What is Slash?
Slash is fan fiction which portrays characters in a homosexual relationship, and derives its name from the slash '/' character used in describing such stories, such as "a Kirk/Spock story". Most of the time, a slash story is explicitly sexual, but a story does not need to contain sex scenes to be considered slash.
The Purpose of this Document
This started life as a summary of one side of the debate about slash, with a matching summary of the other side written by someone else elsewhere, written for the Blake's 7 mailing list, intended to provide a clear "we've already been over these ones enough times to make everyone on the list very, very bored with the argument, please find new material if you want to restart the debate". A list of dead horses, so to speak, done in a non-inflamatory manner.
This has since been expanded and generalized, but it still lives on the Blake's 7 part of the site.
My own thoughts... I loathe slash, I don't want to read it, and I don't want anyone to read it by accident. If you want to read it, that's your business.
I get sick and tired of how people immediately start saying that I want to stop people writing slash when they find out I hate slash. That I think that "slash should not be permitted". Sure, in places where it is my responsibility for the content of something, such as a fanzine or a website, then I'm jolly well going to put there things that I want to put there. My sandbox, my rules. Where it isn't my responsibility, it isn't my business either.
I'm also very much for proper labelling. If something's slash, it should be labelled as such. It's common courtesy to do so.
General Arguments against homosexual/homoerotic fiction
I'll try here to lay out the various reasons I think people would object and have objected to homosexual fiction. There's a spectrum of views...
- Those who object to homosexuality, full stop.
- Those who object to the explicit portrayal of homosexual acts.
- Those who object to the particular characters engaging in homosexual acts.
- Those who feel that slash devalues platonic friendship.
- Those who object to the unrealistic portrayal of homosexual characters.
- Those who wish to support the author's right to say "no".
- Objections to illustrations rather than stories.
Reason #1: Homosexuality Itself
(the "religious" reason) Homosexuality is wrong, it is unnatural and perverted, therefore homoerotic fiction is wrong. Here, it is not a matter of taste, it is a matter of morals. The motivation here is to if possible prevent the corruption of other people's morals, and indeed, the duty to point out where people are going astray, like a watchman on a city who warns of enemy approach: to remain silent is to fall down in one's duty.
This, however, is the weakest reason for purposes of persuasion, because there is no common ground for discussion, and persons of religious persuasion are treated like madmen: they get humoured, and everything they say is ignored. Or else they are accused of being arrogant bigots (even when they're not). Or else they do behave like arrogant bigots. Either way, this is terribly unproductive.
Reason #2: Explicit Portrayal
This is the pornography reason, and arguments usually get bogged down over the definition of pornography. My dictionary says: "Writings, pictures, films etc designed to stimulate sexual excitement". One person's pornography is another person's erotica. Erotica: "explicitly sexual literature or art". As you can see, the difference is merely in the connotations of both words. The people who hold to reason #2 usually don't like "adult" zines either. This again, is a matter of morals. Thus the debates can get very heated.
Reason #3: Particular Characters
This is the character reason; that you consider it an unacceptable distortion of the characters for them to engage in homosexual intercourse. Of course, people who hold reason #1 would probably hold reasons #2 and #3 as well.
For people who don't worry about homosexuality per se, they might find it still unacceptable, from the context of a series, to make a particular character homosexual, because there is no evidence to support it. Mind you, with BBC shows there's no evidence to support anything except celibacy, so arguing from the show is usually fruitless, because those who want sex say "well, its the BBC, of course there wasn't any sex, but if it had been realistic, there would have been." It's not the sort of logic you can really argue with. It's like trying to prove a negative.
However, if a person only holds reason #3, then there could exist homosexual fiction that they wouldn't object to, simply because it was so well and persuasively written that the (change in the) character was believable. This reason falls into a matter of taste, rather than morals, I think.
Reason #4: Devaluing Platonic Friendship
This reason is related a little to reason #3, but in a more general way. The objectors here feel that, by taking something which is an intense, deep platonic friendship, and over and over again, story after story, turning it into an intense, deep, erotic relationship, the message that is sent is that "it isn't possible to have a deep relationship without having sex". Or, to put it another way, "If you really loved me, you'd sleep with me." This reason probably doesn't apply so much to Blake's 7 slash, which, unlike most other slash, is frequently about power rather than friendship, but in most other fandoms, the majority of slash writing is like a Mills & Boon novel only the romance is between two guys. By not allowing such friendships to be platonic, it says that platonic friendships are worth nothing.
This one is a hard reason to convey, and some people consider it silly, because they say, hey, I can write what I like, go off and read some gen if it upsets you. But considering that there are folks out there who think, due to reading Professionals fanfic (most of which is slash) that The Professionals is a show about two gay guys, played by two gay actors... the influence of slash on people's opinions cannot be denied. But it probably depends on the particular fandom.
Reason #5: Unrealistic Portrayals
This one is a reason that has been put forth by at least one gay person who has read and disliked slash. He said that it was a misrepresentation of the homosexual lifestyle, and that real gay people wouldn't behave like these characters did, and that it was offensive that his lifestyle was distorted in such a manner.
This is a tricky one, because there have also been other gay people who have read slash and not found any problem with it, either because they didn't find it offensively unrealistic, or because they didn't expect it to be realistic and didn't care that it wasn't.
Reason #6: Author's rights
This is a sub-category or corollary of reason #3. That a character could not be homosexual because the author says so. This generates a heated debate about the nature of fanfic: some say, well, the author has no rights, I can interpret it however I like, and anyway, we have the implicit approval of the author because nobody's been sued yet. And the counterargument is that if an author says it ain't so, then it ain't so.
This can get quite tricky because (a) with a TV show such as Blake's 7, there is no one author, unlike with a book. One could consider at least two primary sets of authors: the script-writers, who wrote the words, and the actors, who "became" the characters. (b) taking the implications far enough it could be argued that all fanfic is wrong, and many people disagree with that: even the ones who don't like homosexual fiction usually like fanfic.
Strangely enough, this one again is a moral issue (thus generating yet more heated debate). The moral question is: does an author have a moral right to have a say in what happens to their creation, or do they have no rights to even cursory consideration, because the "text" is created in the minds of the readers, thus they are the ones who really "own" the creation?
Note that I don't know of any Blake's 7 "author" who dislikes gen fan fiction, just some who have objected to homosexual fan fiction, so saying that this argument applies to all fan fiction is going a bit too far.
Another thing is, that one cannot assume that just because an "author" is aware of and doesn't mind fan fiction in general, that they therefore must be happy with slash also, even if they are theoretically aware of the existance of slash. Even if you've got an actor to sign your slash zine, even if you've given them one, doesn't mean that they therefore must be aware of how popular or extensive slash is. Maybe they accepted the zine because they're polite. They probably wouldn't have time to read it, and even if they did, they could easily assume that slash is a rare aberration and therefore not worth worrying about. Then you can have the situation (as happened with one actor) of them going on for years in blissful ignorance, and then being made aware of the true extent of slash, and becoming "suddenly" unhappy about it. So unless someone has explicitly said that they don't mind slash, it probably isn't a good idea to assume what their opinion about slash is.
A minor footnote to this is the objections to stories that portray, not the characters, but the actual actors, in homosexual situations. In other words, RPS (Real People Slash); yep, it's got its own genre name. There are stories out there all right, and the actors in question have every right to object to them. So in what category does sexually explicit illustrations fit?
Reason #7: Illustrations
The tricky thing with sexually explicit illustrations is that they can actually be harmful to the reputation of the actor. With a story, it is clearly about the character, not the actor. With illustrations, the image is that of the actor (even though the story is about the character). And illustrations of that person in the nude, doing the wild thing with another man, could affect that actor's career if the wrong people got hold of them (imagine what the gutter press would do...).
So there are many people who don't object to slash per se who do object to explicit illustrations -- including quite a few of the actors themselves.
Some people have said that they simply don't believe that such illustrations could be harmful, or that they shouldn't be harmful. After all, it should be obvious that the art is the creation of the artist, their own "fantasy" so to speak, and that anybody who takes it seriously has a few screws loose.
"However, I believe strongly that homosexuality is neither wrong
nor disgusting, and I feel that when an actor is harmed by those
who react negatively to even a false hint that they might be gay,
the fault is in those who wish to harm people who don't fit their
concept of right and wrong and who are willing to act on gossip and
rumor (a deeply uncompassionate attitude). Such has been the fate
of Jim Neighbors -- not from fanfic, but from a silly joke that got
out of hand. Anyone who believes that homosexuality is wrong is
free to express their opinion by refusing to watch a homosexual
actor; anyone who bases their idea on who is or is not homosexual
on free-floating porn from the internet is a fool. I do not feel
responsible for anyone's conclusion-jumping or lack of both charity
and skepticism. I refuse to act as though I believe that homosexual
situations are disgusting in order to cater to them."
This is understandable in a desire not to buckle under or be censored, to nobly fight for gay rights -- but it's easy to say when it isn't one's own career which might be harmed. One is perfectly free to sacrifice oneself for a cause, but it isn't right to sacrifice someone else without their consent.
Another point is that any kind of homoerotic art, and indeed explicit fiction, can be very distressing to (heterosexual) partners of the actors - and yes, people have been known to send zines containing slash artwork to the actors. It's bad seeing your partner with someone else, but with someone who isn't even your own gender...
Gay partners probably wouldn't be very happy either.
Here I try to counter some of the arguments from the pro-homosexual fiction side of the debate.
(1) "Nobody forces anyone to read slash"
It is impossible to force anyone to read anything, so of course no one can be forced to read homosexual fiction.
There are, however, such things as peer pressure and misinformation.
Peer Pressure: this isn't conscious at all, it's just that if one's peers consider homosexual fiction to be the thing that all tolerant and fun-loving people ought to be reading, it will be hard for some people to say no. It is only fair to give people an alternative view.
Misinformation: it is easy to mail-order (or buy in an auction) a homosexual (or adult) fiction zine without having the faintest idea that it is erotica, until you start reading the first story in the zine. (This has happened more than once to friends of mine.) Likewise, one could stumble across a slash story on the net (especially with a search engine), and if it isn't labelled, then you can't know what it is until you start reading it.
Even for people who do know what the label of "slash" means, it doesn't help if there is no warning about it. (I'm not talking about the zines/sites that do have warnings, they aren't the problem. It's the ones that don't that are the problem.) By that time, it is too late: my right not to read homosexual fiction has been violated; my brain has been polluted with images I would rather not have been there. It is like going into a movie that one thought was rated 'G' only to find it is an 'NC-17' rated movie.
It's called "informed consent".
Another difficulty to keep in mind is that there are minors wandering around the internet, and it is very easy it is for them to stumble over something inappropriate. That's why it's courteous to give ratings on stories which aren't suitable for children (in general, for things like sex and violence etc). Even with G- and PG-rated slash, some more conservative parents would probably rather not have to explain 'homosexuality' before they've had to explain 'sex'.
(2) "Yeah, well I wish people would label Mary-Sues and bad writing..."
"...and they won't. Why should you expect people to label slash?"
Because slash isn't a matter of quality, it's a matter of content. I'm sure that there are many excellent slash writers. (Actually, I know there are, because some of my favourite gen stories have been written by people who also write slash). People aren't going to label Mary-Sues because, for one thing, most of the time the authors don't even know they're writing Mary-Sues, because they're just incompetent authors. But you could hardly say that a slash author doesn't know that they're writing slash.
Here's another analogy: suppose I'm thirsty and go to the refridgerator for some ice water. I see a glass bottle without a label, containing a clear liquid. I assume it's water, because water bottles often don't have labels. I pour myself a glass, and take a gulp, and discover to my surprise that I'd just taken a gulp of vodka. (For the sake of argument, let's assume I had a cold so I couldn't smell the liquid either). I didn't know it was vodka until I'd already drunk it. Just as I can't know the content of an unlabelled story until I've read it.
Now, for some people, the vodka would be a pleasant surprise. For some it would be an unpleasant surprise. And for a religious teetotaller, it would be a horrifying sin.
Isn't it more courteous to just label the vodka bottle?
(3) "Het fic sexualizes platonic friendships just as much as slash does!"
... Why are you picking on slash?"
Er, because that's the topic we're discussing? Bringing up the failings of het (or of any other branch of fanfic) is just a red herring in this regard. Just like we're not discussing incest fic, or rape fic or other types of fic that many people hate just as much.
The other aspect of this is, though, whether het fic does sexualize platonic friendships "just as much" as slash does, or less. That's a whole 'nother can of worms, which has caused flame-fests in certain fandoms, so I think I'll just leave the worms inside their can.
(4) "Stop shoving your morals down our throats!"
Everyone has morals. Are you asking people not to have morals? Or are you only tolerant of people who agree with you?
Or to put it another way: why should a person of a differing moral view be censored in your presence?
"No one has the right to force their moral views on others without a clear objective reason that it is necessary." --inkywaters
This sounds wonderful, but who gets to choose what a "clear objective reason" is? The thing about discussions involving morals is that where people have completely different world-views, there is no common objective basis for the morals at all. All one has is areas where the two sets of morals overlap; in other words, areas where both people agree (even if they might have different reasons for agreeing). Which means that all that that translates to is "nobody has a right to give their moral views unless it is in an area where our morals overlap" which then boils down to "nobody has a right to give their moral views unless they agree with me".
Which is clearly a problem.
(5) "I can do what I like, it's a free country!"
Yes, you can. But when things (like explicit illustrations) are actually harmful to others, then you should stop. Especially when they've done you no harm. Of course, if you hate the actor's guts then you're probably going to do what you like anyway, but that then shows a lack of consideration for everyone else, who actually like the actors and don't want them to get pissed off at the fandom. Consider it enlightened self-interest.
(6) "How dare you try to stop people writing slash!"
Nobody's stopping you.
"If you wish to start restricting expression based on moral
stance without objective basis... you have no basis for protest
when someone limits your writing because say, they believe that
portraying witches is morally wrong."
Nobody's stopping you.
What, do you think anti-slash people are going around confisticating computers, dashing pens out of people's hands, burning papers?
Just as nobody's stopping me from reading Harry Potter.
(7) "Anti-slash people have been really nasty to me"
This isn't really an argument, but it has been said quite frequently.
This is a measure of the hot-headedness of the proponents, and how strongly they feel about the issue. Being insulted does not justify insulting others, and insults have no bearing on the validity of the arguments of either side. They just serve to stir up mud.
This problem becomes exacerbated over the internet, because without tone of voice and body language, misunderstandings of intent and insult become worse. The other trap with internet discussion is that people forget that there is a real human being at the other end. It's much easier to yell through a keyboard than it is to yell into somebody's face. On the internet, you can't see people cry.
Remember: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me."
- tol-er-ance ['tol.r-ns], n.:
- something required of everyone except those accusing others of the lack of it.
-- Kathryn A, February 1997 (slightly revised January 2001) (revised April 2001) (revised September 2005)
Thanks to inkywaters for allowing me to quote her. Thanks to Mistral, Judith and Julia for feedback on revisions.