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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Power of Slash

More than half my readership is female.  And when I tell this to gay men, they are confounded.  Why, they ask, would straight women be interested in romantic and erotic stories about two men?  

To answer, I must mention 'slash'.  Slash began in the seventies.  Women who thought two men from a TV show sexy would write fanfic about them, making them fall in love with each other.  (But why? you wail impatiently.  Patience!)

Starsky & Hutch, best friends


The term itself comes from the slash between two names to indicate a pairing: Spock/Kirk for example, or Starsky/Hutch.  The essence of slash is that two previously heterosexual blokes (who remain resolutely het in the canonical versions of their stories in TV and film) become so close to each other that they fall in love.  They overcome their upbringing and the taboo against same-sex love, because they love each other so much that they wish to express this love physically and sexually.  They are prepared to ignore the opprobrium of society and to move past their own internal homophobia because of love.  Potent stuff.  And slash is written by women for women.  We men who love this style of writing are the interlopers here.

Starsky & Hutch.  Kinda intimate.
It's no accident that this emotional tension, this journey, is also a standard trope of gay fiction:  the hunky straight (he's never a hideous, pock-marked, halitotic fatso) who somehow falls in love with or has sex with our hero, and so turns gay.  For gay-shaded blokes, I suspect this reflects a kind of internalised homophobia:  we are so insecure in our sexuality that having the handsome alpha jock or sexy cop turn gay validates our own gayness.  Or, alternatively, we are only attracted to straight guys (all those personals ads for "straight-acting" men), though come to think of it, this is also perhaps partly about our own negative self image.  Whatever the reason, the stories about straight men tuning gay are a staple of gay fiction.  I've written stories like that myself:  just look at Footy.  I find the emotional dynamic very satisfying to think and write about.  In my own case I would never have known I was gay if I hadn't fallen in love with another bloke, who was (surprise!) a very straight-acting surfer and rugby player.

And make no mistake:  it does happen in "real life".  I know of a couple of relationships where one straight guy has so loved (as friend, but the love deepens) another gay or bisexual man that he has set aside his straightness (if only for his friend) and entered into a profound sexual relationship.  Just thinking about it chokes me up.  But then I'm an old softie.

But why should women like male pairings?  There are a couple of answers.  One is that the women who like men find the emotional journey that straight men make when they start to love another man compelling.  It is conventional that straight men don't show their feelings and of course, like all generalisations, it's flawed.  Yet it is true that our culture, broadly speaking, doesn't encourage men to express their tenderer emotions.  In a heterosexual pairing, this is expected, this is what women have to put up with.  It's the way it is.  Asking a straight man touchy-feely questions is likely to provoke embarrassed shifting and silences.  But in a friendship which deepens to love, the two men involved are forced to come to terms with what's happening to their hearts, and this process means that they open up.  Some women like to read about this -- the kind of women who read and write slash.  It's romantic; it's not what regular guys do; it answers a need within themselves for men who are tough guys on the outside and tender and loving on the inside.  The doyen of gay writers, Victor J Banis, credits female writers and readers with rejuvenating the genre of gay writing:


[Women] came to a genre that was all but dead, and kicked some life into it. Are some of them bad writers? Of course, but they don’t have an exclusive franchise on that either, being a gay male does not automatically make anyone a great writer either. In the end, for me, it’s all about the quality of the writing. And as I’ve said, I am devoted to this genre, and I think the fact that it is now thriving in a way that it hasn’t for 30 or 40 years is largely due to the influx of women writers and readers.
The second reason why women like men who grow to love each other and then get down to the hot and sweaty is simply that women can enjoy two guys together just as some straight men find two women together sexy.  Read this piece about women being turned on by two men having sex.  And think of the relationships in Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series where a straight woman has many lovers, most of whom are bisexual.

Anita Blake with two blokes. Image from Bishonen Works


Slash was created by straight women for other straight women.  The dynamic of love conquering all, of a forbidden love nevertheless flowering between two men, is a powerful and emotive one.  Add hot sex and ...  It certainly pushes my buttons, and I won't hesitate to say that some of the most erotic and moving m2m scenes I have ever read have been written by women.  Wet eyes and wet undies.  A signal achievement.

From Strictly Male, my review of Karin Lowachee's trilogy, I say this:

I remember a western, its name and author lost in the dim shadows of childhood, where two heroes – but they were nevertheless outlaws, for reasons I have forgotten – are escaping from a posse of good and upright citizens.  One is wounded, and dying, his blood soaking into his clothes and onto the saddle.  The other, his loyal and true friend, is riding with him, risking his freedom and his life, for he could make much faster progress by himself.  At eleven or twelve years old, this was the very essence of romance to me—two strong, manly, tough men staying together out of loyalty and friendship.  To me, a lonely, bullied outsider, a friendship like that was worth dying for.

The essence of slash:  tough and gritty exteriors covering warm, romantic, loving interiors.  And utterly male, even if they have sex with other men.

Very powerful.  


[The artwork is from P.L. Nunn's Bishonen Works, with classic examples of P.L. Nunn's slash art and writings.  Read more about her and other gay-shaded artists here]

[There are a whole heap of interesting, insightful and revealing comments from female (and one male) readers and writers of m/m  below.  Be sure to read them too]

[Update:  This article discusses the issue.  M/m is becoming mainstream.]

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

More on Straight Guys Kissing

The man whose research I mention in I Kiss Them Because I Love Them,  Dr Eric Anderson, is interviewed by The Guardian newspaper.

It's worth quoting extensively:

Anderson, 43, now believes homophobia is dying out on university campuses, and says attitudes to male kissing reflect that. "Sexual minorities have made tremendous cultural and legal improvements towards equality – the media is saturated with images of sexual minorities, and homosexuality is almost normalised today," he says. "This is particularly true of youth. Young people have disassociated themselves from homophobia the way they once did from racism.

"This is not to say that all youth are gay-friendly, but there's an awareness that anybody can be gay without the homohysteria – where men try to act in sexist, hyper-macho and homophobic ways to prove they are not gay – that used to exist. Young men are becoming softer and more inclusive."
Anderson says men are now kissing each other to show their "intimacy towards one another", but not in a homosexual way. "The kisses seem to be stripped of sexual connotation, and given the percentage of men doing them, they certainly do not indicate a hidden homosexual desire."

The trend, he adds, is not just in a few UK universities or even limited to Britain. "I've interviewed graduate students who did their bachelor degrees at other universities, and been to undergraduate clubs and pubs from Bristol to Birmingham to Edinburgh – I can definitively say that although the percentages might vary depending on the city, the class and the racial background, these kissing behaviours are happening all over the country. I have also found it occurring in a fifth of the 60 university soccer players I interviewed in the US, and have a friend who is beginning formal research into male kissing in Australia after recording it there."

The soaring popularity of male kissing is, Anderson believes, partly thanks to the behaviour of professional sportsmen, especially top football players. "That has been mimicked by footballers at lower levels – a kiss in a moment of sporting glory. When these men brought it into the pubs, their kisses made it OK for other men to do the same. The knock-on effect is that gay men can now kiss in student spaces as well." He believes that his findings indicate that the UK is "near the end of homophobia being acceptable for youth in the UK".
He explains: "You would be gravely mistaken to think that most youth are homophobic. Kids are coming out earlier and earlier – contact theory works: we all have gay friends and family members today. Homophobia is in rapid retreat – it's just not the issue it was when I was a kid."
 He's doing more research on the straight cuddle:

Anderson is now moving his research on to cuddling. "Last week, I was talking to my second-year students about two straight men cuddling; they laughed, 'what's the big deal about that'," he says. "I polled them, and found that 14/15 said they had spooned another man, in bed, sleeping all night long. Gone are the days in which men would rather sleep on the floor or head to toe; not only do they share beds and cuddle, but they are not homosexualised for this."

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Alan Turing

The shameful treatment of Alan Turing by the British establishment after WWII is not widely known.

Turing, a genius mathematician at Cambridge, helped break the German Enigma codes during the war, which some believe (and I have no doubt) were significant in the ultimate victory by the Allies.  In 1952, he was arrested by the police (oh!  how these Christians are filled with compassion and love!) for having a homosexual relationship, forced to take female hormones as part of chemical castration, and a year later killed  himself.  Not one of the British establishment lifted a finger to help him.  Churchill, who knew as well as anybody how much Turing had done for the war effort was silent.  Shameful.  Shameful and horrible and evil.  It makes my blood boil with rage -- and it's made worse by the fact that the racko rightists and the Christian-Fascists would gladly take us back to those horrible days.

I'm typing this on a machine his ideas help create.  I wonder if the religious rackos know that the computers they use owe their existence to a homo?
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