Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fangirl 101: A beginner’s guide to Slash

Over the past week, after my introduction of the series “Shipping News” I have encountered some trouble with people asking me – what the hell is slash? I mentioned it briefly in my introduction to shipping but it appears I need to add further clarification for those of you that are either not involved with or new to the world of online fandom. 

I should probably start by defining slash. One of the many academic books I’m reading for my thesis describes it as: “tales of sex and/or love between male characters from TV series, movies, or books, almost always written by women” (see Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy). That seems pretty accurate, but if you’re planning on actually engaging with this fandom you should know it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The term “slash” and the phenomenon itself finds its origin, like so many other aspects of contemporary fandom, within the Star Trek fandom. Seriously though, us fans (especially the ladies) should erect a monument to those early Trekkies because without them we probably wouldn’t exist. In fact, Star Trek is the thing that brought ladies into the wonderful world of Sci-Fi fandom and considering the fact that a majority of online fandom is female it’s a pretty significant achievement. It was these trailblazing fangirls that first thought to pair two supposedly heterosexual (male) characters together… as in together together. 

The ladies of the Star Trek fandom saw that the lovably slutty Captain Kirk was only ever really intimate with his first officer, Spock. It also seemed as though the Vulcan, Spock, was finally able to let himself get emotional when it came to his captain. This emotional connection (not to mention the sexual tension) was explored through the wonders of fanfiction (which if you don’t already know are fictional works created by fans about an established fictional universe – in this case the television show Star Trek). These early fangirls began to explore the emotional link between Kirk and Spock through sexual encounters, and in order to warn people of the potentially controversial subject matter they would prefix their writing with the label “Kirk/Spock”.  

Do you get it yet? No. Well basically the fanfic writers used the slash (/) symbol between the names of the two characters they were pairing. Originally the slash was used for all pairings including heterosexual ones but I guess it was more important to the Kirk/Spock fans because the term “slash” soon came to refer exclusively to homosexual pairings.   

There is some debate as to whether or not “slash” encompasses canon couples (gay couples that are together in the actual show eg. Kurt/Blaine from Glee) as well as those based on subtext like Kirk/Spock. This problem stems from the fact that the inclusion of homosexual couples within actual TV shows, movies and books, is only a fairly recent development. I personally tend to only refer to non-canon pairings as slash, but it’s pretty much open to interpretation so if you want to include canon couples like Jack and Ianto from Torchwood that’s cool by me.

The fact is the term slash is usually used as a warning within the world of fanfiction. It says: “Woah there, if you’re not interested in reading about gay sex it’s probably best to turn back now.” But it has also come to define its own fandom. You can be a fan of slash in general without being part of the fandom of specific media text (meaning you can like Kirk/Spock simply because they are a slash pairing without ever having watched an episode of Star Trek). 

Finally, while I have been concerned with “slash” as meaning the pairing of two MALE characters, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with the ladies (Xena/Gabrielle anyone?). The pairing of female characters (usually referred to as femslash) is not as prevalent as the male counterpart but it’s become more and more popular in recent years. In fact, as I have mentioned before, a femslash pairing (Quinn/Rachel Glee) recently beat out a slash pairing (Castiel/Dean Supernatural) in an online couple’s poll. I think the main reason that we haven’t seen as much femslashing as slashing is that there have not been as many interesting female characters and more importantly as many interesting female friendships. The more this changes, the more femslash we will see. 

I’m going to end this post with a warning – if you are not used to slash fiction (or fan fiction in general) don’t just do a Google search for it… especially not at work. The majority of slash fan fiction involves explicit sexual acts which, if you are not prepared for them, might be a tad shocking. If you really are interested in getting into slash fiction, start slowly by picking a story that says fluff in the synopsis. Probably don’t start with anything that is NC17, but then again maybe you’re looking for porn in which case go for your life (check out anything that says PWP – it stands for “plot what plot” or “porn without plot”). 

The biggest advice I can give you if you want to get into fanfiction (apart from don’t read 50 Shades of Gray) is – don’t go in blind. Whether or not you’re looking for slash or het or anything else you’re better off looking at other people’s recommendations (called recs) rather than trying to search for yourself – there is A LOT of crap out there and I would hate for you to get scared off before you got to the good stuff. Try a search like: *insert chosen fandom* fanfiction recs

Of course, slash isn’t all about the fic, although that’s a big part of it - check out this post to learn about some fun polls that will keep you slash happy. Or maybe just start reconsidering your favourite characters, are they really meant to be with members of the opposite sex or are they simply victims of our heteronormative expectations.  

Well I hope that helped but I have probably just made you more confused. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment, if you want to complain about my failure feel free to do that as well. What I would really love to hear is stories about how other people got into slash and possibly even some fic recs. 

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope to see you back here soon.