I have been thinking recently about the practice of making existing characters who are previously thought to be straight into queer characters. It’s not something that happens often, but it has been done before. In DC’s New 52 reboot, the Green Lantern Alan Scott, previously assumed straight, was revealed to be gay. Batwoman was another character who was previously assumed straight—ironically, she was actually introduced as Batman’s girlfriend to prove that Batman was straight. Now she’s a lesbian. Yay! On television Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a character that is still often debated by fans. While her character’s bisexuality was definitely erased, many fans still argue over whether there was evidence in previous seasons that showed that Willow was attracted to women.
Furthermore, the Slash Madness Tournament is here again and is currently in its final match-up. Once again it’s come down to a war between Destiel and Sterek fans. Last time I checked, Destiel was in the lead by a small margin, but the Sterek fans are certainly putting up a fight. What’s more interesting to me, however, is less the tournament itself and more how fans talk about these two giant pairings. Fans seem to think that winning tournaments like this will prove to The Powers That Be that certain queer relationships, like Sterek and Destiel, would be supported by the whole of the fandom if they were made canon. By showing support for these pairings in a visible way, fans believe that writers will realize that the fandom won’t abandon the show because of canon gay characters—rather, fans will actively support it.
While I’m all for people shipping whatever pairings they want, I have always been skeptical about turning canonically straight characters into queer characters. This mostly has to do with having decent writers in my opinion, and even that’s not always a guarantee. I’m especially concerned with characters like Dean Winchester, who is portrayed as a real ladies’ man. In this case, I worry about writers trying to claim that character is now completely homosexual, when logic would dictate that he is at least bisexual. I also worry about the reasons why we, the viewers, are just now learning that a character is queer. Why have these characters never shown any interest in same-sex relationships until now?
A real life example of this is Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon did not originally intend for Willow to be gay, but come season four, he decided to have a character explore their sexuality and thus Willow became a lesbian. In my opinion, the whole thing was handled very poorly. Other than one episode in season three where Willow’s evil twin is described as being “kind of gay”, there is no indication that Willow is attracted to women before season four. Maybe if Whedon had spent a season or two developing her sexuality this transition could have worked out, but he didn’t, and it didn’t. I’m not saying that these issues can’t be dealt with, but so often they aren’t or aren’t dealt with well.