Slash fiction is a type of fan fiction in which one or more media characters are involved in a homosexual relationship as a primary plot element. These pairings are often described in explicit detail, and largely occur outside the canon of the source. The name arises from the use of the slash character used in the description of the primary pairing involved in the story, as opposed to the ampersand that was conventionally used for 'friendship' fiction. It should be noted that occasionally, heterosexual pairings will use a slash mark to separate the characters, though this is discouraged, and most heterosexual pairing use a "x" to separate the characters (though some homosexual pairing use "x")
It is commonly believed that slash fiction originated within the Star Trek: The Original Series fan fiction fandom, with 'Kirk/Spock' stories first appearing in the late 1970s. This should not be surprising, as modern fan fiction as a whole owes its start largely to the popularity of Star Trek. From there, increasing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality and frustration at portrayal of homosexual relationships in mainstream media fed a growing desire for authors to explore the subjects on their own terms with established media characters. Slash fiction followed the Star Trek franchise throughout the Star Trek spinoffs that were to follow the original series, and quickly branched out into other television shows, movies, and books as well.
Slash fiction continues to follow popular media, and new stories are constantly produced. Slash fiction readers and writers, like regular fan fiction writers, tend to cluster around the canon source for their fiction and create a fandom for that particular source. Like heterosexual fan fiction, of the varied and often segregated slash fandoms, each fandom has different etiquette, rules, and styles, and each comes with its own history, including favorite stories and authors. Popularity and activity within each fandom comes and goes, often as the popularity of the source of the material varies.
Though the demographics vary from fandom to fandom, most (unofficial estimates range as high as 98%) present-day slash fiction is written by heterosexual women. Readership is less clearly defined, though studies indicate the majority of readers may be heterosexual women and homosexual men. Speculation as to the cause of slash's popularity among this specific demographic is abundant. The generally accepted theory is that heterosexual women find male/male relationships erotic, much as some men consider lesbian relationships appealing, and that while gay men do have just as large an interest in slash fiction, there are simply fewer of them in the world than there are women.
Some slash writers, however, are neither heterosexual women nor homosexual men. A substantial number of self-identified lesbian women, including many who are in committed relationships with other women, report that they write slash.
An Ambiguous Definition
An officially licensed and published Star Trek novel that contains a homosexual relationship. Is it slash?
The term slash fiction has several noted ambiguities within it.
Though technically erroneous, some people assert that some published works constitute slash fiction, despite the fact that it is not fan-created. This is likely due to the relative void of canon homosexual relationships in source media. For example, "Star Trek" has rarely portrayed gay or lesbian relationships on screen outside of the mirror universe (it was done once in an episode of DS9), there have been two officially licensed Star Trek novels that have involved homosexual relationships: the 1985 novel Killing Time by , and the 2001 novel Section 31: Rogue by . Other authors' works that deal with homosexual themes or characters are sometimes described as slash fiction as well.
Due to the lack of canon homosexual relationships in source media, some have come to see slash fiction as being exclusively outside of canon. These people hold that the term 'slash fiction' only applies when the relationship being written about is not part of the source's canon, and that fan fiction about canonical same-sex relationships is hence not slash. The recent appearance of openly gay characters on screen, such as Willow and Tara in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many of the characters in the Queer as Folk series, has added much to this discussion. However, abiding by this definition leaves such stories without a convenient label, so this distinction has not been widely adopted.
People also debate whether or not slash fiction need exclusively describe a relationship between two male partners ('M/M'), or if it can include lesbian ('F/F') relationships as well. This seems to stem partly from some gay males seeming not to want to see their type of relationships as similar to those of gay females . Moreover, more recently, some slash authors have begin to write slash fiction that contains transgendered themes and transsexual or intersex characters. As a result, the exact definition of the term within this respect has often been hotly debated within various slash fandoms. The strictest definition holds that only stories about relationships between two male partners ('M/M') are 'slash fiction', which has led to the evolution of the term femslash, or femmeslash. The pseudo-Japanese terms yaoi for male/male stories and yuri for female/female stories are also used.
Due to increasing population and prevalence of slash on the internet in recent years, some have begun to use "slash" as a generic term for any erotic fan fiction, whether it describes heterosexual or homosexual relationships. This has sparked mild concern among writers of heterosexual fan fiction. This concern is sometimes based in intolerance of homosexuality, and manifests itself as offense at the notion of being compared to homosexual subject matter. It has also caused concern for slash writers who believe, that while it can be erotic, slash is not by definition so, and believe that defining erotic fic alone as slash takes the word away from all ages suitable homoromantic fanfic, and may cause confusion, when the quite unambiguous words 'erotica', 'adult', and 'porn' already exist. In addition, a number of journalists writing about the fan fiction phenomenon in general seem to believe that all fan fiction is slash, or at least erotic in character.
Content Ratings and Warnings
Slash fiction can be of any rating: G, PG, PG13, R or NC17. Not all slash fiction has explicit sexual content: the interaction between two characters can be as innocent as holding hands or a chaste kiss. If a story contains themes which may offend or which some readers may find distasteful (e.g. non-consensual sex, incest, BDSM, or even simply heterosexual sex), it is considered polite to include warnings in the story header.
As the result of trademark issues over the usual MPAA film rating system, some fandoms have created their own rating system that applies exclusively to their characters. For example, a community pertaining to a particular band might use song lyrics to create rating indicators for the fiction.
Some fan fiction aficionados might find erotic pairings of characters, regardless of gender, unpleasant for one reason or another, and so it is considered impolite to publish slash fiction without giving readers fair warning of explicit content within (sometimes including detailed warnings to the level of adult activity undertaken by the characters). However the prevailing attitude is that once a warning has been given anything goes, and readers who complain that they found a story with clear warnings offensive, that they continued to read, are generally derided.
Some groups differentiate between explicit slash stories and stories in which the same-sex pairing just happens to be friends and/or adult activity is 'off-screen' as being 'no lemon', whereas tales in which said activity on some level does occur (anything heavier than kissing) are labeled 'lemon'. 'Lime' is supposedly used to indicate that nothing more explicit than kissing occurs. (though this is not strictly observed -- much lime fiction tends to describe sexual activities and then do a 'fade-out') The terms 'lemon' and 'lime' arose from the anime/yaoi fandoms - lemon referring to explicit fic coming from a reference to a hentai anime series, Cream Lemon, lime because of the fruit's relation to the lemon.
For many people, slash is a controversial subject. In addition to the legal issues associated with traditional fan fiction, some people believe that it tarnishes established media characters to portray them in a way that was never illustrated canonically. Slash fiction writers, however, often believe that sexual orientation and romance aren't necessarily fixed entities, and that it is impossible to conclusively state that any character is straight, gay or bisexual. There is vociferous debate on the canonicity of any relationship, be it homosexual or heterosexual, on various fan fiction websites.
Occasionally some forms of erotic fiction can prove to be particularly controversial: of note is slash involving underage characters (often termed 'chanslash'; examples include some Harry Potter slash) or real person slash ('RPS', where people who actually exist, most often celebrities, are characters in slash stories) could be considered distasteful by those who otherwise find nothing objectionable about erotic fiction in general.
A participant in a Real Person Slash role playing game impersonates a celebrity.
Chanslash has obviously controversial aspects associated with it in that underaged characters are portrayed in sexual situations. The people owning the intellectual property rights to these characters are often unhappy with Chanslash because of the potential legal ramifications, and concern over negatively impacting the popularity of the character. Some studios owning the rights to slashed characters have issued cease and desist orders in the past as a result of this type of slash.
Real Person Slash
Though it had existed for years previously, real person slash is commonly believed to have gained wider popularity with members of bands such as Hanson and boy bands whose images were more carefully constructed media creations than actual reflections of their members, like *NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys. Famed for the extent to which they were 'packaged', authors had few moral qualms with taking these images and creating slash stories with them, either pairing bandmates with each other, or with an outsider who was not a part of the band. From boybands, RPS began to encompass other musicians, sports figures, actors, and even prominent political figures. Moral issues aside, the legality of using a real person's name to tell a story was frequently questioned. As a result, authors often preface their stories with lengthy disclaimers that clearly identified the story as being entirely fictional. RPS took on a new dimension (and a new fine line of legality) when people began to use popular journaling and blogging services to create fictional journals that claimed to be owned by celebrities. Most often, these journals also include disclaimers that point to the true (fictional) nature of their existence, and are participants in Role-playing games where authors would take on the persona of a celebrity and interact with other fictional celebrities. Often, these celebrities, even when established as being heterosexual in mainstream media, were portrayed as homosexual in the online role playing games, and so the interactive fiction produced would often be of a slash nature.
Evolution of Slash
In recent years, slash fiction has moved beyond text-based literature. With the help of the internet to promote and distribute multi-media content, and growing prevalence of the slash phenomenon, new forms of slash and slash analysis have begun to appear.
In addition to fiction, fans also create artworks depicting their favorite characters. In recent years, the widespread availability of imaging software such as Adobe Photoshop has allowed slash artists to manipulate photographs of their subjects to produce romantic or erotic images that imply a homosexual relationship, either as static pictures or animated GIFs.
Prior to the widespread home adoption of computers, however, most fanart was done by hand, using such techniques as pencil and ink line drawings, pointillism, and painting. Charcoals, gouache, watercolors, and other media were less widely used.
Slash in Academia
Slash fiction was the subject of several notable academic studies in the early 1990s, as part of the cultural studies movement within the humanities:
Cicioni, Mirna (1998). "Male Pair Bonds and Female Desire in Fan Slash Writing." In C. Harris & A. Alexander (Eds.) Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity. Cresskil, New Jersey: Hampton.
Penley, Constance (1997). NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America. New York: Verso. ISBN 0860916170.
Bacon-Smith, Camile (1991). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812213793.
Jenkins, Henry (1992). Textual Poachers. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415905729.
Most of these, as is characteristic of cultural studies, approach slash fiction from an ethnographic perspective, and talk primarily about the writers of slash fiction, and the communities that form around slash fiction. They focus only minimally on textual analysis.