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Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there were two hobbits named Frodo and Sam. They had a very serious mission destroy a magical ring that could end the world. But along the way, they fell in love.
Frodo was beguiled by Sam's strength and loyalty, not to mention the way his muscles flexed when he bent over to pick up something really, really heavy. One thing led to another, and soon enough, the two hobbits were going at it day and night.
Wait, that's not exactly how Tolkien wrote it. ...
Slash fiction is a subculture within a subculture. It's a niche in the world of "fan fiction," stories written by fans about characters in a book, movie, TV show, the music business just about any element of popular culture you can imagine.
Slash fic is pretty much the same thing but the writers are almost exclusively women and the focus is on homosexual relationships, subtle or overt, between male characters.
The name comes from the original slash about Star Trek. Authors would denote the pairing in their stories as "Kirk/Spock" or "Scotty/Sulu." In the early days (most folks say slash has been around since the '70s), fans swapped Xeroxed stories at sci-fi conventions.
But since the mid-'90s, slash has found a home on the Internet. Googling "Harry Potter slash" returns more than a million hits. A search for "N'Sync slash" gets about 70,000. And pretty much anything you can think of has been slashed there's Buffy the Vampire Slayer slash, X-Files, A-Team, CSI, and even Shakespeare and Bible slash.
Slash fic, like any other genre, runs the gamut from poorly spelled, poorly plotted schoolgirl scribblings to fully realized epics worthy of publication. Characterization and style can be akin to the original source material or can merely use it as a point of departure. Likewise, the content varies from sweet romantic stories to hardcore, graphic sex that's sometimes nonconsensual.
Yahoo hosts about 2,600 discussion groups devoted to slash. Still, it's a pastime some people have a hard time understanding. It's also a time-consuming habit the most popular stories have been written, edited, revised and rewritten with professional thoroughness.
Technically, slash fiction, like fan fic, is illegal. But many fic sites have disclaimers acknowledging copyright violations and claiming authors aren't profiting from the work. Most copyright-holders turn a blind eye to fan fiction, but slash has drawn criticism from big companies.
Some sites hosting Harry Potter slash fiction have received cease-and-desist letters from Scholastic Inc. Harry's U.S. publisher and Warner Bros., concerned that their young audience may stumble across a Harry/Draco BDSM story like this one while surfing the Web for other Potter links:
"They stood facing each other poised on the edge of something and then as one they moved towards each other. Their lips met and Harry felt the pain flow away. His arms snaked round the other boy and Draco deepened the kiss, his lithe frame moulding to Harry's as they embraced. It was not like the awkward, stolen kisses Harry had shared with either of his girlfriends of previous years, and he could feel the passion running through the boy in his arms. They remained locked together for a long time, exploring with their lips and tongues and only reluctantly did either break the kiss." Gold-Tinted Spectacles by Beren
Slash fans differentiate between "canon" material original source material and "fanon," flights of fantasy created by fans. One author who wishes to be known only as "W." is a young publishing professional with a degree in gender studies from New York University. About maintaining the integrity of the original story, she says, "If it's not true to the character, then it sort of loses the point. Yes, you're stretching the true character and canon by 'gaying them up' in the first place, but you shouldn't completely throw away the base. A lot of times you can explore new things by adding the twist of gay."
That's part of what appealed to 27-year-old Leah Alconcel, an American living in London with a Ph.D. in chemistry and a yen for pretty boys licking each other.
She was first exposed to slash about three years ago, when an Internet friend asked her to proofread or "beta," in slash parlance a Harry Potter story she'd written. "She's a good writer, and especially with Harry Potter, her stories gave a depth to the characters a sexual identity that's completely missing from the canon work."
Alconcel is working on an original novel, but writes slash in her spare time.
"A lot of times, writing original stuff, or getting up the gumption to write it, is stressful and draining. Writing fan stuff is just fun. It feels like an indulgence."
But the craft is only part of the attraction it's also pretty hot.
W. says, "Sure, you can have character exploration in slash fic, but the essential point is to get the characters together and banging for your own prurient interests. Or, at least, that's what I'm looking for when I read."
Clinton Township resident Tracy Boyer, 49, writes Knight Rider slash. She loves science fiction and sports cars, so the 1980s TV show about David Hasselhoff and K.I.T.T., his artificially intelligent hot rod, really piqued her interest.
For Boyer, the challenge of getting a man and a car to become "intimate" was part of the fun of writing Knight Rider slash.
Whether or not a slash relationship already exists in the subtext of the story is a question up for debate. Bloomfield Hills resident Kathryn O'Connor, 39, claims that old-school series like the original Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek didn't have much homoerotic subtext, but modern shows and movies are bursting with it in the Lord of the Rings books, few characters seemed to exist below the waist, while the recent blockbuster film trilogy featured a few frolicsome hobbit pillow fights.
O'Connor's written Star Trek and X-Files slash, but her true love is Battlestar Galactica fic, which she's penned since the tender age of 12. Her interest in slash coincided with puberty.
"That's around the time I started learning about gay men." She recalls her first works were more romantic than sexual, and most were a niche of slash called "mpreg," short for male pregnancy. As a preteen, O'Connor says it was a logical equation: love equals marriage and babies, even if it's two men who are falling in love.
O'Connor says when she got online in the mid-'90s, she was relieved to learn she wasn't the only person who had dirty thoughts about boys and wrote dirty stories about getting it on. A lot of slash writers and fans are cagey about how much information they'll share with the world at large. Some, like W., are reluctant to connect their online identities with their professional or personal lives. Others, like Alconcel, don't have a problem admitting to a slash habit, but don't post everything they write in public forums.
Alconcel explains that a lot of times, how graphic a story is determines whether the writer is willing to post it publicly. "It's definitely the filthy butt sex factor that makes me want to post anonymously," she says.
Jessica Gothie, 35, is an avid consumer of slash fic. She says, with slash, "Suddenly it becomes possible to skip straight to the 'good bits' without going through all the boring exposition. You can skip right to the sex part. From a chick perspective, smut fan fic is the heroin of porn."
Nancy Kaffer is a freelancer for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.