If you have a Twitter account, you’ve probably noticed numerous slash related tags showing up in the US Trends list this week. Earlier in the week the Supernatural ship Destiel (Dean and Castiel) declared themselves a pirate ship and set sail on the open waters with the #USSDestiel tag. Then late Friday night the multi fandom tag #SlashShipsMatter (begun by the Swan Queen fandom) began and received over 10,000 tweets in just under 3 hours. Slash shipping has always been a phenomenon in fandom, but this recent uptick in activity came on the heals of a morale blow to Destiel shipper after the Jus in Bello convention in Rome. The show’s two main actors made some comments that many took as a fatal blow to any chance of their ship becoming canon and, beyond that, came off as belittling to those who even ship it casually. Not everyone has taken their comments to be the death knell of the ship, but enough have interpreted it as such that morale across all of many social media communities has hit an all time low. These trending events have brought people together, boosted morale, and opened up the discussion about slash’s place in media across numerous fandoms.
While the #USSDestiel tag was mostly a party zone and a place to celebrate one pairing, the #SlashShipsMatter tag has become a haven for serious discussion about slash pairings in general. Many people in the tag expressed their appreciation that slash fandom exists because it’s allowed them a place to explore their own sexuality and find characters to identify with. In a world where most characters are straight until proven gay, queer readings of characters have become extraordinarily important for those trying to find an outlet to express themselves. For bisexuals, bi readings of characters have also become important as our sexuality is often defined by the outside world by who we are currently dating or expressing interest in at any given moment. Seeing characters as gay or bisexual makes them relatable on a different level and fills the representation void left by mass media.
Representation matters a great deal to marginalized groups. The vast majority of people that scoff at the idea of needing representation in the media often belong to groups that are already largely represented. When Whoopi Goldberg was a child, seeing a black woman on TV inspired her profoundly. At the moment, queer representation on TV usually comes in the form of rarely seen secondary characters or members of large ensemble casts. Even then, the numbers are quite low compared with the actual queer community. Shows that do have queer protagonists are largely produced outside of the US and are somewhat difficult to find on American TV. Queer representation on TV just isn’t where it should be and slash fiction has provided an important safe space for many people.
The tags haven’t been an outlet used by only members of the LGB+ community, but by everyone who feels that these ships have a place alongside heterosexual pairings in public spaces. Many have brought up the point that opposite-sex ships are not given the same scrutiny has same-sex ships. If you see a man and a woman in a show and feel that they should be in a relationship, it’s a lot easier to express that idea and still have respect, whereas expressing and interest in two men or two women often has a heavy stigma attached. Slash shippers are told that a character “isn’t gay,” while completely ignoring the possibility of bisexuality or repressed homosexuality. Fans are told that that shipping should “stay in fandom” when heterosexual pairings are discussed openly at conventions, with creators, and in other public forums with hardly any repercussions. Worst of all is the extreme amount of homophobic and biphobic commentary that comes with defending that a slash ship or queer reading of a character is wrong. I’ve seen people state that a character is “too manly” or has “only dated chicks,” therefore they could not possibly interested in being with another man. These type of double standards and queerphobic defenses hurt those who find acceptance in the slash community. It makes us feel like we’re still outsiders and should be kept quiet.
Not all has been negative on the slash shipper front, though. The season finale of Hannibal essentially made Hannigram (Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter) canon. Hannibal planned on running away with Will and their defacto adopted daughter. He began intimately touching Will’s face as he outlined their plans in a scene that could very easily be read as romantic. Of course, this romantic moment was cut short when Hannibal essentially gutted Will, but he did cradle him sweetly as he began to bleed out all over the floor. On the surface that doesn’t sound very romantic, and indeed Hannigram is an extremely dark ship, but fans were given their ship in canon for a few good seconds before the extraordinarily dark narrative tore them apart. It’s sad, yes, but that ship sailed for a few good seconds. That’s more than what most slash ships get.
The creators and cast of Hannibal have always been extremely accepting of slash shippers, even politely answering questions at last year’s Comic Con. They’ve always treated queer readings of their characters as a valid way to interpret things, culminating in a relationship that was just a kiss shy of being explicitly canon. Will and Hannibal’s strong feelings for one another has been stated overtly both outside the narrative and within it, and now we have a scene that was so intimate that most people expected them to kiss on screen. They may have if Hannibal hadn’t jammed a knife into Will’s abdomen, but the point still stands that it’s one of the most canon-without-kissing slash ships sailing on the open waters of the Internet at the moment. The creators, actors, and social media team all encourage shippers and talk to us with the same respect that heterosexual pairings receive on other shows. It’s refreshing and incredibly unique.
While Hannibal has treated their slash shippers with a lot of respect, most other shows have failed to show an accepting attitude towards those who choose to pursue queer readings of their shows. The #SlashShipsMatter tag has been filled by mostly Destiel shippers and Swan Queen shippers (Regina and Emma from Once Upon a Time), who had a similar incident last December, but many other ships joined the discussion as well. Shippers from many fandoms began to realize it’s the same thing happening all across the board and began to unite with the message that all ships should be treated equally in public discussions. Not everyone in the tag was hoping for their ships to go canon, but almost everyone hoped for at least respect and equal treatment from fellow fans, show creators, and actors. It’s clear that most slash shippers aren’t happy with being forced to treat their ships as something “weird” and would like to participate in discussions regardless of the orientation of their chosen ship. Will these trending events make a difference in the long run? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly united people and given slash shippers a much needed morale boost. While I do hope these movements are noticed by show runners, I’m at least grateful that spirits have been lifted and serious discussion has been started on the topic.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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