Slash & Realism

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Title: Slash & Realism
Creator: quoted anonymously on Fanlore with permission
Date(s): September 29, 1994
Medium: print, online
Fandom: mentions much Professionals, but about slash in general
Topic:
External Links:
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Slash & Realism is a 1994 essay posted to Virgule-L. It is excerpted on Fanlore anonymously with permission by the fan who posted her compilation of the original posts.

The essay is a recap, with many quotes, of a discussion that took place on Virgule-L in February 1993. The names of fans have been redacted to initials, unless they have previously given permission to be quoted.

"In February 1993, the list had one of those extended conversations that everyone is reminiscing about now. We spent three weeks talking about what slash is, and whether it needs to be "realistic" to be "valid."

[Alexfandra] started the thread (although she blamed it on [L1], who wasn't on the list at the time), asking why there's such a prevalence of anal intercourse in slash fanfic."

Some Topics Discussed

From the Discussion

In fanfic, writers seem obsessive about Getting It In The Butt -- no matter how nice and/or satisfying the oral sex is, sooner or later, especially in longer stories, we inevitably get to the Delicate Question part ("Do you want to....?" "Are you sure?" "I promise I won't hurt you!"), followed by the Search for the Proper Lubricant ("Gee, I don't have any KY Jelly, but I've got some margarine..."), followed by the Am I Hurting You scene (during which the Recipient does feel a little pain at first, but gallantly accepts it in gritty silence until suddenly...ooh, it feels much better!), followed by the This Is Too One-Sided scene (The Penetrator lends a helping hand to the Recipient so that they can achieve joy simultaneously), followed by the Post-Sex Promise ("You can do it to me next time", "Are you SURE you don't mind?"), etc.

[L1's] theory about why this is always built up/focused on/made so important in stories is that it is the only way for fan writers to get the sex scene to approximate a heterosexual coupling. This naturally brings up the question of why do fan writers want their slash couple to behave more like a straight couple. This somehow seems to tie in with what writers are doing when they have their heroes profusely proclaim that "I'm not really gay! It's only YOU I want, not other guys!" Personally, I don't know. As I said, I'm passing this question on from [L]. Any opinions?

[Susan H] followed up, suggesting that you have to take into account that slash is written by women, for women. Slash is a fantasy romance, not a description of a realistic gay experience.

:I think you have to consider who is doing the writing and for what audience. I am really only familiar with B7 slash, which may differ from other fandoms. Anyway, 99% of slash is written by women for a female audience (there are a couple of men who write B7) I'm not sure that the writers and readers are looking for a gay relationship as for a relationship between particular characters, or imagined ,extended versions of those characters. The 'I'm not gay' declarations seem unnecessary in a story where romance is the purpose. And the AI question, as Alex said, becomes a question of coming as close as possible to the heterosexual female experience - write what you know, and all that. A gay experience is not being sought - it's a fantasy romance with no roots in REAL LIFE.

[L], via [Alexfandra], disagreed. She wants her slash to be about two very masculine men having a sexual relationship. For romantic fantasy, she reads "het" romance novels.

[L] said: She finds the gay experience quite romantic. And she wants the men in her slash fiction to be MEN, not psychologically-projected females. She strongly objects when authors "feminize" one of her Manly Men (e.g., Doyle gets poked by Bodie, and immediately starts talking about how dangerous working for CI5 is and gee, maybe they should quit and play house together). "Het" romance novels are also not based in real life, and she reads those as well, when that's what she wants. But when she wants to read about guys doin' it, she reads slash.

[A] agreed with Susan that the female writers may be influenced by their own heterosexual experiences.

In response to your penetrating question (ahem!)--my guess is that most women's experience of male sexuality is rather intercourse-oriented -- at least, that seems to be the main goal of most of them when they direct it towards women--so, extrapolating from that, one would assume that the goal would be analogous when directed towards men. Just a hunch... (ahem!)

Sandy Hereld, responding to [Alexfandra's] original post, suggested that instead it might be the difference (no prostate gland!) that's intriguing.

:You can look at this just the opposite way as well, though. With the exception of an adam's apple, men and women's throats are pretty much the same. Most fen (even lesbians, since most women at least try it with men once or twice before deciding they are lesbians) have gone down on men. They've done *that,* where's the excitement? On the other hand, rectums are very different between men and women. None of us really knows how it feels to have our prostates prodded.

:At Virgule, the slash con here in Seattle recently, the biggest panel was "Bi and Gay men tell all..." and a huge proportion of the questions had to do with prostates.

:So I think, especially since prostates are mentioned so much in the afore-mentioned standard slash sex scene, that it is actually the 'difference' that intrigues most writers of penetration stories. (Of course I could be full of it. And yes, "We just love each other stories" gag me too)

[Alexfandra] responded to Sandy's post, pointing out some inconsistencies it suggested.

Ok, let me get this straight (pun intended). You're saying that women write about AI because it stretches their creative imaginations, since rectums and prostates are different from their usual experience. Hm. I passed this tidbit on to [L1], who had a few comments.
1) If it's true that fanfic writers desire to stretch their imaginations by writing about sexual experiences with which they are unfamiliar, then where are all the scenes describing how wonderful it feels to have one's cock sucked? It seems to [L1], though she admits her memory could be faulty, that in the stories she has read, 95% of the sucking scenes are written from the point of view of the one doing the sucking, an act with which, as you said, most females are familiar. She remembers reading next to nothing about the sensations/thoughts/feelings etc from the point of view of the one being sucked. Yet writing about what it feels like to have one's cock sucked would seem, according to your theory, to be prime ground for stretching the female imagination.
2) They [L1] reads the Penthouse Forum and Letters mags regularly. She says the AI stories read very much like the standard Forum "She Was A Virgin" tale, complete with the "I promise I won't hurt you", "Ooh, it hurts, but ah, now it feels soooo gooood", lines, the only real major difference being the Post Intercourse Promise in slash ("next time I'll let you do me!"). And there's lots of stimulating of the clitoris going on as well.

[T O] brought up Joanna Russ's essay in Nome about common themes in slash. Joanna suggests that all the descriptions of anal intercourse due to the writer projecting herself into the situation.

[Joanna Russ's] take on the whole slash phenomenon is that it presents an opportunity for women to fantasize about a sexual relationship between socially-valued equals. Whatever you say about modern society, it's pretty clear that there is a serious power imbalance between men and women (which is why slash fans aren't reading het erotica), and that, of the two, men hold a much higher status socially (which is why slash fans aren't reading about two women together). With slash fandom, these two issues are much less apparent, and power issues become more a matter of personality and situation, than of social inequity.
That being said, her theory about anal intercourse was pretty much what you'd expect; that it allows women to project themselves into the situation, in the sexual role they are most familiar with. (I believe she phrased it as "the anus serving shadowy double-duty as a symbolic vagina" (or something like that, anyway).) In partial support of this theory, she cited the many instances of men gleefully pouncing on each other and performing anal intercourse without any lubrication at all, which, one gathers, is not done in real life unless you are really into pain. I suspect (for no good reason) that this happens more often in K/S than in other fandoms; K/S seems in some ways to be more idealized and divorced from nitty-gritty reality than some other fandoms. I'd love to see some comments on this from people who are familiar both with K/S and a variety of other slash fandoms; any takers?

[Alexfandra] responded to [T O], noting if women are projecting themselves into the male character, then it's hard to explain why they sometimes also specify this same character as the one they find more physically attractive of the two.

Ok. I have at least one point I'd like cleared up about this little theory. Ms. Russ, if I've interpreted this correctly, is suggesting that the slash author is projecting herself into her male character -- the male character who is, in the case of AI, the one being penetrated. If this were so, we might expect to find evidence of this character being "feminized". Let's take Pros as an example. In Pros, Doyle is the one, in the overwhelming majority of stories, who gets penetrated (at least the first time). (He's also the one who most often does the sucking.) He is frequently described as "slight of build", with those "long curls" and "angelic face". Bodie is often viewed as Doyle's "protector", and Bodie is most often the pursuer/seducer. Thus, we could assume that Doyle is the more "feminized" character, and, according to Ms. Russ's theory, the one whom our gallant authors are projecting themselves into.
Now we get to an observation of mine which I'm afraid will complicate things. So far, all of the Pros fans/writers I've encountered are Doyle fans. They positively lust for him. When asked, "Who are you more attracted to, Bodie or Doyle?", the answer is "Doyle." "Who would you rather be seduced by?" "Doyle." So it would seem that the typical Pros fan/writer wants to both BE Doyle, and be seduced by Doyle. Where exactly does this leave poor Bodie in the Russ psychodrama? I feel sorry for the guy.
Anybody have any brilliant insights about this? Or I have twisted Ms. Russ into incomprehensibility?

[T O] went back and read the essay again, extracting the relevant part. Joanna notes that K/S often portrays "androgynous" characters in which masculine and feminine traits are combined, and this extends into the anal intercourse scenes.

Well, I read through the essay last night and discovered that it doesn't summarize worth a damn. As I suspected, it is *very* strongly focused on K/S, and doesn't make mention of any other fandom. In fact, many of the points Ms. Russ makes are specific to the character of Spock. I also misremembered the bit about women projecting themselves into one character or the other. (*sigh*)

[L2] jumped into the fray, objecting to politically-correct slash: it's okay for slash to be "unrealistic" and not "relevant". Those terms are relative, after all.

A stereotype according to Webster's conforms to a pattern. Yes, slash romance follows a pattern, but so does "Never Let Me Down", fandom just hasn't settled on a name. I think of this type of story as "PC Slash". Giving Bodie and Doyle the attitudes and experiences of American homosexual '90's males isn't any more realistic than treating them like bodice-ripping heroes and heroines. Both sets of writers are doing the same thing, writing stories to fulfill their own wants and needs.
Bodie and Doyle are MEN, a condition which female writers (straight or lesbian or bi) have a difficult time relating to. B&D are also British, a different culture we Americans assume we understand because we almost speak the language. Also, B&D was set in the late '70s early 80's, so there is the historical context to get right. Even if you left out sex entirely it would be next to impossible to get a realistic story.
Tangent alert! Calling any slash story "realistic" reminds me of my problems with the Jenkins book. Yes, he did treat fans as active participants rather than passive TV-watching drones, but he really pissed me off in his chapters on slash. For those of you who haven't read it, he did an overview of the various "theories" of slash. Despite the academic bullshit, he was very approving of slash since we were turning the action genre on its head and making it fit our own needs.
Then he finished the chapter with a section called "Fans Debate Slash". That's when my blood pressure sky-rocketed. You see, slash isn't politically correct and that is a big problem for academics in the social sciences/English departments. Jenkins makes it sound like fans are clamoring for more AIDS stories, female slash and stories putting Bodie and Doyle squarely into gay culture. I felt like he was patting fandom on the head, the implication being that non PC slash (one or both of the characters being hetero; he's not gay, he just wants to suck his partners cock, etc.) would evolve into PC slash as soon we quit buying into the same cultural and media myths we had supposedly already destroyed by writing slash in the first place. So, basically, we've come a long way, baby; but not far enough.
Let me hasten to add that there very well may be fans who want more gay studies stories, but they are no more "evolved" politically or emotionally than fans who want Bodie portrayed as a Hessian Mercenary and Doyle as the tough, but vulnerable spy for George Washington's head of intelligence, Mr. Cowley. (Did I mention young and virginal spy?)
Many years ago, Pete Fisher, a homosexual author, wrote a Star Trek novel "Black Star" before he even knew about slash. If you've read it (I'll send you a free copy -- lord knows I still have them laying around my house) you know that it wasn't slash. Gay fiction is not slash and vice-versa. There are lots of gay writers out there who write a hell of a lot better than us amateurs that I enjoy reading when I want a reality check.
Yes, NLMD is an OK story from the PC genre. "B&D Beside the Sea" is a wonderful little gem from the "First time" genre. After a great opening with Bodie lusting after Doyle, they immediately proceed to anal sex, with Doyle being penetrated for the first time (standing UP, no less) and using suntan oil for lubricant. And guess what, they had great sex. Not at all realistic, but I think it is a much better slash story (it was also better written, so maybe it comes down to good writing, good stories -- genre be damned).
Using terms like "relevant" and "realistic" about one genre, such as PC slash, implies that the other genres are irrelevant and silly. Behind all this Academia in fandom crap (IMHO) is the need for outside validation. Writing Bodie and Doyle AIDS stories, or actually worrying if you are being socially irresponsible if you don't have B&D wearing condoms is another variant. Once outsiders start reading our stories, the fear of being perceived as overgrown adolescents writing about their favorite TV show is raised.
I'm sure my gay male friends would be offended if they thought I was trying to accurately portray their lifestyles (yes, there is more than one gay lifestyle). Then again, I wouldn't expect a lot of emotional resonance reading a gay male's fiction about overweight, spinster, heterosexual female librarians.
Written by women, for women is what slash is all about. Written by women, for women while accurately depicting the emotional and sexual lives of gay men just doesn't have the same ring. Once again, it smacks of putting male needs before our own.

[L2] responded that slash is not a synonym for being gay, but rather is a writing genre.

At the risk of being labeled a homophobe, I don't believe there is such a thing as lesbian slash. "Slash" is not a synonym for homosexual/lesbian. I can find "gay" lit in bookstores for less money than I pay for zines. "Slash" is a genre -- male heterosexual television characters depicted as being involved in a sexual romance with each other. (My Mom once accused me of liking to start trouble. I'm beginning to think she's right...)
A year ago I would have said "homosexual" romance just as I still describe the relationship in a bodice ripper as being a "heterosexual" romance; the terms describe the gender of the participants and scope of their activities. Now, it seems that unless you also have the correct motivations/characterizations to accompany the sex, you run the risk of being labeled a homophobe.
If someone wants to write a story with Bodie and Doyle moving to America in the '90s, then they can be politically relevant and realistic in the way the terms are being used today. My point about PC Slash was that it isn't any MORE relevant than any other genre when you look at Bodie and Doyle as they were presented on the series in their historical context in a foreign culture.
Any genre can have unrealistic injuries/recoveries and amazing powers of sexual healing. It is just as jarring to have a arrow laden, shit kicked out of him celtic warrior achieve multiple orgasm as it is to have a bullet laden shit kicked out of him politically relevant CI5 agent achieve it.

[C] wanted to generalize [L2's] genre description to include same-sex relationships, so that f/f slash would be included.

I define slash to be 'same-sex relationship.' I don't see why we need to coin a separate term for Dayna/Soolin stories when they contain the same characteristic fan-formulas that Blake/Avon use, and only the genitals differ.
(Actually, that's rather simplistic, but I'm talking about word-choice and plot-structure not those differences attributable to characterization.)
So, any further thoughts about this? Do you favor "realistic" or "romantic" stories? Can they be one in the same? Are we as writers projecting our own sexual experiences into the characters and their sexual relationship? Many of us seem to dislike the ultra-"realistic" stories, such as Nina Boal's Pros stories that include an emphasis on AIDS. Is anyone in the other camp on this? If so, why? If not, why do we all feel this way?

References