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January 20, 2016

Infrequently Asked Questions: What is slash fiction?

The world is full of questions we all want answers to but are either too embarrassed, time-crunched or intimidated to actually ask. In the spirit of that shared experience, we've embarked on a journey to answer all of the questions that burn in the minds of Philadelphians -- everything from universal curiosities (Why do disposable coffee cups still leak?) to Philly-specific musings (How does one clean the Liberty Bell?).

Fan fiction has captivated pop culture fanatics since the explosion of the Internet made sharing reimagined stories more practical, but what's spun out of that in recent years is a phenomenon called "slash fiction." (And no, it's not about slashers.) Curious to learn more about the genre-within-a-genre, we reached out to Dustin Kidd, associate professor of sociology at Temple University, to give us the 411. 

What is slash fiction?

Slash fiction is a form of fan fiction, and fan fiction has been around a long time. Fan fiction is a space where fans write their own versions of existing storylines; I don’t know how far the first fanfic goes, but it’s associated with stories like "Star Trek" and fantasy novels, and it really spun out of novels initially but there became fan fiction of television shows, films and video games as well. So, slash fiction is a variant of fan fiction, but slash specifically focuses on relationships within the storyline and typically refers to male same-sex relationships. And those stories are most often authored by female fans.

Why usually female?

Well, there’s different ways of answering that question. Why do women fans write slash fiction that focuses on same-sex relationships? The answer I've gotten from authors I've spoken to, the most interesting response I’ve gotten is that writing slash fiction is a chance for women to author male sexuality. They enjoy the creative experience of authoring male sexuality. And fan fiction, generally, there are a lot of men who write fan fiction, but I think most indications we have is it’s mostly women writing a lot of fan fiction. It seems to appeal to female fans in particular.

What are some popular examples of slash fiction?

So, I think the historical examples really refer to the main characters on "Star Trek" being in a same-sex relationship. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock being in a same-sex relationship – and, if you Google "Spock Kirk slash fiction," you’ll find examples on YouTube  video tributes to their romance. Batman and Robin, there’s a lot of slash-fiction about them as well. And, more recently, "Harry Potter" has been a tremendous inspiration of a lot of slash fiction. I think in part because the "Harry Potter" novels were released really in the same years the Internet was becoming more prominent, so it was very easy for fans of "Harry Potter" as they were reading the novel to use the Internet to share fan fiction around those stories. A lot of that slash fiction is what we call "Harry-Draco slash," but also, there's some Snape-Dumbledore slash and some intergenerational slash where Harry is in a relationship with Snape, sometimes Voldemort. Any combination of characters is easy to find.

And I should add the name "slash" refers to the actual slash between the two characters. So when you refer to "Harry/Draco slash," there’s a forward slash between those two characters and the slash refers to that punctuating.

The most interesting version of slash is what’s known as 'M-preg,' which refers to male pregnancies in these stories ... I’ve seen stories of Snape carrying Dumbledore’s baby.

Are these stories usually based around romance, or are they more sexual or raunchy?

It’s often quite sexual and raunchy, but a lot of it is more romantic as well. Some of it attempts to push the original storyline further -- the story about the magic and witchcraft [in the case of "Harry Potter"] -- while also allowing for a romantic storyline and/or sexual storyline. The most interesting version of slash is what’s known as "M-preg," which refers to male pregnancies in these stories. So typically, these are stories of men who get pregnant by other male characters. I’ve seen stories of Snape carrying Dumbledore’s baby.

That’s the beauty of fiction, right?

That’s exactly right. I was talking to some undergrad students at Temple this past semester, and one student raised her hand with a look of confusion on her face. "Is that possible?" I was surprised by the question, and all I could come up with is "Anything is possible in fiction."

Who is consuming these stories?

We don’t know a lot about that. A lot of it happens now in these online worlds where people are posting anonymously; we don’t know a lot about them. There are some researchers, including myself, who’ve done research on this, but it’s hard to know in an interview of a set of folks how representative they are. My best guess is these are teens, 20-somethings, even 30-somethings who are active fans of pop culture in general. Folks who are actively watching all these movies and participating in culture -- they’d be going to Comic-Con and other conventions. Or, they’re not going to conventions and they’re using the online space to participate in the culture as much as they can. That’d be my best guess. 

But I’ve been to one conference where a male academic stood up and identified himself as a writer of slash fiction. It was an academic in his 50s, who said his online slash fiction authoring happens under a female pseudonym. So, he identifies online as a female lesbian who’s writing stories about male same-sex relationships. Although he himself is heterosexual and married to a woman, he said it’s a space where he gets to explore and challenge his own gender and sexual identity.

That means it really could be anybody out there who's doing this. There’s so many possibilities for exploring your identity and being creative and queer in that space.

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