Slash without the slash: A ramble on how I finally came to understand het slash

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Title: Slash without the slash: A ramble on how I finally came to understand het slash
Creator: Gwyneth Rhys
Date(s): 2002?
Medium:
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, La Femme Nikita
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Slash without the slash: A ramble on how I finally came to understand het slash is an essay by Gwyneth Rhys.

"What the hell is that? you may ask. Well, I did too for a long time. Straight, or het, slash is a term I've heard people use for a while, but I never understood it. This is as good a theory as I can muster."

"...slash, for me, has long been about that underlying relationship that should never be public..."

Excerpts

A long time ago, a friend and I were talking about slash in X-Files, and how we felt that the show really didn't have much of a foundation for it, and besides, the real good stuff was between Mulder and Scully, and it was like the classic buddy shows that led to slash anyway. Het slash, my friend said.

I asked, huh? Het slash? What the heck is that?

No one, oddly, had ever given me a good definition. When people would talk about Mulder and Scully, they would often bring up the concept of how Scully was the man in the relationship, that it was a classic buddy scenario, that the way the two are kept apart, were all symptoms of a het slash aspect of the show. I still didn't get it.

I didn't think of Mulder/Skinner slash until after that conversation, but once I saw that it could be done feasibly, I started writing that, and enjoying it. Het slash vanished from my mind in the face of real slash.

A while later, I started watching two shows which have become my primary fandoms, along with X-Files --La Femme Nikita and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Strong (both literally and figuratively) female characters who are central to the show, in love with men they either should not or cannot have, dire straits faced every day. What's not to love?

I've watched these shows religiously now for years, made songvids in all three of them, and read e-mail lists or newsgroups about them at times. X-Files is the only one where slash even remotely interests me, or where I see its possibilities (at least, as far as slash with Mulder and Skinner). In both BtVS and LFN, the heterosexual relationships between the two leads are impossible for me to ignore; in X-Files, I can fantasize about three separate relationships (M/Sk, Skinner/Scully, and Mulder/Scully), all of which I've written in or created vids in. What can I say? I'm creative (or delusional, depending on your point of view) in how I look at things.

The price of love

When Buffy finally consummated her relationship with Angel, havoc ensued. People died, were tortured, the world nearly ended. All because of love and happiness and passion. They were destined to be thwarted, even after Angel regained his soul, because to have that true relationship would mean more misery and death and possibly even the end of the world.

For Nikita and Michael, love brings with it death. Section One has gone overboard in their determination to thwart Michael and Nikita, threatening them with death, using the brain-be-gone machine to wipe away Nikita's love for Michael.

It was these actions by Section that finally made me understand the concept of het slash. As Michael and Nikita met in secret in a hallway, furtively looking around to see if they were alone, stealing kisses, knowing full well that it carried with it such dangerous consequences, I suddenly went, oh! I get it now.

Since slash, for me, has long been about that underlying relationship that should never be public, realizing these three het couples were either hiding, having to hide, or deathly afraid to acknowledge, their feelings for each other carried with it the same frisson as Bodie and Doyle or Mulder and Skinner hiding their relationships from the prying eyes of CI5 in the '70s and the FBI in the '90s. It's a thwarted love wing-ding, but they're straight!

It's helped a lot, too, by the fact that the female characters are strong and independent, are not there for window-dressing, and are either the titular lead of the show (it is, after all, Buffy who's the vampire slayer, and Nikita who is our femme fatale) or are a part of the central focus of the show (Mulder without Scully would be boring, as he would lose his foil). I'm not sure that an idea like het slash could have existed before this surge of such strong female leads.

This also leads to a similarity to traditional slash, in that you have characters of roughly equal weight, equal importance, and equal ability. For many people, slash is cemented by the buddy relationship, the proximity of the two lead individuals, the fact that they are a team, together. They often look for a "further adventures of" quality to fanfic, stories where the characters are as they appear in the show, but doing something we wouldn't get on the actual show.

(Digression: But this is certainly not always the case for slash appeal. For a hell of a lot of people, it's about two guys having sex, or inequality in relationships--say, non-consensual sex fans or those who are looking for the perfect S&M relationship--or they don't generally like the typical hero type, so they choose another guy in the show to pair one of the lead characters with. There are a lot of diverse reasons for slash fandom; I'm mostly talking here about my own, and those of people like me who tend to look for equality as a relationship basis.)
I don't know that het slash is something I necessarily want to go looking for. I like slash, and I like het. Unlike most fans, I don't think I have that much of a preference either way; I tend to write slash more for various reasons, but by and large it's been because slash gives me that big thrill-- thwarted love. It's easier to find reasons to thwart two men, even in today's world, than it is to thwart a het couple (and that, I think, is a different ramble I may tackle someday, but which Sandy has done well in her "It's the '90s, you can't just say they're gay!" rant). But what a thwart-fest LFN, X-Files, and BtVS are for me--action and suspense, wonderful characters, and tortured love that cannot be. What more could you ask for except, well, slash?

References