Slashing versus 'Shipping, or Why it's Easier to be a Slasher
For those who aren't sure of the labels, I offer my own quick definition: Slashing: Slashing is the romantic pairing of two characters from a medium (usually television) who are the same gender. 'Shipping is short for "relationshipping", and it's also the romantic pairing of two characters, except they're of different genders.
Examples of slash pairings would be Kirk/Spock (Star Trek), Fraser/Ray (Due South), Jim/Blair (The Sentinel), Xena/Gabrielle (Xena), Paris/Chakotay (Voyager), Janeway/Seven (Voyager), Jack/Daniel (Stargate). I could go on, but you get the idea.
Examples of shipper pairings would be Spock/Nurse Chapel (Star Trek), Fraser/Meg Thatcher (Due South), Janeway/Chakotay (Voyager), Jack/Samantha (Stargate) and of course Mulder/Scully (X-Files). I believe that it was in X-Files fandom that the term "shipper" actually originated. (At least, I had never seen it before then.)
Please note that although the slash ("/") sign is used to denote both kinds of pairings, the term "slash" refers only to same-gender pairings. It was the slash fans who originally began using the slash sign to denote a same-gender pairing. In other words, we invented it, and we're keeping it!
Okay, so why is it easier to be a slash fan, in ten words or less? Easy: it's a lot less nerve-wracking. I was inspired to write this essay by comments made in a review of a Star Trek Voyager episode. Basically, the reviewer wrote that fans of Janeway/Chakotay would be upset by his remarks, and that fans of Paris/Torres would be squealing with happiness at the events in the episode being reviewed. And this got me to thinking: shippers are bound to spend their entire fannish lives on a constant see-saw of ecstasy and disappointment. Ecstasy when "their" pairing gets screen time, disappointment when it doesn't... and, actually, some of them get downright nasty, depressed, or even vow never to watch the show again when a member of "their" chosen pairing has a fling with somebody else.
And a person who is looking at the shipper phenomenon from the outside (that would be me - I'm not a shipper for any current show; in fact I think the only show I can really say I'm a shipper for is Beauty and the Beast, and that pairing was a given anyway!), has to wonder why the shippers do that to themselves. What I mean is, they glom onto a pairing a week or two into the airing of the series, decide that a certain male/female pairing is "meant to be", and nothing and no one will dissuade them from believing that. It does not matter how illogical the pairing might be, or how many times TPTB deny that anything will happen. The shippers just don't care.
Let me provide an example: Star Trek: The Next Generation. A popular pairing among TNG shippers is Picard/Crusher. (This was no doubt helped along by the second episode having Crusher coming on to the captain.) In how many episodes do we get any indication that Picard might have feelings for Beverly, or vice-versa? About six or seven out of 178 episodes. We have the "Not now, Doctor," scene in 'The Naked Now', a couple of takes on, "Jean-Luc, I have to tell you something,", that dance in 'Allegiance', the sharing of thoughts in 'Attached', the evidence of their marriage in 'All Good Things...' and maybe a couple of significant looks in other episodes. But my point is: in less than five percent of the episodes is anything done with the Picard/Crusher, er, "romance". So the shippers spend over 90% of the time being pissed off at TPTB or the characters. Picard cannot romance anybody else. Vash is universally hated (I also hate her, so I can understand this. Why Picard would want to associate with a criminal is beyond me, but I digress); Nella Daron is also despised; in fact, any woman Picard takes a second look at is a target for hatred and vitriolic comments. Shippers see these instances as Picard being "unfaithful" to Beverly. Um, unfaithful? They aren't married. They aren't engaged. They don't even date. But somehow if either of them dares to look at someone else, they are betraying the other! Does this not strike you as just slightly... loopy?
So why is it less nerve-wracking to be a slash fan? Well, for one thing, we don't live in the hope that TPTB will ever do something with our pairing of choice. We don't see the subtext in the same way that shippers do. Shippers take subtext and expect or even demand that TPTB turn it into text. It doesn't matter how many times Janeway says that she won't have a relationship with a member of her crew, the shippers still point out every instance of supposed "J/C moments" and demand that TPTB give them satisfaction. Slash fans don't do this. For one thing, if we did, we'd be ignored, and for another, we don't like to point out these slashy moments to TPTB for fear they might cut down on them. We just sit behind the scenes thinking up slashy fanfic ideas, using the show as a jumping-off point.
We know that TPTB will never make the slashy subtext into text. So we don't sit waiting in vain for, say, Chakotay and Paris to get together on-screen and live happily ever after. We don't accuse Paris of betraying Chakotay by getting together with B'Elanna. We don't accuse Chakotay of misusing poor, abused Tom's feelings by mooning over Janeway. That would be silly. Instead we take whatever "C/P moments" we can find and use them as a framework for good fan fiction. We don't harp on them to each other and ask why TPTB are so dense, and why don't they notice that Chakotay and Tom are meant for each other? Slash is in the eye of the beholder. It always has been, and barring some miracle in the way TPTB see sexuality, it probably always will be. But shipping has the advantage of having the possibility of being seen on screen. Slashing does not. And frankly, that doesn't bother me. I would rather just read fanfic and look at certain scenes in whichever TV show through "slash-coloured glasses" than sit for six or seven years railing against the stubborn and unfeeling Powers That Be who are refusing to let my favourite heterosexual pairing be together.