Slash Fiction & the Venom Cock (Oh, You Knew This Was Coming!)

I happened to be comatose when this particular subject hit the blogs, but I caught up in the hotel at Wiscon when I got wind that a piece of mpreg slash fiction made the Tiptree Award longlist (and yet, my 2004 story, Genderbending at the Madhattered didn’t make any 2004 list, long or short. I’m not bitter, really, but I’m trying to put this in perspective). Right next to the unfinished, badly written slash choice was our old favorite, the Venom Cock.

Every once in a while, somebody comes along who wants to be really controversial. Often, they’re good at arguing and steeped in academia. Sometimes, they’re just a little batty.

If I believed the cutting edge of genderbending/sex expanding/controversial/envelope pushing fiction was in the slash world, I’d be all for nominating those stories.

But grabbing the most slap-dash piece of fiction you can troll from the net and putting it onto an awards long-list to “make a point” strikes me as a little selfish and quite ill-thought-out. It embarasses oneself, may well embarass the author, the other judges, lessens the honor of the award, and perverts the purpose of the list – the list is for pointing out interesting fiction that explores sex and gender. Pointing out stories that are not only badly written but 1) merely consist of switching gender roles in the “Wheeee! Men will be pregnant and get sore nipples just like women!” sort or 2) merely restates the fact that being a woman Really Sucks and is Really Hard does nothing to expand anybody’s thoughts on sex and gender.

In fact, reading such stories can enforce one’s stereotypes of the sexes.

Before I go any further, I’d like to say that yes, I’ve met Liz Henry. Yes, she is very nice. I enjoy her effort at radicalism, because I get really tired of spouting off about misogynists like gabe, Trent, and David Brin. I enjoy disagreeing with somebody whose politics are far left. And I want to make that clear: Liz is great. I just disagree with her. That’s very healthy. And before anyone recommends that she and I auction off a boxing match at next year’s Tiptree auction, well, anybody who’s seen us standing side-by-side knows who’ll win that match, even in my weakened state.

heh heh.

In any case, VanderMeer and I are closer in weight class anyway (I need to put on about 10 lbs of muscle before it’s a fair fight, tho).

It’s up to each year’s Tiptree jury to define what a Tipworthy story really is. As I’m not on a jury, my opinion doesn’t officially count, but as a reader and writer, I have very strong opinions about what I’m looking for in my genderfucking fiction.

Egalia’s Daughters bored the shit out of me. It wasn’t the best-written book in the world. I didn’t connect with any of the characters and it kept head-hopping. What it did do, however, was posit a world in which men took care of children and women birthed them. Not in an even-split gender-reversal way, but in a way that challenged ideas about what birth is, what it means to a woman, to society, and the ways we speak about biological destiny, virginity, and penetration-is-the-only-“real”-sex paradigm. I believe that the value of the book’s ideas outweigh the shitacular writing and inane ending that made me want to throw it across the room (women are naturally nurturing and have an instrinsic understanding of nature and The Land, and because this is a matriarchy, nature is totally balanced. It’s the same old “if only women were in charge society would be soooo peaceful!” cliche. I tend to think that any society that’s socially unbalanced will also be unbalanced in regard to their treatment of the “natural” world around them). Because it fucked with my conceptions of biology-as-destiny and the ways our society treats birth and child rearing, I’d put it on any genderfuck-you-should-read list.

Several years ago, I wrote a story called, “The History of Anson U.” I took Freud’s account of Anna O., reversed the genders, plunked it on a foreign world, and ran with it. Problem was, all I really did was switch the genders. I even opened with a nearly identical opening to Egalia’s Daughters in which mom’s reading the paper at the breakfast table and dad’s serving up the victuals (and no, I hadn’t read ED at this point, which says a lot about social stereotypes and how ingrained they are). Needless to say, the story was rejected again and again and eventually retired.

If I tossed “The History of Anson U.” up on my personal website and changed the names so I was writing a piece of Harry Potter/Buffy slash where Buffy played the Freud character and Harry was Anson U., and then cut it in half because I didn’t like the ending, so it remained unfinished, would that story be Tiptree worthy?

I mean, the fact that it’s self-published and slash fiction means it’s “edgy” and “raw,” right? And we need more of that sort of stuff in SF!

No.

Just because it’s self-published slash doesn’t mean it’s anything new or contains anything controversial. The controversy isn’t springing from the story’s ideas but from the fact that all it’s doing is rehashing old ideas that have been better done elsewhere. There’s even a name for that genre of slash: mpreg. This means that unless the story’s saying something new or different or fucking with ideas relating to that already time-worn topic, it’s not worthy for inclusion on a list of fiction that should be getting more mind-blowing and envelope-pushing every year. When people start saying that the most radical genderfuck is going on in real life and not in SF, there’s a problem. It means writers are being lazy. If “genderfuck” means slapdashing off a piece of old hack (ohhhhhh wouldn’t it be kewl if men got pregnant and had to deal with swollen ankles????), what’s that say about the current state of Tipworthy fiction?

It makes me embarassed to be an SF/F writer. Particularly one who’s interested in pushing the genderfuck envelope. I want a long list of what’s out there that pushes me to think in new ways, not fiction that reinforces dominant patriarchal heteronormative ideas about what sex, reproduction, and gender mean.

Which brings me to the Cock.

As one of the few people who’ve actually managed to finish this book, I was appalled to see it on the long list almost as much as I was appalled to see a shitty piece of slash fiction.

Almost.

At least Janine can put together a sentence.

I’ve heard it said that Cock’s inclusion on the long list wasn’t because it showed how crappy life is for women under patriarchy (yawn), but because of the “subversiveness” of the dragonfucking.

Here’s the thing with dragonfucking: it’s just bestiality. There’s nothing new about bestiality, or having sex with animals as part of a religious or mind-altering experience.

But, you may protest, these dragons are sentient!!!!!!

Fucking a dolphin isn’t any more subversive than a girl and donkey show.

The woman may believe she’s edgy and subversive while she’s fucking a donkey, but in the end, she’s fucking a donkey.

I came away from Venom Cock thinking, “Is that it? Sucks to be a woman? Is that all the message you’ve got for me after this masochistic shit-fest?”

Because you know what? The Marquis de Sade was pretty edgy and raw, too. He believed women wouldn’t be equal to men until they could do the same depraved, evil, terrible things men could do, but I wouldn’t nominate Justine for a Tiptree either. It’s a work that exists for another reason: to titillate. Sex sells books. Sexual freedom is certainly a tenet of feminism, but there’s a fine line between sexual freedom and sexual exploitation. It’s up to every woman to decide for herself where that line is (with the help of some great consciousness-raising sessions, I hope). If Cock – about the abuse and slavery of women – were written by a man, would anybody call it revolutionary and feminist? Something tells me Joe Cross would be seen as a little less thought-fucking.

I suppose this is the point where I come out of the closet as a power feminist. Are things shitty for women in most places? They sure are. Will they always be that way? Is showing worlds where it will always be that way forwarding feminism or challenging our thoughts about biological destiny?

I certainly agree with De Sade that before women are equal it must be acknowledged that we can do things that are just as shitty and depraved as what some men can do. If women were in charge, things wouldn’t be much better. There are tools one uses to stay in power. Anytime you set up a power system, you’re going to have to use certain methods to retain your power, and men have used those because they work. Those methods would likely be similiar in a matriarchy, though recast through the lens of woman-as-norm/template.

Reading yet another book about a feudal patriarchy makes me tired, even if it’s set in the jungle with green women as protagonists.

I certainly want controversy around the Tiptree. But I want that controversy to spring from a story’s ideas and the ways those ideas change the way we think. I don’t want a controversy for the sake of controversy (“Should we include slash??” Of course we should, when and if anybody finds a piece that blows their head off. The one on the top of one’s neck, preferably). I want somebody to recommend a book or story that changes my conceptions of sex and gender. That’s a Tiptree.

There are plenty of works out there reinforcing patriarchal heteronormative ideas about sex, gender, and reproduction.

I don’t want them recommended to me on my Tiptree list.

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