You’re shipping who?

I need some insight on something.

My teen-aged daughter, like many of her friends,  has a Tumblr. Her Tumblr — like those of her friends — is nothing like my own. My Tumblr is full of pictures, gifs, and captioned shots of sex, desire, attractive women in sexual poses and situations, and depictions sexual fantasies. Hers, on the other hand, is full of pictures, gifs, and captioned shots of hot, attractive guys staring soulfully at each other, physically touching, hugging, or struggling with their emotions.

See? Hers — like those of her friends — has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with sex.

I maintain a more mundane Tumblr with funny pictures of animals, bicycles, and vacation shots so she and I can share things. Naturally, among her friends, I’m the cool dad. “Wow, your dad has a Tumblr? My dad still emails in all caps.” This means that they feel free to talk about what they’re reblogging with me, and most of it seems to be emotional pairings of characters in movies and TV shows such as Doctor Who, BBC Sherlock, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Avengers, etc. The big draw for most of them, however, is the shipping of characters from Supernatural.

Shipping is the modern variation on slashfic; fan fiction that pairs characters in books, movies, tv, etc., in a romantic or sexual situation. Slashfic further carries the connotation of being primarily about gay, i.e., homosexual pairings, such as (for you old-timers) Kirk/Spock or (more recently) Edward/Jacob from Twilight.  The hottest OTPs on shipping Tumblrs right now seem to be Dean/Castiel, two of the characters on Supernatural. I won’t even attempt to describe the show, except to say that Dean and his brother Sam are traveling demon hunters, and once in a while get some assistance from the angel Castiel.

Coincidentally, IO9 just posted an article about Supernatural, calling it “the best gay romance on TV that isn’t actually gay.” The article is fluff, the the comments point up that many people (and not just women) see the homoerotic undertones, and enjoy playing along.  Anyway, here’s where I need the insight. I understand fanfic pairings; fan fiction is often more about fleshing out the relationships between people than about adding to the canon, and slashfic just does so in a more adult fashion. I mean, who hasn’t watched Star Trek and thought about Uhura and Spock, or Deanna Troi and Riker, or saw the older, matured Harry Potter movies and thought about Harry and Hermione? But what is it about gay pairings that are so fascinating to young women? Most of the Tumblrs I’ve seen appear to be run by straight women in their late teens and early twenties, an age that I associate with obsessing over straight relationships as they try to negotiate the twists and turns of growing up and finding a life (or long term) partner.

I’m guessing that my lack of understanding is partly a generational thing. Mrs. Edge assures me that neither she nor any of her friends even entertained the idea of gay sex back when she grew up. Hell, back in the 1970s, we were just getting used to the idea that straight people had sex, and that it could be fun and not just for married people making babies. But this raises the further question: now that we seem to culturally accept the idea of recreational sex, hy are younger women now fantasizing about straight men having relationships with each other?

Supernatural pictures? I thought you’d never ask. Here’s one that has been floating around on some of the Tumblrs. I can’t tell if it’s a capture, or it it’s been shipped… er, shopped. But they are a couple of fine looking guys.

Nope, definitely not teh gay.

About Tom Allen

The Grey Geezer Dauntless defender of, um, something that needed dauntless defending. Dammit, I can't read this script without my glasses. Hey, you kids, get off my damn lawn!
This entry was posted in Culture, Erotica, relationships, Shipping. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to You’re shipping who?

  1. Diane Jones says:

    A few possibilities to entertain:

    A chance to look at some very good looking men.
    Looking at romance in a safe way, that is, the girls aren’t gay men so this isn’t dangerous, it’s not gross porn. They are at least several degrees of separation from me.
    Looking at romance in a, “Could this be me way?” Could I hookup with another girl the way these guys do? What is my sexual orientation? Have I just been influenced by the girls around me?
    Seeing gay men go for their sexual and romantic needs without the hetero game playing that often ends with nothing–a lot of effort for little result. For gay men it can be, “Yes I’m attracted to you,” (even wordless) and BOOM. Little time is lost between I want you and the hookup. Are teenage girls tired of the endless back-and-forth to try to get a guy?
    Looking at the possibility of one-time or short-term hookups. If gay men can do it, can I?


  2. Snarry shipper says:

    27 year old ‘girlfag’ here – that’s the Wikipedia term for girls who are sexually attracted to gay/bi men. I write gay erotica and I date guys who have sex with other guys (most of these guys have identified as ‘mostly straight’, actually). A year ago, I stressed a lot about the why and the generational stuff and what it said about my sexual orientation and/or gender identity and all that. But then I figured out exactly why I like gay porn: it’s HOT. Rough and dirty or sweet and tender, I get very turned on and can even get a warm and fuzzy romantic feeling from it. Plenty of straight men get their rocks off watching lesbian sex (though I can’t say whether they get warm and fuzzy about it). There don’t have to be reasons behind why something is hot; I mean, you can ask why does anyone like anything, but that gets too philosophical for me. (I think any apparent generational differences can probably be attributed to homosexuality becoming less of a taboo. I’m reminded of my mom telling me that there are so many more gay people nowadays …. right.)

    Hope that offers some insight!


  3. Sunnygirl says:

    I second the ‘It’s hot’ thing. And I think of it rather like men liking girl/girl – I fancy men, so x2 men is twice the fun.

    Only quite recently porn for women was beyond the pale. Now, its just an expression by young women of what women might have always liked if it were acceptable. And relationships have always been a focus for young women. Why not pair up two men – then there’s no woman to be jealous of.


  4. When I first learnt first hand that sex + men = DANGER, I was younger than ten. That lesson was and still is being repeated and reinforced every time I interact with other people. To me, gay men are both attractive and significantly less of a threat.

    Also the amount of mainstream media intended to please, tantalise and arouse women is MINISCULE, whilst material for the male gaze overflows from every possible genre.

    Is it any wonder young het/bi women could be attracted to images of men which are presented simultaneously as both erotic and with a risk factor close to zero?

    Why isn’t this blatantly obvious?


  5. Nemo says:

    Glad I only had sons… They still know what porn is for…


  6. Tom Allen says:

    I hadn’t considered the angle that this is the counterpart to the “2 hot girls” fantasy that a lot of guys have. Again, this could be a generational thing as GLBT becomes more accepted in our culture.


  7. Liz says:

    Aside from the fact that, yeah, two dudes=twice as hot… there’s a very pervasive idea in this culture that female sexuality is supposed to be this secret tender gift that is given, grudgingly, to a man, and is something that only ‘bad girls’ actually LIKE. Conversely, male sexuality is straightforward, passionate, and perfectly acceptable.

    Once, on a sexuality podcast, I heard a woman say that she hated the idea of giving blowjobs until she saw a blowjob in gay porn, and was astonished at the way the man GIVING the blowjob seemed to be really enjoying himself. She said it changed her whole perspective on sex, and that her sexual mantra from then on was basically ‘I want to have straight sex like a gay man’.


  8. m says:

    another one for the 2x guys is just twice as hot.
    but there are some more points, some of them already said:
    + there is not a lot of good porn for woman out there.
    + male homosexuality (thank god(ess)) becomes more and more acceptable these days.
    from my personal experience: am 31 now, been brought up in a very liberal way when i discovered sex and sexuality it was a bit like alice in wonderland. so i was exploring what was out there. exploring woman on woman sexuality is not that hard… men on men sexuality, as a woman, obviously is more or less impossible (except for a mindfuck and the use of toys 😉 ). and unless you have the rare lottery-win of knowing two guys who will let you watch, you will never ever get to see that anyway. so it has a bit of a mystery and we all know, myteries are interesting.
    another factor played into the whole story for me: even with liberal upbringing, men on men was – besides the mystery – a tiny bit something strange and “forbidden” (by society standards) so it was the more interesting and of course watching that kind of porn was some type of (silent) opposition.
    when getting older it boiled down to: it’s just fucking amazing and steaming hot! 🙂


  9. Tom Allen says:

    Okay, I think I’m seeing a pattern here.

    But still – nobody is talking about who they are shipping, and why. Let’s hear it!


  10. Sunnygirl says:

    Think of the shipping thing as a bit like Fantasy Football, but with relationships.


  11. L says:

    A number of reasons:

    – Twice the cock
    – Because men having emotions rather than just being portrayed as sex-driven brutes is still relatively taboo, so pictures and talk of guys cuddling and being non-sexually intimate is transgressive
    – Because girls/women are sick of seeing tits and ass all the time, everywhere, as code for “sex”
    – Because a man having a sexuality that isn’t completely propped up by the presence of a female body is also transgressive
    – Because girls and women like to get all caretaker-y over vulnerable male characters
    – Because, really, twice the cock.

    I should note that a “ship” isn’t something nearly as specific as you’ve outlined here– “ship” is short for “relationship”. It just means you like to think about what two or more characters would be like in a relationship together (whether it’s violent and rapey and infrequent, or purely romantic and asexual or whatever else) and the headcanon involved.

    I don’t watch TV or follow any of the popular fandoms on Tubmblr, but I am a big big Transformers fan and being a franchise about a race of aliens that is completely male (the writers like to try and pretend they don’t have gender, but they’re bad liars and don’t know a thing about gender to begin with), shipping constitutes probably 70% of the fan activity. I don’t generally ship slash pairings; I prefer my paraphilic human/robot relationships rife with D/s petplay undertones. I ship characters that have chemistry in canon material, characters that I -think- would have really good chemistry if they’d gotten a chance to interact in-canon, and I ship character with OCs when no suitable canonical partner exists for them.

    It’s all pornography, really. The obsession, the endless plotting of details about their interactions, the sexual tension, and the sex. But I’m a demiromantic ace with some serious kinks and paraphilias so I get my kicks from other kinds of material than everyone else seems to. Pictures of cuddling don’t do it for me.


  12. Snarry shipper says:

    ~But still – nobody is talking about who they are shipping, and why. Let’s hear it!~

    To be honest, shipping and slash fanfic were basically a gateway drug for me. I stumbled upon the massive online Harry Potter fandom, became briefly obsessed with Snape/Harry (Snarry) and Draco/Harry, and branched out even more briefly into Arthur/Merlin (from the BBC series Merlin) and Jack/Tony (from 24) before turning to youporn and Literotica to discover that the boys did not have to be famous characters to do it for me. I started following a few of my favorite m/m authors and gay pornstars, then started writing my own gay erotica (original fiction, not fan), then realized that I could find bi or bi-curious men in real life, and never looked back! Thank you, Harry Potter. I’ve never seen Supernatural and I don’t get much into slashfic anymore, though I do see gay subtext everywhere.

    Not to scare you, Tom … I don’t think that most teen fangirls make a leap from shipping to real life m/m/f threesomes. It’s hot, not an indication of their relationship goals.

    A note on the 2 guys = twice as hot. That’s not exactly it, for me. Two – or three, or four – men having sex with girls in the same room but ignoring each other is not as hot as two men admiring, kissing, fondling, loving each other. Adding more guys to a scenario results in diminishing returns. It’s the guy-on-guy sex, not the number of guys. (For me.)

    Here’s a fun related fact: gay male romance in Japan has a couple sub-genres: yaoi, written for and by women, and bara, written for and by gay men. Apparently characters in bara manga are more likely to identify as homosexual; less likely to pair up in ‘heteronormative’ relationships where one partner is ‘masculine’ while the other is ‘feminine’; more likely to be hairy, very muscular, or have a few extra pounds; and less likely to indulge in uncontrollable weeping or long introspective pauses. So it seems that even women who are into gay male erotica have a difference idea of what that entails than gay men themselves do…

    One last note! There is a flip side to the double standard of male enjoyment of girl-on-girl sex being natural, normal, taken for granted, while female enjoyment of guy-on-guy action is strange, kinky, perverted. The other side is that women fascinated with gay men are rarely seen as exploitative and objectifying to the same degree as men eroticizing lesbians.


  13. You want to know who people ‘ship?

    I don’t spend a lot of time these days thinking about imaginary slashy scenarios, but when I do, it’s almost always Kirk/Spock from the recent Star Trek reboot. Let’s just say that the scene where Kirk is trying to taunt Spock into an emotional breakdown ends very differently in my head.

    When I first discovered slashfic (maybe fifteen years ago?) it was like omg where have you been all my life?!?!?. It sounds funny now but I really thought I was the only chick who fantasied about angsty “forbidden love” boy-on-boy stuff. But no – there are legions of us out there!

    Back then I was all about the Spike/Xander (from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer).


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