We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: WNGWJLEO, WNG, We're Not Gay, Gay for You
Related: Portrayals of Masculinity in Fanworks
See Also: The Wave Theory of Slash, Slash Tropes, Queer Het
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other stories are those in which two straight, same-sex characters end up together, but do not see their sexual relationship with each other as having implications for their sexual orientation. The characters continue to identify as straight and describe their love for each other as a unique circumstance that transcends sexual orientation. It was a common trope in early slash fiction, but has fallen off in popularity.

Sometimes the term is more broadly used for all stories where the two characters start the story self-identified as straight, whether they allow their new relationship to influence that self-identification or not.

The term is not generally used for stories in which any character explicitly identifies as bisexual.

Incidentally, the trope reflects an actual real-world phenomenon of men who have sex with men, but don't identify as gay or bi. Although slash stories can certainly describe a character who thinks this way (largely due to internalized homophobia), the WNGWJLEO trope (depending on how broadly defined) may include only instances where the author shares this view.

The Concept and Drift in Terminology

First, there was the trope itself, one which did not have a standard identifying phrase. A fan commented upon the trope in 1986:

The fact of the matter is that most K/S does not treat Kirk and Spock as "homosexuals". Rather, it seems to be the general consensus among K/S writers and readers that Kirk and Spock are blatant heterosexuals who just happened to find love within someone of the same sex." [1]

Then came the actual phrase, "We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other". One early use of this was in 1990:

Having recently read a huge stack of Bodie/Doyle and Napoleon/Illya slash, I'm on a slow burn about homophobia in the genre. [...] Many writers generally accept without thought, as something natural and inevitable, the marginalization of gay people, pairings and love which straight society tries to impose, and participate in it, continue it, in their stories. Sometimes it's the 'they're not gay, they just love each other' excuse (which I paraphrase as 'we're not gay, we just fuck each other.') [2]

The abbreviation, "WNGWJLEO," was first used in 2003 or before. [3]

In Published Works

An example of this in mainstream fiction is the relationship of Jennifer North with her school friend Maria in Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls. Maria taught Jennifer how to make love, on the pretext that men were too rough. "We are doing nothing wrong. We are not Lesbians like those awful freaks who cut their hair and wear mannish clothes. We are two women who adore each other and who know about being gentle and affectionate."

Though nowhere near as common, there is a canon reverse example of this in Bob and Rose by Russell T. Davies where a gay man falls in love with a straight woman.

Historically

Many fanfic written in the first few years of slash contained this lack of dealing with orientation.

Joanna Russ, in Another Addict Raves About K/S (1985) said:
K/S provides the female reader with a love affair in which both parties are fully worthy human beings who feel, think, and do sex in ways intelligible to women -- this leaves room for reading K/S as "Lesbian" as well as 'heterosexual.' .... The one thing K/S is *not* about is male homosexuality. [4]
From a fan in 1986:
[Name redacted] says he does not accept the K/S precept as plausible. Why? It is just as possible for their friendship to progress into a love-affair, for that is what it is, than to remain status quo. Which brings me to the point I attempted to make when I state that, in my opinion, menage a trois stories have no place in K/S. The very fact that Kirk and Spock become, or are, lovers without either one being homosexual per se, IS what makes their relationship special. Most of us see Kirk and Spock simply as two people who love each other and just happen to be of the same gender. [5]
In 2007, Natasha Solten, a K/S fanzine publisher, offered a slightly different explanation as to why early slash writers did not feel the need to focus on the sexual orientation of the characters. As part of the K/S Legacy project, she explained how early K/S fans did, in fact, grapple with whether Kirk and Spock were to be 'read' as homosexual:
[So many K/Sers]...fought hard to not label them as homosexual....It is not because of prejudice but I think in spite of it. I think Star Trek itself....taught principles of a kind of open-mindedness that saw people as people and not just labels. Also, K/S writers saw this relationship as special, not one of a series of affairs Kirk or Spock might have. And therefore the specialness meant that this relationship defied labels and boundaries.....it was and is a different kind of thinking because [Star Trek] is after all, in the future and science fiction. [6]

Gradually, these types of stories came under substantial criticism, both for being unrealistic, and for being borderline homophobic, and are now much less common.[7]

However, there are slashfans who miss those stories and feel that asking slash to be realistic in this way has made it less fun for them; from this perspective, slash isn't about real-life sexual orientation or lifestyle, it's a genre of romance. Catherine Salmon and Donald Symons wrote in Slash fiction and human mating psychology, "...slash fiction is so similar to mainstream genre romances that it could reasonably be classified as a species of that genus." [8] [9] As Lezlie Shell said so memorably: "Why is it our duty to accurately reflect the gay male experience? Is it the duty of gay male writers to accurately portray the lives of spinster librarians?" [10]

Examples of the Story Trope

From a 1995 Starsky and Hutch story: "Even after all their time together he was still occasionally surprised that he get so much pleasure from another man's body. But then, this wasn't just another man. Hutch had always been different, special." [11]

From a 2002 Sentinel story: ""Blair, I'm not sure how to answer you on that. There were a lot of things on that tape that would turn me off big time if I pictured doing them with anybody but you. Maybe I'm not really bisexual. Maybe I'm just, I don't know, Blairsexual." Blair grinned widely. "Blairsexual," he said. "I like that. Wow. I guess that means that all these years I've been a closet Jimosexual." [12]

From a 2012 Sherlock story: "“I know I’m not gay,” he says. “When Harry came out, I went and read everything about it. I had to know, to make sure I—I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to accidentally offend her or — just to know. I’ve never been attracted to men, er, before. I doubt it I’ll be attracted to another man again." [13]

Other Fic Examples

Fan Anecdotes and Comments

1984

Next is another fairly new trend: generic K/S. This premise is dedicated to the pairing up of either Kirk or Spock with another male partner, thus attempting to answer the age-old debatable question: are they, or aren’t they…really gay?…I may be the last of a dying breed, but, personally, the thought of Kirk or Spock making it with some other…if you’ll pardon the pun… asshole, defeats the original concept of K/S. I like to believe that it was the unique chemistry between them that drew them together…not that either or both of them were just naturally inclined toward getting it on with guys…. [W]hat Gerry Downes has joined, let no fan put asunder. [14]
I don't have any objections to people writing stories where either or both K & S are gay, but I don't see them that way. To me it makes the K/S relationship that much more special and rare and rich for them to go outside of their normal sexual preferences to be together than to be just part of a pattern, and it makes the relationship much more interesting for me to explore. Also, it too often happens that when a writer writes either of them as gay, she changes their personalities so that they are no longer recognizable as the men we've come to know and love and all they share are the same names. However I do also think that we are all capable of being bisexual given the right circumstance. [15]

1988

Instead of portraying the same old "[Kirk and Spock] are not really gay, they're hetero men who just happen to like each other" relationships, why not portray them as gay men, perhaps in the tradition of Alexander and Hephaistion which I've seen in the British zines?" [16]

1997

I recently tried to explain K/S to my sister, who was completely grossed out, stating she did not have any interest in gays. I tried to explain my viewpoint, that Kirk is not gay, neither is Spock, they are merely in love, but she does not understand. I think it was best said by a fan on a message board, who wrote something like, what if you met your soulmate, and that person, by chance, happened to be the same sex as you? In my favorite stories, Kirk is not attracted to men, only Spock, and vice versa. [17]

2000

Ah, the old fashioned "We're not gay, we just love each other" story... I wish [that it was old fashioned] were true, however, lengthy explanations of how "we're not gay..." are still integral parts of many many slash stories, and not just in SH. They riddled my other fandom, Miami Vice, and while I don't read in other fandoms much, I hear other fans complain about it frequently. It's discouraging and often ruins otherwise excellent stories. One of the reasons I wrote Total Eclipse of the Heart was to counteract this unfortunate tendency... The whole "we're not gay" concept did come up in Star Trek frequently enough, however since they were dealing with the future where, presumably, same-sex lovers were not social pariahs, there wasn't as much "need" for it, but the stories were there. And they showed up frequently enough in Pros and other fandoms as well. The fact that SH aired during the 70's where many people were experimenting with a more fluid sexuality, yet homosexuality itself was still socially disapproved of and discriminated against (as is perfectly demonstrated during the SH episode Death in a Different Place) made for an interesting social problem when dealing with 2 70's cops who fall in love with each other.[18]

2004

Pros is full of we're-not-gay-we-just-love-each-other fic - O'Yardley and Ellis Ward come to mind as Doyle has had experience with men before...And it's not just that they haven't had such experiences - it's that once they come together, a big deal is made of the fact that they couldn't imagine sleeping with any other man ever. O'Yardley's Injured Innocents comes to mind here, as does Ellis Ward's Trial Run (and I'm just using these two authors as examples - there are many more). Clearly there are many fans who really enjoy this paradigm, which is great - I love the fact that in fandom there is something for everyone. And it is possible for me to enjoy stories that employ it, if it's subtle - that is, if the fact that neither has been attracted to a man before isn't emphasized. I'm very, very fond of Ellis Ward's Harlequin Airs (though none of her other stories do much for me, I have to admit), and there are many of O'Yardley fics that I love (one that comes immediately to mind is Bealach Na Ba, in Unprofessional Conduct 1). But in general - and particularly when a big deal is made of the we're-not-gay aspect, when there are repeated pronouncements by one or the other to each other or the world at large that he couldn't imagine doing this with any other man, that he only loves the other - I find myself more and more turned off by the WNGWJLEO model. The "we're not gay" doesn't comport with my own view of the Pros characters - but more than that, the model generally just doesn't work for me, partly because I find it so wildly unrealistic that I simply can't overcome my skepticism - it strikes me as silly rather than romantic - and partly because it's just not the model I personally prefer. It's a bit too sappy for me, too romance-novel-y, comes across to me as too sanctimonious. The bottom line is, I like the idea that these are men who like fucking men (and who love each other, of course!). This means I generally prefer fic in which they've had experience with men before - one of the reasons that Injured Innocents is lower on my list of favorites than Rainbow Chasers. It also means that if one of them hasn't had sex with men before, discovering that he wants the other requires coming to terms with the fact that he has homosexual inclinations - and I prefer stories that at least acknowledge that, even if it's not a focal point. miriam_heddy's Joy of Camping (in Motet 4) is a great example - Ray discovers, much to his surprise, that he wants Bodie, loves him, but he dismisses out of hand the idea that this was "a sacrifice born of love," that he'd "waited thirty-five years to want one man and not others" - though he's not going to do anything about the others, of course :-). And one of the many, many things I love about the_shoshanna's Never Let Me Down (I adore that story...) is how well she portrays Bodie's difficulty coming to terms with his attraction to men.[19]

2007

We're not gay, we just love each other" wasn't always homophobic, but it often was. (When it wasn't, it was a way of increasing and dramatizing the emotional stakes. These guys would do anything for each other -- they are so important to each other that the emotional and physical attraction breaks through not just the barriers of social convention, but even the barriers of their own preexisting sexual preferences. Their love is stronger than their heterosexuality. I'm reminded here of MMWD's recent post on It's Not Incest, We Just Love Each Other, though I haven't followed all the conversations that post sparked...) Of course, it also mattered that nearly all the first big slash couples were located in far more homophobic contexts than those today. K/S is a special case, here -- although we never had any indication that the ST:TOS Federation included anything but straight people, still, authors could have written stories that assumed a welcoming 23rd century society, and for the most part they did not. (Bear in mind that such a society was harder for authors to imagine in 1979 or 1986 or even 1992 than it is today.) But it would have been ridiculous to write Bodie and Doyle, or Starsky and Hutch, or Napoleon and Illya, or even Vinnie and Frank, as not concerned by what it would mean to be in a committed same-sex relationship. (I say "Vinnie and Frank" because Roger wouldn't care :g:) It wasn't until the X-Files that I remarked that if the thing that worries Mulder most about sleeping with Krycek is that it's gay, he seriously needs to reexamine his priorities. So slash BSOs normally had to deal with homophobic contexts, and occasionally were written in what certainly looked like homophobic ways -- and slash fans themselves, of course, sometimes faced homophobic reactions from other fans and from mundane culture. [20]

2008

I don't personally see the WNGWJLEO as necessarily homophobic or hypocritical (though I can see that there are fics/occasions when it might be), I see it more as women working their way through the issues of the time via fanfic. I don't think this is necessarily a conscious thing, but I am fascinated by the way authors write all sorts of issues into fanfic that seem to reflect various aspects of societal development - and not just women authors either. It makes total sense that WNGWJLEO should run through fanfic as a whole, and that Jane was just a part of that - it wasn't an idea original to her, it was what society was going through at the time of the writing (or what the author was going through at the time of the writing, would be more accurate - not everyone comes to things at the same time, of course, there's not really any such thing as "societal" from that pov) And the "irony" of women deciding how a man is expected to behave? Again, all a part of the figuring it out that we do out loud, amongst friends, here in fanfic world... *g* I'd be very curious to know if there are any male-dominated arenas where such things are thrashed out about female "behaviour" - I suspect not, due to the different ways men and women seem to communicate. Shame though, I bet women's equality would come on in leaps and bounds, just like gay equality has, if so... Maybe your Better Half could start one somewhere! *g* In alot of ways, internet or none, fanfic is a very private thing for alot of writers, where we do explore our own thoughts and worries in the "safer" realms of making it fiction, and I think Jane reflects that as much as any other writer in fandom - or out of it - does. She tends to "explain out loud" in her fics, which style always puts me off, and of course because we've "moved on" from having to justify men and women who're not heterosexual, so I think younger readers who are missing the societal background to WNGWJLEO have a hard time seeing it as anything other than slightly homophobic, but it's definitely got its place and value in the bigger picture of fan history! [21]

... I've been flailing around lately, talking about my personal kinks for Jack/Daniel, and that post of seperis reviewing the "waves" of fanfic made a lightbulb go on for me. It brought together a bunch of elements and parts of the lightbulb and made the electricity flow, and BOING. Light.

"First wave" slash apparently was characterized by the idea of presenting the slash pairing as straight guys who had a bond that we saw in the show/movie/book. Then the slash people wanted to push through the boundary of canon and explore the emotional, intimate, and often sexual dimensions of such an obvious bond, but without going into a lot of background that would define and/or present the two male characters as gay.

This is a big "duh" to many of you, but I am backing into all this, and it was revelation to me.

Because it explains the trope of WNGWJLEO. That "first wave" kind of slash, which you almost never see any more because societal views of homosexuality have changed in the last 40 years, can easily tip over into WNG, and also, it lends itself very well to some very interesting plots about how one guy can fall in love with the other and experience that love as the first time he ever fell for someone of the same sex, and what that does to his identity. I think I'm going to change my definitions now. I'm going to use a more limited definition of WNG, because it really is part of this broader thing that is "first wave" slash. So that helped me.

Some of these WNG plots in slash stories do have echoes of the homophobia that was pretty much inescapable in USA society until very very recently. The writers of that kind of slash probably weren't interested in grappling with society's ideas of homosexuality. They just wanted their gorgeous men to have these emotional experiences in their stories. Sometimes they overtly state in the story that they're interested in the symbolism of the sex -- not the sex itself. This always makes me scratch my head, but I understand it better now. [22]
Mind you, I find the "we're not gay, we just love each other" theme, (which runs through quite a few early slash efforts, and is not exclusive to either Pros or Jane) to be only slightly less hypocritical than the Our Characters Can Be Gay and Have Sex Provided They Behave In A Sufficiently Manly Fashion At All Other Times No Limp Wrists Or Sobbing Please theme that runs through many modern slash fandoms. I believe the Sentinel crowd even had a panel on it. [23]

2015

[While] those early I’M NOT GAY I JUST CRAVE BENTON FRASER’S PARTICULAR MANDICK stories were not great at: 2015-acceptable portrayals of gay men, though when you compare them to other concurrent portrayals of gay men they’re pretty in-line. What they were good at: soothing the soul of youthful bisexual ladies on the internet. They were SUCH A GOOD psychological mechanism for soothing the fevered brow of teenage girls like me who were simultaneously anxious about our gayness levels and anxious about our attraction to men. Ray Kowalski stares out bus windows and angsts about touching Benton Fraser on the butt and what it means for his life: a four-hundred part epic. [24]
Oddly, you didn’t get much of the aforementioned “not gay, just in love with a man” rationalisations [in the Chrono Trigger fandom] - most authors were totally down with presenting Glenn as gay. I sometimes wonder whether that had anything to do with the average age of the fandom. [25]
As everyone keeps saying, the WNGWJLEO thing was extremely prevalent. There were often several chapters of internal struggle, and/or a “coming out” chapter that included like all of the in universe characters making a big to do about how they still loved and accepted their friends. Or a huge deal was made about how their love was so magical because it was in the face of adversity, effectively fetishizing lgbt struggles and discrimination. [26]
re: the ‘wngwjleo’ - I read a bunch of the 80s The Professionals fic in the early 00s and seriously, major gap in attitudes of the writers … [27]
...here are some changes from the late 90s to today: - In slash fandom, there were a lot fewer main characters written as expressly queer. There was a lot of (in retrospect) very teeth grindingly annoying “We’re not gay we just love each other” type romances. [28]
you had guys running out to try and have sex with women and fail, or have sex with women but find it so unsatisfying, before ultimately admitting that they wanted this particular dick. also, considering the prevalence of WNGWJLEO, it was oddly mandatory to point out at great length how much each character never really loved his previous female partners. basically fandom now, at least the well-written part of it, is a million times less homophobic and biphobic and, believe it or not, misogynist. obviously there were always exceptions, especially with the really good writers, and especially as you move into the late nineties. but as a rule, so much improvement. oh, and every love confession required a full name. Firstname Middlename Lastname, I love you. where does that even come from, seriously? [29]
"considering the prevalence of WNGWJLEO, it was oddly mandatory to point out at great length how much each character never really loved his previous female partners.” This is a really important point for me because I think this trend actually significantly contributed to my internalised biphobia. Honestly, when I think back to a lot of the discourse from ten years ago, it was SO much more misogynistic. [30]
Swear to god every story [in Starsky & Hutch fandom] was a WNGWJLO fest of sexuality angst and outright hatred of Hutch’s ex-wife. [31]

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. ^ from K/S - A Personal Experience. by Della Van Hise
  2. ^ From The Terra Nostra Underground (May 1990). Another 1990 example: "[The story] suffers a bit from the "macho gay vs. limp-wristed gay" syndrome which is almost as bad as the "we're not gay, we're only queer for each other" conundrum..." -- comment in a Chalk and Cheese. Another example, this one from 1992: "Well, for the most part, I guess I fall between the 3rd and 4th waves of slash fandom. My only problem with 1st and 2nd wave is the "I'm not gay, I just love my partner" attitude." -- from Strange Bedfellows (APA)/Issue 002. Other early examples: 1994: "The WE'RE NOT GAY concept, I've heard [C's] s comments, and yours, and furthermore M. Fae Glasgow did a bloody brilliant version of the I'M NOT GAY story in "Rough Trade", where Bodie says he isn't gay, he just likes fucking men." -- from Strange Bedfellows APA #4 (February 1994). 1997: "The point is pounded into the reader with sledge-hammer force: These Men Are Not Gay, They're Just In Love. Then, as they make their way to their rose-petal strewn bed (but that's a natter for another time), they affirm their essential heterosexuality thusly: "Except for you, my heart's darling dear, I've never ever ever wanted a man."" -- from Never in their wildest dreams... by The Divine Adoratrice
  3. ^ A 2003 example: "...my recollection of the 1980s as a period when slash evolved from the ultra-straight OTP, WNGWJLEO, to writing slash as two gay (or bi) men bonking." -- Jane Carnall's Con Report, Archived version A 2004 example: "I hate the whole WNGWJLEO trope, so I love that about Miriam's Pros fic in general, this one in particular (and you should give her other ones a try, definitely, though I think this is probably the most accessible)." -- from a 2004 comment at Crack Van
  4. ^ from Nome #8 (1985)
  5. ^ from Treklink #8 (1986)
  6. ^ From Legacy, vol 1, pg 142. (2007)
  7. ^ See also Slash vs Gay Controversies.
  8. ^ 'Slash fiction and human mating psychology', Journal of Sex Research, Feb, 2004.
  9. ^ Note that the article itself contains conclusions that are not shared by some in the slash community. See a discussion about the article and related book, hosted on eruthros's dreamwidth account 31 August 2009, which discusses how straightness is merely a romantic obstacle to be overcome, and overcoming it makes the romance more potent. Another interpretation is that the story trope is a convenient way to get around apparent canonical heterosexuality. Since most shows depict heterosexual characters, a slash writer can: (1) Assume that the characters are only pretending to be heterosexual, and are concealing their homo/bisexuality. (2) Assume that the characters are being "forced" to appear heterosexual by the producer/director/writers/actors. (3) Accept that the characters are heterosexual . . . and then play the "WNGWJLEO" card. ~ comment from ' The Pitfalls of Fanfiction - WNGWJLEO', March 24, 2010.
  10. ^ Quoted in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers by Henry Jenkins, pg. 79. Originally from Homosexuality has as much to do with Slash as Civil War history did with Gone With the Wind. (September 29, 1994)
  11. ^ from "Noel's Story" by K. Brown and K. New in the zine Indigo Boys #2
  12. ^ from Decompression by Shadow
  13. ^ from Sometimes Lost is Where You Need to Be by stardust_made
  14. ^ from Not Tonight, Spock! #3 (1984)
  15. ^ from. K/S & K.S. (Kindred Spirits) #8
  16. ^ from On the Double #9 (1988)
  17. ^ from The K/S Press #9 (1997)
  18. ^ comment by Flamingo on The Pits, June 16, 2000, used on Fanlore with permission from Flamingo
  19. ^ from justacat, September 2004, posted at her online journal
  20. ^ Sexuality and slash fandom (2007 post), shoshanna
  21. ^ 2008 comments at byslantedlight’s journal; WebCite, see that page for more discussion about Jane of Australia's writing
  22. ^ from Another section of the slash puzzle
  23. ^ 2008 comments at byslantedlight’s journal; WebCite
  24. ^ ameepers, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  25. ^ prokopetz, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  26. ^ eldritchabominationcecil, January 25, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  27. ^ burntcopper, January 18, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  28. ^ actualvampireang, January 18, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  29. ^ some_stars, January 18, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  30. ^ panickyintheuk, January 26, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
  31. ^ lunaris103, January 18, 2015, see Was Fanfic Any Different in the Olden Days?
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