Fascinating article on Slash Fandom and Queer Fetishization

Read this post. Do it now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Admittedly, it’s about fandom, but since a sizable portion of the m/m romance genre seems to have originated in fandom, I think it’s still relevant.

Some of you have seen my muse before on my early slash experiences in author interviews, but in case you missed it:

Back in the late 90’s/early 00’s, I was primarily involved in X-Files fandom. It was my first fandom as an adult (I was into ST:TNG as a teenager) and my first internet fandom. In fact, The X-Files was really one of a very few fandoms at the very vanguard of internet fandom as we know it today, back when most of it happened on Usenet. Email mailing lists were just becoming a thing and there were no YahooGroups, LiveJournal or web forums.

The noun “‘shipper” and the verb “to ship” originated there. I know, because I helped coin them (interestingly, since I started publishing, I have noticed no less than THREE other former XF fic authors publishing as well, one of whom was on my list and I met in person; heck, I even attended her wedding. I am, however, the only one who changed my pen name, but then back in the day, I was foolish enough to use my real name or something close to it.)

I haven’t participated in many fandoms since, in large part because something about internet fandom makes them feel a leeettle skeevy to me at times. There’s a distinct lack of recognition of acceptable boundaries. On my mailing list, I had to declare a moratorium on discussion of the actors’ personal lives after David Duchovny got married and there was a huge outpouring of very personal hate toward his wife, Tea Leoni.

One list member emailed me and told me I shouldn’t declare the subject verboten because she and others needed the list as a “support group” to get them through the ordeal of his marriage. And I boggled for a moment and replied, “Support group for what? You don’t know the guy, you’ll likely never meet him, you’ll certainly never be romantically involved with him. You’re not his jilted lover. Just what trauma do you need support for?”

Almost twenty years later, I’m still repeating the same refrain. Perspective. Find it, fandom. Do it now.

The point of this rambling is to say this: my being skeeved out by a lot of what I saw in fandom extended to the slash offerings. From the very start in XF fandom, something about slash didn’t work for me, and it had nothing to do with homophobia or that it wasn’t my ship of choice.

I had a hard time and really struggled to find words for what it was that troubled me, and I dealt with a lot of personal angst that maybe, however much I tried to convince myself that I embraced diversity, that I was being homophobic. I was afraid to criticize slash handling of characters for fear of being accused of being homophobic. Certainly other people thought I was because of my distaste for slash offerings, and it really was distaste. I got a bad impression of the whole thing, so bad that I avoided anything to do with slash for nearly fifteen years and benignly eye-rolled at slash fans, until I finally peeked at it from between slitted fingers and discovered there were some people handling slash in ways I didn’t find objectionable anymore. That opened the door to me venturing into the realm of m/m fanfic, which then led me to writing original fic. But I came to it very, very late.

That troubling element is put into words quite concisely here:

Slashing damn near every attractive white cis* het dude with every other (even across fandoms that do not ‘mesh’ well with each other), even when it is OOC for them to do so.  ”Because it would be hot” is not enough of a reason.  Put some more thought into it than ‘hotness quotient.’  Who someone is and the environment (canon) they exist in defines who they are likely to be attracted to, regardless of our intent to ship them.

This. So much this. In all my years in XF fandom, the only slashfics I saw that didn’t make me automatically want to gouge my eyes out were the Skinner/Mulder fics, and that’s because the other common pairings, especially those involving Krycek, ignored or warped or fanwanked characterization completely out of recognition in order to justify the pairing. They didn’t do it to explore the characters, or to add diversity, they did it because Krycek was hot and they wanted to see him boning or boned by Mulder or Skinner. Or both.

But Krycek killed Mulder’s father. He tortured and blackmailed Skinner. Just about every interaction Mulder and Skinner had with him was edged or even filled with violence. And not sexy violence. Unhealthy, hurtful violence. The only POSSIBLY believable sex these characters could have had with him would be violent hatesex or, at best, extreme dub-con (in Skinner’s case, I’d call that non-con because FFS Krycek had the ability to kill Skinner with the nanite things if Skinner didn’t do exactly what Krycek said, and there was no way that dynamic could ever be truly consensual.)

And there’s nothing wrong with hatesex or dub-con in and of itself, if that is what someone chooses to portray, as along as there is some acknowledgment that it’s unhealthy and injurious. But these people were trying to make a HEA relationship between these characters. They were handwaving and minimizing issues of consent and other unhealthy dynamics. Not because it worked for the characters, but because they found the mental image of the characters hot.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

Skinner/Mulder I could buy a bit more, assuming it didn’t marginalize Scully or, worse, turn her into a shrew in order to invalidate Mulder’s feelings for her to justify why he’s boning Skinner instead. Which far too many did. This was the other problem I had with slash fandom, back then: its treatment of female characters. Again, in these situations, characterization was ignored in favor of teh hawt.

So anyway. This article hits on the head a lot of what I have struggled with regarding slash in fandom for nearly two decades, but struggled to put into words because I was afraid I would be perceived as trying to rationalize homophobia.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Fascinating article on Slash Fandom and Queer Fetishization

  1. Maybe it is that I’ve been lucky in who I’ve interacted with, but I can honestly say that most of what is called out in that link has not been my experience of slash fandoms. I’ve seen examples of that kind of behavior, of course, but it has been few and far between, usually from newbies or young people who haven’t given what they’re doing a lot of thought. At some point, though, they end up educated by fandom. Fandom educates and that’s good, too. So, while I agree with what the OP is saying, I can’t say that it is my experience of slash fandom and so I can’t find any resounding “YES THIS” inside of me regarding it.

    • It’s possible that the reason I got such a bad taste for the whole thing so early on was that my XF days were BEFORE there was really enough of an online fandom to begin educating people. Everyone was still exploring the new playground and no one had yet considered the need for playground rules and monitors. By the time those things were in place, I had given up.

      It’s also possible that maybe your fandoms tend to be the ones that are better educated, and that this behavior is mostly prevalent in other fandoms (like, say, anime or whatever.)

      • I personally find that my experience with the “bad” side of shippers, be it m/m or het, usually come from fandoms where the source material is targeted at and/or includes younger audiences, so most of the more ridiculous stuff usually come from teenagers and young adults who don’t know better (Harry Potter fandom, anyone?). There is actually a pretty wide range of quality for fandom-created material, similar to “western” fandom-created material; not all anime is created for the young ‘uns, after all, and Japanese media tends to put more homoerotic subtext in their characters anyway.

        To be entirely fair, the yaoi genre (m/m material targeted at women) is often filled with queer fetishisation, as opposed to the bara genre (m/m material targeted at gay men). Bear in mind that the East side often has a view of morals and values that are, in some ways, quite significantly different from the West. Which point of view is “right” is too much of a puzzle for me to figure out how to put in clear, concise words, however.

  2. Those are excellent points, Kerry. I think what I was trying to say (badly) was that fandoms targeted to a more queer-knowledgeable audience would probably be less likely to participate in that sort of behavior.

  3. Ionah

    I don’t know why, but the first part of your post really threw me. After studying your post some more, I still can’t express why I had such a negative reaction to what you wrote, but by the time I got to the end of the post and read through your replies to the comments you received, I feel like I understood your personal feelings on the topic better. And in the end, I think it was because of the fandoms I have participated in, X-Files never having been one of them, and the fact that I don’t think I’ve bothered to participate in fandom much. I read voraciously and write some fanfic, subscribe to a few email lists, but I don’t obsess, don’t go for RPF, and don’t enjoy pairings that don’t have some basis in canon. So I’m an outsider really and that’s why I haven’t experienced what you have and why I haven’t ever been put off slash in fandom. I loved it the moment I read my first story (which blew my mind, because I had NEVER considered a male/male pairing of any kind before in my life, except for the humor I got from the gay character in an old Johanna Lindsey novel, Defy Not the Heart). I’ve since written and published some original m/m romance, but the fact is, I would never give away my pseudonym, or mix it with my fandom pseudonym, because they’re just entirely different parts of my life that I don’t want to mix. Some people use fantasy to enrich their lives, some use it to replace their lives. Some people have no perspective and never will. So, in the end, I changed my mind entirely about what you wrote and am glad I spent a little time thinking it through.

    • Thank you very much, Ionah. I’m glad my post stuck with you. Agree or disagree — and I know everyone’s experience is different and what I’ve witnessed or interpreted isn’t what everyone else has witnessed or interpreted — I like the conversation about these things.

  4. Interesting post. I used to be very into my Scully / Reyes slash, there is some very well-written and believable within the context of their relationship and how it would tie in with the programme stuff out there. Agreed about Mulder / Krycek though… not sure how that would work!

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