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How Friendly Were Frodo and Sam? An ApolloCon 2007 panel

CIMG6461Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins

Description in the program book: Was there a homoerotic subtext to Lord of the Rings? Is subtext in the eye of the beholder, or is Spec Fic friendlier to GLBT characters and readings than the mainstream? Panelists discuss the perception of alternative sexualities in SF/F.

Panelists: Alexis Glynn Latner (moderator), Lee Martindale, Jess Nevins, Selina Rosen, Mel. White

What was it really about:

The discussion didn't focus so much about a relationship between Frodo and Sam (though there was some speculation), or even whether SF is friendlier to gay / lesbian / bi /transsexual (GLBT) characters than mainstream literature. Mostly it revolved around fan fiction, especially slash fiction.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery.

At first there was some speculation about Frodo and Sam. Jess Nevins thinks that while Tolkien certainly never intended Frodo and Sam have a homosexual relationship, a reader has every right to read what they want into the text; a reader's interpretation is just as valid as the author's. And the way Jess saw it, Frodo and Sam were shagging like minks. :-) (At least I think he said minks.)

The rest of the panelists were rather skeptical of this interpretation. Selina Rosen thought Sam and Frodo weren't gay, but formed a bond of the kind that people often form with others of their own sex: just like women are often closer to their female friends than to their husbands, men also often form closer bonds with other men than with their wives. They are able to talk with friends about things they can't talk with wives or girlfriends about. Selina also added that a person entrusted with great responsibility, like Frodo, often has no time or energy for romance.

Somebody else suggested Frodo was essentially asexual: either he had not hit puberty yet, or he had no interest in love or sex, whereas Sam was a grown man.

From there, the discussion effortlessly jumped to slash fiction. Lee Martindale was vehemently opposed not just to slash fiction, but to most kinds of fan fiction, except those written with the author's explicit permission.

Lee Martindale. I have a problem with someone who hasn't created those characters rewriting this stuff. I ran across [a fan fiction story where] a couple of my characters had been hijacked and "slashed". That is the verb, isn't it? My first reaction was, what the hell? My second reaction was, I'm half Italian, half Irish. First I get mad, then I get even. [...] I came down on it with all 4 feet. One, they didn't create those characters, I did. Two, I didn't treat their sex life in any way, shape or form in that 3000 word story; and three, they are copyrighted. I wanted to do different things with those characters, and now I can't. I want to take them down and scrub them down with a wire brush.

She added that because of that particular slash story, she started getting hate mail from conservative Christian groups. They didn't know it wasn't her who wrote it.

Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins at ApolloCon 2007
Selina Rosen and Jess Nevins. More pictures from ApolloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery.

The rest of the panelists defended fan fiction in general, even if not necessarily slash fiction. Selina Rosen observed that fan fiction may get readers interested in the real author's works.

Lee Martindale. If that's the way my stuff gets out, I'd rather it didn't. [...] Why aren't they [fans] writing original fiction?

A woman in the audience. Because that's much harder.

Selina Rosen. They are not writers, they are fans.

Jess Nevins. I didn't write fan fiction because I lacked imagination. I did it because by making use of preexisting universe I guaranteed myself an audience. In fan fiction you are guaranteed feedback.

Mel. White at ApolloCon 2007
Mel. White. More pictures from ApolloCon 2007 are in my photo gallery.

Mel. White observed that slash fiction isn't primarily written by GLBT writers. It's written by women for women. It's a counterbalance to all those stories written by men for men about hot lesbian sex. A woman in the audience added that slash fiction does not address gay issues at all. It is a way for women to turn tables on men. Selina Rosen agreed that it's a power thing for straight women.

As far as whether speculative fiction is friendlier to GLBT characters and readings than the mainstream? There weren't any great insights there. Yes, the fandom is more open to the diversity and alternative lifestyles than the mainstream society. But speculative fiction does not have significant power to open the minds of those who don't want to open their minds.

Lee Martindale. SF is only as liberal as the readers and the writers. You have people like Selina who write kick-ass lesbian characters. But if a reader whose mind is so narrow you could thread it through a needle, picks up one of Selina's books, if they haven't tossed it across the room, they'll send her hate mail.

I put together an anthology "Such a pretty face" about fat people. Some people feel about fat people as strongly as the way some others feel about melanin in the skin. I still get death threats since it first came out. We can write a story, but we can't guarantee that prejudiced people won't feel strongly about your book without even having read it.