Supernatural’s Scariest Monster: Bi Erasure

11/20/16

Discussions around queerbaiting on the TV show “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?

Dean Winchester

Dean Winchester

I won’t spend too much time trying to convince you that one of the main characters, Dean Winchester, is bi (or would be, if the writers and producers would allow him to be), and that the show is queerbaiting. To be completely clear, I am 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, however, 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 – queer readings of texts (books, television shows, films, etc.) are an integral part of queer theory. 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 one from TV Guide and one from 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, and 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.

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 bi 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.

There is also the common assumption that if Dean were to be bi in canon, and/or 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 and homophobic 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), and are fetishizing queer men and queer relationships between men. Sometimes these accusations even go as far as name-calling and bullying. And 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 bi themselves. Many Bi Dean advocates – arguably 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.

As many Bi Dean advocates will tell you, at times watching “Supernatural” feels like being in an abusive 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 – this character’s queer sexuality, or the same-gender relationship they’ve been teasing you with for seasons, is finally going to be canon. And then they put an obnoxious, often misogynistic, 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 bi people to see that kind of representation. After all, there are relatively few representations of bisexuality on television, particularly of bi men. But with season 12 of “Supernatural” already underway, many fans are asking, “Is Dean ever going to come out of the closet?”

Hannah Johnson
Hannah Johnson is an intersectional feminist, cat lady, and bisexual activist. Her writing has been featured in Bi Women Quarterly, Selfish Magazine, The Minetta Review, the Journal of Bisexuality, and more. She is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at Mills College.




  • Hikari
  • Joshua Tanton

    I think it’s obvious, regardless of where Dean lies on the bisexual continuum internally, that he has not explicitly admitted to even himself such a position. Even in earlier seasons there was a homophobic attitude held by Dean (not homophobic in the modern colloquial sense of hating gay people, but the original meaning of being uncomfortable with homosexual actions). This attitude would be common for anybody not a perfect 0 on the bisexual continuum who was raised in a culture of stereotypic manliness who might feel shame or worry about internal feelings. I would lie Dean somewhere at a 1-1.9 on the bisexual continuum (where 0 is the hetero side and 10 is the homo side). It’s hard for someone to pass the 2 threshold without any actual homosexual experience-of which I think Dean has none. (Unless of course him and Benny kept each other warm during those cold purgatory nights).

  • Misty

    “Men don’t have lady feels unless they want to bone, SO CLEARLY THESE GUYS WANT TO BONE!”

    ^This is the only logic I can see that would explain the idea that Dean is “clearly” bisexual.

    I mean, I’ve shipped a few unlikely pairings… But it’s a weird kind of entitlement that fans feel like their personal head-canons NEED to be not only acknowledged by the writers, but added to the script.

    PS: It’s kind of laughable to say that Supernatural makes bisexuality invisible when they made God himself bi. 🙂

  • Misty

    PPS: It’s not the writer’s fault if you are incapable of seeing male gestures of affection as being non-sexual. It’s not gaslighting if you really did just make it all up in your head. And to say that it is? That’s pretty minimizing to people who have actually BEEN in abusive relationships with people who used gaslighting as an abusive technique….

  • samanthasaurus

    Sounds like you have your bias-goggles on. Listen, you don’t have to believe that Dean is bi, but what you DO need to accept is that there is DEFINITELY room for discussion about his possible bisexuality. There are huge amounts of people, bisexual themselves or otherwise LGBT+, who see the signs in Dean. The fact that so many people see it isn’t a sign that everyone is having a massive crowd delusion. It means something really is going on. Whether or not you like it or want it. And to me, what is incredibly entitled isn’t calling creators out on queerbaiting, but instead refusing to listen to countless queer people and fans or even respect their right to disagree with you, all because their beliefs don’t fit how you see/want to see the show and characters.

  • samanthasaurus

    What you’re doing in this comment is pretty textbook abusive behavior, tbh. You’re literally turning our own valid interpretations and observations about the show and making it all about our own fault – classic abuse tactic. “Excuse me? It’s not ME that is doing the thing, it’s YOU, YOU are the one that just can’t SEE or UNDERSTAND my TRUE intentions and behaviors…” Btw, *points to self* person who has been in an abusive relationship where gaslighting, as well as what you’re doing, was a huge tactic used constantly, bisexual, and still see Dean as bisexual and the show as massively queerbaiting. Do I not count in the people you’re supposedly standing up for here? We can stand up for ourselves, worry about yourself and your own issues and we will worry about ours, hence why people continue to call out the queerbaiting and gaslighting of SPN and Dean’s bisexuality. Peace.

  • Entirely

    Are you perhaps thinking of the Kinsey scale, which is a 0 (exclusively hetero) to 6 (exclusively homo) scale that is popularly used? Here though, I don’t think I entirely understand this line of reasoning. It sounds like you’re implying that a person sexual preference is defined only by their actions. By this reasoning, is a 50 year old married virgin asexual? Would a woman who only loves other women but was forced into a straight marriage at a young age not be a 10 on your scale? Perhaps I just misunderstood your meaning in this post, but it /seems/ like you’re kind of summing up the entire problem of bi erasure by saying that someone isn’t a true bisexual if they haven’t had quantifiable sex with multiple genders…

  • Misty

    “You don’t agree with me so you must be biased!”

    BTW, I’m so far in the grey of the spectrum it’s not even funny. So I’m not sure exactly which bias you’re talking about. 😉

  • Joshua Tanton

    Well no. I’m talking about the bisexual continuum. Which places everybody in this continuum. Using 1-10 is arbitrary since it’s a continuum. Which means it’s a scale with infinite points. You could also think of it as a percentage. There are standardized tests someone can take that will place them on this scale. And technically everyone is bisexual and discrete sexual orientation isn’t really a thing. Since technically it would be near impossible to be a perfect 0 or 10. But don’t misunderstand, sexual experience is only one of multiple dimensions measured by the standardized test. The 1-10 scale is just the average of the score across each dimension. For example a person might get a 0 in past sexual activity but a 3 in sexual fantasy but a 2 in sexual attraction and a 1 in romantic feelings, etc. I’m not sure of what all the dimensions measured on the standardized test are but you should be able to look it up and find it. From my understanding this is the most reasonable psychological theory on sexual orientation, and actually allows for someone to move along this continuum throughout their lifetime (backed up by the research). Which is nice cuz it totally disproves the whole “you’re born gay” bullshit. Unfortunately there isn’t much research in sexual orientation, since most psychologist realize it doesn’t fucking matter. But it’s clear to me that sexual orientation is completely a function of the environment, some environmental effects may occur prenatally but they are most certainly environmental none the less. A lot of those environmental influences are societal and family related. A lot of them are direct results of an individual’s choices. So it really bugs me how the media likes to push this static, discrete sexual orientation nonsense when the science simple does not support it.

  • Entirely

    Ah okay, I had never heard of this continuum before. I’ll look it up, I like the sound of it, and the fact that can apply over multiple facets of attraction and activity. Thanks for bringing it to my attention 🙂 And I agree with you, the need for media to categorise things so definitively is frustrating. Why can’t the world think in spectrums more? We do it with colours!