【The following was originally posted on The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network) and has been republished here with permission.】About a year ago, I went with friends to see a live reading of Welcome to Night Vale and was shocked by the amount of screaming coming from women in the audience.
The Night Vale episode focused heavily on the romantic relationship between two male characters, Cecil and Carlos, and half the audience would absolutely shriek every time anything remotely romantic happened between them. I'd been listening to Night Vale for a while at that point, but I hadn't really thought about it in a sexual context. Seeing it live made it clear that a good portion of the audience was shipping Cecil/Carlos.
Once the shock wore off (and I found my earplugs), I was exhilarated. I can get extremely excited about my ships, pacing around and flailing and spitting references like a kid, but I very rarely get to engage in that kind of behaviour in a group. As much as I love fandom, a throng of screaming fangirls is basically my nightmare; I hate high-pitched noises and get anxious in crowds. That night, though, was freaking magical, because those fangirls were screaming about something that I wanted to scream about, too. I left the performance giddy, watching strangers in Glow Cloud tees skip down the street giggling and shouting. It was one of very few times in my life that I really felt like part of a group.
But something about the screaming bothered me, too: were these women specifically squeeing over Cecilos, an absolutely adorable couple that could make anyone's eyes turn into pink hearts, or were they losing their minds over the simple idea of two men being in love? And if they were just excited about men being in love, was that a bad thing?
I'm not the first woman to worry about this. Search the Internet, and you'll find loads of people who understand the issue better than I do. You'll also find women who are furious that anyone might have a problem with them "loving gay guys."
That's a phrase that I've heard several liberal, intelligent women say without shame: "I love gay guys." I know that these women understand that gay men are not homogenous, so what the hell do they mean by that statement? It's certainly not something they'd say about any other non-dominant group. Something about gay men made their brains go funny.
I'm not speaking from atop a horse. I had breakfast in a hotel a few months ago and saw two college-aged guys at the next table talking, like young people do, loudly enough to grab my attention. They were holding hands and making plans for the day and sharing dumb Internet jokes, and one of the boys had love bites all around his neck. I haven't considered college boys sexy since junior high, thank you very much, but those hickeys set something off in my brain, and suddenly I was wondering things about these boys' sex life together. Inside my head, a voice was singing, "They're so cuuuuuuuuuute!"
I don't believe that any single fantasy is innately wrong, but my little departure into those boys' private lives was indicative of a dangerous pattern of thought. To many people, it often seems that women in the slash community have decided that "gay sex" is always sexy, that queer is always cute, and that we can take ownership of the gay male experience by writing about it and reading each other's writing.
I briefly mentioned this issue in something that got passed around Tumblr a couple times, and I received a number of private and public messages from people claiming (it's the Internet, so who knows) to be gay men who had wanted to share unpleasant experiences from their participation in the slash community. Some personal friends echoed these complaints. Specifically, these men indicated that straight or bisexual women had repeatedly asked overly personal questions about their sex lives, treated them like adorable puppies instead of humans, and attempted to co-opt the gay male experience or even elevate allies over actual gay men.
"The worst thing," one gay friend said, "is that [women in the slash community] aren't listening to me. You're not listening when I tell you that you're being hurtful."
Discussing these accusations with fellow straight women slash fans resulted in a degree of real anger from women who felt that their sexuality was being judged or that men were yet again trying to control them. A point that was repeated by several women was that women who create or consume slash are celebrating romance or sex between men and should be celebrated back.
Women who create or consume slash should be celebrated, but not because we're necessarily doing anything to help improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Fanwork is worthy of celebration on its own. Slash artists are clever, loving, passionate, funny, and brave. This is a community full of incredible talent and dedication, where people devote themselves to creating something that may never bring them a single cent but will move their audience to laugh, or cry, or masturbate furiously in the shower.
This community is built around so much art that does not stereotype or "other" or infantilise. We don't need to be a community that makes gay men feel marginalised or ignored. We don't need to act like homosexuality is a joke, or like gay men are our puppies. We don't need to force our way into our friends' bedrooms. We're better than that. You guys, who manage to keep shocking me with your talent and insight, are better than that.
Kiri Van Santen co-chairs the Communications committee at The Organization for Transformative Works, a nonprofit run by and for fans to provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures. Kiri loves fans and fan culture, but she hates screaming and crowds. Her fandoms include sitting quietly and being reasonable. Follow Kiri on Twitter.
Image via AP.