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The Fandom Sex Spectrum

I really shouldn't be thinking this hard at this hour. I always end up regretting it.

But I was skimming through the SG1 Fanfic Awards site tonight for want of anything better to do, and wound up reading through the category descriptions. I tell you, the definition of gen is one of the best examples of Stargate SG-1 fandom culture as you'll ever find, sad as it is.

So I ended up discussing the whole ship/UST/smarm/pre-slash/slash spectrum with someone who shall remain nameless *cough*Yam*cough*, and of course pondering the distinct unfairness of the smarm category since it's always dominated by Jack/Daniel stuff and sometimes even indecipherable from pre-slash. But looking at the definitions of the categories, you can see why that is.

You would think UST and Pre-Slash would pretty much be equivalents, two corresponding sides of the spectrum and therefore worded equally. Not so...

UST:"Unresolved Sexual Tension": a story that focuses on the relationship between a man and a woman, where there is an evident sexual attraction.

Pre-Slash: Stories about two (same sex) characters discovering that their feelings are more than friendship. (Pre-slash is when there's no actual sex or kissing, though it may include a declaration of love. It is not the same thing as "smarm".)

These definitions, in effect, make (het) UST and (homo) Pre-Slash about two different things: Pre-Slash is about feelings, and UST is about sex (albeit unconsummated sex).

(In reality... well, I can't speak for Pre-Slash, but UST fic is about feelings every bit as much as it's about sex. Sometimes more.)

Is it any surprise, then, that smarm, which is blessed with the following definition - "A story that focuses on the depth of friendship between two characters" - is habitually closer to Pre-Slash than is UST, and therefore destined to be dominated by 'friendships between two male characters'? After all, who decides between friendship and 'more than friendship', between 'more than friendship' and sexual tension?

In this case, the author decides, which is a part of the problem. Which author is likely to say "No, please, remove my story from that category; when Daniel was admiring Jack's ass it was in a more-than-friendship way, not a depth-of-friendship way"?

You know, entries like this are why I don't tell my relatives how to find me on the Internet.
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You would think UST and Pre-Slash would pretty much be equivalents, two corresponding sides of the spectrum and therefore worded equally. [snipped] These definitions, in effect, make (het) UST and (homo) Pre-Slash about two different things: Pre-Slash is about feelings, and UST is about sex (albeit unconsummated sex).

I can understand why you'd see it that way. The definitions (which are out of date, BTW - the current ones are on the categories listing page) are simply worded in the way we (or perhaps that should read "I") felt most appropriate to the target audience. There was no need to spell out to a slash audience that slash=sex. It goes without saying. Whereas in ship, we felt it was important to draw a distinction between Sam/Jack friendhip and Sam/Jack UST, because that is the awards dividing line between gen and ship.

On the other hand, the current definitions read:

UST = Unresolved Sexual Tension. Stories where the central couple "resolve" the tension are eligible only if the UST takes up the majority of the story.

Pre-slash = stories set prior to the beginning of a sexual relationship between the two main characters. If the story includes the main characters having sex, however non-graphic, it is not eligible in this category.


(In reality... well, I can't speak for Pre-Slash, but UST fic is about feelings every bit as much as it's about sex. Sometimes more.)

Both categories are more about feelings than they are about sex. But romantic feelings are by definition also sexual, and sex, or rather the lack of it, is still what defines the category. These definitions have to be short, snappy. We could write an essay deliniating precisely what each category means (and have come close, in team discussions), but if we did that, it wouldn't be read.

Something you said to me recently, Alli: you felt that Jack and Sam reacting to each other as human beings as opposed to as Colonel and Major made a story "ship" not gen. Which, while it does shed some light on why you think of smarm stories as no different from slash, seems strange to me.

I realise there's a fine line in there, but there is a distinction to make between friendship and romantic feelings, whether the latter is unspoken or not. In a fandom that insists on a "content" divide between gen and het, rather than the "rating" divide that's more common in other fandoms, that distinction becomes, for me, the very definition of the respecive genres.
Whereas in ship, we felt it was important to draw a distinction between Sam/Jack friendhip and Sam/Jack UST, because that is the awards dividing line between gen and ship.

Personally, I've never seen the kind of distinction you're talking about actually in action. I don't see that it has to be one or the other. I guess in theory it makes sense, but when you start actively looking for stories that are solely SJ friendship and nothing else... well, it doesn't work as well in practice.

On the other hand, the current definitions

Mm, there doesn't seem to actually be a definition for UST, other than what the acronym stands for. Why not just use the exact same definition you use for pre-slash?

you felt that Jack and Sam reacting to each other as human beings as opposed to as Colonel and Major made a story "ship" not gen.

Not exactly. I think that any story that has Jack and Sam reacting to each other as human beings is going to wind up being ship because there just isn't a large contingent of fans out there writing Sam/Jack platonic/asexual friendship. There's friendship fic, sure, but - at least in the author's eyes - it's going to have some element of 'romantic feelings'. And per the screwed up definitions of gen in this fandom, 'romantic feelings' make a story ship.

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<i>Whereas in ship, we felt it was important to draw a distinction between Sam/Jack friendhip and Sam/Jack UST, because that is the awards dividing line between gen and ship.</i>

Personally, I've never seen the kind of distinction you're talking about actually in action. I don't see that it has to be one or the other. I guess in theory it makes sense, but when you start actively looking for stories that are <i>solely</i> SJ friendship and nothing else... well, it doesn't work as well in practice.

<i>On the other hand, the current definitions</i>

Mm, there doesn't seem to actually <i>be</i> a definition for UST, other than what the acronym stands for. Why not just use the exact same definition you use for pre-slash?

<i>you felt that Jack and Sam reacting to each other as human beings as opposed to as Colonel and Major made a story "ship" not gen.</i>

Not exactly. I think that any story that has Jack and Sam reacting to each other as human beings is going to wind up being ship because there just isn't a large contingent of fans out there writing Sam/Jack platonic/asexual friendship. There's friendship fic, sure, but - at least in the author's eyes - it's going to have some element of 'romantic feelings'. And per the screwed up definitions of gen in this fandom, 'romantic feelings' make a story ship.

<<Which, while it does shed some light on why you think of smarm stories as no different from slash, seems strange to me.>>

I see smarm as (usually) no different from PRE-slash because most of smarm is taking Jack and Daniel's 'relationship' past the boundries of good taste ;) It's a JD-dominated category; it comes from the same stock.

<i> realise there's a fine line in there, but there is a distinction to make between friendship and romantic feelings, whether the latter is unspoken or not. </i>

The decision about what is friendship and what is romantic/sexual is interpretable by every author and every reader, so the distinctions between gen and slash/ship are different for everyone. And as I said, there's no abundance of Sam/Jack completely-non-romantic friendship fic out there, which is why smarm and pre-slash are so closely tied, which was my point
Personally, I've never seen the kind of distinction you're talking about actually in action. I don't see that it has to be one or the other.

Well, forgive me, Alli, but that's because you see everything through ship-coloured glasses. If you can't conceive of a relationship between Jack and Sam that isn't in some way sexual or romantic...well, you're not going to find it, are you?

The gen/ship distinction isn't one I like much, but it's the way the majority of those with active voices in the fandom see it. I deal with what is not what I'd like it to be.

when you start actively looking for stories that are solely SJ friendship and nothing else... well, it doesn't work as well in practice.

I disagree. Certainly there's less Sam/Jack friendship than there is Daniel/Jack friendship in fanfic. It's a shame so many people have so much difficulty believing men and women can have platonic friendships. *Shrug*. But there are such fics out there. Few and far between, perhaps, but they exist.

Mm, there doesn't seem to actually be a definition for UST, other than what the acronym stands for. Why not just use the exact same definition you use for pre-slash?

Because they are not quite the same thing. They are equivalent, in terms of their "place" in the genre, but they're not really the same. UST need not include an explicit relationship (two-sided), or resolution. It's also 99% of the time PG.

With very few exceptions, pre-slash is explicit about those things. The exceptions are those stories that, like PRP's The God-King And I are part of a series leading to a slash resolution. And a significant minority of pre-slash stories are R or NC17 rated. Brenda Antrim has a story, Beloved, which is NC17 pre-slash. I don't expect you to read it to get my point, but it is, really. And it's not the only one.

I see smarm as (usually) no different from PRE-slash because most of smarm is taking Jack and Daniel's 'relationship' past the boundries of good taste

Good taste is something of a value judgement, and one we probably shouldn't debate in this context. I don't read a lot of smarm, Alli, simply because most of the stories I've tried to read in that genre are incredibly poorly written. But of the "smarm" stories I have finished, I can't name one that crossed the line from gen to slash. I can only take your word for it that some do, but given our wildly different definitions...well, 'nuff said.

The decision about what is friendship and what is romantic/sexual is interpretable by every author and every reader, so the distinctions between gen and slash/ship are different for everyone.

Well, that's true enough. But the level of explicitness in a text isn't a matter of interpretation. Or, not nearly so much. I don't have a problem defining a story like your Sleepers as gen. It was clearly going in a "ship" direction, but it wasn't explicit at any point. Doc's stories - to pick another example - are a much harder call. For me, she writes ship. But I guess that depends on whether your definition is drawn from canon or not. Mine - my own personal yardstick - is relationship-based. The Awards definition is canon-based. The lines are in different places.
Well, forgive me, Alli, but that's because you see everything through ship-coloured glasses. If you can't conceive of a relationship between Jack and Sam that isn't in some way sexual or romantic...well, you're not going to find it, are you?

When I say I don't see it, I don't mean that I don't conceive it happening. I mean when I physically read fanfic, I don't physically SEE a division between friendship and UST in Sam/Jack stories. I read a lot of shipfic and trust me when I say there's a definate trend.

It's a shame so many people have so much difficulty believing men and women can have platonic friendships.

But we're not talking about ALL men and women, we're talking about two specific characters on the show who've been shown to have certain feelings. I don't think it's strange at all that most of the fanfic dealing with these characters' relationship expands or focuses on those feelings. But again, this kind of fic typically deals with "friendship feelings" just as much as "sexual feelings". It may just be a part of the 'culture' of the genre.

But there are such fics out there. Few and far between, perhaps, but they exist.

Gee, if there's so few of them, it would seem they don't have a fair chance against the more popular stories. Maybe they should be given their own category ;)
I read a lot of shipfic and trust me when I say there's a definate trend.

Well, of course there is. People write for all sorts of reasons but they post for feedback. And very few people post hoping for negative feedback (I'm weird that way. I'd love it.). So naturally these things are tailored to perceived audience wants/expectations.

That's why there's so much utter crap out there - it's far easier to toss off an ATP story with all the right cliches than it is to work bloody hard on an original story. And the former is the story that gets the FB gushing about how wonderful it is.

But that doesn't mean there aren't authors who break the mould, or whose stories can be read by a wider audience.

But we're not talking about ALL men and women, we're talking about two specific characters on the show who've been shown to have certain feelings.

No comment.

Gee, if there's so few of them, it would seem they don't have a fair chance against the more popular stories. Maybe they should be given their own category ;)

Well, heck, Alli, according to you they've already got a whole area. Called Ship. You want a brand new category for them, too?

Actually, that was, in part, the logic behind splitting up some of the Gen categories the way we have. If it works the way we hope it will, the smarm-type stories will be confined to the Daniel and Jack categories, and those stories that do break the mould will have a better chance. Or at least more exposure. We'll see how it goes.

PS. Did you even notice "smarm" isn't a category this year?

[Reposts for reasons of LJ weirdness]

Actually, that was, in part, the logic behind splitting up some of the Gen categories the way we have.

Yeah, I know, I was being sarcastic ;)

If it works the way we hope it will, the smarm-type stories will be confined to the Daniel and Jack categories, and those stories that do break the mould will have a better chance. Or at least more exposure. We'll see how it goes.

So you said. And to do my part, I plan to encourage people to nominate plenty of "Sam/Jack Lite" fic to the gen categories. So we'll see how that goes, too :)

PS. Did you even notice "smarm" isn't a category this year?

I did indeed. This post actually started out as a discussion about fandom as a whole, but I was using the awards defs as examples of what seems to be considered 'acceptable'
This post actually started out as a discussion about fandom as a whole, but I was using the awards defs as examples of what seems to be considered 'acceptable'

I know, and I apologise; I didn't intend to turn this into an Awards discussion. But you'll understand the Awards are pretty constantly on my mind for eight months of the year.

What is "acceptable" varies so much from community to community in this fandom, defining the differences in ways that are acceptable to everyone is an impossible task. What seems to be forgotten in these discussions is the "split" between gen and ship in this fandom happened a long time ago. Before it was possible to argue that the "ship" was canon. In a perfect world, the divisions would have evolved along with the canon. Then again, it wouldn't be fandom if we (generic "we") weren't fighting over something, would it?

So things like the definition of UST - tend to be more about what they're not than what they are (eg UST is a ship story without sex - it really isn't possible to use the same definition as for pre-slash; so much UST fic does pre-suppose the relationship exists. The pre-slash wording would exclude those fics).

Likewise, I struggled for weeks to try to find a positive definition of "Gen", but what it comes down to is gen is everything that's not ship or slash. A lot of the definitions used for the Awards are written on the same sort of principle; and as such I personally think they're a poor yardstick to use if you're looking for a definition of what is.

Sad but true.