Being subversive: writing different types of “literature”

This morning on Tell Me More, Michelle Martin spoke of an author who died yesterday, E. Lynn Harris, probably best known for his novel, Basketball Jones. He was openly gay and wrote frequently of African American men who, while having heterosexual marriages and children, also harbored homosexual relationships on the downlow. I found it quite interesting as you don’t often hear of this.

Later in the day, while I perused some images on Deviant Art, I kept thinking about Harris’s subject matter as it relates to “literature”. He was quoted in an older interview saying something to the effect of “not everyone will write ‘literary’ things and that’s ok because if everyone had to write that, then it would stifle the other kinds of writing and their creative outlets.” And he has a point. I admit to being against romance novels – those Harlequin ones with a beefy Fabio type on the cover, blond hair blowing in the breeze while some dainty damsel caresses the billowing sheet wrapped delicately around his well-formed hips – but I have to at least give those authors credit: they’re writing something. And by god, they’re getting paid to do it.

I have been writing for a long time. Most of it has been garbage and some of it has turned out ok. And I was thinking the other night about a fiction technique class I took as an undergrad. My first story was about a boy whose friend had been avoiding him. It was plaintive yet banal; the boy was all emotional about his friend, blah blah blah, and it all resolved in the end when said boy’s friend ended up being all secretive because he was gay and didn’t want to tell anyone. This was my official first slash fic. Though I don’t think I knew it was actually a defined thing then.

From Wikipedia (::shudder::) – Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on the depiction of romantic or sexual relationships between characters of the same sex. While the term was originally restricted to stories in which one or more male media characters were involved in an explicit adult relationship as a primary plot element, it is now more generally used to refer to any fan story containing a pairing between same-sex characters

I feel that slash can be applied to any type of literature that explores this element of humanity, not just fanfiction. However, that’s where I am going with this. Referencing my title, I think by writing this kind of fiction – wherein the author is pairing people together that are not “the norm” – they are subverting the world of Literature as it stands. And to me, this is a good thing.

I found this article by Googling, “Why I write slash.” I knew there were A LOT of women out there writing this type of literature – for there is proof on numerous sites! – but it was really intriguing to see this writer put into words why women (usually exclusively) tend to explore these relationships over heterosexual ones, especially when the majority of these women are hetero themselves. If I look back at all the fiction I have written – fan and otherwise – I have managed to somehow infuse M/M couples into a lot of it. I never questioned why this recurring theme popped up time and again; I think I just sort of accepted it as inspiration hit. It sounds like a cop-out but I baffled even myself with this interest.

I agree with this author that it’s not just about having double the penises (though I am sure that’s a factor) but it’s more about breaking down the stereotypes of the men that we have so long looked up to, revered, and feared. We do want to see the big strong guy break down and for his softer side to peek through. Maye this is a way for women to gain control, some equal ground. We are able to take matters into our own hands; it fulfills some hidden desires. In romance novels – at least, as far as I know – the woman is already submissive to the burly man’s desires, and he’s going to have his way no matter what. In an M/M relationship, though there may be a top/bottom, uke/seme, etc…I believe the characters are on an equal playing field for the same reason this author posits: the men have had a chance to be friends first, to know each other in a way that a pursued female as potential lover has not had with her suitor. And this makes the relationship all the more powerful and compelling. Almost… safe.

In this article, the author explains how fandoms begin and how they translate into writing fanfic and then the sudden realization that you now want to write your favorite same sex characters in, well, compromising positions. It goes on to explain that by writing these characters out of canon we are breaking societal barriers. And I guess that’s part of the intrigue. For me, at least, it’s a bit of a thrill to find a pairing that you would never suspect.

I have read my fair share of fanfiction. Probably first was Star Wars Episode 1 stuff: Darth Maul/Obi-Wan pairings, as odd as that may sound. There was a fair share of hurt/comfort involving Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan as well, which I totally fell for. Next was probably Lord of the Rings (Come on, you know Aragorn and Legolas were totally hot for each other; did you see the way they looked into each others’ eyes??) But nothing will beat the underlying slashiness of Batman and Robin.

In 1945, Fredric Wertham wrote a book titled, Seduction of the Innocent in which he claimed that comics were destroying our youth with their sex, violence, and homosexual undertones, as was apparent in the relationship between Batman and Robin. As a cultural icon, this duo was and is more well-known than any other Superhero team in, well, the history of comics. And I don’t think that’s just my opinion. For Wertham to posit that they were closet lovers, well, I can’t deny that the undertones are there. Admittedly, within the world of slash fic, there are characters getting it on that have no business being with each other. However, I believe that the minority of Batman comic reader and fanfiction writers will tell you that they aren’t working with nothing; it’s there and it’s pretty obvious if you know where to look. There are people who will rail against this until they’re blue in the face but that’s what creative license is all about.

Now, where was I going with this? Oh yes, why do people write slash, is it “literature”, and ultimately why am I wasting my time writing it as well?

Fantasy: it’s why we go to the movies, read any kind of book or listen to music. It’s an escape. For some, reading slashy fanfics is our escape from the trials of our daily lives. Is it fair to say that by writing these little snippets of fantasy, I am engaging in something… more lighthearted – easier – than say, actual fiction for the purpose of novelization and publication? Maybe. For someone who has a degree in writing, I feel like at least I AM writing and the pressure to be a published author doesn’t weigh upon me as I type the words.  Simply put: it’s fun.

Is it literature? I don’t see why not. All writing is a valid form of expression (though, only if it’s spelled correctly; I won’t read something where the author constantly makes the mistake of to/too/two and there/they’re/their. Heh heh, OK, of course I will, but I’ll hate it. :) ) I think it’s great that NPR did a short piece on Harris, celebrating the boundaries he broke, the strides he took in uncovering a seldom spoken of aspect of America, of black culture. The females on the fanfiction sites who pair Bruce Wayne with Tim Drake or Clark Kent, Hal Jordan with Ollie Queen, or Dick Grayson with Roy Harper are just reworking that which already exists, or what we wish we could see play out, knowing that a submissive Timmy would never show up on the pages of Detective… ever. And at least they’re writing….shaking things up…

It’s a community where we share our common interests, if nothing else. And I’m glad to be a part of it. For a long time, I ignored that part of myself, that writing I was doing. And it’s unhealthy.

So now I feel better.