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Why I Like Slash - Mo's Journal
June 15th, 2005
09:25 pm

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Why I Like Slash
This is adapted and expanded from a comment in faramir_boromir's journal. I was inspired to put it here by the recent discussions on genre in a few places, and by marag's post on why she likes het and gen, which you can find here

* I like slash because it's something I can't get from the source text. Much of popular media depicts m/m relationships 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.

* I like slash because before I ever heard of it I sometimes saw what seemed to be sexual desire or connection between male characters in the media. I saw it in Butch Cassidy and other buddy movies (and vividly remember Paul Newman being interviewed and surprising the interviewer by acknowledging that yes, there was a sexual chemistry between him and Robert Redford in the movie). I saw it in Star Wars, Episode I and I had not heard of slash when that film came out. I also didn't know (since I didn't read secondary canon, where it is explained) that when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon look at each other intently and then spring into action they are supposed to be communicating over a limited telepathic link that binds master to apprentice, called the Training Bond. Well, where I come from when two guys look at each other like that they're not planning a battle. I was happy to find Qui/Obi slash and the Master-Apprentice list because it reflected what I saw in the film, even if George didn't choose to put it there.

* I like slash because queer content gets excised from so much of what we view and read and I like the fact that somebody is putting it (back) in, even if it's not going in in the same places it was taken out of :-).

* I like writing and reading slash because I like exploring the power dynamics in same sex relationships (both in fiction and irl). 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. OTOH I think there's 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. I think 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.

* I like to write slash because it's hard to do well. This is one I never seem to see on anyone's lists, but it's a major reason for me. I think it's a real challenge as a woman to write from a male POV (particularly to write sex from a male POV) and a real challenge to take a character who appears to be heterosexual in canon and make him credibly gay and credibly himself. I love reading slash that does that, too.

* I write slash because I do think the best characters in my main fandom (X-Men) are male. I wasn't struck, at first, by the female characters. I've really come to like Jean, though, over time and do write her as a strong character. I've also introduced female OCs. I can't see writing and not writing about women, but my favorite X-Men are almost all men.

* I write slash because I want to write about being gay and about coming out while writing about the X-Men. What attracted me to X-Men in the first place was, in large part, the queer subtext. I like how the mutants can stand for gay men and lesbians in our society. I've liked the source text most when it has played with that issue. By writing about a gay and deeply closeted Cyclops, I can deal with issues surrounding coming out and internalized homophobia more directly.

* I was motivated to write in part by a feeling that a lot of the writers who wrote X-Men slash - even those who wrote well - just did not have a sense of what it really means to be gay in North American culture. I wanted to write about what it would be like for a guy who's very concerned with following rules and fitting in and who already has one conspicuous difference (those damn glasses) to have another difference, one that people won't know unless he discloses it.

* I write slash because I believe in Write What You Know. I've been actively involved in gay community all my adult life. I've heard lots of details about lots of gay men's sex lives. I've been privy to many people's coming out processes. My main character is a deeply closeted high school English teacher as well as a superhero. I haven't known a lot of superheroes, but I've sure known my share of deeply closeted high school English teachers.

* Sort of in counterpoint to the above - I write slash because m/m sex doesn't reflect my own sexual experience. I'm essentially a very private person about my sex life. I wanted to try writing about sex and had never done so before. By writing m/m sex, it's divorced enough from my own experience that it was a more comfortable place to start, in terms of not discussing my own sexual expression and not being concerned that readers might believe the sex scenes to be reflective of my own sexual expression.

* I write slash because m/m sex and desire lends itself to exploration of some themes that interest me: safety and danger, community and isolation, being true to yourself and the costs incurred, power dynamics in relationships (as mentioned above), coming out issues. It's not the only scenario to explore any of these, but it's a very fertile one for all of them.

* I write slash because 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 I think that is easier as a reader to find fiction that depicts that POV in slash than in het (although the het stories I particularly like tend to depict friendship-based couples) and I find it more natural as a writer to express it in slash rather than in heterosexual relationships.

* 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.

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From:marag
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:55 am (UTC)
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::nods:: Mm-hmm, makes sense to me. Some of these go for me, too. I'd elaborate on which ones, but it's bed time. Perhaps when I'm awake :)
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 09:45 am (UTC)
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Hey, you started this. You think you can just go to sleep? :shakes marag:
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From:shadowscast
Date:June 16th, 2005 03:16 am (UTC)
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They're all good, but I like the last one especially!
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:June 16th, 2005 05:57 am (UTC)

Liking slash

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I'd never thought of "because it's difficult" before, and that resonates a lot for me. Not only is the m/m slash tricky, but being true to the character -- yeah. Or being deliberately FALSE to the character, and that being clear as parody -- that's hard too. Hardly anybody does it well, but I love it when it shows.
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From:marag
Date:June 16th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
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Okay, I'm not a *lot* more awake, but my eyes don't actually drift shut of their own volition...

The first couple are big ones for me. I write slash when I see possible desire between same-sex characters and I like to write it sometimes because I know we'll never see it in the source text. (With the exception of the time I wrote about Northstar falling in love with Iceman, which was based on the canon.)

Personally, I'm not all that interested in power dynamics or turning people on, but I can certainly see how that would be an appeal. I don't tend to write about a bunch of the issues you mention, although they may be why I *read* slash.

It's also not a case of write what you know (like writing het marriage fic is for me) because while I'm theoretically bi, I've only been in a relationship with men. Also, I have a number of RL friends who are lesbians, but none who are gay men.

But I most definitely enjoy the challenge of writing from a male POV and the challenge of making the characters gay while keeping them in-character. I never articulated it that way, but once you point it out, it seems obvious to me :)

I try to always write the story that the characters have to tell, no matter what it is. Sometimes it's a comedy with no romance at all, sometimes it's the story of Tim and Roy: Two Hot Superheroes in Love. (My one and only piece of NC-17 fic, I might add. It was incredibly difficult for me, but I always said that if I found a story that needed the sex scenes, I would write them. This one did and I did.)
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:53 pm (UTC)
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Personally, I'm not all that interested in power dynamics or turning people on, but I can certainly see how that would be an appeal.

Both of those were unexpected benefits of slash for me. I think I wrote slash first to see if I could do it more than anything else. I'd never written any fiction before (or had any desire to) and when I discovered fanfic and within it slash, it's what I wanted to try my hand at. Over time I've gotten hooked on it, in part because I've found lots of things I like about fanfic in general and slash in particular.

I try to always write the story that the characters have to tell, no matter what it is.

Me, too! And who knows where it all comes from? I went 45 years without ever being moved to write fiction. When my muse came to me, it was stories about mutant superheroes who have sex with each other. Go know.
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From:mofic
Date:June 17th, 2005 11:14 am (UTC)
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So I really enjoy watching how relationships unfold in your stories, because you have similar questions, but approach them from a very different angle.

I agree. I think that's a lot of what I like about your fiction, too. I said a little more about that in marag's journal, in response to a comment of yours on her post on why she likes het and gen.

Plain, simple, preditable romance tends to bore me, and that includes slash stories that are essentailly the same as het romance, just with same-sex partners.

I absolutely hate those. I think then slash really is just a kink, it's just a case of wanting to mix the genre they like (romance) with two male bodies. And that is soooooo not my interest in slash.

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From:eveningblue
Date:June 17th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)
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Very interesting post! (Found it through halegirl's post in fanthropology.) I'm going to have to try to find that Leslie Fiedler article now.

I particularly can relate to these bits:

* I like slash because it's something I can't get from the source text. Much of popular media depicts m/m relationships that have an intensity that could be interpreted as sexual but for the presumption of heterosexuality.

and

* I like slash because before I ever heard of it I sometimes saw what seemed to be sexual desire or connection between male characters in the media.

These seem to go together, along with the Paul Newman quote, in suggesting that there is a homoerotic subtext to a lot of "buddy" stories that would be text if we lived in a perfect world where such text was allowed.

The only fan community I'm really in (due mainly to time constraints; with unlimited time I'd be reading slash all day long) is Starsky & Hutch (I know, so old school and unhip), a show where I saw sexual chemistry between two men even before I understood that that was possible, when I was ten years old.

I don't really like "romance" slash either (there is an unfortunately large amount of it in S/H fiction), so I am eager to read you X-Men slash, and will do so at the first opportunity I have. I don't really know X-Men except for from the first movie (and I drooled over Hugh Jackman and all that *hair*), but that's fine. Good writing is good writing.

I hope you don't mind if I add you to my friends list, as I am always on the hunt for intelligent writing about slash.
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From:mofic
Date:June 17th, 2005 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Pleased to cyber-meet you. The Fiedler essay is one of those classics of lit crit, so it's in a lot of collections. If you have access to a large library, I'm sure you can get it, and even a small library will get you it through ILL. I don't know that it's available on the 'net, though. I just tried, and found lots of references to it, but not the essay itself.

I agree that part of the reason the "buddy" films and books seem to scream homoerotic subtext is that they weren't permitted to show homoerotic plain text. I wonder sometimes, though, if we impose eroticism on them because we have trouble conceiving of intimacy without eroticism? That's probably the one criticism of slash as a genre that resonates with me.

My first series, I Know What You Are, takes place behind the scenes during the first X-Men movie, so if you want to try my fiction, that might be a good place to start. You can find it here , with pretty pictures :-).

And I'd be honored (or honoured if you're a Brit or a Canadian) to be friended, and will reciprocate.
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From:nova_mist
Date:April 1st, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC)

Wow!

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I saw it in Butch Cassidy and other buddy movies (and vividly remember Paul Newman being interviewed and surprising the interviewer by acknowledging that yes, there was a sexual chemistry between him and Robert Redford in the movie).
Oh, my Holy God! Really?! Can I be a serious pain and ask you what interview was that? And what did he say about it - as in, a quote. This has me really exicited in a scary!slasher!fangirl kind of way, lol. I love Redford and Newman and their slashiness, so my head nearly exploded when I read your entry! XD

On a slighty more intelligent-sounding note (although my ability for coherent thought is now non-existent, lol), I applaud your whole entry! Your reasons are eloquent and well-structured, and you argue your case well. I myself have never really been able to explain my liking for slash very well, so your entry, with all its eloquence and truth, is very refreshing! Thank you!

~ Alexandra
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From:mofic
Date:April 1st, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Wow!

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I'm sorry. I don't have a citation and don't know how to find it or even if it's online! It was when the movie came out. It might have been the NY Times magazine. It was a print interview but the interviewer's surprise was evident. She had started by asking about "chemistry" between them, which is what all the reviews had said. And then sort of eased into "sexual chemistry" and seemed to be expecting a denial, and got an affirmation instead and followed up by asking was he serious. It actually wasn't clear if he was joking, but he said something like "Who wouldn't want to do it with Robert Redford?" It made a big impression on me that he could be sexually secure enough to say that, yk?

Glad you liked the post. One of the things I love about slash is that people get so many different things from it. I never tire of the "why slash" discussion - reading or writing.
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From:melty_girl
Date:May 9th, 2006 07:16 pm (UTC)
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* I write slash because I believe in Write What You Know...

* Sort of in counterpoint to the above - I write slash because m/m sex doesn't reflect my own sexual experience... I wanted to try writing about sex and had never done so before... it was a more comfortable place to start, in terms of... not being concerned that readers might believe the sex scenes to be reflective of my own sexual expression.


This is interesting to me, because Write What You Know led me in the opposite direction as a woman making my relatively recent first attempt to write about sex and about Cillian Murphy. It meant that I started with het, but it also meant that I don't have the comfortable distance provided by writing about sex it wasn't possible for me to have. So it does give me a squick to think about my RL friends reading it, because they might assume that all the sex is reflective of my own sexual expression (as you put it so articulately). OTOH, while all of it isn't reflective of my history, it is all from my brain, and that's pretty damn intimate, for Friend A or Friends V(irtual).

So much of what you've said here rings true for me, even though I haven't written any slash yet. For example, "...it's a real challenge as a woman to write from a male POV (particularly to write sex from a male POV)," really hits home with me.

And thanks for the Paul Newman anecdote. How cool is that?

Tangent: what's your Rupert Graves icon in reference to?
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From:mofic
Date:May 9th, 2006 10:52 pm (UTC)
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So much of what you've said here rings true for me, even though I haven't written any slash yet. For example, "...it's a real challenge as a woman to write from a male POV (particularly to write sex from a male POV)," really hits home with me.

I'm glad. It reminds me a little of my early days as an AIDS activist. I worked as a volunteer on the first National AIDS Hotline in the mid-1980s. We didn't know much, but we were the only game in town (well, in the country) and people called from all over to ask questions about AIDS. We had wonderful in-service training and learned more and more as there was more to know. But anyway, a whole lot of the job was telling men how to have sex. How to reduce their risk of transmission while having sex, that is, but it got fairly graphic (remember, most gay men hadn't a clue how to use a condom then).

They taught us many, many ways to talk about sex. We were taught to mirror the language of the caller, because if he's saying "fucking" and I'm saying "anal intercourse" it's pretty offputting. But it's equally offputting if I say "fucking" when he's saying "anal intercourse." So you have to learn lots of ways of talking about sex and get really comfortable with them. At first it felt very weird to tell men how to have sex, but after a year or so of doing this, it was a wonder I wasn't stopping strange men on the street to give them sex tips! A lot of that knowledge and comfort came in handy - many years later - for slash.

Tangent: what's your Rupert Graves icon in reference to?
I have a few. He's my Jean-Paul Beaubier, code name Northstar. One of them is him in superhero costume. Here's another one.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 15th, 2007 12:42 pm (UTC)

Idetrorce

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very interesting, but I don't agree with you
Idetrorce
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From:fauxcynic
Date:June 21st, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
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GREAT comments! Just led here by a discussion in another fandom about writing slash & other writing-related topics. Many great points, well considered & very well said.

"My main character is a deeply closeted high school English teacher as well as a superhero. I haven't known a lot of superheroes, but I've sure known my share of deeply closeted high school English teachers."

In other words, there's a truly universal quality to this as well! After all, haven't all of us known our share of deeply closeted high school English teachers? :D
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From:mofic
Date:June 21st, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
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Hi, thanks for dropping in. Funny to see a comment on a post so old. Where was the discussion that led you here?
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From:pronker
Date:August 5th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Hi, here via, of all things, the [Bad username: aqua.livejournal.ru] and when I read about The Phantom Menace characters Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan giving each deep looks that were later expounded upon as being part of their Master/Apprentice bond, I had to agree that it was confusing. Watching the movie, though, I knew they were communing, I guess because I'd been watching/reading SF since childhood. But onward. I enjoyed the comments on this post and want to support the Master/Apprentice archive, still going along after all this time. LJ also has some remarkable Qui/Obi writers on its quiobisupport comm. Happy writing!
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From:pronker
Date:August 5th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
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Huh. Shall try again: Aqua is at the bottom of the LJ profile screen, where it says "Laboratory." It's a live feed of journal entries, quite interesting. Watch out for the large fast swimming font-fish, as their salacious entry headers are indeed what they say they are, and contain graphic sex photos.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 21st, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC)

Hello

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I'm new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.
From:jessica_freely
Date:April 19th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
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Great post. Am linking to this, if that's okay.
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From:mofic
Date:April 19th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
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Glad you liked it. Please do link.
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