C. wrote:
...What I wanted to focus on is one particular aspect of her report that really bothered me: the fact that one of the stories she singles out for special attack is one that she hasn’t even read— 'someone told me that one had already appeared’ (her words). Now I am willing to accept her dislike of Kirk/Spock stories on any grounds if she so chooses. But please, Mary Lou, don’t misrepresent the stories you’re attacking! In the Kirk/Spock stories, Kirk and Spock are not presented as ‘simpering gays,’ as Mary Lou would know if she had read any. But I am most bothered by her misrepresentation of the McCoy and Joanna story [12], which is nothing at all like the story she dislikes.... If nothing else, she owes it to the author to get the facts straight before attacking either the story or the author’s supposed ignorance of and distaste for integrity and civilized behavior.... is it civilized to impugn the morality of a person simply because you don’t like the story he/she writes? Especially when you haven’t read the story?

As for dropping the ‘offending’ zines from the STW directory, in library school we had a name for that sort of action. It’s called ‘censorship.’ What gives Mary Lou the right to make decisions about the appropriate reading material for anyone other than herself and her own minor children (if she has any)?...

...Maybe there is something rotten in fandom, that all these high feelings on every side of an issue are being aroused. It’s getting depressing.... It seems to be increasingly hard in fandom to separate opposition to or criticism of a story/theme/zine/action from opposition to the person responsible. Everything seems to be taken more personally these days, and I find it rather sad....[7]
Lila H. wrote:
...I wish you folks could find something better to write about than homosexuality. I know, I know, to each her own and all that, but I agree with Mary Louise D.’s own. And please, please, don’t lynch her yet! (At least wait until you get a good crowd.) I mean, I was only just now getting used to the regular porn, and then you got to ruin it for me. I mean, really, impossible as it sounds, couldn’t two male personages care for each other, love each other, without it being sexual? I love some of my friends, but I sure don’t want to go to bed with them. I don’t even want to think about it. And listen, this is unfair to you, the writer, too. Because no matter how well a story is constructed, no matter how well the plot lines up, no matter how well the characterization, otherwise, is handled, if it has homosexuality in it I just can’t believe in it. I just can’t suspend my disbelief. And that is not fair to you, the author, who spent many lonely hours toiling over that typewriter to get this work, eventually, to me. You have a right to expect a fair shake from the reader, but I just can’t give you one. Homosexuality turns me off. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I was raised and that’s the way I believe. And it saddens me, because to me, I see some very good talent being wasted....[7]
Penny Warren writes:
...Now for the unpleasantness, MLD’s ‘con report.’...It’s a pity that the lady can’t seem to countenance the same freedom of expression for others that she claims for herself. I have never read a Kirk/Spock love story that came as close to being porno, i.e., a story without plot or characterization, dealing only with sexual encounter, as does ‘The Ambassadress.’ [13] And I should think that someone who objects to violence in literature on principle would avoid the use of torture, surgery without anesthesia, and the threat of imminent gang-rape in her work. [14] As for s*x and v**l*nc* being ‘forced on the fans—sorry, it just doesn’t wash. Faneds are extremely careful about selling controversial material to minors or those who might be offended, probably more careful than they need to be, certainly more careful that any commercial bookseller. After all, any ten- year-old leukemia victim can walk right into his neighborhood convenience store and buy a copy of The Front Runner or The Fancy Dancer or How to Be Your Own Sex Therapist, not to mention raunchy political novels and ‘historicals.’ D. is right about one thing, though. She definitely owes the rest of us an apology.[7]

Reactions and Reviews: "Spectrum"

Jeff J wrote:

Last summer a feud broke out in STrekdom.... The feud was over the issue of pornography and indecency in fanfic. To some people the whole controversy seemed absurd since most people in fandom feel that fans tend to be more open-minded and liberal than the rest of the mundane world.... The height of the debates occurred last summer and early in the fall of 1977. The reason that the pressure died down is due in part... to pressure from STW to keep everyone away from everyone else's throats. Since that time there haven't been many zines out to carry on the discussion, but there is still a chance of the issue exploding once again. ... Fandom has been moving toward more 'liberal' fanfic steadily. This means that fanfic has been moving away from the basic form of story found in the series, and toward more experimental forms of literature, including pornography and erotic fiction. Because of this, fans that are new to fandom are introduced to fiction that is far removed from the type they ever saw on the screen... On the other hand, the fans who have been reading fanfic for years are being affected by the boredom factor involved in reading the same plots over and over again. For the older fans, the experimental fiction (including pornography) is something different. It's new blood. It's unique... [15]

Karen F. writes:

I place a great deal on my freedom to think what I please. And, like them [the proponents], I don't consider homosexuality harmful or immoral. However, looking deeper into the issue, I can see that the opponents have a point, too. The right to think and do as we want has a corresponding right to voice what we consider offensive -- part of the right to privacy. And to an extent, the opponent's privacy has been invaded. It's not as if they went looking for the stuff they consider filth. They didn't. It was brought into their homes via communications they had always considered harmless and friendly -- by zines they had always been "straight" before. And at SeKWesterCon*Too they found blatant porn art intermixed with straight art on display; people would be walking along looking at the pretty pictures and all of a sudden, there would be a nude Spock with a full erection... ... the solution is simple. Just return the topic to its original forums: the porn zines and private letters. For [the last year] the proponents have openly -- and aggressively -- discussed the subjects in public arenas, the usually 'straight' zines. They have had their say -- exhaustively! Withdrawing the subject to more private means of communication won't deny them free speech. The Kirk/Spock sex will continue to be discussed as long are there are two fans with an interest in it. It would be wise, however, to cease waving it under the noses of fans it offends. [16]

Reactions and Reviews: "R & R"

Johanna C wrote:
...What gives any fan (or group of fans) the jurisdiction to declare what is ‘noble’ and what is ‘scum’ in Treklit? Who has been appointed arbiter of decency in fandom? Since when are one fan’s characterizations ‘true’ and another’s ‘borrowing someone else’s creations and returning them covered in slime’? ...Exploring the Trek character’s sexual relationships is done on many levels, of course. But the levels differ in degree, not in kind. Mary Louise D. cannot depict her curiously Victorian, ‘she-for-God-in-him’ Uhura without exploring Uhura’s sexual relationship to her lord-and-master captain. D.’s explorations, which are by no means confined to her adult-rated stories, tend to be couched in veiled language. In fact, if there is such a thing as ‘prissy porn’ D. is certainly its queen. But her stories are, in kind, the same thing she condemns so roundly in others: the presentation of an extrapolated love (sex) relationship between two characters created by others. If the exploration of a sexual relationship is a sin (and there are many who hold just the opposite), D. is in no position to start the stoning. [17]
Leslie Fish writes:
as one of the authors whom Ms. D. lambasted (several times, too!) in her now-famous letter, I couldn’t agree with you more. The letter took me quite by surprise, since I ran into Ms. D. several times at SeKWester*Con, and she never gave any indication to me that she was displeased; if she was so upset by the con, by those two panels I was on, and by my winning the writing award, why didn’t she say so to my face?...For that matter, some of things she complained about on the panels didn’t occur until very nearly the end of the session—which means that she must have sat through the whole panels. If she was so shocked and disgusted by the content, why didn’t she get up and leave? Nobody forced her to stay, or even attend; those panels were clearly labeled as to content, well in advance, and she was in no way tricked into observing something objectionable.... It strikes me as faintly hypocritical of Ms. D. to sit there muttering ‘Filth! Filth!’ while avidly taking notes on everything. [18]

Reactions and Reviews: "Interstat"

Leigh W wrote:
[Mary Lou D] wrote a very-thought-provoking letter in INTERSTAT #7. I do not agree with her conclusions, but I respect the logic of her argument. This is not meant as a backhanded compliment. The deadening effect of a steady diet of pornography is quite real. Subtlety and restraint can paint a very beautiful and sensuous picture much more effectively than can explicit narrative. Must exposure to explicit sex and violence inevitably lead to a steady diet? Can we not have it in moderation?... I interpreted the word censorship in [Mary Lou D's] letter as referring to the passage of laws as well as the private exercise of judgment over what we bring into our homes and allow our children to see. [19]
Vicki K chides another:
I still question your ethics in using your fanzine editorial [20] to put down another member of fandom. If you felt that Mary Lou was ripping people off with her stories or the fanzines they appeared in, then I could understand your gripe. But the fact is that Mary Lou merely had the courage to speak out and call smut by its true name, and her opinion on the printed material coming out in fandom. Therefore, I don't understand your objection; aren't we all entitled to voice our own opinions? After all, freedom of speech is in the constitution, but evidently not in STAR TREK fandom. I also take offense to your continuous attempt to dehumanize people by using their last name.... the exchange of information and ideas should be fun, not this deadly, hate-filled atmosphere that has begun to be prevalent in fandom. I never realized how hateful people could be in expressing a view that relates to STAR TREK, until I read the LOCs in the latest issue of MENAGERIE [21]
Rebecca H points something out to another fan:
Thank you for the explanation of Mary Lou's involvement with "Ambassadress" and "Decision" [22]. However, her name was on the story with no disclaimer from her; therefore, she is just as associated and just as responsible, as if she had written those scenes herself. And I notice Mary is at it again. By now, everyone knows how she feels. I think it's time to just drop the subject. Porn is with us and will continue to be. We cannot stop it, so let's find something else to discuss. We've gotten in a rut. (Pun intended.) [23]

Mary Lou Dodge's Letter: After Reading the Letters of Comment in "Menagerie"

The editors of Menagerie, Paula Smith and Sharon Ferraro, allowed Mary Louise Dodge to read the letters of comment in #13 before they were printed. "Last time, you remember--in issue #12, actually -- we printed by permission a letter from Mary Louise Dodge about SeKWester*Con, Too. That letter netted us more comment than the rest of the issue totaled; see the LoC column at the other end of this ish. We allowed Ms Dodge to see an advance copy of the column, and this was her reply."

Mary Lou Dodge's response:

Thanks for the sample of letters; they are, both pro and con, about what I'd expect. You didn't make it clear that my original letter was not a Con report, but a personal letter, which you printed; and I didn't make clear that I didn't wander into the panel--I was asked to attend, by Melinda Shreve, my editor, who was supposed to be chairman, but who had to leave Sunday morning. The subject was ori- ginally entitled "Sex and Star Trek" and I went prepared for a discussion on the difficulties of writing about love and sex, that explicitness kills tenderness and renders your characters devoid of humanity; of the harmful effects on both writer and reader of the stultifying properties of pornography --nothing in the line was discussed at all, and no one had a chance to get a word in As for volunteering for a panel--I wasn't asked and I don't volunteer! My God, if they knew the number of committees and causes I have been asked to take care of, when the family is trained never to say no if asked--they'd never raise a hand to volunteer either!

The censorship issue is just so much adolescent sloganing! Of course there is censorship--there always will be, and if, instead of "art" dealing with genitalia, it had instead been deliberately insulting to some race or religion, the people who shout about "censorship" would have been the first to demand the offensive material be taken down. I have no particular dislike of homosexuals, and the "fen" (I do dislike that word, as I dislike all made- up high-school sorority affectations) are welcome to write about it all they want — providing their material is marked for what it is (so no fan will get a nasty surprise)--but Kirk and Spock are out of bounds. I was under the impression (which appears to be mistaken) that writers have an ethic which forbids them to take another writer's characters and damage them. And they have been damaged--

George Lucas makes that quite clear when he has forbidden any use of "Star Wars" characters in zines [24] so his characters will not be harmed as Roddenberry's have. And the last I heard Paramount, in response to license renewal requests, has sent letters stating that they are not licensing fanzines and that they are forbidding any story which has recognizable "Star Trek" characters in it. It looks like the explicit and Kirk-Spock people have pulled the rug out from under all of us. I wonder if they will really think they gained enough to make it worth it.

I think fandom is in the case of many marriages which succeed well through adversity, but fall apart when success comes. For years we were bound by a single cause--to bring back "Star Trek" and in the famine of material, we were willing to buy almost anything with a "Star Trek" name on it to fill the void. Now we're getting it back (if the "No ST without Nimoy" people don't discourage Paramount entirely), now the market is full of shabby Star Trek items, and we are beginning, each one, to fight for his own preferences.

Reactions and Reviews: Later

But the Cancer Patients!

This is an old joke from the printzine world. It's not really about cancer, as I hope will soon be clear, nor even about "patients," a word that, like "afflicted," isn't really in my vocabulary.

You all know that in the early days of slash, that is, K/S, since that was about all there was of slash at the time, some gen and het fans adamantly opposed the publication of K/S fan fic in zines. Now, these fans rarely came right out and said, "I wish you wouldn't publish these stories because I don't like them and I don't write them and I'm afraid that if you publish them, people will like them better than my stories and my stories won't get as much attention." Obviously, nobody said that because it would have been socially unacceptable in the extreme.

But we did hear a lot of "principled" arguments against publishing K/S fan fic. One of them went like this: "Of course *I* believe in complete freedom of the press, and *I* have nothing against homosexual relationships. But I'm concerned about the fans whose image of Star Trek as wholesomeness and apple pie will be tarnished if these stories are published." One anti-K/S fan in particular asserted that we were ruining Trek for cancer patients for whom it was a source of meaning and hope. This argument went on for quite a while until someone tracked down an honest-to-goodness cancer patient who was into Trek and zines, and it turned out that said patient really enjoyed K/S get-togethers.

My intent is not to make fun of the anti-K/S fans who invoked the cancer patients as the reason we should not publish K/S. I think there was a core of genuine concern in their position. But I also think the argument became a shield behind which people could oppose K/S without taking responsibility for their own personal reasons for not wanting to see it published. In any case, "But the cancer patients!" became a satirical rallying cry for slash fen who were tired of high-minded excuses that they suspected were not the real reasons for the opposition.

Currently, we're hearing the argument that posting too much K/S on the NG will discourage non-K/S fans from writing and posting. While this fear may have a core of real concern, I wonder if it is not also being used as a shield in somewhat the same way the "cancer patients" argument was used in an earlier era. In any case, the non-K/S fen who have made this argument most strenuously, like Jungle Kitty, Karmen Ghia and Wildcat, are some of the most prolific writers of Trekfiction on the net, so the attention to K/S does not seem to have discouraged *them* from writing. [25]

See Also

References

  1. "As a kid, you're taught ...that queers are weird, queers are funny, they're a danger to kids, they're afraid to fight, and they all want to cop your joint." Denzel Washington as Joe Miller in Philadelphia (1992).
  2. (See Daniel Tsang, "Gay Ann Arbor Purges," Midwest Gay Academic Journal 1 (1977): 13-19, cited in the 'Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader' by Henry Ablove (1993)).
  3. Referring to Paula Smith and Sharon Ferraro, the edtors of Menagerie.
  4. Writing in 1977, Mary Lou was right on the money about popular sentimental fads in vice literature, although not that they would necessarily be picked up on in Star Trek fandom. Several important medical papers on child sexual abuse had just come out, focusing public attention on its reality. The publication of Louise Armstrong's Kiss Daddy Goodnight in 1978 caused a massive eruption of public outrage and a demand for more material on this subject, unfortunately including what is known today as "victim porn" and graphic accounts in crime literature.
  5. Menagerie #12
  6. A reference to Superman's "one weakness", perhaps these are stories in which a character's "one weakness" is taken advantage of for sexual purposes.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 from Menagerie #14
  8. Qualified as an expert witness.
  9. A set of two stories, "To Each His Own" and "Idols I Have Loved" in the Diamonds and Rust series in Alpha Continuum #2.
  10. "This refers to a part of the K/S panel, where Connie F. was reading an excerpt from her story in R&R 3, “None There Embrace”—a story that was not K/S and in fact represented Connie’s views of why K/S couldn’t work. In the middle of Connie’s reading, it was discovered that the hotel audiovisual staff were mistakenly projecting the panel discussion beyond the panel room." -- from The Sound and the Fury: Early Lettercols and Letterzines 1975-1981
  11. There were 13.
  12. A set of two stories, "To Each His Own" and "Idols I Have Loved" in the Diamonds and Rust series in Alpha Continuum #2.
  13. Penny is referring to a story by Mary Lou in the Delta Triad Supplement.
  14. This refers to a story by Mary Lou in an earlier issue of Delta Triad
  15. from Spectrum #35 (January 1978)
  16. from Spectrum #35 (January 1978)
  17. from R & R #5 (November 1977)
  18. from R & R #6/7 (June 1978)
  19. from Interstat #8 (June 1978)
  20. in R & R
  21. from Interstat #8
  22. two stories in Delta Triad which required an age statement to purchase
  23. from Interstat #8
  24. Dodge may have been referring to The Star Wars Letters which was a controversy regarding explicit Star Wars fanworks, but her statement about Lucas' statement regarding to all fanworks.
  25. March 27, 2000 comments by Judith Gran at ASCEML