‘Supernatural’s Scariest Monster: Bisexual Erasure

Supernatural

This guest post written by Hannah Johnson appears as part of our theme week on Bisexual Representation.


Discussions around queerbaiting on the TV series Supernatural have brought up some interesting, often controversial questions. Many of them have been asked before, and will be asked again. At what point does canonical evidence for a character’s queerness outweigh the writers’ and creators’ denial? Does subtext count as canonical evidence? Is subtextual queerness better than no queerness at all? Do the writers’ intentions matter, and if so, to what extent?

I won’t spend too much time trying to convince you that one of the main characters, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), is bisexual — or would be, if the writers and producers would allow him to be — and that the show is queerbaiting. I’m not arguing that Dean Winchester counts as representation at this point. Queerbaiting absolutely does not count as representation for marginalized sexual orientations. What I am arguing is that queer people do not need a character’s sexuality to be canonized in order to identify with that character and recognize literary tropes that are generally used to align characters with queerness. In other words, just because other people – writers, producers, network executives, and other fans – aren’t acknowledging it, doesn’t mean we don’t know it’s there.

There have already been several articles written about the show’s queerbaiting tendencies, including from TV Guide and The Advocate. There is also a blog dedicated to dismantling faulty arguments against Bi Dean, entitled Arguments Against Bi Dean Are Bad, complete with sections on the most common fallacies. Every time a new episode of Supernatural airs, Tumblr is flooded with blog posts detailing the new evidence for Dean’s queerness, as well as replies arguing that said evidence is just a misinterpretation. It’s an ongoing battle, one that often causes a wide rift in the Supernatural fandom.

Supernatural

Emerging from this discourse are lists of events, interactions, facial expressions, wardrobe details, and other parts of canon that are compiled in order to prove or disprove Dean’s heterosexuality. But what’s fascinating – and infuriating – is watching again and again as the “straight” evidence list fills up with Dean’s interactions with women. “How can you deny how much Dean loves chicks?” people demand to know. This kind of thinking is based on the false assumptions that a man who “loves chicks” is inherently unqueer, that in order to be a queer man, one must prefer other men, and not show attraction to women, or else demonstrate a “50/50” attraction to men and women. The whole premise of Dean being bi is most often rejected based on a misunderstanding and/or ignorance about what it means to be bisexual.

The kind of queerbaiting that happens on Supernatural would not be so effective if it weren’t for the invisibility of bisexuality. In a way, the show takes advantage of bisexual erasure and uses it as fuel for the queerbaiting fire. Dean can throw out an endless barrage of queer signals, but as long as he also makes a comment about a woman being attractive, a large portion of the show’s audience can hold onto the illusion of his straightness, largely due to their lack of understanding about how bisexuality works. This creates an environment in which queerbaiting thrives.

Supernatural

There is also the common assumption that if Dean were to be bisexual in canon, and were to have a relationship with another male character, it would somehow make the show fundamentally different. Some fans seem to think that male bisexuality – or male queerness in general – is aligned with femininity, and that if Supernatural had a bi main character, it would have to ditch its gore, muscle cars, and classic rock in exchange for sappy, romantic, soap opera drama. That’s just not true. And it reveals a lot about the misogynistic, homophobic, and biphobic beliefs of many of the fans.

Some fans claim that people who support the canonization of Bi Dean are only in it for the sake of shipping – the desire for characters to be in a relationship. Sometimes there is even the accusation that they are all a bunch of lonely, horny women who fetishize queer men and just want to see two attractive men kiss on television. While there is certainly a valuable discussion to be had about the fetishization of queer men in fandom, this particular accusation against people who think Dean Winchester is bi surfaces again and again, even when the people in question are bisexual themselves. Many Bi Dean advocates – perhaps even a majority – identify as queer, and want Dean’s queer sexuality to be confirmed in canon because they see something of themselves in his character. It becomes a sort of bisexual erasure to silence that, or to assume that proponents of Bi Dean are always straight women.

Supernatural

As many Bi Dean advocates will tell you, at times watching Supernatural feels like being in a dysfunctional relationship. And that’s the nature of queerbaiting. They reel you in, tease you, drop hints, and convince you that it’s finally going to happen. Then they put an obnoxious one-liner in the script that reaffirms the character’s heterosexuality, or one of the writers sends out a tweet saying that the fans are misinterpreting things. Essentially, they gaslight you. They make you question whether or not your identification with this character and your reading of their sexuality – based on actual, textual evidence – is valid.

Dean Winchester is one of the heroes of Supernatural. He is a deeply complex, flawed, multidimensional character who rescues people from monsters and saves the world on a regular basis. It would be incredibly meaningful for bisexual people to see that kind of representation. After all, there are relatively few representations of bisexuality on television, particularly of bisexual men. But with season 12 of the series premiering next month, many fans are asking, “Is Dean ever going to come out of the closet?”


See also at Bitch Flicks:

Not Exactly the New Buffy: The Many Failings of Supernatural


Hannah Johnson is a bisexual activist currently pursuing her MFA in Poetry at Mills College. Her writing has been featured in Bi Women Quarterly, Selfish Magazine, The Journal of Bisexuality, and The Minetta Review. She is the co-moderator for the Non-Mono Perspective, a blog for people with non-monosexual identities.

19 Comments

  • X Cetera
    Posted October 8, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I quit watching or supporting the show a few years ago when it became clear from on and off screen events that the show was never going to deliver on canonical bisexual Dean. To answer the final question in your article, nothing I have seen from the powers that be give me reason to believe Dean will come out of the closet at this point. It is disappointing to me that the show has continued to enjoy such success after treating its queer fans so poorly. Thanks for continuing to raise the issue and hold the show accountable.

  • Posted October 8, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    More articles like this need to exist. Thank you for this one.

  • Imogen
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    Mostly enjoyed this read, but this: “or one of the writers sends out a tweet saying that the fans are misinterpreting things” has never happened.

    What *has* happened is that an executive with no creative input in the show said something along those lines three seasons ago, before adding that he’s got nothing to do with creating story, that his opinion is his own alone, and deleting the tweet.

    What *has* happened is that the writer and director of an episode said in the commentary of one bisexual subtext heavy episode (Everybody Hates Hitler) that Dean and Aaron’s interaction held potential for “love in all places.”

    What *has* happened is that another writer tweeted there’s “no such thing as totally overanalyzed”

    Honestly, I think I’m just getting tired of seeing people crying “queerbaiting” about a show that is incomplete.

    Queerbaiting is hinting at queerness with no intent to follow through. Unless you’ve got some insider knowledge about the writer’s room (which, it’s worth noting, has multiple queer writers in it) then you’re just guessing.

    If we get to the end of the show and there’s not flat-out undeniable confirmation of Dean’s bisexuality? Then by all means, call it queerbaiting to your heart’s content. But until then, this kind of pre-emptive bitterness does nothing but tell other queer fans that what we see happening isn’t real, isn’t worth enjoying, isn’t worth getting excited about. And that sucks.

    All that said–I think it’s already been made pretty blatant.

    As loathe as I am to admit it, since Dean and Crowley’s relationship in season ten I hardly think the “sub” prefix even belongs here anymore. It’s text. Believe me, I wish I could unsee the Dean/Crowley, but it’s right there. On my screen. Screaming at me.

    For crying out loud: they canonically slept with triplets in an episode where we saw them playing foosball with male identical twins, while a third guy with the same height, build, and hairstyle as the other two sat nearby. Those were the triplets.

    Even if you can manage to look at the episode through the most jaded lens and somehow conclude that Carver & co. wanted us to think that Dean and Crowley must have met up with a different set of female triplets offscreen, Dean and Crowley were both still involved.

    Occam’s Razor, though? That says Dean and Crowley banged three dudes.

    • Hikari
      Posted October 9, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      “For crying out loud: they canonically slept with triplets in an episode where we saw them playing foosball with male identical twins, while a third guy with the same height, build, and hairstyle as the other two sat nearby. Those were the triplets.”

      *open weeping*

      One of these days I will get the casting people to respond to me about that.

    • Hellboy
      Posted October 14, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

      Robbie Thompson did tell a fan that the writers have their own interpretations, but the fans can have fun with their own. He even wrote that into the 200th episode.

      Yes, the “Everybody Hates Hitler” commentary, kinda not getting that they are joking in it, pointing out that how the scene was all Jensen improvising and playing it straight down the middle awkward, that gave it that unintentional romcom feel, as Edlund put it.

  • LilNerdyDudeWithWings
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    No, Dean is never going to get out of the closet. I gave up watching the show and being active in fandom a couple years ago when one the of the main stars laughed at shippers’ hopes of ever seeing two characters together and he even went as far as saying he was glad he didn’t have to shoot as many scenes with another actor as much as he used to, and that he had never acted for his character to be anything but straight. I know a character is a character and an actor is someone else entirely who portrays them, but bisexuality is too much of a thing for me personally to be laughed at. So I quit watching the show and I know by this point it has become more of a safe place in ao3 and tumblr than an actual fictional couple in the show. The writers and producers are pandering to the shippers because they obviously know they get ratings and free publicity in return.They don’t go out of their way to establish clues and ambiguity because they’re bored. But I would also add that after season 9 they’re doing a lowkey queerbaiting rather than before when the homoerotic subtext was dangerously close to becoming text, and it actually did by writter Robbie Thompson, but the actors literally rewrote the script.Whatever, though. I’m happy that at least the show and the fandom have a main queer star in the cast who they can look up to.

  • lookatyouboy
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this article. I would only add that the reason why a lot of fans want Destiel ( the relationship between Dean and Castiel) to become canon is not because of fetishisation of gay men, but because the show has written Dean and Cas relationship by using tonnes of romantic tropes. Although it refused to deliver.
    From the fans’ perspective, it’s a romantic relationship, romantic plot, full of emotions and unspoken feelings and it’s not actually about sex or the hot “man on man action”. It exists because it was written that way, unfortunately as a part of queerbaiting.
    And it works stronger since it was added on already existing (since the season 1) bisexual subtext.
    When it comes to Dean’s bisexuality, it’s so pity. The show refused to acknowledge it even when they’d officially admitted they’ve based the character on a Dean Moriarity – a classic bisexual character from the Kerouac’s novel “On the road”.

    • Hikari
      Posted October 9, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      And of course, when the show recycles those same romantic trope lines, almost word for word, on an actual heterosexual couple (Bloodlines) we’re supposed to just ignore the parallels.
      *Salutes Dabb for trying*

  • Emily H Draper
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this article. Recognizing myself in Dean Winchester helped me realize my own queerness and helped me come out. That’s why representation matters.

  • shadowhund
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    How about Sammy???
    He is way more mysterious regarding bisexuality, no open jokes, Brady was a male friend of his & there was this one male demon who came to the crossroads for Sam!

    Dean is straight, shows it & will always stay straight for the rest of the series!!

    What about the mighty God itself? Wasn’t he bi too?

  • SnazzyO
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    “Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), is bisexual — or would be, if the writers and producers would allow him to be — and that the show is queerbaiting.”

    Reading the article, I think you presume that the ‘coding’ as bi-sexual is intentional on the part of the writers (thus queerbaiting) but then undermine it with overt heterosexual lines. I have three questions:
    1) How do you know the writers know what is bi-coding. I see people like Bob Singer as tone deaf. Others more sophisticated.
    2) I honestly don’t know how ‘coding’ is not the same thing as stereotyping. Is one acceptable and the other not?
    3) Who do you think is the mastermind behind the bi-coding?
    I’m not saying that you’re perspective is wrong, I certainly think ‘Dean is bisexual’ is a valid interpretation. But your article implies intentional baiting and I’m not sure that there is a collective consistent answer on that perspectives (Dean’s sexuality) between showrunners, writers, cast, crew, and producers.

  • niraha
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I am more in love with this article than Castiel is with Dean, and I didn’t think that was possible. Thank you.

  • Hikari
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I honestly have hope that eventually one day they’ll let Dean out of the closet they keep shoving him into. Plenty of the actors are in favor, and some of the writers have fun throwing us a bone, although I’m not sure if they’re helping or hurting if the show as a whole won’t ever go there all the way.
    At least we get what we get from their performances, set design, (Bless Jerry Wanek) and the few writers who are willing to go there.

    So many of us realized what/who we are thanks to Dean, this show, and the supporting fandom.

    But I believe they’ll wait until they know it’s the last season before doing it.

  • Kev
    Posted October 9, 2016 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Dean Winchester stans are so tedious. Also, the only erasure, if we go by simply what is presented in the written canon, pertains to Sam. And Castiel if angels could have a sexuality. I could write a more compelling argument for why Sam is pansexual than I could for why Dean is bisexual because there’s nothing to negate the former in canon. Also, remember that we do not go against stated sexualities. We don’t assign a sexuality to someone who has declared one for themselves because we think or want it to be another. That takes away agency of the person involved.

    • samanthasaurus
      Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:49 am | Permalink

      I have several problems with your response here. 1. There is nothing to negate Dean as bisexual in canon either….. 2. Dean has never stated that he is heterosexual. Talking about women and being attracted to women does not equal saying you are heterosexual. 3. Dean Winchester is a fictional character and therefore “assigning” him a sexuality is literally all ANYONE can do, even the writers, because he doesn’t actually exist outside other REAL peoples’ interpretations of him. He has no real world agency, and to say that interpreting a fictional character as bisexual is taking away their agency is equating a fictional character with a real person in the real world. It’s a nonsensical argument that has no place in this conversation.

      • Hellboy
        Posted October 14, 2016 at 4:21 am | Permalink

        Except, when the vampire Boris called Dean pretty, he respectfully told him he didn’t play for his team. And his dating app specifically stated he was interested in women. It’s like saying Charlie isn’t a lesbian because she never actually identified herself as a lesbian verbally.

        What a lot of people are doing regarding this is using homophobic emasculation. Basically saying, Dean can’t do this or that, because it doesn’t fit the normal societal definition of masculinity, therefore he must be queer, which is very problematic and further enforces the idea of toxic masculinity..

        • samanthasaurus
          Posted October 15, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          I never brought up any of his behavior, so you telling me that I’m engaging in homophobic emasculation is absurd. My argument has and never will be about his behavior not conforming to “societal definition of masculinity.” Someone could completely conform to “societal definitions of masculinity” and still completely be queer, which is actually exactly what many bi!Dean fans say. No one say he’s not masculine enough therefore he’s queer. To say that we are is goalpost shifting in this conversation, as it was never about his behavior or level of masculinity.

          As far as “playing for your team,” or being interested in women, the first instance is a classic example of Dean’s, often directly offensive, knee-jerk responses to physical immediate threats. He does this a lot, in a variety of ways. And personally, I don’t think it would be weird for him to say that and it be a perfect lie, considering he lies about most everything to do with himself anyway. Tell me Dean Winchester is not a pathological liar about his own feelings, emotions, or identity, and I will disengage because I refuse to argue against people who are misinformed/refuse to accept reality.

          And being interested in women does not exclude also being interested in men. My Facebook profile says I’m interested in Men. I’m bisexual.

          What YOU are doing is trying to force “bisexual” into a broader, vague notion of “queerness” so that people will agree with your side – because people hear “queer” and associate it more with homosexualism than bisexualism. Bisexuality exists. Being interested in women does not mean Dean could not be interested in men. This is a tiresome argument that has been thrown around for years and seriously needs to be put to rest.

  • Tawrens
    Posted October 10, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    The fantasy Dean is gay or bi is just that a fantasy. The show has never queer baited. That is an excuse by a small section of fans. Dean has never been shown as anything but hetero. Just because men are close doesn’t make it sexual but some fans insist on the fact that men love each other it can only be in the sexual way down to having brothers sexually linked. Grow up people. Men can tell another man they love them without it being sexual or sex inclined.

  • Desizinnia
    Posted October 12, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I wish the answer to the question would be that yes, Dean will be out of the closet eventually, but the answer is uncertain, and it may be blamed on what some people assume a bisexual person is supposed to be. For me Dean Winchester is bisexual, and he clearly has feelings for Castiel. And I just wanted to say, since I’ve seen some comments here (and frankly almost everywhere Destiel or Bi Dean is mentioned online) that equate Destiel with sex, I just wanted to say that that is not what this ship is about. And sex is also not what Bisexual Dean Winchester is about. We do not want Dean to be out as bi because of sexual fantasies. We do not want Dean and Cas to be together because of sexual fantasies. Dean and Cas is NOT just about sex. We want them to be together in canon because of their history together, all they’ve overcome, and their clear love for each other. It has very little to do with them having sex or sexual desires for each other, or with fans wanting to see them having sex or kissing all the time. It’s because this show has shown us a romantic relationship growing organically between these two characters; we have seen these two characters become allies, then friends, and then slowly fall in love with each other, and if Castiel would have been a female character, there would just be no argument. People would expect them to be together. It would be the expected payoff or endgame for these characters as much as people want any other m/f characters from any other show to end up together. As a matter of fact, if a male character told a female character “I need you” that would have been canon right there and then. It would have followed with some more development in the next few eps, and then an onscreen kiss. Guaranteed. The only difference here, and the reason people associate it with sex is because these are two men, a gay relationship, we’re talking about. Everyone has the right to dislike the ship if they want to, of course, but the arguments against Destiel being ‘two men can be close without it being sexual’ kind of comes from an assumption that homosexuality equals promiscuity and sexual fantasies, which comes from homophobia (and biphobia, when people insist Dean is straight and couldn’t possibly have feelings for another man if he’s been shown to be sexually attracted to women), internalized or otherwise. Arguments against Destiel usually sound the same all the time, and usually are all kind of homophobic and biphobic (whether the person is aware of it or not), and lacking in canon support other than ‘Dean Winchester has slept with women’. It is unfair to such an amazing love story, that deserves to be recognized as what it is. It is unfair to these complex characters. I don’t comment on articles anymore, but I felt the need to make this clear because so many people equate this ship with something so superficial, and so unrelated to what it actually means to most people who support it, and who support a bisexual Dean Winchester.
    I like this article. The conversation about bisexual erasure and representation, and about queerbaiting, needs to continue.