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22 June 2003 @ 08:42 pm
The appeal of slash, with a side of QAF.  
This is just a long ramble that started out to be a rehash of why slash appeals to women, and then veered constantly into my QAF obsession, notably Brian Kinney, who *is* a superhero.




I was thinking earlier today about slash and it occurred to me for what felt like the first time--because I am slow, or because I've forgotten all the slash theory I once read--that slash began to emerge as a cultural phenomenon at the same time both the women's liberation movement and the gay liberation movement began taking off. I don't know what that could mean, but drawing facile correspondences is often the easiest way to begin thinking about a subject. So...

Why Some Women Hold a Slash Orientation: A Question Revisited (For the Ten Thousandth Time)

- There's the erotic element, but also the romantic element to keep in mind. Slash is as much about emotion as about sex; it's about friendship and a different identity. It's possible that there have always been women who find a Greek ideal of romantic male friendship attractive, imagining that men can be better with each other than they are with women. Men are more powerful, their lives more interesting--cleaner, somehow, when they're divested of familial obligations and allowed to pursue their own careers or missions, missions that are almost always noble. There's a reason that slash is a fannish thing, tied to media models of manliness. Because a lot of TV characters are deliberately cast into service professions that lend themselves to heroics, ensembles, and scenarios with rapidly changing casts of characters. Police work, the military, the FBI, medicine, etc. It's not just a masculine ideal we're often attracted to, it's the *uber* masculine ideal, the superhero, the supercop. And so we often hie to fandoms centered around a loner (or two) whose family is his friends, when he lets them in--and he can pick and choose when he does.

Brian Kinney is *the* ultimate slash character in most ways: he's successful, rich, sexy, aloof, detached from his rotten family. He takes what he needs from his friends and abandons them casually whenever he's done with them. He has the comfort of being able to take a lot of things for granted, including those friends. He has a huge loft that reeks of Architectural Digest porniness. He can have sex whenever he wants with whomever he wants. But he's also secretly sensitive and loving and needy. He takes care of everybody around him, once he's been guilted and prodded. He needs a lover in his life because he's lonely, and he's getting old, and he's afraid of being alone and past his prime--but he only lets Justin in just so far, and no further, upholding the model of independence that women cherish.

And though he's not in a heroic profession, he's been increasingly portrayed in heroic terms. It's obvious now with his whole sleuthing arc in season three, but it goes back to the beginning, takes off in the end of season one, gets played up hard in season two, and is always there, hidden cleverly in the subtext. He's *literally* the model for a superhero. He saves people all the time *and* his heroism is secret--it's a secret identity, disguised by his everyday assholery. He really is Rage, not just because he performs some of the more obvious heroic acts, but because he consistently hides all his helpful actions, to the point where people even *comment* on it when they do catch him. Like Debbie in the diner, after Brian walks away from Ted, whose ass he's just pulled from the fire: "Why does he always do that?" she asks, meaning, why does he always blow off his own generous actions? Because that's superheroes do; hide their identities. That's the whole point of Brian: to model the ultimate expression of the Fortress of Solitude. He's locked up, down, and away even when he's buried amid an orgy of flesh. He's cold, like Han Solo in carbonite. He's the living proof that every superhero needs a sidekick: it's not until Justin comes along to play that role, Justin with his super-hot blowjobs and his Robinlike effusiveness, that Brian really begins to fill out his cape.

Michael was the original sidekick, of course, but *Michael* is proof that superhero and sidekick aren't a platonic model. In the Queer as Folk universe, they say bullshit to that: Batman and Robin are not just gay, they're gay and they're *doing* it.

There's a reason Brian and Michael's friendship is so problematic. It's a tense thing, caught between traditional representations and new models. And Queer as Folk is a comic book universe, when you strip away the veneer of realism. It's built on that now familiar metaphor of superheroes and gayness, for one thing. It's about identies both secret and public, it's about closets, it's about heroism, and it's about *place*. Pittsburgh, the city, becomes more and more a character in itself as the show progresses, along with its representatives--cops and civic leaders. The law and order elements that rule the city would, in a traditional comic book universe, be the white hats. Here, the show inverts old terms of morality, and the city represents the dark side of family values. Even the gay leaders are consistently shown to be hypocrites, social-climbing toadies and tokens who mouth the city's moral platitudes. And Brian, our conflicted, reluctant, dark-suited hero, has used the system and been used by it, but when he really starts to show his true colors--reveal his identity--the system chews him up and spits him out. The city doesn't want a *real* gay superhero, one who speaks plainly, speaks the truth, represents the naked face of desire, etc. He's supposed to keep his identity in the closet.

Trying to wander back on topic, such as it is: usually, the most persistent beloved slash objects are heroes and their sidekicks and their enemies. Sometimes you slash two heroes, sometimes hero and sidekick, or hero and enemy, etc etc. Mulder and Krycek and Skinner. Fraser and his Rays. Spike and Xander--and that's a ship that took a while to take off, I think, because they're shifty characters, in the sense that they shift in and out of traditional roles. It seems to me that Angel/Xander was the first real slash ship of the show, and that's easier to grok, because Angel is the ultimate hero type.

And back to the appeal of slash...

- It's about power, and about the appeal of a masculine or androgynous identity, as we envision it: the desire for men, in a man's liberated form. We either want men to be like they are in slash, or we ourselves--women--want to exist in a better, more humanized form, similar to what slashed men inhabit. Or both. In slash, "being a man" doesn't mean keeping up an emotionless front, or indulging in apelike male rituals that drive women crazy; it means being sensitive, understanding, and strong, it means you get respect, it means that you're righteous when tortured, etc. And when intensely masculine men who get slashed--the stoic, grim, repressed ones--it's usually for the pleasure of turning them inside out and showing their marshmallow centers.

Or, if we harbor a secret identity of our own, if we're dark bitches with a lot of rage, we revel in avatars of evil whose gooey centers have been blackened and burnt. Heh.

And we like slash because...

- From a position within a hetero relationship, women only see its mundane aspects. Financial interdependencies related to a legal marital contract, childrearing, the dark dull side of domesticity. What appears utterly alien--a relationship between men who can't marry, who are equals--might start to seem romantic because it doesn't come with traditional expectations and obligations.

As women became liberated from traditional marital bonds, as divorce rose, the few remaining scraps of romance surrounding marriage began drying up and blowing away. The myth of marriage was stripped of its romantic power; if you can divorce, then the marriage bond is just a legal convenience that can be put aside at any time. Where is romance, then? It's somewhere else, where the grass is greener, over there where the gay men are dancing.

And yet sometimes we write about incredibly domesticated relationships--incredibly domesticated men--maybe because we want to reinvest the marital paradigm with the myth of romance.

Ramble, ramble, blah. I'm talked out and hungry, and as I look back at what I've just written, half of it seems like empty theory, and the rest tangent. Oh well. I wonder what's on TV....




 
 
 
sparkledark: pretty boysparkledark on June 22nd, 2003 09:09 pm (UTC)
Mmm. Your brain think good thoughts.

::licks your brain::
Herself_nyc: Brianherself_nyc on June 22nd, 2003 09:13 pm (UTC)
As women became liberated from traditional marital bonds, as divorce rose, the few remaining scraps of romance surrounding marriage began drying up and blowing away. The myth of marriage was stripped of its romantic power; if you can divorce, then the marriage bond is just a legal convenience that can be put aside at any time. Where is romance, then? It's somewhere else, where the grass is greener, over there where the gay men are dancing.

And yet sometimes we write about incredibly domesticated relationships--incredibly domesticated men--maybe because we want to reinvest the marital paradigm with the myth of romance.


This is something I've struggled to articulate to myself without success, and you did it really succinctly here. This feels true to me.

I've added this post to my memories--eventually someone in the mundane world will ask me about slash and I'll show them this.
sisabet: promsisabet on June 22nd, 2003 09:58 pm (UTC)
The city doesn't want a *real* gay superhero, one who speaks plainly, speaks the truth, represents the naked face of desire, etc. He's supposed to keep his identity in the closet.

I'm loving this - please write more. Deep thought...Mmmm...
dr dawndrdawn on June 22nd, 2003 10:19 pm (UTC)
I have so been thinking the same thing about BK. He helps the helpless. I was going to start a list of the number of times he helps people because its overlooked and over shadowed by his assholiness. Like season 3.1, when the leather guys are fighting over China patterns and he takes them to see Lindsay and Mel. OK, yeah, lots of times he helps people for his own reasons but he's growing. Buying the Batmobile, I think, sealed his fate. It has been building slowy. Micheal and Justin see him as a gay superhero and in that respect, he is not about to let those boys down.

Great Post.
Anna S.eliade on June 22nd, 2003 11:01 pm (UTC)
Buying the Batmobile, I think, sealed his fate.

Oh. My. God. You're so right! The Batmobile! Why didn't I see it?! And did you see tonight's finale!? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
dr dawndrdawn on June 23rd, 2003 05:40 am (UTC)
Re:
The finale is downloading right now!! I can't wait.
(Anonymous) on June 23rd, 2003 02:22 am (UTC)
One of the reasons I liked BtVS (and Xander) so much is they put a kind of feminine spin on the masculine lone hero ideal. I'd like to see Brian and Xander meet and wind up comparing notes. Their heroic aspects aside they're just the sorts of people who'd set each other's teeth on edge.
kjdraft on June 23rd, 2003 12:58 pm (UTC)
An opposing viewpoint:

The idea that women live mundane, romance-less existences completely confounds me. Even if I did believe this, a better solution would be to read and write about het relationships, not homosexual ones in which women have no hope of participating, further propogating the concept that women cannot hope to understand, enjoy or fulfill men the same way that other men can.

It's like self loathing or self boredom, another way for people who've already given up on themselves (physically, or sexually, or whatever) to further disassociate.
Anna S.eliade on June 23rd, 2003 01:40 pm (UTC)
Even if I did believe this, a better solution would be to read and write about het relationships, not homosexual ones in which women have no hope of participating, further propogating the concept that women cannot hope to understand, enjoy or fulfill men the same way that other men can.

It's like self loathing or self boredom, another way for people who've already given up on themselves (physically, or sexually, or whatever) to further disassociate.


There is no "solution" unless you consider someone's psychological bent toward a particular type of fantasy to be inherently wrong and in need of fixing. Fantasy and fiction are not "solutions." They're just things we enjoy. And I'm just using some generalized descriptive concepts to think about why individual women might have an interest in slash.

It is a psychological way of looking at the issue--if you stop trying to root out the why of it, you end up simply saying, "I like gay boys. Thinking about them gets me off." And I don't think there's anything wrong with that--again, unless you want to view fandom as a pathology. I know more than one person who holds that view.

Mostly, I just enjoy slash without self-examination or critical thought or whiffly theorizing. But sometimes I--and I think we, as a group--do wonder about the why of our inclinations, and I think the reasons might be at root pretty complex. Some reasons for favoring a particular type of erotic or romantic fantsy may *not* represent the more "healthy and well-adjusted" aspects of our personalities. But in the same way that trying to redirect sexual orientation is a crock, I think trying to readjust our erotic orientation toward "healthier" options, like het or femslash--options that include representations of women--is just wishful thinking. Fandom is by nature escapist, but it's also only one part of people's multifaceted lives. It doesn't necessarily mean that the people who enjoy it, and who enjoy slash, don't have and pursue healthy, real-life realtionships, or careers.

I do think fandom and slash can be areas in which people's identity issues surface. But identity can be a very interior and messy thing, not always exemplified in our actions or external lives, not always consistent with itself. It can be multiple.

I did bookend my post by saying, "Drawing facile correspondences is often the easiest way to begin thinking about a subject," and "half of [what I posted] seems like empty theory." I think that the many possibilities I laid out for why women might like slash *are* trite and not necessarily true for everyone. Generalizations, especially those based on no evidence, are really most useful as talking points and in how they pave the way for individual self-analysis. Someone might say for example that, "the appeal of a masculine or androgynous identity" is something they've felt before, but they feel like they got over this stage in late adolescence, and yet here they are reading slash, so maybe it's something to think about more.

Blah blah, etc.
kjdraft on June 23rd, 2003 02:20 pm (UTC)
There is no "solution" unless you consider someone's psychological bent toward a particular type of fantasy to be inherently wrong and in need of fixing. Fantasy and fiction are not "solutions." They're just things we enjoy.

Sure, and that's all good. I was responding to the (possibly "empty" theory) that suggests that women enjoy slash because:

We either want men to be like they are in slash, or we ourselves--women--want to exist in a better, more humanized form, similar to what slashed men inhabit

So we value 'feminine' qualities ("it means being sensitive, understanding...") in gay males but not in females? This just seems odd to me. It's only a good/noble/exciting quality if it exists in men, since maintaining that quality (or any quality, really) as a female banishes you to a mundane existence? That men will tolerate or actively enjoy those qualities with other men but not with women signifies that something vague and altogether undefinable is 'wrong' with women, i.e. the writer/reader, particularly since it is usually straigh males who are slashed.

Fantasizing that somehow gay males are in a "better, more humanized form" (also sexier, equal to one another, etc.) feels anti-female, particularly coming from other females. It seems to marginalize both groups at once ("oh look at the adorable boy lovers" ) while erasing one's own identity/feminine sexuality or relationship capabilities.

Something else that mystified me:

And yet sometimes we write about incredibly domesticated relationships--incredibly domesticated men--maybe because we want to reinvest the marital paradigm with the myth of romance.

Which made me wonder why the myth of domestic romance could only be acted out by two men together, and not a man and a woman, especialy if the inherent frustration of domesticity as it exists for women (as I understand your theory) is the root of / one part of the motivation to seek out male slash. (See above about men working it out with other men, but not being able to work it out with women.)

It doesn't necessarily mean that the people who enjoy it, and who enjoy slash, don't have and pursue healthy, real-life realtionships, or careers.

Right. However, based on the concept/fantasy that women cannot find fulfilling (or indeed any) romance from men, and feel obligated to create it between gay males (as a "cuter", or "hotter", "better" or "more senstive" alternative) implies disatisfaction. That was a correlation I deduced that may or may not be true for readers/writers of male slash but was worth mentioning IMO.
Anna S.eliade on June 23rd, 2003 04:48 pm (UTC)
So we value 'feminine' qualities ("it means being sensitive, understanding...") in gay males but not in females? This just seems odd to me. It's only a good/noble/exciting quality if it exists in men, since maintaining that quality (or any quality, really) as a female banishes you to a mundane existence?

I'm not sure where you're getting an either/or here. Slash is just one aspect of people's lives. Sensitivity is a quality I value in women, too, in my friends, in myself, etc. But it becomes framed--eroticized, aestheticized--in fantasy. For whatever reasons. But when I say that men in slash have a "humanized form," I'm talking about humanity as something that transcends gender, that blends gender; I think that's attractive to women. I think (a) that women would like men to be like they are in slash, rather than the oblivious jackasses they often are in real life, and I think (b) women would like to be seen as more human themselves--not just as women. That many of us would like to be granted, or adopt, certain characteristics that men own--even something as simple as the ability to "walk like a man" down a street and not feel vulnerable. Men's bodies, to me, seem like safer, sturdier vehicles; the model is the default one for humanity, I think, and--at least to my own perception as a woman--it seems like men are less likely to be "marked" by the male gaze for that reason.

That men will tolerate or actively enjoy those qualities with other men but not with women signifies that something vague and altogether undefinable is 'wrong' with women, i.e. the writer/reader, particularly since it is usually straigh males who are slashed.

I don't agree, but it's interesting to think about, because it occurs to me that when women write themselves out of the picture, it allows them to focus fully on men's roles--in slash, women don't figure, so they don't have to think about what it might mean to be more like men (the reverse of how we might want men to be like women), or think about their own responsibilities or behavior or characteristics. They can focus fully on "building the better man."

Which made me wonder why the myth of domestic romance could only be acted out by two men together, and not a man and a woman, especialy if the inherent frustration of domesticity as it exists for women (as I understand your theory) is the root of / one part of the motivation to seek out male slash.

It seems to me that you're suggesting it would be more natural to write or read about scenarios that have models of our female selves in them--and that's fine. I like female protagonists in novels. I love Sex and the City. But I think that slash lets us step outside the box and look at relationships in a way that doesn't engage our own troublesome female self-image(s). It's just a different focus.

Right. However, based on the concept/fantasy that women cannot find fulfilling (or indeed any) romance from men, and feel obligated to create it between gay males (as a "cuter", or "hotter", "better" or "more senstive" alternative) implies disatisfaction.

My own feeling is that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are just two halves of one apple. The apple of ambivalence. We're never wholly pleased or displeased with our lives, our relationships. Slash might just be a place where we rework dissatisfactions into pleasures.
kjdraft on June 23rd, 2003 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for playing along.
Anna S.eliade on June 23rd, 2003 06:36 pm (UTC)
Um. Okay. I'm not sure if I've pissed you off or what, but I get the feeling I have. It wasn't intended. I usually avoid any debate-styled discussion for reasons just like this.
kjdraft on June 23rd, 2003 01:04 pm (UTC)
one more thing...
Where is romance, then? It's somewhere else, where the grass is greener, over there where the gay men are dancing.

Why not where the gay women are dancing? Why the worship of men as noble, heroic, tortured characters, and not women without them? I would rather read Buffy/Faith fic over any male pairing because it's something I can relate to as a female, and something that allows me to imagine a reality I could conceivably participate in. (And it has the more general effect of celebrating one's own sexuality. )
Jainiejainieg on June 23rd, 2003 02:00 pm (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
>>Why not where the gay women are dancing? Why the worship of men as noble, heroic, tortured characters, and not women without them? <<

Hope y'all don't mind me butting in, here... but I just thought I'd pop in and say something.

Now, I'll say this, I love me some slash... as it happens, I'm bisexual and lean more towards women, but at the same time, I don't read femmeslash. Yeah, I know - weird, huh? But, I guess the thing is... with women... I already know how we think and interact and understand the complexities and contradictions we can embody - because I am a woman. For me, I guess, femmeslash is - though it may be hot - already 'known' territory for me and not quite as fascinating. I don't really need to read a story about Willow coming to terms with her blossoming feelings as a lesbian, because I've felt those same feelings myself. I don't know - maybe it's just me, but I like reading about what I don't know and what I can't figure out... and guys are definitely in that category. And, it's true, slash isn't even vaguely what most people would consider a 'true' or accurate interpretation of men and their behavior... not always... but there are some stories that nail it perfectly.

And there's always the - 'well guys like watching lesbians go at it, why can't women like watching two men?' argument - which I do believe is a perfectly valid position.

I might just totally be talking out of my ass, so if I am, you'll have to forgive me - I only just woke up, so I still haven't gotten my brain running on all 8 cylinders just yet. Still, does that make any sense...?
kjdraft on June 23rd, 2003 02:32 pm (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
I don't know - maybe it's just me, but I like reading about what I don't know and what I can't figure out... and guys are definitely in that category.

I would understand this better if it were written by men, but it isn't. Not to say straight women could never write about something they haven't personally experienced, but I would imagine if you're more interested in figuring out men in that capacity in a real way, having first person experience behind the description would be beneficial.

And there's always the - 'well guys like watching lesbians go at it, why can't women like watching two men?' argument - which I do believe is a perfectly valid position.

I've often considered the same thing. However, for eroctic literature/fanfic, I don't think this directly applies, as men tend to be excited by the visual. They don't sit around concocting stories about the inner torture of noble, tragic, heroic lesbians partaking in epic romances.
Jainiejainieg on June 23rd, 2003 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
>>I've often considered the same thing. However, for eroctic literature/fanfic, I don't think this directly applies, as men tend to be excited by the visual. They don't sit around concocting stories about the inner torture of noble, tragic, heroic lesbians partaking in epic romances.<<

That's very true. Then again, guys are, for the most part, contented with just the visual... for women, we need the complexity, we need the icky emotional stuff, we need the meat. Sure, there are times when we can be excited by the visual and just leave it at that, but me, personally, sometimes I need a hell of a lot more than that.
Anna S.eliade on June 23rd, 2003 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
However, for eroctic literature/fanfic, I don't think this directly applies, as men tend to be excited by the visual. They don't sit around concocting stories about the inner torture of noble, tragic, heroic lesbians partaking in epic romances.

Ha! So true. This is greatness. This deserves to be a sig. {g}
mayomayoihumbert on June 23rd, 2003 11:57 pm (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
hmm, I wonder if it's not so much that men are inherently, biologically more visually-oriented so much as that men have traditionally had control over the visual, while women have only recently (in the last few centuries) been able to have power, and only through not the purely visual, but the inner workings of their minds. That's why there's this huge genre of women writers writing in their tiny garrets, with only their "voices" to empower them like Charlotte Bronte or Virginia Woolf. What I like about slash, and beyond it QAF is that it the potential to expose women as more visual creatures. Actually, besides Anna made between the gay and feminist movements happening at the same time, I think that gays with their empowered male gazes looking at other males gave women a model with which to look at men as objects of desire.

I personally find myself becoming more an more visual as I come to know the male body better. I mean, besides slash and now QAF, where have you seen the penis portrayed in a sexy way? I don't find a lot of het-porn exciting because the woman is the object of desire, and because everything looks plastic to me. But through slash, I've been able to see the penis as an object of desire, and I think that's really liberating. Hmm, must take this to my own live journal. Sorry Anna, I'm starting to ramble.
soulmate815soulmate815 on June 29th, 2003 01:17 am (UTC)
Re: one more thing...
Re: one more thing...
mayoihumbert
2003-06-23 23:57 (link)
"hmm, I wonder if it's not so much that men are inherently, biologically more visually-oriented so much as that men have traditionally had control over the visual, while women have only recently (in the last few centuries) been able to have power, and only through not the purely visual, but the inner workings of their minds."

I totally agree with this. I have to say I was pretty lost in some of the earlier theories mentioned, but I feel that some of the comments now are veering into territory that I can relate to and understand. I think it has taken women a long time to collectively express open interest in the male body and we're still not even close to the comfort level men have in their fascination with the female body.

Re: one more thing...
mayoihumbert
2003-06-23 23:57 (link)
"But through slash, I've been able to see the penis as an object of desire, and I think that's really liberating."

Here here! Just last week I got into a discussion with two male friends at a bar about reasons why the male body is not depicted in a balanced way in het erotica. They theorized that the female body is more interesting and, of course, I heard the usual "I don't want to look at another guy" comments. I think it is not all about homophobia -- I think straight men really think their bodies are ugly -- that the penis is ugly and don't want to be reminded of that in any way. Gay men say that the male body is beautiful (or at least that it can be -- lol) -- I agree... I was in a bookstore the other day looking at photography books. I saw a book on the history of erotica through photographs -- not one single picture of a man.

The other thing I think of is that fantasy is sometimes about getting away from reality. No need to worry if the description of the woman fits what I see in the mirror, no need to try to imagine what she looks like instead of me. I really like the male body -- I'm fascinated by it so I will revel in stories that celebrate it -- slash or het.

OK, I'm rambling... sorry.