Fan fiction stories are unofficial stories set in the established universe of a show, franchise, book or film series, etc., written by fans (Duh…).
Slash fan fiction is fan fiction about romantic/sexual relationships between people of the same sex/gender. Usually that which is called simply called “slash” is about relationships between males whereas “femslash” refers to slash stories about females. The term slash originates from the oldest and probably most famous example of slash, Star Trek‘s Kirk/Spock. The forward slash (/) was used to distinguish from platonic friendship stories which were labelled “Kirk & Spock” (It might be noteworthy that the first official piece of fan fiction was also about Spock) and eventually that entire area of fan fiction became referred to as slash, although the forward slash could be used to refer to any pairing, or “ship”, regardless of gender (Like Rory/Jess, Hermione/Ron).
Male-on-male slash is mostly read and written by heterosexual females, while many straight males would either be disinterested to read or write slash or too afraid to explore it (The figure of straight men who read/write male slash is much lower than the number of straight women who read/write femslash). Those writers/readers of slash who are heterosexual females often get labelled “slash fangirls” and sometimes even refer to themselves affectionately as such. The stereotype of slash fangirls is that they’re obsessed with male-on-male sex and interpret any relationship between two men in fiction as being of a sexual nature (Even if they’re siblings, like Sam and Dean Winchester fromSupernatural). This means that often other people will make fun of so called “slash fangirls” and any such interpretation is discredited automatically and is said to be seen through “slash goggles”. The harsher judgements of slash fangirls include seeing them as sexual deviants and voyeurs of some sort. The idea is that slash fangirls twist canon to suit their ship. I have a few problems with this stereotype. Firstly, as with any ship which isn’t explicitly confirmed in canon, doesn’t everybody try to twist canon to suit it? I mean, after 7 Harry Potter books and the “19 years later” epilogue and no sexual relationship ever happening between Harry and Hermione, even so much as a kiss, there are people who still ship Harry and Hermione and believe Harry should be with Hermione and will quote canon as their reason for believing this (Like Harry acknowledging that Hermione looks nice in her Yule Ball dress). Some people even refer to it as the “One true pairing”. Also, there’s strict canon but there’s always canonical quotes and such which are open for interpretation, like if the meaning is ambiguous or you are trying to figure out the motivation of a character. Thirdly, are we saying that any reference to homoerotic subtext is automatically false because it must be the doing of so-called “slash fangirls”? So, we’re saying there’s no writer ever in literary history who subtextually referred to attraction between two males or two females? I find that hard to believe considering how rich in subtext so many stories are and the long history of homophobia and anti-gay laws. Somebody somewhere along the line must’ve hinted at a relationship between people of the same sex and left it in the subtext so they wouldn’t, you know, be shunned by society and executed since same-sex relations were illegal in most US states until the 1970s and are still illegal in some countries (The sentence being execution in about 5 countries). With that in mind, even if there isn’t a canonical relationship, that doesn’t mean that intentional homoeroticism doesn’t happen. And just because somebody might build on, elaborate or expand on canon doesn’t mean the canonical moment has a completely non-related meaning. Gene Roddenberry may never have meant to hint that Kirk and Spock are actually in a relationship but that doesn’t mean that Theodore Sturgeon didn’t intentionally insert sexual moments between Kirk and Spock in the episodes he wrote. Sturgeon had dealt with homoerotic subtext before, and had also used asphyxiation as a metaphor for sex. When you watch Shore Leave and Amok Time, it’s not hard to believe that Kirk/Spock started the whole slash subgenre of fan fiction, and in the 1960s no less! Rather than being surprised at the K/S interpretation, I’m surprised that people are surprised at the K/S interpretation.
As for argument of friends/brothers vs lovers, I’m starting to think less and less that there is such a clear line between platonic love and romantic or sexual love. I mean, yes, platonic means non-sexual but I don’t think that there is a clear border where “platonic” and “romantic” lie on either side. I think forms of love lie across a spectrum. And the way we express our love is different. People who oppose the romantic interpretation of Spock and Kirk’s relationship will say that the hand-holding and staring, etc. are examples of brotherly/sibling love, and that’s definitely possible. But I, for one, never look at my brother like that or take his hand in both of my own, and I love my brother very much. And certainly in Western society, I’ve rarely seen brothers hold hands once they both hit their teens. Plus, the relationship being platonic doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bare strong resemblance to a romance. That’s kind of what “bromance” is. It’s more than just being friends or honourary brothers. It parallels a romance, particularly in literature. The whole development of Kirk and Spock’s relationship between The Original Series and Undiscovered Country bares striking resemblance to a classic literary romance, despite Kirk’s tomcatting around after various women and Spock’s cold logic and apparent asexuality (apart from when he’s drugged). It is the single most important relationship, and the longest lasting, in the entire TOS universe series. In the Abrams series, so far, with the added Spock/Uhura thing this is debatable but even then the relationship between Spock and Kirk is the most developed. Both stories are followed from childhood and much emphasis is placed on the meeting of these two lives. Spock and Uhura’s relationship has heat and is shown to be physical but without much background or clarification being given, while a lot of importance is placed on the camaraderie between Spock and Kirk. The co-producer (Lindelof) of the film even said that it has all the points of a romantic comedy. As far as the whole friends vs. honourary bros vs. lovers thing goes, consider a real life example like Alexander and Heapestian, who were best friends (Childhood friends, in fact), brothers in arms (Comrades) and lovers. In any case, Kirk and Spock’s relationship, definitely in the TOS timeline, really seems to flirt with the line between platonic/brotherly and romantic/sexual love.
The rabid anti-Kirk/Spock people will say things like “This is a perversion of a good friendship” and that “The world is so sexualised these days that we can’t appreciate a good friendship.” Well, a few points. I think calling it a “perversion” is unfair and homophobic, and I think it’s debatable whether we live in a more “sexualised” culture than before. Yes, many of us are more openly sex driven but the society is still heterosexist and heteronormative, i.e. Heterosexuality is considered the default and homosexuality is considered the exception. Obsession with sex doesn’t mean more openness to the diversity of sexual orientations, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many horny straight men who are so extremely homophobic. Plus, it would be an absolute fallacy to claim that there was no gratuitous sexuality in the original series of Star Trek. Kirk would often kiss/shag (Although shagging was strictly off-screen) women with little or no relevance to the plot (With exceptions of course, like “City on the Edge of Forever“) and women were often shown scantily clad and as objects of sexual desire (Even with Roddenberry having a fairly progressive attitude toward women). Also, there is no lack of horny straight men in sci-fi fandom. It’s like being surrounded by a bunch of Howard Walowitz’s who are super-horny but don’t necessarily get a lot of action. I would argue it is in the spirit of the show to be open-minded and progressive. This includes openness to minority sexual orientation and fluid sexual orientation. Plus, Kirk/Spock is not an invention of “these days”, it began in the 1960s where people were probably more uptight about sex generally (at least in public) and definitely more homophobic.
I, for one, do not think that exploration of possible romance ruins the friendship. You can start out as close friends and develop a romance. I also don’t see Kirk’s woman-chasing as being mutually exclusive to him being attracted to a male (I happen to believe in a little something called bisexuality and pansexuality and even sexual fluidity). I don’t think sexual orientation is that black-and-white. It’s a spectrum and it can be fluid. And a lot of times we’re attracted to a person and not their gender. I also think that, while this neither proves nor disproves the Kirk/Spock ship, the backrub scene in Shore Leave and the “fighting” in Amok Time are homoerotic and this is highly likely to have been intentional on the part of Theodore Sturgeon. And finally, who gives a toss if any of this is canon or not? It’s a work of fiction. It’s all open for interpretation. That’s one of the things that makes fiction fun!
While the specifically named “slash fan fiction” sub genre started in the 1960s with Kirk/Spock, subtextually homoerotic relationships have been explored in literature as long as literature has existed. A 400 year old Shakespearean text like Othello has had scholars and literary theorists assessing the possibility that Iago was in love with Othello for about 4 centuries. This theory is so popular it came up repeatedly when I studied Othello in Year 10. Does this make Iago/Othello a “slash” pairing and does it automatically then become invalid and the result of “wishful thinking”?
A few reasons are given to why the majority of slash writers are heterosexual females. One is that male-on-male sex turns women on. Another is that, in a patriarchal society, women like exploring romances in which both/all partners are in a status of power/control. Another possibility I would offer is that more women generally are into romance than men are. I would gather that the majority of fan fiction writers about opposite-sex relationships are also heterosexual women, so maybe it’s not so much the slash part but the romance part that attracts mostly females. I think there are bits of truth to all of these but they do not give a full explanation. Many heterosexual women do find that idea of male-on-male sexuality sexy in the same way that so many heterosexual men find girl-on-girl sexuality sexy. Since we are more likely to be attracted to males, in a male-on-male scenario it is far more likely that we would find both/all partners attractive as opposed to male-on-female where we would only find some or half of the partners attractive and female-on-female where it is likely we will find neither of the partners attractive (Although that isn’t to say straight women can’t appreciate it). That isn’t a sexual “kink”, it’s quite a natural thing. As for women finding the social implications of a same-sex relationship interesting, well I can say for myself that when you do feel pressure of being female in a patriarchal society, it is interesting when you consider a relationship in which gender is not really an issue, although, for myself, this could either be a romance or a friendship. Bromances and friendships are also interesting to look at because men, particularly straight men, who so often put up a somewhat stoic mask because of how society expects them to act (Not unlike our very own Mr Spock), but it is fascinating to consider that they might show some form of affection while surrounded by only males (Although this might be like men imagining women having pillow-fights in their underwear when they’re alone together).
I would also like to point out that not all slash pairings are as “legitimate” as one another, just as with het pairings which may not be strictly canon. A person may write about a particular “slash pairing” just for fun or because they actually see the potential for romance between the characters. Neither is harmful and neither reason should be cause for such harsh judgement. Also, just because one does not “see” the potential romance doesn’t mean we have to berate somebody who does or who writes about it for fun, and not seeing the potential for one same-sex pairing doesn’t mean we can’t see the potential for another, just as with opposite-sex pairings. For example, I don’t see any romance between Draco and Harry in Harry Potter (Or even a “bromance”) but I don’t see the issue with people writing about it. I mean, if you’re not condoning harmful things like rape then I really don’t see the issue. This is in the same way I don’t see a romance between Harry and Hermione but don’t berate people who write about it. I also don’t believe Spock and Uhura was at all canon in the TOS series, in fact, I think it would be harder to refer to canonical evidence than with Spock and Kirk, but that doesn’t mean I should take personal moral issue with people who do refer to canon or with Abrams for including it in his universe. Also, something not turning you on doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. This is a particularly hypocritical action of many straight men who spend hours looking at/watching lesbian porn and then tease “slash fangirls” for engaging in some creative writing about men together.
With slash such as Kirk/Spock, I’m not really concerned with whether something is or isn’t canon. The thing that annoys me is the people who are so rabidly anti-slash they make homophobic comments and don’t seem to appreciate that texts are open for interpretation and that, whether they like it or not, there is some subtext there. The Kirk/Spock fan fiction seemingly never bothered Roddenberry, in fact it’s more likely he deliberately added to the ambiguity and “ship teased”, and it doesn’t appear to bother either Nimoy or Shatner, or Quinto or Pine for that matter. Why does it bother random Trekkies? Especially frustrating is when people watch video clearly titled “Kirk/Spock” and then say things like one comment on Youtube I read saying “Why is every Kirk and Spock video plagued with slash comments?” Maybe because you’re watching a slash video, darling. It’s like asking, “Why is this Nickelback video full of Nickelback songs?”
Somebody on TV Tropes referred to Kirk/Spock as “canon defilement”. Well, firstly it would only be absolutely going against canon if either Kirk or Spock said “I am only attracted to women and would never be attracted to any male, ever.”, but even then, it’s fan FICTION! And this stuff is open for interpretation. You would never convince me that Spock and Uhura in an official, mutual relationship is TOS canon but I would never call Abrams' addition of said romance “canon defilement”, like he has committed some sort of unforgivable crime against nature and should be shunned from society (Although I'm definitely no fan of JJ Abrams but my list of problems with him is long and tiresome). Anyway, I think the fact that this was even brought up in the “Headscratchers” section of TV Tropeswithout any reason for it to come up is telling of how famous this pairing as far as slash fan fiction goes, you know, over 45 years after the first season of TOS and 4 years after the first reboot film.
A few years ago the website Phase II released an episode originally intended for The Next Generation titled ‘Blood and Fire‘ which included a moment with two men kissing and rolling around on a bed. A number of Trekkies, mostly males, wrote fleetingly homophobic reviews about the episode, saying things like the episode “forced homosexuality down their throats” and that “watching two men dry hump isn’t in the spirit of Star Trek“. Okay, well first of all, the “spirit of Star Trek” is that it is progressive and to set the tone for social inclusion and combating discrimination in the media and society. Also, as far as a sexual moment being against the spirit of the show, um…what? Women are frequently scantily clad (Not to mention Shatner frequently getting his shirt ripped for no reason other than to show off his chest) and Kirk has been cramming his tongue down the throat of different women from 1966 right up to now with Pine’s version of Kirk, often gratuitously with no relevance to the plot. The most recent trailer of “Into Darkness” shows Kirk’s current sexual conquest Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) in a bikini, mostly to extremely positive responses from fanboys. Given these sorts of homophobic responses in fandom are certainly not unusual, I think homophobia is still very much present in the media, and probably plays a large part in a lot people’s reactions to same-sex shipping. Of course, you could make the same argument that dislike of Spock with Uhura in the reboot is racism, and in some cases it might be (If somebody actually says a white guy shouldn’t be with a black girl that’s definitely racist), but portrayal of same-sex relationships is a few steps behind portrayal of interracial couples (Of the opposite-sex). Plus, there is no specific category of fan fiction which interracial pairings get categorised in. If the interracial couple are of the same-sex the pairing will fall into the slash category. If they are of the opposite-sex it would just be considered “mainstream” romantic fan fiction, alternatively called “het” fanfiction. So, somebody saying they don’t like an entire genre for which ALL same-sex pairings fall into is different to saying they don’t like one pairing of the opposite-sex where the people happen to be of different races. All same-sex pairings, whether it is just somebody’s interpretation in the form of a story and whether the story is sexually explicit or not, is immediately categorised as “slash”, even when the pairing is explicitly canon like Jack and Ianto from Torchwood. When you say you hate slash, you are saying that you hate any interpretation or representation of a same-sex duo as romantic or sexual and you are basically assuming characters are exclusively heterosexual by default, not to mention dismissing fan fiction written about canon couples like Jack and Ianto.
For such a progressive franchise, it has taken some time for Star Trek to open up to same-sex romance. After all, we would hope there is less homophobia in the 23rd century and beyond yet the reality is that the franchise is still under the pressures of its time. Every step it’s taken toward exploring “alternative” gender and sexuality has been some sort of cop out. The Outcast episode of TNG shows Riker falling in love with a member of a mostly androgynous species who has a female gender-identity. Jonathan Frakes himself commented that it was disappointing that the actor cast was female rather than being more obviously physically male. An episode of Voyager had two female cast members kiss (I’m a straight female and think it’s a very sweet scene. See?) but one of the women was playing a character who changes human form and was previously a male married to the woman played by the other actress. As I mentioned before, the most “daring” (It’s a bit sad that in 2013 it still has to be dare or a gamble) presentation of a same-sex relationship was made by fan site Phase II in which Jim Kirk’s nephew, Peter Kirk, is in love with another man and is actually shown to kiss him, got a whole lot of negative reactions from people who apparently only want their male idols making out with hot, scantily clad women. It’s a typically anti-gay/homophobic idea, not to mention sexist, that a man can’t be strong if he’s in love with a man (Captain Jack Harkness would like to speak with you). Apparently, Abrams said he would strive to include a same-sex couple or GLB character in his reboot which he failed to do, instead including the obligatory opposite-sex love story and a love triangle (No matter how little TOS basis it actually has). His reasoning apparently was that he didn’t want to just write a same-sex romance for the sake of it without much relevance to the plot but, in all honesty, Spock and Uhura kissing isn’t really relevant to the plot apart from the fact that Spock is in a state of distress and needs some comfort. I also think that, like the famous kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren, sometimes you need to make a very deliberate effort to try and change people’s expectations. Abrams can’t lie back and expect people to become more accepting of same-sex relationships in media until he writes a same-sex relationship in one of his shows or films, he should set the mark. Apparently, Shatner and Nichols deliberately messed up the non-kiss version of the scene because they were trying to break a mainstream norm. Why can’t Abrams do the same?
I take issue with Kirk/Spock being seen as “just another slash pairing”. There was no such thing as “slash fangirls” when people started to interpret their relationship this way and because of this I don’t think it’s a fair argument to say that this interpretation is simply a result of “slash goggles” and “wishful thinking”. Even if straight women do get a kick out of seeing or imaging two men together, well, how many straight male sci-fi fans can honestly say they’ve never fantasise about female sci-fi characters? Calling it “sick” makes you sound prudish and homophobic, and when you consider my previous point you see it’s also a double standard. Many of these stories are presented with age warnings and they aren’t condoning non-consensual sex or sexual abuse (I would assume the vast majority don’t) so I don’t understand the “Please, think of the children!” response. If you’re THAT paranoid about your kids becoming sexualised you probably shouldn’t be showing them shows likeStar Trek: The Original Series to begin with. Kirk isn’t exactly Mr Family Friendly.
I’m not saying slash writers and readers and other shippers of same-sex relationships can’t be homophobic or heteronormative. Some may write gay/bi characters in a very stereotypical manner, and some do take issue with straight women writing about sexual relationships between men according to their own imagination rather than realistically. Sometimes they insist on reiterating that a character is straight but has a special “It’s okay if it’s you” feeling toward the other. But dismissing all same-sex pairings because you think slash is homophobic seems sort of counter-productive. If you’re trying to challenge homophobia it really doesn’t make sense to dismiss same-sex relationships in fiction. Works of fiction can play a considerable part in changing society’s assumptions and creating social change. Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a distinctive culture, it helps to normalise things so that people stop being so close-minded about things. I’ve actually met many people who claim to support the rights of gay and bisexual people but think it’s “weird” for them to get involved in movements because they aren’t gay or bisexual. Well, not everybody in the Civil Rights Movement was a black American, and not everybody involved in women’s suffrage was a woman, so, why do people think they have to GLB to be involved in GLB rights movements? It’s important that both people inside and outside a group get involved in rallying for that group’s human rights because equality matters to the lives of all people. Don’t accept other people being treated in a manner in which you would not want to be treated.
People also still have very stereotyped and often outright wrong perception of sexual orientation. Nu-Kirk actor, Chris Pine, played a gay character in the TV movie “Surrender, Dorothy” (I thought the film was average but no doubt better than ‘This Means War’, ‘The Princess Diaries 2′, ‘Blind Dating’…I could go on). Somebody on the film’s IMDB asked if this meant that Chris Pine was gay and said that was weird because he is attractive. Okay, firstly playing a gay character doesn’t mean you’re gay. It’s called “acting”. Nor does playing a straight character mean you’re straight. Nor does Zachary Quinto playing a Persian guy in ‘So NoTORIous‘ mean he’s a Persian guy or a Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Still Here‘ make her a male or Bob Dylan. Secondly…WHAT!? What does being attractive or not have to do with your sexual orientation? This person has not only suggested that gay men are unattractive, but that gay men “turn gay” because they can’t get women. I think Neil Patrick Harris, John Barrowman, Rock Hudson, Zachary Quinto and countless more gay men would like to have a word with you, and so would all the women who drool over them.
People will make the point that Abrams’ universe is an alternative reality and therefore it doesn’t matter that Spock and Uhura were not in love in The Original Series or the 6 movies or that Spock was apparently asexual (Apart from pon farr and things like spores) or that Uhura and Scotty were involved at one point. This is Abrams’ reality and apparently in his reality Spock has some pre-existing relationship with Uhura before he develops any sort of camaraderie with Kirk. Fair enough. But say another director came along and did their own reality where Kirk and Spock were in love and involved. Can you imagine the uproar? “Kirk isn’t gay!”, “Kirk is a lady’s man, “They’re just friends!”, “They’re brothers”, “Spock was attracted to Leila so he liked women”, etc., etc., etc. If TOScanon and reboot canon aren’t related then they simply are not related. This is why Kirk has a brother in TOS and no brother in the Abrams canon (To my knowledge). Of course, I’m still confused about why Spock Prime would make such a fuss about Spock going back to Kirk because of how life-changing their friendship would be when it’s a different reality with a different Spock and a different Kirk who may never be good friends, but that might have just been an excuse for Leonard Nimoy to be in the film (If only Abrams could’ve thought up a similar excuse to have Shatner in the movie), or maybe to ease old school Trekkies into his new reality.
Anyway, I wouldn’t consider myself necessarily a Kirk/Spock “slasher” but I do find it an intriguing relationship and I love it whether it’s platonic or brotherly or romantic or sexual or whatever. I do, however, think there is good basis for seeing it as potentially romantic. Furthermore, my anger at the rabidly anti-K/S people who make homophobic comments and generalisations is to the point of really wanting and needing to defend the K/S interpretation. I certainly think there is more historical TOS basis for it than Spock/Uhura or Kirk/Uhura considering neither of those pairs were particularly close but rather respected colleagues to one another (Something which I thought made Uhura much more than a piece of female eye-candy, although I wouldn’t blame anybody for drooling all over Nichelle Nichols…or Zoe Saldana for that matter). Even non-K/S shippers can see enough subtext to make jokes about it, like various online memes and pictures I have seen about Spock and Kirk, such as Kirk with his hand on Spock’s shoulder and Spock putting his hand on Kirk’s face with the caption “No means no, Captain” or a video on Youtube edited to the style of Brokeback Mountain. It is of those classic fictional pairings which is seen to be ripe with “ho yay” like Bert and Ernie; Batman and Robin; and Sherlock and Watson (Which Law and Downey Jr intentionally played up in their version). The fact that some fanboys and fangirls suffer something close to an aneurysm every time this is brought up says more about them than about anybody else.
Edit/Extra note: I wrote an article about how rough it can be in the world of fandom in general here: http://xerxestheordinary.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/exploring-the-hellish-realms-of-fandom/
Also: Here is an article about the fan reactions to the Phase II episode Blood and Fire: