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Slash by Unsentimental Fool
Not all that you want and ought not to want Is forbidden to you
Gayest story ever? Where does that leave mine? 
24th-May-2011 02:39 pm

Probably most people who are interested will have seen the interview with Martin Freeman here in which he describes the relationship between Sherlock and John in gay, if not sexual, terms.

Don't misunderstand me. I have no problem whatsoever with this from a viewer's angle. It's interesting, it's consistent, it's fun and TV drama should have more of it. Steven Moffat is still as far as I'm concerned the closest thing to God since Douglas Adams died.

But for me it tears the heart out of the slash. Which is not and never had been about gay men; it's about subverting the text. Gay fanfiction is not the same thing.

At this point you're tutting in annoyance. Semantics. Why do I get to impose my views on an entire genre? Words change, definitions change. What was called slash thirty years ago doesn't get to define what it is now. People can and should write whatever they enjoy. There are fifteen thousand Jack/Ianto fics out there proving me wrong. Not to mention a Wikipedia entry on the subject.

I can't argue with any of that. Wittgenstein said that the meaning of a word is its use in the language and he was dead right. Clinging onto the old definition of slash is no more sensible than trying to correct every use of "decimated" that doesn't involve tenths. Classifying things is a mug's game anyway.

And yet I tend to believe that what value there is to me in my writing comes because it's part of this thing that used to be called slash fiction. That slash had something that the wider genre of fan fiction didn't share (and not just extra penises). Which is itself nonsense because most slash never had anything of the sort.

Start again, because this isn't an essay and I can. The more strongly an onscreen relationship is implied, the less interested I am in either writing about it, or reading fanfic about it. Slash fic used by definition to be about relationships that were a very long way from canonical. However as gay relationships became more common canonically (and writing a character as gay was no longer automatically subversive) it has my view blurred into general fanfiction and the elements that I thought made it unique and interesting have been diluted.

This was inevitable. Slash arose from imagining the taboo. Jim and Spock (the original ones, not the remake) didn't have a relationship onscreen because it was morally and culturally impossible that either of them could be gay. That's gone, and finding its replacement is tricky. (At this point I wondered about gender-swap, not something I tend to read but I can see that technically it might be doing something like slash used to.)

It makes no sense even to me to try to hang on to the oldest definition of slash; fic involving some sort of romantic/sexual relationship between two canonically straight male characters. For a start, as a bisexual myself I'm hardly in a position to classify characters that way, and it just isn't automatically important enough any more.

Maybe I should leave slash to be a catch-all for gay fanfic, after all. Perhaps what I want is a sub-genre defined not by sexuality but by its angle to the original text. There is a reason that I write a great deal of conflict-driven slash; not just to satisfy my S/M tendencies but because that's one place where you can find the relationships that run at right angles-the ones that are effectively canonically impossible- and write them.

Still, I mourn slightly the days when the very fact of slash's existence had the power to shock. If Sherlock's creators are happy with their fanfic, maybe i'll go write something else instead.

24th-May-2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I never realized different people might have different definitions for what 'slash' is. So would you say you are more interested in 'queering' the text (in the sense of doing subversive readings/writings that don't necessarily have to do with sex/orientation) than straight up homosexual readings? (I ask because I'm doing some reading on gender & queer theory & trying to wrap my head around the vast field of different interpretations . . .).

Also, thanks for the link! Hadn't seen that.
24th-May-2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
Yes. I think so. I doubt if I'd write slash if I didn't find gay m/m sex a turn on, but essentially what I value most about the genre is how it finds interpretations that are both plausible and as far as possible from canon; that force you to reassess the original. It used to be that just making characters gay tended to be a superb way to do this, but it's not that easy any more. (Which is of course a Good Thing; gay as deviant might have been extremely useful for writing but not so good for getting on with your neighbours.)

I know virtually nothing about queer theory; probably I ought to. I have what I suspect is a fairly common bisexual-in-straight-relationship diffidence about claiming a legitimate interest in gay issues. I ought to have grown out of it by now!

24th-May-2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
You know, it's rather difficult to figure out if we're even supposed to. People get upset when bisexuals speak up about LGBT issues, but then they get angry when we don't (see the comments section of any Lady Gaga article on Jezebel). So I'm sort of there with you.

I don't really know much about queer theory either (which is why I'm reading up on it) other than to say that some of it's about sexual preference and some of it's not, and there's all sorts of different opinions. And I hate trying to read Judith Butler.

it finds interpretations that are both plausible and as far as possible from canon; that force you to reassess the original
I think this is why I like your stuff so much. This is one of my favoritest things that fanfic can do.
25th-May-2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
We are not particularly popular with anyone. Sad but true. You can tell from the language; people are still commonly reported to "admit to" being bisexual, whereas they just are or aren't gay or straight. Still, the world will probably change.

It's always nice to find someone on the same wavelength re fics. Sometimes I do wonder if I've made it all up myself!
3rd-Jun-2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
We just can't make up our minds! We're so changeable!
3rd-Jun-2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
24th-May-2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, interesting points you make. Where to go from here for you will depend on what it is really that you are wanting.

For myself, I didn't know about the subverting the text (rebelling against the Man?) aspect of slash - I thought it was more or less fantasy/wish fulfillment imposed on canon by sexual people who were frequently sexually aroused themselves by the characters and/or felt the characters' relationships were incomplete without the sexual aspect.

If you want to subvert the Sherlock canon in fanfic and now don't feel a simple Sherlock/John sexual relationship would do that, you could go down some other roads, like Dark versions of characters - lots of canon hints at those in the four main male characters (if you want to subvert Moriarty you could have him donating all his profits to orphanages, or AIDS research, or economic development in poverty-stricken countries, or something :-)

Martin may have spoken openly about S/J's 'gay' relationship but my understanding is that BC says he plays Sherlock 'asexual'. So there's still a lot of territory even in the S/J romantic/intimate/sexual relationship to explore. Or perhaps you could 'subvert' the text by making both men strictly straight - maybe Sherlock is really (awkwardly) flirting with Molly, and outed 'Jim' because he was jealous. Maybe he and Donovan have a thing going on, and hide it under the bickering (Why hide it? They're weird? Who knows? Or maybe the trading of nastiness is their way of flirting :-)

Or you may have to find a new fandom :( I came into fandom through Master and Commander, an Age of Sail book series (highly recommended, in any case :-) I went looking for fanfiction because the final book in the series was left unfinished and I thought someone would have made a stab at completing it. Instead I found slash. I was definitely shocked! But I got over it :-) I enjoy the slashy fics I've read in that fandom, but honestly I don't 'ship' the main characters, both because of the culture they were living in and because of the way the author wrote them (although many fans disagree, obviously :-) So even though in our culture all types of sexual relationships are accepted, would subverting a creator's intentions, or the expectations of the culture the canon is set in, be enough to provide the 'shock' value you are looking for?

For me fanfiction provides a way of exploring all kinds of 'what if's' and ways of playing around with the characters, so slash doesn't hold a special place - just one among many.

Good luck to you - I hope you keep writing something!

My icon is from slashy fanart for the M&C fandom
24th-May-2011 07:50 pm (UTC)
I think slash is probably a huge number of things, but that was the bit that always appealed most to me.

You're right, there are always ways to subvert texts and stories to write. I guess I haven't really been writing anything that could be described as vanilla Sherlock/John. "Black Hole and Revelation" was about John as straight and homophobic, which I guess definitely counts as subversion now! I'm not sure that I have much more Sherlock to write, anyway; 100,000 words is probably enough, off three episodes! I have had huge fun with it.

(Oddly, I have just this moment for the first time realised what I mean when I mutter as I quite often do about particular ones of my stories being self indulgent. I mean that it *isn't* subversive; usually it carries on a story from a previous interpretation I've made of characters but it 's just that, a story with those characters. It's often fun to write and sometimes fun to read but it doesn't *do* anything and I don't value it much.)

It's an interesting point you make about the culture of the canon. I have wondered about that. But I think for me what has to be challenged is the expectations of the reader, not the other characters. Captain Kirk couldn't be gay not because of the culture of the 2260's but because the culture of the 1960s. There's certainly plenty of mileage in dealing with characters that can't express their sexuality because of the culture they are in, but to suggest that they were biologically attracted to other men wouldn't have anything like the impact to a reader now that suggesting that Kirk did would have done in the 1970s.

I will probably find a new fandom at some point. Or maybe drop back into a very old one. Or possibly even get on with Sequel. I doubt if I'll stop writing for long! I don't want to play drama queen and announce that I shall Never Write Sherlock Again because it wasn't intended as that sort of comment; more a contemplation of how I felt about a particular kind of slash getting official approval!

25th-May-2011 09:38 am (UTC)
You make a great thought-provoking point; it has already been discussed here by people more articulate than myself, but there was a quick comment I figured I'd make. (btw I did not watch Sherlock beyond one ep so cannot opine. I may be a freak but Cumberbatch does nothing for me.)

There are IMO two dimensions to the attraction of slash: subverting canon as you mention, and wish fulfilment that accompanies it but is characteristic of fanfic in general, not just slash. Coming to think of it, *both* are characteristic of fanfic in general and are probably among its defining features; after all, authors writing about, for example, a straight character pairing getting a happy ending in facfic vs. canon is no less subversive, though less socially taboo.

The "subversive" part is what makes fanfic challenging and exciting, as in, working with and around canon to find alternative interpretations and put canon characters into scenarios that canon does not (want or dare to) go into.

The wish fulfilment part is the indulgent side of that coin; people often like non-canon OTP's, or want better endings for canon ones, and canon has a nasty habit of not delivering on that front. Hence fanfic that puts things right (not all fanfic is wish fulfilment, of course, but a great deal of it is; besides, wish fulfilment does not necessarily equal happy endings).

It is this latter aspect that, I think, is rendered irrelevant by the admission of the pairing as canon: if they (and the fans) already got their wish, as it were, what is there left to fulfil? Conflict is a necessary part of any plot; there is a reason why "happily every after" is summed up in one final line - there is little else of interest to write about (unless we count consensual porn). There may be other conflicts for the pairing, but if none are as objectively or subjectively appealing as the sexuality-driven one, I can see how it takes the excitement out of writing.

In any case I hope that you find characters and plots to interest you in any of the fandoms you are considering.

(short comment, I said? Right.)
25th-May-2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
It was fairly quick!

I've never been entirely comfortable about wish fulfilment in fic. Obviously it's a driver for all of us, and as you say it's not all about happy endings, but it's probably the aspect of fanfic that I am least comfortable with, maybe the least respectful of the original work. I don't claim to have an entirely consistent view of fanfic, but there seems to be a major difference between playing with the tensions an author sets up and merely ignoring them, and too much wish fulfilment stuff is the latter. Like getting to chapter four of Pride and Prejudice and deciding to ship Darcy/Elizabeth there and then and ignore the rest of the book.

But yes, there is definitely a feel of "if we know where they are going, or even might be going, there's much of the writing interest gone."
3rd-Jun-2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
I very much doubt that the series will actually go there - that's just Martin saying he sees subtext. Which is certainly new for actors to be open about!

When I came into slash, the "transgressive" motivation was much more common than it is now. It's so much less common now, lots of people have never heard of it - they're motivated more by the fantasy and The Pretty (and in the case of Torchwood, also the Fix-It). I tend to like to see my favorite characters fall in love partly for those reasons, and partly because I'm so happy for them. ;-)
3rd-Jun-2011 11:11 pm (UTC)
Yes, things have changed hugely. I shall continue to try to transgress at least some of the time, though the lure of pretty is always there!
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