Wading the Weird Waters of Fan Fiction with the Women Behind “Slash”
For the uninitiated, the word “slash” is fan fiction parlance for stories that imagine your favorite pop characters as gay lovers. It’s also the title of Leah Hennessey and Emily Allan’s two-woman play, a visceral and rollicking hour-plus ride that weaves together scenes of repressed homoerotic desire bubbling to the surface between everyone from Betty and Veronica to Johnny Marr and Morrissey. Slash evokes the feeling of free-falling down a forum fanfic rabbithole, toggling between 40 tabs of gay fantasy at the same time. This past winter, Hennessey and Allan cultivated rabid fans of their fanfic spectacular during a four-month run at the Chinatown art gallery MX, among them theatre heavyweights like John Cameron Mitchell and David Johansen. And now they’re taking an even bigger stage at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater for a one-night performance on June 12.
Putting together Slash was a research-intensive process for Hennessey and Allan, who wrote and star together in the play. In addition to drawing from their teen years spent hanging around comic shops and reading feminist theory (Susan Sontag and Camilla Paglia feature in one sketch), the duo was informed by lots of scrolling through the obscure pages of devianart, vidding websites, and BowieNet. The pair shared with us some of the geekiest gems they found along the way.
LEAH HENNESSEY: The best thing we discovered while writing our play was the overwhelmingly complex culture of Kirk/Spock fan fiction and fan art, which started in the 1960s and continues to this day.
EMILY ALLAN: It felt like we were discovering the gnostic gospels or something.
HENNESSEY: The Atlantis of gay fan fiction.
ALLAN: Except it’s not hidden. There are pages on pages of fanlore wikis about the history, and real non-poser Trekkies know all about it.
HENNESSEY: But there is and always has been so much drama and infighting in the K/S community—mostly about how to categorize and archive the work, online versus analog etc.—that the world has become very insular and self-referential. It’s endlessly fascinating. So this is the cover of Naked Times, which was a Kirk/Spock story anthology published by Pon Farr Press from 1978-1994. This image is by legendary fan artist Pat Stall.
ALLAN: Who’s basically a saint. Because of a rare eye condition, she would literally cry painful tears as she drew.
HENNESSEY: Pat Stall did some of the best and most iconic Kirk Spock illustrations and she was a star in the fandom and at conventions. Then at the peak of her popularity, she had like an intense religious conversion and she, what’s it called?
ALLAN: Gafiat. She gafiated. Which stands for Getting Away From It All.
HENNESSEY: Right. She “gafiated” and stopped drawing Kirk and Spock as lovers.
ALLAN: We reposted this on our Slash Instagram account (@prettyboysinlove) and only got like 20 likes. Which was shocking. But we’re an ultra boutique Instagram. We’re like the Velvet Underground of underground theater promotional Instagrams—all of the 13 people who follow us have gone on to start their own underground theater promotional Instagrams.
HENNESSEY: There are few phrases more pleasing than “Hamlet with the aux cord”. It’s up there with “Petals on a wet, black bough.”
ALLAN: I went on Archive of Our Own to try to find a Johnlock—
HENNESSEY: Do we have to explain what Johnlock is?
ALLAN: I was trying to find a piece of fan fiction about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from the BBC series Sherlock.
HENNESSEY: That’s what Johnlock is.
ALLAN: Right. And Johnlock is kind of what got us into reading and making work about fan fiction together. And there was this one incredible story—
HENNESSEY: Yes, there was this one genius many chaptered story which was set in an alternate universe (AU) story about Sherlock and Watson in a mashup of Shakespeare plays, but we can’t find it. It disappeared!
ALLAN: While I was looking, I found this story which was too perfect not to include. In it, Sherlock is a notoriously difficult Shakespearean actor, and he flips out when he learns that commercial musical theater star John Watson has been cast as Lady M alongside his Macbeth. They rehearse at Ripley-Grier. It’s great.
HENNESSEY: Gagambo is, literally, one of my favorite contemporary artists. A friend tried to buy one of their pieces and messaged them on Deviant Art but got no reply. Every single piece by Gagambo is perfect. They’re pretty much all as good as this one, but this is one of my favorites. It’s Berlin-era Bowie painting a portrait of Iggy Pop, which Bowie actually did. He painted many paintings of Iggy over the years, but none of them are as good as this.
ALLAN: I like that Iggy looks like a coquettish Saint Sebastian.
HENNESSEY: Or like Odysseus tied to the mast. I also like that he’s looking at us, and Bowie’s looking at his painting.
HENNESSEY: More Kirk/Spock. This is one of the most famous K/S vids of all time. It’s by TJonesy and Killa. It was made in 2003 but went viral in 2006, and it was a lot of people’s first exposure to the world of Kirk Spock slash.
ALLAN: Amok Time is the gift that keeps on giving for the vidding community.
HENNESSEY: Also like, this is a way better music video for the song “Closer” than the official monkey crucifixion one.
HENNESSEY: So this is some choice Drarry (Draco/Harry) fan art by a Tumblr artist who goes by Skarhead. Someone should really publish these or commission a full-length comic or something because they are so moving and so well done. They take the Drarry fantasy to new heights.
ALLAN: This is from a short Skarhead comic “Five Facts About Potter.”
ALLAN: This is from a “Tuggoffelees” comic by crumblygrumbly on DeviantArt.
HENNESSEY: Obviously that’s Rum Tum Tugger and Mr. Mistoffelees. From Cats, the musical.
ALLAN: The comic is called “Tugger’s Apartment” and I think that’s all we want to say about this one.