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.

The most beautiful thing I’ve read in forever.


I don’t fangirl out over fic very often. Hell, it’s been ages. But this? This? is the most beautiful fic I’ve read in ages:

A Good Place For Letting Go (Sour_Idealist)
AU Destiel with UST. Dean and Cas are on this beautiful little island off Scotland and all Dean can think about, accidentally, is how he’s so not gay. And how much he wants to be with Cas.

I don’t want to sound like a dick, but do yourself a favor and go read this one. Right the fuck now.

Not As Easy To Pretend

A couple of weeks ago, someone found this blog via the search term “becky and sam slash fiction.” Which reminded me of a question that’s always bothered me about 7.8, “It’s Time For A Wedding”: why doesn’t Becky sleep with Sam when she has the chance?

This wee dram of a story is Becky’s answer.

Not As Easy To Pretend

Here’s why it didn’t work out between me and Sam:

He’s supposed to be with Dean.

You’d think I’d have known that.

I mean, you’d think of anyone, I would have known that!

Geez.

But I let, you know, other stuff overrule my brain and ended up making the worst mistake of my life.

Ok, maybe more than one.

I mean, I’m not an idiot. At some level, I knew it was a terrible plan, like Wesley-in-Angel level bad, but the first time I touched him again, in Vegas, I so did not care. I mean, I’d have risked the Apocalypse at that point, just have him look at me the way he does Dean.

Which, see? I knew better. Knew he didn’t belong with me. Knew those eyes wouldn’t have the same depth, or darkness, or love or lust or anything when they looked at me, no matter how much demon crap I gave him. Not the same as when he gazed down at Dean, all that affection practically spilling over his eyelashes and into his brother’s face.

Hmm. I like that. Maybe I can use it in the AU I’m working on.

Anyway.

So even then, when I should have been focused on writing my own story–OUR own story–I couldn’t escape the pull of theirs. It was stronger, hotter, sweeter than anything I could dream of between Sam and me.

Because, you know. I totally had that chance.

For over a week.

He was half-naked in my bed for more than a week and I–

Never so much as kissed him.

Except for that one time, at the table, but that doesn’t count because we were both upright and I had other things to worry about, then, than in cataloguing the smooth of his lips, the swing of his hips.

If you want to know the truth: at night, I slept on the couch.

He wanted to. Offered even, to give up the bed for me.

He’s really thoughtful, like that.

But no. There’s no way he would have fit there, and even he could see that through his puppy dog haze. So he’d sigh, every night, and pat my head. Kiss my cheek and hold me close just long enough for me to remember why I was doing this in the first place. Why I was willing to take all these crazy chances which, honestly, is not really my MO, taking chances.

Then he’d open his arms and squeeze my elbow and wind himself in my sheets. Bury his head under my pillows where I’d sighed his name a hundred times and tumble over into sleep.

He snored, but just a little. Not enough to keep me up, but enough to remind me that he was still there.

It was comforting. Human-generated white noise.

I’d stretch out on the couch and just lie there, for a while. Listening.

Thinking about the curve of his spine in the dark. I wondered if it looked like the way I’d described it in my story “Ceremony”:

He arched above Dean and his spine was like a snake, warm and alive under Dean’s fingers as he stroked, coaxed Sam’s tongue into his mouth and counted down each vertebrae like a rosary, Hail Marys in his mouth as they fucked.

And I knew I could get up and go look. Could watch his back rise and fall with sleep. Told myself it was research for my next fic, but something stopped me. Held me back.

I guess I felt like his body wasn’t mine to see. Not like that.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. There was part of me that wanted to dive under the covers and swallow him whole. I mean, yeah.

To see if he really was proportional.

And I knew he’d have let me. Heck, he’d have liked it, if only because of the drugs, but.

It wasn’t his decision to make. Not his body to give.

It was Dean’s.

If Sam belongs to anyone, it’s not to himself. It’s Dean.

So I didn’t get up. Never did. Just lay there and listened and thought of all the nights that Dean had done the same.

**

And then, I admit, things got a little weird.

I did.

Because when the drug ran out, when Guy started acting like a jerk, I was desperate. Didn’t know what else to do.

It was as though all my logic got stripped away, all of my ability to reason, to think, and there was just Sam, his heavy body in my parents’ bed at the cabin, and I’d have done almost anything–I did–to keep him close.

Even though I knew it was just a loan. That Dean would come to collect him sooner or later. Because he always does.

And the worst part is, I babbled. You know, somebody like me that’s always thinking in words, choosing them deliberately, being really careful about crafting and I just lost all of that, in front of Sam. I said all the worst things that popped into my head, all the stuff I’ve thought about us but never even written in the forums because everyone would think I was trolling. It was awful. So embarrassing. I could see that, in his eyes, how crazy I must have looked to him, then.

But I couldn’t stop.

He does something to me. Something I can almost control in my fic, but in real life? Forget it. He is just too–

Too–

Beautiful and perfect and broken. A body with a billion pieces that only Dean can reassemble, can stitch together with his hands and his mouth and a thousand whispers of “I’ve got you, Sammy.”

That’s from “Religion of the Fields.” One of the first things I ever wrote.

And it’s true. I’ve seen it.

Ok, I haven’t seen them like, you know, but the way they are when they’re in the same space? The way they stand, kind of leaning towards the other like magnets? Their eyes snagged on each other’s faces? Oh yeah. I’m telling you.

It’s all true.

Anyway.

I’ll never see them again.

When I write it down like that, I believe it.

When I see it on the page, I know that it’s true.

But in my heart, I keep hoping, I guess. Which is silly.

I mean, I’ve got them here with me all the time, in my fic. On my site. In my writing.

Sometimes, I sleep on the couch at night and pretend that Sam’s still here. That the whir of the fan in the bedroom is really the sound of his breath. That I can get up anytime I want and stand over him, watch his spine ripple like a snake in the dark.

It’s not as easy to pretend, now, as it was. As I’d still like it to be.

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.

Know Your Squick

In which a post that started off quick and funny ends up long and angsty. 

One of the great things about slash fic is that it forces you to get to know your squick, those points at which the fic does something [to someone] that goes a step beyond what your personal fanon is willing to tolerate.

Sometimes, squick points are specific sex acts. Or they can be certain character pairings that to you, the reader, border on the unholy. In a bad way. Other times, it’s a particular trope that makes you nervous, like wing!fic, or curtain!fic or bottom!sammy in SPN slash.

What I appreciate about the squick factor is that it is, in my experience, a constant site of negotiation. When I started reading Wincest, for example, I was horrified by the notion of Castiel/Dean. Then it kind of slid from horrified to indifferent. Then from indifferent to oh, okay, maybe I could see it. And so on.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some squick rubicons that I still will not cross. Any slash fic featuring John Winchester, for example? Forget it. No freaking way.

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed. It’s like Henry Jenkins says in Textual Poachers:

“Not all of slash is politically conscious; not all of slash is progressive; not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of this exchange and the degree to which slash may be one of the few places in popular culture where questions of sexual identity can be explored outside of the polarization that increasingly surrounds this debate.” (Jenkins 221)

So, for me, wrestling with the squick is one way that I as a reader [and a writer] do this kind of work, monkey around with “questions of sexual identity” for myself and for my own readers via slash fic.

Notice how I’ve gotten this far without saying what my SPN squick points are? As I’ve said before: repression–it’s a talent.

Now these are mine and mine alone: I sure as hell make no judgements about other readers and writers who go places I don’t want, or who avoid locations that I hang out in all the time. [I’m thinking of one of my readers who is lovely about my Wincest fic but vaguely disgusted by my Cas/Dean stuff. Heh.]

  1. Anything with John Winchester. Period. Dude creeps me out in the main narrative and I sure as hell don’t want him hovering over my slash fic.
  2. Non-con, in general. There are times when I’m ok with dubious con–because it usually works out for the best, in a not-terribly-feminist sort of way–but non-con? No thanks.
  3. Extreme violence. Yes, “extreme” is a wiggle word, but it’s like Justice Stewart said: I know it when I see it.
  4. Fic set before the boys are in high school. Just–ack.

But my biggest squick point as a fan has nothing to do with the fic. It has to do with the real world.

See, as a fan, I’ve never really been into the “real world” side of whatever it was I was fanning over. Take Star Trek, the foundation of my life as a fan. I’ve never been to a convention, or stood in line to hear the actors speak, or gone to Gene Roddenberry’s grave, because, fundamentally, what I love about ST is the fiction, are the characters and the stories. I don’t ‘ship Nimoy and Shatner, I don’t follow the actors around on Twitter, I’ve never watched the show’s blooper reels because, it’s just like, I know that it’s all pretend. All made up and crafted out of styrofoam and velour and monsters of the week: I know that.

But there’s part of me that’s cognitively dissonant enough to hang on to the fiction, to be invested in Dr. McCoy rather than DeForest Kelley, in Khan rather than Montelban, in Chapel rather than Majel Barrett. And I want to keep it so, to keep pretending at least in that tiny region of my brain that the Enterprise exists, that these people are truly tangling with all the weird shit that Kirk’s ego gets them into.

And in ST fandom, this is actually pretty easy to do, for me. Because the actors are old enough–hell, the show was old enough, when I stumbled across it–that I can fashion that dissonant space without too much trouble. Can maintain it without installing a watcher at the gate.

But in SPN fandom? Those borders are much, much more difficult to enforce, given the primary narrative’s obsession with pointing back at its real world fans and the real-time nature of the show’s production [relatively] and my consumption of the product.

And yes, talk about dissonance, right? Given that my research on this stupid show had centered on fandom, on the show’s portrayal of its female fans. But I don’t care about who’s producing, at some level. At who’s doing the writing, what the network is saying about next season, what the actors [god forbid] think about the current story arc. [This may explain why I broke up with SPN for like two weeks over “The French Mistake.” Grrr.]

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN. Like Ned Seagoon used to say on the Goon Show: I don’t wish to know that!

Now granted, this IS going to cause problems for my scholarship, this desire to hold the borders fast between the world of the show and the real life logistics that make the show happen, the real people who engage with the fans [whether we want them to or not]. I know this. It’s problematic. I’m not an “informed fan,” as a  fellow scholar put it once at an SPN panel.

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2 [Real Person Slash for SPN], a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic. [Hey, I had to read those stories! It was part of my research. I swear.]

But. We shall see.

[more] Feels Like The First Time

The sixth chapter of Feels Like The First Time by my friend fanspired and I is up over on the Sam/Dean Slash Archive. In this chapter: mini-golf! unfortunate wagers! and a little light bondage.

In this story, the first time was just a fluke. The second first time? A big misunderstanding. But the third first time? Now wait just a damn minute…

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…

Happy Hunting

I’ve put a new page up here on the blog: “Supernatural Fic Recs.” You can access it via the link in the navigation bar at the top of this home page. It’s just what it sounds like: some slash, some PWP, some not slash-y at all. I hope to keep adding to it as I go. In the meantime, happy hunting, and if you, dear reader, have recs of your own, I hope you’ll drop me a line.

Stories matter, damn it.

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So I went to an academic conference last week and presented a paper on Supernatural. Yes, I am awesome. Heh.

The conference I attended is dedicated to the study of popular culture. It was the first conference I’ve attended as a presenter, which. Sigh. But it went well–hell, I got to give a presentation that included the above shot of Sam without a shirt. Come on! And some very smart people said very nice things to me about my writing style (ah, the fastest way to my heart) and my sense of humor in said presentation. Which. Brief moment of happiness, of belief in my temporary awesomeness.

My work was on episode 7.8, “Season Seven: It’s Time For A Wedding!” Ah, yes, the one where Becky roofies Sammy and doesn’t fuck his brains out. I know, right? Complete science fiction.

Now academic conferences are a funny thing. They’re often a place for posturing and performance–and not by the people who’re onstage. People in the audience, well, they don’t like being in the audience, at some level. We all think we’re smarter than whoever’s talking and some of us take it upon ourselves to fucking prove that–to ourselves, to the rest of the audience, and especially to the presenter.

[ETA: I came very close to bring that person today during a panel at the conference I’m attending this week (where I presented a paper on metatextual Wincest and J2, but that’s a story for another post). Tried to restrain myself, even when smarmy panelist made it clear that he knows nothing about comics, that the only ones he’s ever read are those assigned in his comics 101 class last semester, a class from which all of the papers on the panel were drawn! Blargh!]

Ahem.

Toss a little female fandom into the mix–and topless pictures of Sam and Dean–and you have a receipe for fanwanking and sword-crossing on an epic scale.

Now I expressed some strong opinions about how The Powers That Be (TPTB) treat Becky in 7.8. I argue that TPTB delete Becky’s sexual agency in this episode once and for all, the culmination of an erosion that begins with her second appearance in 5.9, “The Real Ghostbusters” [though, sadly, I cut this gradiation part of the paper for time; ok, yes, it was like six pages long, but still. Sucked to take it out.]

I also suggested that the tactics that TPTB use to do rewrite Becky in this way are pulled straight from the Leviathan playbook in 7.6, the ironically titled “Slash Fiction.” That is, like the Leviathan, TPTB first tried outing Becky’s slash practices [and those of the fans she represents way back in 5.1, “Sympathy for the Devil] then shift to rewriting those practices as morally and legally reprehensible (as the Leviathan do by creating alternate versions of Sam and Dean who set out on a multi-state killing spree and create, in essence, a slash version of the “saving people, hunting things” story the boys have made for themselves).

I had a light touch with this material, I think [Sadly, I was the only presenter on our panel to use the word “fuck”–much less to use it repeatedly. Heh!]. But I also was pretty specific about how I read the producers’ acts of reinscription in this episode, of the ways in which they attempted to recode Becky [and the female (slash) fans that she represents] as potential rapists, as women desperate for societal approval, whose greatest desire is not to fuck Sam (see what I mean?) but to be read as happy heteronormatives.

So despite the good reception that I got for my work, I did have several people say to me (or in their presentations at the next Supernatural panel–yes, there was more than one)–that, oh, well, you know it’s all in fun, this rewriting of Becky. Or, well, can’t you blame it on the change in showrunners (no), on the bringing in of new writers (?!), or, at the very least, the producers are having a conversation with us, the [female] fans, and that means it’s ok.

You know what? It’s really not. Stories matter, the stories on TV matter, the stories that TV tells us about ourselves fucking matter. Intentionality makes no difference; I could care less what the producers have said on the message boards, or at a con, or on Twitter [sorry, Misha].

What matters to me is what the text is doing, what the texts say together, the ways in which the show’s primary narrative seems to stage repeated tactical attempts [in the de Certeau sense] to undermine or disrupt slash fiction, on Wincest, on the [primarily] female fans who produce and consume those texts. And, just as important, I’m interested in what the fans are doing with the primary text–how they embrace it, resist it, tweak it, undermine it, reject it, etc.

To me, the primary narrative of Supernatural suggests that female fandom in general, and slash fans in particular, make the show’s TPTB really fucking nervous. Or at least create an exigence to which the producers feel they must respond.

So, for me, there’s value in looking at the tensions within the texts. I am completely uninterested in reading about how the producers are talking to fans in a general sense outside of the primary narrative, for now. The text is doing, the fans are reacting, and these are interesting phenomena that are worthy of thought and examination. [And I hate it when people try to justify their research. Fuck, people, it matters to you; show me, rather than tell me, why I should care.]

All this is to say: there’s a fine line between fanwanking and academic scholarship, between professional fandom and everyday geekery. The key, I think, is that we not take ourselves too seriously as scholars, but that we do treat the texts and what they do as if they matter, really matter, to someone other than us. Because they do.