The idea has been explored thoroughly in the mode of sexually explicit self-published fan works called “slash” fiction. In slash fiction, devotees use established characters from their favorite books, movies or television shows — “The X-Files,” “Harry Potter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — and write their own plots. The genre allows its writers to become part of a world that they could previously only experience through a television screen, says Henry Jenkins, an MIT media studies expert who has written widely about slash.
“I often reference that moment in ‘Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’ where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies,” explains Jenkins “Both of them are reaching out toward each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass.”
On the Web, “Star Trek” slash stories are archived according to their protagonists. Among the most popular categories are “P/Q” (Picard paired up with the Continuum’s Q), “J/7″ (Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway with Borg beauty Seven of Nine) and, of course, “K/S” (Kirk-Spock). For reasons that are the subject of much speculation, almost all of it — including the male-male stuff — is written by women. Much of it is full of soul-searching dialogue, torpid stares and inner ruminations: “Spock averted his eyes. He felt a powerful desire to make Kirk stop, ask him the dangerous questions which hovered unsaid on his tongue.” Even once the action begins, the foreplay is endless.
In P/Q slash, Picard is often depicted as a hypersensitive lover patiently teaching a frustrated Q how to enjoy sex. A typical K/S plot leaves Kirk and Spock stranded on a planet — one of the pair is injured and the other must care for him. In some of the female-female slash, there is no sex at all. The money shot in “Only Over You,” for instance, a Web-posted J/7 story by a woman identified as Magiluna Stormwriter, consists of Seven lying in Janeway’s arms while the captain sings her a lullaby: “People say they know me, but they don’t see. My heart’s your future, your future is me. Angel, please don’t go … I’m out of my mind and it’s only over you.” As far as I can tell, they don’t even bother to take their clothes off — it’s just two women sitting around Utopia, being gay.
In some cases, authors of slash take pains to make clear their same-sex protagonists are heterosexual at heart. But many fans go a step further and say that Spock and Kirk, Q and Picard, and Janeway and Seven are truly gay — or at least have gay tendencies. In the early and mid-’90s, when “Trek” slash was at its height, this led to accusations of homo- and heterophobia on “Trek”-related listservs and message boards. In the “slash wars,” as some call them, arguments turned on obscure plot details and alleged double-entendres.
But the majority of gay Trekkers I spoke with don’t particularly care whether Q is gay, much less whether Spock and Kirk have ever done it. Most just like reading stories that show gayness as part of Roddenberry’s universe. They’d be more than happy with Whoopi Goldberg’s idea of a background shot of two nondescript men holding hands in a bar.
Brynen points to the mid-’90s Warner Bros. television series “Babylon 5″ as an example of how the issue could have been covered. “It was just a throwaway line or two in a single episode,” he told me. “Two male characters have to go undercover to Mars to contact the local resistance. And their cover is that they’re a honeymooning couple. When they’re told this, they make faces at each other and the scene is good for a few laughs. It’s not a big part of the plot. But it’s important. They’re not gay, but the clear implication is that it’s perfectly normal for there to be male-male honeymooning couples. It speaks volumes, even though it was just a few seconds of one show.”