Clark & Lex
The college years are a time of sexual exploration and experimentation for almost everyone. Like many other girls, I had my Katy Perry moments. But what I didn’t expect was to get sucked into slash—a subculture built around fantasizing about sexual relationships between fictional male characters.
To put it simply: I wrote a bunch of homoerotic fanfiction on the Internet and I liked it.
As you might imagine, I didn’t stumble into the slash subculture during a game of Circle of Death at a party. Instead, a late night search engine jam session ended with me clicking on the most enticing kind of link: “Don’t Read This!”
“This” was a piece of erotic fanfiction.
(Need me to back up? Fanfiction—or fanfic, for short—is non-canon literary work based on existing stories and characters. Try searching on Google for “NC-17 Wolverine Slash.”)
At the time, I knew what fanfiction was. I hadn’t written any, but I’d read some a few years before. The concept of enjoying the epitome of nerdiness made me a little uncomfortable—but didn’t stop me from reading.
As I scanned through the story I’d stumbled upon, I flushed.
“Lex Luthor,” Clark choked, his voice accusing and unsteady. He remained still while Lex’s hands ran down his back, cupped his ass. Here, as Clark Kent, he had no means of fighting the man’s advances. And worse, he didn’t want to.
I glanced over at my sleeping boyfriend, turned the computer screen away from him, and loosened my pants.
That night, a slasher was born.
Kirk & Spock
Looking back, I’ve realized that my fateful discovery acted as a catalyst awakening a kink I’d had all along. I consider the obsessions I’ve had in the past, and it all makes sense. Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp? I’d felt hot and bothered—and confused—every time I’d watched Tombstone. My fascination with all those angry students in Les Miserables? Oh, right. Orgy, please!
Over the next few years, I became consumed with learning more. I discovered that slash originated in the 1970s, when female fans of Star Trek began writing and sharing stories about Spock and Captain Kirk in sexual and romantic relationships. This was way before the Internet—so fans had to work harder, distributing underground ’zines and organizing meetings. The term slash cropped up in reference to the punctuation used to denote a pairing of two (or more) men involved in a fictional relationship. (Such as Kirk/Spock)
Independently, a hemisphere away, women in Japan were creating underground comics featuring graphic gay sex. This genre, referred to as yaoi, evolved into a parallel subculture that continues to thrive here in the United States. While there are many differences between slash and yaoi, the basic foundation is the same. Non-canon homoerotic fiction and art created by women for women.
Once I figured out the basics, my “research” consisted of spending a lot of time reading slash fanfiction on various websites. I learned that every new television series, book, and film gives slashers to new men to rub together. Classics like the Batman franchise and Star Trek will always have their following, while fads like television’s Smallville and Stargate SG1 will come and go. Over the past decade, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars prequel trilogy were especially popular with slashers.
(You have to admit that Sam and Frodo were pretty gay for each other—especially as interpreted by Peter Jackson.)
Not every slash fandom is robust; in fact the popular Yuletide Treasure fiction exchange only allows authors to write for obscure fandoms. Out of the 7,488 stories submitted in 2008, well over half were slash stories. (When they mean obscure, they mean obscure. We’re talking Dead Poets Society, Northern Exposure—and yes, someone wrote about Jon Stewart banging Stephen Colbert. (That gets a tip of the hat from me.)
Once slash became second nature to me, I started seeing homoerotic undertones all over the place. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson’s characters in Shanghai Noon? You can’t tell me things didn’t get out of hand with the drinking and the bathing and the nudity. Spike and Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Clearly doing it on the side. In fact, it’s safe to say that anything Joss Whedon has done is slashable. (Hopefully with the exception of Toy Story.)
It got so bad that my husband started identifying slash potential as quickly as I did. He’d glance aside at me in the movie theater just shaking his head with resigned disapproval.
Inspired by all the potential for eroticism, I began to participate, publishing my own fanfiction online under a pseudonym. Like many works of slash fiction, my stories were known for being hardcore. (The partner-swapping residents on Grey’s Anatomy are just asking for it.)
With his back against the lockers and his slacks pooled all around one ankle, Derek Shepherd growled softly. Mark Sloan wrapped his fingers around base of Derek’s cock and pulled, slowly spreading the lube across his tight skin. “Addison showed me just how you like it,” Mark smirked.
Wolverine & Sabretooth
But what did I know about being a man—or more specifically, about being a man having sex with other men? Nothing. (Though to be fair, I’d had enough experience with anal sex to get the mechanics of it down properly—unlike many slash authors who are infamous for writing sex that defied all laws of physics and biology.) Despite lacking the crucial tackle, I wrote hundreds of pages of hardcore gay erotica.
And I was by no means the only woman doing it.
Perhaps the most fascinating element of the slash subculture is the fact that—with a few exceptions—women are the driving force. Slash is not gay porn. It is not, by definition, written for gay men to appreciate. Instead, slash fiction is most often a romanticized and unrealistic depiction gay relationships and sex.
Sometimes the lack of realism is due to lack of experience and writing talent, but often it’s a conscious effort to indulge in fantasy. If that sounds odd, consider that mainstream romance novels don’t depict realistic straight sex or relationships either. And while romance and “fluff” are often at the core of slash fiction, themes like action, adventure, BDSM and even rape are also frequently depicted. (And not with the sensitivity you might imagine.)
Slash isn’t a cohesive genre. I’ve written slash fiction with wall-to-wall sex. (Wolverine and Sabretooth having a nice hate-fuck.) And slash fiction that involved nothing but sexual tension. (The guys from Master and Commander swimming in the nude.)
The mechanics and history are fairly cut and dry. But why are women writing and reading slash?
Jesse Saxon, an artist and writer who has been participating in slash fandom for over ten years explains her preference. “Perhaps it's because I identify as queer myself, but I’ve always understood sexuality to be more flexible than the mainstream seems to think. Did the author intend character A to be gay? Maybe not. Does that stop me from enjoying the thought, or from looking for subtext that might speak of a homosocial or homosexual relationship? Very rarely.”
And me? I can’t explain exactly why I am viscerally attracted to slash fiction and slashing male characters that appeal to me. I do know that slash fiction fills a void and counteracts the lack of exciting romance and sexual energy in mainstream media and pop culture. Oftentimes the dynamic between men and women as represented by entertainment media leaves me cold and unsatisfied—or worse, pissed off.
When I elaborate on subtext or create my own reality, I’m taking control. Whether I find it more exciting or less threatening, I can’t say—I just enjoy the dynamic between two men. (In my pants.) When I say that I’m a slasher, I’m rejecting mainstream romance in favor of what resonates with me.
Why write about established fictional characters instead of writing original fiction and erotica? Your answer is right there. The background, characters, and plots already exist. The passion of being a “fan” (much like having a crush) already exists. Existing characters provide a playground for authors and artists to create new dynamics without getting lost in character and world building.
And let’s face it: a writer is far more likely to find readers and a community when she’s writing about Star Trek than her own original characters. (J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film has already launched a slash frenzy thanks to younger, hotter actors that don’t star in Priceline.com commercials.) Though slash writers and artists don’t make money off their work, exposure can be an important factor. Satisfaction is derived through a sense of community and shared experience.
How popular is slash fiction? Tens of thousands of women, many of them young, actively engage in reading, writing, and critiquing fiction about characters who are anything but gay in canon storylines. If you doubt me on those numbers, check the attendance of slash and yaoi panels at popular fan conventions. Take a look at the thousands of websites, directories, and blogs devoted to sharing, discussing, and publishing slash fiction.
I am a slasher. I share my kink with women of all ages, women who aren’t afraid to prefer Batman and Robin over Batman and Catwoman. We argue over evidence of slash, we argue over the best pairings, we argue over the best euphemisms for penis. (Cock, if you’re asking me.)
Sometimes we come out of the woodwork. A recent episode of Supernatural featured playful acknowledgment of its thriving slash fan base. Some argued that the fake gay priest trailer at the beginning of Tropic Thunder was a nod toward slashers. Harry Potter slash fans, one of the largest groups online, got press last year over copyright and obscenity clashes with various web hosts and author JK Rowling. Anne Rice and Anne McCaffrey have both publicly denounced slash works based on their novels—despite having paved the way for mainstream fiction to include bisexual characters. (They both get a wag of the finger.)
Most slash writers operate under pennames and online handles, indulging in the freedom of virtual anonymity. The girl you sit next to at the movie theater or your female coworker who loves to chat about the latest (terrible) episode of Heroes could very well have a secret identity. We’re in your fandom, slashing your dudes.
artwork by P.L. Nunn. You can view more of her work by visiting her site, Bishonen Works Virtual Art Gallery.