Monday, April 27, 2015


I’m going to write this post, partially against my better judgement. I’m going to write it knowing that I’m coming from a position of ignorance, and I’m writing it in hopes that I can learn something. Not because I have anything to impart upon you, or because I have some great insight. Please know that I don’t mean to offend or show off my deep stupidity. Sometimes that happens whether I want to or not.

Here is the premise of my inquiry. The foundation upon which it is built. I am made psychically uncomfortable by fiction, particularly fanfiction (though other fictions can fall into this trap too, if they fulfill the parameters), written by straight girls or women, that puts two straight (or sexuality-irrelevant) male characters into a sexual relationship with each other.

It feels exploitative to me, and I don’t at all understand the appeal of writing these relationships. I’ve formed different theories about why so many girls seem to be writing gay erotic fiction, and none of them seem to hold up under scrutiny. But the common theme of these works that makes them feel exploitative is the miasma of “kawaiiiiiiii!!!!!” that seems to accompany them.

A fic I’ve read most recently that seems less exploitative than most others I’ve read specifically regards Sherlock and Watson from the BBC series (A River Without Banks). It’s extremely well-written and laudable in many ways, but I do think that it is a bit exploitative if only because it lingers so long on the sexual relationship that grows between the two. In most respects, the story is not at all erotic: Sherlock has to go back in time to alter the time stream to save the world. Not your typical porno opener. Having graphic sex scenes dominate multiple chapters diminishes the message and the weight of the story, in my opinion.

But, by and large, ARWoB treats the relationship with a level of seriousness and respect that elevates it above the sorts of stories that I’ve seen that can cause me such angst. I pointed a finger at ARWoB because I think it’s good, and people should read it if they want to. I’m not going to point fingers at the stories I consider to be bad. But I will give specific AU examples.

On deviantArt, depending on where you look, you see a lot of slash art for pretty much any video game, movie, show, or other IP you’re interested in. In my specific case, I really like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. But the shipping between Phoenix and Edgeworth became so ubiquitous that I had to unfollow the group I belonged to.

For the most part, the art wasn’t gross, or graphic. It was usually really sweet, actually. It’s just that, throughout all of it, I definitely had the sense that they were being objectified for the pleasure of the artist. Their relationship was “so cute.” Like a little bunny rabbit or kitten. A thing to be marveled over, then put away.

I remember, back in high school, it seemed like anyone (usually girls) who would exclaim so much over a straight couple would do so primarily because they were insane jealous of one of the parties involved: i.e., she really wanted to be that girl. My point is, when it’s a straight couple, almost no one is running around, making art, and squealing about how cute they are. Because straight couples are real couples, and we know that that bitch is cray and that asshole’s just gonna do the same thing to her that he did to Jessica. But the shipping that happens in badly-written fanfics seems to believe that, once they realize how meant for each other they are, nothing will ever be wrong again.

A lot of these poorly-written fics also change the characters once the relationship begins, to be more affectionate or demonstrative or expressive or even jealous or insecure (in a cute way, of course!). I feel like that shows a lack of understanding of the people they’re attempting to portray; not just the specific characters, but the entire demographic of gay men. It’s bizarre, because I feel that straight girls (and women? Not sure) have idealized gay male relationships the way straight boys and men have idealized women’s bodies—possibly for different purposes, possibly not, I don’t know.

Anyway, I think maybe I did inject my own prejudices a little, whoops. Can anyone shed some light on why this seems to be a thing? Or does anyone care to shoot me in the face with an arrow? Or possibly debunk my premise? I definitely might just be making broad generalizations and simply need more exposure. Thanks!

Word count: 46,407 (땇)


Anonymous said...

Your question is not an uncommon question. *grins* I... think I shall give a stab at an answer, mostly because I have written m/m slash for reasons. Note: I say AN answer rather than THE answer, because this is actually a really interesting, really _broad_ cultural phenomena that mixes in the good and the bad. Like, it's a Thing that I generally find non-objectional and often incidental and/or positive, but that doesn't mean that it can't be unhealthy, or that some of the cultural pressures that make it so prevalent aren't kind of awful. That said, it's not a bad thing in-and-of itself, I think.

Here is why (and I'm gonna pull in a lot of outside help, b/c, again, not a weird question):

So, in this whole you don't really seem to have an issue with shipping in general? Like, pairing up characters and paper-dolling them around doesn't seem to bother you. And fanfiction in general doesn't seem to bother you. It's just this idea of m/m and the accompanying, "Why would you DO this?" sort of idea? Also, when you do your comparison, you don't actually compare to other fic examples of straight relationships, you jump right to RL relationships in which an outsider fetishizes a relationship to some an unhealthy degree.

What I think you're tapping into is the worry that m/m centers around the fetisization of homosexual relationship and that, somehow, there's a lack of... realism in the fic? Like you mention the irl couple probably going to break up because they're real people and in fic everyone falls in love and lives happily ever after.

So! Those are the two things I'm going to focus on because _if I don't_ this will end up a zillion words and you'll probably hate me. T_T

As to 'why m/m', there are a hundred and one reasons. My *personal* opinion is that m/m is so prevalent and popular because that's the raw material we're given to work with. The menfolk in stories are the ones given the heroic arcs and the deep, abiding friendships. When the only girl in a story is the girlfriend, and she mostly just around to prove the main dude is hetero (see: Point Break *ahem*), there's a lot of wholesale fabrication going on if you want a straight ship, or, heaven forfend, a lesbian or other queer relationship. In media, male characters are shown having actual relationships with eachother, with pathos and angst and all the rest. There's just more of them to work with, which - and I'll come back to this - more of them structurally so that changing elements can still refer back to the same character. Annndd, I use 'refer' here especially, because most fic is not going to be entirely canon-accurate, partially because the characters are being made to react to stimuli out of canon's bounds, and every fic writer presses their stamp on the character themselves. It's the reference back to the original that ties everything together.

Anonymous said...

To sort of support my opinion that shipping-in-general-and-mostly-m/m is about raw material: Agent Carter recently aired, and by far the most prevalent ship I've seen for the show is... Cartinelli which is Angie and Peggy. It's a very organic f/f relationship that isn't explicit in the show itself. Imho, part of the reason why it's so solid of a ship is that there's so much material to work with. We have Angie throwing down on Peggy's side when the badguys come knocking around, and we get a somewhat rocky friendship where there's affection on both sides. Exploring that relationship is _interesting_ and you don't have to make shit up whole cloth to give it depth.

Another example is the Ao3 rundown on 'most popular ships' like so:

Graaannnteeddd, this ao3 specifically, which allows explicit material to be posted, unlike other archives on the net, so that might somewhat skew the results AND it's only after 2009 because it's just a baby archive, but if you'll look at most popular ships. Predominantly m/m. When there is a woman represented, she's likely either a main character, in one of the ridiculously prolific fandoms where sheer numbers makes even rarepairs more popular than main ships of other fandoms, or she's from the Marvel pan-fandom in a canon ship.

Also! Another reason why I think m/m is so attractive is that there is no implicit power differential based on *gender* in m/m ships. There's this sort of equal footing with the concept of desire (because m/m are both of a gender assigned the ability to desire by culture) and there's an understanding that it's allowed for men to acknowledge that they are desirable. There's an element of looking at a relationship from a remove which is attractive for the exploration of whatever elements or narrative is being explored.

Whiiiiccchhh unfortunately also ties right back into misogyny and that fetishization aspect that you're worried about. Because I do agree with you that in some cases there IS that element. I just don't think it's... the sole reason. Yes, guys are super hot, let's make them kiss, but the whole topic of 'why m/m?' is a complicated soup of culture and the impact it has on behavior. But, like, if there's a certain amount of disdain for women in the internalized-misogyny sense (such as how your creeper girl really wants to BE the girl in her idealized relationship or how sometimes girlfriends in fic will be painted harpies the men are well rid of), then, yeah, m/m ships are going to become really prevalent. Objectification and internalized misogyny does that in spades.

And, sort of in a left turn, right now, m/m is very super *visible*, whether or not it's representative of fic, because of how tumblr works, because slash fans are zealous fans, because of the complicated interaction between social issues and the media we consume. In other arenas across the intertubes, gen (non-ship-focused) stories are more the norm.

Anyhow, here are other 'why m/m' links in a tidy link roundup:

Hunt down the topic:slash tag on this one and there are some good articles:

Anonymous said...

The second half of the thing is your comment about realism, or, well... not really *realism* per se, but the idea that the people writing fic have no concept of healthy relationships and how people in them (esp. gay men) act. My opinion on that sort of draws from the 'raw material' idea that I put forth above. To me, fic in general is a sandbox, or maybe the whole playground, where you can chew up fictional characters, digest them a little, and then use the ideas you've ingested to create something new. There's an element of fairytale, of a storyteller's ownership in the telling of any particular fic with any iteration of characters.

So... yeah. There is a certain amount of power over your own narrative and someone else's when you take the characters out like dolls, wandering them around a bit, and then put them away. I'm not sure why there would be a necessity for more, expecially with fic? If fic is about exploration, about fantasy and things you do for fun, a certain amount of unreality is going to part of convention. For me, in particular, I will just steal characters and plop them down in situations that they'd never get into, and relationships that COULD never happen in canon, or possibly IRL, but I'm stripping things down purposefully. I'm telling a story that specifically expects you to suspend disbelief in reality, because reality is messy and no fun and I'm taking a vacation, tyvm. I don't see anything wrong with escapism.

And, I think, in a lot of ways that also extends to the explicit exploration of sex. It's not a matter of self-inserting, but a matter of using a writer's ability to explore emotional connection to experience something enjoyable. Or new. Or... who knows what else. Like - I will read any fake relationship fic you put in front of me. Not my fandom? No problem. No idea who these assholes are? Don't care. Are they in a fake relationship? Are they going to be stupid in love by the end? Sold. Bam. Bulletproof kink.

Are fake relationship stories always super fucking contrived? You betcha. Are the characters sometimes only vaguely related to the canon portrayal? Oh hell yes. Will I read all of them? You bet your sweet biscuits.

It's- *considers* sometimes it's not about the characters themselves, but the dynamic they represent in canon. Or COULD represent if you squint and tilt your head. Like, I have sometimes gone down a list of story ideas in my head that I could write in literally any universe with literally any characters - but I've picked a fandom and a slash pairing, because it has an audience who understands the underpinnings and the conventions of the pairing and when the exploration part comes in that's the only thing I have to sell to them. It's creativity spiraling out from a starting point, rather than a reproduction of canon, and - especially with *young* and *new* writers - that creativity is going to be idealized, simplistic in a lot of ways, and flat out unrealistic.

This is a really interesting article (plz forgive the archive.orgness of the link):

It talks specifically about the whole 'exploration' idea, especially of the explicit. I also kind of think I should link you to a kinkmeme or two, just to see your reaction. XD

Anonymous said...

Above I mentioned that meatier characters have more structure upon which to hang a story, and I just mentioned choosing a fandom specifically because the audience understand particular story types, aaand I just mentioned kinkmemes, but they all sort of share the idea that a fandom coalesces around characters and then those character's traits are then propagated with each new story. It's the idea of 'fanon', wherein there's a whole passel of new conventions surrounding stories with the particular characters you've chosen. And it's organic, developing along with each new story submitted to the pairing, because people see what they like and they steal it for later. It's why a kinkmeme even /works/, or commentfic does. You can drop a whole story in a sentence if necessary with original characters, sure, and a setting you have to explain, but it relies on inference and shared experience. The basis for the inferences and allusions you have to make with a fandom pairing is already hard work done by someone else.

It's this sort of underlying assumption of audience knowledge that is the greatest complaint whenever a writer tries to jump from fanfiction to original fiction. There's no underpinning structure to hang your explorations on. You have to build it all up yourself, and that's why some fanfiction authors who are still in the learning stage when they make the jump to original fiction sound a little stilted, because they have to give you all the background that you're used to with fandom. It's this phenomena that, for me, kind of highlights what it is about fic (especially m/m) that makes it so prevalent. It's an elaboration, a building-upon that makes it easy for your audience to catch up. (It's also why I think m/m ships snowball, because elaborations are fun. They're storyteller's memes, and it's tradition to elaborate.~ Why else would we have Clint/Coulson? It launched off of a handful of dialogue and less than a minute of shared screentime.)

Right, anyways, to bring it all back around, I don't know if it's specifically /gay male relationships/ being idealized so much as gay men are currently the most visibly (or most often) used tools by which to play out idealized relationships. I think it's an important distinction to make, especially because I'm inclined to be lenient with idealized relationships within fiction, simply because I highly value escapism in my reading. :)