Why I Write Slash (essay by Ivy Blossom)

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Title: Why I write Slash
Creator: Ivy Blossom
Date(s): August 16, 2003
Medium: Dreamwidth post
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External Links: here; link
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Why I write Slash is a 2003 essay by Ivy Blossom.

The post has 89 comments.

For additional context, see Timeline of Slash Meta and Slash Meta.

"I have been asking myself recently why I write slash, since I've been doing so for two years and I think these things need to be re-evaluated from time to time.

The easiest answer: because I found slash fanfiction first.

The answer that generally makes people stop asking: because I'm gay."

Response Post

Excerpts from the Post

There are a series of problems about writing slash fanfiction: to what degree are we fetishizing gay men by writing them into these stories in the ways that we do? Do we have some kind of responsibility to be realistic, respectful, or particularly knowledgeable about the 'gay community'? While on the surface the concept of slash fanfiction might seem pro-gay, there are disturbing aspects of these communities that are distinctly less than gay positive, but instead encourage stereotypes that cast gay men as pedophiles, sex-crazed lunatics, objects for the titillation of the straight female, or representatives of some kind of all-encompassing, transcendent and thoroughly inhuman love. Originally I started writing slash fanfiction because it felt different. It felt like something I could sink my teeth into, I liked the issues that surrounded it, the fact that it wasn't very easy and the rules were not set. A gay love story has different elements; gone is the girl/boy dynamic, making the girl vulnerable or the boy vulnerable, the girl the one with the least interest and the most power, the boy the one with the least interest and the most power, the boy emotionally stunted or the girl emotionally stunted. These all felt like other places I'd already been, they came with their baggage. To pin these clichés and stories on two boys seemed intriguing to me, fresh and new in a way, but also challenging to those clichés because it demanded that we look at them for what they are, and not just for what they represent.
The process of reading and writing slash has made me very interested masculinity, a topic I only read about briefly before in the context of comparing it with femininity for women's history classes. I think I am mostly still drawn to writing slash because of all the issues that come with the outdated but still extant masculine ideal; being gay and being a man are very nearly contradictory terms.

Traditionally speaking, a man is dominant and powerful in all realms; the head of his household, the primary wage earner, the physically stronger of the two people in his primary relationship. Men are the owners of things, even if only in a psychological sense; history shows that when a country is invaded, the first thing that happens after the invaders pull out is that the local men start raping the local women. That's true for WW2 Germany as well as in all the dramatic wars of the last decade of the 20th century. Many women still feel strange about dating a man who is shorter than they are. Men are the strong ones, emotionally distant at times, but physically more powerful. They are defenders, openers of doors, proud of their ability to drink a lot of beer. The standard idea about proper masculinity is rough-and-tumble boys-will-be-boys, an idea that has not changed significantly over the last 50 years but really should. While the feminist movement has made great strides for the way that women see themselves, there has been no corresponding movement to change the definition of masculinity. So for the moment we are stuck with this strange and damaging definition.

The gay man, on the other hand, is submissive by nature according to the same reasoning, because he allows himself to be dominated by another man. Being gay is a feminizing force, it turns a man into a not-man. Gay men are often marked by feminine characteristics and traditionally female interests; while the masculine man supports the family, the gay man must naturally exist in opposition to the family, a pedophile. Gay men are allowed to be emotional; in fact, they're expected to be, because any man who takes it up the rear from another man is basically a woman anyway. I feel pretty certain that a lot of straight male homophobia, which, as we know, is rampant, has to do with the fear of being unmade, of being unjustly dominated, of having their masculinity somehow damaged or drained away.
And so I like the idea of romances set within these kinds of pressures. The original reasons I liked the idea of writing slash remain; I like that it's outside of certain expectations and clichés, the standard man/woman dichotomy. Not because it makes it unusual or anything, just because I strangely feel more free to write characters as personalities instead of fixating on their genders. If Harry takes Ginny's hand, he does it as a boy taking the hand of a girl. If Harry takes Ron's hand, it's boy and boy and on that score we have to break it down to personality. Harry can't just be the boy in the relationship, there's no more default to rely on. I don't know if that works for anyone else, but I find it freeing as a writer not to have those boundaries there; purely psychological. Problematic? Perhaps. I should be able to write straight relationships without those boundaries weighing on me, perhaps.
Women are always expected to be loving with each other, of course. They hug and cuddle and no one bats an eyelash. They nurture, it's the feminine way. But generally this is not okay for men, particularly not for teenaged boys. And I think this is where my interest in slash really erupts; when you take conflicted young men and give them this struggle in particular, when they close the door and let go of all those ideas and agree to take give and receive warmth, desire, and tenderness from each other, that's a set of issues wherein I would like to place a story. The tension between those two things, expressing one thing while being faced with the opposite ideal, I find that very appealing in an archetypal sort of way.

Comments to the Post at the Post

[anonymous]:
A gay love story has different elements; gone is the girl/boy dynamic, making the girl vulnerable or the boy vulnerable, the girl the one with the least interest and the most power, the boy the one with the least interest and the most power, the boy emotionally stunted or the girl emotionally stunted.

Obviously you don't read much slash. Slash is all that. Except with a boy. And a girl disguised as a boy. I'm a feminist, but masculinity constructs are there for a reason. Even good slash writers often fail to offer masculine characterisation.

[snipped]] Masculine constructs are there because that's a general line that male behaviour -- straight or gay -- follows. There's behaviours that are sex-linked, aren't learned, and everyone has.

I use 'obviously' to generalise and not be specific about your stories, which I find highly misogynistic and far too often feminize the men.
[Madeline]:
I very much like your answer. I find het boring, and I think one of the reasons is because of these boundaries and stereotypes of the relationship. Of course, one reason for my love of slash (m/m, anyway) is that it's hot, but a lot has to do with the details of the relationship, and how they deal with their conflicts of beliefs and ideals, and how society might react. Not to mention their friends. Femmeslash interests, for me, are much more because of these ideas that you talked about, instead of the sexual side of the relationship. While one day I might feel particularly like reading some smutty boylove, if I want to read femmeslash, it's never for that: it's for the relationship and all that comes with it. So, I have to agree with what you've said, and I think that it is at least part of the reason why so many people like reading and writing slash. :) -Madeline
[veux]:
I have noticed that much of the het I like has something of a "slashy" feel, or was written by writers who generally write slash.
[Madeline]:
I think the only het pairing I can really bear (as in, MIGHT, just MIGHT read a story about, unless it's fabulous) is Ron/Hermione. That's probably because they're meant for each other, so why argue? The possibilities for some of the characters in HP are fabulous, and most of them happen to be slash. Besides Ron/Hermione, I don't see any really interesting het relationships. That might add to the boring-ness of it. And yes, the way that the slash is written is different. It's a lot angstier, and there's a lot of self-discovery and acceptance, which I like because it's interesting. Most het stories involve people who don't think twice about their attractions because hey, they're comfortable with the idea of being attracted to the opposite sex. But when you mix it up, and add that new level to the story, it makes it so much more interesting.
[missandrony]:
... what attracts me to slash is more the chemistry between two characters than simply pairing two boys together. For example, in HP I prefer slash to het because the het pairings are lukewarm, whereas in BtVS I don't like the slash pairings as much. (Now the femslash...)

But, digging a bit deeper, I really agree with a lot of what you've said. As women have struggled to cast a new role for themselves, a tricky new set of social, personal, and sexual boundaries emerged. Guys, on the other hand, haven't taken any efforts to change their boundaries, and fumble when they try to untangle the complex issues. New statistics emerging suggest that boys are falling behind because they've been neglected while schools favor girls. There were more girls than boys in AP Calculus and AP Physics my senior year, and boys were near nonexistent in Honors History and Honors/AP English.

That's NOT to disparage the feminist movement, because if anything I believe there's a lot of work left to be done. (Part of it requires overriding biology, which will be the most difficult challenge for the long-term) But until men begin matching the women's movement's pace, they'll lag far behind.

I think the reason slash is so appealing is because of that disparity. The homosexual lifestyle gained approval as women emerged as equals in society; if women can take up traditionally masculine qualities, why can't men (particularly gay men) do the opposite? So, like you stated so eloquently, you take a fundamentally difficult situation and explore all the elements, good and bad, that then translates into something complicated but beautiful.

And either way, a good love story, no matter the gender (or the prettiness), will always appeal to people.
[lilybbloom]:
First, I agree with almost everything you said.

Second, I get why straight females are into slash. It's a total turn on, plus all the emotional issues you mentioned.

But what about gay females? I don't get how (m/m) slash could be even remotely appealing to them, at least on a sexual level. Could I get an explanation on this from someone??
[castalie]:
This is how *I* see the thing. First, well, I understand why it can seem a little strange for a gay female to be drawn to m/m slash, and I always thought I was a little weird, until I realized I definitely wasn't the only gay female attracted to m/m slash.

The thing is, I'm not attracted to slash in a sexual way, as you can imagine, since, well men don't do it for me *g* If you hear me ramble about Daniel (Stargate) or Blair (The Sentinel) or any other male character, you'd think I'm straight because I'm always talking about how they're so beautiful, how they're just so sexy and the like. The truth is, this is like a game. Sure, I don't feel anything for them sexually, but like I always say, I'm gay not blind, and I definitely know when a man is drop dead gorgeous *g*

Then, what I like in the slash is the dynamics, it's the way the characters are portrayed differently, the different lifestyle and all the things that go with it. It's just about the emotions, the feelings, the way they follow a different dynamics than the one we're used to see. I just like the chemistry...

Sure, I find the sex hot, but just in regard to the *characters* not really for me. I don't think I'm really expressing myself correctly here, sorry.

I've never been attracted to het --no pun intended *g*, the thing just never did it for me, even before I read my first fan fic. I almost immediately got hooked on slash, and I never looked back.

I don't read femmeslash because a) you sometimes have to look forever to find a show where *two* or more interesting female characters can be slashed, and b) in a way, this is just like 'same old same old' lol

I'm in 'love' with a lot of female characters, they make me dream or drool sometimes-- hey, I'm being honest here *eg*-- but in fanfic, most of the times, they just don't really appeal to me.
[overdone]:
... do you have any idea/theory as to why there's hardly any gay male author who write femslash, while quite a number of gay women write m/m slash?
[executrix]:
One lesbian writer of m/m slash of my acquaintance says that she writes m/m slash out of the faghag part of her identity. I'm a bisexual female, and although I think of myself as a big queer, in mundane reality it's been a long time since I did anything with women except drool at 'em, so I like to give my characters experiences I don't have.

And, after all, one impulse in writing is to think about your own experiences--another impulse is to understand people who are very different from you.

And remember, a person's sexual behavior isn't necessarily the same as her/her sexual orientation, and neither of them is necessarily the same as her/his self-perceived gender, preferred gender, or gender behavior.
[gmonkey42]:
I liked that. It made a lot of sense to me. I've never written slash, nor any fanfic, except one X-Files short story that wasn't romantic at all. But the reasons you gave for writing slash are basically the same as mine for reading it. Another reason, which other people have pointed out before me, is that most fandoms offer more interesting, well-rounded male characters than female for fanfic writers to work with. That's obviously true in LotR, and to a lesser extent even in Harry Potter. Hermione is great, that goes without saying, but there isn't really anyone else (though Ginny seems to be developing more of a personality lately). So we have the choice between using the mostly boring canon female characters, writing our own female characters and risking having everyone avoid our stories like the plague because so many OFCs are Mary Sues, or focusing on the male characters. It's not a coincidence that many slash readers and writers are feminists: we like reading and writing about the male characters because we identify with them - not because they're men but because they're allowed to be whole people.
[Ivy Blossom]:
Harry Potter is one of the fandoms not blessed with too many strong female characters.

I like the 'whole people' idea. Why slash is so interesting to so many women is not something I entirely understand, though. I'd like to think it's part of a growing trend that gave us Queer as Folk and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but since this is something that's been going on since the early 80s and earlier I'm not sure it's that either.

Strange and interesting.
[coffeesama]:
I like your thoughts, and I like your level of thoughtfullness on something that at first seems a fairly simple question but certainly isn't. But, there's one thing that's nagging me after reading your entry. To me I get the vibe at times that you are saying that the feminization of gay men is a bad thing. And I agree that it is in a couple contexts, specifically when it's done in fic and it's obvious and it's basically just a het fic that happens to have the girl with a penis. The other context is in society as a whole. Actually, never mind. I think it's not neccessarily a bad thing in society. I think it's bad when people expect all gay men to be like that, and I've certainly personally had experiences where that particular form of our stereotype works in a negative way. But bizarrely, it can also be a positive. Because of the feminizing aspects of the gay male stereotype, gay men are allowed to express there more femine sides. Conformity is one of the most powerful ideas/emotions in humans, and so if you are expected to be fem because you are gay, you have no compulsion against expressing your femine side. But of course, that means that gay men feel pressure from both straight society and gay society to fit into this stereotype because people in straight society expect them to act that way because its how they've been taught gay men act and because it's easy to think of gay men as different and depending on your views lesser if they act that way and by gay society because they in a lot of ways feel that this life they're living in is liberating and not some product of a stereotype, which it is and isn't and meh. It's a way confusing subject, but an interesting one. Sorry for kinda rambling in your journal, and all the standard disclaimers apply. I speak for myself, no one else. Any generalizations I make are because I'm to lazy to properly identify who/what I'm really talking about. I could be on crack and completely wrong.
[Ivy Blossom]:
I don't like the concept of feminizing, no. Not because I think there are things men should or should not be depicted doing, but the language is clunky and I think all wrong.

One does not talk about a woman who is a CEO as being 'masculine'. Why should a man who cries at a movie theatre be considered feminine? While it seems totally fine to talk about how wonderful it is to feminize men, would you ever talk about how lovely it is that lesbians are allowed to be 'masculine'? No, of course not, that's just offensive. There's nothing masculine about it, it's all just women being women and doing the things they are perfectly allowed to do as women.

After many decades the feminist movement has allowed us to move away from the dichotomy of masculine/feminine, but it's still going strong for men. I think, rather than 'feminizing' men, we need to just open up our definition of masculinity and let men be more free with what they do without making them become less than fully male.
[idlerat]:
I get what you're saying, and I really support it. It seems like ivyblossom took exception to your use of the word "feminizing," but it also seems to me there's some slippage around that word. People do use it, all the time, to describe certain ways of representing male characters that they think of as "feminine." I suppose I agree with her that ideally we should stop labeling ways of being by gender, but I hear what you're saying: you're standing up for a range of representations against the idea that some should be automatically discarded as "feminine." Right? I agree with that.
[blackholly]:
Wow. You know, I have read some of the 70s and 90s academic writings on slash and I feel that you are touching on aspects they either passed over or missed entirely. A very interesting and thoughtful post. Not that I would expect anything else. ;)
[titanic days]:
Good job. I like that you are prepared to say that to a certain extent we are fetishising gay men - something many members of this fandom don't seem to realise: since the whole boyfriend thing, I've heard some well intentioned but very disturbing and frankly offensive comments from some members of the fandom.
[executrix]:
Actually what bothers me about slash and quasi-slash (e.g., h/c) is what I consider false consciousness. I mean, when I write a slash story, or a slash and het ensemble story, the reason the same-sex characters are having sex is that they LIKE having sex with other men/other women. Whether they've been doing it for 20 years or starting in 20 minutes. And not because of Pon Farr, or poorly-heated caves, or insufficient numbers of hotel rooms, or diplomatic missions to Athenian Planets.
[justacat]:
I've always been drawn to the idea of strong bonds between men. My fascination with the erotic aspects, with the details and descriptions of m/m sex, doesn't bother me, though it can be interesting to analyze the reasons. But the attraction goes way beyond sex for me, and it's the nonsexual aspects, the draw to men loving men, that sometimes makes me ... uneasy. I've often wondered if there's a misogynistic element to it - I am, to a certain extent, viewing m/m relationships as "truer" or more "real" and deep and valuable than m/f or f/f relationships. And I'm also idealizing them - there is certainly a fetishizing, or at least romanticizing, element. Nonetheless, that irresistable pull toward the idea (and the reality, for that matter) of men loving men, even apart from the sex (which of course has its own irresistable pull ;) - is there inside me, it's what I feel, problematic or not - and though I'm not averse to examining it, I certainly have no desire to change it!
[anonymous]:
"If Harry takes Ginny's hand, he does it as a boy taking the hand of a girl. If Harry takes Ron's hand, it's boy and boy and on that score we have to break it down to personality. Harry can't just be the boy in the relationship, there's no more default to rely on."

Bingo. That really got me. It can be so very depressing to keep reading the same gender stereotypes over and over again. In the het I've read, it seems like the personalities are lost and it just boils down to boy-girl interactions. Which makes me twitch and want to shout "Hermione has a personality, dammit!" Might just be me. On the other hand, I do believe that the slash community is massively fetishizing gay relationships. From what I've seen and read about gay male couples, it's not any easier or better than for straight or lesbian couples. But I think that's ok. I mean, I think it's ok that we think, or pretend, that it is better. If we can't (or don't want to) fantasize about true love with hot sex in a male/female relationship, what's the harm in projecting that fantasy on imaginary, beautiful gay boys? Sure, it may be unrealistic, but as I don't plan on kidnapping Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton and asking them to smooch each other, I don't think we're hurting anyone. Actually, the only harm I can think of is not to the gay community, but to women themselves. The rampant misogyny of women in slash fiction is terrifying. Female characters are cast aside, ignored, or sterotyped as whiny bitches. I worry if this is truly what women think of themselves. We're better than that, dammit! (btw, I don't mean that this happens in Ivy's fiction, which I happen to adore.)

Sorry for the long reply. You pushed my favorite buttons.
[fuschia]:
"Actually, the only harm I can think of is not to the gay community, but to women themselves. The rampant misogyny of women in slash fiction is terrifying. Female characters are cast aside, ignored, or sterotyped as whiny bitches. I worry if this is truly what women think of themselves. We're better than that, dammit! (btw, I don't mean that this happens in Ivy's fiction, which I happen to adore.)"

I agree that I cringe wherever I see this sort of misogyny in fic; at its worst, it makes me wonder if slash really *is* a means for women to overcome the boundaries and societal limitations that codify and engender male/female relationships...or just a means for women to get rid of any female competition for desired males.

Again, in the fic I've come to love (such as Ivy's), I hardly ever see this! But, taken at its worst, the misogyny can be disheartening. On the whole (though this may be colored by my choice of reading), the vilification of canon women in fandom seems to have lessened.

I do sometimes get a little worried, too, about the vitriolic attacks on original female characters/Mary Sues. Especially for younger women just starting to write, these characters can, I think, be a good way of exploring and expressing desire. I recognize the projection of the authorial self, but wonder if it always has to be viewed so negatively?
[Ivy Blossom]:
I agree that misogyny in fic is a disturbing trend, though of course (points up) I've been accused of it more than a handful of times. The first time I wrote from Ginny's point of view in a fic I got a lot of unencouraging reviews, and even my friends thought I had totally lost my mind. When I decided to write a femslash sequel to a fic I was immediately aware that interest in that was about nil, but I wanted to do it anyway, it was a story I wanted to follow. While people have issues with the way I explore issues involving women in stories, at least I DO explore those issues. And I do it with characters I have bothered to develop and ascribe a motivation to.

Again this comes back to the old question: what are we here to do? Can we just tell the stories as we want to tell? Can a newbie writer just write her Mary Sue story? Or should we just examine fanfiction as a form of historical document, what did girls think in 2003? I keep wanting to say: but it's just fanfiction, but that's not a helpful refrain, is it. Of course not.

In the end, I think it's helpful for all of us to constantly rethink our ideas about what's right and wrong, what's problematic and what's not. Things change regularly, and I find it's best not to presume you're an innocent all the time, certainly.
[tiferet]:
I have to admit I've never really thought about this...but, then, I don't just write slash. I write slash, het, femmeslash, everything, and in everything I do, original or Potterfic, there are straight people, gay people, lesbians, and bisexuals. And kinky people, too.

[snipped]

I'm interested in the power relations between people, but I find that they often don't have a lot to do with who's got the most societal power; that's a factor, but then you also have the people skills of the two, and the power of desire and pleasure. I find that the relationships that last both in RL and in my writing are the ones that find some sort of balance, even if outside observers appear to think that the power is concentrated in the hands of one party.
[sistermagpie]:
Ooh, I love it when authors take on this topic. I thought all the points you brought up here were interesting and very valid--and my favorite point was probably that there's no one reason anyone writes slash. Mind if I throw out some consclusions I've come to about myself that might relate?

On the topic of whether slash is about writing about realistic gay men, for instance, I always come down on the side of "not necessarily." I think this goes back to your point (which I agree with) of the idea of slash getting us away from gender somewhat, with Harry holding Ron's hand rather than a boy holding a girl's hand. I didn't discover slash until I was an adult but as a very small child I already tended to latch on to male/male fictional relationships and identify with or think about them moreso than traditional het romances. This was long before I was thinking about sex, of course. There was just something about male relationships and friendships that fascinated me, I guess.

So maybe there *is* a degree of "feminizing" that goes into my slash preferences. Not because I want the men to be women (and that gets into the point that I think both you and coffesama are making about being gay perhaps giving men freedom to express aspects of their personalities forbidden to men trying to seem straight) but because they exist in a combined genderered world to begin with. They no more become women because they are brought to life by my imagination than I become a man for projecting myself into them. It is different, to me, than simply writing a male character, straight or gay.
[arcly]:
As for whether slash fiction fetishises gay men: maybe some of it does, and maybe some of it is written to give the writer an erotic thrill in the same way that some straight men write about lesbians. However, the majority of the good slash I've read doesn't give me that feeling at all. I've read a lot of gay fiction written by gay men, and have enough gay male friends to have a reasonable grasp on whether the sex in a slash story is realistic or not. For me it's pretty much irrelevant whether it's written by a man or a woman if the story is good, and there are no really obvious dissonances (like, say, brilliant first-time sex with no lube). It's the romance that matters, and whether that is believable or not. And slash is primarily written by women because it's mainly women who like to write romance, of whatever persuasion. If sometimes the relationships seem 'idealised', then I'd say that's more a product of the romantic literary convention than an idealisation of gay male relationships.

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