And Sometimes, It’s Beautiful.

Maybe it really is all about the emotions.

So as an academic, as somebody that studies slash fic, I’ve been pretty committed to the idea that our attraction to slash, as women, goes beyond the traditional understanding: that we like the emotional attachment we have with the characters, that they have for each other, and we feed off of that, use it to construct our narratives of [emotional] desire. That we read and write sex for the intimacy, for the connection between these male partners whom we adore, whom we construct as adoring each other.

As a reader, as a writer, that always felt like bullshit to me.

I mean, yeah, I want to read stories where the characterizations are right on, where Sam and Dean or Kirk and Spock act like themselves. And part of that characterization for me is each man’s great love for the other, their incredible affection and devotion that goes beyond the bedroom, yes–but almost always ends up there, too.

But yeah: I also read it for the sex. Well-constructed, physically plausible, scorching hot and loving (sometimes) or not (sometimes), hard and quick or slow and gentle: but yeah, sex is a big part [heh] of why I love slash fiction.

Exactly.

And in reading all of this academic commentary–much of it grounded in feminist theory, at least in part–I kept running into this notion that slash is girly, that’s teenage girl emotional, that we read for intimacy and not (most explicitly not) for Sam fucking Dean into oblivion. No no. Sex may happen, these theories often go, but, as women, we’re reading for the connection, just as we do when we read traditional, happily-ever-after heterosexual romance novels.

Again: bullshit. Because we read, we write, at least in part, to get off. To get each other off, yes? As Anna Feigenbaum argues in her brilliant and hilarious essay, “If Adorno Could Hear Us Now: Female Fans [Re]writing the Romance/Porn Divide in ‘Boy Band’ Slash Fiction”:

For every [slash] story that maps out a fairly conventional conflict-resoution, there are others that bare little resemblance to the ‘romance novel’ trajectory…For example, in Mel’s story Going Up?, *NSYNC members Chris and Justin share an X-rated ride in a hotel elevator…I doubt the reader is meant to interpret Chris’ demand, ‘I want your fucking mouth sucking my cock,’ as an eroticization of nuturance. Given the explicit depictions of sex and the lack of a developed emotional relationship in this story, I am inclined to argue that it in no way resembles a conventional, heterosexual romance.

Exactly. We read slash, we write it at least in part because the sex, the bodies within it, are fucking hot.

Yeah.

But I’ve read a couple of stories lately that reminded me that it’s not a simple choice of A-or-B, that there’s a sliding scale of sex and romance and emotion, a Kinsey scale of erotic/pornographic fiction. Sometimes, these stories whispered– even as I turned my head and tried to pull away–it’s the emotion, the angst behind it, that make the sex so hot.

And here’s the really fucked up part: both of these stories are Real Person Fiction. One AU [alternative universe], the other straight-up J2. Maybe that’s how they got me: I didn’t expect to find gut-wrenching, heart-breaking angst in the middle of an AU J2. Much less two.

The first story is Ygrawn’s “Private,” a J2 inspired by this incident at an SPN convention. Misha gets a little handsy with Jared onstage and damn, does Jensen not like that. But here’s the thing: Jared’s not his, not really. Not anymore. He should be with Danni. He knows this. But there’s something that reminds him of how it used to be, with him and Jared, gets the jealousy and the grief and the lust all mixed up in one, and, well.

What I love about this fic–what surprised me–is the emotion in it. The genuine sadness mixed in with the scorching, toppy!Jensen sex.  Yeah, the sex is great, but it’s great because it stings; everybody’s hurting in this one, especially Jensen, but it’s that angst which makes the brief respite of sex, the momentary return to what was and what will never be, all the sweeter.

The second is an AU J2 called “Half of Your Heart” by jojothecr. This one broke my heart with a hammer and came back for the scraps. Jensen should be with her. Jared knows this. And this time, every time, it’s supposed to be the last. But they keep coming back to each other, a few times a year, and she knows. She tolerates. And Jared will, too. Because even a few hours with Jensen are better than none. That’s good enough, for now.

I’ve never cried over fan fic before–any fan fic, much less RPF–but “Heart” had me weeping. Again, what makes it extraordinary in my book is the emotion: the pain and unhappiness that’s so tightly intertwined with the sex that the two feed each other, thrive off one another. And I didn’t know quite what to do with that, as a reader, except let myself get lost in the story and cry like an idiot when it was over.

So.

Maybe it is all about the emotion, sometimes. Maybe what I need to remember as a reader, as a writer of this stuff, is to embrace the Kinsey of it all, to avoid the easy, critical binary of it’s either porn or romance, A or B. It’s human. It’s messy. And sometimes, it’s beautiful.

Dirty Angel In A Trenchcoat


As women, we need permission to burn.

We need somebody to give us permission to ogle, to turn the unabashed gaze on male beauty and just go with it.

Most of the time, we need permission from ourselves. As the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts point out, our brain chemistry demands that we give ourselves a mental go-ahead before the brain lust meets the body and those Wonder Twin powers activate into something wonderful.

But there’s also a lot of cultural and social crap that gets into our heads and gums up the works even more.

I wish this weren’t the case. I wish I didn’t feel a twinge of guilt when I look “too long” at the pretty. It’s a twinge born of feminism (you should not want what the heterosexist patriarchy tells you to, goddamn it.) and a childhood spent in church (thou shalt not want, well, anything. Ever. That’s not God.).

The church thing you’d think would be gone by now; hell, even as a kid, I resisted. The feminism? Well, again, I push back when my well-meaning colleagues attempt to regulate, to school me in the power of not-want, but those little twin voices, those towering thou shalt nots, are still there, still perched on my shoulder and tsking when I stare too hard at Padelecki or cross my eyes over the angel, yes.

But now I know they’re there, those voices, now I know enough to acknowledge and then ignore. Because I’m trying to give myself permission to take pleasure in the gaze.

That’s why, to me, the movie Magic Mike is so freaking genius. It’s a permission slip of a film, sculpted as an invitation, a way of saying: yes, you women so inclined (and gay men), come and pay your money for two hours of dominant discourse-sponsored gazing. No guilt, no shame, just two hours of looking that’s been sanctioned by the powers that be.

Because those boys on the screen?

They know you’re coming only for them, that their agressive lack of clothing is what’s gonna drive you to the theater. And that’s OK, hell, it’s more than ok: it’s awesome. Cough up the cash, ladies (and gents), and bask in sex with little fear of being mocked or even noted. Because you’ll be among friends.

So this is what I love, what I wish weren’t quite so culturally necessary: an excuse for communal lust, for a public performance of female desire in which we as the audience can feel safe in participating. It’s like a natural evolutionary step from the Fifty Shades phenomenon, the motion picture equivalent of reading a novel with a very sexy cover in public.

And yeah, it’s the commodification of female desire, and ok, it’s a little heteronormative in its approach (though the outreach to the gay press has been great), and in some ways it’s just as prescriptive in terms of what I (the female audience) should want as my feminist colleagues and the church, but.

If they’re marketing to us–the “us” that’s not white, heterosexual, and male–honey, let’s jump on it and give them reason to do it to us, for us all over again.

Erotica, Porn, And a “Contagion of Pleasure”

A question that keeps coming up [heh] in my research is one that annoys me: what’s the difference between erotica and pornography?

[My addendum: who the bloody hell says that there IS one?]

Although I may reject the premise of the question, that does pretty much no good, for it’s one that’s been around at least as long as first-wave feminism and continues to pop up pretty prominately in contemporary culture. See discussions of Fifty Shades of Gray or the presence/absence of the “PWP” [Porn Without Plot] tag in slash communities, for example. As a culture, we keep acting like there’s a distinction here, so I’m spending some time trying to figure out why.

For the record: In my own work, I don’t see a meaningful distinction between erotica and porn. It’s all about sex and emotion and getting the fuck off. All of the gendered bullshit that’s bundled into these debates just pisses me off and I’m veering wildly off track. Let me table the Rage Cat for a later discussion.

Last week, I read a terrific (apparently foundational) article in romance studies called “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different” by Ann Barr Snitow, published in 1979. Snitow’s work [which deserves its own post. Or four.] pointed me in the direction of the November 1978 issue of Msmagazine, then at the height of its cultural powers (the cover’s posted above).

There are three articles devoted to the erotica vs. pornography question in that issue, but I’m going to focus for now on Gloria Steinem’s “Erotica and Pornography: A Clear and Present Difference.”

In the article, after a long and confusing introduction about humans’ capacities as a species (??), Steinem lays out what’s essentially a entomological distinction between erotica and porn. She argues that erotica “is rooted in eros or passionate love, and thus in the idea of positive choice, free will, the yearning for a particular person” (75). By contrast, she posits, pornography:

“begins with a root meaning ‘prostitution’ or ‘female captives,’ thus letting us [who is “us”?] know that the subject is not mutual love, or love at all, but domination and violence against women…It ends with a root meaning ‘writing about’ or ‘description of’ which puts still more distance between subject and object, and replaces spontaneous yearning for closeness with objectification and a voyeur.” (54)

She then sketches this difference in several other ways, including:

  • “Perhaps one could simply say that erotica is about sexuality, but pornography is about power and sex-as-weapon” (54)
  • Erotica is “a mutually pleasurable, sexual expression between people who have enough power to be there by positive choice”; while pornography, on the other hand, carries a “message…[of] violence, dominance, and conquest” (54).

Ultimately, the vision of sex she presents here reads as a naive, almost romantically-idealized, view of sex. It feels as though 1978 Steinem is invoking the spirits of two (or more) imaginary partners who are wholly decontextualized from the wider world.

Love isn’t always fucking in a bed of roses–and anyway, those bitches have thorns.

Despite her desire for lovers to be fully embodied–to be in bed by choice made in both body and mind–the kind of sex that Steinem describes, to which she aspires, is one outside of time. Status is elemental to our interactions with other humans; whether we are conscious of them or not, we’re engaged in constant negotiations of status with all of the people whom we meet in a given day. Even our virtual interactions are marked by the back-and-forth of status games. While gender can and does affect those interactions, our sense and performance of our own always-shifting statuses, it’s not the sole determining factor, nor is it the only exigence for status exchanges.

Frankly, I don’t buy Steinem’s morpheme-based argument. To me, it feels that she reads the “textbook” definitions of erotica and pornography, of their entomological roots, far beyond what the text itself actually says, and actively avoids engaging with how those linguistics elements compare/contrast with the practical use and understanding of those concepts in modern (as of 1978) life.

To be blunt: her implicit assertion seems to be that erotica is good because it’s more “feminine” in nature–deals with feelings and love and all that shit–while pornography is bad because it’s used by men, created by men, espoused by men, in order to maintain the patriarchy. I’m essentializing here, and I realize. However, her assertions that erotica has a “sensuality and touch and warmth” and concerns itself with “shared pleasure,” while pornography uses sex to “reinforce some inequality, or to create one,” sounds pretty fucking gendered in its construction to me (53).

I’m also struck by her resistance to pleasure in this piece, to discussing erotica–if one accepts her argument that erotica is good–as a means through which a woman might gain some getting off, if you know what I mean.

Here’s the closest Steinem comes to acknowledging why a woman might want to use erotica:

“It [erotica] may or may not strike a sense-memory in the viewer, or be creative enough to make the unknown seem real; but it doesn’t require us to identify with a conquerer or victim [as she does porn, she argues]. It is truly sensuous, and may give us a contagion of pleasure.” (54)

It’s that last phrase that struck me: what’s a “contagion” of pleasure, exactly? Why not straight-up pleasure? What’s the virus that’s being transmitted? Why does Steinem seem to associate [physical] pleasure gained from a “photo or a film of people making love; really making love” as an infection, as something external that invades the viewer’s body from the outside?

The cynic in me wonders if this passage suggests a deeper resistance to heavily sexualized texts, if there’s not an implicit assumption here that getting off from the outside in isn’t as “good” or “right” as getting off with an imaginary, egalitarian lover.

There’s a whiff here of policing here, I think, of telling feminists of 1978 what they should want, what they should desire. And you know how I feel about that. Sad to say, such conversations, such attempts at community policing, are still ongoing, not just in explicitly feminist communities, I’d argue, but in many places where women gather around a shared ideology.

We Make It. With Love.

No, no, I’m listening. Not just staring at your beautiful face.

My friend and collaborator fanspired kicked a lovely and complicated question at me yesterday, and as a) the answer to her question is sort of fundamental to this blog; and b) my response spun out into a 20-page dissertation, I decided to post my response here.

Fanspired asked:

I’m puzzled about the relationship between these two [feminism and slash], given that we’re reading a genre of porn that specifically excludes us…Why do feminists read/write male/male slash?

I can answer that question only in terms of my own thinking and experiences. There’s been much written on this subject, and I suspect that there are probably as many answers to your question as there are feminists in slash fandom. Know, then, that my response pivots around my own beliefs, and makes no attempt to speak for feminists in slash as a whole.

The simplest answer, for me, is that such practices are a means through which, by which, to resist the way that female sexual desire and expression is coded, understood, and controlled within the dominant discourse.

In Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins, scholar of fan practices in general and one of the first to write about slash practice specifically, puts it this way:

“Slash confronts the most repressive forms of sexual identity and provides utopian alternatives to current configurations of gender; slash does not, however, provide a politically stable or even consistently coherent response to these concerns.” (189-190).

As a feminist, I see slash practices as active, resistant, and women-centered.

Active in that writing and reading slash fiction allows women [and some men] to re-author their own sexuality outside of the constraints of heternormativity. Hell, I’d argue that having to select any kind of label for one’s sexual identity, be it hetero or gay or bi or whatever, is more constraining than constructive. Indeed, the Kinsey scale suggests to me that there are very few of us who fit neatly and with no ragged edges into any of these categories.

I think sexual identity for many people isn’t “stable” or consistant over the course of our entire lives, although the dominant discourse is loathe to acknowledge or explore this idea–in part, I think, because these identities are too freaking complicated and individual to be easily narrativized. It’s much easier to say: you’re gay or you’re straight. Maybe bi. But that’s it! More than three and it gets confusing, damn it.

We’re watching you, too, babe.

So, for me, reading and writing slash gives me a chance to run around in many different kinds of sexual expressions, performances of desire, and sex acts outside of the binaries that dominate Western discourse around sexuality: gay and straight/male and female. In doing so, I can actively write, rewrite, and write again my own sexual identity, rather than serving as a passive receptor of male [eh] sexual desire, as the dominant discourse tells me I do every damn day. Indeed, the dd still tells us, I’d argue, that, as women, we “should” be good and wait for the men to come to us; that we should be content, as John Berger might say, to be the object of the gaze, rather than its master.

Well, I call bullshit.

Slash, for me, is also a form of resistance. The dominant discourse instructs us that what we should want, as women,  is nice, safe, straight, vanilla sex with a man –unless we want to sleep with other women in front of/for the pleasure of men. That’s ok, too, but only if we recognize that what we really want at the end of the day is to be on the receiving end of a dick. Because, yeah.

Now, some would say (to me, at the last conference I went to) that writing/reading M/M slash is NOT a practice of resistance because it’s essentially women lusting after men. That is, the dominant discourse tells us we should desire beautiful men, and thus engaging in slash wherein we deify the male body is, in effect, doing exactly what the patriarchy wants.

This scholar then reminded the audience and I that the producers of SPN have learned to aim their program at women, in so far as having the boys in various states of undress and using the pretty as a selling point (all true). Therefore, she posited, by agreeing that yes, these men are hot (and trading on that in our fic), we’re giving into the dominant discourse, rather than scorning its advances.

Again, I call bullshit.

To embrace the pretty, to happily consume this, this, and this, and then to use that pretty to our own devices–to write/read Sam and Dean or Dean and Cas or Sam and Dean and Cas into hot sex–is, I think, pretty fucking feminist in nature.

Slavoj Zizek–who is an idiot on a lot of things, in my opinion–wisely suggested that the purest form of resistance against the dominant ideology is to embrace the ideology with open arms. So, ok PTB, you want to keep our eyeballs on SPN by dropping images like this into our laps? Awesome. We’re gonna take those–thank you–and do with them what we will: some of which you’ll be ok with, because it’ll make you money, and some of which you’ll have no fucking control over, no matter how meta you try to get on us, baby.

K/S, the granddaddy of them all.

As feminst scholar Constance Penley puts it in NASA/TREK, her brilliant examination of Kirk/Spock slash:

“slash fans do more than ‘make do’; they make  (106).

Penley also notes Joanna Russ’ notion that slash writing is, essentially,

pornography by women, for women, with love (qtd. 103).

This is the last key piece of the puzzle, for me. Slash fiction is a space that dominated by women. Period. At some level, we’re women writing for, and to, other women. Sometimes, we’re an audience of one. Other times, the stories that we shape and kick out into the world are consumed by women whom we will never meet–but who will use our stories in their own way, make and remake them, hate them or love them, say “that’s not my Sam and Dean!” or “oh, god, that’s what my boys look like, too.”

This isn’t to say that a discursive space that’s dominated by women is inherently feminist in nature. It’s not. But, for me, spaces like the Sam/Dean Slash Archive or Archive of Our Own or any of the thousands of relevant LiveJournal pages allow for conversation and exchange between women that the dominant discourse discourages if not outright denies. We can talk, in these spaces, about sex and desire and character and narrative and incest and wingfic and curtains and emotion and trauma in ways that we can’t do in our everyday lives. If anything, SPN has become a feminized space because the characters are vehicles that make such conversations possible, even desirable, and provide the means through which, by which, we as women (primarily) can have them.

It’s not just about female appropriation of the male form–the most frequent academic criticism I’ve read and heard against slash. Hell, we might have a little penis envy, but so what? Reading and writing slash fic lets us try on the cock for awhile, put it to its best (most enthusiastic?) possible usage, and then reap the benefits of that textual world as only women can.

Don’t worry, baby: we usually play nice.

So you’re right, fanspired: on the surface, slash fic can look misogynistic. It’s women playing with men, navigating, negotiating, exploring, fuck, enjoying their sexuality via the male body. But I’d argue that the lack of gender constraints, the opportunity to resist the dominant discourse’s expectations of female sexuality, and the highly feminized communities that slash offers make reading and writing slash conducive to feminist participation, study, and interpretation.

As my boy Henry Jenkins points out:

not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of this exchange.” (221)

As a feminist, it’s that “progressive potential,” the opportunity to repeat with difference, as Judith Butler might say, that keeps me coming back–yes–to slash.

Slashing NC’s Amendment One

Suck it, Bob McDonnell.

As Rachel Maddow notes, last night was yet another instance of the majority voting on minority rights: and guess what happened? The minority lost. Shocker.

Except this time, in North Carolina, the passage of Amendment One is a loss for everybody in the state who might, one day, somehow, love someone and want to have that non-marriage connection honored in any way by officialdom. The amendment bans not only “gay marriage” [which was already outlawed by existing state legislation], but also prohibits civil unions or common-law partnerships from being recognized by the state in any capacity.

Straight people, gay people, bi people, whoever: this is bad policy for everybody who might love someone else. Who might want to visit that person in the hospital during a serious illness. Who might want to be able to make decisions re: medical care for their partner. Who might want to care for the couple’s children, to have that parentage recognized by the state. Who might want to be protected from the partner in a domestic violence situation. Bad news all the way around.

Now my friends in the liberal media–and some in the mainstream as well–are blaming the passage of the destructive amendment on a lack of voter education, on the notion that many people who voted for this thing knew not what they did [as a famous man once said].

This is, to me, an optimistic interpretation.

I think many of the folks who voted for this bill knew enough: they knew it was against the gays, that it would “protect” marriage from homo-cooties, or whatever. The rest? Was just noise. Doesn’t matter. The objective here was to hurt, to lash out against the “evils” of homosexuality.

This is terribly sad, to me. And utterly un-“Christian,” the word behind which many of the bill’s proponents took refuge. Granted, I don’t go to church, though I was raised in one. But I do believe in the basic tenets that that Jesus cat was kicking around 2000 years ago, the ones about being your brother’s keeper, about caring for your fellow humans, about treating everyone with love and dignity and respect, even when you think they’re fucking nuts.

Ok, maybe that bit’s only in the NRSV version.

Still. To me, practices that make hate a central tenet of your government, that invest one whacked out version of “Christianity” into the state: that’s not what the cat was saying. That’s not how I read the Good Samaritan, you know?

My fair state has its own issues, namely Gov. Transvaginal Probe and his mealy-mouthed “protecting lady brains from teh hard medical decisions” bullshit. So I cannot cast aspersions on North Carolina as a whole. So, for, now, I content myself with my own particular kind of resistance, summed up in my car tag above: writing gay porn about human and angels, among others.

And hey, you never know. Maybe the nice people of NC would be a little less anxious to kick gay people in the head if they just relaxed with a little Destiel, in their time. Or some nice smutty Wincest. Hell, maybe they need to go straight to the Wincestiel.

Whatever it takes, people. Whatever it takes.

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…

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.