WARNING: This post is about slash fiction, which is fanfiction about gay sex and relationships. It will involve some discussion of the anatomy of various genetalia and as such is NSFW. I’ll mark it as mature if I remember, but if you’re underage or particularly innocent, you may want to skip this one. Trust me, you’re not missing anything you actually want to read about.
Since nobody reads this (or at least nobody comments, so I assume you find it incredibly boring), this is probably just for my own benefit, but I’ve wanted to spew out my thoughts on this topic for some time now, and since I’m home and therefore have nobody to talk to who would ever want to talk about slash, it’s got to go here. If you are reading this, don’t feel guilted into commenting; I mostly wrote that first sentence to mitigate my first thought upon re-reading this, which was, “Well, this is a bit self-centered? Who the hell cares what you think?” If nobody cares, then nobody reads this, which means that I’m writing this entirely for my own benefit, so I don’t need to worry about being self-centered…circular logic is fun.
Why do people read and write slash fiction?
I am female and either straight or on the straight side of bisexual (it’s easier to say “straight” than to talk about how for most people the scale is somewhat fluid and not just straight, bisexual or gay/lesbian), and I enjoy reading selected, well-written stories about two male characters (usually from an established canon, but original fiction can be good as well) falling in love, kissing, all that stuff. I know I’m not alone. All of my friends who admit to reading fanfiction have at least one slash pairing they like, and slash pairings outnumber het pairings for some characters (Draco Malfoy, probably). Why does slash appeal to people, and why has it exploded across the internet? Well, probably lots of reasons that I don’t understand, but a few I can suggest. Maybe some people really like two male characters and want to read/write romance about them, but without the complication/jealousy element of getting a woman involved. Maybe it’s a result of the still very small number of non-stereotyped gay characters in mainstream media; writing a canonically heterosexual or ambiguous character as gay means that they already have character that their writers have given them that is not tied to their sexual identity, whereas many TV and movie writers seem to think that if they’re writing a gay character, they have to make him do “gay” things, act a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way. (This might be weird, but I would love to see more non-heterosexual or transgendered or transsexual characters be defined by something other than their sexuality. Sexuality is a huge part of who we are, but it isn’t the only part, and too often the “token sexual minority” character is defined almost entirely by their sexuality. Capt. Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood is probably a step in the right direction.) Maybe it’s the same appeal that “lesbian” porn has for men: “porn with a higher concentration of men” for female consumption. Whatever the reason, people sure like to write and read it.
How do I feel about slash fiction?
See above, mostly, but notice the emphasis on selected and well-written. I don’t like every single pairing that exists out there. Harry/Draco is fine with me as long as there’s a reason for it, there’s some really good Napoleon Solo/Illya Kuryakin slash on fanfiction.net, and Naruto and Sasuke are practically begging to be slashed, what with the kissing and “most important person in my life” stuff and…I’ll stop now. I tend to draw the line at incest, pedophilia, and other similarly squicky activities, but that doesn’t mean that good incest fics or suchlike don’t exist (they’re just too hard to find for something I’m not particularly interested in). PWP (plot what plot) is fine sometimes, but there should at least be a reason why the characters are doing what they’re doing, or it just doesn’t make any sense. Giving the characters a reason/justification for what they’re doing is good and helps my immersion in the story; making characters do something that they would normally never, ever do and not giving any justification beyond “He’s hawt” will totally break that immersion. I try to be respectful of Your Kink Is Not My Kink (thanks to Trojie’s Guide to Sporking Slash for the concept), and so generally if I find myself not liking where a fic is going, I’ll stop reading.
What sorts of things are characteristic of good slash?
Good slash, like good fanfiction in general, has things like characterization (consistent with the canon), justification for why the characters are acting the way they are, a reason for having been written, hopefully a plot, that sort of thing. The ideal slash story, in my opinion, is one that fits seamlessly in with a junction of possibility in canon. In other words, it makes a non-canonical pairing seem perfectly reasonable and in-character, and it gives a reason for why the liaison works in the story even though it might not in canon. Some pairings are easier to justify than others; the aforementioned Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are partnered secret agents who share a lot of slashy moments, but Napoleon is always pursuing women. How does this pairing work in slash? Maybe Napoleon’s bisexual, or he just puts on his womanizing persona for his job, and in any case the show is set in the 1960s, when being gay was not socially acceptable and coming out would have meant losing his job. See? There are lots of reasons you can come up that allow the characters to be in-character and the plot of the story to be something that fits in with at least the style or setting of the original.
What sorts of things are characteristic of bad slash?
Crack pairings are not necessarily bad, but they can be a component of bad slash since they can be hard to write convincingly. One classic hallmark of bad slash is having the characters participate in anal sex and either not use lubricant at all, or use something that really wouldn’t work as lubricant, like blood. Since the anus is not a self-lubricating orifice like the vagina is, safe anal sex absolutely requires lubricant and preparation (and hopefully a condom as well, for STI prevention) in order to prevent damage to the anus and rectum. Wow, lots of awkward medical lingo in that sentence. Returning to a particularly silly example, blood is sticky when it dries, so it would have to be constantly applied, which would probably be awkward, particularly if it is the blood of one of the partners. OK, anatomy rant over. This one just really bugs me. On the plus side, I checked out some X-Men: First Class slash (as predicted, there’s a lot of it) and not only did almost all of the authors remember about lube, one of them even remembered that safe sex–yes, even anal and oral–means using a condom. I would have given that author a review with a shiny gold star, but I went to bed shortly thereafter and now I can’t remember whose it was. Using a condom is something I can sort of forgive in slash, because nobody remembers them in het, either (not that they should be forgetting them…remember kiddies, good sex is safe, sane and consensual!), but no lube or bad lube is downright unrealistic.
A word on MPreg (male pregnancy): a lot of you hypothetical readers that I don’t actually have probably got grossed out at the last bit. Let’s be honest here. Male pregnancy is weird. It’s unnatural. I feel comfortable saying this while disagreeing with the people who say homosexuality is unnatural because, while homosexuality clearly occurs in nature (evidence: gay and lesbian people), male pregnancy does not (in humans). I will retract that statement if anyone corrects me. As such, there really needs to be some sort of explanation as to why a male character is pregnant, how the baby is getting delivered, etc., such that suspension of disbelief is preserved. If you’re writing in the Harry Potter universe, “magic” is probably the answer, but that still leaves a funny taste in the mouth if you don’t explain a little bit how that’s going to work. MPreg is not something I’m into, but I still think it could be written well. I will admit to enjoying an AU Harry/Draco fic in which they raise a baby together (which actually makes sense because the author bothered to give a reason why circumstances came out the way they did, it fit in pretty well with the books, and it was generally well written and fun to read), so I guess it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine that an MPreg could be a good story.
As always, I am absolutely not an authority on any of this (well, who is, really?), and all of this is just my opinion. You probably have a different one. We can still be friends. 🙂