Queer Het

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Synonyms:
See also: Het, Poly, Genderfuck, Het Slash
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Queer het is a term used to describe het fic.

While fans have certainly been discussing the type(s) of fic described as queer het since before the 2000s, sometimes describing it as slashy het or het slash, it seems to have become popular in certain parts of LiveJournal fandom in the early to mid 2000s.

Queer het fic may also include elements of genderfuck; some queer het may also be understood as a subversion or critique of heteronormativity in fic.

As of June 2018, there were 109 works tagged as "Queer Het" on the Archive of Our Own.[1]

Some uses of "queer het" may be understood as related or similar to the nonfannish term queer heterosexuality, which has its own controversial history. It is unclear if the fannish term was originally derived from the nonfannish term, or if it originated distinctly. Within fannish communities, queer het has sometimes been regarded as itself controversial, and fans have offered different etymologies for the term.

Definitions

Queer het has been defined in different ways and contexts over the course of its usage. In general, it can be characterized by the two following definitions. While there may certainly be overlap between these definitions, they can be considered as distinct usages of the same term.

Male/female fiction involving queer characters

Het with a queer sensibility and/or queer themes, het that challenges gender or heterosexual norms

Example Ships

Het ships that have been labeled "queer het" include John/Aeryn from Farscape, Tony/Pepper from Iron Man, Kara Thrace/Lee Adama from Battlestar Galactica, Buffy/Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Phryne Fisher/Jack Robinson from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.[1][2][3][4]

Example Fanworks

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

  • The Of Roses Unfurling series by Snowgrouse centers around Jaffar/Princess (The Thief of Bagdad (1940)), while branching into and accommodating period-typical sexual phenomena such as casual male bisexuality and the not-uncommon lesbian relationships in the larger harems.
  • The Devilry series by the same author (A Woman's Face (1941)/Original fic) features a BDSM-practicing, crossdressing, poly main pairing where both partners are bisexual and where the male half of the pairing is what we would today call genderqueer.

Fannish Discussion and Usage of the Term

A 2005 discussion on Fanthropology prompted an extended discussion about the definition of queer het and other related terms.[2]

dragonscholar: After our last discussion of fan terminologies I began wondering about areas where people specifically saw differences in terminologoies, both in the past, and current areas where people were finding conflicts in terminology. Obviously I'm specifically focusing on fic classifications, but I'm curious as to anything else.
eruthros: Well, I recently saw someone describe a story as "hetslash." I eventually worked out that she meant "story with heterosexual anal sex." I'd never seen that one before.
elsewherecw: ...I like it! *LOL*
thelastgoodname: I like that a lot more than the "queer het" (meaning, I think, roughly the same thing) that was recently introduced into fandom. However, it now occurs to me that I'm not sure about the medical wisdom of doing anything anal that includes the word slash. That seems ... unwise.
fides: Some time ago now at a con I was at the term Hash (short for 'het slash') got created. It refered to a story that had one or more of:

1. A very slashy style and relationship construction despite being het 2. Both slash and het pairings/threesome 3. Hemaphradites 4. Temparory gender reassignment so relationship switches from m/m to m/f (or visa versa) and back again.

Think I have only one seen it in the wild though ;-)
glossing: "story with heterosexual anal sex."

This usage really bothers me (and please note, I'm in no way questioning *you*, just the usage). For one thing, it suggests that "het" stories, i.e., those with heterosexual pairings, don't/can't usually involve non-vaginal sex. For another, it effectively reduces "slash" as a category of homoerotic fiction to anal intercourse - so girlslash is pretty much excluded and boyslash becomes, not homoerotic romance/love/whatever, but a specific and overdetermined act.

*grumpy*
eruthros: Oh, me too -- at first I thought the writer was using it to mean "story with a proscribed heterosexual pairing," as people did sometimes with Buffy/Spike pre-Joss actually hooking them up. To be honest, it bothers me for much the same reasons it does you -- you can write a G slash story with lots of cuddling, or an NC-17 femmeslash story, or a het story where nobody has penile-vaginal intercourse (the horrors!). As fandom terms go, I hope it dies a quick death, but unfortunately nobody else reading the post seemed confused by what she meant, so. It has achieved at least some life, somewhere.
glossing: *So* glad I didn't offend you.

"story with a proscribed heterosexual pairing," as people did sometimes with Buffy/Spike pre-Joss actually hooking them up. Right. Though strictly speaking that tends to bother me - I mean, there's already a term for it (unconventional), I do kind of like thinking of some nominally-het ships as slashy in a loose way.

you can write a G slash story with lots of cuddling, or an NC-17 femmeslash story, or a het story where nobody has penile-vaginal intercourse (the horrors!) Heh. Exactly.

I've been writing a *long* boyslash series (c.60K words at last count), spanning five years, and I keep waiting for the when are they going to have real sex? question. This equation of anal sex with slash, and penetration with sex...it gets to me.
thelastgoodname: Many people seem to be having this conversation, and it begs the question, how exactly are we defining fandom terms? This is part of the "queer het" stuff, but it's also been brought up in a bunch of other contexts.

So, for a basic working terminology,

what is het? what is slash? what is gen? where does polyfic (three- and more-somes) fit? how are canon relationships accommodated in these definitions?

and of course, the big one, alluded to by hawkmoth: how have we come to a place where it matters so much? That is, why are all our stories about sex (whether people are getting any or not) rather than other types of plot, and when they do have plot, why must they also have relationships. Maybe we're all frustrated Mills and Boon writers (and readers).

There's the issue of gender (and presumed and performed gender identity) in all this, which seems to come up a lot in conversations about slash and Mary Sues, in particular.

Het and slash are both contingent on performed gender identity, while gen seems somewhat based on rating rather than anything else.

And then, a larger problem is that unless we can all somehow go to the big-fandom-terminology-clearinghouse-in-the-sky, we all have our own interpretations of what qualifies as any of these terms.

In a 2007 comment on alixtii's Livejournal post about the perceived absence of We're Not Gay; We Just Love Each Other trope in femslash, carenejeans wrote:

It's both fascinating and frustrating to me that non-traditional het is so hard to categorize, in fandom and outside. After 35 years of feminism, there is still no good theory of radical heterosexuality. The (contentious) idea of "queer het," is the closest we've come in a long time, but only because queer theory is currently the best -- or only! -- way to try to get a handle on radical het. Feminism has really failed us in this regard![3]

In a 2007 comment on melannen's meta Help! My slash goggles are stuck!, Livejournal user wychwood wrote:

And you get het stories that have the slashy feel anyway because the female character knows how to put the same power behind her desire that a man does and doesn't hesitate to do so.


And that to me explains very well the kind of "queer het" idea that people often apply to, say, John/Aeryn on Farscape; she has a powerful, *active* gaze of her own, which challenges the man who is its subject, and forcing us as viewer to reconsider the nature of the heterosexual relationship between them.[4]

A 2015 Tumblr post about the pairing Furiosa/Max in Mad Max fandom cited the Fanlore definition of queer het:

Mad Max fandom confession time - no need for the good services of the anon confessions blog, because I don’t mind ‘fessing up: I see the pairing of Furiosa/Max as bordering the queer continuum.

There’s a tiny glimmer of this dynamic described at Fanlore with the Queer Het label: het with a queer sensibility, het that challenges gender or heterosexual norms.

Personal reasons: I headcanon Valkyrie/Furiosa backstory, thereby queering Furios. I’m a bisexual (a hasbian!) in a committed relationship with a man who is on the border between straight and queer. I’m femme. But I have plenty of androgynous and self-identified butch women friends in relationships like this too. We like it, we like how our relationships are, and damn it, I like seeing myself and my friends in a fandom.

Women’s/queer studies reasons: Neither Furiosa nor Max are conforming to the gender standards of the Wasteland cultures where they find themselves. Fan analysis has observed many times that Max’s invaded/utilized body, his lack of macho grandstanding, and his ultimate gentleness are not the toxic masculinity of Citadel culture. That Furiosa’s de-gendering, anger, rebellion, and her ultimate freedom are not the broken and limited femininity that the Citadel would have. With the corrupt old white men’s Citadel fallen, what would a relationship between them look like?

Fanfiction has so many answers. Lots of borderline and some explicit femdom, with the majority of the agency in Furiosa’s court, and lots of an egalitarian dynamic untrammelled by traditional gender roles. In how they treat each other, in what they do sexually, in where they do it, even in the longer-term separation of their lives. Sometimes Max goes full circle into courtly love, with fanon about him bringing tribute back to Furiosa at the Citadel. There’s always an awareness that they’re both damaged and working on healing.

We are not telling standard heterosexual love stories about them. Maybe this is what heterosexual love is going to become as the 21st century rolls on? What we’d like it to be? Without an energy-sucking wasteland-creating apocalypse first, hopefully.[5]

On a separate thread of posts, Tumblr user hauntedfalcon commented on thebyrchentwigges's analysis of the relationship between Furiosa and Max as "queer het":

I’m talking about the post that defines the Max/Furiosa ship as “queer het”. The relationship is het, full stop. I never stopped being bi when I married a dude, but my relationship with that dude is not queer. A relationship between a cis man and a cis woman is a het relationship whether or not the individuals involved are queer (or, more accurately in this case, you headcanon them as queer, which I do too because Valriosa is real forever and ever amen), or the gender roles are heteronormative. Kink/BDSM does not equal queer, and saying a trans woman married to a man is queer, unless the woman in question identifies that way, is transphobic.[6]

In a 2017 response to adh2d's post "unpopular opinion: hating a ship because it’s “het” is petty and immature," Tumblr user rahirah wrote:

Ok, so, funny(?) story: back when S5/6/7 of BtVS were airing, there were a number of fanfic readers and writers who normally read and wrote m/m slash who found themselves unaccountably reading and writing Buffy/Spike. (And, I think, some other het pairings in other fandoms, but I was mainly aware of the phenomenon as it related to Spuffy.) This bothered some of them deeply, because there was a belief among many slash fans that het fic was inherently bad, and it was certainly not as edgy and cool as slash. So liking an m/f pairing? OH THE SHAME OF IT ALL. So they came up with the ‘queer het’ theory – that is, you could write m/f pairings in such a way as to 'queer’ them, and that made them acceptable for the Cool Kids to ship.

What made a m/f pairing 'queer het?’ As far as I could see, it was just A) finding a m/f pairing which didn’t conform to stereotypical heterosexual gender roles, and B) writing them in character. My own fic was sometimes given as an example of 'queer het,’ which surprised me mightily. I hadn’t been trying to do any such thing; I was just trying to write a character dynamic I liked. I had written some meta at one point explaining why I felt that some aspects of Buffy and Spike’s S6 relationship had parallels with being in the closet, based on my personal experience of being in a closeted relationship back in the 80s. But in the fic in question, Buffy and Spike’s relationship was out in the open, and very different from the way it was in canon.

Merely failing to conform to stereotypical heterosexual gender roles was not enough, to my mind, to make a ship queer. Bear in mind that at the time, while there was plenty of Fuffy and Spangel subtext in BtVS, there wasn’t any canon confirmation that Buffy or Spike were bi. We didn’t get that until AtS S5 for Spike, and S8 for Buffy. So I was uncomfortable with the designation being applied to my fic, and tried to distance myself from it. It felt unearned at best, and at worst, as if the people promoting it were just trying to come up with a specious label to justify why a m/f ship they happened to like was better than all those other icky m/f ships that the unenlightened masses liked.

So anyway, flash forward fifteen years and Buffy/Spike really is a queer ship – but it’s still not queer het. It’s bi. Which is ironic, I guess. (Or at least Alanis Morrisette ironic, thank you Mr. Morningstar, best line of the season.)[7]

References

  1. Queer Het tag on Archive of Our Own. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  2. "Terminologies In conflict," dragonscholar. Posted on April 16, 2005. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  3. Comment by carenejeans on alixtii's post "WNG Femslash." Commented on March 21, 2007. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  4. Comment by wychwood on melannen's post "Help! My slash goggles are stuck!" Commented on February 27, 2007. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  5. Post by thebyrchentwigges. Posted on October 26, 2015. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  6. Post by hauntedfalcon (then hauntedjaeger). Posted on October 26, 2015. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.
  7. Post by rahirah. Posted in 2017. Retrieved on July 2, 2018.