Today I am running the second installment transcribing an exchange between Constance Penley, Meg G, Shoshana, myself, and a room full of slash fans at Escapade, a Southern California fan gathering, in 1993. Next week, Constance, Shoshana, and I will be reuniting at Escapade again to pick up where the conversation left off almost two decades ago. This transcript was widely circulated among fans at the time, but we wanted to republish it on the blog as a historical artifact of a key moment in the emergence of fan studies as a field of research. Thanks to Shoshana for her help in preparing this transcription originally and vetting it with the participants (recontacting everyone she could) so we can run it in my blog now.
By the way, I mention here my interest in same-sex relationships as depicted in Letters to Penthouse. I would eventually write an essay on this topic which can be found in Peter Lehman(ed.), Pornography: Film and Culture if anyone is interested.
I should have noted last time that this conversation takes place in a largely predigital fan culture, but you will hear one brief reference here to online discussion lists which had already emerged around slash. As noted, the slash list had an emphatic policy against academics or journalists participating.
Sandy Herrold: I’ve talked to a number of people who have now given Henry’s book, and one gave Camille’s book, to roommates or to friends to try and explain, this is why I do this thing. In one case, this person had been living with their roommate–it was actually their apartment, they had brought in this roommate–for five years. They’d had the house wallpapered with Avon–which is scary, but we won’t go into that [Laughter]–the roommate watched B7 [Blake’s 7] with her, and yet she had never mentioned this dark dirty secret pile of slash–which she writes–in the back corner of her bedroom. And finally I said, if I’m coming over to her house, and I’m talking Blake’s 7, I’m gonna mention this. Either make the roommate go away, or you’re out, girl. And she kind of came out to her roommate, and her roommate was disgusted, and she gave her the book… And I think it wasn’t even what you said; it was the mere fact that a real book, with, you know, a perfect bound spine [Laughter] said that it was, you know…shows that it was worthy of being looked at rationally and therefore it must be okay.
Shoshana: One of the uses of academic study, I think, is that because academics are coming from different perspectives they have different tools, and they think about different things, sometimes, than fans do, who aren’t trained that way, or working with that language, or whatever you want to say… There are a lot of dynamics in fandom that didn’t really occur to me in my first couple years in fandom, and partly as a result of just thinking more critically, and partly as a result of having it suggested to me by academics, I came to realize how important they are. One of them, that’s been brought up glancingly already, is a sexist dynamic in society’s condemnation of fandom, and of slash in particular. We are a bunch of women paying an improper amount of attention to stupid tv shows, and therefore that’s bad. If we were a bunch of men paying attention to football, it’s not bad. [General sounds of agreement.] I have a friend who, a few years ago, worked for several years in a souvenir store for the Boston Celtics. And she would come home–we were roommates at the time–she would come home going, these people are so weird! They come in, they spend, you know, tens and twenties of dollars for this shit made in Taiwan, just because it says ‘Celtics’ on it; I don’t get it!
?: We do! [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Yeah. Simultaneously, I was introducing her to Blake’s 7 and Professionals and slash, and she was getting really into it. And she came home one day and said, I figured it out. They’re fans. [Laughter] Once she had this dynamic to think about it, it made sense, once she had the structure of fandom to put into it. But because fandom is almost completely a female thing–apologies to the two or three persons of Y chromosome I can see [Laughter]–because fandom is almost completely female, and is almost completely females working about men–
?: Media fandom.
Shoshanna: Yeah, media fandom, sorry, that’s what I mean to say–it gets landed on by a male-dominated society that’s very afraid of women doing this.
?male: People have advanced the concept of penis envy. [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Yes; there’s the button that says, penis envy? Of that? [Laughter]
Meg: Also because, while we’re paying attention to all this, we’re not paying attention to them. [Laughter]
M. Fae Glasgow: I heard a comment made by a man about that, which was that if you women are all involved in all this, then what use do you have for us? [Laughter]
Shoshanna: You actually heard someone say that? Wow.
M. Fae: There’s that whole fear going on there, and I think there’s also the very simple fact of, here we are standing up, declaring[? unclear] ourselves. That is very unnerving to an awful lot of men. It’s as if we’re using them. [? unclear]
Shoshanna: Slash in particular is almost the only place I can think of–Constance reminded me of some of the radical women sex workers last night, when we were talking, but that aside, which I have no experience with, so I didn’t think of it–slash is the only place I can think of where women of all sizes are validated for our lust. Where in this society can women have fun with their own lust, and not get made fun of, not have the fact that they’re interested in sex automatically make everyone assume that they must be available to any man who wants them–
?: Or a pervert.
Shoshanna: –or just that they’re perverts; where can a woman who’s over nubile age, or above nubile weight, not be made fun of for feeling this way? Not in mass culture, not on television, not on the billboards and the liquor ads. Here, we can. That’s really important to me about this community.
?: It makes some of the husbands kind of interesting. The ones that’ll actually go to a flea market and find pro stuff for their wives.
Shoshanna: I know a couple husbands–or, I know a couple women whose husbands say they love it that their wives or lovers are into slash, because after she reads the zine, she’s in such a good mood! [Laughter]
Jane: I think that a lot fewer men would object to slash if they only knew what it did to their wives’ libidos. “Honey, do you want to sell cosmetics? You keep yelling Avon, Avon!” [Laughter]
?: My husband was considering writing and thanking GF… [Laughter]
Henry: Well, you know, speaking as a male and as a husband, one of the things I’ve noticed is that Letters To Penthouse now is regularly featuring first-time stories of gay encounters, or usually encounters between a straight man and a more experienced gay man, that parallel slash remarkably, except for the absence of character, social situation, all of the things that make slash–
Shoshanna: I want to point out that one reason that may be the case, Henry, is that–I don’t think I’m free to reveal her name, but I know for a fact that one woman who used to write really wonderful slash is now making pocket money selling those little stories to the professional smut magazines.
Henry: So it’s quite possible the husbands in these situations are also getting themselves revved up for the evening by reading these letters to Penthouse. [Laughter] And the fantasies are not that far apart anymore; the barriers of labelling sexuality within the erotic sphere are really broken down; it’s a tremendous step.
?: I was just sitting here wondering, if so many men have a problem with accepting slash, I wonder how much of it might not be slightly guilt-ridden, because of the years that they have used women as sex symbols, and now the tables are turning; they’re not quite sure how to handle this role reversal; and also the fact that for a long time one of the staples of male pornography has been female relationships that–
Shoshanna: Lesbianism, the great spectator sport.
?: How much of this is guilt over how they have treated women over the past centuries?
?male: Men aren’t bright enough to feel guilty. [Laughter]
Constance: I hope they’re progressing.
Sandy: Fear, yes, I can see fear. Guilt, no. [Laughter]
strong>Jane: That’s my usual last-ditch defense for slash. Don’t tell me you’ve never picked up a Penthouse and seen two women! “That’s different!” [Laughter]
Shoshanna: One of my favorite anecdotes is, another woman and I were once asked what we saw in slash, and she remarked that her husband didn’t get it either; he would just look up and say, I just don’t see what you see in it, and go back to his lesbian spread in Playboy. And I thought, now there’s a wonderful marriage. That is a really good marriage.
M. Fae: One of the things I’d like to comment on is you bringing up the subject of gay male bonding-type things. We’re all talking about the male-bonding aspect of our slash stories, but if you look at the Iron John movement, if you read all the things that these men are doing, all we have to do is say, okay now, this bit where you’re all dancing around naked? Go for it! It’s exactly the same thing that we set up as being, so you have the separate-bedded, “No, we’re real he-men together!” doing precisely what we have our men doing in our stories. Only they don’t go quite as far as we want them to.
Henry: Well, I think, though, apart from your own exploration of power relations and so forth, the man that’s being constituted by the Iron John movement wouldn’t look very much like the slash protagonist in practice. That book is full of images of domestic violence that originate, and are justified, by the remasculinization of people. They’re very frightening books. For someone who’s been involved with the men’s movement over a twenty-five year period, this is the most reactionary form of the men’s movement imaginable, and it frightens me that this has gotten the kind of publicity, promotion, and awareness, and today, when I speak as someone interested in changing men’s identity as a man, people say, oh, you’re into that Iron John stuff, and it’s discredited, in the same way that people are now discrediting feminist claims by saying, oh, political correctness stuff, and sort of swatting it aside. I worked through, in my gender and sexuality class, and we were all, of whatever persuasion, sexually- and gender-wise and so forth, very upset by the content of that book.
M. Fae: I need to clarify a point, then. I was saying the Iron John movement because of what I had read in popular, mainstream, basically gutter press.
Constance: That’s all you can read.
M. Fae: Exactly… [Drowned out by general laughter; “if you read anything else it’s slash.”]
Constance: No, that’s the only place where you can read about these issues. It all gets filtered, just like the feminist debates around pornography all get filtered through Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and the Women Against Pornography movement; that’s all the media ever takes up. And the same way, all these issues of men’s sexuality get taken up too; they say, oh, the Iron John movement.
M. Fae: It does seem that men getting together, really letting down emotional barriers, learning to communicate with each other, forming tribes and all that kind of thing, we tend–because I haven’t read the book, because it doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest–so the press I had read was basically a long line-up of, isn’t it great that these men are getting in touch with their feelings? Which was my perception of how this was being presented to me.
Meg: We’ve all got a problem here with media presentation. We’re all familiar with how the media presents fandom–generic fandom, not slash fandom; “those weirdos who get together and put on ears,” you know, and you pick the inarticulate person covered with buttons, weighing six hundred pounds, who can’t make a complete sentence, to be on the eleven o’clock news as the typical fan. While there’s three people with Ph.D.s going, grr… [Laughter] And Constance and Henry have both had media look at what they do, and have published, and are teaching and being paid to teach, and [the media] reduce a body of work to two seconds on the news, a paragraph in the paper, that says, oh my god, what are they doing here, this is ridiculous. And this has happened to the men’s movement as well, you know; anybody that looks at anything presented in the news with a snap judgement, if you really see anything the least bit interesting you know you can’t trust what’s there. You’ve got to go someplace else, because you know what they’ve done. The more and more we move toward the view that it’s got to be real fast and it’s got to be real quick and it’s got to get an image across and move on to fifteen other things in the next second, the less you can trust what hard information you’re getting.
Shoshanna: Even when it’s long. I read Camille Bacon-Smith’s book the same semester I was taking a graduate course in anthropology. And reading her book and going, well, it’s sixty-five percent correct, and then reading the books I’m reading for this course and going, how correct are these? You know, I have first-hand experience where an anthropologist doesn’t get a lot of what’s going on; can I really trust any of these books? But I have no way to check them. I can check Camille’s book, or Henry’s book, or Constance’s writing, because I have some experience of what they’re talking about. I haven’t studied as widely as they have, but I can at least check from my own personal experience. I can’t check, you know, Bedouin tribespeople’s social functions, which was one of the books I was reading. But it makes you wary.
?: [unclear; fans do this too] because I mentioned to a couple of people a quote in one of our fan slash writers who has, in one of her novels, [a passage] about American Indians accepting homosexuality because–and she says “American Indians” like it’s one culture–but you can’t really go by them because after all, they also go for love with children and incest. That was the quote in her novel. And it was like, that’s as bad as any newspaper blurb you’re ever going to pick up, you know, in a slash novel.
Meg: She read one encyclopedia.
?: Yeah, one encyclopedia. [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Dated nineteen-twenty. [Laughter]
Constance: Can I just say one thing to follow up on that, because it isn’t exact, but… I think that I’ve been inspired by slash fandom’s aggressiveness toward television and the media to try to be aggressive myself. And I know Henry’s had experience with this too. I mean, I decided that I was going to try to engage with the media; I was going to try to get something of my own words, and fans’ own words, out there, you know, and it’s a struggle. Your best bet is with the radio, with radio interviews. You can get people who will read the work, will ask intelligent questions, and will let you go on for half an hour, where you can say things and put them in context, answer questions where they’re trying to get you to refine your answer, make it clearer to a radio audience. But I think that I decided that I was going to engage with these issues, and try to be more aggressive with the media, try to use it rather than just walk away from it and say forget it, it’s completely powerful and dominates us all and we can’t do anything about it. And my inspiration for that did come from slash fans.
Henry: It’s worth saying that when we’ve had some distorted article–Constance and I were talking about, yesterday, this Lingua Franca piece, that really made both of us look rather silly–or, that was the intent; in practice it made the writer look rather silly–we’ve gotten tremendous numbers of letters and phone calls, people who’ve said, I could tell it was a lousy article, but what you’re writing about seemed interesting and important. The message gets out, even imperfectly, when you deal with the press. And it’s very important to me that… There are certain spokespersons against television in our society–you know, Neil Postman is one, and is quoted everywhere–who have access to the media, and will be quoted extensively. If people like Constance and I don’t also go out there and aggressively engage with it, those are the only voices that are going to be heard, and we’re going to be told over and over television destroys literacy, we have no common cultural capital today, television produces passivity, there are no such things as television fans, I mean, I’ve heard a range of statements by people who have the authority to speak to the press, asserting things that are diametrically opposite of the experience that people in this room have had of the media.
Meg: I just gave some person a reference to a new book that’s a British study of how women deal with videotape machines. And the substance–I skimmed through–the people that they were dealing with were a cross-section but obviously middle and lower class, and it’s the complete opposite of how women in fandom control the VCR. It’s the old thing about, well, sometimes he lets me watch something, but he has to program it for me. You know, and I sort of look at this and think… [General sounds of disgust.] You’ll find this interesting, it’s completely the opposite [of fandom]! And this is a person studying how women use VCRs. That’s it, right? And just because one of us has an experience like that, that’s the book.
Shoshanna: As if all women use VCRs the same.
Meg: Yes, as if this study has some validity to the whole picture.
LF: After four years my husband still hasn’t found the off button, to turn the VCR off when we’re finished watching. He’s never had to learn where the on button is, because he never turns it on, ever. If we watch something on the VCR, I set it up. He’ll go over and search diligently to shut it off. [Laughter]
M: Nevertheless, the popular knowledge would be that the men control the VCR, and the idea that there are thousands of women out there who have two, three, four machines, can do the things that have to be done to create music videos, the fact that we all clone constantly, as the common currency of fandom…
?: [unclear; you know the situation where] you go in to buy a cable, and they go, the idiot, you know, the guy is immediately, oh, this is just a poor little woman, or you have an argument with the guy who comes in to hook up your cable, and you tell him it has to be hooked up this way, because I’m feeding the signal to three different machines? “Oh, no, lady,” and does it his way, and none of them work! And then you finally do it yourself. And he stands there and watches you so he can do it next time. [Laughter]
[A bit of conversation was lost as the tape was flipped; LF is talking about going to buy a VCR.]
LF: …and my husband was trotting around after me, you know, as a packhorse, to carry it out to the car when I finally found it, and Goodboys, or whatever the hell it’s called, lost themselves a sale, because their salesman refused to talk to me. He kept talking to my husband, who was parroting all these things he’d heard me say at all the other VCR shops, and I’m industriously searching, you know, I know I want this and that and the other thing…and he would pay no attention to me. I would ask a question, and he would turn to my husband as if, what’s she interrupting us for? And my husband kept saying, it’s not me. She’s buying it. It’s her money. It’s her VCR. It’s not mine. And he wouldn’t listen.
?: So what finally made you walk out? What was the final straw?
LF: Because he wasn’t paying any attention to me. So I said to my husband, come on, there’s nothing here I’m interested in, and he turns around and follows me out of the store, because there was nothing for him to carry out.
?: I had an experience like that, except that I kind of solved it. I went up to this guy, I was looking for a specific thing, and the first thing out of my mouth was, I am an amateur editor, I want this, this, this, and this, do you have it? And he said, er, yeah… [Laughter
Meg: Off technology and back to academia for a minute, I have one question for both of you which has interested me… You have classes where you bring slash up in the classroom. You’ve got classes that are undergraduate, college undergraduate. What kind of responses do you get from the students in your classes, where presumably maybe a few are fans, but not many, to the concept of slash, and to the concept of media fandom and the creative aspect of media fandom?
Shoshanna: And to the actual stories that they read. [Laughter]
?: You actually show stories in your classes?
Henry: I had some stories in the most recent class that I taught, which was a course on gender and sexuality, so I knew people going in knew that they were dealing with sexual questions. I’ve taught genzines in my science fiction class several times now, and have had wonderful response. MIT males passing them up and down the hallway of their dorms, going, you’ve got to read this stuff. The novel Demeter was the one that I used one time, and they were really excited. On the other hand, I had Hispanic students in that course who wrote in journals, “now there’s a Star Trek for cocksuckers too,” and very angry sort of responses. It tended to be the Hispanic students whose macho was really threatened. But in fact, students have been very excited and very interested to find out about underground literature, fan literature. I had male students who wanted to borrow all my Night of the Twin Moons zines and read them cover to cover, because this was a side of Star Trek they wouldn’t normally get to see. So I’ve had really good experience teaching it. I have not had complaints about teaching slash. In general, when I teach science fiction, I get complaints about too much feminism creeping into the course, but slash or fan writing has not been the major focus of that problem.
Constance: If it’s a course that’s about issues of sexual difference and sexuality, like I have a course, Women as Producers and Consumers of Culture, as my women’s studies course, and then the pornographic films course, which is my film studies course this year, they just take to it. You know, given the context of, on the one hand, women as producers and consumers of culture, it’s very much on women as incredibly active in their act of consumption, so it’s about women’s agency. And then in the pornographic film course, it makes a lot of sense, because the course is about all manners of ways in which people produce and consume pornography, and how it works for them. So it makes perfect sense there. In my science fiction film class, however, every time I teach this, if I cap the enrollment at a hundred, it’ll be ninety-five men and five women. So I make the course, in part, be about, why is science fiction such a boy thing?
?: Well, that’s how it started. If you went to the cons twenty years ago, there’d be ten percent women and all the rest would be guys. And most of the guys were okay, but you’d get this really hard-core trend that really were unfriendly, and wanted you to know that you were interrupting their club, you know, they really weren’t very nice.
Meg: Calvin and Hobbes: “No Girls.” [Laughter]
Shoshanna: That is, if you read Camille Bacon-Smith’s introduction to her book, she says that’s how she got involved in studying media fandom, because she was originally studying Star Trek fandom, and she would go to cons and talk to the fans, and she got a lot of men complaining about these women, doing these weird things to their fandom, and so she started going, well, this is interesting. What are these women doing? And wound up studying something that she had not meant to be studying, because it was interesting. But that’s what directed her to it, was all these men bitching about the women.
?: I have a question, since you brought it up. For those of us who can’t get our meathooks on Camille Bacon-Smith’s book, why, in your opinion, do you think it doesn’t work as an academic study? You had mentioned that before.
Shoshanna: Um… I think that… How nasty do you want me to be? It’s not a bad book. This is all my personal opinion here, you all got that. It’s not a bad book. It’s not nearly as good as Henry’s, it’s not as good as Constance’s shorter articles. Its whole style of anthropology is very outdated. She is very much doing what Henry was talking about at the beginning, of “I am an academic, and I am we. And I am studying fans, and they are they.” Very strong on that. She overgeneralizes her own experience, so that what hit her as important, she then assumes is important to everybody; and the way she went through fandom she assumes is the way everyone went through fandom and discovered fandom. That’s just–
?: She never gets it, that’s the problem.
Shoshanna: She never–yeah– [General sounds of agreement.]
?: But she’s convinced that she does.
Constance: She has an agenda. It’s very obvious when you read the book that she has an agenda, and it is the women as victim agenda. [General sounds of agreement.] And the only chapter, to me, that struck me as very real, was the one wherein she talks about hurt/comfort, because that portion she could get, because when you deal with the uses and things of that nature, it fit within her predefined scheme.
LF: And in that chapter where she says that women write about their own experiences in hurt/comfort, and I write hurt/comfort, and I think I have a very good life, and everything; I’m not writing out of my own hurt when I write hurt/comfort.
M. Fae: Oh, no; we know what your husband does to you. [Laughter]
Sandy: We create out of our pain… [Laughter]
Constance: I’d say that’s another reason why I’m such a fan of slash fandom, is because I’m so tired of the rhetoric of the victim. [General sounds of agreement.]
Meg: To give Camille some due, a lot of her observations are perfectly valid; it’s the conclusions and the overgeneralizations drawn from those examples that are the problem.
M. Fae: It’s also her prejudicial choice of language.
M. Fae: It’s so alienating that it makes fandom unrecognizable. I read her description of us and I didn’t recognize us. So her agenda is one thing, but as you read Henry’s book, Henry’s agenda is much more user-friendly. It’s much more about showing us as being real people with brains, and strengths, and occasional quirks. [Laughter] But it’s a much better way of doing it. And when you read Constance’s things, again, you have a very different point of view. Again, you’re not trying to aggrandize yourself, and you’re not trying to portray women as being passive, manipulated, poor helpless little things, which has always been how I have seen academia stand back and look at women. Academia as a whole tends to stand back and look at women as being things there.
Meg: Well, there’s also been a view in a lot of the writing that the reason we do what we’re doing is because we can’t do something else that’s better. [General sounds of agreement.] It’s out of a lack. And I have always seen it as tremendously creative, extremely positive, extremely empowering, and extremely fun. Everybody gets together and has fun. And you read this Camille thing where we’re all dealing with this pain, this inner pain [General chimings-in of “oh, the pain”] of living in a male-dominated world where we’re all terrorized by men, and you’re sort of going, what? Excuse me? [Laughter]
?: They also blithely ignore the fact that these people that they say can’t do anything else, many many have turned pro.
Meg: Yes, exactly.
?: And are selling books like crazy, but they don’t mention them.
Meg: That there is choice involved. That this is a deliberate choice, not, oh god, I can’t write strong female characters so I have to write Captain Kirk, oh, poor me.
?: When you introduce… I mean, the thesis of Textual Poachers is sort of taking control of the media and doing with it what you want to do–I assume you’re teaching it in a class–do you come across people who object to this?
?: How do you… Because I tried a few months ago to persuade my oldest and best friend that there were reasons I could criticize the internal consistency of Next Generation. And she said, but you can’t do that; that wasn’t what the author intended. And could not–I don’t know how to get past that particular objection, because the viewer has just as much power, if not more. [Laughter]
Shoshanna: This is a very–you know, your high school English class, where the whole point is to unpick what the author meant.
?: That presumes you had a very bad high school English class. [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Well, I meant “high school English class” as a sort of generic derogatory term. One of the fundamental precepts of media fandom frequently is, we don’t give a fuck what the author meant!
?: But there are people who believe that is crucial, so how do you deal with this?
?: The answer to that is that the author’s intent doesn’t matter a scrap, because what counts is what the author has created. And the author may be totally unaware of what he has created.
Henry: Well, at a certain point it’s almost impossible to break it down, because the notion of authorial authority is bound up with the notion of intellectual property, and property is fundamental to the way in which our entire society is structured.
Shoshanna: Henry’s going to get out his copyright speech again. [Laughter]
Henry: No, I promise. [Laughter] So the reason there’s an anxiety is, just like we all envision ourselves becoming landowners someday, we all envision ourselves becoming authors someday, and we’re threatened by the thought that we won’t control what we have created, that someone else would have the ability to do it. And that’s a very– You can lay out the underpinnings of it to someone, but frequently that resistance holds. The way I’ve found to work with it is to talk about the way that appropriation has become generalized in our culture. The way rap, and sampling music, represents other modes of appropriation. The way generic quoting… I mean, we have a whole culture that’s based on appropriation. Fandom is simply one form of it. The difference is that it’s not a form that’s done by industry insiders. It’s outsiders, it’s people who are seizing these materials and using them, much the way rap and hip hop starts out, because it becomes commodified. But the parallels there are really important to think about.
?: Yes, I wonder what commercial slash would look like. [Some groans.]
M. Fae: Death’s Head. It’s not very good. [It’s a slash novel that was rewritten and professionally published.] I have a question for Constance. I was going to ask, because you started as an academic and then moved into the study [of fandom], did you find that academia lowered their view of you, not only because you were going into fandom, but here you were a woman going into fandom: “this is what we could expect of you.” Did you have that kind of reaction, or was that a completely different situation?
Constance: There’s always been nervousness about my work, but I think it probably helped that I started from a relatively powerful position. In other words, I had tenure. I mean, that’s another way that these ideas are being able to get into academia, because we’re tenured, and there’s academic freedom. And if I’m the authority in the field, and I say that this merits study and a great deal can be learned from it for theorists of mass culture, then who’s going to argue with me? [Laughter]
?: Also, could it possibly be the school itself, being at Santa Cruz as opposed to somewhere else?
Constance: At Santa Barbara. No, because I’ve taught undergraduates and graduate students in the midwest, in upstate New York. I find them to be pretty much the same.
Henry: If I could jump in… I would love to make myself an heroic martyr, fighting for my fandom. But the truth is that this book probably will make tenure for me, and has more or less made my reputation in the academy. I know of at least fifteen courses that are using the textbook this semester alone, and many more that are investigating it. The response from the academy has been tremendous, and frankly the net gain for me career-wise has been, really, well worth the effort that I put into it.
?: Do we get a percentage? [Laughter]
Henry: Well, if you read my introduction, I spell out the fact that a percentage of the proceeds from this book go to send my wife to cons and buy zines. [Laughter] That is my charitable contribution. Actually, virtually every penny that I’ve made off of it has gone back in fandom through our zine purchases [Laughter], so some of you already gain a percentage of the proceeds.
Jane: And please, be sure to send on the letters about, where can I get that story about Vila spanking Avon! [Laughter]
?: Can I ask a question of both of you? You’re both doing it–and even Camille Bacon-Smith was doing–whatever her reason for doing the book, it wasn’t to, as I’ve heard someone else say, “blow the lid off this” [the phrase is actually used by Camille in her book]; how can people… I mean, if someone is asking us questions about fandom, how can we discriminate between people like you, who’s trying to do something that’s really a serious study of it, as opposed to somebody who’s trying to sensationalize it so they can just make money?
Constance: We have to fight this all the time.
?: Yeah, but how can we tell? Can you give us a couple of pointers? I mean, I can go on instinct; I have not answered questions from a couple of people already.
Constance: Well, one of the things I’ve found out is that you certainly find out what the person’s done before. But also, I have found out that it’s possible to interview the interviewer. And I’ve found out, over and over again, that these interviewers are so much the same. They’re usually young men who’ve had Ivy League or private liberal arts degrees, whose parents are supporting them, and who have a wealthy relative in the business. So I just want to get this out, before the interview even starts, so that if I decide to continue it, the interviewer knows that we are speaking to each other across an abyss of class and gender, and that I know this, and that I am going to be scrutinizing his every question. And also, with journalists there are some good ones out there. And what you do is you just refuse to talk to them until they talk to you. Even then you can’t always completely control it. A lot of it does take practice. Many journalists, you don’t want to talk to them at all, because their agenda is so different from your agenda. They have to come up with something that is new, so it has to be sensationalized.
?: One of the things I won’t do is, I won’t do it on the phone. They get hold of On the Double, and then I get these phone calls, and they want to know about an editor in my zine, and I’m not telling them.
Constance: That’s right.
?: But it’s just real hard to screen out, because I might have screened you out, if you’d called me, you know? And I wouldn’t want to screen out somebody who’s really trying to do something.
Meg: Well, if they already have contacts they’ll know people who know you, rather than just having pulled it out of the air.
?: Yeah, that’s how I’ve been going by it.
?: And you want to know what they’ve read. [General sounds of agreement.]
Meg: What they’ve read, yes. Henry wrote me out of the blue about filking, and I wrote him back and we determined mutually that we were interested in Blake’s 7, and that was fine; now I knew him as a fan as well. But I’ve has the same experience recently, for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek. We always desperately scramble around going “I don’t want to do it” at the library [where she works], coming up with library displays, you know, those boring things that no one ever looks at. And I said, well, twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek, what the hey, you know? We’ll give it the academic twist. So one case is academic articles on Star Trek. Not on the fandom, mind you; on Star Trek. And one case is the commercial literature on Star Trek, the novelizations. So I put this thing in. I’ve been putting displays in for years; you know, “oh, god, it’s Agatha Christie’s birthday, the hundredth anniversary of her birth, let’s put this in; this’ll do for a month, it’ll keep the case from sitting there empty.” So I put this thing in, figuring it was like anything else, only maybe some of the fans on campus would get a giggle out of it, and we had newspaper people calling up out of nowhere, because it went into just the campus newsletter, and all of a sudden there’s people coming in to want to interview, because it’s Star Trek, the magical word. So I talked to them on the phone: “well, it’s just academic articles, we don’t have any live tribbles or pictures of Spock or anything like this. It’s the literature, the academic interest in it.” If they persisted, and wanted to come, then yeah, I made them talk first. Two of them turned out to be local newspaper reporters who were Star Trek fans–not “in fandom” fans, but who watched the show regularly, and were really interested, and they thought this would be a fun thing to do for the paper. Fine, great, take a picture of the case, put it in there, no problem. But there was another one that was just saying, well, these Trekkies. People with ears.
Henry: Could I jump in on this? More and more academics will probably be coming to fandom, to write about it, for better or for worse. No matter how you feel about it, it was already too late when either of us started writing this. So you need to think about how to deal with that. I feel that there’s an ethical standard that we as academics should expect of ourselves. When a reporter–as someone who worked as a reporter who was taught never to allow my subject to read the article before it comes out–I think, dealing with an academic, you have every right, if you’re cooperating with a study with an academic, to ask to read it before it comes out and have approval over how you’re quoted and how you’re used in the article. That’s a standard that I tried to set up. I didn’t succeed all the time. There are people quoted in Textual Poachers who I sent letters to, and the letters came back, and I tried to track down, and I couldn’t, and I had to make a judgement call at that point, and it depended. In the case of the fan video makers I just turned them all to initials, but in some cases I made hard calls on whether to include the material or not. But when I quote someone, with their cooperation, my expectation is that they get a copy of the article, they read it, they give me comments, and Meg and many of the people in this room can attest to how much I listened, and changed, and transformed the manuscript in the writing process, to try to accommodate those comments, so that it reflected some shared sense of the truth of fandom. Not just my authority, stamped down, and saying, well, I know the truth, and I can say whatever I want. And there are places in Textual Poachers where it says, personal correspondence, which are quotes from correspondence to me, and response to the manuscript; there’s a place in the Beauty and the Beast chapter where I spell out controversy in fandom in response to the reading of this chapter that I’d written, and even though I disagreed with my critics, I included them in there. And I think that is a responsible power dynamic. That is, if we are going, as academics, to represent your culture, you should have a say in how we represent it. None of this–the article that I started talking about, where you compare fans to Charles Manson’s followers, and you refuse to acknowledge that they are articulate. You should not give an interview without the expectation that you will see a copy of it from an academic before it comes out, and you will have some say in the final shape. And if people aren’t willing to do that, then I think you shouldn’t cooperate with us. Period.
M. Fae: Again, that’s because you come from a fan ethos as well as an academic one. So your fan etiquette is very much informing your academic one.
M. Fae: And we may not always have that.
Henry: Well, so far most of the academics who are doing this stuff, or at least a lot of them, are writing to me for advice, and this is what I’m advising them, pointedly, you know, spelling out what I see as basic rules of expectation, and what you should anticipate dealing with. And hopefully my book and Connie’s writings and so forth will have an influence on the way people think ethically about the relation between the academy and fandom, that’ll shape it.
Meg: There’s also that when people, academics or fans, read this work, they’re going to see that fans are being portrayed as highly analytical, highly verbal, and there’s none of this “let’s watch what the zoo creatures do”; this is a dialogue. And anybody reading it with an interest is going to see that: that a lot of the material that’s being quoted is coming from the people who have been spending years analyzing this and talking amongst themselves. In a slightly different language, not the language of graduate school perhaps, but a critical analytical view. And I came down on Henry in a couple of chapter revisions where I said, you’ve got to make it clear that we’re doing this. That this is not just an external analysis, but that the fans do this themselves. And he corrected those places.
Sandy: I have to disagree. I know people who, again, are academics, who are fans, who read the book, who felt that Henry put fans down terribly. [Laughter]
Henry: News to me…
Sandy: Do I have time to do this? They’re academics, they’re not in social sciences. They tend to have biases toward social scientists that– I don’t have the time it would take to have a rational conversation about this.
Meg: Biases against the artsy-fartsys? [Laughter]
Constance: These are academics? In what–
Sandy: These are people who are– I want to say hard science people, who are in biology or rocket-science types, who are on the Internet, who will flame at the idea of this. They think, of the two books, that Camille’s is better, that she doesn’t put down women like– See, I’m going, what? What? I belong to a slash fan mailing list, on email, and if you know anything about email or the Internet, you know that once something has been written and gets on there it can propagate anywhere. And so the survey requests… There’s one survey request a day, it seems, for something odd on the Internet. You know, VCR fans who also like football, I don’t know. You know, pick any three things, net them together, send them out to those three newsgroups, and ask for interviews. And popular culture of all sorts has lots of requests for this. There was one fairly recently, this woman who was talking about fandom, and wanting people to answer questions, and she said “fanzine,” and then down much later you realize that by “fanzine” she meant Starlog. And she was saying, I’ve done a lot of research on this, and now I feel like I’m ready to go and do interviews, and I’m like, hmm. With who? So in the slash fan mailing list, there was this, out of nowhere, whole discussion about, well, we have to make this very clear that academics cannot play. Or if they do play, they can write, but they’re just one of us and they can’t quote anything, and I was just, like, totally amazed! This came out of the ether, as far as I could tell. And it was very impassioned, and it hit almost everybody on the list immediately. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, we can’t let them in. [Laughter] I didn’t even know that they’d be in the pond [? unclear]; it was very scary!
Shoshanna: Sandy, M. Fae asked you, but I don’t think you heard… the hard-science people who thought that that Henry was really talking down to fans–
Sandy: Talking down to women.
Shoshanna: –and that Camille was much better; were they male or female?
Sandy: All female. All of them female.
M. Fae: That is fascinating.
Sandy: “Jenkins talks about gossiping, where she talks about women really doing things–“
?: This is the problem; there’s that word “Henry” on the page.
Sandy: True– “and it’s textual poaching, like we’re stealing, where Camille talks about us, you know, working with…” It’s hard for me, because I was gagging at a lot of this
Henry: Well, I’ve seen some of this. A friend of mine showed me this syllabus proposal that went through his department, where they wanted to teach a book on fanzines, and they decided, well, we’ll use Camille, because we want a feminist perspective. [Laughter and screams.] And it was clearly chosen on the basis of the names involved; that’s the sole criteria. So I can’t do much. But I’ve also had the experience of talking to academic audiences, and talking for an hour and a half about fandom in the way in which I do, and had people come up to me over cocktails and say, but isn’t it really pretty pathetic, that that’s all these people have going on in their lives? It’s not as if my book can totally blast all of that out of the way. There’s a limit to what it can do. But at least it opens a lot of minds.
Meg: Notice how they say “you,” to you, these people. They didn’t get your initial point. This is your culture.
Henry: Yes, that I’m part of these people. But I’ve also had the case when people say, you know, when I started reading your book I thought this topic was indefensible. That there was no way you could make me sympathetic to this group. And after I read it I understood much much better. And that effect has been, I think, one of the things that I see coming out of this. Now I talked some about the ethical expectations of researchers; I’m also talking to people who are teaching the book. When I hear that someone is teaching the book, and I lay out some principles of how I think they should do it, whether they listen to me or not, I’m encouraging them to teach zines along with it; I’m also saying that they should contact the zine editor and get copies for individual students, make sure the zine editor is comfortable having that material taught, and so forth, and I think most of them are listening to me. So if you get a class set order for your zines [Laughter], it’s because someone is actually probably being responsible, and listening to the advice. Because I’m not giving out the addresses. I didn’t publish addresses in the book, I’m not giving them out over computer networks; if people write to me individually I will give them an address and a limited number of zines that I think could be taught at an introductory level, and I think the people involved would be okay with the idea of having their stuff taught.
?: Have you gotten a lot of letters from fans who were not people that you had talked to during [the writing of] the book?
Henry: A growing number, as the book has been out longer. What got me the most–I did an interview on Canadian radio, a half-hour interview, and I got letters from Australia, from England; the tapes of the interview circulated globally, and I’m getting all kinds. This was on Beauty and the Beast, this interview was, but I got all kinds of letters out of that, from people who–just thank-you notes of one sort or another. But I’m still getting a couple of letters a week, many of them from fans that I don’t know, just saying that they read the book, they were excited about it in one way or another. I really love getting letters of comment, and hearing from you what you think, positive and negative.
M. Fae: [something unclear about slash; laughter.]
Shoshanna: It was good, Henry, but there wasn’t enough sex. [Laughter]
Henry: I’d like to get a few that say that. [Laughter] The one common theme in a lot of letters that I’ve been getting lately has been, I got bogged down in chapter six–which is the slash chapter–and I almost didn’t finish the book. Or, all of the anti-slash fans are coming out of the closet and attacking chapter six, is the only grounds of criticism that I’m consistently getting from fans.
BT: I had a letter from someone who read my name and a description of one of my stories, and somehow found my address–a fan already–and wrote to me and asked me for the whole story. [Laughter]
Jane: My sister wanted to know if she could borrow my copy of Conceptual raiders. [Laughter]
M. Fae: There’s the title for your next book, Henry.
Meg: I heard “Textile poachers.” [Laughter]
Henry: I’ve also seen “Textural poachers.”
Meg: Smuggling calico across the… [Laughter]
Sandy: The pictures that you have in the slash chapter: there’s a fully dressed Illya and Napoleon, hard to be offended by, I mean, come on–
Meg: Well, look where he’d got his head [i.e. on Illya’s lap].
Sandy: Oh, come on, he’s just tired. Anyway, and then there’s Pros pictures, which no one in this country is going to care about.
Meg: Naked, but only shoulders and up.
Sandy: But they’re English. I mean, no one’s even seen Pros. I was wondering if that was intentional.
Meg: This publisher is British as well as American; it’s–
Henry: –so it’s simultaneously being published–
Meg: –he’s being bicultural.
Henry: It was not a conscious choice; in fact, I had to fight my publisher to get all the extensive quotes that are in there.
Sandy: I’m not surprised.
Henry: It was a matter of just who I had access to to do art. I mean, GF was in Indonesia. When I wrote to some of the fan artists, they sent me some of their work, and they tended to self-censor, and gave me tamer selections. So as a result, Constance’s work has more vivid pictures than mine–
Constance: Because I tracked down GF. [Laughter]
Henry: –and I have more quotes and more concrete passages from slash than she does. And it’s partially a matter of the process, and just what happened in trying to collect the artwork. So it just happened. [Laughter; Meg is displaying Constance’s articles with GF’s K/S artwork.] And I really wished I’d had more– I would have published more explicit stuff if I’d had access to it, if artists had wanted.
Shoshana: Talking about academics having respect for fans, and talking about sharing the power over the article when an academic wants to interview us: Constance’s articles, that Meg was just flashing the pictures of, they were the first academic writing on fandom that I have ever seen that, below the reproduced picture it said, by permission of the artist. And right there, that alone told me, this writer respects us!
Meg: As opposed to the bit in the LA Weekly [which used a highly explicit piece of GF’s work without permission].
M. Fae: Excuse me, I would like to make a comment about that article in the LA Weekly. It was not all bad. It got some of us started in fandom. That’s when I got started in fandom. I saw [a fan’s] letter [in response to the original article], I tracked back to the back issue, and then tracked everybody down.
Shoshana: I got hooked partly by Joanna Russ’s article, the version written for mundanes, and it drove me bananas, because this was when slash fandom, especially, was still quite closeted and afraid of lawsuits, and she has this little footnote that says, I really am talking about real people and real stories, but to protect their anonymity and safety, I’m not going to tell you who they are or how to get in touch. I’m like, argh! I want them!
Constance: But you know who helped me, was Pat Lamb, in her piece. A little note, right down at the bottom of the page, gave the address to Datazine and On the Double. In other words, she wasn’t really giving anything away, but if you were really grabbed by this, you could write and that could be, like, the beginning of the thread, you had a way in if you really wanted to pursue it.
?: I guess you had to protect your sources, too, because you could get the lunatic fringe.
Henry, Constance: Yes, right.
Meg: There’s a mention in a couple places that fans in slash fandom when Russ and Lamb and Veith were writing were upset because those articles brought people into slash that only wanted sex. That didn’t understand how it fit into the whole universe. [Laughter; some mocking cries of “aww.”] It’s yet another version of how these people are spoiling our fandom. Which of course has been the protest in all fandoms… The British have been blowing it all… [Laughter]
M. Fae: Blame it all on the Scots.
Meg: Yeah, the Scots.
M. Fae: I have a question for both of you, talking about sources and other things. Would you two, cross-pollinating, if you will, say that it’s either easier, being a woman, to become involved and be immediately trusted in slash fandom, or fandom in general, rather than you [i.e. Henry] coming in as a man?
Meg: Well, he’s got to wear his buttons.
Henry: Yes, these buttons are responses to actual questions that my wife or I have gotten about my work with slash. It says, “No, my wife didn’t tell me everything I know about slash”; and “Yes, I really am a slash fan. Yes, I really am a man.” [Laughter] I did, when I ordered slash, get people who wrote back very inquisitive letters, saying, do you know what you’re getting in to, which Cynthia didn’t get if she wrote the checks. This is the first slash con that I’ve ever gone to, because I had felt previously that I probably wouldn’t be very welcome at a pure slash con [chorus of “aww!”].
Meg: There’s always a few men. I’ve never been to one that didn’t have any.
Henry: So some of it is my suspicion. But the number of letters that I got back, when I would send out a chunk of the manuscript and I’d get a letter back, I’d say a third of them probably began, when I saw this was written by a man I was a little uncomfortable. But when I sat down and read the whole thing, then, you know, they go on. And there’s a kind of amazement that I had written this, as a male. So there was some difficulty getting in, but I also had fifteen years of fan involvement, and I can say that, and my wife could open doors for me, because she is a fan, so there are ways around that. But it was an issue from time to time, and continues to be an issue from time to time.
?: I do have some experience handling registrations for the three IdiCons, and occasionally I would write and say, do you know, do you understand, blah blah blah. And it turns out, sometimes it was a teenaged boy who happened upon whoever, got this number from wherever they got it from, and they had absolutely no idea what it was about. Other than Trek.
Jane: And then there’s the guy who goes to a panel on slash and thinks it’s about Freddy Krueger. [Laughter, agreement.]
Shoshanna: I have done slash panels at conventions where the people doing programming didn’t have brains, and they would just put “Panel topic: slash.” That’s it. And we would get the room filled with Nightmare on Elm Street fans.
Jane: “Men having sex? That’s sick!” [Laughter]
Constance: Yeah, I’m sure there is more automatic acceptance if you’re a woman, but I think that since I wasn’t a fan starting off, you know, I didn’t know the codes. There’s quite a bit of behavior that’s now very familiar to me, and ways that people talk, and, you know, I got to know just how raunchy you can be [Laughter]; you have to learn that stuff, you know. But the other thing was, this was interesting, this was my first con, was IdiCon IV, and I was using my university address to get all my mail through, because I was moving from different houses and I wanted one mailing address, and when I arrived in Houston to register and the person behind the desk said, oh yes, you’re one of our academic fans. So I kind of felt, oh, this is, like, some kind of special status [Laughter]. I’ve got to figure out what that means when she says that.
?male: You have to wear a big yellow star.
Constance: So yes and no. There’s a different way in.
M. Fae: I find it very interesting to hear academics talk in various sources, books and articles and everything else, about coming into fandom and the code, and everything else; and as I found it, I was not aware of anything. I just kind of said, Look! and took it. And I was not aware of there being codes, I was not aware of patterns of behavior; we just kind of went right in there. And I went from no fandom at all to bang smack into slashdom, writing zines. And I was not aware… so I was utterly fascinated to hear you and Camille and everyone else talk about “the code.”
?: Yes, but, M. Fae, we know you’re very shy and retiring. [Laughter; several discussions at once for a few minutes, converging on: How do you behave like a fan? How do you define the code?]
Constance: How do you define the code? “Code” is a word I actually use pretty informally. I’m not using it in any semiotic sense.
?: But what do you mean by a code? What are some of the rules that you think that you perceive?
Constance: [unclear; the tape was being flipped] …they’re so internalized that I don’t know exactly what they are any more.
BT: M. Fae, I think it’s obvious that you’re one of the swifter members of fandom [Laughter.]; you learn without effort, maybe without noticing the process. But people who come into fandom do have to learn something, something that can be described as a code. In some cases you learn it so quickly and automatically, you’re not aware of physically learning something. But there is something you learn from fandom. Even if you do have someone to “mentor” you, even if someone sits you down and talks to you, and tells you, this is what this means. No, you don’t have to go through that process, but yes, you learn something that makes fandom comprehensible where it might not have been without that knowledge.
Henry: I don’t think either of–
M. Fae: I don’t understand where [? unclear] the delineation is, because I was not aware of there being any change; I was not aware of learning anything. I simply found something. I already understood how it felt.
Constance: Well, here’s– I can give you one example. In other words, when I say, learning the codes, it was more like just kind of learning a culture too, because I didn’t know that there was this social space where women could talk so openly, and so humorously, and so raunchily about sex and the male body. You know. Okay? So just to get familiar with that, to see that there is a place where you’ve got total permission to do this.
Shoshanna: Well, it’s not quite total permission. I mean, you learn that it’s okay to talk about things like that, and how you do it; but you notice that we don’t sit around talking about our own personal lovers, generally. We talk about, oh god, Bodie’s dick in that picture, or whatever, and we talk very freely and raunchily about sex, but it is limited in certain ways. And if you came in, you know, just sat in a panel discussion in fandom or something, and you heard all these women talking about sex, and decided, wow, I can talk about sex, and started talking in equally gritty detail about your own personal sex life, people would get weirded out. You would have violated one of those unspoken codes of behavior.
Henry: Well, another one that I might pick up on is that it seems in fandom not to be okay to ask what you do in your mundane life. If it comes up in conversation, fine. One reason I don’t talk about the private lives of fans in Textual Poachers was, even though that’s something that as an ethnographer I’m trained to want to find out, and anchor this in social experience and so forth, was, it seemed to me rude, it violated the code of fandom, a sense of the way fandom conceived itself, and I was uncomfortable with a lot of the generalizations that Camille makes in her book about personal life, because I think she crosses that line. I think she talks about the mundane in relation to fandom in a way that fans generally do not do, and are generally uncomfortable talking about. And what is important about fandom is that in fact it doesn’t matter what you do outside. It’s what you do in this room that allows you to be–
Meg: It’s what you do in fandom. I write, I illustrate, I do this or that.
Henry: Yeah, what you do in fandom.
?: But doesn’t that communicate that stereotype that that’s all that those women do? They don’t have a life? And then we’re not ordinary people.
Henry: Potentially, but I don’t think anyone assumes that that’s the only thing–
?: It’s because we have really boring lives, most of us, just like anyone else.
Henry: Yeah, sure.
?:But they don’t think that.
?: Something else I’ve noticed, too, is a behavioral thing. Generally speaking, you know, we don’t invade each other’s space. Look how we’re all sitting.
?: Well, speaking of invading space, there is supposed to be a panel in here at three-thirty, and it is only half an hour long…
?: I know, I’m trying to get at that too… but in mundane life, generally speaking, if I sit down next to a guy, it’s immediately–you know? [Making a leering sort of gesture.] Something like that. But I don’t get that here.
?male: Could we have that visual again? [Laughter]
Sandy: I actually disagree. [Laughter; one cry of “you would!”] Pig piles in fandom are a very common thing. As a generalization, I don’t buy it.
?: I mean, in a threatening way.
Sandy: It’s possible that people respect the feeling that you give off, of wanting space, more here than normally. But I wouldn’t say it’s invariant that we leave space.
Meg: I’ve run into groups where this type of discussion can’t happen, because somebody has to be in control of it. Now it’s your turn to talk; okay, that was very interesting, and now you had your hand up… where a discussion like this [is impossible], you know, with a minimal amount of control–“hey, wait a minute, we can’t hear”–which anyone can put in.
?: It’s actually rather difficult, in some circle groups, to do, because it requires people voluntarily yielding both the floor and the train of thought to other people. And if you haven’t got the circle [something unclear], you cannot do this. It can be–it just doesn’t work. And then you do end up with… everyone’s been in academic situations where that occurs.
Shoshanna: And on the subject of yielding the floor and the train of thought, as has been so correctly pointed out–
Meg: Ooh, very beautifully done! [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Don’t argue, now!
?: And they say you have no social skills! [Laughter]
Shoshanna: Who says? [Laughter, applause.]