Star Trek: Spock, Kirk and Slash Fiction

People have been writing fan fiction for almost as long as we've been telling stories. In 1614, when Miguel de Cervantes was slow to produce the second volume of "Don Quixote," an anonymous author wrote his or her own continuation of the saga to much acclaim. People being people, there has probably always been erotic fanfic, too, but it never had a name until the early 1970s, when "Star Trek" fans circulated zines postulating a romantic relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock. Soon enough, the writers and readers of the subgenre were referring to it by shorthand: Kirk/Spock was shortened to K/S or, simply, "slash," a term that now refers to any type of fanfic featuring a gay relationship. (Story continued below...)

The anonymity and immediacy of the Web have allowed slash to thrive online, with Internet communities springing up around "Lord of the Rings" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," to name just two of many. "Harry Potter" characters are also a current favorite, although every fictional character imaginable—from "Dawson's Creek" through Marty McFly and Doc from the "Back to the Future" movies—has appeared in slash fiction. But the remarkable thing is that even though characters and series often fall in and out of slash's favor, mirroring the fickle tastes of popular culture, K/S has been thriving consistently for almost 40 years.

K/S writer "Charlotte" gravitated toward Kirk and Spock specifically because "It's the perfect recipe for a great love story. You have two radically different people from millions of miles apart whose lives fit together perfectly." Charlotte, who identifies as bisexual, also cites Spock's fish-out-of-water, half-logical-Vulcan, half-emotional-human heritage: "In an early episode when a virus makes everyone reveal their innermost feelings, Spock says to Kirk, 'When I feel friendship for you, I am ashamed!'" But despite that tension, she says, Kirk tells Spock, "You are closer to the captain [Kirk] than anyone in the universe" in the final episode of the original series, when he's trapped in a woman's body and trying to convince Spock of his identity. "That's a great friendship story," Charlotte says. "If you add a sexual element to that, it becomes a great love story, and some of us see that sexual element."

Shelley, who asked not to use her last name, has been writing K/S and producing K/S artwork for "about 20 years." She attends many sci-fi conventions (including the Southern California-based Escapade, the self-proclaimed "longest-running annual slash convention in the U.S.") and is a beloved member of the K/S community. "I don't think I have ever belonged to a more diverse group," she says, adding that she's befriended women from around the globe and of all ages (slash's diversity doesn't extend to gender: surveys have found that the majority of K/S writers and consumers are heterosexual women).

Most people assume K/S is heavily sex-centric, but that's a misconception. Some stories—including many tales centering around "pon farr," the overpowering Vulcan mating impulse introduced in the episode "Amok Time"—are almost unbelievably explicit, but most are primarily about the creation and maintenance of a romantic relationship. Members of the K/S community are surprisingly good at policing their own work for what they refer to as "the squick factor." Stories are often rated on a scale (G to NC-17) by the author at the very beginning so fans of strictly romantic K/S don't accidentally encounter jarring pornography. (Click here and here for tamer examples of slash fiction and art, respectively.)

Mainstream "Star Trek" fandom hasn't always accepted K/S. Shelley recalls being asked years ago by convention organizers to stop selling her artwork at their event, apparently because it depicted two bare-chested men holding each other in an erotic way: "I was surrounded by people selling all kinds of sexy artwork, but because of the content of my drawings, I had to take them down."

Mark Anbinder, a coordinator of STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association, as well as "a founding member of USS Accord," the Ithaca, N.Y., chapter of the same organization, isn't interested in slash himself, but he does understand it. "Even if it would never occur to some viewers that these characters could be lovers," he says, "there was an obvious bond between them that everyone could see." Shelley believes the romantic relationship between Kirk and Spock was "written into the show." Charlotte is less sure, noting that Gene Roddenberry reportedly believed Spock was asexual. Anbinder thinks it was more pragmatic: "Roddenberry was a really open-minded guy, but he also knew a good thing when he saw one."

No matter what the new movie means to "Star Trek" fandom—the mind reels at what slash writers might make of virile, 20-something Kirk and Spock as played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto—K/S will undoubtedly continue to flourish, in part because the community has such strong empathy for the characters. Charlotte, who lives "in the Southeast, in a state where gay relationships have absolutely no rights," will be visiting Massachusetts this June to marry a woman she met through K/S, and she says Kirk and Spock have provided an example for their relationship. "K/S has it all: friendship, relationship drama that gets resolved, enormous expressions of devotion through sacrifice, trust and commitment over a period of decades. It's really hard to find another fictional couple that did all that, and did it as well." She adds that they will not dress in "Trek" uniforms at the wedding.