Sexuality in K/S Fiction: First Time vs. Established Relationship

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Title: Sexuality in K/S Fiction: First Time vs. Established Relationship
Creator: Linda Frankel
Date(s): Winter 1987
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: masculinity, Fanfiction, Kirk/Spock
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Sexuality in K/S Fiction: First Time vs. Established Relationship was a installment of Linda Frankel's regular column, "Sexuality in K/S Fanfiction," which appeared in Not Tonight, Spock! #15.

first page of essay

The essay disputes the idea that most K/S stories were first time ones as many fans appeared to believe and declares that in reality only about 60% of K/S stories were first times, a statistic that remained static regardless of when the zine was published. The essay also lists the genres/tropes in established relationship stories.

The Series

For the seven other essays in this series, see Sexuality in K/S Fiction.

The Introduction

Unlike many critics, I prefer to declare my biases in advance. I started out being strongly prejudiced in favor of established relationship stories. I believed that the established relationship story would tend to be more original and interesting. I was sure that any rational person would agree with me, and thought that the reason why so many fans wrote first times in the early zines was because every fan had their version of the first time which each of them needed to get out of their systems. Surely after they did that, they would proceed on to other stages and facets of the K/S relationship. Yet, it seemed to me that writers in K/S hadn't done this and for reasons that I couldn't discern were fixated on first times. Enter the crusader to tell all the backwards barbarians er fan writers to repent now ...uh stop writing 99% first times and try writing established relationships now and then. In this context, it is wise to remember the teaching of Socrates that everything you think you know is wrong. The ramifications of the first time and established relationship issue are not so simple. I have written this article and the one fol lowing in the next issue in an attempt to analyze the much more complex truth of the matter.


First off, 99% of K/S isn't composed of first time stories. Let's start with some statistics. I am not a statistician, but when I added up the totals of first times and established relationship stories in my files, the results looked skewed. I quickly realized that the reason was that I had included some rather atypical zines. The zine FIRST TIME is atypical. All the stories in it are first times. THE VOICE is also atypical. It is almost entirely dedicated to established relationship stories. Both of these would tend to skew the sample. When I corrected my totals by eliminating stories from atypical zines, I came up with a distribution of approximately 60% first time stories and 40% established relationship stories. I realized then that my mind had exaggerated the number of first time stories. While they do constitute the majority of K/S, they don't dominate the field as overwhelmingly as I thought.

As further proof of this, I discovered something very interesting when I did a time comparison. I decided to compare an early issue of a zine to a recent one and see what the distribution of first times and established relationships would be. I remembered early zines as being very first time oriented without exception. Re-reading NAKED TIMES 1 was an education in this regard. You can all convict me of having a bad memory. You see, NT 1 was almost all established relationship stories. It was published in 1978—a bona fide early zine. I read it when it first appeared, so I can be excused for forgetting what the zine was like. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it changes my ideas about early K/S.

What about the idea that first time stories will tend to less originality than established stories? Let's face it, formula stories will always tend to dominate in every genre. They are easier to write and many readers seem to enjoy them. Yet my analysis doesn't bear out the theory that established relationships stories are inherently more original. In fact, my sample showed that there were fewer original stories among those that were established relationship, than there were among the first times. An impartial analysis of established relationship stories shows that there are formulas there as well, and these formulas are very much in evidence in the writing of established relationship stories. While it is true that the established relationship concept has a great deal of potential for originality, this potential is largely untapped. Instead the writers generally have recourse to the following formulas:

1) The bonding/marriage story in which now that the K/S relationship has been established, they must decide whether or not to make a permanent commitment. The formula version assumes that the difficulty is in deciding on commitment, not in the logistics of making it. Once the decision has been made everything proceeds smoothly and there are few untoward consequences except for la) The Kirk is not a telepath story in which we learn that Kirk has difficulty accepting bonding because he has no telepathic ability and feels inferior. A story that maintains that Kirk can develop telepathic ability through training wouldn't be formula.

2) The jealousy story in which jealousy first arises in the K/S relationship, has a destructive manifestation, but is nevertheless accepted despite its destructiveness. A story in which jealousy is considered unacceptable and where the characters work to over come it would be original rather than formula.

3) The formula K/S/Mc story in which a lonely and excluded McCoy is eventually brought into the established K/S relationship after some problems over jealousy. I have already pointed out how it is possible to deviate from this formula.

4) The conflict of love vs. duty story in which it is discovered that the K/S relationship conflicts with the professional lives of Kirk and Spock. Formula stories resolve the conflict simplistically by either sentimentally proclaiming that love conquers all (and to hell with Starfleet), or concluding unrealistically that the conflict didn't really exist in the first place. A story in which the conflict is understood to be genuine and difficult to resolve wouldn't be formula.

5) The separation story in which Kirk and Spock are separated for a while, but joyously reunited with no change in their great love for one another and often no change in any other aspect of their characters no matter how many years have passed. A story in which separation causes growth and change in the characters avoids the formula.

6) The growing old together story in which Kirk and Spock have passed many years together and are celebrating some sort of bench mark in a very traditional way or are experiencing stereotypical mid-life crisis that causes problems in the relationship. The problems usually turn out not to be serious, and are resolved by the end of the story. A story with an unusual anniversary celebration, or one which doesn't assume that either of the characters are likely to have a mid-life crisis wouldn't be formula. Neither would a story in which a mid-life crisis caused profound problems that can't be resolved easily or superficially.

7) The death story in which either Kirk and Spock die romantically together or one survives but can't continue for very long and usually follows the dead partner into some sort of psychic unity. A death story which doesn't adhere to formula would be very unpleasant.

Formula is no respecter of national boundaries. It spreads like a contagion through all K/S zines both domestic and foreign. Even the majority of the stories in the established relationship zine, THE VOICE, adhere to the formulas described above. The few anomalous established relationship stories are scattered in a number of different zines, though a couple of my personal favorites are stories by Eva Stuart in THE VOICE.

What about original first times? Adherents of the established relationship story might consider that a contradiction in terms. This is far from true. I considered approximately 30% of the first time stories I examined original and non-formula. Yet one thing I discovered about many (though not all) original first time stories, is that the ideas that made them original didn't require a first time framework. They could just as easily have been written as established relationship stories. The question I had at that point was: Why weren't they? Why were so many writers conceiving of their unusual K/S themes in terms of the first time story, rather than the established relationship story that I believe has more potential?