Sexualized Saturdays: Is Slash Fanfiction Degrading and/or Homophobic?

tumblr_leo5unpjjl1qzb8r6o1_500I have always felt that one of the biggest arguments against slash fanfiction is that it often takes gay romances and makes them heteronormative. In doing so, fanfic can become both degrading and homophobic.

There are a lot of issues to unpack here and for that reason this might end up being a topic I go back to again. Furthermore, this problem is tied to other issues I won’t touch on too much in this post because either I or one of the other authors have already addressed them in a different one.

So let’s attempt to deal with this complex issue by first explaining what heteronormative means. To put it simply, this term shows how people attempt to make heterosexuality the norm. In this context, it would mean having a gay couple act straight or reflect heterosexuality in some way. This is what’s happening when someone asks two gay men in a relationship who is the “woman” in the relationship. It assumes heterosexual gender norms on a gay couple (it’s also often sexist but I won’t discuss that here).

This is offensive for several reasons. One reason is that it erases any experience or identity of homosexuality by asserting that homosexuality must have male and female gender roles to be valid—basically claiming that homosexuality is really just heterosexuality with same sex partners. Secondly, it is offensive to the individuals in that relationship by potentially casting them in roles that they don’t feel comfortable with; for example, a woman who identifies strongly as female and prefers feminine gender roles might be told she is the “butch one” in the relationship. With gay couples, one of the two partners almost always has their gender identity taken from them, whether by casting one half of a gay couple in a female role or one half of a lesbian couple in a male role.

Another way something can become heteronormative is when, despite the source material depicting gay characters in a sexual relationship, it is written primarily with straight viewers in mind. This issue has been thoroughly discussed when it comes to the issue of lesbian porn. Lesbian porn is almost never made with lesbian audiences in mind. Rather, it is made for and marketed toward straight men. This reduces lesbianism from a legitimate sexuality to a fetish. By fetishizing lesbianism, the porn industry is basically saying that lesbians only exist for straight male pleasure.

Slash fanfiction is, similarly, often accused both of casting gay couples in straight roles and of fetishizing homosexuality.

For the rest of this post, I will largely focus on the idea that slash fanfiction is fetishizing gay relationships. I should also state that I will be focusing largely on slash fanfiction and not femslash partly because there is more slash fanfiction, but mostly because it is largely believed that most fanfiction is written by straight women for other straight women.

KirkSpockDeMoMarriedLifeLet’s briefly address the first issues of making gay relationships heterosexual. I have briefly touched on this before, but that post mostly dealt with sex, which plays into fetishization, which I will get into in a second. So for now I am not going to mention sex at all. Rather, I will look at how relationships are portrayed in slash fanfiction. Many times when a pairing is collectively conceived by a fandom, there is often a debate over who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship. This plays out in a real way when fans debate who’s on top and who’s on bottom in sexual intercourse, which I have talked about before. But this debate also plays out in what gender roles the characters are cast in within fanfics. Captain Kirk is a big tough manly man, right? So of course in that AU domestic fanfic Kirk will be fulfilling the male gender roles and Spock will then get to fulfill the female ones, meaning Kirk will be protective and aggressive while Spock is loving and nurturing. Often one character is considered less “manly” by fans and is then cast in the female role, because obviously there has to be one, right?

(For the record, I am aware the Kirk/Spock usually doesn’t use these clearly defined gender roles, at least from what I have seen. Which is why I used them in this example to show how weird it can be to put stereotypical male and female gender roles onto two very male characters who are gay.)

Sometimes fandom pairings come along that aren’t portrayed this way. Or there is so much debate over the power dynamics and roles in a relationship that eventually the fandom produces a well-rounded and thought-out sense of the couple without confining them to heterosexual gender roles. But often these heteronormative stereotypes are used in fanfiction.

Now we have to get into the big question: is slash fanfiction fetishizing homosexuality?

One of the reasons that fanfiction is criticized for fetishizing homosexuality is that it is mostlytumblr_ma1xgbM0qB1rwjtyto1_500 written by straight women for straight women. However, there don’t seem to be any cohesive studies done on the demographics in the fanfiction community. In my own experience, most fanfic authors appeared to be women, but not all are straight. Many authors I know or have read are a part of the LGBTQ community. One of my favorite authors is asexual but predominantly writes fanfiction about gay male couples.

Now just because these fanfics are written by women who might not be straight, it doesn’t necessarily make things better. Just because an author is a homosexual woman it doesn’t mean she’ll have insight into what it’s like being a gay man and vice versa. Furthermore, despite the sexuality of the author, they could still be writing the fanfic with the intent to appeal to a straight audience. A lesbian woman could be directing a lesbian porno but if she is telling the women to do things she knows don’t really appeal to lesbians, but do appeal to straight men, she is still contributing to the fetishization of her own sexuality.

Authors’ intentions are much harder to decipher, unless of course an author openly states they added something to get audience attention. I have had several fanfic authors tell me that they added slash ships to their stories because they knew it would get them more views. And other authors have told me that despite having many gen, het, or femslash ideas for fanfics, they didn’t feel motivated to write them because they knew their fandom wouldn’t read them unless there was a well-known slash ship in the story.

There is also just a basic understanding of sex. There is an excellent video that shows lesbian reactions to lesbian porn and the women are just disgusted by how the porn actresses have sex. I often wonder if gay men read slash fanfiction and cringe at simply how unrealistically the sex is written. Now this can happen with any sex in fanfiction, whether it’s homosexual or not. Sex in any sort of porn is unrealistic, but the sex itself in slash fanfiction can be heterosexualized. I have already discussed how this works in the case of “who tops,” but another big issues is how some authors treat a man’s anus as if it works exactly the same as a vagina except without natural lubricant.

Lovers of slash fanfiction become very defensive in the face of these critiques, especially since fanfiction is seen as giving voice to those groups that are marginalized in the main stream media. And there are some fanfic authors who do that, but there are others that definitely heterosexualize and fetishize gay men. It is better to recognize when these problems occur rather than ignore them for fear of demonizing all of fanfiction.

20 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Is Slash Fanfiction Degrading and/or Homophobic?

  1. 1. Slash fiction that falls into the category of “heteronormative” or “male and female gender roles” is only a portion of what exists, and generally speaking it’s a younger, more amateur, and less serious portion. You really don’t have to look far for egalitarian relationships and canon gender expression.

    2. Actual queers participate in the kinds of relationships you claim they don’t/shouldn’t. Many lesbians still prefer a strict butch/femme dichotomy, and many gay men like a strong top/bottom separation in their relationships. Should these relationships be decried and written off as “heteronormative”? Should participants in these relationships be labeled homophobic and, like the lesbian film director you as a non-queer merrily condemn, contributors to the fetishization of their own sexuality?

    3. There are a ton of queer people of multiple gender identities writing slash of all kinds. ( Your whole article is an erasure of our presence. I’ve seen a lot of articles like this: you claim that the community being mostly straight women writing for straight women proves that it’s fetishizing teh gays — when there is no evidence proving that it’s mostly straight women at all. In fact, you say it yourself: “it is largely believed” that most fanfic authors are straight women. Why not write an article on why, exactly, that is largely believed, instead of simply treating it like a fact and basing an entire argument around it?

    4. There’s also a reaction to the lesbian reactions to the lesbian porn that should be taken into account. ( “The gays” and “the lesbians” aren’t just monolithic entities who all enjoy the same sexual practices and watch the same porn.

    • 1. I am aware that it is not hard to find egalitarian fanfiction. I have spent much of my time reading fanfictions and even reread certain fanfics to do research for this post. The point of this post was not to condemn all fanfiction, but critique that portion of fanfiction that is heteronormative. I would however disagree that the only fanfics that are heteronormative are the ones that are younger, more amateurish, and immature. I think there are plenty of very talented authors, both fanfiction authors and even published authors, that often portray gay relationships in heteronormative ways.

      2. I in no way intend to criticize REAL queer people. There is never a question of what real queer people should or shouldn’t do. As long as everything is safe and consensual people can have whatever kind of sex or relationships they want. But just as heteronormative fanfiction is just a portion of the fanfiction that can be found, Butch/femme lesbians or gay men that prefer strict top/bottom separations are just a portion of the gay community. There are many different ways to be queer and be in queer relationships! And all of those relationships deserves to be portrayed. My biggest problems with these themes in fanfiction is that the authors at least seem to believe this is the only way that queer relationships can function or exist and that is a problem.

      That being said I do thoroughly believe that queer people have the capability of being homophobic in the same way that women can also be misogynistic. Just because an author, director, or actor is queer does not mean they are exempt from a queer critical perspective.

      Furthermore, though I haven’t mentioned it on this blog I am a female pansexual who enjoys being the submissive in my sexual relationships. I am very aware that my own lifestyle could be viewed by other people as stereotyped and heteronormative. But that does not mean criticism about these things needs to stop. I am largely drawing on feminist lesbian gender theorist Judith Butler who believes that forcing heteronormativity on gay people is one of the biggest problems affecting gender and the gay community.

      3. I think that is actually an excellent idea! I addressed these issues from the perspective that many of these authors are straight because I have read other critical articles that asked these same questions. I completely agree that there are no statistics or research that prove most authors are heterosexual women. And I definitely intend to write a post asking why so many people assume this. I think that is a great idea! I do think my critique is still valid, but I agree that I do not want to erase the presence of queer people writing and reading in the fanfiction community.

      4. As someone who enjoys lesbian porn I definitely agree that not all lesbians or gay men or queer people in general enjoy the same thing, but I wanted to emphasize the fact that much of “lesbian porn” is not made with lesbians in mind but rather with straight male audiences in mind. Though admittedly just because the porn is made and intended more so for straight men does not mean that lesbians wouldn’t enjoy it.

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  3. I find both forms of slash fiction and it’s perverse relatives disgusting. Especially when they would slash characters of the Bible. As a born again Christian that pisses me off, and when slash writers bastardize characters that are straight. In 2004 I took a critical blow to slash writers, and they still want my head for this — check out the short story The Fandom Writer and on titled Fandom Weirdness. Slash writers really hate when Christians hammer into them.

    • I actually LOVE slash fanfiction and have been know to often write and read it. But I do see some problematics elements in it. Mostly the heterosexualization of gay pairings in fanfiction. I have no problem with straight characters being written as gay in fanfics, especially since many characters sexualities aren’t specifically stated and it is wrong to assume a character is “straight” until proven “gay.” As I’m actually pansexual I love seeing gay characters in fanfiction because I never get to see them on TV. And as a Christian I find your article remarkably un-Christ like. Thank you and God Bless.

  4. Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Which Characters Would You Queer? | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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  6. “basically claiming that homosexuality is really just heterosexuality with same sex partners.”

    Because that’s exactly what it is. It’s not different. There are all sorts of different power dynamics, roles, styles of interaction, levels of involvement, trust and distrust, and every other relationship aspect in heterosexual relationships- just like there are in homosexual relationships. Homosexual relationships are exactly, completely, and fully the same as heterosexual ones, except in that they have two (or more) same-gender partners. Gay people aren’t different than straight people in any really important ways. That includes the ways in which we relate to one another.

  7. This was such an interesting read!

    As a gay guy myself, I like reading slash fanfiction because I enjoy love stories where two men are together. I basically pick a fic depending on what “mood” I’m in; either angst or fluff or sometimes hardcore smut, and I know that the sex is totally alien and would never happen irl. But isnt that the point of reading fiction? It doesn’t have to be realistic or “fair” because no one is really getting hurt.

    I’ve seen a lot of posts where people argue that slash abuses homosexual relationships, but I really am not offended at all. I feel that I’ve finally found a place where being gay is okay, and reading a great and thrilling story about two men falling in love is amazing to me.

    I agree that many of the gay relationships in slash is heterosexualized, and I wish they wouldn’t have to be. It’s a problem, but I don’t think many gay people find it offensive overall. My gay friends are usually shocked in a good way that the most common ships are m/m.

  8. Slash and FemSlash appeal to me precisely because I was under the impression they’re the fiction about same sex relationships most likely to avoid the Top/bottom butch/femme dynamic, while the stuff produced as supposedly more legit LGBT fiction tends to sadly always reinforce those notions.

    It seems the male versions of that get reinforced in mainstream fiction more often then the lesbian version. To the point were some Lesbian who are or know Butches I suspect are bothered that Butches never appear on TV except as parodic caricatures. With men it’s the opposite, the laming gay with a list or overly hyper-masculine are all see whether it’s done as a Joke or not. Just compare the representation of male and female homosexuals respectively on MTV’s faking it.

  9. As a female there is one thing that I find problematic. Slash fiction is first and foremost a vehicle for heterosexual women to express themselves sexually. It is not supposed to mimic a gay lifestyle, because straight women are writing specifically for themselves. We like the idea of two men together just as straight men like the idea of two women together. The beautiful thing about men is they keep their sexual fantasy separate from other aspects of their lives. If they are pro – gay they won’t use their sexual art as a means to make their point. As far as I know, the Japanese who are the slash pioneers, fully understand this distinction. That is why the gay community misunderstands slash fiction. I don’t blame them. Men have their own vehicles of sexual expression. Slash is all we have. And the growing trend among the younger set of slashers is to try and justify their fantasy as “a way of fighting for equality”. There are other ways to fight for equality. Sharing your fantasy with a group that is completely different from you is self damaging. Women will always stay the same. Queer as folk is proof. A completely gay oriented programme, it had far fewer slash fans than supernatural. And supernatural gives their fans nothing but innuendo. Whilst QaF gave the fans everything. Why is that? It’s because QaF catered for the gay community. It was their domain. We were mere visitors. We cared for the characters but not in the same way that the gay fans did. It’s not even about sex. Gay fiction will include sex in such way shape or form. However, I have read numerous stories where erotica took a backseat. That’s why we don’t get our fix from gay porn even though it is easy to get hold of. Slash is an intimate thing. I think we should follow the example of the Japanese. They don’t justify their proclivities and they certainly don’t hope that a pairing might be gay in real life. They separate fantasy and reality. So should we.

  10. I just simply don’t like the genre because it’s authenticity is severely impaired by the fact that the characters in their actual medium are straight. It to me sends a message that someone can just one day decide to be gay when that’s not the case at all. This in my mind perpetuates that old idea that someone can be cured of their homosexuality just in reverse. Also the characters often take on characteristics that have nothing to do with their sexuality but change it to fit their premise more. There needs to be some predisposition that they were already gay and needs be sincere. They can’t just up and change their sexuality because you want them to they need to already have that sexual identity and that’s hard to portray genuinely especially when the majority of the audience already has image of that character that’s severely colored by how the character’s seen in their medium. All in all messing with a character’s sexuality is a little disingenuous to what is actually involved in ones sexual identity, if a slash writer can manage to avoid that they deserve a gold medal. Although I must tell you I haven’t read many slash fics due to this, I always have a hard time getting into it because it never feels realistic, so my opinion is a little invalid due to my lack of complete knowledge on the subject.

  11. I’ve seen more people type out that it is good for LBGTQUAI rights or visablity.

    I’ve seen people get called homophobic when they go “stop messing with existing characters, stop making everyone gay”

    and with that, the fic writers acting like “they fixed it” and slash fic is nessesary due to the fact the creators of the work made the characters heterosexual and forgot homosexual/queer/whatever/lesbians exist.

    this is a thing nobody can win

  12. Interesting. I don’t now very much about slash, and I don’t read it. But you wrote some things gay people should consider. I guess it’s very poor try to create a relationship of any kind replying an uneven model with all sort of oppression and hierarchy. Speacially when people have space to do in different and really new ways.

    I suffer so much in my fisrt relationship, and roles with a heterosexual-basis was part of the problem.

    I’m sorry if I do any mistake. I don’t have a very good english.

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  14. My main issue with slash is a lot of the non-monosexual erasure that goes on. It bugs me when male characters shown to have real and meaningful relationships with woman refer to themselves in the story or are referred to as gay instead of bi/pan etc. As a bisexual woman who is already tired of the lack of representation in the media, it’s discouraging to see a group of people who are meant to be accepting sticking to the traditional “gay or straight” idea of the spectrum of sexualities.
    Just my two cents.

  15. I think that the reason male slash is so popular is because of this: it involves men and their sexuality and a lot of women are raised to believe that male sexuality is more important than female sexuality. This is probably one of the reasons why there is more slash involving men and not as many involving women.

  16. I like slash fiction because the relationships tend to speak to me more than the usual depictions of m/f relationships. I’m a mostly straight woman who is not very feminine, and I grew up reading things like Rosemary Sutcliff’s YA historicals, full of comrades-in-arms and so forth. I tended to identify with the male protags in these stories. On rare occasions I can find a het pairing that floats my boat that way, but it’s far easier to find stories about best buds where I can identify with one (and sometimes both) of them. And by the time I was well into my teens, my own headcanons about these guys were turning into romances.

    So in my case, I have very little interest in having my slash pairings model het romance behavior,

    Note that I have found het and f/f pairings in fiction that scratch that it as well: Bel and Rowan in Rosemary Kierstein’s “Steerswoman” series, for example, and Pyanfar Chanur and Khym Mahn in C.J. Cherryh’s “Chanur” series. So I think I’m being honest about my own feelings here: it’s the type of relationship that matters to me more than the genders of the participants, and that type of relationship, at least in fiction, is more likely to be depicted between a pair of male friends.

  17. I’ve noticed this very recently in the fandom of a certain Disney movie, a children’s movie that I have been a fan of for nearly my entire life. This movie was recently remade, and a minor character was confirmed gay. This formerly minor character has become THE most popular and most written-about character in the movie’s archive on AO3! Before the remake, he was a minor minion and barely noticed. Now, he’s become the poster boy for some very disturbing and fetishizing slash fiction, due to his being gay and being attracted to a very macho, conventionally attractive, bad-boy villain.
    I think the reason behind it is that female readers vicariously put themselves in the role of the villain’s gay friend, because they are so attracted to the nasty villain and want to see him ‘soften.’ Popular fics have the villain being out of character, all loving and cuddly with his canon gay buddy. But on the other hand, some have him being horribly abusive to him, sadomasochistic, almost like ’50 Shades.’ Either one extreme or the other, and it’s hard to understand. I can understand the first, but not the second.

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