Nobody's really sure how our sexual identities are formed, how we accumulate
all the preferences and kinks that create the underpinnings of our
attractions and crushes. The only thing that's certain is that it's all a
lot more complex than we think. It's becoming increasingly obvious that it's
neither 100% nature nor 100% nurture, but some difficult to break down
combination of the two. Lately, I've been thinking about the ways we define
ourselves sexually and how that impacts the way same sex and unconventional
relationships are written in fanfiction.
I've known men and women who thought of themselves as straight for years,
and then fell in love with someone of the same sex. Author Marion Winik
wrote a beautiful memoir called
First Comes Love
about the ups and downs in her marriage to a gay man, who continued to
identify himself as gay, despite his marriage to a woman, which produced
three children. I've known people who at various points in their lives
identified as straight, bi, and gay. Clearly sexual identity is a slippery
thing which resists categorization.
Kinsey tried to give us a little wiggle room with his famous 6 point scale.
He claimed that true 0's (exclusively straight - no attraction to the same
sex) and 6's (exclusively gay, no attraction to the opposite sex) are very
rare. Yet, the majority of people are still quite reluctant to identify as
anything other than straight or gay. It seems obvious that this has to do
with societal pressures - if you're attracted to men and women in our
society, it's much easier to just focus on the opposite sex. Sure, you're
eliminating half your options for potential partners, but when you do find
someone, the logistics will be significantly simpler.
But what happens when those societal restraints are lifted?
This is an
interesting article about the proliferation of self-identified straight men
who cruise for guys on the internet. These men feel free to explore another
side of their sexuality in the relatively anonymous atmosphere of online
chat rooms, especially since they're not looking for life-partners, but for
(not to put too fine a point on it) fuck buddies. The long term
ramifications of a same sex relationship don't really matter if you're never
going to see each other again.
How does this relate to slash? A debate that occurs with tedious regularity
in all fandoms is whether or not you can slash canonically straight
characters without violating canon. "But Xander's straight!" say the canon
nazis. "But look at the subtext!" say the slashers. Ad nauseum.
If, as seems likely, most people are Kinsey 2's, 3's and 4's, then it throws
some of these objections out the window. Simply because someone has only
ever dated members of the opposite sex doesn't mean that he or she wouldn't
have a same sex relationship, under the right circumstances, and with the
right person. Maybe gender is less important to that character than some
other sexual preference / kink / fetish (i.e. Xander's well known "demon
It's also important to consider historical attitudes towards homosexuality
and how that may shape a character's sexual identity, as well as other
characteristics (i.e. vampirism). Historically, homosexual identity is
fairly recent. In previous centuries, men and women assumed that their
public relationships would be with members of the opposite sex. This did not
necessarily prevent them from privately engaging in sexual behavior with
members of the same sex. In certain subcultures, sexual relations with
members of the same sex were the norm, but this did not mean that the
participants would not also have had opposite sex relationships. And of
course, if you're writing supernatural characters, then you have to think
about how that affects the character's sexuality. A few months back I read a
slash / canon debate in which a fanfic writer passionately declared that
there was no way to read Angel except as emphatically straight. This is
someone who has not paid much attention to the ways in which vampire
sexuality has been constructed on BtVS and AtS.
The whole "canonical sexuality" debate is based on a false dichotomy, which
says very little about the sexuality of the characters and everything about
the ways our society views sexuality. It's safer and easier to think of
people as one thing or the other, rather than to think of sexuality as
something fluid and changeable. But what's safe and easy rarely makes for
good writing - this perspective is unnecessarily limiting and has very
little basis in fact.