ext_841: (john double (by monanotlisa))
[identity profile] cathexys.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] the_comfy_chair
I'm really interested in the way fanfiction uses, changes, and inverts tropes that are readily available in popular culture as well as the ones fanfic itself has created. I've argued elsewhere about fanfiction being repetition with a difference1, and looking at narrative tropes offers one way to instantiate both the repetition (in the way tropes repeat basic plot structures, archetypal characteristics etc.) and the difference (in the way every story fleshes out the trope but even more so in the way the trope gets altered and shifts in a given story but also over time).

One trope I'm particularly interested in is WNGWJLEO (We're Not Gay, We Just Love Each Other), which to me is the archetrope of old skool slash (i.e., I'd argue that the underlying structure is one that can be found in a large number if not the majority of traditional slash narratives even if the trope itself is not actually visible). I've recently talked at length about WNG and the way I think the underlying motivations have been updated to rid the trope of much of its homophobic sentiments (though I'd maintain that even as some of the stories were indeed violently homophobic, the trope itself never has been as I read it).

Three stories that came out recently illustrate to me the way in which this trope does and does not function. In the following, I want to look at [livejournal.com profile] thingwithwings's always should be someone you really love and then briefly at [livejournal.com profile] trinityofone's You're Pretty Good Looking for a Girl and [livejournal.com profile] toomuchplor's Straight As a Circle. The reason these three stories struck me as interesting (beyond all three being meaty, well written, longish McShep romances :) is the way they ultimately are *not* what I'd expect them to be given a brief plot summary, and each one uses versions of WNG to challenge and subvert the trope in interesting ways.

Always Should Be as inverted WNG
always should be someone you really love (ASB) not only announces its WNG thematic in the title (the emphasis on love as the driving and overwhelming feature is something that I consider central to WNG), it actually, literally, employs WNG in its plot, i.e., John and Rodney are straight, get genderswitched, start having sex as women with one another, get switched back and, after a time, realize that they do want to continue/return to being involved with one another. On the surface, this evokes the basic WNG premise: two seemingly straight guys realize for one reason or other their deep and abiding love for one another and decide to express that love physically even though they were not/are not/still do not consider themselves to be "gay." It plays with some of the common WNG subtropes, i.e., the virgin to sex/gay sex/penetration, and does so twice over as both John and Rodney are literally virgins in their female bodies and (to gay sex) in their male bodies.

community belonging vs individual transcending love
And yet ASB is exactly the opposite of WNG. WNG is built on the overwhelming force of individual attraction/love overcoming societal/cultural expectations and constraints (and here I'd also include stories where the lovers defy external prohibitions for the lover that they previously had obeyed, i.e., John knowing he was gay all along but only for Rodney deciding to risk DADT or Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon defying the Jedi prohibition against overly deep emotional involvement or Bodie and Doyle risking being torn apart as partners because their love is stronger than their responsibility to CI5,...). ASB, on the other hand, is less about individual love than about community and finding one's own, one's tribe, people like oneself. This is what ASB is for me as John and Rodney do not overcome their "wrong" bodies for their deep love as much as they actually retain their desires for long sections of the story. In a way, then, it is the story's focus on bodies that makes it so very queer. In terms of WNG the problem for me here is that there's little emphasis as to why John desired Rodney specifically and their love is incredibly bound to the bodies they actually inhabit and have sex with rather than being a love that transcends (and thus, in a way, ignores) bodies and orientations. Of course, many slash stories use external situations (AMTDI, drugs, bonded) as a means to make the OTP realize that their strong affection is something more indeed. But I would contend that the emphasis is less on becoming aware of the other as potential mate as it is about both of them sharing an experience. The emphasis throughout is on the way they themselves are changing rather than the way their relationship is (i.e., much of the internal growth and increased awareness is about themselves rather than their responses to the other).

"Two men can defy the world."2
This reading is clearly the most contentious part of my argument. [livejournal.com profile] trobadora read a first draft and commented how she read the story as a fusion of the fuckbuddies and WNG trope - the "against our normal orientation" part of WNG with the "coming together through sex" part of the fuckbuddies trope. She suggests that the shared experience changesand sexualizes their relationship but that it is not the *basis* for it. I'd argue that given the fact that fan fiction tends to foreground and emphasize the friendship, that we tend to accept the OTP as clearly meant to be together, ASB seems to work *against* that easy acceptance. Clearly community is not all there is; they are close friends and everything that always seems sufficient to make me accept that they fall into bed together in any other slash story. The fact that there is no discussion of their changed sexual object choice yet a lot of discussion of their shared experiences makes me read this story against a more typical slash reading. Finally, the fact that's it's only two of them seems sufficient to me to argue for a community reading--because two men *can* defy the world :)

loving (as) women
At the beginning of the story, when John and Rodney become women, they retain their male identity and female object choice. In fact, during their first sexual encounter, John says you are really gorgeous as a woman and Rodney responds You’re completely my type. Sex initially is described very much in terms of having sex *with* a woman, though their experiences clearly queer them in interesting ways. As they masturbate their female bodies they become both subject and object. This is hinted at in the very beginning when John describes his ambiguous feelings in regards to his new body: He can’t tell anyone, not even McKay, how much he loves this, this body all new for him, beautiful and unworn. But he’d been almost glad of that; it stays his secret, delicious and perverse. And as they move towards fucking, they seem to fully accept their sexuality as becoming something that's not binary any more, i.e., whereas before they seem to primarily have sex *with* a woman, they're now fully having sex *as* a woman. So when John fantasizes about having a cock to fuck Rodney, Rodney agrees with him I mean, what the hell, this body seems to like having, uh. God. Having things inside ii, thus accepting the cognitive dissonance in both of them between their physical and intellectual desires. [Or, to reference Wittig,3 they define themselves as lesbians, and thus, in a way, as *not* woman--though, of course, neither are they not *not* woman :)] What the story does then, is mix and merge and twist sexual identity and sexual object choice; but any sense of straight or gay requires a certain stability in both. Neither John nor Rodney have that and their sense of identity as sexual beings is constantly changed as they remain in their female bodies and as they begin having sex with one another. Whereas the beginning is them noticing one another as attractive females (thus retaining their initial straight object choice), their own bodies clearly make their sexual encounters "gay," but it is the awareness of their bodies as these multi-erogenous zones that can give and receive various forms of pleasure that complicates any clear position for identity or desire at the end of their tenure as women. In fact their discovery of their own "polymorphous perverse sexuality,"4 functions as a mirror, disrupting the genital obsession binary as their changed genders disrupt traditional gender binaries: the acceptance of the spectrum of gender identity is doubled in the spectrum of the bodies as sexual zones in toto.

no return
So we have the very queer male lesbians and then they get their bodies back. And it is the second violation, the second shift that moves both of them completely into territory where noone can connect with them fully, where they only have one another to relate to. They have been both male and female, have had desires and experiences as both male and female, and the disconnect (a little heavyhandedly symbolized via the vertigo that follows the identical phrasing of both changes) is repeted in the second switch, which suggests that they're not just back in their bodies without having been affected. John's masturbation scene was quite problematic for me at first. I read his trying to fuck himself and not enjoying it as a weird way to bring in that deep Rodneysexualness that WNG sometimes implies (a reading that the rest of the story didn't support, however). [livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings suggests that the reason he couldn't enjoy it was that he tried to replicate the penetration and enjoyment of his *female* body: I'd say that it's more about the melancholia, the feeling of loss. No one who puts a dildo in their ass and wants it to feel like vaginal intercourse is going to enjoy it. And John is still in that place where he's getting used to his male body again [source].5 This would further suggest that his change created an identity that could never fully return to only male but would always retain an aspect of female desire. So if he was trying to have sex as a female getting fucked, trying to recapture what he'd lost, he couldn't enjoy his male body and ass but instead was trying to regain the feelings and sense of self he'd gained as female, was experienced his loss of his vagina. The fact that he'd want that penetration as female is a wonderful way of showing how much he'd already changed, how much his identity and sexuality already had changed.

doubled bodies
When they finally get back together, their doubled identities and desires get represented in the overlaid image: John is overwhelmed by double-vision: Rodney’s strong masculine jaw shadowed by the gentler curve it’d held two weeks ago, his broad, furry chest reminding John of his beautiful soft breasts.. So rather than the very detailed focus we had when they were loving each other's female bodies, we're getting a mix of the body and the person being desired, the doubling of their sexual identities both in themselves and their lovers. Looking at the sex scenes and the conversations between the two, I read their connection less about the deep transcending love of WNG as about multitudes of desire, about the coming to terms with sexual bodies being multiple and a polymorphous perverse desire where all parts of the body become erogenous zones. I'd like to think that that's what they learned as women--the story very much emphasizes breasts and other non genital parts of the bodies they touch and inhabit. So, if they as men suddenly realize the entire body as a canvas of potential desire then their male bodies, suddenly rediscovered as they're as alien as their recent female bodies have been, can become a more plural playing ground. The author in comments describes John and Rodney as "fairly uncritical middle-aged heterosexual men ho think in terms of gay/straight, at least for most of the story" [source] ; nevertheless, both have already understood in their behavior much more than they could possibly articulate. So they may *think* that they're not gay but just love each other, but we see a different story. Just before they get back together, for example, John smells Rodney's familiar smell, thus suggesting that his senses are way ahead of him in terms of what he does or doesn't want: It’s heartbreakingly familiar: Rodney’s smell, and his blue eyes, and his warm body against John’s.. It is the emphasis on familiarity that most suggests a reading that foregrounds their love, the sense that Rodney and John are still the same underneath their bodies, but most of the body descriptions to me suggest that in this story they *are* their bodies, that it is exactly the vertigo and doubledness that brings and keeps them together.

alien queer radical gender terrorists and tarin
One of the most enjoyable meta aspects of the text is the way the author doubles herself into the text: clearly she violates John's and Rodney's genders in writing the story, thus becoming the alien queer radical gender terrorist she creates. Moreover, she offers an ever so brief history of queer life and the importance of community in the figure of Tarin as [livejournal.com profile] heyiya observes, I want to know Tarin's life story; he's such an interesting, enigmatic character, and I hope I'm not wrong in seeing a nod to all the lonely passing/ftm/butch stories of lesbian literature [source]. It is in the figure of Tarin and hir loneliness that we can see the community of two that John and Rodney have created. After all, much of John and Rodney's initial relation is about finding someone who understands (and it's telling that they go to one another rather than the women they know, that they help each other through their first menses rather than asking Teyla etc.), who shares this unstable and complicated sense of self.6 So to me, Rodney and John deciding to become lovers after the second genderswitch is as much about being with the one person who is both male and female and who understand being both male and female as much as it is about some imaginary "love" that they've discovered when sleeping together. (And, of course, the question then becomes what "love" actually is, with love getting constructed somewhere between desire and identity and community and that nebulous thing we call attraction :)

physicality: metaphor or not?
Likewise, ASB's excessive emphasis on physicality in and for itself is in direct rejection of one of the more typical WNG aspects: WNG, after all, foregrounds the emotional intimacy and transcending/transcendent love over physical embodiments. The reason the partners may not consider themselves "gay" is often expressed in their realization that they are not attracted to other guys or, at least, that they wouldn't be willing to defy whatever rules or norms they're defying were it not for the love of the other. I'd suggest that a crossover trope of WNG is the way sex and physicality per se mark intense relations in their intellectual and emotional intimacy [and I say crossover, because even though most WNG employs it, I'd argue it's even more pervasive, b/c a lot of fuck buddies falling in love also uses it, where we begin with (possibly even anonymous) sex and make our way to the emotional intimacy, where the sex begins as just sex and then morphs into something altogether different, i.e., the *quality* of the sex functions as metaphor]. Interestingly, it's not even only sex which figures utterly central and carries much of the metaphoric weight but simple physicality that stands in for other things.7 ASB does not follow that pattern. Its physical focus (and there's plenty) rarely ever function metaphorically (i.e., John contemplating Rodney's breast as a symbol of his growing love for him) but tends to be very much *about* the bodies (and female ones at that :). There's no transcending awareness and *knowing* the partner's desires before/better than the partner does but instead experimenting and curiosity and a fair share of just plain desire in/of the female body. The sex scenes are erotic and sexy but they stand in for themselves rather than their growing love. In fact, the final scene we have is of the non-erect penis, which works nicely as a a deemphasis of the phallus as the center stage of their identities and desires, as the primary means of pleasure. If their female desires are multiple and not as genitally focused, then their doublegendered/multigendered new identities and desires should exceed the phallus as well.

noone's gay as genderqueer utopia?
So, if there is any way to read the story as WNG, I'd suggest it's rather a version of NIGWAJLEO (Noone Is Gay; We all Just Love Each Other), which, of course, is one underlying aspect of WNG, i.e., the ideal that we (should?) love people and not the bodies in which they come. Read like that, the trope does posit a near utopian space that could maybe be read as very genderqueer, i.e., where the individual rather than the sex is loved. In that sense, the story is doing that, though it's not something specific to Rodney and John's love but it is very specific to Rodney and John's particular experiences. In that reading, the ancient device that forces every ancient to experience both genders might have created a society of intersexed/multisexed/multidesiring subjects, but in the story, only Rodney and John have had that experience and that sense of understanding, of belonging, is a strong aspect of searching one another out, of their love!

You're Pretty Good Looking and the vicissitudes of bodies
"You're Pretty Good Looking for a Girl" presents us with another double gender swap, this time Laura Cadman and Rodney get stuck in different bodies. The most interesting response to me is Cadman's who seems to adjust to the change with a certain ease not exhibited by Rodney: She had no problem with it: her movements were easy—had been, from almost the beginning. This could simply be the author's focus on Rodney as point of view character, but I'd suggest that Cadman might simply be more genderqueer, more at ease with her male side even before the switch. She's an explosion expert in the Marines, a predominatly male area in a fairly male field. Unlike Rodney who's invested in his masculinity and mourns it, Cadman adjusts more easily (which also might suggest that changing "up the social ladder"'s easier than down?). Rodney's concerns are both the different (i.e., female) body as well as his apparently biological responses to John: He was aware of Sheppard—or rather, he told himself frantically, this body was aware of him. So in the figure of Rodney we see an emphasis on biological determination as he suddenly seems to find John attractive in ways he previously didn't (or didn't let himself acknowledge?). Sadly, once John and Rodney get together, we see less of Rodney's issues about having sex with a man than we see about John, whose identity and orientation issues are central to the last parts of the story.

We're Not Straight and John's queer identity politics
In the discussion to the story [livejournal.com profile] cesperanza coined the term We're Not Straight, We Just Love Each Other (WNSWJLEO) to describe the moment where John decides to be with Rodney even though Rodney's gender is not John's preferred one (i.e., Rodney's female and John gay) and in the way bodies and their centrality are configured in the story: conventionally, bodies both do and don't matter in the characters' worlds--WNGWJLEO insisting that the characters, while straight, love each other enough to "get over" and "come to love" the "wrongly gendered body"--just as you did here, which is why it's a WNSWJLEO; but on the other hand, the bodies in slash matter very much to the largely female audience who is frequently drooling and noting the [actor/characters] bodies in obsessive detail [source]. Just like in traditional WNG, Trin's characters love one another so deeply that genders and physical embodiments become secondary to physically expressing this deep love. In fact, the emphasis is on what's really inside that body, separating body fro identity in certain ways: Sheppard stared at him, into him, like he was searching for the last remaining spark of light at the center of a black hole; Rodney didn't break the gaze as with a sigh he stepped forward into the palm Sheppard instinctively uncurled, cupping it gently around Rodney's breast. "This is me." Moreover, one could argue the story's even more complicated insofar as John's hesitancy to sleep with Rodney as girl is as much grounded in politics and community as it is in John's same sex desire: [Rodney] closed his eyes. "It wouldn't mean..." He opened them again; he had to look, had to see Sheppard's face. "Wanting me, like this—it wouldn't mean giving into your father, or society, or...or The Man. It would just mean..." He shrugged, helplessly, giving up. "It would mean whatever you want it to mean.". His gayness and ultimate willingness to have "straight" sex thus is already complicated as not only being about biological desires but also about community allegiances. Meanwhile, however, Rodney's not-gay narrative (i.e., the fact that at the beginning of the story he self-identifies as straight yet in a woman's body desires another man) ends up getting oddly elided in a mixture between his body desiring males (thus leaving him oddly straight) and him desiring John (which would return to WNG territory, i.e., his love for John overcoming his straight desires in not wanting to sleep with other men). You're Pretty thus plays with WNG by embracing it (in Rodney), inverting it (in John), and rejecting it (in the way John is troubled by betraying his hard-won queer identity rather than the actual sex with Rodney).

Straight as a Circle as gay romance
Likewise, "Straight As a Circle" draws on the WNG trope yet complicates and inverts it in really interesting ways. Here we do not switch genders as much as orientation in the subversion of yet another trope, namely the "X woke up gay" one. John, happily gay and partnered with Rodney8 encounters an ancient technology that makes him straight. Here biology overrides their love, but it is the juxtaposition of the two that evokes WNG in this story. If the underlying impetus for WNG is indeed the true love that leads to them having sex even as they may have not thought of other men/may not have found somone who was worth it before, in "Straight," we find a John who loves Rodney so much, he desperately wants to overcome the biological impreative that keeps him from Rodney. In fact, he has sex with him a few times even as it repulses him, *because* he loves Rodney. The disconnect between love and sexual desire undermines WNG whereas the love that makes John willing to overcome it moves it closer. In fact, in the sex scenes it's made very clear that the only thing that potentially begins to overcome John's non-reaction to Rodney *is* his love: he comes, for example in their first "straight" encounter when Rodney tells him he loves him and the comfort he takes in it being Rodney who blows him: a blowjob is a good thing, no matter who’s giving it. // And it’s Rodney, John thinks brokenly, reaching down to pat at the short soft hair, all his instincts flooded and submerged. It’s Rodney, thank fuck. Moreover, it is his separation of emotion and bodily responses that makes him more aware of his own and Rodney's feelings: Rodney obliges, determined now. John closes his eyes shut and feels a great warmth blooming in his chest, struck suddenly by how much Rodney wants to make John feel good, how important this is to him. How had he never realized it before? In fact, much of John's realizations are indeed about the depth of his feelings: Then it strikes John that he never has kissed Rodney’s jaw, not the way he wants to now -- just a touch of lips, careful like the placement has to be perfect, holding Rodney steady with John’s hand carded through the hair at the nape of his neck. Three years, and John is only now realizing that he never took as much time as he should have..

community and identity
At the same time, just like in Trin's story, John's gayness is not just about biology but is also a cultural identity. Unlike Trin's John, who is well aware of the fact that he purposefully, consciously, and happily self-identifies as gay, this John only comes to understand that his identity truly is *his* when he gets a chance to experience "normal" desires, to not have to hide any more. There's a strong motif of secrets and hiding throughout the story, and it is both John's sense that he's still hiding a secret (albeit a slightly different one) when turned straight as well as his relief and acknowledgment of himself and his love for Rodney when turned gay again that functions as an interesting symbolic inversion. And the dream becomes a nightmare, both because it is on some fundamental level not him but also, it seems, in part because of Rodney. So while sexuality here is almost exclusively biological, identities and desires are a bit more complicated, and love is transcendent even when it's counter to actual biological responses. As such, "Straight as a Circle" is not truly WNG, but its foregrounding of John's love above and beyond biological and social demands draws from similar underlying tropes, which made this story immensely satisfying for my WNG taste :) In fact, in response to my reading, [livejournal.com profile] graycastle suggests that "Straight" ilustrates a powerful description of where-the-queer-goes in those narratives of choice and fixing, AND of where-the-queer-goes in those narratives of biological determinism. Which is to say, it doesn't go away, it keeps leaving troubling little remnants behind. As a recovered Lacanian,9 I love the fact that possibly the remainder/reminder of the Real of what gets excluded in a thoroughly constructivist model of choice may be the very things that haunt John in this story.

we've come a long way, baby
While these three stories explore different aspects of sexual identity and object choice and situate themselves in different places in regards to the role of biological hardwiring vs constructed desires for either, what they clearly share is a sense of awareness that none of these things are simple, that bodies and desires, gender and sexuality are more than binary and rarely simply constituted. Moreover, what all three stories share is an awareness and an engagement with fannish history and fannish tropes, a playful repetition with a difference that to me testifies to the vibrancy of fan fiction, where even the most tired cliche doesn't need to get dismissed but instead can be taken up and reinvigorated, and where stories participate as much in meta discussions as theoretical analyses do. WNG gets rediscovered and inverted; waking up straight gets played with; gender and body swaps become the premise on which these fascinating explorations into our characters' identities and sexualitis takes place. [livejournal.com profile] thingswithwings's male lesbians, [livejournal.com profile] trinityofone's genderqueer Cadman and politically queer John, and [livejournal.com profile] toomuchploor's John who ultimately chooses his queerness as much for himself as for Rodney all are examples of queer identities that do not align neatly along gender and identity lines, that are not biologically predetermined exclusively but always already exist in the interplay between nature and culture, sex and gender, bodies and cultural constructions--they are truly queer subjects!

1 I take this concept of “repetition with a difference” from deconstruction, in particular, Jacques Derrida’s notion of the inherent non-identity of repetition. See, for example, Signature, Event, Context. go back to text

2 [livejournal.com profile] graycastle quoted this line from E.M. Foster's Maurice, and it perfectly illustrates to me that two indeed *is* already a community, defying the loneliness of one. go back to text

3 Monique Wittig famously has declared that lesbians are not women, See, for example, One is not Born a Woman. go back to text

4 I'm referencing the author here, because claiming this interpretation of that particular passage as my own would be plagiarism. The mod has okayed this "due to the essay format, the link to the source and the prior approval of the author who made the statement." go back to text

5 This Freudian concept describes the state of the infant before focusing on genital sexuality. It describes a sexuality in which the entire body is a canvas for sexual stimulus. Whereas in Freud this is a state to be superceded by the more mature genital sexuality, consequent critics have questioned such a bias. See, Freud's The Infantile Sexuality. go back to text

6 And I'm following here the latest generation of queer scholars who are much more willing to embrace queer identity in part at least as choice, so that same-sex over opposite-sex is not just a biological imperative (as traditional gay studies tended to posit) but a conscious cultural and political choice. In that sense, choosing a same sex partner becomes in part a function of community, of identities and sharing those identities overriding biological desires. go back to text

7 One story that strikes me as exemplary is Ellis Ward's Pro AU Harlequin Airs where Bodie and Doyle are trapeze artists; their meant to be togetherness is clear even before they ever have sex, think of one another sexually, before they even *know* one another, by the way their bodies fit together! We see it in the way partners in fic read each other's bodies, know each other by sight, sound, smell..., and mind bonds and mind reading is a trope found in just about *any* fandom, whether canonically supportable or not. go back to text

8 For an interesting discussion of how happy and how self-identified John may be at the beginning of the story, see here. go back to text

9 Jacques Lacan's concept of the Real is immensely complicated and contested: it can be understood as the plane which resists both the mirror fantasy of the Imaginary as well as any attempts of formalization or symbolization of the Symbolic. It thus can never be reached because we are always mediated through our fantasy space or though language, and we only experience it indirectly in terms of ‘left-overs.’ Another way to think of it is to understand the Real as the places where the Symbolic fails to cohere, the ruptures that then, in turn, are filled out by the Imaginary. For a summary of Lacan, see here. go back to text

Date: 2007-04-11 09:35 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
No, but I am suggesting that they're not secretly in love with one another so that it is only the shared experience of genderqueerness that could get them to this point (i.e., no stuck alone on a planet, no being in each other's mind, no AMTDI would make them even consider the other as potential sex object).

This much I agree with. The other, not so much, but that's more a question of how we view the characters, not the story. My point was that you seemed to be disregarding the friendship and trust without which I can't see this happening, which is why I brought up Kavanagh and not Zelenka. It's not just shared experience, it's sharing that experience with someone they already trust, someone they are already close to.

Date: 2007-04-11 09:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
To me this says that you feel this story could be about 'any two guys', which, no. This is definitely a John and Rodney story. If she'd written it about Kavenagh with anyone, I'd have been thrown right out because I don't see anyone liking Kavenagh enough, as presented in canon, to want to have sex with him. If it had been about John and Ronon, or Rodney and Zelenka, then, yes, I could see this happening because of the closeness between those two pairs of people. It's about believabilty, and that has to do, for me, with canon closeness between the characters. If I don't see them having an onscreen relationship that easily extrapolates into the kind of closeness that could motivate them to want to be intimate, the the story isn't believable.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:07 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
Yes, I would see it differently with different characters, but those are my preferences; I'm not suggesting that's in the story. My interpretation is that the story doesn't privilege an OTP reading of McShep, but that it does presuppose a connection between the characters (not true love, a connection) which you seemed to want to discard completely. Within the framework of this story, that could easily apply to another pairing.

And I don't think we actually disagree; I think you're just stating your case a bit too strongly in order to balance out the usual OTP view, so that it sounds like you're making it all about the shared experience with nothing else taken into account. And I'm pretty sure you don't mean it that way. :-)

Date: 2007-04-11 09:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
Exactly, yes. It's not an 'error' to think that, in this situation and with these people, there needs to be something between them that's deeper than 'two guys who work together' to motivate them to have sex, to make it feel okay for them to have sex, in this weird situation. Any other interpretation feels unreal, to me, and sort of like those stories where the writer wants to write a particular kink and shoehorns her favorite characters into it, whether it's a good fit or not. It's about human motivation and interaction, not about "Rodney and John are so in love! And only with each other!" Because that's silly and unreal, too. It has to be a combination of circumstances and who these people are, what's going on inside them, for it to feel real.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
What we're saying is that the situation isn't sufficient for them to have had sex without the bond, and, whether the situation is foregrounded or not, to zero in on that as the primary reason for them to have had sex is over-focused. Without this situation, they probably would never have had sex. Without the bond between them, even this situation wouldn't have motivated them to have sex. They're equally important. You seem to be discounting the bond and focusing on the situation, but I can't disregard the bond or see it as subordinate to the situation in any story where people choose to have sex (that isn't a PWP.) They don't have sex because of the situation; they have sex because they're in this situation and they have this bond. Without either, it wouldn't have happened. I also think that, in a story of this type, whatever characters are appearing, the bond will remain subtextual because of the guys being straight, because their straightness is central to their appreciating the female body they're with. They're a sort of unreliable narrator (though they're not actually narrating), not consciously aware of the bond as a motivator to their actions, but the evidence for its presence is in the action, itself and the choices they make. It doesn't make the bond less important than the situation because it's not evident to them, early on. And that would be true for any characters who could believably be seen in this situation.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:09 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
Well, I don't think [livejournal.com profile] cathexys and I are actually disagreeing in our interpretation of the story - my impression is that we're miscommunicating because she's stating her case a bit too strongly when it comes to the shared experience in order to balance out the (usually pervasive) OTP reading. And if you're not coming at it from an OTP perspective, it overbalances, that's all.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
It appeared to me that she felt that the only reason to see a bond between them being important to the choice to have sex was that the reader was coming at the story from an OTP perspective, which isn't true. That interpretation, at least in my case, is about believable human responses, not about clinging to common slash tropes. Her using the word 'error' and repeatedly refuting any other reading than 'situation only' made it seem to me that she was unable to acknowledge the importance of any sort of emotional bond in this instance. So, we're probably all in agreement that it's both situation and bond that leads to the behavior, but not that it's an OTP reading that makes the bond important to the action.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:26 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
So, we're probably all in agreement that it's both situation and bond that leads to the behavior, but not that it's an OTP reading that makes the bond important to the action.

The way I understood [livejournal.com profile] cathexys is that she's arguing against the way OTP readings overstress the importance of the bond, and in doing so she exaggerated in the other direction. In other words, I believe the problem is entirely in the rhetoric and not in the actual interpretation.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
That was where our largest disconnect was and what I was trying to get across, that it doesn't mean one is in error or reading through OTP goggles to see that connection between the participants matters, here. Nor do I think your interpretation of their relationship in Straight was in error, either, just because that wasn't what the author intended. Interpretation is fluid for a lot of reasons; we read a lot more into the behavior of people in stories than adhering to tropes can explain, including our on expriences and personal preferences. Everyone does that.

(no subject)

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Date: 2007-04-11 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
More evidence of the disconnect, there--I'm not reading 'secretly in love with each other' into this story, and possibly you think I (and maybe Trob) am/are because we're OTP forevah, twu wuv types? I can't speak for Trob, but, as for myself, no--I'm no OTP girl, and I read and write and enjoy these two with other people. That may be why you're bogging down in your understanding of what we're talking about; you misunderstand our POVs. And I'm thinking that maybe your love of the idea that it's ONLY shared experience that can be motivating is interfering with seeing what we're trying to say--not that they're secretly in love, but that, for people to decide to have sex, there needs to be something beyond "hey, you're in an attractive female body, now, and I'm straight and we share this weird experience--let's fuck!" I mean, that might make an interesting PWP, but that's not what this is. For it to make any sense in a logical, "these are guys, and these are these particular guys" way, there needs to be more going on. You're seeing this as a two strangers who meet in a bar and have no connection but decide to hook up for the sake of the sex, and maybe because they're both travellers in a strange city, something else that connects them that the others in the bar don't share, and I'm saying, no, this isn't a bar and these aren't strangers and there are repercussions to what they're doing, consequences and mornings after and for these to to take this step, there needs to be something else motivating them--otherwise it doesn't make sense. The ideas you're proposing--only common experience, could be any two guys on the mission--make a decent PWP, but not a story as good as this one. The logic needs to be there, it needs to follow in terms of human behavior, and I don't see your view having that logic behind it, though it does make for cool story deconstruction. *g*

Date: 2007-04-11 10:21 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (queer rainbow)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
Hey! I'm just going to leap gaily in. :)

It seems to me as though the disconnect you guys have going on here isn't so much one of kind as of degree. I don't think it's a case of 'either the friendship is important, or the shared experience is important': I don't think that for the shared experience and community-of-two reading that [livejournal.com profile] cathexys is putting forward to hold, it has to be generalisable to an 'any two genderfucked guys' situation. They can be motivated partly by their friendship (which lets them get past the barrier of articulating the sexual aspect of their shared experience, perhaps, and allows for the second part of the story where they remain together after being changed back) even if the primary reason they begin to look at one another sexually is because of the bodily changes they've gone through.

You're seeing this as a two strangers who meet in a bar and have no connection but decide to hook up for the sake of the sex, and maybe because they're both travellers in a strange city, something else that connects them that the others in the bar don't share

I don't read [livejournal.com profile] cathexys's approach this way at all. I see it more as two guys who've known each other for a long time but it never occurred to them to look at each other sexually, all of a sudden something happens that makes them look at each other in a different way (it's the change in their bodies and the fact that the other suddenly has the attributes they've always been sexually attracted to, here, but we can imagine it being something else), the change takes them both by surprise but they decide to go with it, and that leads to the rest of the story. Barring the genderswap aspects, this has happened to me: I became friends with someone who I thought was straight, found out that she wasn't, and in one sudden silly conversation I was looking it her in a whole new way. We decided to follow up on our attraction even though we knew there would be consequences and mornings after (we work together, effectively) and – though because we are queer intellectual women and not John and Rodney we talked about it very theoretically at every stage – we are now casually seeing each other. It took both our friendship and the mutual realisation that we were potentially sexually compatible to bring that about; as it did with John and Rodney.

I don't think [livejournal.com profile] cathexys was ever arguing that it would have been the same story with McKay and Kavanagh; if the same movement from unwilling colleagues into sexual attraction had taken place, it would have been a different story. It would have been different with McKay/Zelenka or John/Ronon too; the personalities would have been what made the story. But the movement from recognising attraction to having sex become a possibility to the consciousness of community could still have possibly been similar, depending on how the story played out. And even with McKay/Kavanagh, it might have worked out: if you've had certain profound sexual experiences and you know there's only one other person who has also had them, and you find that person physically attractive, wouldn't you consider sleeping with them, even if you didn't actually like them all that much? I know I would.

This is quite possibly why queer communities have a tendency to be kind of incestuous – if the pool of possible sexual partners is limited to people that have a certain shared experience (whether through choice, politics or however you want to define it) the social consequences of sleeping with someone can get understood differently than when there's a potentially infinite bank of available partners outside your particular in-group. Atlantis being such a limited group to begin with, it's always seemed to me that people would probably be more willing to sleep with one another than colleagues who aren't living in a sealed-off city on another galaxy, anyway; when the pool of possible partners is smaller and it gets more common for everyone to have slept with everyone else, bringing sex into a friendship could easily start to seem like a far less significant event. If you extrapolate that to a shared-experience/mutual-attraction community of two... well, then you get this story! At least as far as I'm concerned.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:25 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (books)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
Hmm. I seem to have argued myself around to the 'any two genderfucked guys' situation I was denying at the start of the story, and I suspect that my own tendency to friendly promiscuity is colouring my reading rather a lot... I think my points stand though. It's not so much 'any two guys' as 'any two guys given this extremely specific context' and the prior relationship between them is still relevant – the community/identity aspect doesn't outweigh absolutely everything else, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. :)

Date: 2007-04-11 10:38 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
I suspect that my own tendency to friendly promiscuity is colouring my reading rather a lot...

Yes! I know I have a tendency to go too far into the opposite direction because where you say "I know I would", I say "no bloody way!" But I'm pretty pleased that given these differences we still seem to be in complete agreement about the story itself. For what it's worth, I agree completely with everything you say except for the Kavanagh example (which depends more on how you interpret canon characters than on how you interpret the story) and sex in the city Atlantis. *g*

Date: 2007-04-11 10:44 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (Default)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
Excellent! The trouble with arguing about what people would do in hypothetical situations is that it's pretty unavoidable to universalise what your own reactions would be, and I know that friendship and sex tend to sit closer together for me than they do for many people I know... not that I am constantly fucking all my friends, but I tend to be open to the possibility when it arises and so it's easy for me to assume that most people would be. But clearly not everyone feels that way!

Anyway, yay for agreement. :D

Date: 2007-04-11 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
*g* I, too, leaned toward the promiscuous side of the force, pre-marriage, and so can enjoy PWPs and polyamory (in stories, heh) with abandon. Part of the reason I see more need for bond than curiousity or experimentation can explain is the very strangeness of their situation--they're not two potentially gay guys who suddenly discover the other is gay, too--there are lots of those stories out there--but two straight guys who get zapped into female bodies. Argh! Freaky and upsetting situation! Not conducive to easy, casual sex for the average straight guy, I'd think. The associated freak-out would be deep and wide enough to motivate them to be more secretive, rather than more sharing, unless they are with someone with whom they feel a great deal of trust and share an emotional bond. The very weirdness of the situation, for them, dictates the need for more of a bond, for me. I don't think you and I are very good guages, in that respect, being more open to experience to begin with than we appear to be supposed to believe these guys to be--they identify as straight, not bi. Were it you and I, there might be very little problem. ;) For these two, who they are and what's happened to them dictate the presence of the bond, the need for it for them to even be able to consider sex.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:55 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (Default)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
The associated freak-out would be deep and wide enough to motivate them to be more secretive, rather than more sharing, unless they are with someone with whom they feel a great deal of trust and share an emotional bond.

I can agree with that, I think. I've criticised genderfuck stories before for being too flippant about the pain of gender dysphoric feelings associated with not belonging in one's body, so it would be kind of hypocritical not to! I do wonder if just the fact of sharing that same utterly bizarre experience would become enough to create a bond where one hadn't existed before, though, had it happened to a different set of characters.

On the other hand, I do think that given the story's emphasis on the sexual, sensual aspects of finding yourself in a new body, there is an argument to be made for the desire to try out the new bits with another person being strong too – a willingness to perceive sex as physical more than the specifically intimate experience you're framing it as, which also goes along with the way straight men are culturally supposed to perceive sex.

Date: 2007-04-11 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
As far as the experience being enough to generate a bond--yes, there would be 'we're in the same boat' closeness, maybe somewhat mitigated by the fact that this very freaky thing that is making one uncomfortable is also writ large all over the other, a sort of constant reminder of the embarrassment and discomfort--knowing someone else knows how you feel isn't always a comfort if you don't like how you're feeling and don't enjoy being reminded of it. If this was being written as a 'straight guys like sex and they'll pretty much do it with anyone, under any circumstances,' sensual/sexual exploration type story, then that would be workable, though it would drop it more into the PWP realm, for me, which would take some from the depth I'm enjoying in it. I think what follows argues against that reading, at least for me. Maybe it's a case of my wanting to see it deviate from that particular trope, as it deviates from the WNG trope?

Date: 2007-04-11 10:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carolyn-claire.livejournal.com
Re: sex in Atlantis, I tend to see there being more potential constraint, rather than less, in their situation. They're working closely together, there's a military contingent with its own constraints, there's the same faces to look at, day after day, and ugly break-ups could be REALLY ugly in this very close, sort of incestuous situation. It takes the 'shitting where you eat' aspect of sex in the workplace up a few (or more than a few) notches, so I think there'd be a less easy rather than a more easy view of sex with collegues.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:55 pm (UTC)
trobadora: (Default)
From: [personal profile] trobadora
That's my view as well, yes.

Date: 2007-04-11 10:59 pm (UTC)
ext_2208: image of romaine brooks self-portrait, text "Lila Futuransky" (Default)
From: [identity profile] heyiya.livejournal.com
The military aspect would definitely complicate things... but other than that, I think it would *start* that way, but probably deteriorate once it sunk in that the only people who you have access to and who share your cultural sense of how sexuality (let alone the rest of the universe) functions are your colleagues. It's easier to be involved with people you have some shared understanding with... but like I said to [livejournal.com profile] trobadora I'm extrapolating from my own experience here and multiplying it exponentially for the isolation and danger, so I can't claim any universal logic! :)


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