“He was being peeled, slowly, like a delicate fruit,” begins A Fragment in Time by Diane Marchant, printed in the erotica fanzine Grup #3 in 1974. These are widely considered to be the words that drew up the curtain on the medium of slash fiction. “He shivered, then squirmed; surprising himself…Now, he could not prevent this, no more than he could stop a solar eclipse.” Its actors, caught in the forbidden consummation of a once-repressed man-lust, are Captain James T. Kirk and Mister Spock of the USS Enterprise—Yes, that’s right. Star Trek.
A far cry from the Justin Lin-helmed Star Trek Beyond currently in theaters, the story, actually just 500-words of clumsy prose that climaxes with a melodramatically phrased intergalactic ejaculation, proved so popular that a whole Kirk/Spock fanzine was launched two years later. Its table of contents consisted of fan-written fiction entirely about Kirk and Spock in various degrees of love, ranging from playful flirtations to hardcore sex. Kirk/Spock colloquially shortened to K/S, and then again to just Slash, and thusly the genre of slash fiction, fan-written accounts of two celebrities or fictional pairings manifesting their mutual homosexual interests, began.
Although most slash literature is no raunchier than your average romance novel, some of subject matter veers into the taboo.
The community grew organically for decades, with zines and self-published works handed out at science fiction conventions, but the internet blew this whole scene wide open. Nowadays, slashfic is a busy corner of the web, with a number of archives and communities of avid readers and writers. The protagonists of these fictions run the gamut—Frodo and Samwise from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, any number of X-Men, Teen Wolf characters, One Direction members, even Skrillex and the legendary Pokemon Absol appear in the throes of boyish carnal desire.
Statistics suggest that the overwhelming majority of slash fiction depicts male-on-male love as written by women. The age demographic leans towards younger women and teenagers.
Cultural theorists have explained the phenomenon as driven by young women taking agency of their developing sexuality by re-imagining pop culture with a feminine gaze. In this age of hyper-fandom, slash fiction also allows fans to engage with their obsessions of a deeper level.
Slash fiction has peeked into the mainstream on a number of occasions. In 2014, as part of an “internet clean-up” initiative, Chinese authorities arrested over twenty young women for posting slash fic on the internet. That same year, the show Supernatural, a favorite inspiration for the genre, featured an episode in which two main characters stumbled upon a fanfic of which they were the protagonists.
Although most slash literature is no raunchier than your average romance novel, some of subject matter veers into the taboo. Quincest, a slash fic centered around romance between sibling indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara Quin, is a genre unto itself, and a recent trend has been stories about members of One Direction getting each other pregnant. Queer theorists have suggested slash fiction is an arena for readers and writers to engage with their taboo curiosities in a safe space, a process through which queer youth contextualize their own relatively mundane desires within the spectrum of taboo.
After a successful Kickstarter that grew a short film into a movie, director Clay Liford released the feature-length Slash this year. Although it garnered acclaim at SXSW, slash fic enthusiasts criticized the film as re-appropriating a distinctly feminine phenomenon through the eyes of a male-dominated production team and a male protagonist. One line, in particular, drew ire from slash fic die-hards: “Do you want to become a writer?” asks the character Dennis, as played by Michael Ian Black. “Not not just fan-fic, but, real writing?”
Take one read around popular slash fiction community Archive of Our Own, and you’ll see, it’s very real indeed.