During a screening for a rare new episode of coat-showcasing, TV epic Sherlock, as part of the panel discussion, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman read aloud some smutty Holmes/Watson slash fanfiction (called Johnlock, because in fandom we like to call stuff things) selected and presented by journalist Caitlin Moran who was hosting the panel.
Ooh, interesting. Did they read it out because they love their fans and their fandom and they wanted to give something back? To show they love slash because their show is actually a piece of fanfiction that it constantly teases viewers with a suggestive of sexytimes cute bromance that could drop the B at any moment?
Because no one thinks for a moment, do they, that Sherlock is playing anything other than the Moonlighting style URST will-they?/won’t-they? game with it’s two leads. Almost all detective shows do this. Also, these two characters have a history. People were slashing them in Conan Doyle’s time.
Because they could have read it out like that. Joyously. They could have shown themselves to be one of those shows that respects and revels in its fandom’s antics. The audience was full of journalists and fans. I am sure there are fans, even fans present in the audience, who would have loved the shows stars reading out their fic in the spirit of, hey, we all love these characters, let’s enjoy how much we enjoy them. Oh tee hee, this one’s a bit naughty. That’s fine, we’re grown ups. We had a mostly naked lesbian dominatrix in the last season for no reason, so hey, let’s go. Freeman, Cumberbatch, here are your modesty shields.
Cherubs, that didn’t happen.
They read it to mock it. They read it with the whole panel and the audience laughing and sneering. AT FILTH. They read it to deride it. To laugh at the enthusiastic fandom that helps keep the show alive during its long hiatuses. To demonstrate that making fanworks about this show is a silly, laughable past time. And the show’s creators are not flattered by your slash fanfiction, they are appalled. They did it to make people ashamed.
Fanfiction generally is about a way of engaging with a story. Writing fanfiction is no different to talking about story characters, writing essays about them and drawing them. And it would be silly to say that retelling stories isn’t something that has always happened, isn’t something that makes us human.
Authors don’t get upset about this. You can’t. If you want other people to read your work (and you don’t have to have other people read your work. I’ve written things no one has ever read and you should all be grateful for that.) But if you think no one who is reading your work is drawing a picture of one of the characters, or having a day dream were they get together with that hot protagonist and fight crime, then I don’t know why you are writing fiction. I am not sure you get what fiction is or why it exists.
And when we retell a story we make it better. That’s why we have all those folk tales full of archetypes, universal truths and deep lessons – they’ve been refined for millennia to get so good. Fanfiction makes stories better. Fanfiction is the experimental fringe that all mainstream arts needs to watch to stop itself stagnating. If you’re mocking it, you’re not a good creative.
When people retell a story now, using fanfiction they often fix problems of representation by putting themselves into the text. Sometimes women they do this by adding female characters – Mrs Sherlock Holmes, that’s a thing. I’ve seen that. But what a lot of women like to do is put their desire into the text. If they are androphiles that means their desire for men. If all the characters are male, or if a lot of them are, or if the hottest ones are, that means slash time.
And slash is a special case when it comes to fanfiction. It’s much more scary than simple story retellings. Because women find it sexy. Yes women. Women finding stuff sexy. Like that’s a thing. I know, I know, you thought you’d destroyed that (for some reason, that perhaps even made sense) years ago. But, dudes, the ovaries were just sleeping.
For a long time, slash was ignored. A lot of online articles about slash fanfiction spend time telling you what it is. I’m not going to. I’m not going to because slash fanfiction is the biggest genre of erotica created by and for women that the world has ever seen. It predates the internet. It might predate the written word. If you’ve never heard of it, maybe you should be asking why that’s the case. Not asking me what it is.
But it was ignored because Female sexuality is only worth talking about if it involves women getting sexy. Slut walks and burlesque will get article after article written about them. They are nice visual stories (visual = can use titty pics). Slash tho? Not so much. Even tho it’s a bigger and more significant bit of lady sexy business than almost anything else. Lady sexy and sexy ladies are not the same thing.
Slash is women getting excited about the idea of two men doing it together. Meaning straight dudebros everywhere are confused. They’ve most likely never encountered any kind of media that wasn’t about them and their desires ever before They’re all: what’s the angle, here? How is this sexy for me? Dudebros, it ain’t sexy for you. Turning you on is not actually what women are mainly into. Have you consider that might be why women are so into slash is BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T FUCKING RUINED IT BY SPUNKING SHAME ALL OVER IT. (Even tho, you know, in slash there are often scenes where, you know, etc…)
But maybe they’re not ignoring slash anymore, because this Sherlock event, this reading and sneering at erotic male/male fanfiction written by women, in such a public way, feels like a new assault. Now they feel concerned enough by slash to mock it.
Scary, scary slash keeps on growing bigger and bigger, so out come the big guns. No more ignoring, let’s make them ashamed. Shame? Really? Goddamnit patriarchy, don’t you ever have any new ideas?
No, guess, not, shame it is, then. Bring out the shame cannon. It is powered by human laughter.
The shame cannon is one of the most reliable weapons for shutting down female sexuality. If women find something sexy (and men don’t – cause it’s threatening to them or has nothing they enjoy), then you will find it getting blasted by shame. And the great thing about it is we can all join in. We can all mock the things that turn women on because they are REALLY FUCKING WEIRD. And they are, of course they are; female sexuality has been repressed for thousands of years, didja just expect it to be FINE after that? I told you it was only sleeping, but now it’s waking up it’s a fucking mess. It’s covered in jam.
(Of course, it might be that it’s just weird because sexuality is weird. Men like some weird stuff. But then, male sexuality has been screwed up by patriarchy too. I know, I’ll just compare this female sexuality we’ve got here to one that hasn’t been repressed by patriarchy for 3,000 years. Oh, wait… I can’t.)
What happened at that Sherlock screening was shaming. Shaming the author of a sweet piece of dirty, smutty – maybe even terrible – fanfiction, written for no money, out of love to share with other fans for a bit of fun and clitoral engorgement. Back off. Why are you trying to shut that down unless you are a baddie?
But it wasn’t just about shaming her. It’s a shame canon remember, not a shame hypodermic needle. It’s about shaming of slash fandom, shaming of women who enjoy male/male sex fantasies, shaming of women who like sexual material.
Oh, and shaming the actors. Getting the actors to read the material out was about shaming them too. Shaming men who are turning women on is another way to crush this stuff down. Thanks for that one. Turning women on is shameful for men, unmanly and probably gay. Men turning women on are sorta gay. No wonder heterosexuality doesn’t work at all.
But the fight back starts here. And the fight back is simple, but difficult.
It’s this. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be ashamed of writing fanctition, or writing slash, or enjoying things, or making work about them, of making sexy stuff about them, of reading sexy stuff about them, of getting turned on thinking about those 2 guys from that thing doing something filthy. Don’t be ashamed that those old dinosaurs TV and print journalism tried to mock your corner of the internet, riding up on their shire horses, poking at you with their steam engines.
If you write slash, if you have fun, if you are making them scared enough with your stories to make them mock you and try and say your little hurting-no one kink is a joke, you are already on the winning side. Even if you are writing a plot-what-plot story about a crack pairing that only you want to read, you are still a special genius, because you are doing something that the old media, old guard find scary. And if we have made them scared of us, we’re doing the good work.
That’s all. Be strong. Write more fic. In fact, someone write some about how Freeman and Cumberbatch were so excited by reading the dirty, dirty fanfic on stage they have mad sex with each other, and it is accidentally filmed and broadcast on New Year’s Day to huge acclaim. And then we all live in utopia.
Don’t shame stories. Stories are important.
Quick note: It was Rob Tamplin on twitter who pointed out to me that Sherlock is, itself, fanfiction. He’s a smart man.