This won’t be news to anyone who moves in fannish meta circles, but I thought it warranted a post for those who might not have encountered the discussion before now.
Back in September, the Lambda Literary Foundation announced that henceforth their awards would be restricted to authors who identified as GLBT, rather than (as had previously been the case) anyone who was writing GLBT-oriented works. This excluded, in particular, a growing segment of the book market consisting of male/male erotica written by (presumably straight) women.
Discussion ensued as to whether such fiction was appropriating gay male culture and offensive to gay men, or whether the backlash against m/m erotica written by women was just another instance of women’s sexual expression being policed by men, as it so often is. A round of Oppression Olympics ensued, with women on one team and gay men on the other; both groups are in the right, being similarly subject to the kyriarchy and privileged (or not) on different axes, but few commentators approached the debate from this perspective in the early rounds.
Recently, the discussion has spread to slash fandom on Livejournal, Dreamwidth, and elsewhere, and this (IMHO) is where it gets really interesting, because that crowd is nothing if not introspective, verbose, smart, and well practiced in massively hypertext discussions of complicated issues.
Slash is m/m erotica written (usually) by women about (usually) male characters from TV, movies, books, etc. Many of the most popular slash fandoms are geek staples such as Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Buffy, superhero comics, and so forth. Unlike the professional m/m erotica market, slash writers are generally working with existing characters, often from fandoms that don’t pass (or barely pass) Bechdel in the first place. Many slashers use their writing/reading to explore sex and gender in a relatively safe online environment that might not otherwise be available to them. And, it turns out, many or most slashers are themselves queer, despite stereotypes about “straight housewives” and the like.
So, fandom being fandom, and things being always more complicated, the discussion coming out of this is pretty crunchy. Some of the questions/themes I’ve seen covered include:
- Does romance/erotica ignore or erase difficult issues (eg. discrimination, oppression), and should we care? Or does escapism get a free pass?
- Do fanfic writers have a duty to write the other respectfully and realistically when the “other” in question is gay men/MSM? How do we do this?
- Why do fanfic writers write about male characters so much more than female characters, anyway? Is this internalised misogyny?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in reading up on some of what’s been posted, take a look at the linkspam and metafandom communities, which have been collecting links to interesting posts on the subject.