TenEighty talks to three slash fiction writers to find out what they get out of it and dispel misconceptions about the genre.
“If Dan reads this he’ll hate it.”
Snowcappedlove, aged 18, has been a slash fiction writer for six years. I’ve asked her, along with two others, who her OTP – or One True Pairing, the slash term for your favourite combination of characters – is, and why. It’s no surprise that all three of them answer “Phan”: the affectionate name given to the pairing of Phil Lester and Dan Howell.
“I came into the fandom early enough to see all of his and Phil’s posts, on websites like DailyBooth, and it looked like they were in a relationship. I don’t know if they were or not, but it was cute to read, and it was enough to make me ship them,” she explains.
“I actually thought they were brothers,” laughs Placentaandllamas, 20. “I just thought they acted too close to be friends. Dan has said he doesn’t really care about shipping, so it just made it even better knowing it’s not hurting his and Phil’s friendship.”
“I honestly thought they were together,” says Fallingfor-muse, the youngest at 17. All three of them discovered YouTube slash fiction – fan-fiction in which writers imagine YouTubers in same-sex relationships – through other means: as fans of Pokemon, One Direction and Sherlock respectively, they ended up stumbling across slash as a wider genre, before writing their own and discovering YouTubers.
People have long made up romantic pairings, and writing fiction about it is nothing new, but within the YouTube community, slash fiction seems to have an unusually strong and visible presence. It doesn’t take more than five minutes on Tumblr to stumble across a wealth of fan fiction and art dedicated to those they ‘ship’ – the act of pairing two people together. Some pairings are fanciful, others easy to see; either way, they’re all accessible.
“Once I was in high school I started watching more YouTube,” Snowcappedlove explains. “It’s less time consuming than watching anime, and easier to access. I started really liking the YouTubers and their personalities.”
“I thought slash was really weird at first,” says Placentaandllamas, who discovered One Direction slash aged 14. “It’s mostly written by 13-15 year old girls, who don’t really know how slash works, so it was just awkward to read.”
“YouTube slash is different, because YouTubers aren’t conventional celebrities…”
However, after discovering YouTube, she found herself writing in the genre, “I think YouTube slash is a little different because YouTubers aren’t conventional celebrities. It makes the YouTubers more personable and easier to write about because they seem human, rather than these far away beings that are above us.”
“My first impression of YouTube slash was that it was honestly wonderful,” says Fallingfor-muse. “The people who write slash are some of the best writers I’ve read and, as a collective, they made me want to try my own.”
All three girls are very well-spoken, passionate about writing, and pleasant to chat to. They explain that within the YouTube slash world, there are several genres or styles.
There’s ‘fluff,’ stories which involve a cute and cuddly storyline that is in no way sexual; ‘smut’, which is purely erotic; ‘angst,’ which pairs YouTubers for confrontation or struggle; and finally ‘AU’ or ‘alternative universe’, which transposes the characters to settings that deviate further from reality, and can even include more fantastical elements. On top of this, slash can either be a one-off story, or a chapter of a series, and the latter can potentially involve several of the aforementioned genres.
“The writer and reader are in love with love. They like to see how relationships bloom and blossom from hugs, to kissing, to sex…”
When asked what types of slash they write, I’m surprised to find out that only one of them, Snowcappedlove, writes smut, whilst Placentaandllamas and Fallingfor-muse write fluff. Many outsiders assume that slash stories are always sexual and, moreover, that most slash writers are sexually frustrated young girls.
“I see how that’s an easy misconception; the most notes [on a Tumblr post] are usually on the smut fics,” says Placentaandllamas. “I think that’s just how our media is though; sex sells.”
“I don’t think it’s because we’re sexually frustrated; I satisfy my sexual needs without slash fiction,” says Snowcappedlove, who primarily writes smut. “I like to write about sex because I’m interested in sex – as most humans are – but I mainly write it to try and improve my writing skills, not to turn myself on.”
How would they compare writing and reading slash to, for example, watching pornography? There’s a stereotype of heterosexual men enjoying lesbian porn – is heterosexual women enjoying gay fiction similar?
“Porn is very straight to the point,” says Fallingfor-muse, “it’s just there to get you off. But with slash, it’s all about the build up to it; sex is the end result, not the starting point.”
“I don’t think it’s the same sort of arousal,” adds Placentaandllamas. “Personally, I like the idea of writing slash because it seems to be that the writer and reader are ‘in love’ with love. They like to see how relationships bloom and blossom from hugs, to kissing, to sex,” she explains.
One can’t help but admire them for this sentiment – and for the fact that, through writing, they’re figuring out how certain types of relationships do and do not work. The relationships may be imaginary, but it’s still teaching them about human behaviours in a far more constructive way than how many other teenagers find out.
“It seems like we’re making assumptions or claims about their sexuality and private life, when really we understand that everything is fictional, and as much as we like to think we really know them, we don’t…”
Despite all this, many would say that there’s still something about slash that seems sordid. YouTubers are real people: isn’t writing about them, whether it’s in a sexual manner or just romantically, an invasion of their privacy?
“I don’t think it’s really invading their privacy since it’s not really them,” affirms Snowcappedlove. “It seems like we’re making assumptions or claims about their sexuality and private life, when really we understand that everything is fictional, and as much as we like to think we really know them, we don’t.”
“I think that we use a sort of artistic license over them,” explains Fallingfor-muse. “I strip back the YouTubers, see what’s left, take bits away from their personality if I didn’t think they would fit, or I keep them in if it adds something: we keep the skeleton of the person, but we add the flesh with our writing.
“I think we just tend to use what they give you in their videos, tweets or liveshows. Other than that, I guess I sort of fill in the blanks with how I would perceive them in real life. YouTubers seem to share a lot of themselves on camera with us, which is really good, because when it comes to writing about them it makes it easier, as you sort of feel like you know them.”
But inevitably, slash writers will get things wrong about their very real subjects. YouTubers who have read slash about themselves might find it amusing, but some could find it frustrating to be mischaracterised. “I’d be totally mortified if they read my slash,” confesses Placentaandllamas.
“I’m hoping that the YouTubers would be happy with how we portray them,” adds Snowcappedlove. “Some YouTubers have a specific personality they put out there, while others are more relaxed about it and show more of their true selves.”
Whether the wider YouTube community has realised or not, slash fiction is definitely a part of YouTube culture, with much of its terminology slipping in and out of videos. A lot of YouTubers regular reference whom they ‘ship’ or ‘pair’, and ‘OTP’ is in common usage.
Some YouTubers could even be accused of perpetuating it, playing up to slash and its writers by encouraging homoerotic undertones in their videos, helping them gain views due to the excitement of fans believing their OTP might be real.
“If we have the creative freedom to write about them, then they have the freedom to play it up a bit,” says Placenttaandllamas. “After all, isn’t that what we’re doing? Writing, not only put our creativity out there, but for people to see it? I have almost 10,000 followers simply because I write; that’s incredible! So if someone can get followers by playing things up, I think that’s OK. Their YouTube persona is not their real life one, so what they’re doing is just fiction too.”
“If it’s an established pairing like Phan then, obviously, if they doing anything that may suggest ‘something’, the shippers will jump on it,” comments Fallingfor-muse. “It can cause problems within the fan-bases, but if they do it as a joke then I tend to laugh along with them.”
After talking to these writers it’s clear that their stories are not all about sex, the writers themselves aren’t illiterate, and they’re not madly obsessed. It seems quite an innocent creative activity, and its writers – or at least the ones who spoke with TenEighty – know the clear distinction between fiction and reality. Even if it does take a certain type of fan to write slash fiction, there are far unhealthier and less personally rewarding ways of expressing their admiration.
Correction 2 March 2015: TenEighty misquoted one of our contributors in the article above. The quote from a slash fiction writer that reads – “If someone can get followers by playing things up, I think that’s OK,” – previously said – “If someone can get followers by playing things up, I think that’s great.”
We have apologised to the contributor and corrected the mistake in this article, as well as an additional article that also featured this quote.