verbal



by Gareth Branwyn


It's the 24th century. A wide swath of the outer spiral arm of the Milky Way has been boldly explored by an interplanetary UN called the United Federation of Planets. The Federation has created a model organization built on military discipline, high-tech efficiency, and a cosmic cultural diversity program. Just check out the many alien races knocking back the synthahol in Ten-Forward; it certainly looks like an enlightened age of tolerance and cooperation. But, after spending some time in the Star Trek universe, a supernova-sized question comes to mind: where the hell are all the gays and lesbians? It's supposed to be 400 years in the future, for Chrissake! Surely they're not still debating "gays in the military"?

Star Trek: The Next Generation did flirt with gay and lesbian characters and situations: Dr. Crusher struggled, but failed, to maintain her love for a symbiotic entity that had to move from a male to a female host; it was rumored that Tasha Yar was written as a lesbian; and Gene Roddenberry, purportedly responding to pressure from some fans, was planning on bringing gay and lesbian characters into the 24th Century before he died in 1991. These almost imperceptible nods to gay and lesbian characters, however, hardly impress fans who want to see same-sex relationships explored in more depth.

But, as any hardcore fan will tell you, the Trek universe doesn't end at the borders of the Paramount lot or with the many merchandising franchises. Long ago, when female crew members were still in go-go boots, fans began exploring the Star Trek universe on their own. Through conventions, live role-playing, fan fiction, and zines, Trekkers have veered off in many creative, obsessive, and delightfully bizarre directions. One of the most fascinating of these fan niches is called "slash."

Can you imagine a love affair between the swashbuckling Captain Kirk and that green-blooded nerd Mr. Spock? In the mid-Seventies, hardcore stories about such a relationship began circulating among some Trek fans who wanted to see the two men boldly go where no (heterosexual) man had gone before. Their stories, and the zines that published them, were called "Kirk/Spock" or "K/S" fandom, later shortened to "slash" (as in slash fiction, slash zines, and slash cons.) The slash zine scene has continued to thrive, over the years producing zines with names like "The Final Frontier," "Fever," "Cheap Thrills," and "Ten-Forward." The original medium of print slash has been joined by slash videos (Trek scenes creatively re-edited to bring out homoerotic messages), slash websites, newsgroups, and mailing lists.

The Vulcans have a saying: "Infinite diversity in infinite combination." Slash lives by that maxim. Since the birth of the original K/S stories, many bold new homoerotic pairings have been charted. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager have all been slashed: imagine Geordi and Data (is he fully functional?), Riker and Picard, and Paris and Kim. Right now, one popular slash relationship is between DS9's dewy-eyed Dr. Julian Bashir and Garak, the Cardasian tailor (fill in your own in-seam measuring jokes here).

Most people aren't shocked to discover that homoerotic fanfic exists, but many are surprised to discover that hetero women are the predominant producers of it. This was the case in the 1970s when slash emerged, and it's still the case today. Why heterosexual women would devote themselves to the hobby of writing and endlessly discussing homoerotic fiction is a subject of much debate among feminist academics and the slash producers themselves. In Technoculture (University of Minnesota Press, 1991) Constance Penley, an English and Film professor at the University of Rochester, argues that slash provides its creators with a way to both examine women's relationship with science, technology, and the body and to imagine a "re-tooling" of masculinity. Others claim slashers are simply filling a void left by unenlightened 20th century TV writers. As you'd expect, several of the slashers we talked to said they just do it for the fun and challenge of imagining "alien" sex situations. (What does Spock's organ look like? What would sex be like between a male Cardasian and a human?) And, when you think about it, why shouldn't hetero women fantasize about boy/boy relationships—after all, girl/girl fantasies are extremely common among men.

Slash writers often portray their characters as heterosexual men who, through a series of unusual circumstances, end up as lovers. To that end, many writers are fond of exploiting certain plot elements to construct such stories. The Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror" from the original series, with its parallel universe and a second Enterprise crew, proved to be fertile ground for a number of slash stories (e.g,. an evil Spock capturing and sexually torturing the good Captain Kirk). The friendship between Bashir and Garak on DS9 seems to have homoerotic overtones to many fans and has led to a proliferation of B/G stories. One writer/zine editor told us, "I have to feel there's real chemistry there, that something could happen between them. So my slash fandom began with B/G and has remained there."

One would think that the Internet would be a perfect place to take slash. It's a relatively inexpensive publishing medium that can reach an international audience. But the slash community is reluctant to embrace the Net. As one slasher told us via e-mail: "The Web is huge, and somewhat anonymous, and print-media-raised slash fans are something of an insular community. They like the feel of their community, and you can't maintain or have any control of that on the Web." But Star Trek is not the only show in town when it comes to slashing—homoerotic tales are spun about "Babylon 5," "Space: Above and Beyond," "The Professionals," "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," and "X-Files"; many aren't wary of the Net like the old ST slash scenesters. There are ST slash mailing lists and "locked" web sites, but they are carefully kept outside the view of the general Net public. It seems unfortunate that if slash is a fictive way of working through issues surrounding technoculture, the future, science, the body, and gender (as some slash critics argue) that the slashers would still feel the need to do so behind closed doors and under a blanket of paranoia. It's not hard to understand that slash writers are secretive because they fear ridicule, but it's a shame that their fascinating take on popular TV and the do-it-yourself universe they've built around it is held just out of the reach of most of us. I want my SlashTV!   </end>

Photographs of Dr. Julian Bashir, Ops/Comm Officer Harry Kim,
and Lt. Tom Paris 1996 Paramount Pictures Corporation.
All Rights Reserved.
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