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an essay by Judith Gran

Originally posted to the Society for Slash Diversity and COCO CHANNEL, circa 1999.

You remember the net vs. zines discussion in the K/S newsletter we were talking about a couple of weeks ago? I just got a message from one of the editors refusing to print my letter. I decided this probably means I was *meant* to post it to the Society for Slash Diversity. So here it is.

In the latest round of concern about K/S and the internet, I'm struck by the uncanny similarity between the attacks on K/S by anti-K/S fans in the late 1970s and the present attacks by printfen on the Net. The arguments are almost exactly the same. Twenty years ago, anti-K/S fans tried to persuade us not to publish K/S fiction in zines by arguing that this would bring down the wrath of Paramount not only on K/S fandom but on TOS fandom as a whole. They urged that "outing" K/S in zines would draw negative public attention to TOS fandom and turn TOS fans into beleaguered fugitives from mundane scorn.

That alarmist scenario didn't materialize then, nor will it now. Twenty years ago, K/S zine fiction survived the scrutiny of The Powers That Be (Paramount and its parent corporation) and emerged unscathed. Nothing has changed in the five years that K/S fan fiction has been available freely on the net.

K/S fandom has decidedly not been "underground" for by far the greater part of its 25-year existence. When K/S literature and art began appearing in zines in the late 1970s, Star Trek fandom was much larger than it is now, and its boundaries were more permeable. Star Trek conventions were vast affairs at downtown big-city hotels and convention centers, attended by members of the general public as well as by dedicated fans. K/S zines were sold openly at these cons, in full view of mundane citizens and the "suits" from Paramount. Because the Star Trek Welcomittee was actively and publicly disseminating zine listings, fans were able to beat a well-trodden path from pro publications to the Welcomittee to K/S zines and fandom.

I can vouch for the fact that Paramount knew about K/S by at least the early 1980s, if not earlier. In April, 1983, I interviewed the lawyer who was in charge of Star Trek copyright matters for Gulf & Western Corporation (which owned Paramount before Viacom) about fan fiction and fair use. He initiated the topic of K/S, and it was clear that he was well aware of its existence and that Paramount had no intention of doing anything about it.

For at least twenty-five years, the Star Trek copyright owners have behaved consistently. They have cracked down on unauthorized Star Trek merchandise and fan products that copy images and sound clips, while leaving fan fiction strictly alone. In 1997, Viacom sent cease and desist letters to the owners of approximately one hundred web sites where film and sound clips were posted; not a single fan fiction site received such a letter. Nor have the Star Trek fan fiction newsgroups been bothered. Since John Ordover participates actively in ASC, this is certainly not because the copyright owners don't know about ASC and ASCEM.

I think it's important to distinguish between the protection of personal privacy, on the one hand, and the "underground" status of K/S fandom generally, on the other. As Greywolf pointed out, privacy is a very powerful value in the net community. In twenty-one years in K/S fandom, all the violations of K/S fans' privacy that I have witnessed have come, without exception, from within the print community.

Some netfen have very specific and valid reasons not to use their real life (RL) identities when they post explicit K/S fiction, and other netfen respect that without question. The majority of net writers do not post under their "real" names or their customary e-mail addresses. It is very easy to get a free, anonymous e-mail account--consult any net fan for the particulars. Ironically, some excellent K/S writers prefer to publish on the net rather than in zines because they feel they have more privacy on the net.

Other netfen choose to be "out" about their K/S activities, a personal decision that also is respected. Netizens who've posted K/S using their real names include our own Mary Ellen Curtin and numerous other writers less well-known here. My own experience in three years of posting explicit K/S fan fiction on the net under my own name, using the e-mail address I use for all my professional correspondence, suggests that no one seems to care one way or the other that I write K/S. This would include the state government officials, school boards, institutional parent organizations and unions I deal with every day in RL, all over the country--including the Bible Belt. In RL I rub shoulders with many, many people who are socially conservative, homophobic, or fundamentalist Christians, some as adversaries, some as clients whom I've represented for fifteen years. In these days when every school district has its own web site, almost everyone I encounter professionally is online and capable of finding my K/S stories in fifteen seconds with a search engine. How many negative consequences do you think I've experienced in the last three years from posting K/S openly on the net? The number is a flat zero. None.

No, of course I'm not saying that everyone should post K/S under her own name. I'm saying only that my own experience doesn't support the doom-and-gloom prognosis I've been reading here. If it were true, I should have been fired by my clients and outed by my adversaries ages ago. It hasn't happened.

As others have pointed out, K/S fan fiction is only a tiny wrinkle on the vast corpus of slash on the net. It's far, far outnumbered by slash based on other popular TV series such as Xena and the X-Files. In a recent straw poll for "favorite slash couple" at a voting booth site on the web, Kirk and Spock were so far down the list they rated less than 1% of the vote. Dearly as we love our own fandom, we need to put its significance in perspective.

When, twenty years ago, anti-K/S fen attacked the publishing of K/S fan fiction "openly" in zines, I'm sure that some of them believed sincerely that this would be the death-knell of fandom. But others just did not want K/S to be published, period, and used every argument they could think of to stop it from appearing in zines. Similarly, I suspect that some of the in terrorem arguments against K/S online may be coming from fans who are unhappy about net fandom and wish it didn't exist at all.

For those who are unhappy about K/S on the net, I agree that net fandom can be scary. It's different from the printfan community. It's larger, more diverse, and like any community, it has its own norms, values and mores. But wishing won't make it go away. For those who do not have any special animus against net fandom but do have genuine fears, I don't think it's too much to ask that you look at the empirical evidence. Before you conclude that K/S on the net is a mortal threat to all we hold dear, shouldn't you look at facts, history, data and experience rather than relying on your own untested assumptions to reach that conclusion?


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updated October 21, 2002

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