In the late sixties, a young woman visiting a carnival sideshow was horrified to find that one of the exhibits, the "Seal Boy", suffered from phocomelia, the same limb deformity that confined her to a wheelchair. Outraged, she began a campaign that more or less ended the exhibition of genetically unfortunate human beings. Now you can shop at the local supermarket and casually encounter albinos, dwarves, giants, pinheads, bearded women, and hermaphrodites, all the extremes of the diversity of the human form, people who used to hidden away and only brought into the light for the amusement of those who consider themselves 'normal'. But all freaks of nature are really freaks of culture.
I find that slash fanfiction is in a similar position as the freak of the last century. It is considered a sideshow to the main act, a weird, perverted offshoot of allegedly canon fanfic, something authors should be embarrassed about and apologize to the rest of the fandom for. Slash writers and readers tend to congregate together and form their own separate communities, but this insular tactic, while providing support and encouragement amid the ranks, has also trapped slash connoisseurs in a self-imposed leper colony. The majority of fandom does not really want to deal with slash - they'd prefer it to disappear altogether, or at least have the decency to warn 'normal' people when they are about to happen across it.
So is labeling slash as such just politely warning readers that there is something in a story they might find offensive, or is it the literary equivalent of a carnival barker spieling outside a dank, darkened tent?
Many readers don't like slash. Their reasons range from simple homophobia to a very strict view of what they consider canon. This is their personal preference and, although many arguments can be made against this attitude, in the end their preferences are their own and thus valid. This is not the issue.
Everyone has an opinion. But everyone also has a vision, and an equal right to express it. If, for example, someone doesn't like a particular pairing, they are under no obligation to read about it. Their dislike would color any opinion they formed about the story. But a reflexive rejection of a story based on this element alone can willfully blind a reader to a story that they might have greatly enjoyed for other reasons.
It might be argued that other potentially offending story elements, such as "alternate world" are often labeled. I don't really see these as useful either. It is usually fairly obvious when a story is veering off canon, and if this bothers a reader sufficiently, it takes a mere click of a button to go on to something more palatable. No money or effort has been wasted - perhaps a little time. And it may occur that a reader ends up enjoying a story she would normally have avoided like the plague if it had been labeled. I've always been puzzled but amused by reviews which say, in effect, "I hate slash but I liked your story anyway." I try to take it as a compliment (albeit backhanded) and hope that the next slash story that reader stumbles across will be regarded with a less blinkered perception.
Personally, my slash elements tend to come late in the story, by which time I've already 'trapped' the reader. I like the idea of going under these folk's radar. I love the thought that while I'm seducing them with (hopefully) good writing -plotting, dialog, and description - I am getting them to accept slash not as the reason for a story to exist but just one more ingredient in a stew of human drama. Granted, a story in which two characters hop into bed together in the first paragraph and go at it like little bunnies for the next 18,000 words can't claim to exist for anything but the slash element alone. But I rarely write a story that exists solely for the slash. The relationship between two male characters is used to illuminate a theme. Some stories are so long and complex it is almost demeaning to slap the slash label on them even when it is a important part of the narrative. While there are definite slash elements in SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN, for example, there are also strong hetero relationships and in the end, the main character's connection is based not on gender, whose tabs fit into whose slots, but on acceptance each others as different but equal human beings. It is not "about" slash, and labeling it for this one particular would incorrectly represent the slash element's importance in the work. I did not label it as slash, and very few people mentioned the slash element either in comments or personal correspondence.
The only reason I can see to single out slash is to make it easier for others who are specifically looking for it to find it. Index sites like fanfiction.net do not have slash as a genre label, unlike, say, adultfanfiction.net. But in the end, defending slash is not the point of the labeling/not labeling issue. If one reads, writes and enjoys slash, there is no need to defend oneself any more than there is a need to defend one's choice of red velvet cake over apple pie. And there is no need to warn people about red velvet cake - and better yet, they may just take a bite by accident and find out they enjoy it . . . it's not like accidentally finding out the bite you've just taken contains traces of peanuts and you'd better get yourself to the emergency room, pronto, before you go into anaphylactic shock. I've certainly read fic I wish I hadn't. That goes for 'real' media, too. If I could go in and destroy every brain cell storing information about BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY except for the warning to never, ever watch it, I would gladly do so. But was I hurt by it? No.
Reading slash never hurt anyone. What is it about slash that people need to be protected from?A story element that bothers them. I can't understand why people would only want to read stories that they are reassured will be perfectly safe, with nothing new to make them struggle and squirm and think, where the hero is always good and justified and wins in the end.
A book written several years ago postulated that in order for gays to be accepted, we should tone ourselves down, hide in plain sight. While in many ways I don't agree with that view, it is in something of that spirit that I decided last year to stop labeling my slash as such, and to remove the slash warnings on stories I'd already posted. There is this image of slash as a ghetto, a fetish or perversion. In effect, by labeling slash as a deviation, it is saying that being gay is an aberration. It is particularly telling that one almost never sees a heterosexual ("het" or "gen") warning on any fiction with the degree of penitence and self-defense that is typical with a slash warning. Even a defiant "It's slash, so cope with it" - the fact that an author has to make note of it at all - singles the slash story element out as something freakish.
Slash is a viable iteration of fanfiction, and should proudly stroll down the street elbow-to-elbow with other themes and plot tactics, not be set apart in a cage under a gaudy painted banner.