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Some Further Thoughts on Realism in Slash - Mo's Journal
January 29th, 2007
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Some Further Thoughts on Realism in Slash
Some of the discussions I’ve been in lately – on this journal and elsewhere – have touched in various ways on realism in slash fanfic. There’s a tension, it seems, between those in slash fandoms who want the men in the stories to sound like men in real life, and those who prefer slash stories that are less realistic. Those of us in the realism camp sometimes complain about slash that we feel feminizes one of the men in the story, or represents male/male sex as if it were just male/female sex only with two male bodies, or seems to value “romance” over credibility. A good example of an essay that cogently explains some of these concerns is at http://xtricks.livejournal.com/58571.html.

Those in the non-realistic slash camp typically respond that they aren’t interested in realism, that they write and read slash that doesn’t sound like genuine men having real life sex because they are writing sexual fantasies, and their preferred fantasy is one that objectifies men’s bodies while imposing a female construct on the sex. A well-written example of that argument is Kirby Crow’s The Slash Not Written for a Gay Audience. As she says, “In Slash fiction, female writers are generally not writing about gay men, even if they're writing about two men in bed together. They are appropriating men's bodies to explore an idealized sexual fantasy that bears little - if any - resemblance to reality or "real" gay relationships. Hence the term fiction.”

I think this essay is very clear and succinct in its arguments, and they are sentiments I see a lot. Often the argument seems to come down - in my experience – to queer vs. straight. [ETA: Just want to emphasize the "often" - this all comes down to individual taste ultimately] Lesbians and gay men seem to be often interested in slash that depicts something that relates to our real lives, and straight women are more likely to want a fantasy world populated by pseudo-men who have pseudo-sex that the women reading and writing it find arousing. They often compare it to the pseudo-lesbian porn that is produced for heterosexual men. There are some key differences (e.g. pseudo-lesbian porn is generally pictorial or videos and slash is most often words) but I think there are lots of similarities, too. And I also think consumption of that falls along sexual orientation lines – generally lesbians are too busy laughing at the improbable sex to find such porn arousing.

To a great extent, I think this is just a question of different strokes for different folks. We should all write and read the slash we’re interested in. It's a great big beautiful slashy world out there and there's room enough for people of all bents. It doesn't bother me at all when someone says "I prefer my slash to be devoid of realism."

On the other hand, I get my hackles up a bit when the anti-realism crowd starts insisting that unrealistic sex is what women want – as opposed to what the woman doing the insisting wants. The essay referenced says that the author doesn't write realistically about men having sex with each other, because she's not writing to please gay men, the suggestion being that those of us who prefer realism are just attempting to curry favor with gay men.

Some of my best friends are gay men :-) but I don’t write slash to please the male homosexual population. I do want my sex scenes to sound realistic to gay men, but that’s because I want them true-to-life. It’s not the other way around. I want the sex scenes I write to be recognizable to men who are having sex with other men in the same way that people who write police procedurals want their books to sound true-to-life to cops, people who write novels with teenagers in them want the dialogue to sound realistic to real life teens, and people who write realistic contemporary fiction with ethnic characters in it to sound true-to-life to contemporary members of those ethnic groups. It’s all part of weaving a fictional story that feels real.

Contrary to what Ms. Crow says above, not all of us want fiction to bear no resemblance to reality. For some of us, fiction that feels real, where the characters seem like you could meet them one day, is what has the most impact on us - emotionally and intellectually (and sometimes even sexually). To paraphrase Ms. Crow, “hence the term realistic fiction.”

I’m not interested – as a reader or a writer – in slash that is just the straight grrl's equivalent of pseudo-lesbian porn for straight men. I want to read something more in depth, more realistic, more true-to-life. Slash isn't a kink for me; it's not as simple as the sexual objectification of men's bodies.

I don’t want the slash I write to be only sexual objectification of men’s bodies for my readers, either. That doesn’t mean I don’t want the sex scenes to be hot. I treasure the letters that talk about the one-handedness of my sex scenes :-). I just don’t think “hot” is incompatible with “realistic”. After all, real sex is hot. If it isn’t – at least some of the time – I’m very sorry for you. So why shouldn’t realistic fictional sex be hot, at least some of the time?

I do not agree that writing sex with real world concerns (like condoms) and real world occurrences (like sex that isn’t always mind blowing or problems like broken condoms or interruptions or distractions) makes fiction less interesting or less authentically female. To paraphrase Sojourner Truth this time, I like it sounding real and Ain’t I a Woman?

I totally understand that men watching "lesbian" sex where the women have long fingernails just don't care that a lot of lesbian sex acts are painful and/or uncomfortable with long fingernails. They don't care that lesbians pretty much always have short fingernails and when one starts growing her nails her friends gossip about whether she and her lover are in the midst of LBD. If all you want is to look at two women positioned in ways that make straight men hard, well, pseudo-lesbian porn is just the thing for you.

Similarly, if all you're interested in is seeing two men together (in your mind's eye) and it doesn't matter if they seem real or in character or if the sex is even anatomically possible, there's plenty of slash out there that gives that experience. There's plenty of slash that doesn't care about context, or anatomy, and where one of the men is basically a woman with guy parts. I think that kind of fiction is appealing to some women for a variety of reasons, but it's not appealing to me.

I personally want to read something different. I want, when I'm reading X-Men (or for that matter, writing it) for absolutely everything to be real and plausible except for the superpowers. Because then I can suspend disbelief for the superpowers, too. I want characters who sound like themselves. I want to believe that these guys truly are gay, or bi- or heteroflexible :-) and that Marvel and Fox just forgot to tell us that. I want them to be credibly the X-Men characters I know and love, and to live in the not-too-distant future, and also to want m/m sex.

For me, that requires (for most of them, not Wolverine) that they would know there's an HIV epidemic out there (because I don't think it's going away that quickly) and have some concerns about that. Ms. Crow says “Few female slash fans want to explore the tragedy of disease as a form of entertainment or sexual fantasy” and a lot of folks agree with her, but I don’t think that stories that recognize the epidemic that we’re dealing with are of necessity not entertaining. Rent was pretty damn entertaining to a lot of people – enough to keep it on Broadway for years and year and to spawn a popular movie, too. Showing concern about HIV needn’t kill the entertainment value of a slash fic where it fits in anymore than showing concern over the Sith will kill the entertainment value of a Star Wars fic. There are dangers in all worlds – real and imagined. Characters having concern about danger is an integral part of fiction. If the world is ours, or one close to ours, HIV is likely one of those concerns.

That concern can play out in lots of different ways. Maybe that means practicing safer sex but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it means self-destructive barebacking with multiple partners of unknown HIV status because someone doesn't feel he's worthy of living; maybe it means becoming infected while in denial that one is gay or while forced into unprotected sex or during one lapse while drunk. Maybe it means taking some risks and worrying about infection but not becoming infected. I think it can show up lots of ways.

HIV is, of course, just one example. Anal sex that sounds like vaginal sex, complete with self-lubricating anuses and female-like orgasms is another. xtricks gives a whole bunch of further examples.

I understand these elements appeal to lots of people, and I don’t in any way want to deny them their fantasies. I don’t want to deny straight men their pseudo-lesbian porn, either. But for me, when I’m writing or reading slash, I want it as real as it can be, because I'm not in it for the hot male bodies. If that’s all you're in this for, then chances are we just aren’t going to like the same stories. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for sex that sounds both hot and real and characters whose lives have the texture of human experience even if they inhabit a fantasy world, then you and I may well share some slashy squees.

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From:artaxastra
Date:January 29th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
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I'm bi, and I like both.

That is, both stories with realistic sex and stories that are pure fantasy. Both realistic looks at realistic people struggling with the epidemic, and produced for men pseudo lesbian porn that's pretty girls with long fingernails. I like gritty heartwrenching bittersweet stories in the real world complete with prejudice and prozac. But sometimes that just starts seeming like a busman's holiday to me, and I want pretty pirates doing improbable things in a pseudo-18th century that never existed.

It's a matter of taste and mood. JMO.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2007 07:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm bi, and I like both.

Which proves my point :-). Seriously, I do think it's very individual, and should not have suggested it's divided entirely along sexual orientation lines. And in spite of liking my slash (and, in general, my fiction) to feel real, I love Disney World so I'm not all about reality. I do think there's room enough for everyone's squees. I just get all huffy when it's suggested that liking slash realistic makes me a traitor to my sex.
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From:executrix
Date:January 29th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)
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The physically impossible remains the physically impossible even in fiction! (Unless the fiction specifically creates a superpower or scientific gizmo to overcome it.)

I bet if I were a man, I wouldn't be really thrilled at the idea of a girlfriend's long, pointy talons in the vicinity of *my* Most Favored Nation either.)

You and I agree on m/m slash being about gay men (I use "gay" as an umbrella term that includes bisexuals). However, I think that men, of any orientation, have a wide range of interest in sentimentality. In fact a lot of what we think of as "romantic" behavior was dreamed up by gay men anyway, and I daresay at least some of them keep some of it for their own use.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
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In fact a lot of what we think of as "romantic" behavior was dreamed up by gay men anyway, and I daresay at least some of them keep some of it for their own use.

That's interesting. Tell me more. I do think that "romance" and "romantic" are very slippery words. I usually say I don't like romantic slash, but then I realize that what I don't like isn't necessarily what someone else would label romantic. And I was shocked at first by how many people (generally very, very young women) wrote to me after my first seres, I Know What You Are saying it was "so romantic" when I thought it was about as unromantic as it could be!
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From:libgirl
Date:January 29th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
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Now see, this is where I have problems. You've got three essays out on this topic in about a week. And, you've written about almost all my points. So, really, why bother to write up my own p.o.v. ? Well, except that I'm going to anyway-partially because I have a multi-fandom perspective. :D

Still, I agree with most of your points and I fall somewhere in the middle on this. I don't want the characters infantile or overly feminine, and if they aren't going to bother with lube or some basic preparation, it's my personal opinion that that time will be the last time for those two characters. I'm not sure their 'love' can withstand being torn to hell in back in the name of expediency. But, I find myself sometimes falling into the trap of overly romanticizing the characters and situations. It's not something I do deliberately and I do try to fix it when I think it's inappropriate, but I'm also not a skillful enough writer to do things the way I mean to.

Anyway...all I wanted to say was "Hell Yeah Sister!" ;)

~Jess
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
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LOL! And here I thought you were going to be criticizing me for repeating myself, when I really have been trying to express different aspects (albeit related).
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From:wneleh
Date:January 29th, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)
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When I think of slash (or het) as being unrealistic, it's when it features people madly in love who find total fulfillment in each other. They get together, and all their problems all solved! The end! If only the world really worked this way.

As for the sex - well, in het or slash, most fanfic sex really doesn't resemble any I've ever had, so I don't really see non-realistic slash as being more like het sex. I mean, I've never passed out from sex, yk?

- Helen
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From:talktooloose
Date:January 29th, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
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"They get together, and all their problems all solved! The end!"

In other words, a chick flick.
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From:eveningblue
Date:January 29th, 2007 09:40 pm (UTC)

Matters of Degree and Subjective Taste

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I am straight, and I like both.

Sometimes, it's a matter of what I'm in the mood for. Am I in the mood for a long, twisty, plotty bit of "realistic" slash, or am I in the mood for something short and schmoopy?

But sometimes it's a matter of degree. Really I think that the line between "realistic" and "fantasy" is very unclear, and is possibly different for different people. What one person thinks is a realistic ending, another might not believe would happen in a million years.

Also, I may want certain elements of realism in my stories, but not others. For instance, you say you want everything about your X-Men to be realistic except their superpowers. Well, I think that in a truly realistic world, Bodie and Doyle of The Professionals would be dead before they hit their 40th birthdays. However, I don't want to read stories in which either Bodie or Doyle dies! So how much "realism" do I really want in my slash?

On the other hand, I find stories in which one or both of the guys has never had sex with a man unrealistic. I don't like WNGWJLEO stories, and I don't believe bi or gay sexually active men like Bodie and Doyle would be same-sex virgins in their 30s. But many women obviously love these stories, because there are lots of them out there and they are very popular.

So I guess I also see the "realism" vs. "fantasy" debate also in terms of what exactly we want realism in and what we want fantasy in, and also as a matter of personal taste. Something I want to see realistically depicted might not be what other fans want to see. And something I don't want to see might be exactly what turns other fans on.
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From:mofic
Date:January 29th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)

Re: Matters of Degree and Subjective Taste

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So I guess I also see the "realism" vs. "fantasy" debate also in terms of what exactly we want realism in and what we want fantasy in, and also as a matter of personal taste.

Yes! And it's not just Bodie and Doyle - too many X-Men survive, as well, considering the danger they put themselves in (except in the comics, where they die and come back to life, which is not really morerealistic). And personal taste is always a big issue.

Example: I love mystery novels. I find the "amateur detective" genre not very believable when I stop to think about it. How can it be that one person stumbles over a murder mystery every time he goes to work, or grocery shopping or whatever and I've never been faced with one at all? But I'm willing to suspend disbelief for at least a few novels :-).

The fannish5 entry last week on pet peeves really revealed a lot of personal taste issues. minisinoo cares about Cedric Diggory's eye color - I couldn't care less. I care about proper train routes from Westchester to Manhattan, a subject that leaves many cold. As to unrealistic sex, everyone has stuff they can hand wave away, stuff they assume just happened while the narrator was looking the other way (I think anal sex should generally be with lube but I don't need a description of the lube being applied in every sex scene), and stuff they think is not even meant to be taken literally (someone - can't remember who - put "hot cum" on her pet peeve list, since semen is not hot, but I take it to be like "hot sex" or "hot guy" - meant metaphorically).

And quality of writing makes a difference, too. For all my insistence on realism as my big bugaboo, there are people whose fic I joyfully read even as I spot the unrealistic bits, just because they write so well.
(Deleted comment)
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From:melty_girl
Date:January 30th, 2007 06:33 am (UTC)
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I'm bi and I have to say that I really favor realism. I'm one of those who gets really annoyed and often tunes out if one or both of the men sound more like women. I'm also really annoyed when things are too mushy too often or the main characters are always virtuous and never make mistakes. I like both fantasy and non-fantasy fic universes, but unrealistic dialogue and unrealistic sex distract me.

Even though my reading habits are probably 70/30 slash/het, so far in my short porn career, I've only written het fic, and one of the main things that moved me to write the series was because the all the het RPF I was reading at one point was just so distractingly unrealistic. I was left wanting more, and I wanted the smut I was longing for to exist. So that was the challenge I took on for myself: to write a Cillian Murphy het RPF series with messiness, male insensitivity, power issues, miscommunication, realistic dialogue sans overtalking, and believable behind-the-scenes-on-set elements. And the most gratifying feedback I received was from Cillian Murphy fans who generally dislike het (but had decided to venture in anyway because it was new Cillian fic and the pool is limited), but who raved about how realistic and hot my series was. That's what made me feel like I had been able to write a male character successfully. I had satisfied a nice number of women readers, straight and queer, who generally favored realistic slash. Goal achieved -- woo hoo!
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
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Good for you! I would think that realism would be highly valued in RPF.

I like both fantasy and non-fantasy fic universes, but unrealistic dialogue and unrealistic sex distract me.

Very well said! My friend kestresparhawk tells me that, among fantasy writers, the ability to give the fantasy world a texture and consistency that feels legitimate to the reader is called "magical realism." That's what I want - magical realism. I want to believe in the fantasy universe - be it close to ours like the X-Men, a little different like HP or way out there. And dialogue or action (sexual or otherwise) that doesn't seem real distracts me and diminishes that belief.
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From:carmarthen
Date:January 30th, 2007 08:58 am (UTC)

via metafandom

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The problem I have when people start talking about "realism in slash" (or sex) is that there's a huge range, and it's even bigger when you include historical and fantasy/SF fandoms outside of our modern culture (which is mostly where I play, so safer sex is not possible, STIs are less of an issue, and no, they're really not going to start acting like stereotypical modern gay men--never mind that I've met very few gay men who were particularly stereotypical). STIs don't have to be a factor in SF/fantasy; historical STIs are rather less common (except syphilis) and there's not much characters can do to really avoid them besides be careful of who they sleep with. One gay man will not act emotionally like another, or enjoy the same type of sex. Minotaur is very pro-lube; some other gay men in fandom don't really think it's necessary.

I've had heterosexual sex, and I can read het porn and go "WTF?" even though another woman might read it and find it realistic. I'm not like other women and they are not like me. I don't think it's possible to write any sort of sexual/emotional relationship that every (or even most) person who shares a sexual orientation with the characters will find realistic. And hell, mainstream gay porn is anything but realistic, and gay men don't have a problem with it.

The primary thing for me is feeling like the characters fit with canon, or a logical development from canon. If that's right, the relationship is usually right. For sex, I ask mostly that it not be physically insane.

So--I don't think we really disagree, but I kind of want to know how we're supposed to define "realism" (particularly emotionally). I want my characters to have the texture of human experience, but a lot of people who talk about 'realism' seem to have very narrow ideas of what 'real men' or 'real women' are like (not you, necessarily; I don't know you, of course!).
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 12:08 pm (UTC)

Re: via metafandom

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I do take your point and agree that what feels real to one person won't to another. This is partly because of different ideas of what constitutes "real" human behavior and partly because different errors bother different people.

I'm certainly not arguing for the idea that all gay men (or any other demographic group) behave or think in one way. I am saying that I prefer slash - if set in our world or a world like ours - where the writer shows some understanding of the variety of experiences and behaviors gay men do exhibit. And there are many writers who not only know nothing about gay men's experience (sexually and otherwise) but don't *want* to know anything about them, because they prefer a fantasy creation to realistic sounding fiction. And I'm fine with that, for them, but I don't like the idea that preferring unrealistic fiction is something all women want, since I don't.

To take one example, coming out. Anne Northrup says that coming out stories are our primary folklore and I think that's right. There's huge variety in the coming out experience and most gay men and lesbians have heard tons of coming out stories, because there's a cultural value to sharing them. Okay, I sometimes think that it's a little weird that I can know all about someone's first time having homosex before I know how s/he takes his/her coffee, but mostly I value this custom, because it is a rich source of folkloric info. I can draw on the variety of coming out stories I've heard in writing fic. And, in fact, when my characters talk about coming out they are often pillaging real people's lives to do so.

I'm not saying at all that there's one way to talk about coming out, or just one way people experience it. In fact, I'm saying just the opposite - that there are many and it's varied. OTOH, when someone writes a slashy coming out story who's never been through it, never talked to people who've been through it, never read any of the myriad published coming out stories - it shows. And, for me, it shows in a negative way, because I'm looking for fiction informed by real life.
From:galadhir
Date:January 30th, 2007 09:55 am (UTC)
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I'm straight, and I prefer 'realistic' slash. Partly because I'm reading fanfic at all because I love the characters, and I want the characters to be recognizably themselves. If someone turns one of my 18th Century Sea-Officers into a weepy submissive mess, I will be up in arms about the characterization, rather than finding it sexy. And a slash fic set in the Age of Sail that doesn't pay some attention to Article 29 and the death penalty - and subsequent anxieties, while I can enjoy it on a superficial level isn't really real enough to engage my mind and emotions.

On the other hand the whole weepy 'feminization' thing is somewhat insulting to straight women. I mean, is this really what we're supposed to be like? I certainly can't find that attractive in a woman or a man.

I like realistic depictions of the characters and their situations because (1)I care about the characters, (2)I find men sexy, and therefore - if I'm reading about sex - I prefer my male characters to act like men, and (3) the heteronormative, rigid gender-structure thing of having the top be 'the man' and the bottom be 'the woman' is repellant in many ways.

It's insulting to gay men to be used as fetish objects, it's insulting to gay men to be portrayed as women when they aren't, and it's insulting to women to be portrayed as spineless submissive wimps just because we're the penetratees in the sex act.

On the other hand, until men give up their fake-lesbian porn, I don't think it's right to ask women to give up their fake-gay porn. I think that people's sexual fantasies rarely have a lot of bearing on what they really think about something, and how they really behave. So if some women like that stuff it is only a case of evening the balance of power between men and women to allow women to have their non-PC porn too.
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
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I'm certainly not asking anyone to give up anything, and I hope that's clear! I'm expressing a preference for realistic slash.
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From:thelana
Date:January 30th, 2007 11:54 am (UTC)

.

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Often the argument seems to come down - in my experience – to queer vs. straight.

I agree with that. No, it's not all encompassing, but often, if certain experiences, like coming out, friends dying of HIV or other things are part of your personal experience, they are just more interesting to you than they might be to people to whom these are just "stories". If it's your personal experience, then there is more emotional resonance. If it's not particularly your experience then you might soon come to the conclusion that if you have read 5 coming out stories it feels like you have read all of them. Same with "X comes out and if villified for example at his/her job". Maybe if you are a straight reader you might to some extent identify with the evil straight people, not as in agreeing with their opinion, but as in "I'm straight and I don't feel that way at all; straight people are portrayed unfairly".

I admit that my interest in a lot of gay issues are limited. Then again, I have odd taste. If I read fanfiction on a show that is about characters kicking ass, then I want the fanfiction to reflect that. If the show is about characters investigating crimes then I want the fanfiction to reflect that. To me reading a fic about a crazy space show and ending up in a story that is about coming out issues or domestic issues or abortion discussion I'd be annoyed. My personal fanfiction preference and focus is stories that fit the tone of the original source if possible. Many people don't share that preference. My take on canon is probably slightly analogous to your take on realism. I think that canon (just like realism) isn't a dirty word and having more slices of canon (or realism) can make a story a lot better [at least it makes it better to me].

But it probably is a question of interest. I for one, love crime procedurals. I could watch endless amounts of crime stories and still find them interesting from anew. Tons of people in my environment don't agree and find crime procedurals tedious. So maybe if people aren't particularly interested in gay interest stories it's less about them disliking realism, but that their focus of where they want realism is elsewhere (like getting the characters' eye color right or getting the crime procedural details right or getting the characters' mother conflict right or getting their blue color background right or getting their historical details right).

Now I'm totally with you on the issues with physically unrealistic sex. And I definitely don't get people's dislike of condoms. And realistic awkward, non-perfect sex has made for some of the cutest, heart warming and funniest stories I have read.

I do think that one additonal thing that has to be considered are "story rules" for lack of a better word. If you for example set out to write a grand sweeping love story, it might make more sense to end it with a grand sweeping love scene. Doesn't mean that it has to be an unrealistic scene, but it might mean that a non-perfect awkward scene might be out because thought it might fit realism, it might not fit the tone of the story. Same if you want to tell a story that focuses on an action plot, it might not fit to include any type of angst that might come up along the way (of course, in that situation I'd recommend just leave the sex out altogether if you don't have time to deal with the sex angst).

I have to admit that from the canon POV that I'm coming from, lack of emotional realism bugs me much more. I like slash, I want characters A/B to hook up, I want the author to take me there. At the same time, it annoys me when the author just assumes that it is a given that the characters are in love (or gay or emotionally unattached) when that's not how it is portrayed in canon. Again, I realize that many people aren't interested in/bothered by that at all, but to me just writing out or ignoring a canon love interest, canon examples of straightness or some other kind of canon major attachement bugs me much more than lack of lube or condoms. I think all of these are examples to fast forward writing. The writer has the "goal" in mind (which is usually character A on character B in a sexual way) and things that might stand in the way (like canon issues or grabbing a condom) are just ignored.
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)

Re: .

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My take on canon is probably slightly analogous to your take on realism. I think that canon (just like realism) isn't a dirty word and having more slices of canon (or realism) can make a story a lot better [at least it makes it better to me].

I think a big variable here is just what it is about the particular canon that appeals to the particular individual. For a lot of slashers, it's the characters (and even the relationship between characters) that appeal and they want to see more of that and less of what the show or movie or book is ostensibly about in their fanfic. For some, fanfic is all about what is left out of canon, and that often includes sex.

I write X-Men slash. When I started writing fanfic, my then 12-year-old son asked me if I write "action scenes." I felt like saying, "Yes, but perhaps we mean different things by 'action'." I do write combat scenes, and I think I've gotten more comfortable with writing them and hope I've gotten better at writing them over time. But they're never going to be the focus of my stories, because that's not what interests me about the X-Men.

I'm totally with you, btw, on making the relationships believable and aligned with canon. There are few characters that can't be slashed, but if the guy is shown heterosexual in canon and in love with a woman, you've got to show a process - and a believable one, one that's true to his character and to his canonical love interest's character - that gets him from there to involved with a man.
(Deleted comment)
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
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Why is it so hard for some people to accept that there are women who want realism and not fantasy?

Or even women who want realism in fantasy. Give me telepathy and telekinesis and mutant healing factor and shape-shifting and weather-controlling and optic blasts and x-ray vision and adamantium claws. Give me people using all of that in sex, even, but make them sound like real people.
(Deleted comment)
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From:etrangere
Date:January 30th, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC)
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I'm bi and I like both. Or rather, I don't recognize myself fully in either dichotomies (you didn't claim everyone fitted in either, so it's okay).

I'm taken with the urge to deconstruct what we mean by "realism". I think it can refer to many different things depending on the fandom, the story, the actions depicted, the characters, etc. There are as many things as inner coherence in the story, keeping details from canon (like characterization and elements of setting), proper speculation from elements of canon, historical and cultural research (like about different gay communities), details, flavour and atmospere(grittiness vs heroism), consistency with the ambiance of canon etc. Some of the elements can work on against the others.
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
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That's a great start for a list of kinds of realism. And I think some matter more to certain individuals than others. In some cases, as you say, one can work against the others.

Take "consistency with the ambience of canon" for example. In X-Men, I *hate* it when the people in fanfic sound like comic book characters :-) but it's certainly consistent with canon when they do. Part of why I prefer fanfic to comics is that the characters can be more fully realized and sound more like real life people and less unidimensional than comic book superheroes. OTOH, if someone writes a version of the character that doesn't incorporate his bedrock canonical characteristics (like a Cyclops who not only goes against the rules and what's expected of him but has no compunctions about doing so) it doesn't feel at all real to me.

Anyway, I think you should write an essay based on that beginning of a deconstruction. I also think it could lead to a handy checklist for writers...
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From:sushis
Date:January 30th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
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My personal feeling: I love realism in slash, except in those cases when un-realism happens to turn me on more...

WTF? Ok: examples: I don't generally like it, or find it at all hot, when two men in a slash story fall in love instantly upon having sex for the first time. It's not realistic (for straight couples either, I don't believe, but, probably *even less* common for two gay men, as it seems that men, in general, are *even less* inclined than women to draw immediate equations between love and lust), and, I don't find it hot.

OTOH: I like it when characters talk dirty to each other. How common is this between gay men? I'm kinda curious...But, if I found out that, in fact, on average, women are much more often interested in this and very few gay men indulge in the behavior, I simply *wouldn't care*, in terms of what I want to read and write about.
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
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I like it when characters talk dirty to each other. How common is this between gay men? I'm kinda curious...

The interesting thing to me about "talking dirty" is how varied in meaning it is. One person's "dirty talk" is someone else's "practical commentary" and yet someone else's "romantic pillow talk." Some people think of anything that is specifically sexual (i.e. specific to certain parts of the body or certain sex acts) as dirty talk (even saying "I want to fuck you" rather than "I want to make love to you") as dirty. Others attach it to degradation (which gets a bunch of people off). Still others attach it to slang terms for body parts (e.g. saying "cock" rather than "penis" or just not mentioning it at all :-)). Dan Savage has a funny bit about this, advising that couples - particularly heterosexual couples - really clarify what they mean when they tell their lovers they like the partner to "talk dirty." Because if you don't, he says, often what happens is she wants to hear "I want to taste your delicious juices" but instead gets "Suck my cock, whore!" :-)

I love dialogue during sex - both to read and to write. I think it should be reflective of the characters' canonical personalities, but I also think that people do say things during sex they don't say at work, or in other venues of their lives, so it's fine to show someone using terms they never used in canon.

And I think it varies by partner, too. It makes sense to me that a man in our culture will be pretty careful about how he talks about sex with a woman partner, unless he knows that she likes a more raw sexual vocabulary, because there's a cultural expectation that men and women use different vocabularies around sex. He is likely to be less careful or "refined" in his language with a male partner, in many social circles.

I also think it's situational to some extent. I have a character in one of my series who has taken to picking up men in backroom bars for blowjobs. He has this exchange with a guy he meets:

“Hi,” the guy said to him, and introduced himself. Visuals were registering a little more now. Clean, clean-cut, conservative looking. Looked like he’d be more at home in the bookstore across the street than in a backroom bar. Bookstore cruising not going well tonight, copain?

“I’m Jean-Paul.” The guy — Jean-Paul had already forgotten his name — actually reached out his hand to shake. Definitely not something that happened much in this place. “So, you want to go to the back room?” Jean-Paul asked as he took the guy’s hand.

The guy shook his head. “I’m not into back rooms, but I’d like to buy you a drink.”

“Save your money. I’m not into men who aren’t into back rooms.”

“Come on. Just one. We could talk a bit. Maybe,” he looked around, “go somewhere else if we’d like to...” His voice drifted off.

Jean-Paul smiled at him. “No thanks,” he said. “Not interested.”

“Come on,” the guy said again. “You might like me if you take a little time to get to know me.”

“I’m sure you’re a nice guy. What we have here, though, is incompatible aims. I’m not looking to get to know anyone. You’re looking for someone to talk to and get to know and maybe go somewhere and...” He deliberately didn’t finish the sentence, just as the guy hadn’t. The guy actually blushed when he did that! Jean-Paul continued. “I’m looking for someone who wants to go in the back room and suck my cock. So, why don’t you go find somebody else to get to know, hein? And I’ll stay here until someone who’s looking for what I’ve got comes along.”
::end snippet::

It wouldn't make sense for him to say "I'm looking for someone who wants to go in the back room and make love." It doesn't fit the setting. And the way the other guy doesn't want to talk directly about sex is reflective of him being out of place there.

Anyway, longwinded way of saying that "talking dirty" can mean different things to different people and get used in a lot of different ways in fiction.
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From:sushis
Date:January 30th, 2007 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Forgot to say: Here via metafandom

I think I realized what fueled my need to post, and what my main point is.

"There's plenty of slash that doesn't care about context, or anatomy, and where one of the men is basically a woman with guy parts. I think that kind of fiction is appealing to some women for a variety of reasons, but it's not appealing to me."

See, I'm not of the "realism is of primary importance" camp, but, I also am most definitely not someone who likes to see "a woman with guy parts" in my slash. I don't find "a woman with guy parts" interesting or arousing, in general, (although I think there has to be room, in slash, as in any genre, for individual characters who completely defy group norms, as long as the writer is aware that the character's traits are not the norm.) I just want to make it clear that some readers/writers may want their slash to conform to their fantasies more than insisting that it mirror reality, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their fantasies are of romantic gay chicks with penises making sweet schmoopy love.
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From:thirdblindmouse
Date:January 30th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Funny. What I prefer is neither fantasy nor realism. All I demand is that it doesn't break suspension of disbelief or consistent characterization. I've read some stories where the characters just magically happen to have friends who are supportive of their (then illegal) practices, while others in the same fandom have miles of angst and fear of discovery to really place it in context of the time -- and both types managed to keep a consistent tone and not strained my credulity too far. Each story builds a different tone, and so there are different amounts of craziness you can get away with. For example, comedic episodes of a show might have stranger things happen and less consequences occurring than do in a serious episode of that show, but it is quickly established going in what level (and kind) of realism is present, so that you can adjust your expectations to that level.

Er, looking back on what I just wrote, I'm not sure how any of this particularly applies to sex scenes as you were discussing. I tend to skim past those. Self-lubricating anuses/careful consideration of possible VDs? When I read 'em they all come to "And then they done sex, and it was happy," or "And then they done sex, and it was angsty." We all find ways to get the slash we like, as we like it.
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From:mofic
Date:January 30th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
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What I prefer is neither fantasy nor realism. All I demand is that it doesn't break suspension of disbelief or consistent characterization.

I think that relates a bit to etrangere's point above that there are different kinds of realism, and that different ones are important to different people. What breaks suspension of disbelief for me is going to be different from what does for you. My usual example is that in any real :-) sense, a guy who can kill people with his eyes is a lot less realistic than a sexually active MSM not thinking at all about HIV in early 21st Century North America, but I'll gladly go along with the ride for the former and not for the latter. It's quite individual. OTOH, within a given fandom, you're only going to have people who accept certain kinds of unrealistic elements (e.g. if someone is going to say "Gawd that whole mutant powers thing is so bogus I can't bear to read it" she's not going to be in X-Men fandom), so where people differ will be in some of the other issues.

Each story builds a different tone, and so there are different amounts of craziness you can get away with. For example, comedic episodes of a show might have stranger things happen and less consequences occurring than do in a serious episode of that show, but it is quickly established going in what level (and kind) of realism is present, so that you can adjust your expectations to that level.

And then there's always the "And the whole past year was a dream" gambit, which some can take and others can't.
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From:were_lemur
Date:January 31st, 2007 06:31 am (UTC)
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I agree -- mostly. That is, I agree that realism is important, but for fanfic, my definition of "realism" includes being realistic to the source material.

Right now, I'm doing most of my writing in the James Bond universe -- it's a universe where criminal masterminds and mad scientists try and blow up the world with regularily, only to be foiled by a spy with cool gadgets. Not the most realistic 'verse in the world; one could even make an argument that the AIDS epidemic never reached the same proportions in the Bondverse as it did in the real world. (James made a joke about 'safe sex' in Goldeneye, but he's still as promiscuous as ever.)

But a big part of "canonical realism" -- maybe even the big part -- is keeping everyone in character. James Bond isn't going to turn into an angsty uber-woman just because he's let his best friend and partner fuck him -- and neither is he going to suddenly quit sleeping with women or start (actively) supporting gay rights.

And why should he? He's still getting as many women as ever, and his thing with Alec is just sex. He's certainly not gay ... and he's certainly not in love with Alec. Of course, we-the-readers all know better, but having him get in touch with his emotions -- or worse, discussing them with Alec -- would be completely OOC.
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From:mofic
Date:January 31st, 2007 11:29 am (UTC)
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Your fiction sounds interesting! I've never seen James Bond fanfic. Anyway, I think there are a number of different aspects of realism, as etrangere comments elsewhere in this entry, and being true to canon is an important one for many people, both in terms of being true to the canon universe (criminal masterminds, mad scientists, spies with gadgets) and true to the characters.
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