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Human Sexuality 101 and Slash Fanfiction

by Melusina

 

 

 


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 magnetism").

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.
 

 

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