The Pre-History of Slash: a talk for Slash Night 2

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Title: The Pre-History of Slash: a talk for Slash Night 2
Creator: Helen Raven
Date(s): December 2015
Medium: oral presentation, then online transcript
Fandom: The Professionals, Star Trek, Angel the Series
Topic: slash, zines, fanfiction
External Links: The Pre-History of Slash: a talk by Helen Raven, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The Pre-History of Slash: a talk for Slash Night 2 was an oral presentation by Helen Raven for Slash Night #2 in 2014. It included slides.

The transcript of the talk is also online.

Topics Discussed

Excerpts

I’m Fiona Clements. Or Helen Raven when I was writing in The Professionals and Angel fandoms. I think I can confidently say that I am the second-best writer that Professionals fandom ever produced. I’m guessing that I’m also the person here with the longest history as a slash fan, and that’s – mostly - what I’m going to talk about.

I got my hands on slash fiction for the first time in the 1970s, when I was 15, and everything about the process of “getting your hands on slash fiction” differed radically in those days from the way it works now. In my case, there was something that made the process particularly complicated, and that’s the fact that I was born and brought up in the Falkland Islands. At that time the primary school was excellent but the secondary school might as well not have existed, and so, in 1973, when I was 9, I was sent away to a boarding school in North Wales. We were only allowed to watch TV at the weekends, and only allowed out into town every three weeks, for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. I don’t recommend being sent to a boarding school in North Wales in the 1970s – avoid it, if you can.

Star Trek was my first fandom, from around 1974, and this was of course the original series, because Next Gen didn’t start until 1987. I hadn’t seen the program at home because there wasn’t any TV in the Falklands, but it was shown often enough on UK TV that I’d catch a few episodes when I was staying with friends of the family during school holidays. On one of those school holidays I used a book token to buy a couple of books in the series of short story adaptations of the episodes. [see Page 1 in PDF of selected slides from the talk] They were written by James Blish, a respected science-fiction author, and it was these books that turned me into a rabid Star Trek fan.

Like any number of studious, off-putting geeks in an environment obsessed with sport, I identified strongly with Spock, and while Kirk was every attention-seeking extrovert who raised my hackles, I could entirely see why they were necessary to each other. It was completely obvious from the books – and from the few episodes I’d seen – that they loved one another, and I couldn’t get enough of that.
But then in April 1978 there was an advert for an American zine called Thrust, which was described as “a zine exploring a possible sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. Contains material which may be offensive to some. The editor describes herself as an ‘intellectual fence-sitter’ on the subject and is not convinced of its validity, but does feel that it is a valid subject for fictional discussion.” From the tone of that, even without the line at the top of the Fanlore page, you might gather that this was one of the very first slash fanzines.

I remember the price as being $50, but that may be too high. It’s the one type of fact that Fanlore doesn’t cover. The publisher wanted an International Money Order but I had no idea how to obtain one of those – I heard later from other fans that you had to go to your bank and explain what you wanted it for – and so I somehow got my hands on $50 in cash. They also wanted a statement that I was at least 18 years of age, and as I was (and am) a good girl, I wasn’t willing to lie about that. I asked my school-friend Suzie who was over 18 and who knew something about my enthusiasm for Star Trek if she would sign the order form for me. So the order was in her name, but the address was my home address – and my home address was in Wiltshire by then as my family had moved to the UK in 1976. The boarding school had got easier, and I stayed on there.

The zine was waiting for me when I got home for the summer holidays. I’d told my parents that the friend Suzie this package was addressed to was Canadian (true) and that she’d asked to use my address because she was travelling all that summer (possibly true), and she’d said I could open the package (definitely true). It’s baffled me for many years now that I took that age declaration so seriously, because how on earth was anyone going to find out? But, you know… “good girl”.

The editor might have been a fence-sitter but she was not pulling her punches, because this was the front cover. The artist was [Gayle F], the Aubrey Beardsley of Star Trek fandom, and a fine writer as well as a talented artist. The cover was a fair indication of the contents of the zine – though there was also plot, of course, and characterisation, and that sort of time-wasting nonsense that women will insist on putting into their porn. I had a very happy summer with it.

And then my mother found it and was quietly freaked out, and said I must send it on to my Canadian friend Suzie straight away. I couldn’t take the risk that she would find it again in my possession so I destroyed it – I still have the full sensory memory of the process of tearing it up – and I also gave all of my Star Trek books to a second-hand bookshop in an attempt to convince her that the zine had completely put me off fandom. So I’m afraid I was not able to bring along my very first slash zine.
Then in… I think around 1985… I attended one of the large Trek conventions, and while there were no slash panels there was a zine library with a lot of slash, including an American zine – with a [Gayle F] cover - that I was very sad to part company with at the end of the con. As it happened, the next issue of the STAG newsletter arrived the following Saturday, and there was an advert from a fan called Sharon who was selling a lot of Star Trek zines, including that one. There was no phone number but the address was just five miles or so from me in South London, so I cycled over just in case. She was in, as was a slash fan friend who was visiting her for the weekend. Sharon was selling her zines partly to raise money for studies, but mostly because she was losing interest in Trek in favour of The Professionals. Her friend in particular enthused to me about Pros, and thrust a story at me. And while I was thinking, “Oh, for goodness sake, I’m not interested! I don’t even know which one is which!” I took it to be polite, wrote Sharon a cheque for £200 – and then spent the next two months cycling back and forth between Balham and Dog Kennel Hill with the contents of Sharon’s Pros library in my panniers. And that was that. I don’t think I ever opened any of those Trek zines I’d bought from her.
Unlike Trek fandom, Pros was 100% slash, so it had no respectable face to show to the world. I think partly because of this, and partly because many more people had easy access to photocopiers in the 80s than in the 70s, a lot of the first wave of stories in the UK didn’t appear in zines, but were collections of loose pages that were passed around a network of fans and photocopied. This was known as ”the Circuit”. All of the stories that I borrowed from Sharon were in this form, and I’ve brought along a couple of very short ones. They’re both by the best writer that Pros fandom ever produced: a woman who wrote under the name of Sebastian. She brought such immediacy and intensity to her depiction of the lads that I had to ration my reading of her stories because I knew I was going to lose sleep over them. I would be lying there for hours churning with adrenaline over the precariousness of this vitally important relationship.
The other thing about 1997 is that it’s the year that Buffy started, and for the next five years I got my fannish itch scratched just from watching Buffy and Angel, not feeling the need for fanfic because all that juicy stuff was right there on the screen. And then the show disappointed me and I started to wonder if there were fans out there doing better than the writers on the shows – and I discovered how thoroughly fandom had gone online in those five years.

There were quite a lot of familiar names from Pros fandom to be met online, but it was disconcerting to discover that the vast majority of the people in this new world seemed to have no idea that slash fandom had a history. Whereas I think that pre-internet any new fan soon became aware of it – after all, you’d visit other slash fans and see the archaeological layers of zines in their houses. Another shock was the fact that the name Helen Raven cut no ice here at all.

But I soon got over that, and started making friends, and then found myself writing again [slide of my website, showing the two Angel stories and the dates]. It’s now over ten years since I’ve written any fanfic, which feels a shame, but fortunately most friendships that start in a fandom keep on going after that fandom has run its course.

References