Praxis

Homophobia, heteronormativity, and slash fan fiction

April S. Callis

Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky, United States

[0.1] Abstract—I analyze the relationship between homophobia/heteronormativity and slash fan fiction. Through reading and coding almost 6,000 pages of Kirk/Spock fan fiction written from 1978 to 2014, I illuminate shifts in how normative gender and sexuality are portrayed by K/S authors. Writers of K/S, while ostensibly writing about the 23rd century, consciously or unconsciously include cultural norms from the 20th and 21st centuries. Thus, slash becomes a lens through which readers can view a decrease in both homophobia and heteronormativity in US culture over the past several decades.

[0.2] Keywords—K/S; Kirk/Spock; Star Trek; sexuality

Callis, April S. 2016. "Homophobia, Heteronormativity, and Slash Fan Fiction." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 22. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0708.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In this article, I analyze the relationship between homophobia/heteronormativity and slash fan fiction. Slash fan fiction is a genre of fan-written stories that involves a sexual and/or romantic relationship between two (or more) characters of the same sex. For this project, I analyzed almost 6,000 pages of slash fan fic in order to document how homophobia (prejudice against nonheterosexuality) and heteronormativity (assumptions of cisgender heterosexuality) were depicted, as well as how these depictions have changed across the last 35 years. Through reading and analyzing Kirk/Spock fan fiction written between 1978 and 1987, and then comparing that to stories written from 2005 to 2014, I was able to track themes in how heteronormativity and homophobia were portrayed, and also to compare how often these themes were present.

[1.2] From this analysis, I found that homophobia and heteronormativity were present in stories from both time periods. However, when instances of homophobia/heteronormativity were compared, I found that stories written between 1978 and 1987 were twice as likely to contain heteronormative content and three times as likely to contain homophobic content as stories written from 2005 to 2014. While some of this shift might point to changing styles within fandom, I believe that much of this shift is due to culture. Writers of K/S, while ostensibly writing about the 23rd century, consciously or unconsciously include cultural norms from the 20th and 21st centuries. Thus, slash becomes a lens through which readers can view a decrease in both homophobia and heteronormativity in US culture over the past several decades.

[1.3] As mentioned above, slash fan fic (named after the "/" used between the paired characters' names) are stories that depict the romantic and/or sexual relationships of two men or, less frequently, two women. Recently, there has been some debate as to whether the characters portrayed in fan fic have to be canonically represented as nonqueer for the work to count as slash (Hunting 2012). Regardless, slash has grown from a controversial "premise" within the Star Trek fandom to a fandom phenomenon. As an example of slash's popularity, as of February 2016 there were three times as many stories published on AO3 (a well-regarded fan fiction Web site) about the most popular slash couple from the Harry Potter series (over 13,000 about Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy) as there were stories focused on the series' most popular het (heterosexual) couple (just over 4,000 about Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley).

[1.4] The popularity that slash enjoys today was not the case in the 1970s. The first slash story ever printed was the Kirk/Spock story, "A Fragment Out of Time," by Diana M. This two-page snippet was printed in a 1974 issue of Grup, a zine reserved for adult-themed fan fiction. While "A Fragment Out of Time" is explicitly sexual, it is written in such a way that it is not immediately obvious who the characters are, or even that they are both male. No names are used, and masculine pronouns are only used to describe one character (with the second character being referred to only as "the other.") However, from context clues, the reader comes to realize that the story is from the point of view of Spock as he receives a massage from Kirk—a massage that becomes erotic.

[1.5] Within the story, Spock thinks to himself that the situation "had been building all of these years...no one set of circumstances was the cause...now, it seemed it had been inevitable from the outset" (Diana M. 1974). Though Spock might have found the sexual relationship between himself and his captain inevitable, fans of the series did not. Starting in 1975, letters of comment submitted to various Star Trek zines were filled with back-and-forth discussion of Kirk and Spock's possible sexual relationship, with many fans vehemently opposed to such an interpretation (Langley 2007). Many of these oppositions were couched in prejudiced or disbelieving terms; as long as there has been slash, there have been homophobic and heteronormative reactions to it.

2. Kirk/Spock slash fan fiction

[2.1] Before I discuss methods and findings, it is important to know a little of the history behind Kirk/Spock, and fan fiction. Captain Kirk and his first officer, Mr. Spock, are two characters from Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS or simply TOS), a television show that ran from 1966 to 1969, and that followed the adventures of a crew of space explorers aboard their ship, the USS Enterprise. ST:TOS was canceled after three seasons, but through syndication became a cult favorite in the years after its cancelation. This rise to popularity eventually led to the expansion of the Star Trek universe, with an animated series, four other live-action television shows, 12 movies, countless video games, and hundreds of professionally published novels.

[2.2] Star Trek is often credited as being one of the major catalysts in the rise of modern media fandom and the popularity of fan-created transformative works such as fan fiction and fan art (Pugh 2006; Coppa 2006). Since 1966, TOS fans have been creating and self-publishing fan magazines (fanzines) filled with stories, poems, and artwork that has continued the adventures of the Enterprise's crew where the episodes left off. Often, these works centered on the dynamic relationship between Kirk and Spock. While these began as friendship or hurt/comfort stories, the fan fiction surrounding these two characters began to take a sexual turn, and K&S friendship stories became K/S romance stories.

3. Homophobia/heteronormativity

[3.1] Before I discuss homophobia and heteronormativity within slash fan fiction, it is important to elaborate on what is meant by these concepts. The term homophobia was coined in 1972 by George Weinberg, originally meaning "the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals" (1972, 4). While the term originally denoted fear and was thought of as similar to other phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders), it has since morphed into a term to cover an array of negative emotions towards nonheterosexual individuals (Hudson and Ricketts 1980; Haaga 1991). Currently, homophobia is generally understood to mean "prejudice against homosexuals" (Plummer 2014, 128). My own use of the term is very broad, and refers to both active and passive prejudice against same-sex actions and assumed nonheterosexual people. Active prejudice includes hate crimes and name calling, while passive prejudice includes disapproval of homosexuality or equating homosexuality with crime, child abuse, or sin. I also include both individuals' prejudice and institutional or structural prejudice (such as different laws for same-sex couples) within this definition.

[3.2] Much of the literature surrounding homophobia has focused on potential correlates to negative attitudes about same-sex relationships in the United States. Perhaps the most written about of these is religion. It has been found that frequency of church attendance, denomination, and degree of fundamentalism correlate to sexual prejudice, with conservative Protestants, individuals with fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and those who attend church frequently rating highly on measures of homophobia (Finlay and Walther 2003; Schwartz and Lindley 2005; Eldridge, Mack, and Swank 2006). Other correlations of homophobia found in social science research include being on a sports team or being from the southern United States (Keleher and Smith 2012; McDermott et al. 2014). One recent study found that men who had been taunted with homophobic slurs were more likely to be homophobic themselves (Birkett and Espelage 2015). Conversely, direct contact with a sexual minority individual has been linked with decreased homophobia (Herek 1996; Smith, Axelton, and Saucier 2009), as has believing that homosexuality is biological rather than a choice (Eldridge, Mack, and Swank 2006; Rowniak 2015).

[3.3] Gender and gender roles are also tightly tied to homophobic attitudes. This is somewhat true for women, as the fear of being labeled as a lesbian keeps women acting within feminine gender roles (Worthen 2014). However, it is perhaps even truer for men, and studies have shown that men are more likely to hold homophobic attitudes than women (Osborne and Wagner 2007; McDermott et al. 2014). Social scientists have noted that homophobic slurs are often used against boys and young men who are breaking gender roles, rather than portraying any sort of same-sex desires (Pascoe 2007; Plummer 2014). Therefore, homophobia becomes a way to police masculinity as well as sexuality.

[3.4] Recent studies seem to point to a decrease in the level of homophobia, or at least in the homophobic policing of masculinity in the United States. McCormack and Anderson found that heterosexual boys in the United States were more willing to be physically and emotionally intimate with other boys without fear of homophobic insults hurled their way (2014). Adams (2011) found that on one US college soccer team, men were comfortable touching each other, being well groomed, and even wearing pink cleats, without fear of being homosexualized or facing homophobia. This change is most likely related to the increased acceptance of homosexuality in US culture. While acceptance of homosexuality was low in the 1970s and 1980s, by the early 1990s, this trend began to shift (Loftus 2001). Whereas over 70 percent of the population thought that homosexuality was always wrong in 1973, this number had shifted to only 46 percent in 2010 (Keleher and Smith 2012, 1308).

[3.5] While homophobia might be decreasing in the United States, it is certainly not gone. The FBI reported that almost 20 percent of hate crimes in 2010 were perpetrated against individuals with minority sexual orientations (McDermott et al. 2014, 191). Further, a national study of over 7,000 LGBTQ teens in 2009 found that 84 percent of them had been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, while 40 percent of them had been physically harassed for the same reason (Kosciw et al. 2010). A study of adults in the same year found that 20 percent of them had been a victim of a hate crime based on their sexual orientation since turning 18, while over 50 percent of them had been the victim of verbal harassment because of their sexuality during the same time period (Herek 2009). These numbers paint a picture of fairly pervasive homophobia in the United States.

[3.6] While most people are familiar with the term "homophobia," the term "heteronormativity" does not share this widespread understanding. Coined by Michael Warner in 1991, heteronormativity refers to the positioning of heterosexuality as default, normal, or natural within society. Within a heteronormative system, heterosexuality is privileged, while nonheterosexuality is marginalized (Herz and Johansson 2015; Dwyer 2015). Societal norms of marriage and kinship are based around assumptions of heterosexuality, and romantic love is depicted as natural chemistry between men and women, who are "made for each other" (Eaton and Matamala 2014; Dhaenens 2012; Wolkomir 2009; Jackson 2006). In fact, the entire system of masculine/feminine can be read as heteronormative, as it is assumed that to be masculine is to sexually desire women, and vice versa (Ingraham 1994).

[3.7] Individuals imagine that homophobia is easy to spot, and some examples (the use of slurs and physical violence against nonstraight people) certainly are. However, structural homophobia, such as denying health care benefits to same-sex partners, is more difficult to read, and thus often goes unnoticed. Heteronormativity, like structural homophobia, can be difficult to spot, because it is both pervasive and naturalized. Examples range from the performances of gender and sexuality intertwined with prom (Smith 2011) to the search for the "gay gene" (while assuming that heterosexuality is natural, and thus not looking for a cause for that). Heteronormativity can also be found in beliefs that "real sex" involves a penis and a vagina (Jackson 2006), which causes individuals to question how lesbians can possibly have sex.

[3.8] Heteronormativity and homophobia are, in many ways, two sides of the same issue. If heteronormativity is best understood as the belief that heterosexual cisgender relationships are natural/correct, homophobia is the negative reactions that individuals in nonheterosexual, noncisgender relationships face. For example, a 2013 study (Hayman et al.) analyzed the interaction between health care service providers and lesbian mothers. Heteronormativity within these interactions (such as women being asked, "Where's the father?") went hand in hand with homophobia (such as women being denied fertility services because they were not part of a heterosexual couple) (Hayman et al. 2013, 123). The intertwining of these two phenomena starts at a young age, as was shown in a study of elementary school–aged children, where girls would enact heteronormativity through their discussion of male "hotties," while using negative comments to discuss homosexuality (Myers and Raymond 2010). In both examples, normative expectations of heterosexuality led to negative reactions to nonheterosexuality—and then these negative reactions to homosexuality enforced heteronormativity, in a continuous cycle.

[3.9] Because of the related natures of these concepts, decreasing levels of homophobia in US culture have led to a corresponding decrease in heteronormativity, at least in some areas. For example, Baunach (2012) found that attitudes toward marriage had shifted away from a heteronormative assumption of only male/female couples, with 47 percent of respondents to a national survey approving of same-sex marriages in 2010, compared to 13 percent in 1988 (368). The overturning of same-sex marriage bans at the federal level in 2015 further illustrates the lessening of heteronormative views on marriage and the family. However, assumptions of the normality of heterosexual cisgender relationships is still widespread in US culture, impacting everything from bathroom labeling to dorm room assignments to the roles we play in romantic relationships (Eaton and Matamala 2014).

4. Methods

[4.1] In order to research changing depictions of homophobia and heteronormativity in slash, I decided to do a comparative study of fan fiction across several decades. I originally planned to include fan fiction from a variety of fandoms, rather than relying only on Star Trek fan fic. I was sensitive to Green, Jenkins and Jenkins's critique of academic work on fandoms. In a 2006 article, they noted that "most academic accounts center almost exclusively upon Kirk/Spock stories...[when] in fact, slash is written about a broad range of fictional characters" (Green, Jenkins, and Jenkins 2006). As someone who had read fan fiction in dozens of fandoms, I was both aware of this fan fiction diversity, and comfortable writing about it.

[4.2] However, in the end, I decided that I would only analyze fiction written about the Kirk/Spock relationship, because Kirk/Spock slash offers 40 years of uninterrupted writing history. As Falzone notes:

[4.3] Not only was K/S the first manifestation of a slash narrative, but it has also proven to be the most widespread and enduring because the Star Trek narrative is ongoing, whereas many other slashed programs are either short lived (Twin Peaks, 1990–1991), long extinct (Starsky and Hutch, 1975–1979) or limited in their distribution (Blake's 7, 1978–1981). (2005, 244)

[4.4] Focusing on Kirk and Spock allowed me to analyze the way these two characters have been rewritten and reinterpreted by fans across the decades. My hypothesis was that K/S fan fiction would show a decrease in portrayals of homophobia and heteronormativity, mirroring decreased levels of homophobia and heteronormativity in US culture.

[4.5] With this hypothesis in mind, I compared 3,001 pages/62 stories written between 1978 and 1987 with 2,776 pages/64 stories written from 2005 to 2014. The earlier 10-year period was chosen because 1978 was the year that Thrust, the first dedicated K/S fanzine, was published (Carol F. 1978). While "A Fragment Out of Time" was published in 1974, there were very few stories published between 1974 and 1977 (though many of these, such as "Shelter" and "Desert Heat," are considered absolute classics). Therefore, starting with 1978 gave me a wider range of stories to pull from.

[4.6] One of the most difficult decisions I made when setting up this research project was what to do with the reboot series, referred to as Alternate Original Series, or AOS. In 2009, a new Star Trek movie was released to theaters. This movie, and the 2013 sequel, did indeed follow the adventures of Kirk and Spock, and is considered canon. However, AOS Kirk and Spock are different versions of these characters from an alternate timeline. Currently, AOS fan fiction is thriving online, and the popularity of the movies has caused some recent fans to discover TOS. This has brought a wave of new fans to TOS fan fiction, both as readers and writers. After much deliberation, I decided to divide the sample of newer Trek fan fiction between stories written about TOS (36 stories/1,284 pages) and stories written about AOS (28 stories/1,492 pages).

[4.7] There were several limitations I put on the stories I chose to analyze. Most importantly, I looked for stories written by US authors, as this would allow me to compare changes in US cultural norms. As a cultural anthropologist, I am sensitive to the fact that all cultures do not have the same understandings of sexuality and gender. While K/S fandom has always been multinational (with K/S fanzines published in the UK by 1980, and Canada by 1982), and has become increasingly more so with the move to the Internet, I deliberately narrowed my search to focus on the shifts within one culture. In order to ensure stories were US-based, I only chose US-published zines for my 1978–1987 sample. After I had a list of potential stories, I circulated the author names among longtime K/S fans to weed out non-US citizens who had sent their stories to US fanzine publishers. For the 2005–2014 story sample, I tracked down author nationalities on Web pages and blogs. When they were not listed, I e-mailed the authors to ascertain nationality.

[4.8] Author nationality was not the only limitation I imposed on my story sample. Beyond this, I looked for stories that were at least 10 pages long, giving the author time to develop ideas of gender and sexuality. Further, I did not include any stories that involved Kirk and Spock in an established relationship. I found that established relationship stories were much less likely to delve into issues of gender and sexuality than were stories where the relationship between the two was new. Finally, all of the stories that I analyzed were set within the main Star Trek universe, rather than any "alternate universe" stories where the Kirk and Spock characters were placed in wildly different settings, such as in Earth's past, within a fairy tale, or within the Mirror-Mirror universe. These guidelines ensured that I had a fairly homogenous sample of stories, meaning that differences in homophobia/heteronormativity portrayals were not the result of differing story types.

[4.9] Once I had my guidelines in place, I set about actually finding the stories. For the early set of stories, I first asked K/S fans online which zines, stories, and authors they thought were most influential or most important from the time period I was studying. I also utilized fanlore.org, a wiki run by the Organization for Transformative Works, to gauge the historic impact of zines and stories. I then located these zines/stories through the KS Press Library, the University of Iowa Fanzine Archive, and the Texas A&M Fanzine Collection, as well as through several fans who were willing to lend or sell me zines. I was also able to find several of the stories online through ksarchive.com. In my final analysis, I pulled from 41 different fanzines published between 1978 and 1987. For stories written between 2005 and 2014, I once again asked online fans to recommend stories and/or authors they thought were important/influential. I searched for stories online through ksarchive.com, focusing on stories with the most reviews or star ratings. I did the same through AO3, sorting stories by number of "kudos" or positive reviews. Additionally, I found stories through online and print zines, including Legacy, Side by Side, T'hy'la, and First Time.

[4.10] Once I had my sample, I began reading and coding the stories using Atlas.ti, a qualitative data analysis program. Codes were developed organically as I read through the stories for the first time. As I read, if I noticed a potential theme or recurring point, I would create a code for it. After I read through and coded all of the stories, I then streamlined the codes and read through the stories a second time, ensuring that all codes were applied evenly across the sample. A total of 74 codes were utilized, which were then subdivided by topic (homophobia/heteronormativity, gender/sexuality, power/role, and bodies/mechanics). Roughly 20 codes had to do with homophobia and heteronormativity in some way. This article specifically analyzes data on eight of these codes.

[4.11] Once codes were in place, I compared the number of times codes were found in the older samples of fan fiction with how often they were used in newer fan fic. Here, I focused on the number of stories that contained examples of each code, rather than the number of codes within each story. Thus, whether a story contained a single example of a code or a dozen, it was counted only once in the following analysis.

5. Homophobia within K/S fan fiction

[5.1] When comparing K/S fan fiction written from 1978–1987 with that written from 2005–2014, I was not surprised to find that homophobia was much more present in the early works. Some form of homophobia was found in 44 percent of the older stories that I read, compared to only 14 percent of the new stories. Breaking this down further, I found several different themes in how prejudice against nonheterosexuality was portrayed. The most obvious is what I coded as "blatant homophobia." This included the use of negative slang such as "fag," as well as using words such as "disgusting" or "wrong" when talking about same-sex actions or attractions. This blatant homophobia was found in 10 percent of older K/S stories, while only three percent of newer stories included such blatant prejudice.

[5.2] Blatant homophobia in my sample of K/S was generally portrayed by someone other than the main characters, such as an Enterprise crewmember or member of Starfleet that the author created for just this purpose. For example, in the zine Alternative Continuing by Gerry D., Kirk overhears an ensign talking about same-sex behavior, saying "It's disgusting...it's a perversion...it's not natural" (1979). In a different story, "Lessons" by Vivian G., it is the captain of another ship who is portrayed as homophobic. Captain Orozco "made the mistake of expressing her own personal feelings of disgust concerning the [same-sex] life style" and is then punished with a less than ideal assignment (1984). In both instances, the homophobic Starfleet officer is punished or made to see the error of their ways.

[5.3] In other stories, it is not anyone in Starfleet who is homophobic, but instead someone from Captain Kirk's hometown or upbringing in small-town Iowa. For example, in Ellen T.'s short story "Long Way Home," Kirk is visiting his hometown and is attacked by a group of men who assume that he is a homosexual. As they assault him, one man says to Kirk, "You're a hot-shot, and you get all that glory, and you're nothing but a gagging fag" (1985). In another story, Kirk tells Spock about his grandmother, who believed that "that mixing with aliens was an abomination, that sexual love between two men or two women was an affront against those who had sacrificed and struggled to preserve the human species" (Anna G. 2007). In these situations, the homophobic individuals are not corrected, but they are clearly presented as in the wrong by the authors. Therefore, blatant homophobia, though present, was always written as problematic.

[5.4] Perhaps because of Kirk's upbringing in a small town in Iowa, he is often portrayed as homophobic himself. After noting this in several stories, I created my second homophobia code: "Kirk openly homophobic." I found this theme in 13 percent of older stories, versus only two percent of new stories. This homophobia was sometimes blatant name-calling, such as when Kirk refers to another character as "that fag" (Ellen T. 1985). Other times, Kirk's homophobia was not in action, but in mindset. In "Chameleon," by Pamela R. (1982), Kirk thinks to himself that he has "a distinct aversion to homosexuality that he'd never been able to dispel. He tried to be tolerant when he ran across it in acquaintances, or on the ship, as long as they left him alone, but he'd always retained a subconscious feeling of superiority." In another story, Kirk realizes that he has always thought of homosexuals as "...incomplete. Not as masculine. Pretty boys" (Vivian G. 1987). Kirk's homophobia also shows itself during conversations he has with other characters. For example, in "Those Who Favor Fire," Kirk tells Spock that "there are certain attitudes held about...men who submit to others. It's considered a sign of weakness, a need to be dominated" (Lezlie S. 1982). In all of these examples, Kirk must learn to overcome his homophobic thoughts and feelings in order to have a meaningful relationship with Mr. Spock.

[5.5] In canon TOS, Kirk's best friend (outside of Spock) is Dr. "Bones" McCoy. Spock also has a close, though quarrelsome, relationship with McCoy, to the point that he invited Dr. McCoy to his bonding ceremony in the episode "Amok Time." Because of the importance that Dr. McCoy holds to both Kirk and Spock, his reaction to their sexual relationship is often highlighted in K/S fan fic. While Bones did not respond in a homophobic manner in any of the stories I coded, Kirk was written as being worried that he would in six percent of older stories. In Nightvisions, Kirk talks to McCoy about his relationship with Spock, and then asks "Bones, nothing has changed between us...has it?" (Carol F. and Susan J. 1979). And in Alternative Continuing, Kirk says to McCoy "Will you still be friends with us... We're probably going to need it" (Gerry D. 1979). In contrast with the older fan fiction, this third homophobic theme (What will Bones Think) was found in none of the newer stories.

[5.6] The fourth and largest homophobic theme that I coded for I labeled "general assumption of homophobia." This code was used anytime Kirk or Spock assumed that some entity (Starfleet command, their families, the crew of the Enterprise) was going to react negatively to their relationship, or to same-sex desire in general. This theme was found in 40 percent of K/S stories written between 1978 and 1987, compared to 11 percent of recent K/S fiction.

[5.7] In some stories, Kirk or Spock wonder how their families will take the news of their same-sex relationship. For example, in "From the Fields," by Dovya B., Spock assumes that his mother is going to have a problem with his desire for Kirk. He asks her "How can you be so accepting" when she tells him that "love for another of the same sex...is as beautiful as any love" (Dovya B. 1984). In Alternative Continuing, Kirk speculates on how his brother Sam would react to the news, concluding that he "would have laughed that big booming laugh of his and clapped him on the back and made some joke about 'liking them tall and skinny now' and then quietly introduced him to his nearest single female neighbor" (Gerry D. 1979). In both of these examples, the main characters assume that news of their relationship will cause problems with their loved ones. Whether or not the family members end up reacting with prejudice, the fact that Kirk and Spock worry about this shows a general assumption of homophobia within their society.

[5.8] In other stories, it is the crew or Starfleet command that Kirk and Spock are worried about. In "This Simple Feeling," Kirk needs to get to Spock, and one of Starfleet's admirals offers to help him. This causes Kirk to ask if he is "doing this because you'd rather not have my relationship with Spock made public?" (Beverly S. 1983). The assumption being made here is that prejudice against same-sex couples might cause certain professional decisions to be made. In another story, Dr. McCoy says that if Kirk ends the relationship with Spock there will be "no damage to the Great Starship Captain's reputation, no nasty rumors, no command problems" (Syn F. 1985). Again, though no blatant hate crime is happening in this scene, there is an assumption being made that homosexuality is a problem within the workplace.

[5.9] Though these sorts of assumptions are made less frequently in modern K/S, they still show up in roughly one out of every ten stories. In "People Like Us," written in 2007, Spock takes Kirk to a bar during shore leave. Kirk, noticing that most of the clientele are men, says "Um, Spock, I'm getting the idea this is a club for...men-together... Homosexuals. Gay men." Spock responds with "Yes. This does not make you uncomfortable, does it?" (Kathy S.). Just as in the paragraphs above, there is the idea that same-sex pairings might make someone uncomfortable—that this might not be perfectly acceptable. In "So Wise We Grow," written in 2009, Kirk feels as though Spock is trying to insult his sexuality and sex practices. After asking if Spock is trying to call him a whore or a slut, he says "Or if it's the fact that I go with guys that bothers you, maybe you want 'cocksucker.' That one's even true" (Deastar). Though Kirk is not being called a homophobic slur directly, the fact that he mentions it as a possible insult, and feels that Spock might have a problem with him engaging in oral sex with another man, illustrates homophobia.

[5.10] An analysis of homophobic themes within K/S demonstrated that, across the board, authors are writing about homophobic situations less than they did 30 to 40 years ago. Kirk is less likely to be homophobic himself, the characters are less worried about their friends, families, and peers reacting in homophobic ways, and they are also less worried about ramifications to their careers. This mirrors recent academic works that have found that homophobia is decreasing in US culture (McCormack and Anderson 2014; Adams 2011; Keleher and Smith 2012; Loftus 2001). This is not to say that homophobia has disappeared—both recent academic works (McDermott et al. 2014; Herek 2009) and recent K/S only point to a lessening, rather than a complete eradication.

6. Heteronormativity within K/S fan fiction

[6.1] Just as with homophobia, I analyzed the frequency that heteronormativity was written into K/S stories, both from the 1970s–1980s and in stories written since 2005. I found that in my older sample of K/S, heteronormativity was present in 60 percent of the stories. In contrast, heteronormativity was only found in 28 percent of newer stories. Situations I coded as heteronormative included, among other things, assuming that sex was only about procreation, assuming that Vulcans would find homosexuality illogical, and discussing the "reason for" or "cause" of homosexuality. Each of these themes was found at least three times as often in older stories versus new.

[6.2] Sex was characterized as for procreative purposes in 11 percent of older TOS stories, versus three percent of newer K/S fiction. For example, in the 1985 story "Between the Dark and the Daylight," Spock thinks to himself that "it was ironic that he should invest so much in a sterile relationship" (Tere R. 1985). Similarly, in "The Matchmaker," Spock thinks of his attraction to Kirk as "sterile lust, outside of the possibility of procreation—how had he fallen into this terrible fault" (Janet A. 1985). In a 2007 story, it is Kirk who thinks of sex in terms of procreation. He says to Dr. McCoy that he had "always thought that someday, after I'd grown too old for space, I'd find a nice woman, settle down with her on some uncomplicated frontier world, and raise a couple of children" (Anna G. 2007). When McCoy tells him that there are options for children in same-sex unions, such as adoption and surrogacy, Kirk says "Those aren't the sort of options I had in mind." In all three of these examples, correct or fulfilling relationships are tied to procreation and thus heterosexuality.

[6.3] A second theme I coded within heteronormativity was "questioning how Vulcan feels about same-sex." Within 16 percent of older stories, and three percent of newer stories, one of the characters asks Spock, or another Vulcan, what stance the planet as a whole takes on same-sex relationships. For example, in "Realities and Rebirth," Kirk asks, "Do they allow that on Vulcan?" when asking Spock about same-sex bondings (Ann C. 1983). In Courts of Honor, Kirk says to Spock "But I don't know what it means for you as a Vulcan... I don't know what Vulcan thinks about homosexuality" (Syn F. 1985). Similarly, in a 2006 story, "Trying Times," Kirk "tried to find out if Vulcan disapproved of same-sex partners but had admitted defeat after several days' fruitless search" (Elise M. 2006). The assumption being made in all of these cases, that same-sex relationships might be problematic, or might not be considered logical, is heteronormative. Often this was tied together with the previous theme, as it was assumed that Vulcan would be against homosexuality because it was not procreative. Illustrating this point, in "Beyond Setarcos," Spock says to Kirk "Vulcan is a sexually conservative culture. As reproduction is the logical reason for mating, such a relationship would be considered perverse" (Gayle F. 1978). Again, the assumption that sex must be procreative to be approved of is an example of heteronormativity.

[6.4] A third heteronormative theme that I coded for was "etiology of sexuality." In this trope, one of the characters would provide a reason for why some people had same-sex orientations. Often (but not always) this involved a conversation with Dr. McCoy. For example, in "The Price," Kirk asks McCoy if his "psychfile says [he] could go that way," indicating that there is some psychological difference between heterosexual and nonheterosexual individuals (Syn F. 1981). A similar assumption is made in "Command Decision," when McCoy "mentally reviewed Kirk's psych profile" to determine if Kirk could be attracted to Spock (Cassandra S. 1986). The lone example of this trope in a recent story is in "Storm," when Kirk is hit by a dart that turns him gay through "a little rearrangement of the neurons in the hypothalamus, [and] slightly elevated testosterone levels" (Anna G. 2007). Here the author posits a difference in brain structure and hormone levels between gays and straights. In each of these cases, the thought that an explanation for nonheterosexuality needs to be provided can be read as heteronormative.

[6.5] The fourth theme of heteronormativity I coded for was "general heteronormativity." This theme was very broad, and included any time that a character made an assumption about the naturalness of heterosexuality. This theme was found in 47 percent of older stories, versus 22 percent of new stories. In older stories, this theme often showed itself in Kirk's or Spock's surprise at having a male lover. For example, in "Aftermath of the Intruder," Kirk muses that though Spock is male, it "didn't bother [him] as much as he would have expected" (Marie S. 1987). In "Beyond Setarcos," Kirk likewise thinks it "strange still, to be so moved by a man's body" (Gayle F. 1978). That someone would be shocked at having a same-sex partner, and/or always assumed they would be in heterosexual relationships, clearly demonstrates heteronormativity.

[6.6] The theme also showed itself when Kirk or Spock would make assumptions about relationships. For example, in "Blind Date," Kirk is being set up on a date with a crewmember, and thinks to himself that he would not be disappointed because "the list of charming ladies serving aboard his ship was encouraging"—he did not consider that the date might be with another man (Brandy A. 1985). In "Touch of the Hand," Kirk describes love as "the kind of relationship a man and woman would share," and is thrown when Spock asks if "this love you speak of [can] not also be shared by two of the...same?" (Bonnie G. 1985). In both of these examples, the assumption is that all romantic relationships involve heterosexual unions.

[6.7] In K/S stories written since 2005, general assumptions of heteronormativity are found in roughly one-fourth of the stories. For example, in "Your First Time Should Be Special," the story starts with the sentence "They've been in space for more than a year before Jim finds out that Spock likes dudes—no—prefers dudes" (Helen 2010). That Kirk automatically assumes that Spock would be attracted to women is heteronormative. In "Five People Who Loved Spock," Spock thinks that he "can't possibly have feelings for another man when to date his only relationships [had] been with females" (Corpus Invictus 2009). The idea that heterosexual desires or experiences automatically preclude any same-sex desires is another form of heteronormativity. Finally, in "Contemplation on Olive," Kirk thinks about his long term plans, which have always included "a very nice, comfortable home with a beautiful, devoted wife and two ideal children—one of each sex" (Orinne M. 2007). This notion of completion coming from heterosexual marriage and family life is a classic example of heteronormative thinking.

[6.8] An analysis of heteronormativity within K/S fan fiction shows that, like with homophobia, the number of stories including this premise have decreased significantly. Authors are currently less likely to write characters who assume romantic relationships occur only between heterosexual individuals, that homosexuality needs a scientific explanation, or that sex is only logical if it is procreative. However, these scenarios are still present in almost one-fourth of K/S stories, highlighting the continued presence of heteronormativity in modern US culture.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] K/S fan fiction is written about two characters who live in a fictional version of the 23rd century. Yet an analysis of changes within K/S across the last four decades helps to highlight changes in how gender and sexuality are understood in US culture. The Kirk and Spock written about in the 1970s and 1980s were more likely to face blatant homophobia if they were out about their sexual relationship than are the Kirk and Spock depicted in the last 10 years. Further, 1970s/1980s Kirk and Spock were also more likely to worry that they would be rejected by family and friends, or fret about the "illogic" of a nonprocreative relationship. This is not because the 23rd century has changed. Rather, the large shifts in fan fiction representations of the future point to a corresponding shift in current understandings of the acceptability of nonheterosexual relationships.

[7.2] Social science research has pointed to a gradual lessening of both homophobia and heteronormativity in the United States since the 1970s. That this lessening is mirrored in K/S fan fiction points to the utility of fan fiction as a lens through which to study society. While writers of slash fan fiction might be, on the whole, more accepting of nonheterosexuality than their nonslash-writing peers, these individuals are still clearly influenced by normative cultural expectations. Therefore, a study of slash fan fiction across the decades could also point to changes in how sexual identity is understood, how roles within relationships should be articulated, or even in our understanding of what is sexually pleasurable. Thus, studying changing US norms of gender and sexuality through slash fan fiction is a fruitful—dare I say logical—endeavor.

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