Slash fiction is a fascinating sub-genre of fan fiction. The idea is simple but it is wrapped in countless layers that add complexity. Wikipedia defines “slash fiction” as
“a genre of fan fiction that focuses on the depiction of romantic or sexual relationships between fictional characters. While the term was originally restricted to stories in which male media characters were involved in an explicit adult relationship as a primary plot element, it is now often used to refer to any fan story containing a pairing between same-sex characters … The majority of slash fiction writers are believed to be heterosexual females.”
Anne Kustritz in her article “Slashing the Romance Narrative,” defines slash as
“stories written by amateur authors (who are almost solely heterosexual women), that involve placing two television or film characters of the same gender, usually male, into non-canonical romantic relationships with each other.”
Her take on slash fiction is that “it allows women to construct narratives that subvert patriarchy by re-appropriating those prototypical hero characters who usually reproduce women’s position of social disempowerment.”
Many trace the origins of slash fan fiction to 1974 with a story that explored the relationship between Captain James T. Kirk and First Officer Spock of the original Star Trek series. Others argue that the first slash story was earlier involving the relationship between James West and Artemus Gordon of the Wild Wild West television series (1966-1969).
Regardless of who came first, Star Trek was the focus of most early slash fiction writing and publishing efforts. In those days before the Internet, stories were compiled and published in fanzines (fan magazines). A compilation of Kirk/Spock slash writings was published in fanzine form in 1978.
In the above cited paper, Anne Kustritz provides a good narrative of the evolution of slash fan fiction:
“Until the early 1990s, slash remained tucked away, a subculture within a subculture of Star Trek and a selected few other fandoms, but as personal Web pages and personal computers became increasingly accessible and commonplace, fan writing and slash fan fiction moved onto the Internet. By the mid-1990s, all types of fan writing had become, primarily but not exclusively, Internet phenomena. This move from hard copy print publishing to Internet publishing had a profound effect on fan fiction and fan communities. First, it opened up publishing to a much larger number of writers. Although zines had always been nonprofit, they still could not be published in excess of demand, and demand was low because few people even knew of slash, let alone request it. On the Internet, an author was able to publish as much material as she desired either by creating her own Web page or by submitting her work to an Internet fan fiction archive. The number of readers increased as well. It was suddenly possible for people to stumble upon fan writing and slash fan fiction from the privacy of their homes. Accessibility, combined with much lower cost (the cost of an Internet connection versus the cost of printing and binding), made fan fiction reading a much more desirable activity for a much wider audience than it had been in previous years.”
The number of stories and the number of communities organized around slash fiction grew in the following years. When early electronic communication technologies emerged, slash communities found new ways to interact. Over the thirty years that followed slash fiction has become a major player in the fan fiction world.
While the concept of slash fiction, or slash fan fiction, is straight-forward, the final sentence of the Wikipedia entry at first left me perplexed. Why would heterosexual women feel inclined to write stories with explicit male/male romantic and sexual storylines? There are hundreds of thousands of slash fiction stories available online. An absolutely astonishing, overwhelming number of words written and freely shared online by average heterosexual women.
For years I’ve asked myself why it is that straight women are such a force in writing about two men romantically and sexually involved with one another. As we’ve seen in television shows for decades, straight men are notoriously excited by the idea and image of two women being sexual with one another so I suppose it is fine for the tables to be turned. But by and large I don’t know about a group of heterosexual men who write fiction about the romantic and sexual adventures of two females. Maybe such a genre exists and I’ve just led a sheltered life and never encountered that literature.
I have had some fascinating conversations with women writers about why they write gay fiction and I have found that there are as many different answers as there are writers. One of my goals with this site is to begin to compile the results of some of those conversations, for I have learned much through talking with writers such as Amy Lane and J.P. Barnaby, among others.
Slash fiction, as with fan fiction, belongs to no one discipline but crosses every line it finds. Slash fiction has a sociological element, a literary element, ethnographic, anthropological, psychological, and legal elements, to name just a few. I have found references to slash fiction in academic and professional journals, but surprisingly not nearly as many as I had anticipated. Slash fiction, actually all of fanfiction, plays a pivotal role in the evolving story of intellectual property rights, copyright, and evolving common law.
While some argue that fan fiction is copyright infringement, basically pirating someone else’s work, most fan fiction fans and writers completely disagree are argue that they are simply taking characters and developing them in new ways that their originators never would have.
Fan fiction and slash fiction are not new – they have been around for many, many years. The modern era of slash fiction traces back to writers creating romantic and sexual encounters for James T. Kirk and Spock from the original Star Trek series in the 1960’s. Those writings were compiled and printed in small runs with limited distribution at fan conventions and by mail order.
The arrival of the Internet, however, has brought about massive changes over the last decade. There are now literally thousands of sites devoted to fan fiction, with a substantial number of those including slash fiction or devoted entirely to slash fiction. A prime example of the first is www.fanfiction.net which deals with fan fiction of all sorts. A prime example of the second is www.wraithbait.com which deals exclusively with slash fiction set in the Stargate Atlantis universe.
Thinking back over history, I realized that humans are storytellers. From the earliest cave-wall paintings through stories told around the fireplace on a cold winter’s night and traveling minstrel shows, humans love to hear a story and love to tell a good story. Whether through words or drawing or painting or landscaping or apparel, we all try to tell a story in just about everything we do.