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Friday, September 16, 2005

Slash Fiction and Romance Readers

There’s a phenomenon among writers of fanfiction that has grown steadily over the last thirty years since the first adventurous fan penned a tale of those famous star-crossed lovers - Kirk and Spock. I’m sure readers back then must have been shocked at the picture of these alpha males entertwined doing things the readers had never imagined, or at least would never admit they’d imagined. After all, the Star Trek writers had created two definitely heterosexual males and in the case of Kirk, a primal male without any ambiguity regarding his preference. And despite Spock’s rather complicated Vulcan sex rituals, none of them ever involved another male. How then could anyone imagine sexual tension between these two? Because fans see and interpret what they want. And in the case of fan fiction writers, they are not bound by the moral and societal restrictions placed upon the show’s writers. Given the continued popularity of this couple, there are still quite a few fans who think these two should be together.

No matter what you think about Kirk and Spock, or rather Kirk/Spock (thus, the slash), they signalled the advent of the slash fiction wave. You might even say they’re the grandfathers of today’s slashed couples among them the disturbing pairing of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley (c’mon people, they’re minors!).

One of the more interesting facts about slash fiction, especially stories involving two attractive males (although quite a bit also involve females; remember Xena/Gabrielle?), is that the appreciative audience for this fiction is usually women. And a lot of the writers of these tales also happen to be women. Heterosexual women at that.

So, why do heterosexual women like the idea of two men together? (Notice, no one ever asks why heterosexual men like seeing female on female action) There have been some speculation, among them the assertion that women get a kind of power trip forcing two obviously heterosexual males into homosexual positions (subliminal humiliation, maybe?). One premise was asserted by the Journal of Sex Research in their focus on the slash phenomenon and what draws heterosexual women to it:

“First, although the heroes of mainstream romance novels are "warriors," the heroines are not warriors, no matter how intelligent, well-educated, fiercely independent, professionally successful, and spunky they may be. In slash, however, both lovers are warriors. Slash is based on shared adventure, and its protagonists slay each other's dragons. This, we believe, is the most significant difference between slash and mainstream romances.” (see quote)

Maybe this is so. Or maybe women simply get off on two hard-bodied men having at it or appreciate any tale where the sexual tension and culmination is well-written. No matter the reason, a considerable number of women are drawn to gay fiction given the number of internet sites dedicated to slash.

Slash still remains basically a trend among fanfiction and the web; it hasn’t taken off in the more conservative realm of “legitimate” romance literature. I suspect it will be a long time before this fiction is legitimized and accepted by the masses of female readers whose preferred fantasies still feature muscular males gathering long-tressed beauties into their arms (ironically, these same males tend to have longer hair than the women).

Yet, there are mainstream books, basically science-fiction fantasy novels, with decidely gay or bi-sexual protagonists. And these books have not suffered in sales because of that fact. Case in point, Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series (these are the books that actually pulled me in, although I am not a big slash fan). Also, Kate Elliot’s Jaran and Crown series feature gay sexuality. Both series are still popular.

Other sci-fi writers have presented such relationships, including Mercedes Lackey and even Ursula LeGuin. It can be argued that sci-fi/fantasy presents alternatives to reality anyway, so why not alternative sexualities?

Some romance readers, despite their misgivings, have shown signs they might be open to slash or gay fiction. Paranormal romance author Laurell Hamilton has presented proslash storylines in her Amanda Blake Vampire Hunter series. Romance writer Diana Gabaldon has also presented slash content in her Outlander series.

What’s around the corner then for gay romance? Well, there is a gay couple known simply as Scott & Scott (or should that be Scott/Scott) who offer male/male romance through their Romentics website. One of them actually has been accepted as a member in the very conservative Romance Writers of America. A small step, but a step nonetheless. Now whether the Romentics following will be more gay male or heterosexual female, only time will tell.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/16/2005 08:40:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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