Slash Fiction Writer Gives Up Her Secret Identity
Slash fiction is the generic name for fan fiction stories where two characters (usually both male) from an established canon (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek) have explicit, hard-core sex. Thereís scads of slash on the internet, in LiveJournal and Yahoo! groups and personal pages galore. Named for the naughty ď/Ē that separates the parties involved, it comes in lots of flavors, but some pairings aboundóthereís lots of Spike/Xander, lots of Kirk/Spock, lots of Obi-Wan/Anakin. (Iíve seen A-Team slash and Starsky and Hutch slash and even Daily Show slash, with Jon Stewart, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert getting hot and heavy after the audience left.) Itís geek porn. I like it. I read it. And I write it.
I write mostly about the X-Men, and Iím not alone. Of comic ďfamilies,Ē the X-Men seem to have the largest presence on the web, with Batman/Robin pairings the next most common and some movie-inspired Spider-Man action close behind. I donít think itís just because of the popularity of the movies, or because the X-Menís large (and rotating) cast of characters offering lots of hook-up permutations. Unlike Superman (an alien), Batman (a tricked-out billionaire), or Spider-Man or the Hulk (unluckies who got the business end of experiments gone wrong), the X-Men were born the way they wereótheir supernatural powers come to fruition in the hormonal surge at puberty. That tantalizing metaphor for sexual awakening (and, considering the hostility and secrecy a hated and feared mutant must endure, homosexual awakening more specifically) is ripe ground for fevered imaginations.
As far as slash fiction writers go, Iím a dilettante. I belong only to a few of the over 2,500 (at last count) Yahoo! groups devoted to slash, and have penned a handful of stories, a chump-change output compared to some prolific voices. They all seem to know each other, too, so Iím definitely the new girl at the party. (And it is girlsóslash is mostly a phenomenon among heterosexual women. Iíve met exceptions to both criteria, but overwhelmingly itís straight women writing for other straight women.) For the most part, a culture of camaraderie abounds, but Iím not looking for new best friends. I want an audience for my writing, not a chance to meet like-minded people (which is not to say that I havenít enjoyed my correspondences with others in the scene). I like my slash fiction to be a dirty little threesome between me, my characters, and the anonymous reader waiting outside the electronic glory hole. If I get someone off (and they tell me so), I donít feel a chat-room cybersex connection, only a writerís pride in a job well done. I might be motivated by lust while writing alone in my room, but when Iím done Iím hungry only for praise.
When you write for a living, as I do, the joy you feel at your craft is tempered by the urgent panic to meet deadlines, sound semicompetent, and impress your editor enough to get hired again. Slash is my obligation-free outlet for writing where none of the above applies. Some slashers campaign for more legitimacy for their genre, handing out awards and assembling compendiums, but I want slash to remain a Pulitzer-free zone. I want it to stay dork pulp.
Different rules apply according to the canon in which you write. Are you writing from mainstream X-comics, where Wolverine is a short, rugged boozehound killing machine? Or are you dealing with movieverse, where heís the long-legged, infinitely more palatable Hugh Jackman? Too neglected in slash, in my opinion, is Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler, who was unflatteringly created as a scrawny blue imp in the X2 movie, but in the comics (especially as drawn by Alan Davis in the Excalibur books) is a lean, v-shaped gymnast with a dazzling fanged smile and a face that Leni Riefenstahl would have put front and center in any celebration of Aryan beautyóthat is, of course, if he didnít have a prehensile tail (good), double-wide fused fingers (better), and wasnít covered in a fine flocking of blue velvet fur (yum). Nightcrawler is sexy, dammit. Plus, since heís German heís probably not circumcised. (See, these are the things you begin to think about. Batman probably is, Robin is, Captain America is, Spider-Man is. Superman isnít. The profound irony of Superman, brainchild of two Jewish teenagers, is that heís immune to a mohelís ministrations. I guess youíd have to make a blade out of Kryptonite or something.)
Thereís no reason why slash fiction canít be about female/female relationships. The X-Men especially have 30 years of richly fleshed-out female characters to spin into new smut, but most of whatís out there, in any genre, is male/male pairings. Maybe itís because the writers are womenósomething could be inferred about menís visual vs. womenís verbal erotic centersóbut that strikes me as a gross oversimplification. Beyond the obvious (that straight women dig watching two guys go at it with the same gusto that straight guys enjoy the vice versa), I think thereís more to the gender imbalance.
The superhero is the myth of the Ubermensch redux, a projection of human perfection and limitless power couched in spandex and Zipatone for mass consumption. For the same reasons that little boys dream about being Superman, I think women project a great deal of freedom on gay men. They love art and film and decor and beauty, just like me, except theyíre taller and stronger and make more money. They can drink more and run faster and walk down streets alone at nightóeven when dressed to impressówithout fearing for their life. They piss easier and come quicker and hook up with impunity, worrying little about their reputation and none at all about pregnancy. (Apparently this gender envy goes both ways in comics. Some cultural theorists explain the preponderance of naked women with guns in anime as a reflection of the overworked Japanese maleís perception of women having an easier life.)
I know the reality of being a gay man is not as carefree or safe as it looks from my spectatorís seat. I bet if you got a few beers into the Green Lantern, heíd bitch and moan about his lot in life, too. But that still doesnít stop people from wanting to trade places with him, even if just for the 32 pages it takes to finish another of his adventures. Straight womenís admiration for gay men is an extension of the superhero ideal. If the metaphor behind the Hulk myth is the boy becoming the man, then I am still, in my puny and mercurial female body, an unactualized Bruce Banner in perpetuity.
Oddly enough, for someone who gets their hobby jollies making men in tights fuck each other, I lament the decline of the Comics Code. Iíve no quarrel with comics being open to all kinds of material, and Iím unconvinced that some books are better for kids than others. My own collection is split evenly between Marvel/DC and Fantagraphics, and nonmainstream books I read as a child (like RAW) expanded my brain in beneficial ways. Even the X-books were fairly frank about adult topics, but in the same clever way Hitchcock bamboozled censors by finagling the rules to plant horrific ideas in the viewerís head. I like that subterfuge. I want there to be a wink between panels, a wordless doctrine transmitted between the empty space and the mind ready to receive itóa secret world in the gutters. Frederic Wertham, the psychologist whose inflammatory anti-comics diatribe Seduction of the Innocent was responsible for the creation of the Comics Code in the Ď50s, famously warned parents, ďThere are pictures within pictures for children who know how to look.Ē What he intended as scourging critique of a trash medium I see as its greatest strength, the root of pure diesel inspiration for slashers like me.
But when all is said and done, I wouldnít be compelled to write slash if the X-Men didnít mean so much to me in the first place. They were friends in friendless places when I was growing up, and my love for them is undimmed by adulthood. I donít like to think too much about them being fictional. Iíd rather pretend that someone like Paris Hilton is a figment of our collective imagination and that Nightcrawler is just a phone call away. If heóor any of the X-Menócalled, I would know who it was just by the sound of their voice. My love for the X-Men goes beyond wanting to collect figurines or mint-quality first issues. It digs in closer to the reptilian part of my brain, where connections are raw and illogical and carry more weight than anything the outer brain can provide. I love them so fiercely that they are citizens of my secret self. It stands to reason they occupy a part of my head where my basest urges lie. Through some neural bleed-through itís all become one and the same.
When I was a kid I stayed up late at night tracing superheroes. Iíd overlay tracing paper onto comic pages, scribe the contours of their bodies, scrub the reverse side of the image with a blunted pencil, and transfer the sacred outline of their body to a blank sheet of paper to do with what I wished. And now here I am, 20 years later, still tracing superheroesí bodies late at night but now with a grown womanís libido and command of the language, instead of a kidís blunt pencil and inchoate yearning to be super. Iím pleased that, even after changes upon changes, at the core I am the same. Well, mostly the same. But I donít hear any complaints from Wolverine.
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