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Confessions of a Lesbian Feminist Slasher - Mo's Journal
January 5th, 2008
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Confessions of a Lesbian Feminist Slasher
This is an essay I wrote for Off Our Backs, the feminist newsjournal. It's in the current special issue on Feminism and Culture, on page 51, and featured on the cover, too (yay!)

I'm considerably more excited than this warrants :-). I imagine only a handful of people read OOB but it was the first feminist periodical I ever read, or heard of, and it has a special place in my heart.

The material is basically the kind of meta I often write in this journal, but with a little Fanfic and Slash 101 thrown in, since the readership would likely not know what I'm talking about otherwise. The essay itself is behind the cut.



Confessions of a Lesbian Feminist Slasher
By Dale Rosenberg

Yeah, that’s me. I’m a lesbian feminist, a mother, a long-time, sometime queer activist and AIDS activist. And I’m a slasher – someone who writes slash fan fiction in my spare time.

What’s that, I hear you cry? Fan fiction is a wonderfully creative hobby engaged in by people (the vast majority are women) all over the world. We write stories using characters and situations from books, movies, television programs, or comic books. We publish them freely on the internet, with carefully worded disclaimers making clear that we know that the characters aren’t ours and we are making no money on this. We work hard at our craft, revising our stories and editing one another’s and making them every bit as good as we can.

Those of us who identify as slashers write a subset of fan fiction known as slash. It consists of stories in which male characters shown as heterosexual in the source text are depicted as having a sexual and/or romantic relationship in the story. It’s called “slash” for the / character that’s used to put the characters’ names together. The original slash fiction was fiction about Kirk and Spock from the old Star Trek television series. These stories were called “Kirk/Spock” stories or “K/S” (pronounced “kay slash ess”) and eventually all such stories were called slash.

I write slash fiction set in the world of the X-Men movies, with some comic book elements. The primary “pairing” or couple in my stories is Scott/Logan. Scott “Cyclops” Summers is the field leader of the X-Men – a paramilitary team consisting of mutant superheroes. In the movies and comics he is in love with a fellow superhero, a woman named Jean Grey. His rival for Jean’s affections in the movie is Logan, also known as Wolverine. In my stories, it’s Cyclops and Wolverine who are depicted sexually (and sometimes romantically) involved. The stories include explicit descriptions of them having sex and are read by women (and a few men) all over the world.

Why would a feminist be interested in writing stories about mutant superheroes who have sex with each other? Particularly male mutant superheroes? Lots of reasons. Although sometimes I joke that I write “mutant porn,” I really think what I write is complex, character-driven fiction. It’s sexually explicit, but so much of mainstream published fiction is, as well. And this seems to me the right vehicle to explore a lot of issues that matter to me.

Slash challenges gender assumptions and social ideas about masculinity and femininity, both in its content and in its distribution. It’s a sexually explicit form of fiction written primarily by and for women and depicting men. It’s a way for women to relate to one another sexually while objectifying the male body without objectifying actual people. No one is coerced to engage in sex acts, no pictures are taken, no real people are involved. It’s a fictional appropriation of male sexuality for women’s enjoyment, and as such it presents a feminist form of sexual material.

Slash also fills a need because it’s something we can't get from the source text, be it television, books or movies. Much of popular media depicts relationships between men that have an intensity that could be interpreted as sexual but for the presumption of heterosexuality. The presumption is such a strong one that it guides much of our interpretation, as famously expounded upon in Leslie Fiedler's essay "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" Slash takes away that presumption and allows for interesting possibilities it prevented.

In addition, slash provides an opportunity to explore the power dynamics in sexual relationships through a gender-neutral lens. I sometimes see it argued that there is an absence of power games with same sex couples, and that's why slash is appealing. I don't think that's true at all. On the other hand, I think it’s true that among same-sex couples – fictional or real - there is an absence of gender roles, an absence of gender-related power. So it's up to the two men (or two women) to work out power dynamics between themselves, without a set gender power dynamic to accept or reject.

Power is complex and multi-layered and changes over time and that's a lot of what I explore in my fiction. I don't think power dynamics in couples are at all limited to sex, but I think sex is a very good venue for exploring power. Who does what to whom and who decides that can be illuminating of power in the relationship and is something often explored in slash. I do, however, think that power sometimes gets confused with penetration in slash and they aren't the same thing.

Another reason I write slash is I like to explore how sex affects friendship and vice versa. I think opposite sex relationships can be friendship-based, but same-sex ones more often are. I have a fairly non-romantic view of sex and love and I think that slash gives an opportunity to explore relationships outside of the conventions of romance.

Slash also affords an opportunity to explore issues about being gay and coming out. What attracted me to X-Men in the first place was, in large part, the queer subtext. The mutants depicted in the X-Men comics and movies are often written in such a way that they can stand for gay men and lesbians in our society. By writing about a gay and deeply closeted Cyclops, I can deal with issues surrounding coming out and internalized homophobia more directly.

And, ultimately, I write slash because I'm a lesbian and I like turning women on. I quite like fan letters that say things like "give me more sex like that and I'm yours" even if they don't really mean it. Relating to women – intellectually and sexually – is a huge turn on. Slash is a means to that end.



There's a really nice illustration (totally unrelated to the piece :-)) and then a large font italicized thingie quoting this bit: Power is complex and multi-layered and changes over time and that's a lot of what I explore in my fiction. I don't think power dynamics in couples are at all limited to sex, but I think sex is a very good venue for exploring power.


The About Our Authors note at the back says:
Dale Rosenberg lives in New York City with her three children and works in public health. She writes fanfiction under the pseudonym “Mo.” Her stories can be found at http://mo.fandomnation.com/fic.

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Comments
 
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From:st_crispins
Date:January 5th, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC)
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I liked this ---simple and straight-forward. I'm going to bookmark it to show my non-fan friends when they ask.

Nice job.
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From:mofic
Date:January 5th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
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Glad you liked it! Thanks for reading and commenting.
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From:davidfcooper
Date:January 5th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Congrats! You're a good writer, Dale, and I'm glad to see you're getting published.
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From:mofic
Date:January 5th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, David!
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From:alchemia
Date:January 5th, 2008 11:33 pm (UTC)
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That was interesting, thank you for sharing. this community is diverse, and i like to see more pov's beyond the standard hetero/bi women oogling 2 guys.

And, ultimately, I write slash because I'm a lesbian and I like turning women on.

I never thought of that before, but it makes sense. I wonder however, how this works for lesbians in a relationship (like if a poll was done, how many would be ok with their partner doing that, how many do it together, how many would feel like its a form of cheating etc)
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From:mofic
Date:January 5th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting question! Although I am single now, I will say that in the time I've been writing slash I've mostly been coupled, with lovers who ranged from enthusiastic to indifferent.

I do think that some women (both lesbians and others) view consumption of erotic material as cheating, and I would guess the same ones would have negative feeling about production of erotic material, as well. I have a hard time relating to that idea. To me, cheating on a monogamous relationship is having sex with someone else - it's not masturbation, it's not fantasy, it's not talking about sex, it's not writing about sex, it's not reading about sex, it's not getting turned on by written material or writing material that turns people on. But maybe I'm too literal minded :-).

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From:oparu
Date:January 7th, 2008 01:00 am (UTC)
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I wonder who is left to write about women. You make excellent points about male sexuality and how it lets you relate to your straight female readership, but I can't help feeling the female characters are left to be sorely neglected simply because there aren't enough gay men in fandom to return the favor.
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From:emily_shore
Date:January 7th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)

here via Metafandom

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I was wondering about this too.

It’s a fictional appropriation of male sexuality for women’s enjoyment, and as such it presents a feminist form of sexual material.

Does that make femslash not feminist? Or at least not feminist in the same unproblematic way that guyslash is claimed to be? It is a fascinating essay, but it does make me wonder how much of it is true for slash as a generic genre (as in same-sex fanfic about either gender) and how much is true only of guyslash.
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From:originalpuck
Date:January 7th, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
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What a wonderful article -- I love OOB, so I'll be sure to squeek something fierce when I see your piece.

You present a wonderful view on slash-writing -- oftentimes I've been made to feel like I am a "bad feminist" because I'm primarily a slash writer, and so reading other peoples positive opinions about the issue makes me feel better. ^^
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From:mofic
Date:January 7th, 2008 04:27 am (UTC)
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Glad you liked it! I definitely think slash can be approached from a feminist perspective. When I saw a call for manuscripts on feminism and culture from OOB I thought I had something that might be a little bit different to talk about...
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From:litotease
Date:January 7th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
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In from metafandom.

First of all, congratulations!

It’s a way for women to relate to one another sexually while objectifying the male body without objectifying actual people.

Yes.

...there is an absence of gender roles, an absence of gender-related power.

And yes.

I like to explore how sex affects friendship and vice versa.

And yes.

*saves to bookmarks*

(I haven't seen the Leslie Fiedler essay. Do you know where it might be available?)

Thanks for sharing!
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From:mofic
Date:January 7th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
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First of all, congratulations!


Thank you! The Fiedler essay is from 1948 and the last time I looked I couldn't find a copy on the web. But I just looked again and here it is:

http://www.howardwill.com/Come%20Back%20to%20the%20Raft%20Again.htm

I'll warn you that the way he talks about both race and sexuality would not be acceptable in current society, and for good reason. But if you make allowances for the fact that this is a product of USAmerican culture in 1948, I think he really does have valid points to make.
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From:libgirl
Date:January 8th, 2008 09:08 am (UTC)
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Nice work! :D

I liked the way you prefaced slash and your involvement in it. :D

Someday I'm going to write the "Why Slash?" essay that's been percolating in my mind for, er, four years. Someday. I love this kind of meta though, thanks for sharing.
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From:mofic
Date:January 8th, 2008 12:09 pm (UTC)
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Nice work! :D

Thanks! I'd love to read your "Why Slash?" essay. It's a topic I never get tired of. So write it already :-).
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From:text_isle
Date:January 9th, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC)
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Forgive the bluntness of my question, but do m/m stories cause you to become sexually aroused?
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From:mofic
Date:January 9th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
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Yes, that is a blunt question :-). It has a fairly complicated answer. Maybe I'll do a post on it when I have the time. The short version is: sometimes, and I think I have some sense of when and how and why, but I don't understand it completely.

But if you are wondering, more generally, if lesbians can become sexually aroused by slash of the m/m variety, the answer is (judging by the ones who write to me as well as what I've read and heard elsewhere) is that many do. Many lesbians also really prefer gay male commercial porn to either m/f or f/f. Sexuality is complex and people often find arousing in fantasy things they would not in real life. Also, as one of my characters is wont to say, "Sex is sex." Sometimes it doesn't matter who it is or even what they're doing - the arousal in reading comes from tapping into what the characters are feeling.

Edited at 2008-01-09 02:22 pm (UTC)
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From:missyjack
Date:January 10th, 2008 11:06 am (UTC)
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Great to read this!

And, ultimately, I write slash because I'm a lesbian and I like turning women on.
Yes!!! so rarely talked about is the focus of our writing being each other, and not only the men we write about.
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From:mofic
Date:January 10th, 2008 11:39 am (UTC)
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Glad you liked it! I agree that in discussing slash people often leave out the readership. I'm not sure why.
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From:slashpervert
Date:January 16th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
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So I came to this journal via a Google search for the author of the article in Off Our Backs. As is no doubt obvious from my LJ name, I am also a slash writer (most of which is in the Harry Potter universe, though originally in the Star Trek one years ago).

I am only a few years younger than you and am second generation feminist, having worked alongside my mother in 70s feminism and gone on to my own work as an adult. Outside fandom, I am a moderately well known LGBT nonfiction writer (openly bi and a parent).

So I came home today to find my mother (who lives with my partners and I) all excited to show me the Off Our Backs issue with your article. My mother is a long time subscriber and sometime contributor to OOB. She knows the stuff I write, and although she doesn't read my fiction, she is proud of me. This was the first time she has ever seen any publication that she reads talk about the subject. It made quite an impression on her. So first, this is a thank you. It was nice to see the validation both for her and for me.

I enjoyed the article myself and found I agreed with much of it. I would add some things myself and it is already prompting some self-reflection of my own experiences. I know that quite a number of my readers identify as lesbian or bi women. I get fan mail from gay/bi men as well who have been amazed when I have captured their experience. I do deal a lot in my fiction with homophobia, marriage rights, parenting and other issues facing LGBT folks in our world. (In addition to issues of child abuse, violence and sexual assault.) I probably reach a larger audience with my fan fiction than with my nonfiction. (One story shows over 20,000 readers in the archive hit counters.)

One of the things that is different for me is the process. Most of my fan fiction is written as part of two different co-author teams - i.e. two women writing two men. For me, those co-author relationships are essentially non-physical but still very important relationships. (Even though we have never met in person and as one co-author IDs as bi and the other straight.) So not only do I write primarily for women and queer men, but for the co-authors who I write with. And, yes, I do get turned on as well as very intellectually and emotionally engaged.

I found the gender dynamics and power dynamics issues ones I could relate to. I actually explore class issues differences a great deal as well. I find myself also having to explain to people on a regular basis that who gets "entered" doesn't define who is in charge. I frequently challenge sexism inherent in the assumptions of readers. For example, the assumption in a male-pregnancy story (magical world after all) that the one pregnant would automatically be the less powerful of the two. Talk about loaded gender roles and sexism!

Well, I have probably already exceeded the LJ comment length or close to it. Hope you don't mind if I friend your account...




Edited at 2008-01-16 12:07 pm (UTC)
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From:mofic
Date:January 16th, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the great note. I love hearing about how other people interpret slash. I've never heard of writing fiction the way you talk about: "two women writing two men." Is it like an RPG, where you each sort of "play" one of the men?

Where is your fiction archived?

Please do friend me and I'll friend you back.
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From:whetherwoman
Date:January 26th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Just found this from metafandom, and wanted to comment on where you said "Relating to women – intellectually and sexually – is a huge turn on." That is a reason for writing/reading slash that I've never seen before, and it rings so true for me! Most of the women I've talked to in slash fandom identify as bisexual, and there's such a "come for the porn, stay for the community" mentality. Yes, two naked men are pretty, but I have favorite authors because I like them. Wow. Thanks for the epiphany. :)
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From:mofic
Date:January 26th, 2008 07:48 pm (UTC)
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Glad it resonated. I live to serve :-)

I have noticed that a lot of women in slash fandom who are living heterosexual lives (and even those who always have) do identify as bisexual. Of course being bisexual is about who you are, not what you do, and even outside of slash there are women with exclusively heterosexual experience but a bisexual identity. Yet it seems a much more common combination in fandom. I've often wondered why. I also wonder whether they so identified before they got into fandom. Any thought?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 14th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
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Hi, I just came by this article, and I don't know if you are still reading comments, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated reading this. I have been reading slash fiction for close to 4 years (mainly in the HP fandom) and though I have perceived it as a positive thing, I lately have become more uneasy with some aspects of slash. First, although so many of us in the fandom are women, the work itself sometimes seems to constitute an erasure of women characters altogether and also of female sexuality. Second, the sexual objectification of gay men by women, and often straight-identified women, seems a bit exploitative in some way I can't fully articulate. I still very much enjoy slash, but lately feel uneasy about it and that it might actually be in conflict with feminist desires to counter the invisibility of women and not be exploitative.

[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:March 14th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
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Hi, thanks for commenting. I think you raise some important issues.

I think slash covers a lot and people go into it for a variety of reasons. I do think that slash can be a little creepy in an exploitative way, when straight women fixate on homoeroticism between men for sexual purposes while not having an understanding or appreciation of the lives and the culture of real gay people. I've been disturbed by women who view slash as their "naughty secret" while they either oppose or don't vocally support equal rights for gay men and lesbians. And I do think that for some women slash is a way of erasing women, as you say. But I don't think it has to be like that and for many - I dare say most - of us, it's not.

I wrote another essay on how slash is similar to and different from pseudo-lesbian porn produced for straight men, which relates a bit to this. If you're interested, it's at http://mofic.livejournal.com/117031.html
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