Queer representation is not a sneaky thing. It doesn’t creep up like a ninja, and it doesn’t hide behind equivocation. If something has queer representation, it’s because it includes a queer character who at some point has audibly and unambiguously expressed romantic or sexual interest in the same gender. Anything else is speculation. Hell, even Word of God is tricky—JKR may have said that Dumbledore is gay, but anyone who just reads the books and doesn’t bother to dig up an interview from ten years ago will have no idea.
I bring this up because of a recent trend I’ve seen in fandom, where all sorts of interactions and statements that don’t fit the above criteria are being held up as proof of a queer pairing’s now-canon status.
Take, for example, the scene between Mulan and Aurora in episode 3 of Once Upon a Time’s S3. After being told by Neil that it’s always better to tell your loved ones how you feel about them, Mulan runs off with a determined look on her face to speak to Aurora. Every Sleeping Warrior shipper on the planet held their breath as Mulan walked up to Aurora and said she had something important to tell her, but Aurora cut in with her own news: she and Philip were expecting a child. Mulan, looking heartbroken, decided not to share whatever she was gonna share after all, and instead ran away to join Robin Hood’s Merry Men.
To me and hopefully to most viewers, it was clear that Mulan was going to confess her romantically-inclined feelings for Aurora to Aurora, and I honestly believe that that was the writers’ intent. (I’m even optimistic enough to believe that it will work out for the two of them in the end.) However, Mulan never actually vocalized those feelings, so despite the romantic coding of the scene, I’m still loath to call that scene proof of canon queer Mulan until we get more evidence. Furthermore, I take umbrage at the people who are saying that Sleeping Warrior is now canon—because it’s pretty much in no way canon. Regardless of whether Mulan’s feelings for Aurora were more than platonic, Aurora for the time being does not seem to reciprocate. The ship is not canon, and arguing that it is lowers the bar for writers, saying that scraps and shipteases are enough to count for representation.
Queer representation does not come like a thief in the night. You shouldn’t have to dig through hours of special features to figure out that a character is queer or a couple is canon. Regardless, another cry of “It’s canon!” went up a few weeks ago, after Supernatural writers revealed that, in a tense and emotional scene near the end of Season 8, Dean was supposed to tell Castiel he loved him. The line never made it into the final cut of the episode, as Jensen Ackles, Dean’s actor, felt that it wasn’t in character for Dean to vocalize his emotions that way. Instead of a confession (which, ostensibly, could easily have been a declaration of brotherly or platonic love, not necessarily romantic love), the line ended up being “I need you”, which, while slashy enough in its own right, does not carry near the significance of a straightforward declaration of love.
When the Destiel crowd got hold of the originally scripted line, many went apeshit, citing it as proof that the writers were finally giving them canon Dean/Cas—despite the depressing insinuation that, if by Season 8, Dean still isn’t in touch with his feelings enough to tell his best, closest friend he loves him (even if it was meant platonically), he probably never will be. Destiel isn’t canon, and apocrypha that wasn’t actually included in the show does not make it any more so.
Please note, of course, that I’m not talking about shipping—I’m talking about canonicity and representation. If you want to take any scene from any show as proof of your ship and write or read a fanfic about it, feel free to keep on sailing that ship to your heart’s content. But claiming that something is canon, when it really doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, is just another way to say “yes, this meager, ambiguous interaction is all I needed; don’t worry about giving us any more.” It’s part of why the Supernatural execs see no reason to pursue the Dean/Castiel pairing seriously, because so many people claim that it’s already canon based on the pair’s previous interactions. They queerbait to their hearts’ content and a large portion of fandom laps it up like the characters actually kissed on screen.
So until they actually do, please keep your “It’s totally canon now!”s to yourself.