Slash Tropes

In reading slash fiction I've noticed a few things that keep repeating… situations, motifs. I want to find some kind of meaning in these things that writers keep returning to. This is another weirder essay style thing, not the usual form I've been using, but it's not the kind of thing that would fit into that format.

Coming Out

Okay, obviously coming out is a real thing that people deal with. How it shows up in slash is entirely up to the author though; and it shows up in a lot of very specific ways.

There seem to be two poles of coming out that limit the story – on one end, you have the rejection that is so complete it would derail the story. If the character who is coming out is rejecting totally, thrown out of his house, murderously raged at by the townsfolk, then that is probably going to distract from the delicate drama of new love. This kind of plot decision is something you need to build the entire story around, like Ocotillio's "Esperanza".

The other end of the coming out spectrum is where the character is totally accepted, to the point where coming out is a non-event. In this case, the whole thing is usually kept off-screen, as in, the characters are introduced as 'out'. If this is a part of the story itself, it's usually anticlimactic. Of course, if the character/s who are coming out are feeling all kinds of feelings, then whether or not the family is accepting, the event becomes interesting and important. Notice that even though, in Kat Smart's "Wilson and Taylor", both families are very understanding, the sheer emotional turmoil of coming out is drama enough to make it an event.

Between these two poles is the majority of 'coming out' scenes in slash fiction. Enough of a big deal to be scandalous, but not so rejecting that it derails the plot. Consider for a moment that this is not an inevitability in the human world… all the centuries that coming out would have meant exile or death, or all of the societies and families in which coming out is not a big deal at all. So we can see that the needs of the story are shaping our experience here.

I think coming out plots are a really big draw for people who read and write slash. A lot of the girl writers I've spoken to on FP have said that one of the big attractions of slash is the sense of having to fight against the current, that the lovers are going to face backlash no matter what. Even the most enlightened societies have enough homophobic douchebags that one can be roped in as a convenient plot device, as some obstacle for the lovers to overcome. Or even, like in Lilithika's "This is the Church", provide the drama of suddenly being against the world in every conceivable sense.

Because that's one of the best things about all love stories, isn't it? Seeing the two lovers overcome all obstacles in the sake of their love. To transform the world from one that is unsympathetic, misunderstanding, and obstructing, to one that is loving, understanding, and supportive. I think this is a process that we will find in all love-stories (happy-ending ones anyhow).

So, my conclusion here is that 'coming out' is, in a sense, just a larger expression of the things that we all experience. We all have to 'come out' about our sexuality, even if it's straight – to say, I'm no longer a child, I'm a sexual being. And then, even if in life we experience no great barriers to our love, we want to see love conquer all, we want lovers to face obstacles in order to prove how much they love each other.

Straight-to-Gay

There seem to be an awful lot of stories on FP where the protagonist (or the main love-interest, but usually the protagonist) starts the story thinking he's straight, and then comes to realize that he is gay/bi. Now, I wonder how many real-life couples begin with one person thinking he's straight? Probably not so many. And how many guys realize that they are gay by falling in love with another guy, compared to just realizing an attraction in general, perhaps years before having a relationship?

My point is that, once again, people are writing stories about these things because they resonate, not because they are statistically likely. So what about this transformation resonates with people, with straight girls and with gay guys who perhaps never questioned their own homosexuality?

First, like with coming out, it's something we all have to do, only exaggerated. To realize you love someone is already a transformation and a change of identity; to have that reflected in the way the world sees you, treats you, and names you, is just to make the point more forcefully. It gives writers the convenience of forcing their characters to shout their love from the rooftops, and change all existing relationships, without forcing a contrived and unlikely plot.

That said, I notice two distinct kinds of straight-to-gay plots. The first is where the guy is in a kind of neutral zone, where he could be straight or gay and nobody quite knows, except that he keeps claiming to be straight. It's usually no big surprise when he turns out to be gay; but it still requires him to tell everyone. This is operating in goudacheese's "I-90 West", even though the character has always known he's bi, because the drama of the plot is arranged around him revealing that.

The other kind seems to be even less likely, but even more attractive: the super-macho, takes a million girls home a night, manliest man who ever manned, who turns out to be gay or bisexual. Gunnar of "Drunk Text", by Seventhswan, fits this description, as does Danny of DawnSister's "The Halloween Incident."

In some cases, the guy knows already, but is afraid to tell anyone. In other cases, the switch is not hard because he has been relentlessly sexual already, and only changes the direction of this sexuality. But the change seems most total, and somehow most satisfying, when the guy is faced with a tumultuous change in his life that throws these things up in the air. Not only does his orientation change, but his entire identity. He usually doesn't stop being masculine, but suddenly the meaning of masculinity is in doubt. And, another big change, he stops his promiscuous behavior to settle down with that one special guy who showed him the truth.

So we can see that, in this expression of the second kinds of straight-to-gay plot, the emotional satisfaction comes from a recovery of identity and a reorientation of values. If he simply went from straight man-whore to gay man-whore, the story would lose a lot of its charm in that respect (although there certainly are good stories that elaborate that exact process.)

The Suffering Boy

In the last two tropes, I made the case that these motifs were occurring on FP far more than they do in life. Well, I can't say that is the same for the Suffering Boy – because everybody suffers. But the suffering boy has a particular kind of suffering.

Specifically, the suffering that this boy experiences is one that holds him captive. It's not simply that he suffers, it's that his suffering stops him from doing anything. He hides from the world. This suffering can be self-harm, anxiety, depression, abusive relationship/family, drugs, physical disability, sickness, or even just a hurt without a name that follows the character around. The point, like I said, is that the suffering holds him captive: anyone can have a physical disability, but some people, like Matt from Zebbie's "Technicoloured Something", seem to be held by it in a more than physical way.

In almost every case that involves a suffering boy held captive by his own suffering, the plot revolves around a love interest trying to rescue him from it, successfully or unsuccessfully. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of how this works is "366 Days" by Kiyoshi'sGirl64. Love cures all kinds of problems.

Realistically, love is not going to cure any of these problems. That's because a mental illness is not curable; if it's gotten rid of, it's by years of hard work, self-understanding, healing past wounds, and has far more to do with parents than with lovers. So why do we enjoy stories of love curing our problems?

I think this is an example of that old favourite, the damsel in distress. A maiden trapped in a forbidding tower by an evil sorcerer… that is a situation so familiar we don't even need to mention situations it crops up in. Here, the boy would be the maiden, the suffering his sorcerer, and the tower his own loneliness. Because really, the point of the lover in the Suffering Boy stories is that he gets past the loneliness and the anger in order to actually help the kid. If the Suffering Boy was actually doing alright, coping with his issues, talking openly and in a healthy way with his family and friends about it, then the Power of Love would be kind of unnecessary.

I'm not trying to make being the 'maiden' in this story a bad thing. We all need help sometimes. And, as a matter of fact, having both characters as guys probably lets the writers here feel more open to pull this kind of thing than they would if they were writing about hetero relationships.

Conclusion

These are just some ideas I've had. I'd love to hear back from people about what they think. I think all of these observations make more sense in a 'romantic' story than a realistic one. Which is to say… the more that the story obeys the laws of literature instead of reality, the more that these tropes apply. A story that depends on realism can break all of these tropes, employ them in ways that would seem unfulfilling, because we are given a credible reason why.