I wrote this back in 2006 or so. It has been on the wiki for a while. When it was first posted, the response was not positive with people asserting that slashfiction was actually gay. Given the recent discussion, I thought it might be worth reposting on Fan History’s blog.
When I first set out to write this, I had a lot of knowledge about the history of slash, historical attitudes towards slash and anti-slash activities. I knew bits and pieces of the history of GLBT literature in the science fiction community. I had a decent amount of knowledge regarding the literary fan fiction community in parts that never eventually blended with the media fan fiction communities. What I lacked was solid demographic information regarding the composition of fandom and fan fiction communities. It appears that, historically, there have not been serious studies looking into the composition of fan fiction communities in examining race, class and attitudes towards homosexuality. This seems to be a serious oversight from a structuralist perspective. When one is talking about existing fan fiction communities, one should know the attitudes and composition that preceded these in order to fully understand what is happening and what happened. Fan fiction does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically woven into the fabric of popular culture, which is in turn woven into wider cultural practices in the English speaking world. Further research didn’t turn up the answers to the demographic questions I had but it did give insight, changed my views and widened my perspective.
The new knowledge I acquired upset my perspective a bit. It is a bit hard to argue class warfare in fandom when you find that most of fandom, based on various accounts, is middle class and upper class. Fandom and fan fiction communities do not seem to be the domain of the working class… or at least the domain of people who identify with the working class. At best, fandom has middle class culture clashes. These can probably be traced to issues related to class as members have moved from one class to another or perceived themselves as being in the middle class. This middle class culture clash with other parts of the middle class comes across in fan fiction related studies when scholars dismiss, or deem feral, a group of fen who do not meet with their understanding of how fan communities operate. Fan fiction communities have never been truly homogenous in composition; they have roots in disparate communities of music, sports, science fiction, traditional literary circles, the cult of celebrity, television and more. Each of these communities has its own communities that fill certain cultural and personal needs for members of the middle and upper classes.
Which leads me to writing not the article I thought I was going to write, but rather writing a more in depth article discussing class, culture, slash, and homosexuality from a historical perspective. Given previous situations in fandom, it is bitingly aware that fan fiction communities do not have a universal definition of what it means to be homosexual, gay, lesbian or transgendered, and many people commenting on the issue compound the problem by writing from a straight, white perspective. As such, this article needs to define gay, lesbian and homosexual before a serious discussion of the topic can be undertaken. According to several sources, definition is a big problem for many GLBT historians. Just defining what these terms mean can take up the major part of an article on this topic. To ease this problem and give a perspective, the three terms, gay, lesbian and homosexual, are used interchangeably in this piece. The understood definition is based definitions read elsewhere and ones found below:
- Gay is used as an adjective to describe sexual orientation (attraction, preference, or inclination) and is usually chosen instead of homosexual as an identity-label.
- gay (gay) n. Term used to describe a man who is attracted to other men. Also overextended to describe women who are attracted to other women. :::(http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Cafe/1017/lexicon.html#gay)
- Gay – The term applied to a person (especially a man) who is emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. In some cases, the term is applied to people who have same-sex sexual relations even if they do not identify themselves as gay (“He’s gay, he just can’t admit it”). On the other had, people may be said to be gay whether or not they have sexual relations with a member of the same sex (“I was always gay, I just never did anything about it”). The most specific definition reserves this term for those who identify themselves as gay and as members of the gay community. Traditionally, “gay” has been the generic term to refer to both women and men. However, it has also been used to refer to men only (as the word “man” has been used to refer to us all). Because this generic use makes women invisible, the current preference in much of the LGB community is for the term “gay” to refer to gay men (often “gay men” or “gay males” is used to further clarify the meaning of the term), and “lesbians” to refer to women. This position is shared by the America Psychological Association. (http://safezone.georgetown.edu/sz4-1.html)
- Gay 2. A man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is to other men. He may have sex with men currently or may have had sex with men in the past. A smaller number of gay men may never have had sex with another man for many reasons such as age, societal pressures, lack of opportunity or fear of discrimination, but nonetheless realize that their sexual attraction is mainly to other men. It is important to note that some men who have sex with other men, sometimes exclusively, may not call themselves gay. (http://principles.ucdavis.edu/glossary.html)
- Homosexual: Individual with a primary sexual and affectional orientation or emotional attraction toward persons of the same sex. Male homosexuals are often referred to as “gay,” whereas female homosexuals are referred to as “lesbians.” Historically, the psychologically appropriate and sensitive term to identify individuals who were primarily sexually aroused by others of the same sex. (http://principles.ucdavis.edu/glossary.html)
- LBGT abbv. lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered.
- lesbian (lehz’-bee-ehn) n. A gay female.
- Lesbian – A woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. The term comes from the isle of Lesbos, where the poet, Sappho, established a community of women in the 7th century BC. Much of Sappho’s poetry spoke of love for women. Currently, the term lesbian is popular in many segments of the LGB community, and is the term deemed appropriate by the APA to designate homosexual women. It is preferred as a term that makes women clearly visible in LGB issues, acknowledging that lesbian issues are not entirely the same as gay men’s issues. However, some members of the LGB community do not prefer this term. Some believe it is too political and may be divisive (why separate ourselves from gay men?). Others feel that it sounds too clinical or pathological.
- queer (kweer) n. adj. One who is LBGT. (Can be derogatory if used by a non-queer.)
- Queer: Once known as a derogatory term for homosexual, Queer was reclaimed by lesbian, gay, and bisexual activist in the 1980′s as a proud name for themselves. Queer blurs both gender and sexual orientation and is regarded as more inclusive of difference than lesbian or gay.
- Queer: The precise definition varies. The term has been used to refer to a gay, lesbian or transsexual. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/sexdefnhr.htm)
Body The word fandom dates back to 1896. 1 Some of the earlier newspaper records use the word in the context of sports and movie fan communities. 2 These references to fans describe fans in ways that could be understood as middle and upper class. They are described as intelligent, articulate and well read. They have money to attend movies and buy newspapers on a regular basis. Fandom members are affluent enough to be expected to show up at events with their cars, in an era when a car was a luxury. The sports and literary 3 fandoms of that pre-World War II era were filled with men. The movie fandom was filled with women. These fandom roles were class and gender appropriate for their era.
And thus fandom was off and running in the modern context. It starts off as the domain of the middle class with members meeting appropriate gender related roles. Mass media depictions and scholarly articles did not infer an infusion of the working class in fandom. This is a period where labor law reforms 4 have not yet taken place, where the working class have limited leisure time and limited money to spend on leisure activities.
During this period, homosexuality was absent, based on current sources, from the limited fannish discussion taking place. Culturally, it would not have been tolerated. In the United States, it would have upset traditional gender roles. In the United Kingdom, it would have threatened nationalistic sentiments. (King) Bringing sex into discussions was still taboo, as the Victorian culture was still firmly in place.
Literature based “fan fiction” communities in the vein of Sherlock Holmes would continue after World War II ended. In England, membership to literary societies producing pastiches would continue to be male dominated with many of the members being titled. These organizations included Baker Street Irregulars and Sherlock Holmes Literary Society. They frequently included some of the best writers and influential society members of the day. Members would meet, socialize, analyze the works and share their pastiches. Some of these pastiches would go on to be published professionally or semi-professionally. The discussions that come down to us sixty years later give no indications that the topics discussed would have really challenged gender roles or sexual taboos present at the time.
Still, World War II had begun to change some perceptions of gender roles for the lower classes. There emerged a “pink collar” work force, with jobs that were working and middle class. Sexism was high and women of this class were on the front lines of the battle to redefine who they were. They were yet to take on the battle of dealing with racial and ethnic divisions still a fundamental part of American life. (May)
It was in this climate that the science fiction and fantasy fandom began to emerge on a much larger, more organized scale. The classics for the genre were being written. Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov were writing. Important magazines that were fundamental to the fandom had been in existence for some time. Active, principle members of this community were generally of the middle and upper classes. A number were politically active or wrote stories that featured social commentaries. Some of these stories spoke to a classless society, an ideal that many science fiction fans in the working class could relate to and which made it difficult for them to associate with their own class. Science fiction at this time could not escape the boys club that other genres and more classic pastiche communities were basing their work on. Estimates put the number of total male participation for the whole fandom at upwards of ninety percent. Women’s involvement was much smaller and opportunities were limited; the ones who wanted to publish frequently had to publishing under male pseudonyms in order to find a publisher for novels or short stories. Male homosexuality, while heard of in the fandom in the era right after the end of the World War II, was frowned upon and open homosexuality could close every door to publishing for fear of alienating audiences who did not want to read homosexual content, nor read works by known homosexuals.
According to John Fiske, the role of the audience was reconceptualized as popular culture began to take shape and form in a commercial form at the end of World War II. It brought with it such things as professional wrestling with a regular audience that trended more female than male. Fiske cites sources which put the female audience at 60% attendance of live events and roughly ninety percent of the audience for televised audience. Wrestling was helped in a large part by television, a technology being embraced by the middle class, and by live performances at venues such as Comiskey Park and Madison Square Garden. Like music fen that were to follow them and science fiction fen operating during the same time period, this group of fen was actively producing fan created material and fanzines. Fiske notes that among the things they were creating were poems, based on the wrestling they were watching. They were writing stories. They were creating fanzines. There is nothing to suggest the presence of homosexual content or using fanzines to propagate discussion of that issue, to discuss gender roles, poverty, race or class.
As the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, a turbulent era was set to begin. There was the civil rights movement, class issues, feminist issues and issues relating to sexuality, orientation and gender. 5 1960 starts this era off with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, signed by Eisenhower. The battle of the sexes has fuel added to it in 1960 when the birth control pill went on sale in 1960 in the United States. Both of these events would benefit people of all classes but the group who felt the greatest impact was American working class women and minorities. The English speaking world is about to be rocked when in 1960, Brian Epstein discovered the Beatles. In 1961, states like Illinois begin to decriminalize sodomy. In 1963, the first gay rights demonstration took place in the United States. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and signed the US Civil Rights Act. That same year, race riots took place in Philadelphia. In 1965, Malcolm X was killed and more American troops were sent to Vietnam as bombing of the country continued. Race riots continued and protests against the Vietnam war escalated. In 1966, the first gay student organization was founded.
It was in this climate that science fiction became a greater part of the fabric of American popular culture. In the science fiction community, several of the bigger, more well known authors would venture into areas which explored human sexuality. This included Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961. (Wikipedia) This was viewed as pushing the envelope. Still, openly gay authors who were not classic were finding it hard to get published their work, explicit homosexual content or not. The audience for the material had an increasingly working class audience in terms of income but in striving to meet that utopian ideal, did not identify that way. This trend of class identification would continue into the future. While much of the content continued to espouse utopian ideals and had begun to look at issues relating to women’s rights and gender, it was still a small, minority voice which lacked central figures and organizational support. Given the lack of organizational support in the wider GLBT community, that this was the case is not at all surprising.
The lack of a GLBT contingent is not surprising. The middle class, which made up a large component of the science fiction community, had been traditionally hostile towards this community. Those with jobs or an income that would place them in the working class from the science fiction community were identifying as middle class. Discussions with fans from that era suggest that they were also willing to borrow values from the middle class as part of their perceived assimilation into that class. Science fiction, while being out there on the forefront of political issues, was not that way in addressing private morality. The working class did not identify with the genre if they wanted to keep their class identification. The upper class at that time only resented homosexuals and Jews for their positions of power in terms of defining creativity and signally what they felt might be a new and threatening creative class.
This was the stage that was set for the Star Trek fandom and fan fiction community which grew out of the science fiction fandom. 6
Before Star Trek aired in 1967, the Beatles made their American debut and on February 7, 1964, they arrived in New York City for their first American tour. (Whelan) According to Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs in their essay “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” this marked “the first mass outburst of the sixties to feature women – in this case girls, who would not reach full adulthood until the seventies and the emergence of a genuinely political movement for women’s liberation.” This group was composed of primarily middle class, white teenagers. The Beatles were rejected early by many adults for due to the group member’s long hair and sexually explicit lyrics. African American teenage girls of all classes were not fans of the group on a large scale, preferring music like jazz, the blues and other music coming out of their own communities. (Ehrenreich) This group of fans would, like other groups of fans before them, create their own fan products. This included fanzines. The fannish oral tradition alive today is implicit in their being fictional stories about band members being circulated during the early years of the band’s history. This is substantiated by Ehrenreich, Hess and Jacob’s essay which says such things as “girls exchanged Beatle magazines or cards, and gathered to speculate obsessively on the details and nuances of Beatle life.”
But what about homosexuality? The Beatles were at the forefront for many white, middle class teenage girls in helping them redefine their own definition of sexuality and their own definitions of what it meant to be female. (Ehrenreich) This was taking place in an era where there was that increased debate on subjects like “birth, a woman’s obligation to society, and conception, bringing with it all of the bitterness and acrimony that have long surrounded these issues, beginning with perhaps the most obvious one of them all — Sexism.” (Rowland) Legal gender differences between men and women were beginning to fall. (Rowland) For young fans of the Beatles, popular culture was helping them by giving them real examples of people challenging American perceptions of gender. Real men just did not have long hair back then. The traditional middle class reacted to some of these changing gender roles, the “feminizing” of men by questioning a person’s sexuality or clearly labeling them homosexual. During this period, homosexuality was being portrayed to the middle class, with some help from working class homosexuals who were seeking to gain equal rights to practice certain sex acts, as promiscuous, with homosexuals having loads and loads of sex, of being homosexuals being obsessed with sex and not participating in long term monogamous relationships. Beatles fen were discussing these things, liking the fact that these traditional gender roles were being upset. They found the Beatles sexy. At the same time, these fen, like their fellow fen forty years later, fantasized about being involved with a member of the band. The average fan knew this wasn’t possible. The fans resented when a member of the band was involved with other women. They did not want to see that happen. It is highly probable, that given this and the fact that they were writing fictional stories featuring the Beatles, that some of the Beatles were written as homosexual if only as a way to ensure that the object of the fan’s lust, since they could not be hers, would never belong to another female fan.
The Beatles fandom is thus underway and the mid to late 1960s start. Several shows are on television for the first time that will spawn fandoms and fan fiction communities that will be the larger fan fiction community almost forty years later. These shows include Man from U.N.C.L.E., Doctor Who, Star Trek and others. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom followed the trend of earlier television, media and celebrity based fandoms. The fan club was created one a year after the show was on the air. That fandom and the Doctor Who fannish community were both active in writing drawerfics, fan fiction circulated by hand with a tiny circulation that was not published in a zine. Demographic information pertaining to class, race and gender of these communities at this time is not accessible. It makes speculating on what was happening in those domains difficult.
So there you have the Star Trek fandom. It first aired on September 8, 1966. By 1967, the Star Trek fandom would produce the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia. Spockanalia was the first Star Trek fanzine to be produced. It was created by Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford with a contribution from Dorothy Jones and a letter from Leonard Nimoy. (Verba) Later editions would contain examples of fan fiction. The early creation of fanzines by this community is directly attributable to the experience of early Star Trek fen involvement in the science fiction fandom. From that community, they pulled publishing practices, convention hosting, organizational skills and more. Star Trek fans identified class wise and are portrayed in historical recountings the same way that members of the science fiction fandom did. The only major difference between the two is the overwhelming prevalence of women in the Star Trek fandom, with men as a clear minority.
Star Trek, like parts of the genre from which it sprung, offered various types of political and social commentary. Geraghty in “Creating and Comparing Myth in Twentieth-Century Science Fiction: “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”" puts the thrust of the original series’ political message as one supporting the United Status’s manifest destiny and westward expansion. Geraghty also claims that Star Trek sometimes falls prey to “perpetuating the “white only” myth.” Some episodes such as “Return of the Archons” argue against things like the drug culture, a culture with a large representation coming from the working class. Other episodes such as “Errand of Mercy,” argues Geraghty, are about allegories fighting communism. The Christian Bible is cited as a source of the laws of the Federation by Kirk’s lawyer in the episode “Court-Martial.” (Kreitzer) It is an optimistic view of the United States, promising a future for Americans who were suffering from the pull of various social conflicts and Vietnam that were going on at the time.
None of the above, culturally, points to a Star Trek fan community that would be tolerant, supportive and fostering of GLBT issues. The show itself did not address the issue. The science fiction community, upon which the Star Trek fan fiction community would be built, was not tolerant. There were several hostile elements in terms of getting published and propagating ideas and concepts that could be construed as homofriendly. The nationalistic elements referenced in the show are not that far time wise removed from the nationalistic period which called homosexuality un-American. The Christian Bible’s use as a foundation for law was one of the reasons used to justify discrimination against various classes in American society.
As the 1970s rolled around, events continued to happen. In the United States, environmentalism began to be a cause embraced by parts of the middle class. Women’s rights efforts started to gain more traction with the middle class. Stonewall, which happened in June of 1970, had ignited the gay rights movement but in a way that aggravated some in the middle class as it sometimes portrayed homosexuality as a culture that tolerated promiscuous behavior.
As far flung and separated fandoms entered the 1970s and later the 1980s, three fan fiction communities continued to stick out in fannish memory as documented in interviews, newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, Usenet and mailing lists. These communities include the traditional literary fan fiction, the music fan fiction community and media fan fiction communities. Each would have their own issues, based on their class and gender composition.
Starting in the 1970s and 1980s, there was the anomaly to the traditional middle class and upper class fandom. This anomaly was the punk music community. There were numerous fannish communities based on different punk bands. Most of the membership for these fandoms was working class. These working class fen used their extra money to attend music sessions by their favorite local punk artists. They were male and female. They were misfits. This group of fen used Xerox machines to produce fanzines. Ones like Cometbus frequently included samples of fictional stories about the band. Some of these stories according to fannish lore featured musicians not just written as being involved in same sex sexual couplings but as homosexuals; they were written and coded that way. This was frequently done with the knowledge of the band members involved as many of those fen had access to the artists. While they may not always have supported the material and have actively considered them rubbish, they did not apparently step up and crack down on those materials. The reasoning for this is that music played with those gender issues, those orientation issues, operated on the cultural fringes, with a number of artists in the community being out, out like people in other fandoms could not be. This type of fannish behavior and related attitudes stayed with the community well into the 1990s.
Titled, rich, male, money to spend and an interest in Sherlock Holmes are some ways that the Sherlock Holmes community was characterized historically. This characterization carried into the 1970s. “Elementary Facts of Holmes Fandom” by Bob Cromie appeared in the Chicago Tribune on page 18 of January 12, 1972′s edition. The Sherlock Holmes fandom of that time was characterized by Cromie as having been historically male, with male fen being offended when a female only branch of the Baker Street Irregulars was founded. The men in the article were described as semi-professional writers, obsessed with the works about Sherlock Holmes. The issues of female involvement, of women breaking down doors and trying to enter there space and being resentful of their intrusion, seems to be very characteristic of upper class issues dealing with gender at the time, where trophy wives were still in play and women were supposed to support their men.
In 1974, Diane Marchant sat down, wrote and published a story featuring two characters, gender some what ambiguous and using highly coded language. (Boyd, Langley) The story was titled “A Fragment Out of Time” and it was not until later discussion that the author made it clear that the story featured the Kirk/Spock pairing. The community, through letterzines, reviewzines and discussion at conventions, discussed this material. There was a degree of hostility towards this material. Some of this hostility stemmed from the fact that ew, homosexual content, ew! This was not something people of their class should be writing. It was not something that was traditionally associated with the science fiction fandom. It happened in the same year that the great Star Trek – science fiction schism started. The science fiction community, overwhelming male, felt that Star Trek fen, overwhelming female, would overshadow and marginalize other science fiction being produced at the time. The science fiction community was further annoyed by what they felt was the consistently inferior product distributed by the Star Trek fan fiction community, a community that just the year before had given name to Mary Sue. Making this infusion of Kirk/Spock fan fiction was the fact that some parts of the community started to actively embrace this material and more of appeared in the ensuing years.
But as this material grew, so did resentment. One way to counter this resentment was to remind fen, repeatedly, that they were heterosexual and female. The articles coming out by scholars at that time emphasize that. The husband and wife zine producing duos helped draw attention to that. Fen were also keen on ingraining in other fen the idea that Kirk and Spock were clearly heterosexuals. This was something that was indoctrinated into fen. Kirk and Spock might be involved with each other but that was due to the lack of other options and true love; heterosexual identity remained intact. At the same time that slash was increasing, so was the amount of sexually explicit material. This would lead to a rift in the fandom by 1979, where a number of fen left and joined the Star Wars fandom to avoid this content. This conflict would carry over into other fandoms during the 1980s.
The Starsky and Hutch, like most media fandoms of the 1980s, was mostly middle class in identification. And like most media fandoms, it had its homophobic moments. It also lacked very visibly out and proud gays and lesbians in the community. The early community tried to deter slash or keep it underground out of fear. One example of this dates to 1981 when Code 7 was published. The zine was published anonymously as there was a real fear in the American fan fiction community that the anti-slash component of the fan fiction community would send the material to the producers of the show and create other problems for those slash writers in their real lives. According to me_n_thee, the zine contained the following disclaimer: “This is a privileged and private publication; it was sent to you because you know the value and need for discretion. You are being trusted; if you misuse this trust, you will be harming not only the contributors, but all of S/H fandom. Please keep this zine entirely to yourself! Thank you.” Slash fen in the community felt very threatened by others. They feared fen outings them to their employers and being otherwise harassed. (Boyd)
Going to another fandom, the same demographics of other media fandoms are there: middle class, female and white. The Battlestar Galatica fandom of the same period made it very clear to fen that they might be writing stories with m/m characters but that fen needed to remember, were indoctrinated in the idea that the characters, while being written in m/m relationships, were still fundamentally heterosexual.
The 1980s also saw the start of the backlash against adult material and what was then described as homoerotic material in the Star Wars fandom. 7 The Star Wars fan fiction community was founded shortly after the release of the first movie. The fan fiction community, being built by people with experience from other fannish communities like Star Trek would quickly put out the first stories and fanzines. The first story to arrive on the scene was published in Warped Space or Scuttlebutt. Unlike the Star Trek community’s relationship with Paramount, Lucasfilms Ltd. would be involved and trying to maintain some control on the type of content which appeared, according to Verba, almost from the start. One of the earliest pieces of fan fiction was published this year. According to Langley and Verba, the story was most likely published in Warped Space.
By 1981, the Star Wars m/m situation got to the point where Lucasfilms Ltd. felt they needed to act to protect their interests. The community was primed and this year would be the one remembered. In May, Guardian #3 was published. This fanzine contained two version of a story called “A Slow Boat to Bespin.” One story was by A. E. Zeek. The other story was by B. Wenk. While both of these stories featured heterosexual pairings, Zeek’s story contained material that would, in today’s society, likely garner an R rating. This story was the reason that the publishers of Guardian #3 likely received a cease and desist letter from Maureen Garrett, the first president of the Star Wars fan club. Several other zines during the same period, including ones that had published slashed, received similar cease and desist notices. In response to the demand for clarity on what was acceptable to publish and not publish, Maureen Garrett promised guidelines. None came until October. When they came, they were not viewed as being particularly helpful. The guidelines were nothing more than a statement saying Lucasfilms Ltd. would not tolerate pornography, vulgar material, and material that was excessively violent or gory. (Langley) The net effect of this incident was that it shut down almost all production of slash in the Star Wars community. This created an increase of people from other communities where m/m and f/f was more prevalent but who did not like this material joining the community. Fen who did not leave or who were active in both also began campaigns around this time, trying to convince the powers that be in their fannish communities to crack down on m/m and f/f, like Lucasfilms Ltd. had done.
The Star Wars pornography problem in relation to m/m and f/f comment was probably exacerbated by the working class homosexual community being viewed as one that was, by their nature, promiscuous. The white, female middle class did not associate homosexuality with orientation but rather with sex acts, lots and lots of sex acts. As such anything with m/m or f/f content was not about homosexuality, vis-à-vis orientation, but homosexuality sex acts. It made even fan fiction featuring m/m content and coding sexually suspect because of the relationship that white middle class women came up with that made homosexuality about sex. It was further suspect because of the pains taken by more than a few of these fen to continue to indoctrinate their fellow fen into the idea that the characters, while having gay sex, still had an orientation of heterosexual. The inherent conflict with adult material and homosexual content would not be resolved in the fandom until the early 1990s.
The concept of sexual orientation is a new one. The word homosexual did not enter the English language until 1869, and then it was used in the context of certain sex acts that would happen between two men. (University of Waterloo) Gay meaning homosexual men was first used in the 1920s by gay men. (Harper) The usage of gay “as a noun meaning “a (usually male) homosexual” is attested from 1971.” (Harper) Lesbian is first used relating to homosexual women in 1890. (Harper) Is it any wonder that, given the lateness of these concepts into the Western psyche that it would take media fandom eighteen years after the first Star Trek fan fiction was published and eleven years after the first m/m story was published that a word would be created to describe m/m fan fiction? According to Boyd, Curtin and Langley, slash was not used in the fan fiction community until 1985. 8
When one goes back in time and looks at some of the definitions found based on fan recollections, Usenet and early web definitions, it becomes crystal clear that the word slash meant what fen had understood the concept to mean before a word was informally adopted to describe it. Early definitions of slash defined slash as Kirk/Spock stories, stories about two heterosexual men involved m/m relationship with each other, non-canon pairings. The heterosexual aspect was implicit and understood. Stories written from that period lacked coding to define characters as gay. In fact, such coding of characters as gay would have been a turn off for some readers. Authorial and group intent was clear, indoctrinated, that these characters were heterosexuals who found their one true love or who just happened to sleep with a guy. Slash was clearly was not gay, was not gay literature. And this was understood that way by the community at the time; no one would have confused it for being gay literature for the white, middle class heterosexual women reading it.
Modern fandom dates back to the 1890s. From the outset, fandom was dominated by members who identified as middle class or upper class. For the most part, this was a community that, once media fan fiction communities became dominant, were heavily female. The only real deviations from this pattern included fan fiction communities based on musical groups during the 1970s and 1980s and literary pastiche communities. The values and morality brought by fen into fan fiction communities helped to shape the nature of fan fiction communities. They are one of the primary reasons that slash cannot be a product that could be considered gay, nor a form of gay literature. Given the historical roots of slash as non-gay, it is unlikely that most slash will be considered gay, nor gay literature any time in the near future.9
1 Oxford English Dictionary’s Science Fiction Words Site dates the first usage to “antedating 1896 Washington Post, Oct 10, 1896″
2 References to fandom found in the Chicago Daily Tribune. See References for more specific details as to some of the sources found.
3 There is some credible evidence to suggest that there was a literary community of young, female writers involved in the writing of pastiche based on the work of Jane Austen during this era. This is referenced by Jenkins but was not found in newspaper articles searches for that period.
4 For a timeline of labor in the United States, see A Curriculum of United States Labor History for Teachers found at http://www.kentlaw.edu/ilhs/curricul.htm
5 There are a number of good books which address this topic in various forms. Some of my favorites of the moment include The Boundaries of Her Body, the Troubling History of Women’s Rights in America by Debran Rowland, The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz, Sex Ed: Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire by Robert T. Eberwein, Undeserving Poor by Michael Katz, and American Century: A History of the United States Since 1941 by Walter Lafeber.
6 There is an anecdote repeated in the Star Trek fandom regarding the screening of the pilot at a science fiction convention. Gene Roddenberry was showing the pilot at some convention, premiering it for the first time before an audience whom he hoped would be kind to it and to gauge their feelings on it. He shushed two people talking during the screening. One of those people was Isaac Asimov.
7 An amusing side story detailing what was going on at the time involves Mark Hamill. At the same time that Lucasfilms Ltd. was cracking down on Star Wars erotica, some Han/Luke fan fiction writers kept leaving this material at Hamill’s house.
8 According to Langley in a phone interview in the summer of 2005, this date is subject to some leeway as the date was ascertained by herself and Mary Ellen Curtin going through fanzines in their extensive, personal collections and trying to find the earliest usage. Langley’s date of 1985 is helped as she was a long time participant in fandom and can draw upon her own fannish experiences to put a time frame on the date. When looking through Usenet records from that period of the 1980s, the fact that the word might not have been used till that time is logical. The Kirk/Spock convention of using the slash to denote a romantic pairing was still not standardized until the late 1980s, early 1990s. The word is not used in Star Trek Lives! but has picked up enough usage to be used by Henry Jenkins in 1992. Verba’s discussion in her book, Boldly Writing, uses the word slash in the index but as a see K/S. K&S is used by the Verba to denote Kirk/Spock friendship stories.
9 The issue of heterosexual characters involved in same sex pairings continued well after 1985. Shows like QAF challenged terminology and understood definitions of slash. Could same sex pairings between canonically homosexual characters be gay? The discussion that resulted from that time period was a rather definitive no, it wasn’t slash because the characters were not heterosexual. Demographic studies of fen after 1990 began to show a more sizable GLBT presence in fan fiction communities. By some estimates, the number was as high as thirty percent. In some fandoms like Xena, the number was undoubtedly higher. More stories being written included coded GLBT material but more often than not, the average piece of m/m or f/f slash doesn’t.
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