Queer representation or ship representation? Obviously the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but there is a big difference between wanting Destiel to happen in Supernatural and wanting Dean to be bisexual. Or wanting Sterek to happen in Teen Wolf and wanting Stiles to be bisexual. It’s a distinction I think is often forgotten by the fans.
This past summer, Sterek fans threatened to boycott an episode of Teen Wolf because it would feature a plotline focused on Dennifer, the relationship between Jennifer Blake and Derek Hale. If they cared about queer representation and not just ship representation, they’d have cared about the episode because it featured canon gay couple Danny and Ethan quite heavily. In the same vein, just recently some Destiel fans threatened to boycott an episode of Supernatural because Castiel would be shown having sex with a woman.
In some ways I understand that fans are upset when characters that they believe are queer are shown being nothing but heteronormative. However, more and more often in fandoms, I’m seeing queer representation tied almost exclusively with shipping certain pairings and that is not going to get us anywhere.
People are making Destiel and queer characterization for Dean a synonymous issue, and they’re not. If the complaints focused on the real life issue of queer representation rather than ship loyalty, it’d be a lot easier to emphasize how monstrously in the wrong these writers are in their current commentary and engagement of fans.
I do understand fans wanting to combine queer representation and their favorite ship. When queer characters are portrayed on TV or in movies, they are rarely depicted in a sexual or romantic way. You may see two queer characters flirt, but queer characters kissing or having sex is definitely a rarity. Based on that, it is understandable that fans, both queer fans and allies, would want to see not just queer characters, but queer relationships.
However, the focus on ships could be hurting the fight for more queer representation. The Powers That Be may be willing to have a gay character but not a same-sex relationship. While I agree that that is all kinds of bullshit, we may have to start picking our battles. On top of this, trying to force writers into making two main characters show same-sex attraction is not always the answer. For example, while Jeff Davis has not said definitively that Stiles is bisexual, he has hinted at it being a possibility and leaves enough ambiguity about Stiles’s sexuality in the show that he could take the character in any direction. Davis has not hinted about this in any way regarding Derek’s sexuality, however. And while Derek having dated exclusively women on the show so far does not necessarily mean he’s straight, his character does seem less likely to be written as a queer character by Davis. However, it is likely that, if Stiles was revealed to be bisexual, he would end up in a queer relationship at some point—even if it wasn’t with Derek. So Sterek fans then would have to decide: do they care more about their ship or about queer representation?
This is a question I think all shippers need to ask themselves. Are you as a shipper giving priority only to seeing your ship happen, or to actually having more queer characters and relationships on TV?