Why We Slash: An Essay on Gay Necessity for Confused Straight People

Remember when you were a little girl and wanted to be a fairytale princess? Remember how you longed for some handsome prince to sweep in and romance you into idealistic oblivion?

I don’t.

Remember when My So Called Life aired and Angela’s intense Jordan Catalano crush so paralleled your own angsty high school experience?

Yeah. I don’t remember that either.

What I remember is going to prom my junior year with the cute guy from my church and senior year with my best friend, Josh. I don’t remember wanting to go with anyone else either year. It never even occurred to me to consider who I might really want to take to prom.

So, I didn’t.

I remember making out uncomfortably with guys that I only liked as friends, and some that I didn’t really like at all. I remember giving up my virginity more because it felt like it was time than because I wanted it. Or him. I remember wondering what was wrong with me that I didn’t like any of it, that I was left with such deep, overwhelming regret.

I remember crushing on Chely Wright, but never having the nerve to call it a crush. Not even to myself.

I remember looking up and around and having no one to whom I could turn. I remember there being no one who shared my feelings. At least not publicly. I do remember rumors, though, whispered in disgust. Inside of my school. Outside of my school. Inside my own home. From my friends. From my neighbors. From my family.

I remember recognizing that Chely was playing the “pronoun game” in her Path to Stardom, I remember knowing that Rosie was gay, I remember watching Suzanne Westenhoeffer’s HBO special and buying Bound through the mail, because my classmate who worked at the video store referred to it as “that lesbian movie,” as if the gayness was the sole plot.

Yet, even with all of that, I remember refusing to feel the feelings that I couldn’t help but feel. I remember not even considering the word “lesbian” in regards to myself until I had gotten a safe distance from my small town.

That was fifteen years ago, and the role models simply weren’t out there. I didn’t see myself in anyone. I felt alone.

I graduated from high school a month after Ellen’s pioneering “The Puppy Episode,” so I was freed from the constraints of small town living at the same time that the citizens of the United States were being forced to acknowledge that the gays were amongst them. Every week. On a basic network.

I remember watching Ellen on Oprah that year, after Jerry Falwell had called her “Ellen Degenerate” from the pulpit. I remember her taking a question from the studio audience, in which the man proceeded to tell her how her lifestyle was wrong. I remember her saying that she was sure that he was a very nice man before she began her real response. I remember thinking that she really shouldn’t have had to buffer. He was the bigot. He was the asshole. Yet, in a roundabout way, she was the one apologizing.

Being gay in the media in 1997 was cause for an apology.

Things have changed a lot since then.

Today, the lesbian talk show host on TV in the middle of the afternoon has a gorgeous wife.

In 1997, the lesbian talk show host on TV in the middle of the afternoon mooned over Tom Cruise.

I can’t blame celebrities in the late 90s for not being out. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but wonder how different my life might have been if Rosie had been the iconic lesbian that she is today.

Of course, that could have been for better or worse. I may have saved my virginity for someone that I wouldn’t regret, or life might have been so unbearable that I couldn’t live it. But we’ll come back to that in a later post.

As much as media has changed, though, in some ways it hasn’t changed at all. Gay characters on television often seem to serve the sole purpose of being gay. Most of them struggle with their sexuality. In a lot of ways, being gay is still depicted as being a pain-filled life path. And being bisexual is really depicted as being straight with a side of ‘will try anything.’

Even when the gay characters get to be gay, they do so largely off-camera. A heterosexual couple will be shown rolling around in a scene that barely got by the sensors, and, in the next scene, the gay couple will share innuendo that assures viewers that they do have off-screen sex.

Being gay in the media in 2012 is okay, it seems, as long as straight viewers don’t have to see it.

Or so one would think.

The Obsessors

Apparently, the idea of two characters that they like being seen as gay is simply too much for some people to handle.

Even if they don’t have to see it.

Even if the mere notion of it is easy to avoid.

Some people seem to seek out all things gay just to heckle. Often, they turn non-gay things into a gay debate. I call these people The Obsessors, and I wish that I could be a fly on the wall the day that they each wake up next to their heterosexual spouse and realize what intensely homosexual feelings they are harboring.

More often than I would like, I run into these Obsessors in random places, like in comments on articles that have absolutely nothing at all to do with gayness. For example, there will be an article about a male and female lead in an ensemble show, like Will and Alicia on The Good Wife, and their possible on-show hook-up. About five comments down, there will be a random person who makes a comment similar to thus –

“I have ‘shipped Will and Alicia from the beginning. I just don’t get why some people say that Alicia and Kalinda should happen.” – OR – “Sometimes I stumble across fan fiction with Alicia and Kalinda. Why do those people have to do that?”

Whatever the phrasing, the basic point of these Obsessors is that they don’t understand why gay people feel the need to envision two straight characters – or, in the above example, one straight character and one omnisexual character – in a gay relationship. Commonly, the Obsessors provide supporting arguments that include their belief that the creator of the TV show, movie or book that we slashers are gaying-up must be “so insulted” by this.

Of course, that’s just Obsessors projecting their own bigotry, and it is useless to try to explain to them that those who make popular television, movies and books are not their intellectual equals. That unless we’re talking about the author of the “Left Behind” series or Ann Coulter, it’s unlikely that writers are going to share their ignorance and prejudices.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Why We Slash

Let’s say that you are watching a TV show, and there is a male character and a female character that you really want to get together. They’ve been flirty. They have chemistry that jumps off the screen. What do you think the odds are that they will eventually get together?

90/10, maybe?

That’s probably a pretty safe bet. They may call it “will they or won’t they,” but if there’s a large fanbase for a couple – if the writers are leading you in that direction – you can pretty much rest assured that they will eventually hook up. It’s just a matter of when and how.

Of course, with those heterosexual couples, they do have to string you along. That’s kind of the point. You get to want them together, watch them go through other relationships, get together, break up, and finally end up together. The passion is in the struggle. That’s what makes the endgame such a payoff. When they do finally end up together, you get the satisfaction of knowing that they were meant to be together.

It’s a fairytale wrapped in realistic circumstances.

Again and again, in nearly every TV show, movie and chart-topping ballad, you heteros get to relive the fantasy of true love.

When we, your gay counterparts, watch a TV show and have two people that we really want to be a couple, what are the odds that they will eventually get together?

10/90, maybe?

Let’s not be generous.

0/100 is closer to accurate, and the exceptions have been rare to say the least. Sure, there are a few gay characters on television, even some couples, but, the fact is, they don’t get the same dynamic as heterosexual couples. There is no tension-building, no drawn-out romances. The romance equation for gay TV characters goes a little something like this –

1 gay character alone + bring on a new gay character = gay couple

Then, if that gay relationship fails –

1 gay character – the gay other half = back to one gay character
1 gay character alone + bring on a new gay character = gay couple

It seems to me that a writing room filled with predominantly straight writers has difficulty grasping the concept that gay people, like straight people, can just fall in love. Or that two people can just fall in love without the need to explain the gayness first.

In fact, I can think of only two times when two characters were allowed to fall in love, despite all past storylines and on-screen relationships, without somebody having a big ‘coming out’ storyline first.

The first, and best, was Willow and Tara on Buffy. Not only did they have an immediate and obvious on-screen connection, but they got to become friends first. Their relationship got to grow. Gay girls everywhere got to root for their desired outcome, even knowing that Willow’s male ex was lurking out there somewhere. And, for once, their hopes paid off.

The Willow and Tara storyline was organic. As love is.

The second long-term, organic relationship growth was Olivia and Natalia on Guiding Light. Yes, there was plenty of freaking out once they admitted their feelings, but the love did come first. And it was evident on the screen.

By and large, though, we non-heteros aren’t party to those great drawn-out romances. As far as gay relationships on TV, they throw the couples together so swiftly and painlessly, it’s like pulling off a bandage on the puritan American public.

So, we don’t get the Niles and Daphnes…
The Ross and Rachels…
The House and Cuddys…
The Luke and Lorelais…
The Sam and Dianes…
The David and Maddies…
The Booth and Bones…

Perhaps, you can see now how this list could go on forever.

And that is why we slash.

Because the writers tell us to root for Alicia and Will, but we still see the chemistry between Alicia and Kalinda. The writers tell us that Regina and Emma are archenemies on Once Upon a Time, but we can still see how much they look like they want to make out every time they get near each other.

You see, heteros have their couples that they want to end up together.

A lot of the time, those couples will end up together.

We gays also have our couples that we want to end up together.

They won’t.

Now, we could just sit around and pout about it – suffer those slights in silence – or we can talk about it with those people who think like we do. We can write about it so that we can share the fairytale with other people who appreciate it. We can wring every last drop of subtext from a show and turn it into stories where our favorite couples can actually have their happy endings.

So, for those confused straight people who “just don’t get it,” don’t worry.

You never will.

You’ll never have to.

Your fantasies are delivered via cable.

Be grateful.


*** Please feel free to distribute, share, pass around, or present this essay to any Obsessors you may encounter. They won’t thank you, but we’ll all feel better. ***

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One Comment

  1. Awesome-sauce. My gf and I read this together – so true. So much time wishing that there were some characters that had that chemistry that ‘good’ shows seem to have, but only if they’re straight.

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