Not Gay: Dean Winchester and Bisexuality

While the examples in the previous section offer critiques of the way women are represented, fan works can also criticize a lack of representation. The T.V. show Supernatural has frequently been criticized by fans for its overwhelming straight white male cast, including the two lead characters, Sam and Dean Winchester. As is usual for a fandom with attractive male leads, there are copious amounts of slash fan works for Supernatural. However, Dean Winchester’s sexuality in particular has become a topic of fan discussion and fan works, due to subtext within the canon, and to bisexual fans identifying with the character. These fan works are concerned with Dean’s sexuality beyond the bounds of a slash pairing (where the sexualities and genders of the characters are often minimized) and recognizes “tension between various levels of real-life queerness” as a “highly contested aspect of the slash fan community’s self-perception of its queer [largely] female space” (Lothian, Busse, and Reid 107). As such, these fan works tend to have several elements in common. Firstly, they frequently depict Dean as closeted. While this is partially a convention of slash (Lothian, Busse, and Reid 107) and partially a reflection of lived bisexual experience, it is also a recognition that Dean’s character is “assumed straight” or essentially closeted by the canon source. Secondly, although Dean is often closeted, it is simultaneously obvious to those around him that he is bisexual—just as it is obvious to the fan who reads Dean in this way. Finally, most of these fan works use canon elements as evidence of Dean’s bisexuality, even if they invent others. These commonalities point to what amounts to a serious queer reading of Dean Winchester’s character that stems from the canon source itself, and simultaneously from the canon’s denial of Dean Winchester as a representation of a bisexual man.

“An Uncomplicated Social Call” by amorremanet is not slash, but represents Dean as bisexual and closeted. While he struggles to reveal his identity to Charlie Bradbury (the series’ only recurring LGBT+ character), Dean simultaneously “just assumes Sam [his brother] knows”. In a similar case, “don’t need another perfect lie” by ChristinasInferno presents Dean as bisexual and closeted, but when he comes out to his brother, Sam responds with, “Everyone’s known that forever”. The story is written from Sam’s point of view, and two of the things which Sam counts as “evidence” of Dean’s bisexuality in the fic—knowledge of a gay bar called “Purgatory” and “forced laughter when Sam had mentioned him looking butch”—are drawn from canon elements.

“bloody knuckles” by chasing tides represents Dean as more self-aware, and not precisely closeted. However, he still emphasizes that he is “not gay” and seems to shy away from discussing his relationships with men on romantic terms. Other canon male characters are also depicted as bisexual and gay in this fic, but these things remain “unspoken”, paralleling the way mainstream media shies away from explicit representations of LGBT+ characters. Like “don’t need another perfect lie”, “bloody knuckles” is also from Sam’s point of view, and again he draws on canon for “evidence” of Dean’s sexuality, saying “Your goddamned siren was a guy!” in reference to the fact that a siren luring men by becoming the perfect woman appeared to Dean as a man.

Another particularly interesting example is the fanfiction “Passing” by xenoamorist (which also critiques Orientalism in the canon source). Supernatural canon includes a character who is both a prophet of God and an author. He writes a series of books, also called Supernatural, based on the visions he has on the Winchesters’ lives, until he finds out that the Winchesters are real. This series of books has its own fans within the canon. “Passing” takes advantage of this, and has Dean meet a bisexual fan of the Supernatural books who reads the character of Dean Winchester as bisexual. Again Dean is represented as bisexual and closeted, and is in this case so closeted that he cannot even admit his orientation out loud. Dean’s orientation is not obvious to those around him, but it is obvious to the bisexual fan, who again quotes canon elements, such as “the siren being a man when it was a woman for other men like Dean” and Dean’s reaction, “like a schoolgirl”, to meeting one of his favorite actors, as “evidence” of Dean’s bisexuality. The metafictional element allows the author to openly criticize the idea that Dean Winchester should not, could not, or will not be canonically bisexual, since the character of the bisexual fan is an almost exact stand-in for a bisexual fan of the show. She says “You don’t want to accept the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s a popular series with a main character who’s male and bisexual. I mean, is it so awful of a concept? Is bisexuality that terrible?”, and the emotional pain it causes her is clear.

These representations of Dean Winchester demonstrate that such fan works simultaneously draw from and challenge the canon source. By attempting to “rewrite” Dean as bisexual, they may also attempt to hold the canon source accountable to what they see as a “closeted” bisexual character. Proponents of slash fan works and queer readings alike have claimed that “queering of the narrative is important because it represents a clear and conscious break from the status quo—from embedded assumptions that result in oppressive identities” (Falzone 249). Many fan works, including slash, critique the canon’s insistence that Dean Winchester is straight. However, by specifically by coding him as bisexual, which does not invalidate his canon relationships with women, these fan works can  be seen both as a more fluid or complex representation of sexuality, and as a call for such representation in canon sources (and even in other fan work).

backwards / onwards / go to work cited


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