Shipping and Slash Fiction: An Exploration

Slash Fiction and Its Origins

While shipping is the more known term, slash fiction has largely been attributed to the rise in Fan Fiction around Captain Kirk and Spock from Star Trek with the name coming from the general / in between the names involved in the pairing. Slash fiction is most commonly associated with homosexual pairings whether they be male or female and stories often include warnings or outright include the term in the heading of a story’s title. Whilst commonly accepted that most slash fiction is generated by women and for women, there has been a growth in this style of fiction thanks to the internet and the ability to write out stories and plaster them all over from self maintained blogs to entire websites and communities devoted to compiling stories related to a central character or media. Along with the evolution on the internet of areas to publish self stories comes the introduction and inclusion of homosexual characters throughout a wide variety of media which has furthered the concept and underground approval of slash fiction. Even the recent Star Trek movie was cognizant of the long held Kirk/Spock fandom in its promotional material, often depicting the two together absent other crew members or characters.

Kirk and Spock Shipping Promo Shot
Credit to Baltimore Post Examiner

Origins of Same Sex Shipping

Fans shipping (usually romantically although there are friendship pairings) has been occurring since the days of The Bible or at least as far back as literature such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and one of the pre-eminent heterosexual life partnerships ever in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Where the shipping, especially in homosexual relationships, really started coming to the foray was through movies, comics, and then television. During the 1930s through the 1960s came such acts as the Hays Code in movies which not only outlawed most violence but greatly pared down the romantic aspects and completely did away with romantic same sex friendships, especially overt romantic gestures such as kissing. As the Code came into effect, the stereotypes of homosexual characters began to come to the forefront in part to identify them and demean them for the sake of the audience. The effeminate gaits when walking, the “butch” style of dressing like a man if the actor was female (or more commonly vice versa), and the inclusion of dying if any hints of attraction appeared became normal and commonplace. It’s worth noting that The Children’s Hour in 1961 was revolutionary for the time in its attempt to depict a lesbian couple despite still having to tip toe with the subject matter including calling the two of them best friends and a rumor of them being a couple leads to their lives tumbling downhill.

Children's Hour Shipping Scene
Credit to Decider.com

The comics had also instituted a similar code in 1954 under the Comics Code Authority which outlawed much of the same material featured in movies as well as most romance and especially homosexuality. As a result, fans of comics had to try and read between the lines often looking for semblances of gay code words or mentally creating romance based on scenes between same sex characters. Batman and Robin were a large factor in this aspect as many people even today were reading between the lines and seeing an old man named Bruce (then considered a very gay name) taking in a young boy as an orphan and largely raising him alone without a woman in the house as being a romantic homosexual relationship. Even as late as 1992, the creation of Harley Quinn for Batman: The Animated Series came about due to fears from executives that the show was too male dominated and that adults could be seeing Batman and Joker’s relationship in a possible homosexual light. For a long time, comic books acted as a way for homosexuality to take a step forward while still being hidden in the background at least until 2003’s Gotham Central and its outing of Renee Montoya as Lesbian. The X-Men in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were largely credited as being a thinly veiled way of attacking the policies and hatred aimed towards homosexuals during those decades and the films further highlighted that, especially X-Men 2 and Bobby’s “Coming Out” as a Mutant scene with Bryan Singer directing the first two films.

In television, characters were largely seen and not heard again forcing fans to ship characters together and write fiction about pairings they preferred due to the inability to ever see such a pairing be officially canon on the show. Kirk and Spock were the most prominent slash fiction pairing that spun out of this.

Even shows like Roseanne tackled homosexual characters coming out as seen in the clip below but it really wasn’t until Ellen and Will & Grace hit the scene that shows realized they could have legitimate gay characters. In terms of other television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the landmark pioneers considering it had a big teenage viewership and outed Willow as a lesbian on May 2nd, 2000 and proceeded to have a high profile same sex relationship in the ensuing seasons. Despite this progress, executives tried to axe Willow and Tara’s first kiss due to concerns over parents objecting to the content of two women kissing.

Yaio, Yuri, and Modern Day Slash Fiction

Thanks to the massive influence of Japan on worldwide culture nowadays with the explosion of Manga and Anime, co-opted terms have also come about in relation to female fans of male homosexual relationships and fans of female homosexual relationships. Acceptance of such fans in media have helped the rise in slash fiction for nearly anything known to media along with movies which have been released such as Brokeback Mountain and teen drama shows such as South of Nowhere which ran from 2005-2008 and was one of the first shows, especially with its target demographic, to feature a same sex relationship at the forefront.

The evolution of homosexuality continues to incrementally move forward including the fact that the animated movie ParaNorman and its inclusion of a gay character is a somewhat forgotten landmark moment in Hollywood. As the newer generations continue to write slash fiction to support relationships such as Boy Meets World and the Cory/Shawn relationship with even the spinoff Girl Meets World openly referencing and reveling in the homosexual teasing of their relationship, it still is a heavy subject in terms of the Internet itself. Slash fiction allows an avenue for the fandom of a pairing such as Dean/Sam from Supernatural while still allowing other viewers to engage themselves in the show or other relationships for their own enjoyment.

It’s a testament to the acceptance of LGBT culture that relationships that were once slashed but are now publicly canon can happen in the comic book realm while films have pushed the envelope including the comedic mockery of Frodo and Sam from The Lord of the Rings in the face of Brokeback Mountain’s release. The comedy and teases largely worked because it could be seen as such a legitimate relationship in terms of the potential homosexual romanticism between the two.

Shipping: Frodo Kisses Sam Goodbye

Sites such as TVTropes have sections that have made same sex shipping ‘mainstream’ thanks to pages such as Ho Yay and Les Yay (short for Homoeroticism, yay!) With the recent rise in media sites such as Youtube and Tumblr, they have allowed slash fiction couples such as Riley/Maya from Girl Meets World, along with nearly any possible homosexual couple in media, to be shared worldwide whether it be through music videos or gif compilations. What used to be just writing remains a focal point but modern day shipping has transcended slash fiction to featuring physical artwork, videos, and other visual avenues in showcasing their preferred couples.

Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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