why I read (and write) slash

an essay by allaire mikháil

date: 29 May 2000

This essay was written at a time I thought discovery of my hobby by my family was imminent. I felt obliged to somehow attempt to justify my obsession - and wrote this as a result. My family has never read this, but penning these words was liberating nonetheless. I am an idealist at heart.
My view in regard of keeping my online and my real life separate has mellowed in the last few years. By now, I have come to terms with my faible for slash and would no longer attempt to hide it if someone I considered a relative or friend showed genuine interest in what I did in my spare time. The world has far bigger problems than my illicit little thrills.

I read an essay by an other slash author some time ago (I don't remember who it was), and she wrote that women prefer to write about men instead of women - and have male idols - because society, and TV in particular, makes men far easier role-models - persons more 'real' - than women. And because of that we can accept them as heroes. And consider them to be interesting, yes, even fascinating.

But I digress. Let's state, first, that about 80 to 90 % of slash authors are women. And the majority of those are heterosexual. Some time ago, we had an ongoing discussion on several of the mailing lists I'm on during which many authors 'outed' themselves as female... and either bi or lesbian. Yes, they exist, too. And there are also male slash-writers. But the majority of us is straight. Strange, isn't it? I can't speak for f/f slash, because frankly, I'm not interested in that, but it's at least true for m/m slash.

So... why do we read - and write - slash, that is, about a sexual and/or a romantic relationship between two male characters? Because that way, we can have two penises in bed - one more than in our standard Harlequin novels? Wrong.

First of all, let's return to the first point I mentioned: men on TV and in books being more 'real' to us than women. It's sad but true. Do you remember a book with a strong female leading character? Ah, several, you'll say.

Second question: is this woman strong and independent in her own right? Or is she 'conquered' by love?

Can she decide what to do with her life? Or is she restrained by the rules society imposes on her?

Is she the hero of the book (or the film) or does she come second behind her lover/husband/boyfriend?

I can't help but think of the "Angélique"-books by Anne Golon. Or Diana Gabaldon's "Highland"-saga. In each case, the leading character is a woman. Strong, intelligent, capable to deal with life and come out the winner. But each time, she has to play by the rules. Accept that, be it in the time of the Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, or during the time of the Jacobite Rising, society is defined and ruled by men. Women aren't allowed to vote, to live 'in sin' with the man they desire, to ask for a divorce, to dress how they like, to spend their money how they wish, to bring their husband to trial for rape and win. And each time, the woman in question is conquered by love. Despite her initial reluctance, she would let the man make love to her and find out she craved for more. Immediately, her husband would win her unwavering loyalty, even in the times she couldn't agree with him; she would always be delighted to share his bed and bear his children. She would always accept to step into his shadow.

Much has changed today, you'll say. True; and I'm grateful for that. I can work, I can dress how I like, I can inherit and leave my money to whomever I want, I can initiate a divorce and hold a reasonable hope to get custody for my children. I can be free, I can be independent, I can be strong.

But where in TV do you find that - even today? Only few series have accepted that role model of the modern woman. "Xena" for example. Or "Buffy". Or "Star Trek - Voyager" in the person of Captain Kathryn Janeway. All three of them are warriors. Strong, self-contained, demanding obedience from others, from men. And succeeding in reaching their goals. Most of the time.

Xena doesn't have a male sidekick, and Buffy is strong enough to kill her boyfriend for the sake of the world. And Janeway is captain of the ship - not Chakotay.

But look back over the years, and tell me: twenty, fifteen, ten years ago - where were these women? Some might have been there, but they always had to take second place to the men. Gene Roddenberry had to chose between saving the role of the alien (Spock) or the role of the female second-in-command (Number One) when he was finally given the chance to realize "Star Trek". As a result, Number One was written out of the series; Spock became the First Officer. Uhura was so far behind in the chain of command that she never actually got the con in the whole series. It took two more series until, finally, a woman became captain.

I've racketed my brain trying to remember an old series in which a woman held an important role, a commanding position, but I can't remember a single one. In sci fi, women were background or eye-candy. Not more.

Men were real. Men held the positions which mattered. They were captains, or detectives, or fighter pilots, or agents, or warriors. They were adventurers and heroes. They fought, suffered and won. They drew the eye.

And so, they also drew our eyes. An ambivalence, really. We saw them as heroes and potential bed partners. Our admiration was always tampered with a desire we weren't consciously aware of. To get closer to them, to share their pain, to help them heal; to have them weak and vulnerable in our arms.

We identified with them, dreamt of them. And accepted, since we couldn't have them, that they should at least find happiness in the arms of someone who wouldn't hurt them further.

So two categories developped in fan fiction - first, the so-called "Mary Sue"'s in which our hero met a woman he instantly fell in love with, who was the perfect mate for him, who made him happy. And who wasn't more than a projection of the writer herself.

Second, slash.

Two gorgeous men, often as close as brothers, being there for each other, helping the other through his emotional break-downs. When TV and script-writers wouldn't give them the chance to find the perfect lover, we would. And how could that be done easier than by giving them each other? Partners... in all things. Girlfriends would leave, would betray them, would get killed... the partner would always be there.

'So, if we can't have them, they'll at least have each other', we'd say.

But let's face it, that's not the only reason for slash. There was always this overwhelming desire to strap our heroes' feelings bare, to lay them all open for us to see. To see them hurt, cry, sob, cling to each other for support; to see them break down and show their emotions to the world, cracking the tough facade, stop the teasing, the banter, the macho behavior, and bring out the agony. We are vultures, girls. We feast on the emotions we let them live through.

That's the reason for the many torture and m/m rape stories we find on the 'net. We love to reduce our boys to the essentials - the feelings. We don't care about the number of explosions, or car chases, or space battles, or shoot-outs. We don't care about stolen state secrets, missing bombs or poisoned water reservoirs. We don't care about demolished cars or drug deals. We want extended emotional scenes on TV. We want our favorite TV-series to contain elements of a soap opera.

Haven't you always wanted to be present the moment Duncan MacLeod and Methos finally discussed the Horsemen?

Haven't you always wanted to kick Jim Ellison for his feeble joke over the rent and simply die to hear him and Blair work out the Alex Barnes-disaster?

Haven't you always wanted to see Bodie agonize over Ray Doyle struggling for life after he being shot?

Haven't you always wanted to see Hercules break down after Iolaus sacrificed himself for Nebula?

Haven't you always wanted to see Dr. Watson cry after Holmes' supposed death in the Reichenbach Falls?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Of course we have.

We long for an emotional depth to those action-orientated series no script-writer would ever think of. We want the butch facade to slip and the scared boy peek out behind.

Because, in real life, we want our lover to be the same way - strong, but able to break down in our arms, cry and seek the comfort only we can give him. We know in our hearts that if he cannot let himself go that much, trust us that much, the relationship will be bound to fail, it'll only be surface-deep, without real feelings, doomed to end before the year is over. We want to have access to that small, hidden place in our lover's heart he hasn't let anyone else ever as much as glimpse into.

Slash is the outlet for our hopes and dreams: the emotional closeness we hope to find, and - let's face it - the hot sex we want to have. Some readers have told me that they skip over the sex scenes and start reading only at the morning after. I was amazed to hear that, because for me, the detailed descriptions of the sex have always been an important part of whether or not I liked a story. Don't take me wrong - I don't care how hot and steamy the sex is when the characters are described poorly or act out of character. But for me, the sex part is the final proof that the main characters are not only emotionally close to each other, but also willing, even eager, to use their bodies to prove that emotional connection. The wonderful thing about a homosexual relationship is the equality between the lovers. Both can be the do-er and the do-ee, the aggressive and the passive one, the top and the bottom. They can give and take in equal measure.

Let's return to the Harlequin novels - not for long, don't worry... whenever are the protagonists equal in these stories? The answer is easy: never. Sweet, inexperienced girl encounters older man-of-the-world and finally surrenders helplessly beneath his all-consuming hunger... I tended to like these books. Today, I hate them.

While I love slash.

Not every story is good, mind you. The ones in which one of the characters is 'womanized', i.e. acts like one of those helpless girls, are just as imbalanced, emotion-wise, as the Harlequin novels.

Francesca's homepage contains the sentence 'Like men. Only better.' She's right. That's what we long for.

Our ideal husband or boyfriend is also our best friend. Desire, passion, is good and wonderful as long as it lasts. But age comes irrevocably, and desire it bound to wane. When one's lover isn't also one's best friend... we will end up with nothing in a couple of years. A younger person will attract our lover; another body will catch his eye. We will only be able to keep him if he loves us for more than just our body. Friendship lasts.

Our boys have it easy; since they started out as friends, they usually got to know each other in a way that is impossible in a romantic relationship in which one always tries to impress the other, and hides the personality traits he considers less likable. Lovers in slash fan fiction usually already knew by heart what the other hated, what he liked, how much he could drink before he stopped making sense, what he ate, what he didn't, which music he listened to, how close he was to his family, how irritating he could be on a bad day, and how grumpy he was in the morning. All of which are essential things for a working relationship.

I'm almost at the end of this little rant. One last thing I have to mention now - the main reason I write slash.

It's because of the love, the love between the characters. It's stunning, it's humbling, it makes you cry, and it makes you laugh: the love.

Our world is far too dark, too cruel, too heartless to ignore the love. It doesn't matter how lonely I am, how heartbroken, how deep in despair, how resigned, how fed up - when I read those stories, and see the love between the characters... I can't help but smile. The world can't be too bleak, too dark, too hopeless as long as we can still imagine such stories. They day we don't write about love anymore, the day we discard it as a too romanticized notion of the past - that's the day our society really has died.

Women in Afghanistan are killed who don't wrap themselves in meters of cloth. Children die on the streets in Brazil; others have to prostitute themselves to live another day in misery, others are raped by their own parents. Bigots define our society; gays still aren't allowed to marry. War is waged; thousands are killed. Fascists rule countries, people are hunted down because of religion, nationality, race or sexual preference. The world is a sad and cruel place. Believe me - it needs all the love it can get.

And everyone of us who delights in slash, emotional caring, open-mindedness and love... is one person more who'll help shape our future. One person more to raise her/his children to become tolerant, critical and responsible members of society.

I remember the headline of Buffy's yearbook - do you? 'The Future is Ours'.

Let's shape it.

Don't be afraid.

~ allaire mikháil


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