I just saw Sherlock Holmes for the third time, and holy cow, it was even more intentionally deliberately shamelessly homoerotic the third time than it was the first! and that's great, it's so wonderful and fabulous and it makes me so happy.
Except that it also makes me so very very angry.
you know what I am sick of? What I am really really really sick of?
I am sick of seeing Robert Downey Jr. gleefully declaring to talk show audiences that Holmes and Watson are gay, that Holmes is a butch queer, that he and Watson sleep in the same bed. I am sick of seeing Jennifer's Body toy with sexual orientation as a titillating exercise that tries to be sincere but ends in yet more dead lesbians and no affirmation. I am sick of reading news articles about how the tv show Merlin has a huge gay audience, and how the cast/producers/writers are all so happy that the subtext they put into the Merlin/Arthur relationship is being well-received. I am sick of seeing TV Guide covers where House shoots white silly string all over Wilson's face. I am sick of seeing subtextually homoerotic readings of beloved narratives and characters be taken to loving extremes, like Guy Ritchie did in Sherlock Holmes, bless him, like Stephen Fry linking to Jeeves/Wooster romances with a wink and a nod, or like the creators of Hot Fuzz gleefully writing slash about their own main characters, without ever becoming overtly gay.
I am sick of all of it. I loved House with a love surpassing Doris Egan. And then by season 3 I just started to feel like I was being constantly toyed with. YES I KNOW WILSON BOUGHT HOUSE A, WELL, HOUSE. I KNOW THE SHOW'S WRITERS THINK THEY'RE IN LOVE. But somewhere, out there, are audience members who think that relationship is perfectly heteronormative, and i don't want them to have that comfort. I want House and Wilson to make out on-screen.* Hell, even in Boston Legal, when James Spader and William Shatner freaking GOT MARRIED IN THE SERIES FINALE, the whole point was that they were a "straight" couple pretending to be gay for the legal benefits, and the show's tee-heeing to the contrary just reinforced that we can't have gay main characters.
But we can have all the hints that the characters are gay that we want! Look how progressive we are! Look how many gay-friendly words we use: "metrosexual!" "bromance!" "subtext!" And I AM SICK OF IT. I WANT THE REAL DEAL.
We don't have gay main characters. Oh, we get them as sidekicks. We get them as unsexualized Wills and Jacks. We get them as main characters on shows like the L Word and Queer as Folk, where being gay is the entire point of the show. But we don't get nearly enough gay heroes. We don't get nearly enough stories like Malinda Lo's Ash, where the real story is about how the heroine defeats a curse, and - oh, yeah, just happens to fall in love with a woman instead of a man. In fact, the reason Ash was so acclaimed when it debuted last year was because it was the exceptional exception to every rule. And all those rules basically boil down to: WE CAN'T HAVE MAINSTREAM STORIES ABOUT GAY PEOPLE.
I don't say any of this as a slasher. In fact, sometimes I feel like the act of being a slasher defeats the purpose of being a slasher. It's like constantly being on a treasure hunt. So you enjoy stories for their own sake, but then you also always have that running commentary going on in the back of your mind. The world is full of subtext and it's just yours for the taking and the spotting and the "aha!"-ing. And that's fun, it's wonderful, I will never need to play those GPS treasure hunt games, because all I have to do is note how many times Holmes & Watson touch each other in this glorious movie, and there's my treasure trove, right there.
But. But. But. Sometimes I wonder if being that way, if going head over heels for anything with subtext, makes me seem shallow. If it just looks to the rest of the world like all I care about is finding and spotting and pointing out that subtext excitedly, and I don't care where it comes from or how great the rest of the show is. And sometimes, sometimes, that's right. I mean, HELLO I WATCHED FOUR AND A HALF SEASONS OF STARGATE:ATLANTIS. There is something to be said for allowing slash to be the primary appeal of a fandom.
But that's not, ultimately, what I want stories to give me. I don't slash because I like finding and pointing out homoerotic subtext everywhere I can. I slash because the stories I want, I can't have. I can't have a story where Kirk and Spock touch hands without the glass between them at the end of Wrath of Khan. I can't have a story where Merlin and Arthur fall in love on NBC prime time and the world doesn't end.
And yeah, I know, first world problems. And yeah, I know that even shows that do give us even strong homoerotic elements are being gutsy. But I want more. I hate that Guy Ritchie just slammed down that much ballsy homoeroticism in Sherlock Holmes, and yet the first time I mention it in casual conversation, someone will tell me that I'm crazy. Because why shouldn't I be crazy? Why shouldn't I be reading too much into things? As long as homosexuality exists only on the periphery of mainstream stories, and is only presented in "acceptable" overt ways, it will continue to reinforce the celluloid closet. It will continue to reinforce among the ignorant the idea that homosexuality isn't something that applies to them or what/who they love.
I don't want Holmes and Watson, House and Wilson, Merlin & Arthur, Blair and Serena, to make out onscreen because I am a slasher. I don't want it because I can go "aha!" and add that moment to my collection.
I want those main characters to fall in love and make out because it means that fans of their characters will have to come to terms with their gayness, exactly like they would have to do in real life. It's one thing to start out a book, like Swordpoint and Havemercy did, introducing your main characters as gay from the start. Because from the outset the reader knows, the reader can choose whether they approve, or tolerate, or whatever. They can put that book down and walk away.
But reality doesn't let you choose. Reality is when your best friend turns to you and says, "the thing is, I'm gay," and your entire world turns upside down.
The most empowering aspect of slash for me is that it takes beloved, known characters, and strips away their heteronormativity. Yeah, countless people have accidentally discovered Harry Potter slash on the internet, and gone "ACK MY EYES" and hit the back button as fast as they can, but that also means that for half an instant, countless people were forced to grapple with the idea that someone they loved was gay, even if that someone was a fictional character. And maybe they didn't get it, but maybe that moment brought them closer to acceptance or tolerance or empathy.
I would like to challenge everyone who's working on original fiction right now to consider writing characters and allowing them to gradually develop real gay, lesbian, and/or transgendered relationships**. Take your characters, write them, and then slash them. Because not only will that be transformative, progressive, and beautiful, it will give readers who've already grown to love the characters an opportunity to love this side of them as it develops. The response to Ash proves that there's an audience for those types of stories. The relatively enormous popularity of slash on the internet proves it as well.
I want that so, so, so badly. And sometimes, the ache of not being able to have GLBTQ heroes, the ache of knowing how far we still have to go, gets overwhelming, and I don't know what to do about it except write more gay kisses, and encourage everyone else to write them too, and tell everyone I know that Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are in love. Because that story needs to be told. It hasn't been told enough. It never can be.
And the more stories like that we write and put out into the world, as slash and as original fiction, the more we create a tolerant world. The more we create an audience that responds with love when Holmes & Watson stop in the middle of fighting the bad guys, not to shake hands, but to kiss. The more we create a way for subtext to become text.
eta: and to tack on a comment on a week-old argument: the rant above is the main reason (among many) why I react to disbelief when people say that the Organization for Transformative Works is too politicizing, too mainstream for them to be comfortable with. That argument baffles me. Do these people not understand that fanfiction is political in and of itself? Fanfiction, be it slash, het, gen, or variants thereof, is political because it reframes traditional narratives with progressive ideas. It asks "what if Watson had been a woman?" it asks "what if Beauty and her Beast had been men?" it asks, "Why is Slytherin house historically doomed to be disenfranchised by the rest of wizarding society, and how does that reflect on our own culture?" All those things have political contexts and implications.
I don't want to claim that we *should* write fanfiction because we want to promote a political cause. I don't pretend that we're all on the same political sides: we all know well by now that not all writers of slash support gay rights. And I don't want to imply that diving for slash pearls in a world of vast and glorious subtext is anything to be ashamed of, or that it isn't rewarding as a means unto its own end.
But I believe that fanfiction, all fanfiction, is transgressive, political, subversive, transformative, whether or not any of us want it to be. And I feel every single day that the best way any of us can combat a universe full of problems is to keep writing it.
* though i fully believe that if any show is ever going to give me this, it will be House.
** while this whole rant is concerned with homosexuality, i don't want to ignore the even *more* vital issue of visible transgendered characters in literature and mainstream media. transgender issues are not equivalent to issues of sexual orientation, but in this context i feel the plea for inclusiveness is essentially the same.
ETA (I should have linked this a long time ago, orz): The Flip Side. (Misogyny in Fandom) Because as much as I genuinely appreciate the ongoing interest in this post from fandom and outside of it, it doesn't just stop there.