Mo (mofic) wrote,

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

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.
Tags: meta, slash theory

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