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Brief Notes on Slash and Its Discontents

There's an increasing pushback against slash in acafandom that I have mixed and, increasingly, uncomfortable feelings about. On the one hand, I totally get the comments about how slash valorizes white male cis-bodies at the expense of, uh, pretty much everything else, and how it acts as a misognizing and internalized misogyny factor. But there's also a wave of calling it faux progressive and falsely subversive that bugs me, because 1) it contributes to an erasure of fan history and 2) presents an ahistorical view of queer relationships as being always accepted, especially in fandom, which, no. I wish, but no.

For instance, I've been rereading Melissa Good's Dar and Kerry stories. I've been purchasing them in hard copy too, because it occurred to me (duh) they might not always be online, and I really loved them back when I was a 90s brat. But once upon a time, when Xena: War Princess was my Friday night staple and also not dunked in Judao-Christian whateverthefuck, it was one of my favorite fandoms because femmeslash was more or less the norm--and even the canon. Good/Merwolf's fics were epic, and her Dar & Kerry stories had an uber-setting--contemporary AUs before AU was the common term. Dar & Kerry were pretty clearly Xena and Gabrielle in the tech industry (and rereading them, they are so cute and 90sriffic! Pagers! Mobiles! Laptops being serous tech!), and one thing I had forgotten until rereading was how their lesbianism was an ACTUAL ISSUE. The baddies in the stories often tried to use it as a lever against the characters; the issue of being out and WHERE to be out (at work, with family, with friends) was very much a thing.

And here's the thing--that still is. There was a great panel about queerness and sexualities with an emphasis on trans at the Star Trek Celebration, and the speakers were upfront about the spaces of their queerness: Some were out all the time, some were out in Chicago but not in their hometowns, some were out to their friends but not their families, etc. etc. Acting like this isn't a thing, as if there are no such things as safe spaces (this came from a fan podcast I was listening to yesterday), is absolutely bullshit, disrespectful to people, and frankly rather dangerous.

Similarly, up until about, what? Ten, fifteen years ago or so, fandom was similarly an issue. People didn't want it known they were active and fandom and being outted/doxxed by other fans/anti-fans was a thing, and a scary one. It was the sort of thing people would use to get people FIRED from their jobs and similar shit. Acting like this didn't happen, or is part of a distant and archaic past is BS and just as problematic as the other shit we face, like erasing POC and women from our texts and from fandom, facing the problematic intersections of race and class and sex and all those other things.

So TL;DR: Maybe slash is "safer" than it used to be, but that doesn't change its historical contexts. Acting like it wasn't a thing isn't making an argument for making more progress, it's contributing to the erasure of the successes we've had.

ETA: On further reflection, I do think it should also be considered how slash fiction effectively normalized queer relationships for at least two generations of readers (the generation that had the Internet in the 90s when they were teenagers, followed by millenials who always had Internet). Given the minimal presence of positive queer relationships in literature and media, this is a not insignificant population reading a body of work that was otherwise not present.

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