4 min

Slash & yearn

Gay men are a minority in this celeb-studded genre of gay writing

IMAGINING GAY SEX. Bisexual Jessica Harris writes about Mulder and Skinner getting down. Credit: Joshua Meles

“You won’t believe it,” my friend said, “Mulder and Skinner are getting married!”

Exciting news to say the least, since these otherwise heterosexual male FBI agents (characters of the Fox sci-fi drama, The X-Files), had never, as far as I knew, expressed that kind of interest in each other.

When I asked what night the happy event was to take place she shook her head and handed me a stack of computer print outs.

“It already happened,” she said, “see page two.”

I had unwittingly stumbled into the slash zone. For the uninitiated, it is fiction – circulated primarily on the Internet and in ‘zines – written about a pop culture figure by fans that involves sex or romance between same-sex partners. The name comes from the “/” used when denoting pairings, such as The X-Files’s Mulder/Krychek, Star Trek’s Kirk/Spock, or even characters from movies like The Crow and Die Hard.

These works – some epic enough to reach a page count Joyce or Proust would be proud of – aren’t available at your local bookstore, though there are available on the Internet and in independently published and circulated ‘zines.

Essentially, slash writers do what queer audiences have been doing for years: elevating gay subtext to full fledged queer tales in short story and epic form.

What sets these writers apart from writers of your average homo erotica, however, is the fact that, despite the prevailing topic of gay male sex, most writers are neither gay nor male. The majority seem to be women, both straight and lesbian. There are a number of self-described straight and bisexual male writers, but only a handful of gay slashers.

Jessica Harris, 28 and bisexual, has been writing, or at least dreaming about, slash since kindergarten, when she developed an obsession with the rescue squad show Emergency, and its stars Johnny and Roy.

“I’m not sure that I entirely understood the concept of sex,” says Harris, “let alone gay sex, but I was oddly obsessed with the show.”

For many years after that, Harris’s interest in gay erotica would continue, an interest that was channelled, almost two years ago, into writing slash, starting with a series of Mulder/Krychek pieces which she posted on a slash Internet site.

“I had started a story loosely based on Mulder and Krycek from The X-Files,” Harris explains, “then my sister saw this article somewhere about slash on the Internet and passed it onto me…. I ceased my feeble attempts at hiding the XF origins of my writing and just went with it and haven’t looked back since.”

Jay Fox, a 41-year-old bisexual man, married and monogamous to a woman for the past 20 years, discovered slash on the web. Surprised to see this kind of writing in a fan fiction site, Fox’s second thought was that he, himself, could probably write it, too. Fox notes a couple of reasons for his interest.

“Both my wife and I find it erotic and like reading about men having sex together, especially when I write it. I also like to write about men’s emotional issues as well as men’s lives in general, gay men’s lives too.”

Harris, who writes both girl/girl and guy/guy slash, cites several other reasons for her attraction to the genre.

“There’s a kind of emotional distance involved when you write [about two men],” she says, “that lets you explore things that push your buttons. Slash lets you explore issues such as power dynamics, without having to necessarily address the political implications involved when these dynamics occur along girl/boy lines.”

Another part of slash involves the examination of the emotions involved in male/male bonds, a subject rarely touched by other media outside the gay community.

You’d think slash fiction – which is queer and erotic – would overlap with queer and erotic work produced by the gay community. It often doesn’t. Most slash scenarios operate outside the context of the homosexual community with its politics, bars and bathhouses.

But this is not surprising when you consider the heterosexual world slash comes from, where homophobia is hardly a concern in the face of, say, alien domination. Slash injects gay sex into this otherworldly picture but it does not, necessarily, venture the next step into gay culture.

One queer presence in the world of slash is a San Francisco native who goes by the on-line name of Minotaur. He gives gay sex tips. On his website he says that when he first entered the slash community, he often found “the writing wasn’t all that good, but just seeing a gay relationship positively portrayed was a revelation.”

He got the idea for the website at a slash conference where he “was besieged with ‘can two guys…?’ questions, enough to show that there was a real need for someone willing and able to serve as a technical consultant.”

Whether a gay writer’s work is distinguishable from other slash depends on the writer. Some gay writers are noted for writing more about the gay community, others are less focussed on these details.

Things can work vice versa. Slash written by both Fox and Harris can touch on such issues as homophobia and AIDS, an issue close to Fox, whose brother died of AIDS.

Though slash writers are not so directly connected to the gay community, they have created a community of their own.

“One seductive thing about slash on the Internet,” Harris explains, “is the feedback. You get a real sense of connection.”

It also provides anonymity and an unfiltered creative outlet where a writer can avoid “editing of subconscious fantasies or desire and that makes it thought provoking stuff.”

That’s not to say each and every slash writer is Tolstoy, but there’s some pretty sexy stuff out there if you’re willing to sift through the pages and pages of what’s available.

Will slash be affected by the current rise in gay characters in the mainstream media, particularly on TV? Neither Harris nor Fox seemed to think so.

The “key” to the art of slash is the exploration of subtext, which previously came out of necessity with the lack of same sex relationships on TV. Certainly characters like those on Will And Grace, who seem to have ditched subtext for show tune gay niceness, are in no way a suitable replacement for the seering glances you have to catch on videotape to view clearly on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

That subtext is more potent than what the networks would like to pass off as the “gay lifestyle.”

Or maybe slash writers are just more imaginative than the nice people of NBC.

Tips on writing slash sex:

Links to many slash sites:

Mulder/Skinner Slash Society: