2. The Participants: Demographics and Discussion

This section describes and discusses some of the characteristics of the 275 people who responded to the questionnaire.

2.1 Sex

All but one of the respondents was female. Bacon-Smith (1986, cited in Jenkins, 1992) estimated that only 10% of fan fiction is written by men. Although Jenkins (1992) did not perform a survey, he mentioned that he personally knew of very few men in slash writing. Thus he described the slash writing genre as "an even more exclusively feminine genre" (191). Cicioni (1998:53) described slash as, "women's active reconstruction of representations of male pair-bonds". The result of this study provides statistical support for the descriptions of slash as primarily a genre written by women.

2.2 Sexual Orientation

The term "sexual orientation" is somewhat controversial. There are many interpretations of what this term means. However, it is not an aim of this study to present a detailed discussion on this issue. Briefly, Eliason (1996) points out that sexual orientation typically refers to an innate preference toward a gender of sexual partner. Bailey (1995) defines sexual orientation as a psychological term. Therefore, it refers to the gender people are attracted to rather than what their actual behavior is. The issue of whether sexual orientation is biologically or socially influenced is still debated (Eliason, 1996).

For the purpose of this study, categories of sexual orientation are defined below. The responses to this question were divided into seven categories. The first five of these could be used as a continuum from heterosexual to homosexual. The last two were outside of this continuum.

The categories were defined as follows:

Heterosexual - Those who wrote they were heterosexual with no other qualifying comments (e.g. heterosexual, straight, like men, male, boys).

Mostly heterosexual - Those who wrote they were heterosexual but qualified their answer with some uncertainty (eg. mostly het, het...I guess, het bordering on bi-curious, slight bi leanings, straight sort of, might be bi, het - bi curious, straight but who knows, het with bi tendencies, het would be lesbian, het as far as I can see right now, het but open to being bi one day).

Bisexual - Those who wrote they were bisexual either with or without qualifying comments, or those who set no limits for themselves (e.g. bi leaning towards straight, bi not sure, unlabeled-no limits, bi unsure, pansexual, bi questioning, bi leaning towards lesbian). To expand this category into finer distinctions is beyond the aims of this study.

Mostly homosexual - Those who wrote they were gay but qualified their answer with some uncertainty.

Homosexual - Those who wrote they were homosexual with no other qualifying comments.

Undecided - Those who wrote they were undecided but did not say where on the continuum they would place themselves (e.g. undecided, unsure, confused).

Non-sexual - Those who wrote they were not sexual at all (e.g. asexual, non-sexual, none).

There were only nine participants (3%) who did not respond to this question. Two of those wrote that they did not understand the question. Table 1 shows the distribution of sexual orientations among the participants.

Table 1: Sexual orientation of the participants

Orientation Number of Participants Percentage
Heterosexual 124 45
Mostly Heterosexual 39 14
Bisexual 84 30.5
Mostly Homosexual 0 0
Homosexual 10 4
Undecided 6 3
Non-sexual 2 1

Table 1 shows that just under half (45%) of the participants identified themselves as heterosexual. In addition, 14% also considered themselves to be heterosexual but questioning that identity and possibly moving toward bisexuality. Nearly a third of the participants identified themselves as bisexual, and four percent said they were lesbian. This finding shows that this slash community contains women along the entire continuum of sexual orientation, though most tended to be in the heterosexual to bisexual range.

The community of female slash writers has been described as mostly heterosexual with some bisexual and lesbian women also participating. Cicioni (1998) has described female slash writers as "prevailingly heterosexual" (p. 154). Jenkins (1992) mentioned that slash is described as a feminine genre. He states that a common assumption is that straight, bisexual and lesbian women enjoy male-male erotica and that this shows how the genre offers a criticism to the way in which masculinity is traditionally constructed. Green, Jenkins and Jenkins (1998:11) claimed that "...lesbian and bisexual women have always participated alongside straight women in slash fandom..." This statement could imply that the slash community is composed equally of the three orientations. However, the finding of this study suggests that quite a number of bisexual women, and relatively few lesbian women participate in slash. This result contrasts somewhat with the previously made claims. Further empirical research would be needed to gain a more certain picture of the proportion of lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women participating in slash. The assumption of whether this proportion remains consistent across fandoms could also be investigated. If the slash community is composed mostly of heterosexual and bisexual women, then speculations could be made as to why this occurs. This study does show that slash is not the exclusive domain of either heterosexual or bisexual women.

Slash as an influence on sexual orientation

In this study, a number of respondents claimed to be heterosexual but also mentioned that they were not sure. In some cases their introduction into the slash community contributed to questioning their own beliefs about sexuality. This is illustrated by the first two quotes below. The final quote from R216 was in response to the length of history of reading slash. For her, slash helped her to accept herself as bisexual.

Straight, but questioning due to people met and situations encountered through slash fandoms. (R35)

Not sure, lol! I've only been in love with men, but since the moment I discovered slash fanfiction, I've begun to think there's a part of bisexuality (developed or not)in every man and woman. But for time being, Iprefer men ;o) (R133)

Whenever I was trying to figure out my own sexuality. I needed to accept gays before I could accept myself, and reading slash helped me through that. I was a bit homophobic before it. (R216)

I do however know that being a slash reader has influenced my views on sexuality, though. I am so much more open-minded now than I ever was. Definietely more tolerant of people's sexual preferences. Thank slash for that. (R7)

2.3 Location and Language

Although location was not asked for, many participants gave this information, and a few were interested in knowing where others came from. Responses came from several countries. These included: North America, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

Although English is the language in which slash stories tend to be posted, slash is also written in other languages. Several participants mentioned that English was not their native language. One person gave language as a reason for not posting her story; she had written the story in German.

It's German AND original AND I hope that maybe *crosses fingers* somebody will publish it. If not, I'll post it. (R225)

Another person mentioned that she had written slash longer than she had read it because she did not know slash existed due to the difficulty of finding fan fiction in Germany.

longer than I read! I'm writing -only for myself- and didn't know something like slash existed (Hey, I'm from Germany! I don't think that exists here! You hardly find fanfiction at all). (R269)

In Jenkins' (1992) ethnographic account of fan fiction writers, he notes that the participants come from a variety of countries. He claims that the subculture of fan fiction writers crosses geographic and generational boundaries. Likewise, this study shows the same to be true for the specific genre of slash writers. The next part of the demographic analysis shows that, similar to Jenkins' study, the slash subculture also crosses generations.

2.4 Age

Most respondents gave their age. In a few cases where age was not specifically given, it could be determined from other information. For example, someone giving her age as "late thirties" was placed in the 36-40 group. The following table shows the age distribution of the respondents.

Table 2: Age distribution of respondents

Age range No. of respondents Percent
15 and under 41 15
16-20 129 47
21-25 53 19
26-30 21 8
31-35 3 1
36-40 5 2
41-45 7 3
46-50 3 1
51-55 2 1
Over 55 0 0
No response and
Age undeterminable
9 3

It is clear from Table 2 that the vast majority (81%) of the respondents were under 25 years. This finding suggests that most slashers are young women. However, it does not prove that this is the case. It is possible that younger slashers are more comfortable with computers or their slash writing interests and are therefore more likely to respond to a questionnaire on-line. However, there could also be more underage slashers who did not respond to the questionnaire because they were underage.

Although slash sites often warn underage people against entering, 87 (32%) respondents to this questionnaire were under 18. The youngest respondents were 12. There were also several respondents who were underage when they started reading slash. Therefore, despite the warnings, it is clear that, in reality, younger readers choose to participate in slash.

Er... I kinda ignored the warnings about being under 18, but howcouldI resist? This age stuff is so unfair. (R133)

Some participants mentioned that they had been pairing same sex characters in their mind even before they discovered slash sites or even knew what slash was.

I adored it from the first time I read any- and had mused about slash
relationships before I knew of the genre, but never wrote anything down. (R13)

so I started writing before I knew that there are lots of other people who do the same. (R129)

I actually started writing fanfic before I knew it existed--a book-length Picard/Q story which was suggestive, but not explicit. (R189)

Prevailing cultural attitudes might dictate that under age readers should be banned from accessing such material as this could disturb some readers. However, in the absence of being able to enforce this, it might be more practical to consider how younger readers can be protected in terms of introducing them in a more controlled way to the slash genre. This issue will be discussed in the section regarding people's initial reactions to slash.

2.5 Occupation

The most common occupation of those who responded to this questionnaire was student. A total of 200 participants said they were only students. Another 10 listed 'student' as part of two occupations. These two groups combined make up 77% of the total participants. This is not surprising considering the young age of many respondents in this study.

Other occupations included (in no particular order): journalist, chef, teacher (university or school), webmistress, fabric wholesale, accountant, professional child care worker, homemaker, mother, manager, editor, fashion designer, advertising work, executive assistant, secretary, writer, historian, radio programmer, sales person, artist, x-ray technician, files and records worker, horse trainer, theatre producer, computer graphic artist, civil servant, scientist, paralegal, editor, dog groomer, mortgage processor, freelance work, and unemployed or gap year.

In addition to being mostly female and white, Jenkins (1992) mentions that the enthusiasts of film and television fan fiction tend to be middle class. Most of the participants in this study could also be classified as middle class due to their occupations or status as college students. This is not to say that the enjoyment of slash is confined to this type of person, however. The enjoyment of male-male erotica is likely to encompass more than those who have access to the Internet.

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