Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile

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Academic Commentary
Title: Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile
Commentator: Mark Dery
Date(s): 1996
Medium: online
Fandom: slash, Star Trek: TNG
External Links: Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile - Tactical Media Files, Archived version
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Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile is a 1996 essay by Mark Dery.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta.

Some Topics Discussed

  • slash fiction
  • "slashers' feminist attempts to 'rewrite' the male body"
  • the zines Science Friction, Fever
  • Borg and Nazi imagery
  • gay culture and gay subculture
  • use of the phrase: "textual poaching" (which some fans found irritating, and, ironically a form of poaching itself)
  • includes some quotes by Susan Sontag and Constance Penley


In Science Friction, mechanical reproduction is strictly X- rated. The Toronto-based queer 'zine is devoted to campy, techno-porn burlesques of Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Borg" episodes. (For non-Trekkers, the Borg are the implacable man-machines who periodically imperil Truth, Justice, and the United Federation of Planets on ST:TNG.) The 'zine features panting tales of RoboCopulation, pornographic "Sonnets from the Borgugese," and "heart-stoppingly explicit illustrations," spiral-bound and sealed in a "plastic splash guard cover" for your one-handed reading convenience.

Science Friction, whose battle cry is "If Paramount can't give us that queer episode, just make it so!," is a textbook example of textual poaching---a sort of guerrilla semiotics in which consumers-turned-producers perversely rework popular fictions. Henry Jenkins III, a professor of literature, and Constance Penley, a feminist film theorist, have documented a form of textual poaching known as "slash"---erotica written by female fans of the original Star Trek TV series and published in underground fanzines. Typically, it is about Captain Kirk and the Vulcan science officer Mister Spock and is thus dubbed "K/S" for short, yielding the term "slash."

Slashers' feminist attempts to "rewrite" the male body as well as the male psyche through the vehicle of homoerotic SF fantasies is underscored by "a very real appreciation," Penley writes, "of gay men in their efforts to redefine masculinity, and...feelings of solidarity with them insofar as gay men too inhabit bodies that are still a legal, moral, and religious battleground." Gay bodies, like those of female slashers, intersect with technology in cyberculture, a point made dramatically (and comically) clear in gay Trekkers' own attempts to rewrite gender norms by slashing the Borg. (The term "slash" seems to have come unstuck from the strictly literal usage; it is increasingly applied to TV-inspired homoerotica, whether Kirk/Spock or not.)

Like the original series, ST:TNG is built on an unshakable bedrock of liberal humanism. The Borg, mindless cogs in a totalitarian civilization whose monomaniacal goal is the extinction of all free thought, provide a cartoon antithesis to the series' endlessly reiterated thesis that humanist values (read: the American way) are destined to triumph over the enemies of democracy and free enterprise. The crypto-fascist Borg are not just inhuman, they're un-American.

And, horror of horrors, they're queer! At least, that is, in the alternate universe of Science Friction, which highlights the gay subtext of the Borg episodes. Once "outed," the Borg appear to be so obviously and so variously wired into gay myth and metaphor that it seems almost unthinkable that the connections could have gone unnoticed.

Like sailors, bikers, cops, and other stereotypical characters in homoerotic fantasy, the Borg are an all-male society living in close quarters. They are in constant physical communion with one another, literally bonded by electronic interconnection--- "borgasm," to use the co-editor Glenn Mielke's elbow-in-the-ribs coinage. "Wait a minute," says Geordi, in Mielke's "Beamed on Borg" (Science Friction No. 2), "you mean to say that the Borg are in constant sexual link?" "Yes," replies Hugh, "we are with each other always." The reader half expects him to break into Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "I sing the body electric/ The bodies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them." Anonymous and continuous, the exchange of fluid data among the Borg conjures the fleeting, faceless sex, in bars, bathrooms, and public parks, of the gay sexual demimonde in the '70s and early '80s. The Borg's cadaverous pallor evokes urban nightcrawlers---sybarites who come out only after dark, like the androgynous vampires in Anne Rice's best-selling homoerotic novels.

In a delicious irony, Borg slashers reprogram the technophallic killing machine for the very "softness" it abhors. In "Locutus" by Gigi the Galaxy Girl (Nancy Johnston, Science Friction No. 1), a Borg's hardware has been reconfigured so that he may boldly go where no man-machine has gone before:

Instead of puckered flesh, his Borg anus had been enhanced and altered to receive. He had the perfect access conduit.

The Borg also suggest a mechano-erotic take on the gay "clone" of the '70s, the mustachioed, short-cropped fixture of San Francisco's Castro district, instantly recognizable in Levi's and leather, flaunting his gym-toned muscles. Dank, dark, and hazy with mist, the tangled catwalks of the Borg ship cross the gay bathhouse with the S&M pleasure dungeon. The results are a natural habitat for man-machines in form-fitting black armor that resembles the accouterments of the bondage fetishist, their flesh punctured by cables in a semiotic echo of the pierced ears and nipples popularized by gay culture.

Fan Reaction


[Henry Jenkins]: Derry [sic], on the other hand, seems to have a slippery grasp on the concept of slash as is illustrated in the book's glossary: K/S or "Slash" Stories. Pornographic K/S (short for 'Kirk/Spock') tales written by female Star Trek fans and published in fanzines, often featuring Kirk and Spock as lovers. Spun from a perceived homoerotic subtext in Star Trek narratives, slash stories are often animated by feminist impulses. Appropriated for general use [by anyone other than Derry?], the term 'slashing' may be applied to textual poaching in which tales told for mass consximption are reworked to suit subcultural needs." Aside from the fact that he sees all fan fiction as slash, all slash as softcore, and all slash as K/S, one wonders why we need a new word to refer to textual poaching when poaching is itself a more inclusive and sufficiently new word. (He does not, however, bother to credit me or my book with introducing the links between fanfic and textual poaching, so it is not clear that he gets these concepts from anything other than second or third hand.) [1]

[S]: I find myself pretty angry at Michael [sic] Dery, who has appropriated the term "slash" in a way that disagrees with what it means to us. Henry points out, with some amusement, that all he's doing is poaching it, as we poach things ourselves. But it seems needlessly offensive to use it in a way that the community which coined the term—namely us—would not recognize, would disavow. And it's needlessly confusing, when academics or fans try to move from the one realm into the other, and find the same word being used in such different ways. In fandom, not all fanwriting ("textual poaching") is slash. To Michael Dery, apparently, it is. Ptui on him. I wonder if his slippage of the term's meaning is due to people (like he himself) reading Henry's book and fixating on the shocking aspect of fanwriting, going away with the impression that slash is most of what there is. I have no more faith in academics' being able to read calmly and coherently about things which shock them than I have in anyone else's. [2]


I will jump in cold and defend fan fiction any time. I would laugh too, and then laud the virtues of treksmut through some brilliant statement of cultural theory, perhaps along the lines of: (Marxism) Treksmut turns the capitalist power structures that control the production of cultural artifacts on their head! (queer theory) Treksmut refigures the dominant sexual norms to celebrate transgressive possibilities! (semiotics) Treksmut creates entirely new ways of structuring text and meaning! In short, fan fiction is one of the last bastions of genuine resistance to the dastardly forces of global econo-social conformity and control, whereas pro-fic is just whoring yourself out to the Man!

Which one is cooler now, Mr. O?

I have come across only one scholarly paper about treksmut on the web, about a Borg boyslash zine (rather esoteric no?)--it's found at [Slashing the Borg: Resistance is Fertile]. I have yet to embark on any serious research into what's been written about fan fiction, but I know there is stuff out there--I'll get around to it sometime during my education. If I ever write any papers about treksmut, I'll let y'all know.[3]


[Henry Jenkins]:

... the fans may look a lot like avant-garde artists, especially postmodernist avant-garde artists who appropriate and transform, and play with cultural imagery – there’s a blurring of the line there in the art world. But we still need to hold on to the specificity of what fandom is, because often avant-garde appropriations of culture are distanced, ironic, you know, they don’t have the passion and the melodrama that shapes fan appropriations of those same things.

Consider Mark Dery’s piece on culture-jammers; it takes slash and reads it as an antagonistic relationship of consumers to mass media, and folds it into culture jamming and ad-busting as a series of oppositional practices, without having any knowledge of the very different economies of desire and passion that shape an ad-buster and a slash fan. That’s what happens when fandom gets totally pulled to the avant-garde side. I think one of the problems for postmodern theory in general is that postmodern theory started with artists who saw pop culture as kitsch and then this was read onto pop culture and pop culture consumers who don’t necessarily experience those same formal practices with that same overall agenda. In some ways, postmodern theory is also talking about the implosion of meaning and the flattening of affect and so forth when it is describing works that have dense grids of meaning and where to speak of affect being flattened just makes no sense. [4]


  1. ^ from Strange Bedfellows APA #4 (February 1994)
  2. ^ from a fan in Strange Bedfellows APA #4 (February 1994)
  3. ^ comment by Julie Levin Russo at Writers on Writing (Jan 6, 2000)
  4. ^ from Intensities interviews Henry Jenkins @ Console-ing Passions, University of Bristol, July 7th, 2001: here