Hi, readers! This is a very old post! In the interests of openness and transparency, the editorial staff at LGG&F have decided to leave it up. However, our views on this topic have evolved and become more nuanced over the years. For a more layered approach to this issue, we suggest these posts:
Sexualized Saturdays: Is Slash Fanfiction Degrading And/Or Homophobic?
Sexualized Saturdays: Queer Representation or Ship Representation?
Sexualized Saturdays: A Genderqueer Take on Slash Fanfiction
Sexualized Saturdays: Femslash and Fandom
Sexualized Saturdays: On Sterek, Shipping, and Selfishness
Why Is There So Much Slash Fic: Some Analysis of the AO3 Census
You are displaying the former if you hate the latter.
Allow me to explain.
The reason I’m writing this is because I know many people who are staunch supporters of gay rights but are downright disgusted by the idea of slash. When I mentioned fanfiction to a new college friend a few years ago, she told me an anecdote about a friend of hers who was a Remus/Sirius shipper. But she phrased it in a way that made it clear that she thought that was weird and gross and just beyond the pale. In another instance we were talking about our shared love of Hikaru no Go and I had joked about Touya and Hikaru’s epic love (holla, Hikago!), and she responded “You don’t have to make it gay, I was just saying.”
I continue to be very close friends with this girl, but it took me far longer to come out to her as bi than it otherwise would have because these instances and others made me worry that she would come to dislike me or be suspicious of me or display any number of other gay panic-related reactions when she found out she was friends with a real-live queer person.
These little outbursts of hate toward the idea of queering characters not portrayed as such in their original work are easily comparable to, for example, getting angry at a fanartist for portraying a humanized version of Twilight Sparkle as black.
Oh, but she sounds white to you? Well, maybe Dean Winchester seems bi, or Sherlock seems asexual, or Lelouch seems gay to me. Why do you have a problem with that? Oh, it is certainly noble to champion the cause of gay rights as a lofty ideal, but when people you know or characters you care about suddenly shift your paradigm and become queer themselves, and you get uncomfortable, that’s a leetle bit of homophobia rearing its head. If you assume that every character whose sexuality is not explicitly stated in a show or book or movie is straight, you are succumbing to the heteronormative fallacy of ‘straight til proven queer’, a frustrating and frankly illogical trope.
Part of this is rooted in persistent and terrible stereotypes. If, when you think ‘gay’, you think ‘faaaabulous’, you’d never imagine Dean Winchester getting into a relationship with a guy. If when you think bi, you think ‘slut’, you never would imagine someone like Durarara‘s Mikado as bi. If you think ‘butch’ when you hear ‘lesbian’, you’d never in a million years think of, say, Luna Lovegood as a lesbian.In fact, these conceptions would be unnatural to you because they don’t fit into your nice little easily identifiable boxes.
But part of the magic of slash fanfiction is that it does escape these stereotypical boxes. It says “yes, some gay people are faaaabulous and fashion-inclined, but my Albus Severus Potter is gay and he is a bookish quiet Slytherin in love with Ravenclaw Quidditch star Scorpius Malfoy.” It helps break the mold that gay people (or any flavor of queer people) are one-size-fits-all feather-boa’d cutouts and helps perpetuate the notion that wizarding heroes and villains, vampires and vampire hunters, famous detectives (consulting or otherwise), gang leaders, bandits, and doctors (or Doctors) can be queer and still be badasses or hardasses and evil or good or neutral (or lawful or chaotic).
Many of the readers and writers of slash fanfic certainly get their sexual jollies out of reading and writing it. As a reader and writer of slash myself, I do not deny this. Some people read slash because the idea of two guys getting it on is hot to them, and leave it at that. But there is so much more to slash than just ‘gay porn’. Saying all slash fanfic is gay porn is like saying all movies are porn—sexual encounters may make up a significant and vocal minority of plotlines, but there also exists a wealth of stories that circle around adventure, drama, comedy, romance, and angst for which teh sexxors is only an optional plot device. So assuming that all slash fanfic is porn is like saying all gay people are promiscuous—it’s heterosexist and false.
Likewise, reacting in disgust to the idea that someone has envisioned a world where ‘straight till proven queer’ is not the guiding light is being homophobic. If you don’t like slash, don’t read it. I’m not going to hold anyone at gunpoint and make them read Love Under Will (especially because of that horrible cliffhanger ending that was never, NEVER RESOLVED AJA).
Here’s what you should do: live and let live. Accept the fact that some people like reading slash and go on with your life. Slash will not turn you gay or hit on you. Reading a story with gay people in it will not magically tattoo a ‘sexual deviant’ alert on your forehead, and neither will knowing someone who reads it.
And then here’s the next step: realize that slash is not a genre in and of itself that you can avoid the way I avoid dry political biographies or asparagus, but is in part an attempt at transforming the literature we have into a literature that is inclusive of non-heteronormative characters. And it’s, dare I say, a work-in-progress. (A WIP if you will, and don’t we all hate those.) People still warn for slash in summaries (aka, warning: GAYS!); and, hell, it’s still seen by most of the internet as the straight-white-upper-middle-class-woman’s porn; but in reality, slash is just a regular fan story where the main characters happen to be queer.
Morgan Freeman once said that he hated the idea of Black History Month, because it continues to separate black history from the mainstream of all history. Like, we only have to focus on black history for one month, then back to ‘regular’ (read: white) history for the other eleven. Calling slash its own genre is a similar fallacy. Beneath the umbrella of ‘slash’ we have adventure epics, tragic romances, political thrillers, exciting mysteries, and, yes, steamy encounters. And those are the genres by which we should define stories, fan-written or otherwise. “Queer” is not a genre. And continuing to frame it as such continues to make queer stories about mysterious others rather than about people just like you.