Neuroanthropology

For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body…

Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue

Posted by dlende on September 9, 2009

Slash is cool – creative writing, community, and alternative imaginations all wrapped in one. Like I said at the end of my post Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail, if I want to understand slash, I’d read some.

And so I have, exploring recommend pieces over at Whispered Words. Cassandra Claire’s The Very Secret Diaries on the Lord of the Rings made me laugh and laugh. Greyworlf’s Kirk/Spock And In the Darkness Bind You was erotic, intense, and well-written, a classic of slash according to Whispered Words.

But today I want to expand on what I thought was a throw-away line in that post, and connect it to some of what Greg wrote about in his post on ethnography, hard-wired assumptions, and sexuality in SurveyFail Redax. (For more on SurveyFail, see Rough Theory; you can also follow the controversy in more detail through the links rounded up at Anti-Oppression Linkspam Community.)

The throw-away line was this: “But nature/nurture is dead (except perhaps in slash?).”

Today I am making it the punchline. Slash can save the day for nature/nurture.

Nature versus nurture refers to the debate of genes versus environment, human nature versus culture, of our animal side versus our civilized side, and so forth. As Greg said, it’s a very old theme in Western thought. In SurveyFail, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam operated from a restricted and dichotomized view of nature versus nurture, where nature, dictated by evolution and primitive brain circuits, dictate sex differences and sexual interests. Here’s how Greg put it:

In their responses to some of their critics, Gaddam offers the blanket explanation that, ‘When we talk about the ‘oldest parts of the brain’ [the subcortical regions], it is in the context of the tectonic tussle between these and the prefrontal cortices that give rise to the peaks of our culture and the terrain of our behavior.’ Daniel points out that Gaddam describes an opposition in the brain between the ‘oldest’ pre-cultural, primitive elements and these newer cortices that produce culture; nature v. culture played out in brain layers.

Slash can change that. Not by having nature and nurture meet in a bar (though if someone knows some slash on that, by all means leave a comment!), but in how slash works as an imaginative process.

Quite simply, nature vs. nurture is an oppressive division. Slash reworks the relationship between nature/nurture in ways that help us in our thinking and that are closer to the actual reality of how nature/nurture works.

I want to focus first on the “/” itself. Here’s the relevant piece from the Fanlore wiki.

The term ‘slash’ refers to the virgule (or forward slash) that links two names in a slash pairing—for example CharacterA/CharacterB… Needing a way to refer to all such pairings and the entire genre of writing, [writers] referred to them and it as “/”… This was in the early eighties. When verbalizing this punctuation mark in conversation (from the early eighties on), it was, of course, said out loud as “slash.” Eventually (primarily in the mid- to late-eighties) the term itself (“slash”) started appearing in print. That is, fans wrote or typed “slash” and not “/”.

But the meaning of the “/” has changed and expanded since then. People started to do slash, in the sense of imaginative, erotic writing with all sorts of pairings, not just the standard Kirk/Spock or other male/male combinations. Fanlore highlights two general meanings of the “/” now:

“It’s only slash if it’s about a non-canon (or ‘unconventional’) relationship.”
“It’s only slash if they were both straight before they met each other.”

So instead of nature vs. nurture, now we have nature/nurture in a non-canonical relationship. And nature and nurture aren’t straight anymore. They don’t mean what the big-wig intellectuals (and other media producers) want, for example, a straight heterosexual coupling of genetics and environment. Now it’s based on what we can imagine, not what we assume.

Let me give an example of the old nature vs. nurture. Steven Pinker is a good character for nature, with his Daedalus article, Why Nature and Nurture Won’t Go Away. He argues strongly against a blank slate view, and gives us evolution, genetics, and innate traits – his “human nature.” (Also, his flowing locks, who could resist?!)

As for nurture, I’m going het. Judith Butler is my character, since she was used in eruthos’ excellent rebuttal to Ogi Ogas, and then became a point of discussion in Greg’s post. (I know, I know, I’m so traditional.) Here, our supposed “natures” are culturally constructed and regulated through ideologies and discourses. Rather than acting out genetic imperatives, we act out cultural dictates, performing them through the “regularized and constrained repetition of norms.”

Oh, it’s all so brilliantly 90s. Just so When Steven Met Judith.

Isn’t it in desperate need of some slash?

What has me particularly excited about “nature/nurture” is that the slash keeps in play some basic concepts that people use all the time. In his article, Pinker is right that “holistic interactionism” doesn’t quite cut it. It is rather like anthropologists’ standard line, “it’s complicated.” Not a good communications strategy. It gets worse when we try to talk about interactionism. One of the leading approaches is called developmental systems theory. I know, your eyes already glazed over.

But take a fraught sexual relationship and say, “it’s complicated.” Everyone gets that! Even better, their eyes lit up.

Slash rescues nature/nurture. Rather than some vast array of complex explanations, slash brings the focus back on nature and nurture, and the inevitable relationship between them. And it does so in all the unconventional, radical, inventive ways that slash signifies.

That brings me back to that first set of stories, The Very Secret Diaries. Suddenly all sorts of potential relationships emerge between the Lord of the Rings characters. Yet the Diaries have their own forms (“Sam will kill him if he tries anything”). Both relationships and forms are not limited to the canonical presentation, to good vs evil or nature vs. nurture. In these stories even the Balrog and Gandalf can get it on!

This imaginative approach is actually closer to what the science tells us, where epigenetics and brain plasticity have fundamentally undercut an innatist view of biology and scholars like Susan Bordo and Anne Fausto Sterling have emphasized the importance of actual bodies in our understanding of gender and its construction.

But slash is not just about the “/”, the unconventional relationship. It’s also about reimagining the principle characters. Slash overturns the compulsory roles we imagine for nature and nurture.

Take the story And In the Darkness Bind You. Rather than Kirk as passionate and Spock as rational (a traditional nature/nurture pair), each explores new aspects of being and acting. Spock turns reflective and emotional rather than logical, Kirk is consumed by guilt and unrealized possibilities. Through what they experience and do, Kirk and Spock take form outside any standard characterization. And their story is grounded in the concrete details of sex, of bodies and wetness and emotions engaging, not ideas about what sex is for (Pinker) or how it is performed (Butler).

Again, this is closer to how things actually work and how we need to imagine those workings. I have advocated for the importance of experience and behavior, for example, the everyday brain and our everyday life or the role of embodiment in health. Greg does much the same with his work on balance. Anthropologists have already reworked our ideas of human “nature,” recognizing that culture is part of human nature, whether it’s a two-million year tradition of tool manufacture or our chimpanzee cousins and their rich behavioral traditions. Our understandings of “nurture” are next, of understanding how biology and human development play central roles in how culture works. Culture as systems of symbols and as discourse is just so Spock.

So here’s another way to see nature/nurture. Nature and nurture lust for each other. They want to get it on. They couple, in the most unconventional and non-traditional ways you can imagine. They always couple, even if they are still “nature” and “nurture.”

As Joan Martin writes, “Slash is a wonderfully subversive voice whispering or shouting around the edges and into the cracks of mainstream culture. It abounds in unconventional thinking. It’s fraught with danger for the status quo, filled with temptingly perilous notions of self-determination and successful defiance of social norms.”

In this sense, slash and nature/nurture is about women’s imaginative reworkings of two central male characters in Western civilization. And that’s a good thing.

For more, see the previous posts in the Slash and SurveyFail Series

Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail “These particular researchers make everything worse. First comes their incredibly naïve and prejudiced assumptions about fanfiction and the people involved. As numerous people pointed out in response to Ogi Ogas’ shemale comparison, the logical equivalent for slash is not shemales but men who enjoy reading about two women engaged in lesbian sex (a rather standard feature in most male-oriented porn).”

SurveyFail Redax: Downey Adds to Lende “Like so many other human brain functions, sexual desire stretches through these layers, triggering processes that link together ‘oldest’ and ‘newest’ parts of the brain. Like I said, this is erotica: written, visually-processed, imagined, arousing, sexually stimulating… a cascade of stimuli and effects (with plenty of loops and doubling backs) that combines different brain functions.”

26 Responses to “Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue”

  1. [...] Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue [...]

  2. [...] On slash fiction and nature vs. nurture — what’s the connection? — screwed like a hobbit in a LOTR slash if I [...]

  3. Phoebe said

    This is tangential to your main point, but a minor footnote/correction, before you find yourself having the old debate recapitulated in your comments: as I think the Fanlore article itself suggests, “It’s only slash if it’s about a non-canon (or ‘unconventional’) relationship.” and
    “It’s only slash if they were both straight before they met each other.”

    are not actually “general meanings of the ‘/’ now.” Although both have had their partisans, to the best of my knowledge neither was generally accepted, even when proponents were arguing actively for them, and in these days of Thoughts On Yaoi even the arguments are history.

    But you could totally do Nature/Nurture slash, in actual fiction as well as in an entertaining thought experiment. (Indeed, this has probably now entered at least the penumbra of Rule 34 territory.) Just don’t make them a m/f couple if you do it, because in contemporary usage I’m pretty sure that would be het.

  4. Elf said

    This post has been included in (is the only one in) this linkspam roundup.

  5. Carmarthen said

    I agree with Phoebe; I don’t think either of those definitions (especially the second) is particularly accepted now. When I first entered fandom about 10 years ago, the first was fairly common, but it’s kind of gone by the wayside as canonical queer couples have become more common in media.

    As for Nature/Nurture: I don’t have time to poke back through the community entries and it’s not tagged (alas), but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wrote it for anthropomor_fic.

    • I came to slash by way of Yaoi about 8 or 9 years ago and never got the sense that it was crucial that the characters be previously straight or perceived generally as straight. I always thought this was just one of many preferences or types of stories. But the generalizations are much harder to make where American/Western slash and yaoi fandoms overlap and the fandom itself seems to be changing rapidly as it grows.

  6. ithiliana said

    I was thrilled to see your earlier post, among other aca-posts, and have subscribed to the LJ feed for your blog. I smiled happily when I saw this post because the thrill and excitement (dare I say squee, albeit expressed in academic language) was so familiar. But as people have noted, the definitions are more complicated, and a lot more work has been done/is being done).

    I am both a LOTR fan *and* an academic doing scholarship on LOTR the book, the film, and in separate essays, fan fiction in LOTR fandom.

    I’ve also begun working on more meta essays–about issues of “slash” — and can confirm what others have said that the definition of slash is a rolling one, differing from fandom to fandom, with major controversies (what if the canon characters are gay, or bisexual? Or why do we assume characters whose sexuality is never identified are automatically ‘straight’?).

    I’d also toss in to complicate the issue the existence of Real People Slash and slash featuring two female characters (variously called femslash, femmeslash, f/f slash, or saffic–or in some cases, simply slash, depending on the context).

    Slash has changed drastically both in content and definition since the late 1960s/early 1970s, and there is also some debate about how accurate the earliest celebrations of it as “naturally subversive” can be, given (as fans have noted for some years) misogynistic and sexist elements in some areas of fandom/fan fiction, plus the privileging of certain heteronormative romance conventions (even if the two characters are male). The same debate has taken place over whether slash fandom can be identified as feminist (many say no), or as inherently more welcoming to fans who identify as having alternative sexualities. I mention fandom and fan fiction because for many of us, one of the most important characteristics of fan fiction is the community.

    • I’m not as knowledgable about fandom/fan fiction history. Do you think there has been increasing visibility of people who identify as LGBTQI in slash fandom and that this has led to a lot of the changes?

      • ithiliana said

        I definitely think so: that is, I think (*prepares to duck*) that fans/fandom mirror surrounding mainstream culture in various ways, and so comparing fandom(s) in the 1970s (I was in Star Trek fandom, on the west coast, shuttling between Bellingham and Seattle, with occasional trips to Portland, from 1977-1982) to fandom(s) today, show how much the surrounding social and cultural changes in regard to sexuality have affected fandom. I do want to avoid the idea that, say, only lesbians write f/f slash (you didn’t say that, but sometimes people assume it). I know some straight men writing f/f slash; I know lesbians and bisexual women who write m/m slash, etc. (And many writers experiment with all sorts of different pairings, especially with challenges and ficathons). One can see the same changes (to a lesser extent) in the media around us (I tend to think that media reflects cultural changes rather than causing them).

      • Cesare said

        Do you think there has been increasing visibility of people who identify as LGBTQI in slash fandom and that this has led to a lot of the changes?

        You weren’t asking me, but I’m going to say yes. :-)

        The entire fan fiction community changed when the internet became prevalent, in expected ways: more accessible, more interconnected, faster; and unexpected: when the locus of fandom was primarily newsgroups, fic authors seldom talked about their real life circumstances and opinions, but as the venues for fandom broadened into forums, mailing lists, and especially, journaling/social networking sites, it became more common for fan writers to share more information about their real lives and opinions.

        An entire genre of fannish commentary on itself, “meta,” has flourished in the journaling/social networking context. See Metafandom.

        For example, the “It’s only slash if they were both straight before they met each other” definition of slash is definitely denigrated in the circles of fandom I’m familiar with, and that’s partly due to outspoken LGBTQI fans and allies explaining why it’s problematic, on their journals and in meta discussions. The associated acronym, WNGWJLEO (We’re Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other) is also used in a deprecating fashion, in my experience.

        It would be interesting to see a study with decent methodology to gauge how many fans are themselves gay, bi, a/o trans people. Offhand just in my own extended social network, I can think of three lesbian couples I know who got together through fandom, let alone those who identify as gay or bi in a less visible way; and two trans men. The cliche that slash consists of straight women writing about gay men doesn’t ring true for me any more.

    • Kassy_syd said

      Curiously over at http://community.livejournal.com/i_am_slash/8196.html they’ve just started a survey which asks about sexual orientation… so far there have been 17 bisexual,4 curious or questioning, 12 straight, 0 homosexual out of 33 responders.

      So that kind of indicates that it’s about 2/1 LGBTQI to straight.

      I’ll be curious to see if this trend continues but what it does prove is that slash fandom is definitely not all straight women :)

  7. Bonasi said

    Just so you know, ‘slash’ can refer to canon pairings and pairings where the characters aren’t a couple in canon but are perceived as having chemistry/subtext; and previous heterosexuality isn’t mandatory. So Dumbledore/Grindelwald would be considered a slash pairing.

    To hear ‘slash’ be described as only referring to non-canon pairings or to characters who were/identified as het before they met each other is very frustrating because it erase canonically queer characters and invalidates homoerotic subtext. Heterosexuality is reaffirmed as default, and characters are cast as Straight Until Proven Otherwise.

    This makes depicting queer characters in stories more difficult, like queer characters are expected to be shown wearing t-shirts with QUEER written on them in big bold letters while het characters get to run around in blank t-shirts.

    You also wrote: “In this sense, slash and nature/nurture is about women’s imaginative reworkings of two central male characters in Western civilization. And that’s a good thing.”

    That seems a tad bit narrow. I mean, there are male slash writers, slash doesn’t always focus on central character, there’s f/f slash, and there’s a huge about of slash written about characters in Eastern civilization. For that last one, see: yaoi, yuri, shonen ai, shoujo ai, a good subset of doujinshi, et cetera.

  8. dlende said

    Thanks for the comments – what a thoughtful and engaged community. Really helped me understand more about slash. The debate about what counts as slash is most interesting. Is it an inclusive category or a more restricted one? Where do other genres like het, femslash, and so forth fit? How do changing media portrayals of sexuality and the identity of authors affect slash? I’ll come back to how this debate over the category of slash might be relevant to the nature/nurture debate below, but first I want to highlight why I am excited about the application of slash to nature/nurture.

    I am struck by how slash reworks relationships and characters – Kirk and Spock transformed. In a more abstract sense, I am interested in the cultural logic of slash, a transformative logic that jumped out at me when I suddenly thought about nature/nurture. That’s why I chose those particular lines/examples from the Fanlore site – they highlighted how slash helped me re-think nature/nurture.

    And I really do see nature and nurture as both masculine characters in the context of Western civilization. I know I muddled that a bit by choosing Steven Pinker and Judith Butler and then using the When Harry Met Sally clip. But Kirk and Spock capture the two characters rather well – the masculine, passionate hero type and the analytical, logical, cultivated type. Say, Odysseus as the charismatic hero and Plato’s philosopher king (out of the shadows of the cave, into the light of clear thinking). Or Rousseau’s noble savage and Kant’s categorical imperative.

    I also got excited because in the past I have generally wanted to slide away from nature/nurture. I’ve declared it dead numerous times here on the blog, yet I haven’t found a useful replacement. But reworking what nature/nurture means, that seems like a really interesting project, and is a lot of what we do here at neuroanthroology.

    Slash helped me do that while keeping the economical nature/nurture formulation. It’s not nature versus nurture, it’s not nature via nurture, it’s not nature-nurture is dead, long live nature-nurture, or other formulations that pop up in writings about nature/nurture. It’s nature slash nurture.

    Yet in the comments, and the debate over what counts as slash and how things have changed, it’s also clear that questions of gender play a major role in thinking about what slash means. And it’s the same in nature/nurture. Steven Pinker’s essay could be read as declaring the power of selfish genes over nurturing parenting, an obvious male/female pair. This morning I just read Adventures in Feministory: Sophie Germain, Mathématicienne, where this line came up, “Math and science were ‘right brain’ and therefore ‘masculine’ sciences so it wasn’t in a woman’s nature to be interested.” So here male science (culture) triumphs over women. I’m sure a lot of you have plenty of insights into this, so I’d love to hear what you think.

    In the mean, I am still enjoying nature/nurture. For me, it’s both helpful and provocative when I think of that formulation as nature slash nurture.

    • Bonasi said

      My response to you will be in part.

      To start: Regarding the question of whether of slash is an inclusive category or an exclusive one, well, it depends. There are a multitude of fandoms and then subfandoms within those fandoms.

      For instance, the Lost fandom includes the message boards for the show at televisionwithoutpity.com, the Lost section of fanfiction.net, and the friends-locked discussions that occur at my blog after every episode — and that’s just to start. But even in just those three ares of the Lost fandom, there’s no where near a 100% crossover of membership. That means that there’s going to be different terminology definitions, different interpretations, different debates, et cetera. And that’s all for the same fandom.

      Now imagine how that applies to different fandoms. There may be little to no crossover of participants. And consider this: a fandom for a canon that has no explicitly queer might have a different definition of slash than a fandom for a canon where the main male character is in a love polygon composed exclusively of male characters. (Such as, say, Kyo Kara Maoh.)

      And something to consider is that while terminology definitions get discussed in meta settings – such as right here, right now :-) – no one’s going to say, “I’m not calling this pairing slash because it’s canon.” because someone in a fandom where the story has explicitly canonical queer characters/pairings is going to use a definition that fits best.

      Also note that in some fandom, slash isn’t the primary terminology at all, and instead it’s yaoi/yuri and/or shonen ai/shoujo ai. Not that the definitions of those terms is any more pinned down. :-)

      So whether slash is an inclusive category and exclusive one is going to depend on canon, the fandom, the fandom subset, and past fandoms & fandom subsets of all of the participants.

    • Bonasi said

      In terms of slash as transforming canon and where f/f slash & het fic, well, My Thoughts on Yaoi, Let Me Show You Them.

      Firstly, I’m not sure I would separate f/f slash from m/m slash. f/f slash seems to be more popular with stories that have well written female characters, since in general ‘ships (relationships) become popular because fans like the characters and/or the dynamic between the characters, so there has to be something there if there’s a ‘ship; but I’d say that f/f slash has more in common with m/m slash than not. Someone else might disagree, though.

      So, slash as transforming/reworking characters and relationships and story.

      I’m bisexual, so I can’t watch/read/look at/listen to a story in which Everyone Is Straight and believe it. I know that it is a lie. I know that there has to be queer characters there because I know that we exist.

      This is where subtext comes in. While not everyone comes at it from the exact same angle as me, many non-explicitly-canonical slash ‘ships are built upon the fans’ interpretation of the canon.

      For instance, when in Supernatural Castiel chose Dean over all of Heaven, many fans interpreted that as an indication that Castiel had amorous feelings for Dean.

      In situations such as these, slash ‘shippers definitely rework and transform the story, the relationship, and the characters. Heterosexuality as the default is challenged, bisexuality gets acknowledged, and homoerotic subtext is treated with the same validity of heteroerotic subtext.

      But then look at something like the manga series Code Geass: Suzaku of the Counterattack. In the story, Suzaku & Lelouch share a great deal of homoerotic subtext. And now, for those who don’t want spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

      During the climax of Suzaku of the Counterattack, Suzaku betrays his liege in order to save Lelouch (after realizing that Lelouch is someone he wants to make happy and make the world a better place for); and then in the epilogue, Suzaku happily moves in which Lelouch. So if I write a post-series fic where they are a couple, I’m not really reworking or transforming the story, characters, or relationships, am I? I’m just expanding on what is already there.

      And then, what if I’m writing a fic about Lofty & Tonker from Discworld or Dumbledore & Grindelwald from Harry Potter or Utena & Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena? Those are all explicitly canon pairings, so a fic about them isn’t going to be any more trans-formative or rework anything more than, say, a fic for a canon het pairing.

      This is where het comes in. There are plenty of het ‘ships that are explicitly canon. But there are also het pairings that aren’t explicitly canon (such as Sayid/Kate from Lost) and het pairings that are explicitly non-canon (such as Harry/Hermione from Harry Potter), in both cases because the ‘shippers interpret amorous subtext between the characters.

      The only difference between this and not-explicitly-canon slash ‘ships is that because heterosexuality gets treated as default, these non-explicitly-canon het ‘ships and explicitly-non-canon het ‘ships are rendered invisible, not treated as anything special, even though they are just as trans-formative as slash ‘ships that are not-explicitly-canon or explicitly-non-canon.

      You can look at slash (both f/f slash and m/m slash) as a challenge to heteronormativity, certainly, and you can say that the sadly still limited number of explicitly canonically queer characters means that slash is more frequently trans-formative, but I don’t think it’s quite right to say that slash, by its nature, is any more trans-formative than het. Or certain varieties of gen fic.

      I’ll probably write more later, but if I do, it won’t be ’til tonight or tomorrow.

    • Bonasi said

      Just realized that this could be of use to you: Here’s a link to tvtropes.org’s master page of Gender & Sexuality Tropes.

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenderAndSexualityTropes

    • Bonasi said

      In terms of how gender relates to slash…well, there’s really not a concise response to that. So please take the following as anything but comprehensive.

      When slash is challenge to heteronormativity, it must be understood that you can’t have heteronormativity without sexism, misogyny, and gender roles.

      So there are stories where the storyteller(s) don’t write their female characters well. Or they only care about the interactions between male characters because they believe or are used to considering only men to be of importance. Or they throw in a heterosexual relationship because they see it as expected and mandatory only for the relationship to fall flat because it’s inadequately written.

      And slash can be reaction to that. A fan might think or say, “In God Emperor of Dune, Frank Herbert did a piss poor job of developing Hwi as a character, and that made her relationship with Leto II hard to understand. On the other hand, I really liked the back-and-forth between Leto II & Duncan. I’m going to write a fic about them.”

      But in other slash stories, you get [internalized] misogyny on the part of the fans, which isn’t cool at all.

      And then, as mentioned, there are slash ‘ships that are ‘shipped because they’re canon and well-written. Or a number of other reason.

      Like I said, this isn’t a comprehensive response.

      However, if you’re interested, I’d recommend checking out the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, in which the female main character vows as young girl to become a prince instead of a princess so she can rescue a princess in need of saving. So it’s very premise is a slash relationship that’s all tied up in the rejection and redefining of traditional gender roles. Definitely worth checking out.

    • Phoebe said

      Yet in the comments, and the debate over what counts as slash and how things have changed, it’s also clear that questions of gender play a major role in thinking about what slash means.

      You know, it occurs to me that this makes for an interesting example of the slipperiness of language. You’re right that questions of gender have a great deal to do with thinking about what “slash” means — but at the same time, in fandom as it exists now, to the best of my knowledge gender plays no part at all in what “/” means. The “/” now denotes only a romantic or sexual relationship between the characters so linked. (Or among them, when there are more than two.)

      So, for example, if you happened to follow the crack_van fic recs for The X-Files, you might well see stories labeled Mulder/Scully, stories labeled Mulder/Krycek, stories labeled Mulder/Scully/Krycek, and even stories labeled Mulder+Scully. Of these, though, only the Mulder/Krycek is clearly slash. The M/S/K might or might not be, depending on whether there’s a relationship between Mulder and Krycek, or it’s a threesome story (slash), or whether it’s a story where both the guys have some sort of relationship with Scully independent of each other (not slash). The Mulder/Scully uses the / mark to denote a sexual/romantic relationship, but it’s not slash. And finally, the Mulder+Scully doesn’t use the / mark at all, to indicate that both characters are important to the story, but they’re not romantically involved with each other in it.

      So in a way, you can think of “slash” as a subset of “/” — at least you can if you’re doing a mathematical diagram. I’m not sure how this happened, though: whether fandom as a whole took up the /-mark convention from slash fandom, or whether it was always in use and slashers were just the ones who needed a name for what they were doing. For that, you’d need someone who’s been around longer than I have.

      But it would be nice to think that maybe the terms are converging because society makes less of a point of mandatory gender roles than once it did. I’m not sure I’m that optimistic, but I’d like to be.

  9. C. M. Decarnin said

    I thought I’d heard it all when it came to slash, but some of the points made in these comments are new to me and interesting. Though I have my preferred definitions, and though I resist it kicking and screaming, Bonsai is absolutely right — every fandom and every *segment* of every fandom has its own usages and understanding of terms, these days. Thanks for hosting this.

  10. dlende said

    Bonasi, great points. And to everyone, let me just repeat what Greg said – what a great community.

    I’m going to push the analogy here, Bonasi, but as a bi-researcher, I have a very similar reaction to you to academic explanations and debates (our stories) that are straight. And there are incredibly constraints and pressures in academia to be straight – to go by your discipline’s canon, to publish in the approved way, and so forth. When I watch/read/look at/listen to a human story and every explanation is straight, I can’t believe it. It’s a lie.

    My way of expressing that is somewhat similar to yours. About any human situation I say, “it’s all there,” and our job is for our explanations to try to match that polymorphous reality.

    Similarly, there are different understandings and uses of terms and explanations in different research communities, even ones who agree about the need to challenge heteronormativity in our approach to sexuality, or to other topics like performance or to addiction (where Greg and I do most of our research). And then the default options people take with their approaches become important – sure, it’s nature/nurture, but really nurture is where the action is at (or vice versa). Nature/nurture is one of the main default options. Another is pure/applied. For Greg and myself, another would be mind/body. Almost everyone in academia builds “idea” explanations (a mind point), say, evolutionary psychologists and feminists arguing over sexuality by pointing to ideas about human nature and about social norms. They’ve defined reality rather than actually looking at it, where the actual characters and interactions become important.

    I can tell that I need to put together a page about academic tropes! With a few changes, what I said above is captured so well by the Bi the Way trope:

    Since being capable of being attracted to men and women is not the same thing as dating/sleeping with/married to both at the same time these bisexuals do not get sudden uncontrollable urges to sleep with someone of the opposite gender of their current lover any more than straight or gay people do with someone of the same. That is to say it’s not unheard of but that’s the human condition and thus not strictly limited to bisexuality (also known as “being a jerk.”)

    Bi The Way is almost nonexistent in mainstream media (though almost a logical necessity in others) in part because a lot of both straight and gay people appear to believe that bisexuals are somehow ‘cheating’ by playing both sides of the field. All may be fair in love and war but there’s something about the idea of losing someone to the opposing team that makes the “betrayal” worse because that’s the one level where people who are exclusively straight or gay are either unwilling or unable to compete.

    But most people have troubles with Bi the Way, whether in mainstream media or in mainstream academia. And that’s why the slash contrast definitely captured my attention. But since I use it as a contrast, I also don’t do justice to the complexity within the community, as you so rightly point out.

    Thanks for pointing out Revolutionary Girl Utena. I’ll definitely explore it more. I’m watching a YouTube clip right now, and I’ll leave off with how it opens, where the point is that exploring the decision (the reality) through the show matters as much as the question:

    “The princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?”

    Youtube clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4za_6-3b7LE

  11. [...] Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue [...]

  12. robyn bender said

    Excellent Sunday-morning reading, folks. Bless you all.

    BONASI said: “these non-explicitly-canon het ’ships and explicitly-non-canon het ’ships are rendered invisible, not treated as anything special, even though they are just as trans-formative as slash ’ships that are not-explicitly-canon or explicitly-non-canon.”

    This clicks with several reactions I’ve had while following these discussions. Outsiders who know one thing about “slash” have it categorized as “Kirk/Spock, Men Doing It” (or, to really stress the novelty: “Girls making men do it.”) People inquire about “slash” and we talk about “slash” back to them.

    (The Survey!Fail babydocs failed hardest by assuming they knew what “slash” was. From their questions it was clear that they had only an odd and fragmented glimpse and that they were by no means Seeing the Elephant. Several people tried to correct and broaden their entry-level understanding, but the clue-giving process failed.)

    I’ve been in fanfic communities less than ten years, and in a narrow range of fandoms. Have read more M/M slash than the average citizen, but/and some stories that have affected me longest and deepest are transgressive or transformative in other ways. They are about identity, relationships, human development — often by exploring the consequences of *something* being changed — as much as they are about sex and passion.

    For example, there are reams of genderswitch fic — what happens when a character wakes up as a different gender? Or if the canonical character had grown up with a different gender? What if an alien machine transforms a character into a child? The implications can go on forever. Or there is the great mass of AU fic (alternate universe), where canon characters are transplanted to a different era or situation, yet each one remains true to a core of identity. And folks talk about how the accumulation of fic and meta in a fandom becomes a multidimensional set of alternate/simultaneous possibilities that broaden the community sense of the characters.

    Bad source can prompt great fic [*cough* Stargate Atlantis *cough*]. SGA has more genderswitch, AU, wingfic, and gods-know-what-all tropes than random models would predict for a single fandom. (One tiny example: there is more than one excellent story in SGA where the category-killing M/M pair transform into penguins for the action of the fic.)

    Farscape, OTOH, is an example of well-done source, where events and choices had accumulating impacts on characters and relationships in canon. FS was unusual in the number of strong female characters and in the passion and complexity of the canonical M/F ship. There’s relatively little slash in FS fandom, and a lot of het. Fic doesn’t have to be same-sex, non-canonical-pairing “slash” to push the characters beyond what broadcast TV could depict, dare, or squeeze in to the space available.

  13. Aquil said

    Excellent Sunday-morning reading, folks. Bless you all.

    BONASI said: "these non-explicitly-canon het ’ships and explicitly-non-canon het ’ships are rendered invisible, not treated as anything special, even though they are just as trans-formative as slash ’ships that are not-explicitly-canon or explicitly-non-canon."

    This clicks with several reactions I've had while following these discussions. Outsiders who know one thing about "slash" have it categorized as "Kirk/Spock, Men Doing It" (or, to really stress the novelty: "Girls making men do it.") People inquire about "slash" and we talk about "slash" back to them.

    (The Survey!Fail babydocs failed hardest by assuming they knew what "slash" was. From their questions it was clear that they had only an odd and fragmented glimpse and that they were by no means Seeing the Elephant. Several people tried to correct and broaden their entry-level understanding, but the clue-giving process failed.)

    I've been in fanfic communities less than ten years, and in a narrow range of fandoms. Have read more M/M slash than the average citizen, but/and some stories that have affected me longest and deepest are transgressive or transformative in other ways. They are about identity, relationships, human development — often by exploring the consequences of *something* being changed — as much as they are about sex and passion.

    For example, there are reams of genderswitch fic — what happens when a character wakes up as a different gender? Or if the canonical character had grown up with a different gender? What if an alien machine transforms a character into a child? The implications can go on forever. Or there is the great mass of AU fic (alternate universe), where canon characters are transplanted to a different era or situation, yet each one remains true to a core of identity. And folks talk about how the accumulation of fic and meta in a fandom becomes a multidimensional set of alternate/simultaneous possibilities that broaden the community sense of the characters.

    Bad source can prompt great fic [*cough* Stargate Atlantis *cough*]. SGA has more genderswitch, AU, wingfic, and gods-know-what-all tropes than random models would predict for a single fandom. (One tiny example: there is more than one excellent story in SGA where the category-killing M/M pair transform into penguins for the action of the fic.)

    Farscape, OTOH, is an example of well-done source, where events and choices had accumulating impacts on characters and relationships in canon. FS was unusual in the number of strong female characters and in the passion and complexity of the canonical M/F ship. There's relatively little slash in FS fandom, and a lot of het. Fic doesn't have to be same-sex, non-canonical-pairing "slash" to push the characters beyond what broadcast TV could depict, dare, or squeeze in to the space available….

  14. [...] dlende adds to the fun with a discussion of Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue [...]

  15. [...] The bottom line is that regardless of how the differences between men and women arise, “men are not closet women and women are not closet men…men and women are different” (Ridley 270). These differences can arise through biological factors, such as differences in the brain or hormone levels, as well as differences in social conditioning. Nature and nurture need to get in on through some slash. [...]

  16. [...] takes a look at Slash and Nature/Nuture. : Again, this is closer to how things actually work and how we need to imagine those workings. I [...]

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