Racked with pleasure, it was all Obi-Wan could do to keep his feet as he came, that large warm hand milking every drop of semen from his body. —Keelywolfe, "Sacred Flames Within"
Calysta Rose discovered slash fiction in 1998, when she was 23. In her office at an oil company, she followed a chain of links online and came upon a sexy short story involving characters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace participating in a sort of "summer solstice" celebration.
"I knew what kind of happy, fun times happen at summer solstice, and Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, they're attractive dudes," she says. "So I read it and I thought, 'Oh my God, I shouldn't have read it at work. Oh my God.' My face burning up. It was really, really hot. I thought, 'Oh my God, I can see the appeal of this.'" A 15-year obsession began.
You've probably heard of fan fiction — eager amateur writers using fictional characters from books, movies or TV shows to create stories of their own. Slash is a subset of fan fiction, sticking those characters in gay romances, regardless of their actual sexual preference.
In slash stories, Starsky and Hutch might give each other blow jobs in their Ford Gran Torino, or Tony Stark of The Avengers might raise a child with Captain America. Or Clay Morrow, the murderous, arthritic, motorcycle-club president on Sons of Anarchy, might walk into a bakery and meet cute with Cookie Monster, before ending up in Cookie's apartment eating snickerdoodles. There's something for everyone.
Writers post their stories online, where the most user-friendly site is Archive of Our Own, run by a nonprofit intended to protect fan fiction writers commercially and legally. On the site, stories that involve male-male pairings are the most popular — around 430,000, more than double the number for "het," aka heterosexual pairs.
It was slash that brought Rose to Ventura this past February for Escapade, the oldest still-running slash fiction convention. Some at Escapade have written a few stories; some, hundreds. Rose hasn't written much recently, but she's a "beta reader" — an amateur editor — for others.
The sessions at Escapade, held annually since 1991, allow fans to discuss current trends, their passions and hang-ups, and even recruit others into their fandoms. "Can I get you interested in Clint/Coulson?" one attendee asks another, referring to Clint Barton and Phil Coulson from The Avengers.
For decades, slash stayed behind closed doors, at conventions, in Internet discussion groups or in secret zines. That's in part because it was taboo, and in part because writers feared legal retribution.
But in the last decade, the taboo and legal issues have started to fade. Homosexuality is more accepted, as is fan fiction as a whole. Fifty Shades of Grey started as "het" Twilight fan fiction, and Amazon is launching its own fan fiction site. Plus, as Japanese culture has made its way to the United States, some fans are influenced by yaoi — boy-boy Japanese anime, manga and fan fiction. People are increasingly comfortable with creating content for the sheer passion of it.
Slash has expanded beyond small, old-school communities like Escapade to younger, Internet fans, who are expressing themselves not only through stories but also via images and GIFs on Tumblr. Over Twitter, some share their obsession with the creators of the shows themselves, a breach that older slash fans used to view as unseemly.
Still, among the general public, slash remains little known and little understood. And many slashers at Escapade would prefer to keep it that way. One attendee says, "There are a lot of people who don't care what the outside thinks."
"Don't worry," Bond whispers, his lips brushing oh so teasingly against the back of Q's neck. "We're almost home." —DeathValleyQueen, "Touches"
Escapade doesn't look at all like Comic-Con. This year's event was held at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, in a picturesque but sleepy spot next to a walking path along the ocean. Sessions took place in a few generic meeting rooms, with light brown carpet embedded with dark brown curlicues.
There were about 100 attendees, and almost all were female, most in their 30s through 50s. The attire was super-casual — mostly jeans and T-shirts, with the occasional fan flourish, like an Avengers logo. And, as some attendees will tell you directly, they tend to be bigger women. The official convention schedule includes a walk to Aphrodite's, a nearby lingerie shop that "specializes in bras that fit large women."
When Escapade first started, it was so female-dominated that they'd invite in male strippers. "They didn't realize we wanted them to be attracted to each other," one attendee recalls.
Slash dates to the 1970s, when Star Trek fans would write Kirk/Spock romances (hence the "slash") and continued through the decades with shows like Starsky and Hutch, the late-'70s British crime drama The Professionals and the '90s fantasy series Highlander.