I’m a slash shipper. That’s not really a surprise to the vast majority of the people who know me, but it’s not a topic I’m used to being talked about at length outside of a very isolated slash shipping fandom. Most of my real life friends know I have several queer pairings that I’m rooting for, but that’s about it.
The fact that I don’t talk about it to my non-Internet friends too much isn’t necessarily a ‘shame’ thing for me, though I know that many fans do feel an amount of shame over their hobby (you shouldn’t! But that’s a rant for another article). For me, it’s more the fact that this is a rather obscure hobby and the people who share that interest are mostly on the Internet. If the topic of romantic pairings happens to come up in a real world setting, I’ll talk about it, but that’s just usually not what my non-Internet friends are interested in. Even the handful of real world friends I’ve met who are in slash fandom I initially met over the Internet before meeting up offline.
But all of that changed since Star Wars came out. Oh boy, has that changed.
I was drawn to the Poe/Finn ship (aka StormPilot) and immediately found my fellow shippers on the Internet. We’re good at finding each other once a new slash pairing pops up, so it didn’t take long for me to start exploring this new shiny fandom of ours. I was expecting this to very much follow the lines of other slash pairings and have a strong, but mostly isolated shipping community. But then it started to get mainstream press coverage, and real world friends whom I’ve never talked to about slash shipping are starting to notice that this is a thing. Honestly, it’s starting to freak me out a bit.
The Good Things About a Visible Slash Ship
I must clarify that when I say that it’s ‘freaking me out,’ that’s not to say I’m also not ecstatic about it. The best thing about mainstream coverage from places like USA Today, E! Online, Bustle, Comic Book Resources, and Hypable, is that it normalizes queer romances. I’m not going to pretend every slash shipping fan is queer, but many of us are and slash fandom gives us the LGBTQ+ narratives that popular media tends to ignore. When all these outlets are reporting on our fan activities as something worth noting, it sends a powerful message to studios that there’s an audience out there that wants these narratives. We’re here! We’re queer! We want to have beautiful LGBTQ+ romances in our popular media because heterosexual romances are everywhere and we’re feeling super left out!
Slash fans who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community tend to be heterosexual women. Heterosexual women tend to like slash for a number of reasons, including being attracted to the idea of two men in general, or being specifically drawn to these characters and this set of stories, without actually having the gender or sex of the characters involved actually play a factor.
Regardless of the reason, heterosexual women are a huge part of slash fandom. For decades women have been ignored in mainstream geek culture and having this many people acknowledge the enthusiasm of a primarily female-dominated fandom is huge. It legitimizes the fact that geek culture is diverse and that it isn’t just a boys club anymore. Women are going to fan how they want to fan and people are starting to notice that we’re here.
Another amazing thing about this is that it feels like we finally don’t have to try so hard to have our ship be seen as legitimate. I’ve been in the Destiel fandom for years and whenever we get any sort of mainstream press we flip out and celebrate. Supernatural is a small fandom compared to something as big as Star Wars, though. While it’s huge on places like Tumblr and Twitter, we don’t often get recognition for the show or fan activities outside of these circles.
Meanwhile, the StormPilot articles started popping up less than a week after the movie hit theaters, but this is one of the biggest science fiction franchises in history, so I suppose it’s a very different ballgame. Instead of fighting to convince people our ship is legitimate, mainstream press saw us first and started throwing out articles at a break neck speed. Hello there, mainstream press! Welcome to our world!
But now that there are so many eyes on us, I’m starting to get worried…
The Bad Things About Having a Visible Slash Ship
While visibility has a lot of upsides, we don’t exactly have the best track record for having positive press coverage. So thank you, media, for paying attention to us. Now please understand why this can be a bit nerve wracking for some of us in slash fandom.
The main issue with mainstream media’s coverage of slash shipping is that, since we’re so obscure and don’t often leave our isolated communities, they don’t quite know how to talk about it. Even worse, this can be an indicator that mainstream press just doesn’t know how to talk about queer romance in general, even in regard to non-fandom inspired pairings. They use the term “bromance,” as is the case with the USA Today article, which makes a lot of us roll our eyes. Yeah, totally just a “bromance.” Two bros being bros and nothing legitimately romantic about it, right?
It can feel a tad condescending to be talked about this way. Why can’t they just call it a ‘romance?’ Some theorize they are just testing the waters to see what the reaction is, and that’s perfectly legitimate and ‘safe,’ but I’m eager to get past that and start treating queer relationships as being something worthy of the same tone and language as heterosexual relationships.
Worst yet, when mainstream media writes about slash ships, it can often feel like they’re making fun of us and gawking at us like some sort of sideshow. As I’m writing this article, I have not yet seen any StormPilot coverage take this approach, but it’s happened before numerous times in other fandoms. Every time an actor is confronted with Slash in the public sphere, like when Martin Freeman was confronted with Johnlock fanart on Graham Norton show in 2013, we have to brace ourselves for the fallout. Freeman reacted in a lovely manner, despite the fact that he had graphic art shoved in his face on TV.
There’s a huge difference between talking about a fan activity or a potential romantic relationship between two characters, and shoving pornography in somebody’s face, but for some reason mainstream media keeps doing this to actors and seems to enjoy making fun of our activities.
Thankfully with this group of people I think we’re going to be okay on that front. The actors were ‘grilled about romance’ on The Ellen Show, and Oscar Isaac treated the concept of a romance between two male characters with respect. It seems like he feels that romance is romance, regardless of gender. I only hope that if they are inappropriately confronted with graphic art or fanfiction later on they can maintain this level of respect, even though that experience can be a bit jarring even to the most level-headed celebrity.
Better yet, I hope this doesn’t happen at all, but for some strange reason it keeps happening and I’m nervous that history will repeat itself. At this point I have a high level of trust with this cast, so I’m not too terribly concerned about how they’ll handle it, especially with Oscar Isaac around, but it’s still awkward to have the media think that this is an appropriate way to engage actors about fan activities.
We aren’t a joke. We aren’t a sideshow to gawk at. We enjoy these queer pairings for legitimate reasons and laughing at us, or forcing the actors into uncomfortable situations where they are encouraged to laugh at us, is extremely harmful. It sends a message that being queer, or being a heterosexual woman who enjoys these queer pairings, is bizarre and hilarious. And if you honestly think my sexuality is bizarre and hilarious, you are on the wrong side of this battle. While slash shipping may seem frivolous, it’s still an important outlet for many people. It gives us something mainstream press doesn’t and we don’t deserve to be laughed at for craving this sort of material.
But I may be jumping the gun on getting concerned about mainstream press over our ship. We may be just fine. I’ve been through a lot and am approaching this high visibility with a cautious excitement. Every time a new article drops there’s much squeeing among me and my friends. It feels like this has been a long time coming. We’re being noticed. We’re being legitimized and it feels good. I hope the positivity remains strong because I haven’t felt this upbeat in a slashing fandom in a long time.
Either way, I’m very happy with everything fandom has put in the past couple of weeks. I’ve never seen a ship set sail so fast before. There are dozens of new fics on AO3 every single day and there’s already some jaw dropping fanart out there. The best thing we can do is just keep doing our thing. Keep creating fan works. Keep consuming fan works. Keep talking about why this is important to us and, above all, keep enjoying it. Happy shipping, StormPilot fans.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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