©2017 Q* Anthology of Queer Culture

An independent student publication in the Charlottesville and U.Va. community

Slash Fiction Explained

June 23, 2017

 

 

SLASH FICTION REFERS to a subgenre of fan fiction in which two male characters are lovers. The writing is deeply rooted in post-structuralism and queer theory, restructuring and reimagining texts through a queer lens. As delineated in Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory, “Deconstruction is aimed at attacking the ideological values of hegemonic institutions by revealing the illusions being created in a text.” [1] What is considered by the hegemonic majority to be straight is appropriated and reformed to have a queer meaning.

          Slash fiction writers are mostly straight women. One might ask why straight women write from the perspective of gay men. The stereotype of a “female fan” is that of a hysterical young girl, a shrieking teenager who worships at the altar of her male idol. Many examples deal with fans of musicians, which involves men who are literally placed above their adoring fans on a stage. This relationship between fan and object of worship is largely passive on the part of the fan. The male musician is desirable but unattainable; the only way to connect to him is through the distant worship of a concert venue or through the consumption of merchandise. This image of fan culture is uncritical, as the “fangirls” are “unable to maintain critical distance from the image, they want to take it inside themselves to obtain ‘total intimacy’ with it,” as Jenkins describes in Textual Poachers. [2] This image of fan culture is the exact opposite of the participatory, analyzing culture of slash fiction writers.

          Writers simultaneously explore their sexuality and sexual desires through slash and remove themselves entirely from the text. There are no women in slash who are romantic interests, no women who can be interpreted as a stand-in for the female writer. In traditional fan culture, a woman is hypersexualized even when she is the spectator: “The female spectator herself becomes an erotic spectacle for mundane male spectators while her abandonment of any distance from the image becomes an invitation for the viewer’s own erotic fantasies.” [3] Even when a woman gazes at a man, she is still subject to the male gaze. By expressing her subjective sexual desire for a male object, she is nevertheless seen as a spectacle; she lives within a patriarchal and puritanical system in which female sexuality is deviant simply by existing. The male gaze extends to female gazers, and in turn, slash fiction writers remove themselves from their texts while maintaining ultimate control.

          By exploring sexuality between characters that are at the top of the social ladder (white, male, and originally presented as straight), these writers create true egalitarian relationships for themselves that could not exist in the real world. Not only are women constantly under the male gaze in pop culture, but the stories they would tell — were they stories of heterosexual relationships — would be steeped in the power dynamics so pervasive and ingrained. Noy Thrupkaew posits in her 2003 essay, “Slash enables its writers to subvert TV’s tired male/female relationships while interacting with and showing mastery over the original raw material of a show (key for all fan c).” [4] By placing the characters on equal footing within a white male culture, slash writers receive the freedom to explore “the sensuality that arises in a relational context of actual people being together and actually being themselves—not stand-ins for a gender type,” which “is radically different from that sexuality which requires that the ‘other’ not deviate from a particular standard of sexedness.” [5] 

          Jenkins argues that slash fiction explores “alternatives to traditional masculinity” but does not fully reject traditional masculinity. [6] Characters retain the masculine personalities established within their original texts. Part of what makes slash so exciting is the juxtaposition of a traditionally masculine character and traditionally non-masculine activities. Authors often explore the struggle to integrate these activities and characteristics in slash, as many stories describe an initial sexual encounter met with some resistance. Traditional masculinity brings the characters together: “As macho discourse would have it, those who spill blood together become close as those bound by it.” [7] The resistance of a male character is often rooted in his preconceptions of male virtues and shames. Shame and fear of homosexuality is tied to a shame and fear of femininity; inherent to these feelings is the idea that to be a man is to be the opposite of a woman.

          This narrative of masculinity is extremely limiting, as masculinity is determined as much by what men actively avoid as it is by active posturing. Slash reforms masculinity through exploration of the potential subtleties and variations that lie within the concept of maleness. The characters become androgynous not through bland neutrality but through a lively hybrid of masculine and feminine traits: “Both characters can be equally strong and equally vulnerable, equally dominant and equally submissive, without either quality being permanently linked to their sexuality or their gender.” [8] 

          Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory defines queer theory as “a conscious refusal of labels that define what it is against, and it emphasizes a retreat from binary thinking.” [9] The men of slash fiction retain their masculine characteristics and oftentimes do not reject their sexual histories with women. Most male characters in slash fiction would be defined as bisexual, breaking the frequently criticized binary of homosexual versus heterosexual. In slash fiction, masculinity is rede ned to become something broader — less limiting than what traditional narratives often portray.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

 

1. Frederik Dhaenens, Sofie Van Bauwel, and Daniel Biltereyst, Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory:      Slash Fiction, Queer Reading, and Transgressing the Boundaries of Screen Studies, Representations,      and Audiences (Sage Publications, 2008), 338.

2. Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, (Routledge, 2003), 15.

3. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 15.

4. Noy Thrupkaew, “Fantastic Voyage: Journey into the Wide, Wild World of Slash Fan Fiction” (Bitch Media, 2003).

5. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 190.
6. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 191-92.

7. Thrupkaew, “Fan/tastic Voyage.”
8. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, 200.

9. Dhaenens, Van Bauwel, and Biltereyst, Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory, 337.

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