Emilie linked to a really interesting post the other day about the impact of slash fic. Both the article and the comments made some very good and thought provoking points, but one of the number of things that struck me whilst reading was the use of the word ‘allies’ to describe the relationship between slash fic and m/m romance authors and readers and members of the gay community.
I have to admit it’s a term I am uncomfortable with. It makes me squirm a bit whenever I see it used, and I hope you will bear with me as I try to articulate why.
Let me say from the outset I am in no way trying to denigrate the good intentions behind the use of the term nor am I saying the fight for the rights of the GLBT communities is over because it is very clearly not.
I also realise the word ‘allies’ has historically been used in human and civil rights movements to acknowledge allegiances and common goals between different groups.
But does that make it an appropriate term to use in this particular context?
To me, it would mean that the whole intention of slash fic and m/m romance is primarily to support gay rights.
Now there is absolutely no doubt in my mind reading such stories has made many people, myself included, more aware of the multitude of issues facing GLBT communities around the world, which is a bloody fantastic outcome.
Can it really be said, though, that this awareness has paid forward into real life where authors and readers; those not already involved, are being more active in their support of GLBT issues?
I just don’t know if that is true or not. If it is than it is unbelievably awesome, but if it’s not…
It is this thought which is at the heart of my uneasiness about the word allies.
Have you ever thought about the use of the term allies in association with the m/m romance community? Maybe it doesn’t bother you or maybe you haven’t seen it before?
I’d be really interested to hear what you think… in a don’t-be-rude-and-piss-me-off-and-make-me-do-voodoo-on-you way. 😉
I've not really seen it used before, or maybe I didn't notice. I do think it brings up connotations of war. Us vs Them. Who is “us” and are “them”?
I'm sure the people on the ground in California fighting Prop 8 DO see it as a war. They were in the trenches and you were with them or against them. I guess my frame of reference is two world wars and so the word rings a bit aggressive? I'm not sure. It doesn't BOTHER me though, it's just not likely something I would use, although I'm not sure what word. Supporters? Sounds like they just sit back and cheer you on while you do the work, an allie is assumed to fight along side you.
So I'm okay with it in general but with regard to slash and even most m/m, the reason people write it is to be entertained and entertain others, not for education or the greater good, that's just a sometimes happy by-product.
An ally would be a supporter? Why does it have to be us versus them? I think that's were the problem lies.
Hmm. I'm not sure I would've given the word a second thought…
The Religious Right brought the fight to us. They will claim we started it by coming out of the closet and demanding special rights.
But the GLBT community is the one passing laws against straights. The gay churches aren't firing up foreign countries to make being gay a capital crime.
Oh yeah, there's a war on. And there are a lot of GLBT folks bleeding for our right to live outside the closet.
M/m, gay lit, GLBT romance, it's all propaganda in this war. Even when you think you're only being entertained, the idea of gay relationships as ordinary is sneaking through your mind. That is how we win. And we'll take all the allies we can get.
Sorry to go Activist Dyke Mom all over the thread. It's an exciting but scary time right now. The 60s must have felt like this too.
Err, that should be “Isn't pasing laws against straights.”
I have to admit that reading m/m romance has certainly made me more aware of GBLT issues, especially in countries such as the USA. I'm not sure I would consider myself an ally, after all there's little I can do except to try and promote understanding in my own little patch of the world. A supporter, maybe, a sympathiser. I'm aware these are woolly terms, but I'm a woolly person. I've never been the sort to join a rally or go on a march. I'm not militant.
Yeah, allies might not be the best word, but I can see why some people might use it as a stronger term than just sympathiser. Interesting.
Tam: As I was writing the post and thinking about my reaction to 'allies', I did wonder if it was because of its associations with world wars etc that made me uncomfortable. It conjures up images of stern men sitting around tables and signing papers.
At the same time, the fight for equal rights IS a battle, IS a matter of life and death. It seemed really strange to me why I can't then wrap my head around this term and I realised it was all down to the context.
As you can see, I'm still struggling with it.
Katiebabs chook: The main problem I see with 'us' and 'them' is that, to me, communities are much more fluid than the approach implies.
On the other hand, it is precisely this feeling which has been the launch pad of some of the most significant revolutions the world has seen such as the fight for civil rights for African Americans in the US.
It's not as straight forward as some of us may think.
Chris: I knew that some people would answer that way. 🙂
Angelia: Thank you very much for your comment. I really appreciate it.
I hope you don't mind me asking questions. You know you can tell me to bugger off if you do because I'm being offensive or nosy. 🙂
I'm interested in the use of word 'propaganda'. I totally agree with what you said – “Even when you think you're only being entertained, the idea of gay relationships as ordinary is sneaking through your mind.” – but to me propaganda means that everything is being produced only for the this purpose.
I might have a different view of what the word means though so would you mind talking about this further?
Jenre: “I'm not sure I would consider myself an ally, after all there's little I can do except to try and promote understanding in my own little patch of the world.”
I wonder if that is part of why I feel the way I do, Jen, because I feel like I actually do little in the way of what I would call activism.
Maybe that's it. Maybe it's how I actually perceive what activism should be. Now, that IS something to think about more.
Propaganda can be subtle. It can be blatent. But always it is use of media in a way that advances a particular point of view.
That's the definition I use. Whether or not it's being produced SOLELY for that purpose is immaterial.
M/m romance, to most of its writers and readers, is just fun and sexy. But, by normalizing same-sex romance, by creating the happy ending regardless of orientation, and by presenting GLBT people as real people and not monstrosities to come–and I quote–“flying out of the closet, fangs bared,” we ARE advancing a specific world-view.
An example from my own life:
in the 80s, I put down Interview with the Vampire because of the gayness. I had trouble with the same sex relationships (non-explicit) in Julian May's future books. But, I read the latter over and over, getting past the “Oh, Gert and Hansi are both boys,” easier every time.
By the late 90s, I was reading slash fiction and writing it too, and seeing subtext. Mostly because of the normalization work done by May and later Rice. (I came back to her when I was older and secure in my own identity)
Thank you for this. Some of the self-backslapping in the comments on that article made me want to punch a puppy.
Angelia: “Whether or not it's being produced SOLELY for that purpose is immaterial.”
I see where you are coming from now. Thanks for clarifying and for also sharing your story. 🙂
Sean: Some of the comments were certainly self-congratulatory. I think that contributed to why I felt uncomfortable by the the use of allies.
Hmm, I didn't really give the term a second thought either until you mentioned it. Maybe because I've heard the term “straight allies” used so often that the word doesn't really register any more.
Admittedly, most slash and m/m romance is purely for entertainment purposes, but since being involved in a slash fandom and the m/m romance community, I've become more active in my support of GLBT rights. I was a supporter before, but in the past few years I've attended marches, emailed my congressmen, and donated to groups like HRC and Equality CA– all things I'd never bothered to do before. But it was some close friendships I made with several gay and lesbian individuals in the fandom rather than the slash itself that prompted that involvement.
Richelle: “But it was some close friendships I made with several gay and lesbian individuals in the fandom rather than the slash itself that prompted that involvement.”
Hmmm. But would you have met those friends if not for reading slash? The ripple effect, yes. 🙂
“Maybe because I've heard the term “straight allies” used so often that the word doesn't really register any more.”
Do you recall hearing it, Richelle, before you became more active? I also wonder if it's a term more commonly used in the US?
No, I wouldn't have met those friends without the slash, so, yes, there was that ripple effect. 🙂
And now that you mention it, I don't recall hearing the term “straight ally” before I became more active. I've heard it a lot in the past few years, though, so it is pretty common in the US.
Richelle: “I've heard it a lot in the past few years, though, so it is pretty common in the US.”
I wonder if that might be because it is associated with the increase of groups like PFLAG and the Gay & Straight Alliance. I don't know enough about the history of such movements. It would be interesting to find that out. Someone should do some research. 😉
Hm. Well, I'm not too big on throwing around supposedly definitive terms (outside of certain scholarly realms, that is). They're limiting and often misleading.
I just think of myself as a writer. Angelia makes some valid points, though. The arts, all the arts, can be powerful instruments of social change.
So if writers and film makers and comedians and photographers etc. can help advance a good cause through their work (and it really takes but a modicum of conscience to identify a “good” cause), then they're improving the quality of life on the planet — however subtle and incremental the progress. (Hell, even promoting understanding and acceptance in one person, or just stimulating inquiry, is an improvement.)
I'll settle for that. I don't require special status or a special designation. In fact, I don't feel particularly worthy of either.
KZ: “They're limiting and often misleading.”
I feel exactly the same even when I use such terms myself. I am also in total agreement that the creative arts can also be a vehicle/medium for progress and change. There have been some amazing examples of this in the history of the world.
“In fact, I don't feel particularly worthy of either.”
As I indicated in my comment to Jen, this is similar to how I feel in this particular context because I don't actually see that I DO anything in the way of activism.
I hope I impact the people around me with my views. I'm pretty vocal when I see discrimination of any kind – you may have noticed that I rarely hold back. I've been to Parades etc and made donations, but am I really an activist or an ally?? I'm not sure.
I'm with KZ Snow. I'm not particularly an activist although, I don't like bullying of any kind and I wouldn't stand next to it and say it's okay.
At the risk of (completely unintentionally) offending people, I've come a fair way in my thoughts about homosexuality in the past year or two and I know that's at least partly because I've begun reading m/m romance – whether I'd started to change/question my views first and that led me to m/m romance I don't know, but I do know that somewhere along the way, I started to see the “issue” as people rather than an “issue” and I questioned what I'd been told in church – that being gay is wrong.
Part of reading m/m romance that really helped my thinking was seeing monogamous gay couples depicted – the stereotype that I'd been “exposed” to by the media was more of the George Michael stuff – you know the bathroom blow jobs and promiscuity – now, I know that happens and not just in the gay world either but I'd not seen gay couples as monogamous couples before. It made me realise that the promiscuity is a personal thing not a “gay” thing. (oh, I'm expressing this badly I know! Apologies!!)
Hubby and I had a discussion about it a little while back and I asked him – are you made that way or do you choose? We both agreed – you're made that way (I know this will sound very unenlightened to many of you – sorry! – but I'm being honest here – hope that's okay.) What the conversation was about wasn't what we've been told – by anyone – but what we actually thought/believed. Once we'd decided that “you're made that way” I couldn't understand how it could be wrong (or “against God”). It just didn't fit. I can see plenty of stuff in the bible that is contextual of society at the time – for instance the role of women in the church – that just doesn't hold water now and I wonder who gets to decide what is still valid and what isn't? I'm not gay but I stopped being, oh, I don't know the word, concerned, I guess, about it as an issue. Once I'd resolved that, internally, well, it followed that homosexuals deserve the same rights as everyone. I asked myself what I would do if my son turned out to be gay? I can honestly say that I wouldn't have a problem with it and I would still love him and support him and want the best of love and happiness for him just as I do now. I don't know if I was “homophobic” or bigoted before – I don't know that I'd ever really thought about it – I haven't been around homosexual people much, but I don't think I was – but whatever I was, I'm better now and reading m/m romance was a part of that.
um, is that okay?
Kaetrin: Absolutely that's okay and I really appreciate your openness and willingness to share your story.
“What the conversation was about wasn't what we've been told – by anyone – but what we actually thought/believed. Once we'd decided that “you're made that way” I couldn't understand how it could be wrong (or “against God”). It just didn't fit.”
I admire you and your husband for challenging the parameters of what you had always been taught and coming to your own conclusions.
Let's face it, a lot of people are unwilling to do that – let alone have a conversation about it – for religious or cultural or personal reasons. In fact, some who do change part of their beliefs, even if they are not GLBT but support equal rights, run the risk of ostracism themselves.
*sigh* What human beings do to each other sometimes just seems so strange to me.
Thanks again, Kaetrin, for telling us about your experience.
I've never seen it used before…but you raise a very good point. I think with reading m/m books I've become more aware, although I think I was living in a bubble before. And to be honest I'm not sure I'm aware enough. Food for thought.
Orannia: “And to be honest I'm not sure I'm aware enough.”
I feel that way too about a number of issues sometimes, but I hope I use what awareness I do have as a step forward to wanting to learn more.
okay, thx Kris!
um, can you tell me what slash fic is? I take it is it not about serial killers?
Slash fiction is fanfiction with (noncanonical) same sex relationships in it. The term comes from the 70s, when zines used to designate the characters and relationships involved in the story. (And there's a debate whether gay characters can have slash or only relational fanfiction written about them)
K/S was Kirk/Spock romance
K,S meant a Kirk & Spock focused story
KxU was Kirk and Uhura romance.
It carried into net fandom. Some of us still describe m/m romance as “Original slash.”
I used to be fairly prolific writing the fanfic. My preferred pairings were Han Solo/Luke Skywalker, Angelus/Xander, Charles Xavier/Erik Lensherr and Garak/Bashir. (And if someone isn't writing Bill/Sam and Eric/Godric for True Blood, I want to know why!)
Thanks Angelia! I was going to ask you if you could answer Kaetrin's question. 🙂
“And if someone isn't writing Bill/Sam and Eric/Godric for True Blood, I want to know why!”
LOL! Somewhere someone is doing this. Trust me.
I had to take a while to think it all over. I think a lot of girls and women write and read slash fiction just to entertain each other. It's not necessary to know about any GLBT social/political issues to write slash stories.
I think some slash fiction writers and readers already knew about gay rights struggles before starting to read slash fiction — I did, and other people I know did.
Some women start to think over the issues and educate themselves, even to becoming allies, due to reading m/m stories, slash or original.
I don't think reading slash automatically makes you an ally, but it's clear that it has the possibility to change attitudes and inspire people to learn more.
Some of the commenters on the original article were quite proud that reading slash had helped to change their opinions about homosexuality, and/or made them reconsider what they'd been taught. Even if what they said was sometimes awkward, or they came across as generously congratulating themselves for advancing in their attitudes only a little bit, I see those as positive developments.
I'm comfortable with the term straight ally in the general use. It's very common in some circles here in the U.S. You don't have to march in parades or contribute huge sums of money to organizations to be an ally. I believe that doing what you might think of as little things can be important as well.
For information about Gay/Straight Alliances in schools, a good place to start is with some of Kevin Jennings' books.
Here's a bit of information on Gay/Straight Alliances: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay-straight_alliance
Here's PFLAG's website: http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194&srcid=-2
Kaetrin, thank you for sharing your story. I thought it was great how openly and sincerely you explained how your beliefs had changed.
Emilie: Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for the links.
“I don't think reading slash automatically makes you an ally, but it's clear that it has the possibility to change attitudes and inspire people to learn more.”
I thoroughly agree with you. I have certainly become more aware of glbt issues through my reading and it has in turn driven me to find out more and to think about my own attitudes and opinions.
“I believe that doing what you might think of as little things can be important as well.”
Em, your comment reminded me of one of most favourite Aussie songs about the fight of one small language group for their rights as indigenous people. It's entitled 'from little things big things grow' and, yes, does highlight the fact that all actions can have a positive reaction, no matter how small. Thank you for that. 🙂