He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged


I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Becky Rosen lately. And this is a piece that’s come out of our communion.

I’ve been working with Becky since last November, when I watched episode 7.8, “It’s Time For A Wedding!” for the first time.

My first reaction to what I saw as the episode’s, uh, problems? Was to write my first S/D story, “Hot Blooded.”

My second? Was to start work on this piece, which has moved  from a presentation [of which this is version 2.0] to a lengthier academic essay.

The reaction that I’ve received to this work at the two conferences at which I’ve presented it has been generally positive, but it’s also stirred up some hornets’ nests for some folks, which is kind of awesome. 

This presentation relies pretty heavily on images [which is part of why I’m so fond of it, I think]; if you wish, you can download the associated slide show here

While Supernatural doesn’t belong to me, this work does. And, as Becky might say, everything may be a fic of everything else, but don’t try to slash this slasher, to represent this work as your own.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged:
Deleting Female Desire in “Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding!”

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the television show Supernatural—the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who’ve committed their lives to protecting people from supernatural creatures—spawned an online fandom dedicated to “slashing” Sam and Dean; that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Indeed, over the course of seven seasons, the existence of these narratives—affectionately dubbed “Wincest” by the show’s fans—has become a defining feature of Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom.

By introducing a meta-textual version of the show—a series of books also called Supernatural—into the primary narrative, the program’s producers have allowed Sam and Dean [and, by extension, the producers themselves] to comment upon the productive and consumptive practices of Wincest fans. However, the subsequent introduction of the character of Becky Rosen—dedicated Wincest writer and devoted fan of the Supernatural book series—has allowed the producers to take this commentary one step further: to illustrate the monstrous potential of the female fan, particularly one who actively engages in the construction, consumption, and distribution of Wincest narrative.

In this paper, I will argue that a central image in Becky’s most recent appearance in season seven, episode eight exemplifies the danger that the show’s producers see her [and the female fans for whom she stands, in their minds] posing to the show’s carefully maintained masculine order: the image (slide 1) of a semi-clothed Sam bound to a bed, his body and the text which it represents at the mercy of his female captor. The transgressive nature of this image lies in its reversal of what Laura Mulvey calls “the symbolic order” of gender in the visual, one in which “the silent image of woman [is] still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” That is, the threat that Becky poses to Sam, to Supernatural, lies in her status as a woman and as a fan writer, as a figure who can upend the central narrative by affixing the masculine to her “rightful” place as the signifier of meaning while claiming the role of producer for herself. Continue reading “He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged”

Love! Frat Boys! and Visualizing [Female] Desire

One of my projects of late has taken me into the world of romance novel covers. I went into the work thinking I’d talk about the covers of het romances—and then I stumbled across Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy. And that discovery led to the presentation below.

You can see a slide show of the images that I reference here and learn more about the book from the publisher here–which you should because this novel? Is awesome.

Covering Up to Strip Down:
Remixing Anne Tenino’s Frat Boy and Toppy

I began this project with a general interest in the covers of romance novels (slide 1), in these too-familiar renderings [rendings] (slide 2) of female garments by well-muscled, occasionally well-meaning masculine overlords.

And then I came across this (slide 3): Anne Tenino’s terribly titled but oh so very excellent novel Frat Boy and Toppy—a male/male erotic romance.

Now on the one hand, this cover is stereotypical, a close cousin of the now-familiar images plastered on heterosexual romance novels—featuring two naked male torsos for the price of one. But on the other, the cover is just bizarre. Its assemblage-like quality comes off as an artist’s fever dream: over-thought, over-designed, and, worst of all [to my mind] a poor representation of the content [and the pleasures] the text presents. My goal, then, has been to redesign Toppy’s cover so that it might more effectively reflect both the book’s content and the current cultural conversation surrounding women and the consumption of popular [erotic] romance, a discussion sparked by the runaway success of this novel, (slide 4) Fifty Shades of Grey.

Perhaps the busy nature of Toppy’s cover (slide 5) is due, in part, to the many different kinds of stories that the novel manages to tell within the generic constraints of an erotic romance; that is, a romance in which sexual encounters are used as the building blocks of a mutually satisfying and emotionally supportive love match and one which concludes with the characters living “happily ever after.” Toppy manages to do this while performing several other kinds of stories within the same text. First, the novel is a coming-out story in which Brad [the titular frat boy] recognizes that he’s gay, that he’s attracted to other men: specifically, to Sebastian, the TA for Brad’s “Classical Greece” history course.

Early in the book, Brad comes out to his family, who are relaxed and groovy about the whole thing, as, it seems, is Brad himself. Indeed, he is pretty angst free about the whole thing: he accepts who he is—and who he is wants Sebastian. That said, Brad is reluctant to come out to his frat, many of whom aren’t homophobic, per say, but are pretty happily ensconced in their belief that Brad’s straight [given that he’s been dating—but not sleeping with—women] and show little interest in discussing the potential fluidities of male sexual desire.

But this is also a romance, a story about two people falling in love and using hot sex as a means by which to discover that their attraction goes beyond the physical. After getting Sebastian’s attention by turning in a paper he purchased online as his own [like you do], Brad confesses his desire. The two men immediately sleep together [in that Yankee Candle- infested living room on the front cover] and it’s all happily uphill from there. Continue reading “Love! Frat Boys! and Visualizing [Female] Desire”

Setting Wincest Straight

Here’s something I learned at the conference I attended last week:

  1. Wincest is disgusting, to some people.

Let me set the scene.

As my brother wisely observed, I go to conferences to road test my academic material. To put it up in front of an audience and see what works, what doesn’t; a trait, he says, I learned in improv, where it’s all about doing, reading audience reaction, and revising the work the next time you go on stage.

[I hadn’t made that connection, myself. He’s a smart one.]

What I’ve realized, though, is that there’s a productive tension between the need need to put a piece of academic writing on its feet and the need for it to be, you know, something good enough [ugh] for me to stand behind.

At some level, I’d love it if every conference presentation resulted in all comers telling me what a fucking genius I am, showering me with publication offers, and buying me drinks.

At another, I recognize that the unexpectedly rich engagement [weird, lively, sorta intense conversation] that occurred during my panel’s question and answer session was WAY the fuck more valuable. Even if no drinks were purchased on my behalf.

To wit: one of the lessons I took from the panel.

  1. Wincest is disgusting, to some people.

So one of the academics on my panel now writes about sex and science fiction, but is, in her other scholarship, also involved with neuroscience and psychology. In my paper, I talked [much more briefly than in others] about the rise [ahem] of the Wincest narrative and its distinctive presence in Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom. In response to some audience comments on the paper [more about that in a moment], this presenter stated that she found Wincest to be disgusting and disturbing because, as she noted, child/child incest occurs more frequently in the US than adult/child incest. At the time, my sleep-deprived brain didn’t know what to make of this statement, other than: dude, Wincest is hot. Which I thought but did not say.

But, later, revived by food and coffee, what I realized was this:

For my colleague, Wincest is akin to incest, which, in the popular [and legalistic] understanding, is almost always equated to sexual abuse. To the abuse of a power dynamic, of age difference, of emotional maturity, between siblings. Indeed, as this Harvard Law Review article suggests, most state laws that criminalize incest rely solely upon the notion of familial relation; that is, if two people who are “related” [and yes, the definition of this term varies from state to state], then any sex between them can be characterized as illegal–even when it is consensual.

And that’s the key to Wincest, I think. Well, to a lot of it.

Wincest is slash fic, first and foremost, and, in practice, most slash fic is predicated on a relationship between two [male] characters who are equals. Who consider themselves to be equals in real life, if not in the bedroom.  At least, that’s what much of the old school, hardcore academic theory [Constance Penley, Henry Jenkins, Mirna Cicioni] on slash argues. And this rings true for me as a reader and writer of slash.

So, to me, the concept of “Wincest” hinges at least in part on this sense of Sam and Dean as equal partners in general. And this sense of equality is linked to consent, to the notion that the boys come together [or, ah, something] because they want to, because it’s what they desire. Now the contrivances that get them there can be legion: magic, demons, booze, somebody’s hurt, somebody wants to fuck, somebody has a sudden moment of emotional clarity–whatever. But this acceptance of who they are, of what they have–even if it’s just for one night, as in some stories–is key, for me. Now they are non-con stories, sure, and many that feature dubious consent. And I hate making universalist or generalizing statements about anything, much less about something as free-range as fan writing.

But.

I think this equation of incest with abuse is what lay at the heart of my colleague’s squick reaction, of her immediate dismissal of Wincest [with which she had not been familiar, it seems] as aberrant, deviant, disgusting.

Which is, to me, fascinating. Because as often as I proclaim myself an evangelical member of the Church of Gay Incest Porn [tm twoskeletons], I think that I’d forgotten what that phrase actually means to most people.**

As a scholar, this was a helpful reminder that what I’m talking about, as much as I like to play at it being a little kinky and weird: actually is kinda kinky and weird, to some. And that resistance, as in this case, can be productive for me, can raise questions, can remind me of the “straight” reading of Wincest to which, through which, my scholarship on this awesomely sexy and transgressive and often really well-written stuff must be negotiated.

In fact, the whole discussion reminded me, eventually, of this terrific panel I attended at the same conference on BDSM and the popular romance novel. One of the presenters discussed the links she sees between the geek/fan community and the kink community; and, in the course of her discussion, she noted that folks in kink are constantly contradicting themselves in the way they talk about their practices. In the same sentence, she pointed out, kink people will say, “Hey, what we do is transgressive and resistant to the heternormative construction of sex. And that is fucking awesome” AND “Hey, what we do isn’t weird. We’re just like everybody else.”

Which kinda feels like where I am with slash fic, at the moment: weird and different and yet really normal, in a way. Whatever “normal” means.

So I’m stuck in between these two bodies of thought, these two ways of seeing Wincest, after this conference. Which feels like a good place to be, for now. A productive one, at least.

**Side note: One audience member who said very nice things to me about my paper after the panel also said: “I don’t really see the Wincest thing”–ok, I thought, fair enough–“but when you showed that picture of Dean at Sam and Becky’s wedding [the one at the top of this post], and you made that joke about how he was upset about Sam marrying anyone but him–I could kind of see that, in his face.”

I chose to see that as a step on the road to Damascus, friends. A baby step towards a casual Google search, towards a visit to the Sam/Dean Slash Archive, perhaps…

What Words Do Can Suck

Or it can be awesome.

As a writer, as a rhetorician, I’m always more interested in what writing does than in engaging in a long, fruitless search for a single, concretized meaning.

But the recent unraveling of Mike Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” via its appearance on the radio show This American Life [TAL] has challenged that notion for me.

In its most recent episode, “Retraction,” TAL takes a very public mulligan for its “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory” episode which aired earlier this year. Daisey is a long-form monologuist, self-constructed in the image of [the amazing, the haunted, the shattering] Spaulding Gray, and the TAL episode featured an extended excerpt from “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he recounts his 2010 trip to visit some Apple factories in China.

The problem, from TAL’s perspective, is this: Daisey made a lot of shit up. He added, embellished, and flat-out fabricated sequences, details, and people that he presents in his show–and on TAL—as “real.” True, and all that.

The truth, as it always is, is muddier. Much of the material that Daisey stitched into his show is “real” in the sense that it did happen–but to other people. Essentially, he took elements of other people’s experiences and reporting and integrated them into his own trip to China, to some of the Apple factories there, so seamlessly–with such careful rhetorical stitches–that those pieces became part of his whole.

This was conscious, deliberate plagiarism, in my opinion.

Daisey, to his limited credit, did come back to TAL to try and explain his behavior to a [very calmly] peeved Ira Glass. He tried not speaking, he tried denial, he tried self-delusion: there wasn’t a kid-whose-been-caught trick that he didn’t reach for. To me, Daisey came out looking like a skeez, one who hid behind the mechanics of the theater. In theater, he seemed to say again and again, the truth doesn’t matter, details don’t matter. It’s what the work does that makes it worthwhile.

Glass asked him why he didn’t come clean during the fact-checking process that TAL ran before the episode originally aired. Daisey’s response:

I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything. [emphasis added]

So. I wonder. The rhetorician in me, wonders.

Is the problem here really one of genre, as Daisey repeatedly suggested? That in the theater, it’s ok–even expected?–that what’s on stage is heightened, exaggerated, narratively fluffed, even. That the truth must be embellished in order to be theatrical?

For what he regretted, Daisey said, was not the way in which he made his show, the detailed quiliting that shaded memory, truth, and someone else’s stories into a seamless whole. No. It was that he had allowed Glass and co. to bring his piece of theater onto public radio, into the world of journalism, of reporting.

Is it one of rhetoric? Does it matter more what the work does than if the content–which is ostensibly presented as memoir and political agit-prop [Brecht with a side of pathos]–is factual, or not? And by whose standards should the facts be judged? Is meaning truly subjugate to what the text does with, to, for, and through the audience?

Or is it one of integrity overthrown in the zeal of the moment, as this article suggests? Was Daisey so invested in doing with his text that he tossed the truth aside in order to make people feel for these mistreated workers? To care so much that they would do whatever it took to make it stop?

Shades of Brecht here, I think. Except Brecht, if memory serves, did not present his works as “truth,” as an accurate representation of any one person’s lived experience. Of what one person had seen or done.

So it makes me wonder, this strange little controversy, this eruption between truth, theater, and journalism. Can my ideals still hold in the face of it, this real-world example of the consequences of embracing what words do over what they mean?

To put a finer point on it: it’s not quite as simple, as straightforward as it feels in the classroom, in an academic text, within the boundaries of this blog, is it?

Words have consequences, both because of what they do and because of what they can mean.

So.

A lesson I need to take on for myself as a writer, I think. It seems. A timely reminder.

First He Came For The Porn. And Then He Came For Me.


Rick Santorum wants to revoke your right to jerk off.

As this story from the [right wing] Daily Caller points out, the Vest has a [missionary] position paper up on his website in which he boldly declares his desire to focus the [throbbing] power of the Justice Department on the new Great Satan: porn.

Indeed, Santorum argues that:

Every family must now be concerned about the harm from pornography. As a parent, I am concerned about the widespread distribution of illegal obscene pornography and its profound effects on our culture.

As a producer AND distributor of “illegal obscene pornography”–some of it featuring you, Rick–I’d like to say: thank you. You are a living example of the horrors that await Americans who don’t masturbate.

Let’s begin:

For many decades, the American public has actively petitioned the United States Congress for laws prohibiting distribution of hard-core adult pornography.

Name one member of this “public” of which you speak. And you don’t count, Vest. Neither does Mr. Hat.

Then Rick channels his inner Catherine MacKinnon:

Pornography is toxic to [STRAIGHT] marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women.

No wonder you hate porn, darlin’: you’ve got misogyny covered all by your lonesome, don’t you? [And notice the assumption here: women? We don’t use porn. We’re just used by it.]

I’m always amused when right-wing nutjobs break out the old school feminist talking points. And by amused I mean pushed into A Handmaid’s Tale flashback. Yes, baby, sure; that’s why you’re against porn. Because you’re trying to protect us women from the animal passions of you beastly, beastly men, whose passions are so hot and so easily aroused that they cannot. be. contained, goddamn it!

This is what I don’t get about this view of porn: doesn’t it assume that men are one Jenna Jamison [or James Deen] away from turning into Vikings? One porno too many at just the wrong moment and average Joe Zinfandel will be raping the nearest female-owned orifice, burning down the split-level, and sailing to San Francisco?

Does Rick Santorum really live in fear of his cock?

Look, there’s no question that porn has a history of exploiting women (and men) [see: Boogie Nights]. But so does capitalism. So are we all all Marxists now, Vest?  You wanna take on porn that’s “obscene”? Then go after child pornographers, those who exploit children for sexual and material gain. Leave the consenting adults out of your Jesus Nanny state.

Frankly, I have a hard time taking Santorum’s “feminist” ideals seriously. This is the same man who thinks that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Who argues that there should be “no more leading from behind for America.”

I don’t know: “America: Catcher to the World” does have a certain ring to it.

Rick, do this country a favor: lock yourself in a bathroom with whatever gets you off–if you even know anymore–and take it all out on your cock. Leave the rest of us, the rest of our private lives, our desires, our bodies, the fuck out of it.

28 Days Later (Rush Still Can’t Keep It Up)


Ok, Rush.

So part of the paradigm you’re operating in–on which your rhetoric relies–is that women should be ashamed of being on birth control.

Because using contraception, in your mind, means, ipso facto, that we are sluts. That we have what is, in your opinion, “too much” sex.

Your rhetoric relies on the power of shame, that central tenant of control wielded by the dominant [male] discourse.

I cannot alter the fact that this sense of humiliation over our own sexuality is deeply ingrained in many women. That it was once dug into me.

But what I can do is deny you and Santorum and Darrell Issa and any other dickless wonder with a bully pulpit the opportunity to shame me.

See the image above, Rush? This is my birth control pack for the month. Just one active pill left, one bullet in the ol’ hormonal chamber until my next cycle starts. Look closely: you can almost see the loose morality oozing from the bubble pack, can’t you?

I’ve been on birth control since I was 21. And yup, it’s kept me from getting pregnant for over a decade now. And it’s also regulated my cycle in a way that my body could not by itself. But mostly, it’s kept me from getting pregnant. When I have sex. With a man. Quell horror!

Rush, frankly, I don’t give a fuck what you think of, well, anything, but you must know–you have to learn–that your on-air idiocy has consequences for those whom you attack and, mercifully, for you, too.

Any woman’s decision to take birth control–to take control over our own bodies, over our own reproductive systems–is none of your damn business.

Neither is the apparently flaccid state of your dick any of mine, but so long as you keep coming after me and mine, I’ll keep posting this and reminding anyone who reads this that your radio show is the audio equivalent of Brett Favre’s cell phone photos of his junk: desperate, misguided, and a goddamn guarantee that you ain’t getting laid anytime this century.

Good, Bad–I’m The Guy With The Gun (it’s true: Rush Limbaugh has no dick)

Pretty sure you'll need a condom for that, babe.

Every time I think that today’s GOP has reached the apex of suck, they come back with a whole new brand of crazy.

Today, Rush Limbaugh made an aggressive push to regain the Raging Asshat title from Rick Santorum, who’s had a death grip on the thing for the last week. Limbaugh, for some reason, felt that he had informed opinion on the [frankly ridiculous] bitchfest that Congress is engaged in over birth control; specifically, over insurance companies and employers covering the cost of birth control, costs which can be prohibitive for some women.

You may recall that the House held a hearing on this issue in which they refused to hear from any, you know, women on the issue. This visual fail was made possible by Republicans’ piss-poor attempts to recast birth control–a matter of women’s health–as one of religious freedom [?!], one in which teh evil evil government was attempting to enforce its questionable morality on the long-suffering penises of America.

That is: some [men] in Congress don’t want to have to pay for birth control, because that goes against God’s plan of sex only being for procreative purposes, for women to be tied to the home and children, and for men to rule the motherfucking world. Or, as Rick Santorum put it in October of 2010 [dude was ahead of his time, right?]:

Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.

As Dean Winchester would say: “Okay, you lost me there, sparky.”

The Democrats on the committee had a field day with the all-male panel image and ran with it for a couple of news cycles. Last week, they staged their own hearing–a purely performative one, since they are in the minority in the House, and thus on the relevant committee–on birth control in which they heard from Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student. In her testimony, Fluke:

told the story of a fellow law school student who required access to the pill in order to deal with a medical condition. Not being able to afford it, because it wasn’t provided on the health care plan, the student wound up losing an ovary.

Got that? So a fellow student [not Fluke herself] LOST AN OVARY, which, hey, she might have wanted to use, thanks, because the school’s health care plan didn’t cover the cost of birth control. Pretty clear connection, for me, between women’s health and health care covering birth control.

Rush Limbaugh, bless him, doesn’t agree. He weighed in on the issue today [ETA: On Wednesday, actually]:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan [sic] Fluke who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? That makes her a slut, right?

Yes, he really said this.

But oh, wait. There’s more:

Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception she wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the the pimps. The johns. We would be the johns. No! We’re not the johns–well, uuuhhhhh, pimp’s not the right word.  Ok, so she’s not a slut, she’s round-heeled [???]. I take it back.

[I love the metadiscussion he has with himself over the difference between a pimp and a john. Heh! And this is my transcription, for what it’s worth, so any errors are mine.]

So it’s evident, right, that he has no fucking clue what he’s talking about: he clearly did not bother to read or listen to Fluke’s actual testimony, since he a) gets her name wrong; and b) misunderstands the content of her testimony. Could be dismissed out of hand right there.

But it’s Rush, and I imagine this sort of gleeful ignorance is pretty de riguer for him.

I find this conceptual leap completely confounding, if one uses Earth logic, but totally understandable in fake Conservative logic:

  1. Woman wants to use birth control.
  2. Birth control is related to sex.
  3. Woman wants to have sex.
  4. Ergo, woman is a whore.

And this is, in large part, why the GOP is so hot and heavy to recast birth control–women’s health in general, I’d argue–as a question not of morality but of “religious freedom.” Such a rhetorical move–however lumbering and poorly executed–allows them to have their cake and eat it too: they can still have yahoos like Rush and Fox News make the old familiar, always-already argument that women are whores [what’s up, Eve?], while politically positioning themselves as champions of liberty, rather than would-be installers of chastity belts around the scary, scary ladyparts.

But, hey, what about men?

If the government shouldn’t subsidize female sexuality, shouldn’t encourage women to have lots of dirty sex, then it shouldn’t subsidize men either, right? Surely the GOP is pushing for insurance companies not to have to cover Viagra?

Riiiiight.

Rush, you have some experience with this one, don’t you, darling?

As Rick Perry might say: oops.

Here’s what I’d say: Rush, you do not have control over any woman’s reproductive system or her sex life. You are not a moral paragon, nor does any uterus tremble in fear at your opinion. At your dick, maybe, but your opinion? No.

So you keep spewing Santorum about women’s sex lives and I’ll keep reminding folks that you can’t keep it up. A small protest, perhaps. But, given its subject, that seems only fitting.

Freedom’s just another word for liberal dogmatic thought

20120226-122406.jpg
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Earlier this week, President Obama called once again for all American children to have the opportunity to attend college. This isn’t a new idea for him; it’s one he’s touted in some form since his 2008 campaign, but one to which he’s returned repeatedly since last month’s State of the Union address.

For Obama–for a hell of a lot of other people–education offers freedom.

Unfortunately, in the world where Rick Santorum spins, a world where other people’s sex lives pose a clear and present danger to his own, freedom = slavery to “liberal” ideology, to thoughts that are critical of this country, her leaders, her practices. In a speech in Michigan on Friday, Santorum told an enthusiastic [geriatric] audience that:

President Obama once said that he wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor. That’s why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.

Yes, that’s right: America needs some of its children not to go to college so that those children can “work hard every day”–which, apparently, people with college degrees–people like Santorum!–do not do. Yup. We just sit around not fixing shit and watching the world go to hell as we stare at our degrees and drink pinot and sing the Marseilles. Man, Rick: you nailed it.

But let’s be clear: for the Vest, giving all Americans–read: black, white, latino, asian, rich, poor, southern, northern, first-generation, seventh generation, christian, muslim, atheist, jew, woman, man, gay, hetero, transgender, bi–the same chance to access higher education is akin to packing these young minds into the rhetorical Amistad and shipping them off to Marxistville. Learning = indoctrination in what Santorum sees as multicultural bullshit, gender equality, and the notion that no idea should be swallowed hook, line, and sinker without critical reflection and inquiry.

You fear ideas, man? You fear exposure to ideas? What does that say about the strength of your own convictions? Oh, that’s right: we’re not talking about what you believe–for you, it’s a given that those ideas are “correct,” grounded in your god’s law or whatever. For you, any idea that doesn’t match your Opus Dei-inscribed view of life, the universe, and everything is “liberal” and therefore dangerous and wrong.

Right.

Also, Rick, my love, you have a very strange understanding of how “teaching” works. I can assure you, as one of those “liberal” professors for whom you express so much contempt, that exposing my students to ideas, to perspectives that are unlike their own, does not automatically cause them to adopt those ideas. Far from it. Students are not obedient little sponges, darlin’–they come in just as resistant, just as married to the ideas they consider their own as any adult. If anything, I think, they are a weird paradox at 18, 19 years old: on the one hand, they’re open and pliant and more receptive to experience than ever before. But on the other, they recognize that openness, this newfound desire to be more than they are and they resist that, push back against their own wills with everything they’ve got; not all the time, not in every instance, but often enough so that their own identity–the one they’ve spend their adolescence and late teen years constructing carefully, so carefully–is not corrupted.

They’re smart, Rick; they’re so much fucking smarter than you give them credit for. And yeah, sometimes they change their minds but they’re the ones that do the changing, not me or any of my colleagues [not all of whom are the liberal bastions of idiomatic thought you seem to imagine].

And that’s what you’re really afraid of, isn’t it, Rick? Of your kids changing their own minds. Having thoughts that you didn’t plant in there with the spade of the Bible. It’s called growing up, man: it’s called becoming a human being. It has less to do with what job the kids end up getting, whether they’re on Wall Street or own a business on Main Street or care for kids with cancer or create their own comic series. It has much more to do with the way that the kids see the world, the epistemology that they fashion for themselves to help them make sense of their own existence and I know I’ve lost you now, baby, because I used the word “epistemology” and if you’re not careful, I’ll point right back to Foucault and that would REALLY piss you off, wouldn’t it, me citing the ideas of a gay French dude, right?

So, Rick, let me bring it back to a place that maybe you can understand, one where you won’t be smelling poppers and dreaming of Donna Summer as you read my text. I used to work for an amazing woman, a university president [stay with me, Vest: take a deep breath] who didn’t just believe that, as our university’s slogan said, “Education Offers Freedom,” she embodied this ideal. Both of her parents and her grandparents: all college graduates. Her parents: both teachers who moved from Chicago back to the South in the 1950s, going back to their family’s roots–to the roots of slavery–to teach those who hadn’t gotten out, not yet. She and her husband: both teachers early in their careers. She: president of a for-profit university [hey, you like that idea, right?] with an on-campus presence that encouraged students, faculty, and staff alike to come to her with concerns, questions, comments. She embodied the potential of education in her DNA, in her everyday actions, and in the genuine love and concern she felt for all of the students, even those she met only in passing, or only on graduation day when she handed them their diploma.

Rick, this woman’s life illustrates the truth of the axiom that education can offer freedom: from poverty, from circumstance, from history, and yes, from ignorance, from fear, from derision. But the key word here is CAN; education isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not the universal means of escape from the dominant ideology. It’s a tool, man, a tool to which all those who want it should have access. This is what the President means when he says that everyone should be able to go to college: everyone should have the chance to see if education is the key to their lock, an answer–never the only answer–to some of their questions.

Your fear precedes you, sir. Your desire to consign others to ignorance all in the name of “freedom” is repugnant and will only hasten your obsolesce as a political and cultural force.

Put down the puritanical bullshit and pick up a slash fic.

Why does slash fiction matter? Why does my work matter? Why do I think it’s important for the conversations we have in slash fiction about homosexuality, heternormativity, sexuality, and gender identity to get pushed into the mainstream?

Here’s why it matters, damn it:

A major reason that Jerry Sandusky was able to rampage at Penn State for so long, to sexually abuse and rape so many young boys, is that the male-dominated jock culture in the football program didn’t want to talk about male-on-male rape. Or use any term they associated with “homosexuality.” Or use the word “anal” in conversation.

As this CNN article argues, the words that Mike McQueary used to describe what he witnessed in the football showers–Sandusky brutally rape a young boy–mattered. The words that got watered down, somehow, from “severe sexual acts” [whatever the fuck that means] to “horseplay.”

A modern-day poster boy for the price of homosexual panic. But he didn't have to pay it.

Even the title under the photo of McQueary included in the article plays this same little game: “Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary says he saw Jerry Sandusky molest a boy in the showers in 2002.” Fuck, no. He saw Sandusky RAPING a boy. Not molesting, RAPING.

As Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, argues in the article,”Witnesses are embarrassed to describe in graphic terms what they saw and then it becomes a game of Telephone after that, as one witness changes the story a little before talking to the next witness.”

So, to be clear: because grown, presumably heterosexual men were “embarrassed” to use words like “sodomy” and “rape” in the context of male-on-male sexual abuse–Sandusky lost his key to the locker room, but retained access to the facilities and to god knows how many children through The Second Mile foundation. For years, this happened, because these supposed leaders of men–exemplifiers of the American heteronormative masculine ideal–were afraid to talk frankly about these matters because–? They were afraid of being read as gay? Because only gay men can talk about anal rape without blushing? Please.

This quote from Dr. Chuck Williams of Drexell from the CNN article is pitch-perfect: “Discussing sex is not an issue for men…We probably talk about that more than anything else….However, homosexuality is definitely a nonstarter in male-dominated culture, which colored how the men involved responded to the incident.”

What in the hell?

So the dominant discourse will encourage grown men to call each other a “pussy,” “cock,” or a “dick” in polite conversation, but can’t tolerate any discussion of matters considered “homosexual” in nature, even if it means helping a child get justice?

Complete and utter bullshit. Because it’s true. Because the heteronormative speech and behavior codes in this country discourage put good ol’ American [white, middle class] masculinity in direct conflict with anything the dominant discourse deems “homosexual” in nature. And here, to be clear, the discourse is defining “homosexual” as male-to-male; female-to-female sex is awesome and so not considered “gay.” Hey, it feeds heterosexual male fantasy, so it must be ok.

Ok. So here’s one reason why the complicated and highly sexual conversations that we have in slash fiction–as writers, readers, producers, and consumers–matter, why they need to be pushed into the mainstream, become part of the popular, if not the dominant, discourse. I refuse to believe that I live in a country where children are exposed to pedophiles–the ones that are rooted into the heart of every community, every church, every institution–simply because men cannot bring themselves to say “anus” or “sodomy” for fear of being read as gay. So we have to start saying this stuff, talking about it honestly, making it part of our CONSTANT discussions of sex in this country. Look, fucking is fucking, ok? And slash fic communities are constructed around engaging in these conversations, in navigating discussions of homosexuality (M/M and F/F) through fictional characters. We’re here to help.

So slash fiction matters. Talking about Sam fucking Dean or Kirk and Spock giving each other blow jobs won’t save the world. But–but, goddamn it, it can help.

[ETA: I should have named this post “Sam fucks Dean and saves the world.” Ah well.]