Of all of the stuff we learned about while studying Sexual Dissidence (true!) at the University of Sussex, the existence of Slash Fiction was the oddest and most intriguing. According to its (lengthy) Wikipedia entry:
Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction. It focuses on the depiction of sexual or romantic relationships between two or more characters, who are not necessarily engaged in relationships in the canon universe. While the term originally was restricted to fan fiction in which one or more male media characters were involved in an explicit adult relationship as a primary plot element, it is currently more generally used to refer to any pairing between male characters. The term is also sometimes applied to fiction focusing on relationships between female characters; however, some fans distinguish femslash as a separate genre.
The name arises from the use of the slash symbol (/) in the description of the primary pairing involved in the story, as compared to the ampersand (&) conventionally used for friendship fiction.
During the 1960s, fan-created comics (vividly) depicting a romantic relationship between Captain Kirk and Mr Spock were apparently HUGE and mainly among heterosexual women. This consumer-created stuff ain’t new you know. Kirk/Spock was so big that it even merits its own Wikipedia entry:
Many believe that the origins of Kirk/Spock lie in deliberate homosexual subtext in the Star Trek episode Amok Time (1967), written by noted science-fiction author Ted Sturgeon. There is good reason to believe Sturgeon’s part in this is deliberate; Sturgeon was known for introducing homosexual themes to science fiction during the homophobic 1950s. He also wrote a scene in an earlier Star Trek episode, “Shore Leave” (1966), in which Captain Kirk apparently believes that Mr. Spock is giving him a backrub.
More fuel was added to the fire by certain emotionally-charged scenes in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and because of an ambiguously-worded footnote in Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of that movie. (Slash fans took the footnote as validation; those opposed to slash also took it as validation.) From the novelization also comes the Vulcan word t’hy’la, which is defined as meaning friend, brother, lover. Spock uses the word twice to refer to Kirk. It is important to note, however, that in the novel Spock is depicted as asexual.
The full text of the footnote runs thus: “I was never aware of this ‘lovers’ rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently, he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow, which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself… I have always found my best gratification in that creature called woman. Also, I would not like to be thought of as being so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years.”
Friend of BST, Henry Jenkins, has a more elegant explanation:
When I try to explain slash to non-fans, I often reference that moment in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies. Both of them are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series.
Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass. The glass, for me, is often more social than physical; the glass represents those aspects of traditional masculinity which prevent emotional expressiveness or physical intimacy between men, which block the possibility of true male friendship. Slash is what happens when you take away those barriers and imagine what a new kind of male friendship might look like. One of the most exciting things about slash is that it teaches us how to recognize the signs of emotional caring beneath all the masks by which traditional male culture seeks to repress or hide those feelings.”
Slash Fiction is alive and well and kicking — and big in South Korea. As are comics full stop. Businessweek reports:
According to one manhwa (Korean for comic) publisher, comics accounts for about 25 percent of all book sales in South Korea, while more than 3 million Korean users access paid online manhwa and 10 million read free webcomics. And, thanks in part to a comics industry that tends to cede more control to artists, manhwa allows for a level of individual expression, in storytelling and style, that is not always found in manga.
Now, as a growing number of comics publishers in the U.S. have begun treating manhwa as a distinct form, newcomers to Korean comics have access to a diverse range of genres, from raucous comedies and tense science fiction and fantasy to high-octane adventure, period dramas, and slice-of-life romances. Even “boys’-love” stories for women—romances that don’t address gay themes in a traditional sense but focus on intense emotional connections between beautiful male protagonists—are making their way to American bookstore shelves.
We say, fandom finds a way.
Illustration from Kirk/Spock ezine SidebySide. Link NSFW unless you work at Prowler.