Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Hack on Slash

I haven’t told any of my friends or family this yet, but something strange happened to me last week. It came about during an unusually lively Thursday involving ambulance trips and a fair amount of pain related whimpering. (Fear not, regular readers, I’m fine. You’re not about to be abandoned in the barren wastelands of Reluctant Geek-less Saturdays).

The high point of the day was the shiny cylinder of delicious nitrous oxide that I was lucky enough to suck my way through, and aside from the giggling and wittering and tumbling through space it induced, there was one other rather surprising effect. In the midst of this drama and chaos I was comforted by a vision. An important vision. A vision that was telling me the time had come to share one of the most closely guarded and secretive corners of geekdom with the world.

As reality faded to grey around me, I found myself surrounded by every sci-fi crush I’ve ever had. (At least all of the male ones!) In the corner of the room, the Tenth and Eleventh doctors exchanged friendly banter about TARDIS size, while next to them the vampiric forms of Spike and Angel engaged in a bit of shirtless wrestling. On the other side of the room, Captain Jack Harkness and Captain Jack Sparrow admired each other’s coats and indulged in intense and charged conversation that necessitated some manly touching and long lingering looks. I could go on, but I suspect you’re starting to get the gist...

Far from merely being the product of my feverish and over-active imagination, all of this fits rather neatly into the genre of Slash Fiction, an interest that quietly occupies its own little corner of the internet, bothering no-one aside from the occasional religious fundamentalist who wanders over there by mistake. (And Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural). It’s a universe driven by fan interests in which primarily male, primarily straight, pre-existing fictional characters are written into complex, intense relationships with each other. So far, so subversive.

I hate to generalise, but if at this point you are shaking your head in baffled (if fascinated) disbelief, then the chances are you’re male. If on the other hand, this is all striking some secret and hitherto repressed chord, then you’re likely to be a woman and for the most part so are the writers of slash fic, to an overwhelming extent. We’re often told that whilst girl on girl action is pretty much everyone’s cup of tea, only gay men really want to see two men together, but when it comes to slash, this just ain’t necessarily so.

What makes it so transgressively compelling then? If there is safety in numbers, then it makes sense that Slash Fiction writers can often be found in little communities all of their own. The lovely, talented and eccentrically named Aelfric’s Cat belongs to one such community and offers some insight into the magnetic allure of slash.

“The idea of an overarching, transcendent love which surpasses all worldly difficulties, social objections, and yet still burns brightly is a huge draw,” she argues. “That two men have such intense, desperate desire for each other that they are willing to brave the prescriptions of a hetero-normative society, past enmity, strict upbringing, and biological restrictions is a truly beautiful concept.”

See, this is the thing. Easy as it might be to characterise Slash Fiction as the internet equivalent of a rowdy Hen Party in which women play at a kind of tit-for-tat objectification, it really comes down to something a bit more complex. Nobody, least of all me, is denying the appeal of the physical here (see earlier comments re: shirtless wrestling) but the real attraction of Slash lies in its willingness to tread where the mainstream generally won’t. There is still something thrillingly illicit about taking the bastions of conventional masculinity that populate our most influential cultural narratives, and putting them into taboo situations with all of that glorious masculinity intact. After all, the most interesting relationships are very often the forbidden ones.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising then, that fantasy and science fiction are far and away the most frequently slashed up genres, given that their entire game plan involves exploring previously uncharted territory. In fact, we have Star Trek to thank for the earliest incarnation of this specific branch of fan appreciation, with Kirk/Spock stories first emerging in the seventies. I suppose in the end, space may be the final physical frontier, but the cultural and emotional ones we create for ourselves are universes in their own right. And anyway, slash is fun!

Read Aelfric’s Cat’s work, and other Slash Fiction at

This week, Kate is attempting to stay out of trouble...


  1. Funniest story I was ever told about slash fiction was by Neil Gaiman in 2005, when I met him in Edinburgh.
    He was talking about slash and how his first experience with it was a printed and bound booklet at a con about Knight Rider. Lets just say the gear shift stick now means something entirely different to me too ;)
    And then, much later, he made the mistake of posting on his blog that he was seeing Good Omens slash (that made up a larger word count than the characters had in the books) and that he was glad there was none involving him. Eight seperate links later and he was scarred for life ;)
    Hope you're ok though - sounds pretty painful, whatever happened.

  2. Glad someone else out there appreciates Captain Jack!

  3. and I just thought it was me making up these stories in my head! Now to spend the rest of the day reading that link ...

  4. Kai, I think I love Gaiman even more as a direct result of that story! I'm fine now... thanks for the sympathy. :-)

    And doesn't everyone appreciate Captain Jack??!!