Cesare and Lucrezia remind me of Heathcliff and Catherine. I don’t think they are anything like the characters or at least I must say I like them...
so i’m on this conference call for work and it has me thinking about fandom. on this call, we’re talking about how marginalized groups are fighting...
I spend most of the time I spend with you feeling isolated.
Because every time I see something I think is cool, you spend the next four...
Most advocates for queer rights would agree that we suffer from a lack of positive representation in the media, and that prejudices within the media both reflect, and contribute to prejudices in society at large.
In order for people to hold prejudice against queerness they must first believe that queerness is abnormal/wrong/bad. In order for people to believe that, they must first assume that straightness is normal/right/good.
This bias, otherwise known as heteronormativity, is the foundation on which queer oppression is built.Homophobia and biphobia and and transphobia are all products of heteronormativity.
Therefore, when I argue for better queer representation in the media, I am fighting not merely for a greater quantity of queer representation. I am fighting mainstream media’s heteronormative and totally inaccurate conception of what constitutes/qualifies as queer.
But what is queer, really?
- queer (adj.)
c.1500, “strange, peculiar, eccentric,” from Scottish, perhaps from Low German (Brunswick dialect) queer “oblique, off-center,” related to German quer “oblique, perverse, odd,” from Old High German twerh “oblique,” from PIE root *twerk- “to turn, twist, wind” (related to thwart). Sense of “homosexual” first recorded 1922; the noun in this sense is 1935, from the adjective.
- queer (v.)
“to spoil, ruin,” 1812, from queer (adj.). Related: Queered; queering.
Throughout modern history queer is a word mainstream society has used to denigrate LGBT people, and people in the BDSM community, and feminists, and asexuals, and the polyamorous, and tomboys and all the other freaks and geeks. Calling us queer implied that we were perverted, crazy, sexually deviant and unhealthily fixated.
In more recent history the term queer has since been reclaimed by the people once stigmatized by it. To a degree. Certain forms of queerness have become more socially acceptable. Now people with more socially acceptable forms of queerness attempt to segregate themselves from people with less socially acceptable forms of queerness using the same stigmatizing, trivializing and denigrating language once used against them.
Once upon a time all queerness was considered wrong, and all forms of queer advocacy were considered ridiculous. Now we have people within the queer community denigrating other people in the queer community for being the wrong kind of queer, or doing the wrong kind of advocacy.
Where does slash come in to this?
A lot of people seem to believe that slash is the wrong kind of advocacy. They say that slash fans are perverted, crazy, sexually deviant and unhealthily fixated. They say that slash fans are really just straight girls  appropriating queerness, and not part of the queer community at all. They say that slash itself contradicts and undermines the goals of the queer community at large.
I think slash is a valid and effective form of queer advocacy. Valid because subverting heteronormativity is the fundamental premise of slash. Effective due to slash fandom’s measurable influence on popular media (and therefore on culture and on society ), which I will discuss further in the next segment of this essay.
Now hold still, because I’m about to drop some history on you:
Slash is an ongoing phenomenon that started back in the 60’s as a way for (predominantly female) fans to reinterpret heteronormative, male directed media from a (predominantly female) queer perspective.
Kirk/Spock, debatably the first slash OTP, was sort of the Sterek of its day. Star Trek (1966-1969) was like the Teen Wolf of it’s day — an idealized fictional universe, free of modern-day prejudices (inasmuch as a privileged white straight cis male writer in the 1960’s could conceive of such a universe).
Star Trek was a megafandom that arose in the midst of great social upheaval. Consider the social climate of this period. The civil rights movement was taking place. American television was going through a major change, from black and white to technicolor. The women’s rights movement was just getting up off the ground.
The slash phenomenon began as a way for women to explore queerness and sexuality, at a time in history when any expression of female sexuality was considered deviant and queer. When Star Trek aired, Roe vs. Wade was still years in the future. Slash fans secretly made and exchanged handmade slash periodicals known as zines. They hid their slash interests in a slash closet for fear of being outed and subsequently scarlet lettered by friends, family and employers.
In 1969 the internet was born. This proto-internet was basically an e-mail service. Minus the service. Eventually fans started posting fanfiction to usenet. In 1990 the first search engine was invented. In 1994 Squidge.ORG went up. As far as I know this was the first fanfiction archive on the internet.
In 1994 CBS started airing Due South. In 1995 the USA Network started airing Xena: Warrior Princess. In 1996, the pilot episode of The Sentinel aired on UPN (which later merged with The WB to become The CW). Now understand, television has a long history of airing shows that revolve around codependent (predominantly male) friendships. Starsky and Hutch. The Professionals. Batman and Robin. Etc. Etc. Prior to the mid 1990’s, only a small subculture of slash fen actually read homoerotic subtext into these codependent friendships. For the most part, nobody in the mainstream had any conscious awareness of homoerotic subtext in the media.
Due South, Xena and The Sentinel represent a turning point in slash history. They aired at a key point in the evolution of the internet, when fanfiction became easily searchable in centralized locations on the web.
Due South had a small but dedicated slash following. After two seasons the show creators decided to replace one half of the show’s central codependent male friendship with a quirkier, geekier character played by a more conventionally attractive actor. The show’s slash following grew exponentially.
Now I myself was never personally in The Sentinel fandom, but here is what I know of the show’s history from one of my older fan friends, Kkathy:
Somewhere mid season 2 or so the creators found out that legions of women were writing and posting (pornographic) queer fanfiction about the main characters. The people running the show didn’t like this, and so they directed the actors to “stop touching so much.” The actors (who were total trolls, and fond of their slash fanbase) decided to follow the letter, if not the spirit of this directive. Scenes of Jim smothering Blair with unnecessary physical contact were replaced with charged, awkward moments of Jim reaching for Blair only to pull his hand back at the last moment.
And lo, queerbaiting was born.
Other shows learned from these shows. Networks and writers began to see the advantages of having slash fans. Slash fans are very active fans. Slash fans advertise their fandoms. Slash fans organize and attend conventions for their fandoms. Slash fans buy merchandise, and if there is no merchandise to buy they make merchandise. A slash fan is worth more to a network than a casual fan, monetarily speaking.
The more show creators became aware of these advantages, the more they started writing codependent friendships with slash fen in mind, and introducing queer side characters. For good or for ill, slash has shaped how modern media represents queerness.
Knowing what slash has done in the past with regards to queer media representation, the question remains:
What has slash done for us lately?
Consider the damage that heteronormativity continues to wreak on popular culture via mainstream media.
Take, for example, the issue of bi-erasure.
According to the world of modern television, I do not qualify as queer. I’m neither white enough nor gay enough nor male enough to have my story told or my identity acknowledged. No one on television will even say the word bisexual outside the context of stereotyping, trivializing and denigrating bisexuality. Mainstream media would have me believe that my identity is a phase. And that goes double for supposedly progressive shows like Glee and Queer as Folk.
The erasure doesn’t stop there. Entertainment periodicals, fandom journalists and even regular fan bloggers continually reinforce the idea that all characters are “straight until proven gay” and that gayness is the only valid form of queerness.
People refer to characters such as Kurt Hummel, Charlie Bradbury and Danny Mahealani as “real” queer characters, thereby implying that characters such as Stiles Stilinski, Dean Winchester or Xena are only “pretend” queer. Fans who invest emotional energy in these so called “pretend” queer characters and their “pretend” queer subtext are accused of being delusional (never mind that the “pretend” queer subtext is put in deliberately).
In reality, there are no “pretend” queer people. In the day to day interactions of actual human beings, chemistry is chemistry and unresolved sexual tension is unresolved sexual tension. Real people do not append every moment of intimacy with a “no homo/yes homo” qualifier. Straightness is not humanity’s default setting.
It is only natural that many of us today are fed up with queerbaiting. We want queer stories that more closely reflect reality. Stories in which queer subtext is given the same canonical payoff as straight subtext, and queer relationships develop in the same relatively organic manner that straight relationships have been developing between characters on ensemble casts for years.
When we say that we want ships like Sterek or Destiel to become canon, we are not saying we want them to cut all family ties and ride off into the sunset together (Due South gave us that decades ago) or that we want their souls to merge in a magical orgasm metaphor (The Sentinel gave us that decades ago). We’ve already been given the subtextual version of a fairytale romance. We want a real romance. 
We want the romantic/sexual potential between two characters to be clearly acknowledged and legitimized in canon. We want our ships to have bungled first kisses, failed dates, drunken hookups followed by awkward morning after’s, serious “we need to talk” moments, breakups and actual orgasms instead of metaphorical ones.
Heteronormativity in the media and in society hinders self-awareness in queer youth, which in turn hinders healthy social interaction, intimacy and the development of healthy relationships. Heteronormativity is the reason I didn’t figure out I was bisexual until age seventeen, when I should have realized at age seven 7 (trust me, it was obvious even then).
Slash, in contrast, is the reason I figured out I was bisexual at age 17, when I otherwise might not have realized until age 27. Slash undid a lot of the damage done to me by heteronormativity. As a multiracial queer female, slash has given me the acknowledgement I needed. Slash fandom has given me a home and a voice.
Anyone who has ever participated in slash fandom in any way, shape or form has done so out of a desire/appreciation for queer stories — stories that mainstream media has failed to provide due to its heteronormative bias. Slash takes the stories given to us by mainstream media and subverts them to fill a cultural niche. It doesn’t matter whether slash fans are looking for queer representation, or queer social commentary, or queer romantic escapism, or queer wank material. Slash combats heteronormativity by its very existence, regardless of the motivations of its creators or the desires of its audience.
I am not trying to say that slash fiction is sacrosanct, or that slash fans are model citizens who never display problematic behavior. No community is free of problematic behavior. There are racist and sexist and abelist and homophobic people who consider themselves sports fans. But being a sports fan, as a concept, is none of these things.
Slash, as a concept, is none of these things.
Slash is good, and we should feel good.
 Rather than attempt to personally explain how popular media influences society, I’ll refer any readers who are curious about the subject to a good Mass Communications textbook. Alternatively, readers can simply google “media and culture.”
 Of all shows with a large slash following, Xena has probably come closest to providing canonical payoff for its inherent queer subtext. There’s a reincarnation episode set in “modern-day,” wherein Xena gets reincarnated into Gabrielle’s body, Gabrielle gets reincarnated into Joxer’s body, and they hook up (whilst genderswapped into a heterosexual configuration? or something). Additionally, Xena and Gabrielle had some kind of CPR breath sharing moment in the series finale that was deliberately filmed to look like a passionate kiss.
 I’m not sure there’s any way of definitively pinpointing when exactly queerbaiting began. Writers of serials have been using unresolved sexual/romantic tension to hook audience members since long before the invention of film. What makes queerbating different from regular heterosexual UST is that the audience is expected to understand that the romantic tension they glean from the story is not “serious” romantic tension. Queerbaiting is thus a way of rewarding the queer audience with the chemistry/intimacy they want, while simultaneously putting the queer audience in their place, firmly establishing that this particular brand of chemistry/intimacy is fake.
Grey’s Anatomy, better than most, actually has a major recurring bisexual character. But in all her many seasons of character growth, she has never once voiced the word bisexual, nor had the word voiced to her or of her. The closest the show came to an acknowledgement of her actual orientation was a vindictive girlfriend telling her, “You can’t like both,” and her replying, “Yes, I can” and the girlfriend subsequently rejecting her with disgust. I suppose it is too much to hope that any major networks would get it right at this point in time.
At least we have Torchwood?
There are of course some slash fans who would rather see a subtextual fairytale romance face the relationship pitfalls that come with a more realistic canonical romance. IMHO these fen are running a severely outdated version of the Slash™ application and need to upgrade their software, stat.
There are also slash fans who fear bad writing and poorly executed storylines should their ships become canon. My response? Of course they’re going to screw it up. They’ve never done it before. They’re not going to get it right the first time. Behind every high quality product is a series of inferior prototypes. Flawed storylines invite critical feedback, leading towards improved storylines, and thus progress is made. Absent storylines invite nothing and lead to nothing, and thus progress grinds to a halt.
I highly recommend reading Suaine’s post on this subject.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands