Sunday, June 22, 2014

Joanna Russ Kirk & Spock Slash Fiction

I managed to get to the Joanna Russ archives.  I looked through the holdings and saw holdings on HP Lovecraft, something called "Sword and the Poppy" and something called "Kirk / Spock."  I figured I'd start with Kirk and Spock.

The reading room is a wonderfully tall room, with corner molding of pyramids and disks, and old rectangular vases placed on darkly stained bookshelves.  The long wooden tables have foam book stands for holding old books open without straining their spines.  After a short wait, a librarian brought me some boxes and I found the folder I wanted.

I half-expected black and white photos of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Fleet garb, or maybe a typed essay of some sort.  What instead came out of folder 13 was a loose collection of yellow legal-sized papers with a longhand draft of a Star Trek story on it.  The line edits and crossed out text gave insight to how she would introduce or develop ideas.

As I read, a very drunk Dr. McCoy walks in on a kinky (OMG!) domination scene (OMG!) between Kirk and Spock (OMG!), who, after four years of working together, have become lovers.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  The story follows Dr. McCoy's dealing with being the fifth wheel.  The Yesterday's Tomorrow's Homophobia was odd coming from McCoy, especially given the rest of the crew's acceptance.

One particular sex scene (OMG!) near the story's end struck me, as Russ wanted to make a connection with Spock as Pan and Kirk as a Golden Grain God.  Again, the cross-outs in the manuscript were instructive about how she wanted to introduce the idea.  

Russ managed to cast two gay male lovers as pagan gods, had managed to do it without it feeling like one of them was the Goddess in drag or a queer retelling of Lot's Daughters, or an artificial queer gloss over a heterersexual construction.  I'm guessing that it was written after Ursula Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness," which would date it no earlier than 1970, but it could be as late as 1980.  [Edit--it appears that Russ was introduced to K/S fiction between "Wrath of Khan" and "The Search for Spock", or 1982-1984.]  Queer Pagan God-lovers were  barely visible in 1985, and I can't imagine someone imagining them in the seventies.  But Russ did.  [Edit--Russ mentions some gay K/S fiction, or at least a story where Kirk and Spock are gay, but it's a tiny minority.]

I skipped the "Alternate Universe Naked Slaveboy Kirk in Chains on Barbarian Vulcan" story and went on to read the draft of the essay, "Women's Pornography and Star Trek." 

Apparently, in the early 1970's there were a number of 'zines devoted to stories written by women, for women, featuring Kirk and Spock as lovers.  They followed a standard romance formula--restraint & reticence, trauma induced holding, crisis, responsibility-shunting circumstance, and a lot of sex--which I recognized in Russ's story draft.  

Russ preferred to call all stories with sex in them pornography, in order to stay out of the "it's not pornography, it's erotica" debate--hence her essay's title.

I was blown away because, apparently, her short story was pornography by a woman for women.  The reading room closed before I could finish Russ's essay, but her reasoning went something like Kirk = Macho Man, Spock = Alien "Not-Man," therefore Spock = Figurative Woman; and therefore, Kirk and Spock's relationship can easily fit--if not more nobly fit--into the framework of a women's traditional romance story.

I'm not sure I agree.  Judging from my reactions as I read the hot throbbing parts, her story worked fairly well as gay porn for me (partially because I took on a Spock persona to survive elementary and middle school, and partially because William Shatner pushed my prepubescent buttons every time he lost his shirt).  But maybe this is one of those manifest content / latent content things, and maybe there's more in the twenty or so pages of Russ's essay that I didn't get to.

I'm sure there must have been some gay male Kirk/Spock slash fiction from the early 1970's, but the only thing I can think of is a passing comment between two characters who had such great sex that think they must have been Vulcans in a mind-meld.  And on additional reflection, gay  smut from the 1970's follows a different formula:  desire, discovery of mutual desire, entrance into a permissive space, slow disrobing, hot throbbing bits, post-coital kiss & summary.  Eighties and nineties, it gets more about safe-sex, caring, and pride.   

So the questions raised are, 1) Are Russ and the authors of 1970's Kirk/Spock slash fiction co-opting depictions of male-male sex to reinforce heteronormative notions of male and female roles in romance?  2) If an author says, "This writing is for women," does that preclude its consumption and enjoyment by a male audience?  3) Is pornography inherently the literature of gender and orientation essentialism?  And, 4) What about Batman and Robin?

Post a Comment