From Slash Fan Fiction to Crip Fan Fiction: What Role Does Disability Have in Fandom?
Slash fiction is perceived by scholars like Henry Jenkins as capable of presenting a counterhegemonic message that critically questions and disrupts power structures in the production of fiction. Slash fiction presents a critical queering of characters, disrupting the heterocentrism of canonical fiction. Slash fiction is a creation of fan fiction where canonically heterosexual couples are paired with one another in love relationships, allowing for an imagined queer potential.
Even though slash, with its queering of relationships would seem to be a doorway into empowerment for disability fiction - replacing one oppressed identity (queer) for another (disability), many of the conventions of slash, mixed with the overwhelming social power of stereotypes around disability serve to further replicate patterns of oppression upon disabled characters. One of the conventions of slash fiction is the need to make canonically straight male characters more vulnerable, more willing to explore their vulnerability in relationships. This vulnerability allows for male protagonists to disrupt the rigid boundaries of patriarchal, heterosexist constructions of masculinity by making the characters more open to vulnerabilities, which tend to be constructed as threats to the construction of patriarchal masculinity. Because of disability’s cultural association with vulnerability in the cultural imagination, disablement is often utilized by slash fiction authors as a means of achieving vulnerability of the characters in a slash fiction relationship. These relationships are often referred to as “Hurt/Comfort” or “H/C” and often depend on the assumption that disablement represents a weakening of the disabled character, problematically representing disability as weakness.
Through an examination of the association between slash and disability on the popular fan fiction site Archive of Our Own, this paper illustrates that although slash fiction has the potential to represent a liberatory counterhegemonic text, it fails to do so where disability is concerned and relies on tropes and assumptions about disability in order to ‘queer’ hegemonic texts.