merricatk: (FERAL FAN)
Two: Why I write slash

In one of her books, Susie Bright talks about how there was a time in the feminist movement where a lesbian would be considered "inauthentic" if she showed interest in penetrative sex, particularly if the penetration involved an object shaped like a penis. At some point she found a lover who didn't buy into that, and while the sex was more satisfying for her, Susie said she also felt like a traitor to the cause. It took a while to get over that.

I know the feeling. It took me a long time--and reading Susie Bright--to stop feeling like there was something fundamentally wrong with me because my fantasies didn't include me. I needed to distance myself, to fantasize about two men together. And the two men were always from TV or the movies. (That last part didn't bother me.) What the hell was wrong with me?

The answer is, nothing, at least nothing that has to do with what I fantasize and how I write. My attitude toward fantasy is that it's a waste of time to fantasize about things I could actually be doing--why not just do those things? Fantasy is about finding the breadths and depths of myself in a safe way.

Writing slash is like that, too. I write characters I find empowering, characters I feel attuned to but I could never be, characters who get to do things I could never do.

And I like to do to them what I'm doing to myself: open them up and force them to look at themselves and see who they really are. With me it's voluntary and I use my writing, and I do it with help and distance and some care. With the characters, I use sex.

Take a guy who has always considered himself 110% straight and have him fall in love with another guy, then watch what he does. Have an identity crisis? Become violent? Bury himself in denial? Or just accept this new facet of himself? Does he kick the guy out of his life, or drag him to his bed? What happens the next morning--in either scenario? Does he tell himself that just because he's attracted to this guy doesn't mean he's attracted to all guys, so he's not really gay, right?

And what's the other guy doing? Trying to figure out what's going on with his friend? Or has he already figured it out and is just waiting to see what happens--or maybe having his own freak-out?

I have been in a position where I've felt so vulnerable that it seemed as though people could read my emotions in my eyes. I've been so depressed I could barely move. I've given both of these conditions to the characters I write, to look at them from both the inside and the outside--and I've made the other character deal with these issues, to see what a pain in the ass I was.

Am I claiming that because I write slash I know what the gay male experience is like? No. Or that I've done something for anyone besides myself? No.

But I'm not appropriating anything but the make-believe lives of make-believe people. The characters I write aren't canonically gay, and--and this is the part that seems to get lost, or maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's important--they aren't supposed to be real. They're fictional characters. Whatever I do with them has no more bearing on the lives of actual human beings than my using a toy cat to work out my frustrations in some way hurts real cats.

ETA: Apparently some of the problem is that when writing slash, we girls are leaving out the real world problems and issues that men who sleep with men have. This is another case that seems to be about (supposedly) realistic pro fiction. Because the worlds I'm writing in are the ones set up and maintained by the TV writers--which is certainly not the real world. I'm not writing The Purple Rose of Cairo here. I deal with what was given to me on the TV screen, I extrapolate from that, and I try to make it all more realistic by making the characters more well-rounded, and dealing with the repercussions of their actions even when their original writers left them hanging. But my writing is not set in the real world.
merricatk: (specs)
I write slash.

I've been writing slash for a good many years now--about half my life. I first heard about slash in a feminist newspaper, Off Our Backs, which had printed Joanna Russ's essay, Pornography: For Women, By Women, With Love. That was when I discovered that the stories I'd been telling were being told by other women, too. It was revelatory.

Unfortunately, it didn't provide any access to "organized fandom." Nor did the book that essay was published in, though it did tell me about zines. But how to find them? I didn't know the password!

That access came serendipitously from a friend at work. She'd heard about zines from a friend, and she knew I liked Starsky & Hutch, so when she got a zine with an S&H story in it, she loaned it to me. I expressed my gratitude, and when she got a copy of an adzine (a zine that advertised fannish things for sale, zine editors looking for stories, and upcoming cons), I surreptitiously wrote down the names and addresses of the people selling S/H. (My friend is not a slash reader.)

One of the women was here in town, and Pat and I went out to her house one night and bought a big box of zines and unpublished stories. (She had edited zines, and so had copies of rejected stories. This was probably not kosher, but we didn't know that.)

Besides having stories to read, I now had people to write to, places to submit my fiction.

I got published pretty quickly, started meeting people, became an active part of SH fandom.

Since then I've also written slash in Twin Peaks, The Man From UNCLE, and Wiseguy (which I'm still writing). In all of this writing, there's only one thing I've strived to do in terms of characterization: make it match up with what I see on my TV screen.

If you asked most of these characters if they were gay, they'd at least equivocate, if not downright deny it. I write old fashioned "I'm not gay, I'm just in love with my partner" slash. I've read that's homophobic. Well, some of those characters are homophobic. I write 'em as I see 'em.

And like the name of Joanna Russ's essay, I write them for women. Specifically, I write them for women who are fans of the show who also see the characters as potential lovers. Because here's the thing: what I write about, first and foremost, is TV characters. TV characters who, for the most part, are seen by their creators as straight, but because of the chemistry of the actors, and the limitations of television, could be seen as more than just good friends. (By the limitations of television, I mean that literally. The physical closeness of Starsky and Hutch, that shared space--one sitting on the arm of the other's chair even when there's an empty chair right there--has to do with the size of the average TV screen at the time. If they were both going to be in a close-up, they had to be close up.)

A good friend of mine--straight, male--once told me that the sex scenes we slash writers write are unrealistic because men just don't think that much during sex. And I smiled at him and said, "Yeah, we know. But we don't care." I then told him that Hemingway was considered a great writer, but I found his women unrealistic.

I think the problem I have with the whole idea that gay men are upset because women are writing fictional characters gay is that I've never identified that closely with a TV character. (Well, I was Catwoman in the second grade, but that seems to have passed.) No matter how well-rounded the characterization is, their lives are make-believe with, when you think about it, glaring holes in the narrative. Real life isn't like that.

And I don't understand how trying to write about already-fictional characters has any effect on the lives of--well, anybody. Maybe the actors who portrayed them, if they feel very close to them, but otherwise--I don't get it.

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merricatk

November 2013

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