Praxis

Annihilating love and heterosexuality without women: Romance, generic difference, and queer politics in Supernatural fan fiction

Monica Flegel and Jenny Roth

Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—This essay examines the differing generic tropes and sexual politics evident in Supernatural slash and in J2 fan fic. We argue that while some stories within Supernatural fan fiction provide happy endings to the characters that are denied them in the show's canon, dark!fic instead focuses on the intensity and exclusivity of Sam and Dean's love, thus illuminating dangers at the heart of the one-true-love trope. We also argue that RPS written within the Supernatural fan community demonstrates greater adherence to conventional romance tropes and normative sexualities, and thus reveals important ideological constructs of heteronormativity.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan fiction; Gender; J2; Real person slash; Sexuality; Slash.

Flegel, Monica, and Jenny Roth. 2010. Annihilating love and heterosexuality without women: Romance, generic difference, and queer politics in Supernatural fan fiction. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0133.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Within the realm of fan fiction, real person slash (RPS) is often constructed as the genre even slashers look down upon. Too easily associated with stalking, fanaticism, and tin hattism—tin hat is a derogatory term applied to fans who, other fans believe, fail to recognize the difference between fictional stories about real people and those people's real lives—RPS is banned from the largest fan fiction site, Fanfiction.net, because "it's considered okay to play with characters, but not with real people" (Lee 2003, 71). Despite its denigration, RPS fiction in Supernatural fandom is extremely common: according to the Super-wiki, RPS stories appeared within the first year of the show's history (http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/index.php?title=Real_Person_Fiction&oldid=12623), there are numerous sites devoted to pairing the main actors (note 1), and as many as half of the stories being written by the fandom on LiveJournal are RPS. According to the Super-wiki, one explanation for the unusual popularity of RPS in Supernatural fandom is that "because the main pairing in the fandom, Sam/Dean, is incestuous, slash writers uncomfortable with this have turned to writing RPS, even if it is a genre they would have shunned in other fandoms." Such an explanation does not account for the many authors who write both slash and RPS, however, nor for the story challenges that include both genres (note 2). Popular fan fiction recommendation sites such as Crack Impala, general fan fiction communities such as Supernaturalfic, and community sites such as the Supernatural Round Table and the Supernatural Newsletter, for example, all deal with both Supernatural slash and RPS. In general, it would appear that Supernatural fandom acknowledges and accepts both genres equally.

[1.2] As the Super-wiki suggests, some fans' discomfort with Wincest may account for some of the prevalence of RPS in the fandom, but we find a better explanation for its popularity to be that RPS does significantly different work than the canon-based slash, particularly in its construction of romantic relationships. Slash is a slippery genre which has been defined multiply as buddy-story bromance, romance, or just plain porn (or pr0n, as the case may be) (Bacon-Smith 1992; Scodari 2003; Lee 2003; Kustritz 2003; Woledge 2005, 2006; Driscoll 2006; Green, Jenkins, and Jenkins 2006). One of the reasons for the difficulty of defining slash is that stories tend to contain elements that can be ascribed to all three categories, and the meaning of the text can shift depending on how different readers take up the stories in different times, places, and cultures. There are certainly many similarities to be found between Supernatural slash and J2 RPS (named for the actors, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), but there are also fascinating distinctions: J2 RPS, which is not restricted by the familial relationship in the canon, is far more likely to follow traditional narratives of courtship, based in large part on tropes from romantic comedy, while slash is often based upon the more "epic" narrative of "one true love"; J2 RPS tends to place the boys within communities of friends and family, whereas the slash focuses in large part on the boys' isolation; J2 stories are often light-hearted in tone, while the slash is often dark and focuses upon images of claustrophobia, desperation, and suffering (unsurprisingly, given the source text); and RPS stories are, on their surface, far more likely to deal directly with issues of homosexuality, homophobia, and straight and queer politics than is the slash.

[1.3] What is fascinating about the existence of two related, interchangeably enjoyed and valued discourses in Supernatural fan fiction is that fans themselves have organically created this distinction. That is to say: there is no reason, ultimately, for this separation between the often more conventional romance of J2 RPS and the sometimes isolated desperation of slash; fan fiction is famously capacious in the narratives it encompasses, and alternate universe (AU) stories are not uncommon. Supernatural fan fiction authors can, and do, write slash stories featuring Sam and Dean that include many of the characteristics we ascribe to J2 fiction above, and J2 writers also craft stories that are as dark and angst-heavy as even Supernatural canon; nevertheless, it often seems that given the choice, even the choice of a genre so disliked as RPS, fans do choose to write distinctly different stories in J2 RPS than they do in slash. In one case, the author Aeroplane_art reworked what was originally a Sam/Dean AU, "Sky in a Box," in order to make it J2 by changing the characters' names to those of the actors associated with the show and their friends. Tellingly, one recommendation for the new version argued, "It somehow works even better as a J2 story" (Lexzilla, "J2 AU Recs," LiveJournal post). Reading a selection of both Supernatural slash and J2 RPS, we will examine the logic that allows a story to "work better" within the latter genre. We will argue that the distinctions between the two speak to the constrictions and limitations of both slash and popular romance: RPS stories, that is, provide narrative imaginings that are not so easily encompassed within the slash framework, and, conversely, the slash pairing provides something that cannot easily be subsumed within popular romance. Therefore, the separation of the two genres in Supernatural fandom reveals fans' own complex reactions to and negotiations of generic difference.

[1.4] Some of the restrictions and limitations at work within these genres have to do with the sexual politics inherent in popular romance and the cultural constructions of queerness. One of the aims of cultural studies is to examine so-called low culture texts—such as fan fiction—in order to understand the workings of ideology and to interrogate dominant cultural values. By revealing its social construction, Supernatural slash and J2 RPS show that popular romance offers a complex space in which romantic tropes can be both subverted and perpetuated. Furthermore, while both genres can tell us something about the negotiation and transformation of traditional romance tropes, they also reveal myriad questions about representations of same-sex desire in relation to both isolation and community. The latter is, for us, one of the most intriguing differences between J2 RPS and Supernatural slash. It just might be the case that happy endings for male/male pairs do not necessarily signal transgressive or subversive romantic relationships, and that directly dealing with issues of homosexuality does not necessarily signal a break from heteronormative narratives of romance and partnership.

2. Supernatural slash

[2.1] In "'The Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean': Supernatural, Queer Readings, and the Romance of Incestuous Fan Fiction," Catherine Tosenberger convincingly argues that Supernatural slash writers subvert their source text because "they make things happy—a consistent theme of Supernatural slash is that a romance between Sam and Dean will give them a measure of comfort and happiness that they are denied in the series" (2008, 1.5). She supports her argument with reference to "modern genre romance novels," in which true love is represented as "oneness with the beloved." Incestuous love, she suggests, is, "arguably, the ne plus ultra of oneness, as lovers are united not simply in body and soul, but in blood" (2008, 2.1). In Supernatural slash, fannish representations of incest "posit Sam and Dean's romantic attachment as merely 'an extension and intensification' of their already overwhelming love'" (2008, 4.8).

[2.2] While Tosenberger's reading of Sam/Dean stories certainly accords with much of the fiction currently circulating in the fandom, it does not encompass the Sam/Dean stories that explore their incestuous relationship as one of pain, desperation, and annihilation. Certainly, the "overwhelming love" that Tosenberger refers to—and which is clearly present in the source text and in most of the fan fiction, gen and slash, written about the show—can lend itself both to utopian explorations of "oneness with the beloved" and to more claustrophobic examinations of a too-close, too-intense pairing.

[2.3] These claustrophobic examinations of Sam/Dean love provide a commentary upon the very notion of "one true love" and the inherent dysfunction at the heart of that concept. Tosenberger acknowledges that the inability of Sam and Dean to form romantic attachments in the show leads to an "intense, exclusive, excessive" love between the characters. She argues that this love is "not necessarily romantic, [but] our culture codes romantic love as similarly excessive, so the show makes it very easy to read Sam and Dean's excessive love as romantic" (2008, 2.2). While we agree, we also argue that when Supernatural slash stories represent "one true love" in negative ways or subversive ways, then the romantic nature of such excessive love is called into question; in other words, stories which focus on the dangerous or darker elements of the love between Sam and Dean may provide a critical commentary upon one-true-love romance, as opposed to iterations of it.

[2.4] Dark!fic and angst-heavy plots and characterizations have always been common in Supernatural fan fiction, echoing the dark tone of the show itself, and fans have, from the beginning, explored the dangers inherent in the intense love Sam and Dean share. As well, the show's representation of Sam and Dean's relationship, particularly in seasons 3 and 4, has increasingly focused on the pain they experience as a result of their intense codependency. After Dean sells his soul to bring Sam back from the dead at the end of season 2, the ground is set to examine the implications of his decision. Bobby's confrontation with Dean in 2.22 "All Hell Breaks Loose 2" reveals that Dean's decision is based not solely on love for Sam, but also on Dean's self-hatred; Sam castigates Dean for not being able to think of his own needs when he yells, "I don't want you to worry about me, Dean. I want you to worry about you" (3.06 "Red Sky at Morning"). In 3.11 "Mystery Spot," the Trickster attempts, in typically unhelpful fashion, to teach Sam a lesson about love and self-sacrifice, arguing, "The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain," and in 3.16 "No Rest for the Wicked" even Dean, the model of self-sacrificing love in the first two seasons, says to Sam, "You're my weak spot. And I'm yours," and finally acknowledges his mistake in selling his soul: "Look how that turned out." Season 4, with its focus upon the rift between Sam and Dean, in part the result of the sacrifices they made for each other in the past, further examined the possibility that the love that Sam and Dean share may be as capable of tearing them apart as of holding them together. Seasons 3 and 4, that is, reverse the message of seasons 1 and 2 that they are "stronger as a family" (1.20 "Dead Man's Blood"), and instead represent the Winchesters' familial ties as a tactical weakness in the war against evil—"I mean," says Dean, "what we'll do for each other, how far we'll go? They're using it against us" (3.16 "No Rest for the Wicked"). Such canonical commentary reconfigures the intense love between Sam and Dean to examine the consequences of a relationship that seems to know no bounds and that has the potential to be both self-annihilating and utterly isolating.

[2.5] Therefore, though Tosenberger points out that "many fans argue that [Sam and Dean's] love is so excessive that sexual desire will not fundamentally alter their investment in each other" (2008, 4.8), it is nevertheless also true that the exploration of a sexual relationship between Sam and Dean in fan fiction, particularly in the light of the shifting canonical representations of their love, often includes a recognition of the problems that the addition of a sexual, romantic element brings to a pairing that is already too close. In Fleshflutter's "There's a Devil Waiting outside Your Door" (May 9, 2008, LiveJournal post), Carmen is horrified to find that she has been merely a stand-in for Dean in her affair with Sam: "Sam and me…wasn't about me at all. I was just…the next best thing, a stepping stone." Dean's response reveals the depths of his relationship with Sam: "Dean goes very still, shoulders hunched and his eyes fixed on her warily, nothing but a cornered animal. Then he straightens up and smiles without anything warm or happy to it. 'What fucking hope did I have of telling him no?'" That this story is set in the Wish universe Dean encounters in 2.20 "What Is and What Should Never Be" demonstrates that what might be wrong with Sam and Dean is not so much the nightmare world they occupy, but a lack of boundaries that means each risks being absorbed in the needs of the other, sometimes against his will.

[2.6] In Candle_Beck's "Gone Again" (August 23, 2008, LiveJournal post), it is the very prospect of close communion with the other which tears Sam and Dean apart as Sam seeks to avoid self-annihilation. Dean offers everything to Sam: "'If I can get all of you,' Dean says without looking over. 'You can have all of me.'" Sam can only argue helplessly back that "this thing is killing both of us" while desperately holding out against the unity Dean offers him: "Jesus, Dean, you already have almost everything. This thing, it, it's too much, it's asking too much." Similarly, "oneness with the beloved" is coded as dangerous absorption in Britomart_is's "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Bury My Body down by the Highway Side" (April 23, 2008 and May 1, 2008, LiveJournal posts). In these post–season 3 stories, Sam takes Dean's demonic soul into his body as a way of saving Dean, and is left dealing with Dean's demonic impulses. When Bobby reacts with horror to what Sam has done, Demon!Dean!Sam attacks him: "When Bobby's body slams against the wall, Sam's not sure if it's him or Dean that does it. He leaves without checking for a pulse, needs to get out of there and never come back." The attack is met with matter-of-factness from Demon!Dean: "Should've let me kill him. He'll tell others. Hunt us." Sam replies that Bobby is "a friend." Dean's reply—"You don't need him. You have me"—is met with acceptance from Sam: "'I know,' Sam says, and it's true. He has everything he needs'" (April 4, 2008, LiveJournal post). This dark version of "oneness with the beloved" means that Sam's acceptance of social isolation and the literal annihilation of his independent identity is constructed in accordance with a demon's concept of need. The ending may be coded as romantic because the brothers achieve oneness and union, but the completion Sam and Dean find in each other is dangerous, and, importantly, it inevitably isolates them from a larger community.

[2.7] Tosenberger argues that the "threat of community expulsion that comes from the breaking of the incest taboo is simply not present for Sam and Dean" (2008, 5.3), but community expulsion does structure many of the Wincest stories. Typical explanatory slash devices include distancing the characters from reality by placing them in the alternate spaces of fantasy or science fiction, and isolating them (Woledge 2006, 101). These devices allow the characters' sexual relationship to develop at a distance from real-world politics, and they come together because their isolation or displacement creates a more intimate bond and greater frisson between them. In Sam/Dean, however, such isolation is at times figured as a source of pain.

[2.8] Xantissa's "Weapon of Choice" offers an excellent example. In his journal, John reveals his increasing awareness of young Sam's passionate feelings for Dean and asks, "Oh God, how could I have failed my sons so badly?!" John's self-recrimination comes from his desire to be "a better father" who "managed to give [his] boys a real life, not this constant fight" (July 2, 2006, LiveJournal post). Similarly, in Vamphile's "Sniper Vision," John notes the boys' codependency and worries about their closeness: he "was sometimes concerned, afraid, of this monster he'd created. Almost no personal space, few if any personal belongings, perpetual fear of death or abandonment and constant displacement. They had nothing to hold onto but each other." Later, when he finds them locked together in an embrace, John argues with himself: "It's wrong they're all they have" (March 24, 2009, LiveJournal post). The world in which the boys turn to each other for something to "hold onto" is one of "fear" and "no personal space," not freedom.

[2.9] In some cases, the apocalyptic nature of Sam and Dean's story allows writers to explore their social isolation in shockingly literal ways. In Fryadvocate's "More Glory to Their Eyes than Blood," for example, Sam and Dean come together in their final moments, waiting for the destruction that has befallen everything else: "Dean opened his mind, opened his mouth, and leaned in to kiss Sam, long and hard. 'We're all there is,' Dean said, and Sam gave himself over with a soft cry" (March 30, 2006, LiveJournal post). Sam's final surrender mirrors that of the entire human race—their relationship can be consummated only in the absence of that world, and it is, in many ways, a form of consolation for the loss of that world.

[2.10] Similarly, Dru's "Lion and Lamb" (Drvsilla, January 22, 2009, LiveJournal post) ends with the apocalypse despite Sam's assertion that he and Dean managed to beat the system, that good and evil are "all dispelled because we finally got the chance to have that last big-bad confrontation, but instead of fighting to the death we fucked each other senseless." Their lovemaking is the catalyst that kills everyone, and afterward, they find themselves in a pastoral, prelapsarian near-wilderness. Their ability to live in a world where they "weren't afraid anymore, never had to be again" is directly connected to the unpeopled landscape they inhabit. Their love, and the happy ending, are only possible when everyone has been "absolved of mortality."

[2.11] What many Sam/Dean stories therefore explore is the character of a romantic or sexual relationship that is both too intense in its closeness and isolating by its very nature. In Sometimesophie's "To the End," the end of the world is averted, but Sam is utterly devastated by the loss of his community: "Afterwards, Sam cries; for Bobby and Ellen, for everyone else…Dean moves to put his hand on his shoulder and Sam flinches away as if burnt." Dean is unable to offer comfort because their physical intimacy is forced upon them—it is not a reflection of their love, but of the damage caused by outside influences, an act of desperation that must continue in order to keep darkness at bay. The story ends with Dean's hope that "maybe…some day soon, Sam will listen to him…Will hear I wanted to do it rather than just rape." His final thoughts are "None of it is going to be easy. It's the price they'll have to pay" (November 15, 2008, LiveJournal post).

[2.12] It would be a mistake to suggest that such dark explorations of Sam and Dean's love for each other somehow negate that love, or the pleasure that authors and readers find in exploring it. We would argue, however, that as a rift has developed between Sam and Dean in the show's canon, so too has Supernatural slash increasingly shown their love as annihilating or dysfunctional, or alternatively, shifted some of its focus to the Dean/Castiel pairing. The growing numbers of J2 stories (as evidenced by, for example, the higher numbers of J2 stories in the latest Supernatural/J2 BigBang story challenge than in previous years) suggest to us that fans are, in part, finding more opportunities for happy endings and romantic, domestic bliss in a Supernatural-based pairing that is not bound by the show's increasingly dark canon.

3. J2 RPS

[3.1] Demon!Dean's assurance that Sam does not require friends in Britomart_is's "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Bury My Body down by the Highway Side" speaks to an important distinction between Supernatural slash and J2 RPS: community. In leodragon1 and pekover's "Can't Take the Sky away from Me" (Pekodragon, February 21, 2009, LiveJournal post), for example, Jensen breaks up with Jared and reflects that "he might have lost his lover, but he still had his friends; they weren't the same at all, but…they were better than nothing. He smiled fondly at them. They were a lot better." Such a consolation is almost unimaginable in the Supernatural world. Certainly, stories in which Sam and Dean achieve the core romantic trope of domestic bliss, which is signified in romance by the wedding or betrothal that ends the story (Kaler 1999, 1, 4; Smith 1999, 53–54; Regis 2003, 7, 21), can be found in Supernatural fan fiction. We argue, however, that the happy ending which provides the "peace of mind [that] is central to the convention of romance" (Marks 1999, 12), because of its familiar retreat to domesticity, is far more common in J2 RPS, and that the union achieved between Jared and Jensen not only is coded as healthy and stable, but focuses on what Sam and Dean often specifically lack: the support of a larger community, of which the romantic couple is only a part. Such narratives provide what critic Laura Kinsale argues is part of the psychological satisfaction of romance: "the integration of the inner self, an integration that goes on day by day…in the lives of women and men all over the world, because—yes—civilization and family and growing up require of all of us…a certain turning away from adventure, from autonomy, from what-might-have-been" (1992, 39).

[3.2] In order to compare the tropes in J2 RPS to those of conventional romance narratives, a definition of romantic tropes is necessary. Our consideration in this paper is not the romance of the heroic quest, but rather the romance of the love story, "the narrative of falling in love, with all of the obstacles, hesitations, failures, and delays that heighten tension and make the eventual consummation of the love relationship (whether physical or emotional) triumphant" (Strehle and Carden 2003, xiv). John Cawelti's early genre study found that in order for a story to be a romance "its organizing action" must be "the development of a love relationship…usually through a series of obstacles which need to be overcome," resulting in a conclusion which must affirm "the ideals of monogamous marriage and feminine domesticity" (1976, 42). Although Cawelti predicted in 1976 that "the coming of age of women's liberation will invent significantly new formulas for romance, if it does not lead to a total rejection of the moral fantasy of love triumphant" (42), the extent to which the romantic formula has, in fact, been transformed by second- and now third-wave feminism is debatable; popular romance, particularly the romantic comedy, certainly continues to follow familiar, well-worn paths. Pamela Regis's more recent definition of romance confirms this—in 2003, as in 1976, the core elements of romance are expanded but remain very much the same (2003, 19–50).

[3.3] Furthermore, although recent academic work has acknowledged that romance comes in many different forms, at its base romance is "formula fiction" in which "the story unfolds seamlessly, the conclusion ties all loose ends together in a happy ending, and the conventions blend so perfectly that romance is completely satisfying to our expectations" (Kaler 1999, 1). That being said, the "formula" is highly capacious: "the exoticism, the fantasy, the larger-than-life characters, the adventure, the breathless excitement" of romance "pervades and includes all categories—mysteries, horror, thrillers, western, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and, of course, love stories" (6). At its root, however, romance "has a happy ending, always and in all ways. This endearing ending is the most critical and enduring convention of the romance genre" (4). It is this generic element that has been critiqued by some feminists, who see it as ultimately an absorption of the feminine identity into patriarchy (see, for example, Modleski 1982; Radway 1984; DuPlessis 1985; Rabine 1985; Langbauer 1990; Ganguly 1991; Dubino 1993; Shaffer 1993; Jackson, 1995, 50; Gilbert and Gubar 2000; and Frantz 2002, although the latter does address how romance could be subversively feminist with its expressions of a feminine economy of exchange that is preferable to patriarchy, if it were less derided), and by other critics—feminists and nonfeminists alike—who perceive it as a liberating celebration of female empowerment and equality (see, for example, Zidle 1999; Botts 1999; Heinecken 1999; Regis 2003). Regardless, according to most critics, the happy ending signified by consummate union is a core element that makes a story a romance. It can certainly be argued that Supernatural slash reconfigures the romance narrative, particularly in its troubling of "love triumphant," while J2 stories continue to provide Supernatural fan writers and readers with the opportunity to revel in more conventional romantic tropes, placing Jared and Jensen in domestic and community settings which satisfy desires for more traditional happy endings. The difference between the two reveals the extent to which cultural representations of happiness through love triumphant are ideologically bound.

[3.4] The community featured in J2 RPS stories is, of course, an imagined one based in large part on the actors' real-life friends and relatives and on a stable of actors and actresses often found on other CW shows. Generally, stories in the J2 genre feature a best friend; a number of fag hags, former girlfriends, or soon-to-be ex-girlfriends; family members; and costars and others associated with Supernatural. Interestingly, within the RPS fanon, the personalities of these celebrities are fairly set—Chad Michael Murray, who often plays the role of Jared's best friend, is frequently represented as either a mostly lovable or an utterly unrepentant "douchebag" (the term is so common as to require mention), and Christian Kane often appears as a cynical, devoted, and protective sidekick. Whether these stories are meant to imaginatively represent the actual lives of the boys or are entirely AU, the same groups of people tend to constellate around Jared and Jensen, and are often directly involved in either placing obstacles in the way of the boys' love or in bringing them together—usually the latter.

[3.5] What these representations of community provide is a way of imagining romance as something negotiated in relation to already-existing relationships of love, loyalty, and commitment. For example, one lover must often prove himself worthy to the best friend of the other. In some cases, the lover demonstrates worthiness by making up for hurting his lover in the past, as is the case in Keepaofthecheez's New OTP'Verse: "'When'd you get so smart about Jared?' Chad wonders, tone a bit suspicious…[Jensen] glances up again and his gaze snags on Jared's. 'When I let myself know him. Wasn't hard after that.'…Chad nods, then sticks out a hand. 'So, friends?'" (September 19, 2006, Sinful Desire Archive). Exchanges such as this allow the lovers to triangulate through their friends in order to have their relationship troubles managed and healed in part through interacting with others.

[3.6] In many stories, posturing or threatening on the part of the "best friend" reveals the social surveillance which protects the vulnerable or wronged party. In Sometimesophie's "The Jared Padalecki Untitled Project" (August 22, 2007, LiveJournal post), for example, both Christian Kane and Chad Michael Murray act out the hostility and anger that is repressed by the now-estranged Jensen and Jared, while in Fleshflutter's "Do I Seem Bulletproof to You?" (June 24, 2008, LiveJournal post) Christian Kane judges Jared before the relationship between the two boys begins—"There's a new intensity in the way he watches Jared, which is somehow even more unnerving"—as well as putting him in his place after the relationship has imploded: "Chris comes up and drapes his arm over Jensen's shoulder. The grin he gives Jared isn't very friendly." Here, as in some other cases, friends attempt to warn one of the boys away from a relationship with the other—"'Jensen's a nice guy too,' Jared interrupts. 'Yes, he is,' says Tom…'it's not him I'm worried about.'" However, protective actions by a friend more often speak to devotion than to a desire to scuttle the happiness of the couple.

[3.7] The J2 fanon also offers something not readily available in Supernatural fan fiction—significant and meaningful relationships with female characters. Supernatural fandom has the reputation of being particularly misogynistic, largely as a result of fans' responses to the female characters on the show (note 3). One could argue that this misogyny is, in part, a by-product of the show's own overarching misogyny, particularly in seasons 3 and 4, which feature many female villains and far too many examples of gendered and sexualized insults and violence. Though there are certainly hateful portrayals of women in J2 fiction, presenting the boys' real-life partners as either jealous harpies or vicious destroyers of the boys' happiness, there are also many positive and loving portrayals of women, suggesting that J2 stories offer fans a place to enjoy the positive portrayals of women as friends, supporters, defenders, and confidantes so lacking in the show's canon. Certainly, such narratives safely enclose women in roles that negate their possibility as love interests, but the placement of women in the nonbeloved role does expand their frame of action.

[3.8] In Titheniel's "Snapshots" (September 15, 2007, LiveJournal post), for example, Sophia Bush is both the tough-as-nails-with-a-heart-of-gold protector and supporter of a traumatized Jensen and an up-and-coming fashion photographer with a crush of her own on Sandy McCoy. Apocalypsos's "I Taught Your Boyfriend That Thing You Like" (May 23, 2008, LiveJournal post) features a delightfully slutty Alona Tal, and Titheniel and Splashpink's "Orwell" (Orwell_fic, November 1, 2008, LiveJournal post) includes Angelina Jolie as a kick-ass medic with a love of explosives. In some cases, a female character fills much the same role usually occupied by the male best friend, as in Audrarose's "Open Mike Night at the Freemont" (June 23, 2008, LiveJournal post) in which Allison Mack, a poetry-loving barista, advises Jared on his relationship with a disabled and emotionally damaged Jensen: "'You hit on his dog,' Allison said…'What?' Jared asked, trying to look innocent. 'I like dogs. And that's an awesome dog.' 'You hit on him through his service dog. You have no shame at all.'" Such characters demonstrate that women have individual identities, a variety of interests, and a wide range of sexualities. Furthermore, they depict women as crucial members of the larger community.

[3.9] Family also plays an important role as community, though sometimes a very different role than friends do. While friends often represent the peer group of the boys, family sometimes stands in for a more conventional, traditional society, particularly in the stories that deal heavily with issues of homosexuality and homophobia. In such narratives, families provide important external barriers—and thus romantic narrative tension—to the boys' burgeoning or deepening relationship, and offer fan authors the opportunity to explore opposition to homosexuality within a world that looks much like our own.

[3.10] J2 stories that focus on familial rejection of the boys' homosexuality demonstrate the pain that can result from a break with one's community: Pic Akai's "Coming of Age," for example, illuminates Jared's grief and confusion as he attempts to fulfill his father's hopes for him while also attempting to stay true to himself: "I tried so hard to make him proud, I…he's the reason I'm a mechanic, you know?…And he was proud of it until the day I told him I was gay, and then he just…didn't care any more. Didn't want to accept I was his son" (b_s_n_m, December 9, 2007, LiveJournal post). As fan writers show, such rejection by a parent can also result in a painful separation from oneself and one's own desires. Felisblanco's "In a Mirror Distorted and Indistinct" (January 19, 2008, LiveJournal post) recounts an incident from Jensen's past in which his family condemns homosexuality, which causes Jensen to reject himself: "He's not. Not that. Not that. Whatever he is it's not that. Please, God, don't let me be that. Please, please, please." In this story, as in others, the boys are only able to recover from past experiences of rejection and homophobia through their sexual and romantic connections, which reconfigure their relationships to their own bodies and to their larger community: "It's been four months, one week and three days since Jared kissed him for the first time. Since his whole life changed" (2008, LiveJournal post). Unity with the beloved here heals the hurts of the rejection and hatred that the boys may face in a homophobic world.

[3.11] Although family is sometimes constructed as an obstacle, many stories focus on more mundane issues related to the boys' meeting their respective in-laws and being accepted into a family that extends beyond their own. In "Meet the Family" (January 28, 2009, LiveJournal post), one of Titheniel and Splashpink's Days in Our Lives stories, Jensen must deal with the tension of preparing their first family Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, Not_Refined's "Jensen Inside" (February 25, 2008, LiveJournal post), a story that concerns itself with mental illness and its effects on relationships, relates Jared's anxiety about meeting Jensen's mother. In both cases, calm interludes with the family serve as foils for the drama in which the boys usually find themselves, and remind them, and the reader, that family will endure beyond excitement and upset, to be, in many cases, the final arbiter of the success of the relationship.

[3.12] In some stories, such as those in Technosage's Break Loose Ranch series, the monogamous love between Jared and Jensen provides the model which disrupts the more casual sexuality of their other gay friends, thus allowing for their friends' "development" toward more stable romantic relationships: Christian Kane, thinking of Jared and Jensen, reflects that "they don't get to be like that, because happily ever after and riding off into the sunset is movie shit…but what he really wanted was to see [if] it could be like that…Like hearts and flowers and rainbows and puppies and wedding rings and goddamned forever and no one but you" ("That Triangular Circular Love Thing," November 29, 2007, LiveJournal post). Unity with the beloved, in this case, offers the comfort not just of a soul mate, but also of belonging to and negotiation within a larger social contract (note 4). Many J2 stories offer, that is, what the annihilist versions of Sam/Dean fiction cannot: immersion of the boys within community frameworks, within a society that reflects the "normal," the (largely) conventional, and the acceptable, even if that acceptance has to be negotiated, worked at, and fought for, in order to elucidate a more traditional version of happily ever after.

4. Sexual politics

[4.1] In "They Cavort, You Decide: Transgenericism, Queerness, and Fan Interpretation in Teen TV," Louisa Ellen Stein argues that the generic differences between The OC and Smallville allowed for different constructions of queerness in fan fiction: the combination of "teen generic elements" with "the apocalyptic, superheroic and fantastic" allowed "Smallville to pose queerness metaphorically," while The OC, with its "more commonly associated generic elements," allowed room for fans to address "sexual identity overtly as a social issue" (2005, 12). We see a very similar distinction at work in Supernatural fandom. Like OC fan readers and fan fiction authors, Supernatural RPS fan fiction authors who write stories set within our world must "play with the possibilities of the literal rather than the metaphoric" (Stein 2005, 14). In doing so, they have the opportunity to discuss the reality of gay relationships and homophobia in a way that Sam/Dean slash often does not, in part because the incestuous nature of the relationship usually trumps its homosexuality.

[4.2] If we see the acceptance of family and friends, a key feature of many J2 stories, as emblematic of acceptance within larger social frameworks and the happiness of "fitting in" romantically, then we must also recognize the problematic nature of the sexual politics represented in much J2. Keeping in mind that J2 stories often deal directly with issues of homosexuality and homophobia, many of the stories nevertheless present no alternatives to normative social frameworks: Jared, Jensen, and their families and friends are very often portrayed as firmly middle class or wealthy and holding middle-class values, providing an obvious contrast to the poverty and underclass status of the Winchester boys. Furthermore, though many of the stories deal with homophobia, they are often also set in a world in which everyone is seemingly gay, rendering gayness, as an alternative to heterosexuality, invisible. In fact, what these stories often seem to offer is not homosexuality as an alternative to or commentary on heteronormativity, but rather male/male monogamous love as the same as men's sexual, romantic, and marital relationships with women, a result of their containment within Western romantic tropes which are relentlessly heterosexist. As critics Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden put it, "love not only makes the world go round, but the western world also makes certain forms and outcomes of love go round" (2003, xi). Thus the very tropes which lead to and include a satisfactory happy ending can only be coded as "satisfactory" and "happy" in a society where "scripts of heterosexual romance" (DuPlessis 1985, 2) exist not only within individuals, but also in social institutions such as law and religion.

[4.3]Some explanation for the heteronormative elements so prevalent in J2 RPS can be found in Tania Modleski's analysis of the role romance plays to "'inoculate' [women] against the major evils of sexist society" (1982, 43). Modleski argues, for example, that romance teaches women to recode anger or violence as love, thus helping us to cope with the demands that patriarchy places on us, whether those be the social demands for heterosexual union and reproduction, or the demands created by a system in which hegemonic masculinity is increasingly violent. As Pamela Regis later puts it, romance is a place where women's problems are explored (2003, 29). When two men play out the same roles, fights, and challenges that a man and woman do in a conventional romance, it is possible that we are seeing a form of Modleski's inoculation at work: even when it is two men, the message suggests, the relationship is the same, the fights are the same, the worries are the same; therefore, the implication is that relationships inevitably play out within power structures. The feminine domestic space and the relational concerns that romance often focuses on, and that are so common in J2 RPS, rely upon the codes of heterosexual monogamy within relationships that are, on their surface, written as gay. This creates the paradox that in J2 women are absent in contexts that are coded heterosexual.

[4.4] Thus, J2 RPS does not necessarily result in representations of gayness in ways that the potentially more subversive Sam/Dean does. To explain, Eric Anderson argues that there "has been tension between two working ideologies regarding the relationship between homosexuality and the dominant social structure…Assimilationists desire inclusion into the existing social structure," while "reformists…have sought to transform dominant social structures" (2005, 47). While we would not argue that fan fiction writers are necessarily cognizant of or participants in such debates, we certainly argue that the success of the assimilationist model, one that uses the argument "I'm just like you" to win the respect of heterosexuals and their support for aims like gay marriage, has certainly affected the representation of homosexuality in the broader cultural arena. It is important to recognize that the relative lack of representations of gay political alliances, gay culture, or more flamboyant or camp expressions of gayness in J2 fiction must temper any readings of even those stories that deal directly with the subject of homophobia as doing queer work, particularly given the fact that many RPS stories rewrite romantic comedies, Harlequin romances, and Disney movies, replacing the female characters with males. While some of these replacements may parody heterosexuality and reveal the performative nature of gender, the ease of adaptation suggests that a heteronormative framework is firmly in place. Such substitutions literalize the "I'm just like you" argument, simply replacing heterosexual narratives with homosexual versions, while simultaneously erasing both women and gayness in a seemingly queer text.

[4.5] Supernatural slash, by contrast, more often explores the consequences of truly alternative sexuality, and part of its ability to do so may lie in the way it complicates the happy ending. Though Tosenberger is correct that happy slash stories in Supernatural fandom do subvert the misery of the source text, the darker representations of Wincest serve to disrupt and subvert sexuality that is coded normative, despite its deviations, and to fantastically imagine the still all-too-common response to relationships that do not fit into the heteronormative framework: hatred, isolation, and fear. As Elizabeth Woledge argues, "The culturally distant settings of science fiction and fantasy clearly present writers with both the opportunity to discuss homosexual acts and also the opportunity to separate these acts from culturally specific identities. The same cultural distance allows writers the liberty to explore gender variations within this theme in more or less explicit ways" (2005, 52). As with Smallville, in which, Stein argues, "the themes of alienation and the search for identity easily transmute into homoromanticism and sympathetic queerness" (2005, 21), so too does Sam and Dean's relationship in dark fan fiction—one that cuts them off from a larger community and places them in a "separate world," one that is "fucked up as hell…but it just doesn't matter what's wrong sometimes because it's their world and they're both in it and that makes it alright" (mimblexwimble, July 6, 2009, LiveJournal post)—vividly imagine both the pleasures and the pain that nonnormative identities can provide.

[4.6] Dark Sam/Dean fiction, that is, can, in its exploration of an annihilating relationship that has no future, no productivity, no ability to be absorbed or welcomed into the larger social framework, be seen as embracing what Lee Edelman identifies as "sinthomosexuality"—an identity that "finds its value not in a good susceptible to generalization, but only in the stubborn particularity that voids every notion of a general good. The embrace of queer negativity, then, can have no justification if justification requires it to reinforce some positive social value; its value, instead, resides in its challenge to value as defined by the social, and thus in its radical challenge to the very value of the social itself" (2004, 6). Such a construction of queerness, one that embraces the death drive as a means of battling against what Edelman identifies as "reproductive futurism"—a heteronormative ideology that would have us restrict personal rights and freedoms in the name of "the Child" and a future to which the present must always be held hostage—aptly describes what is present in many Supernatural slash stories: a celebration of annihilistic love as both a valid choice in a world that rejects difference and a means of locating pleasure and joy in that which most people would regard as unhealthy, unproductive, and deviant.

[4.7] Sam and Dean's dark and hopelessly unproductive love in such stories is not a consolation for something that they cannot have as a result of their upbringing or circumstances, but instead something that gives them what Edelman identifies as "access to jouissance in place of access to sense" (2004, 37). In Fleshflutter's "Drown and Float Away" (December 20, 2007, LiveJournal post), for example, Antichrist Sam finally locates Dean, who has been sent by hunters to kill him: "'You asked where I was,' Dean says at last. 'I've been with them. The hunters. They've teamed up, got organised…They know your weakness, Sam. Just like you and me both know it. It's me…I killed them,' he says. 'Who'm I kidding? I'm yours. Always gonna be.'" Here, Dean's words disrupt the canon's representation of Sam and Dean's love as unhealthy, or, more accurately, acknowledges it while rejecting the idea that they should necessarily desire "healthy" love in the first place. His final words to Sam—"Long live the boy-king"—revel in the rejection of reproductive futurism, placing him and Sam in a perpetual boyhood in a world that they have emphatically made their own.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] The generic differences between much Supernatural slash and J2 RPS reveal multiple negotiations of the concept of love and romance. J2 RPS, like romance in general, plays a dual role. It certainly subverts normative sexuality with its male/male relationship(s), but ironically it often bolsters normative sexuality by its use of heteronormative tropes—possibly an inevitable effect of the romance formula, which is itself embedded in a history of heterosexual signifiers. However, the very predictability of a heteronormative happy ending is part and parcel of what makes romance work for its readers, according to many critics, and the possibility for happy endings in Sam/Dean is slim, given the darkness of the source text. The fact that so many RPS stories offer up happy endings that conform to heteronormative futurism "always and in all ways" (Kaler 1999, 4)—ironically, given the male/male love story—indicates the hold heterosexism has on the popular imaginary and popular romance.

[5.2] It is important to note, however, that writers' and readers' relationships with romantic tropes is complex. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden argue that "few people's experience exactly fits the normative model of romance. But in the register of ideology, commonly held notions of civilization, humanity, and identity remain grounded in the structures of heterosexual union" (2003, xi). We find that many J2 RPS stories, like many romances, are examples of "dissenting perspectives flaring out…and deeply held assent to cultural norms taking over and restricting impulses to more radical experiment" (xii). The annihilist isolationism of much Supernatural slash, on the other hand, offers a space in which the effects of the connections between romantic happiness and heterosexism can be more radically questioned.

6. Notes

1. Three LiveJournal communities specifically devoted to Supernatural-related RPS are super_real, padacklesrps, and jsquared_rps. As well, there are two LJ communities devoted specifically to fiction about actors on the CW network (formerly WB), the network on which Supernatural airs, which are dominated by J2 stories: wb_rps and cw_rps.

2. See, for example, the LiveJournal communities for the Supernatural/J2 BigBang challenge (spn_j2_bigbang), the Supernatural Harlequin challenge (rewritings of Harlequin romance novels: spn_harlequin; the Reel Supernatural challenge (rewritings of Hollywood films: reel_spn), and the About Two Boys challenge (rewritings of romantic comedies: abouttwoboys.)

3. The popular fandom mockery site Fandom Wank regularly derides the sexism displayed by many in Supernatural fandom. Such mockery could be dismissed as mere mean-spiritedness on the part of the wankas, yet the actors on the show also seem to recognize this problem. Misha Collins, in an interview for Australia's Channel 10 News, stated, "This is an incredibly sexist group of people, this fandom," to which Jared Padalecki added, "Yes. Against their own sex" ("Jared, Jensen & Misha," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoZYuKkjWGY).

4. Although the Break Loose Ranch series offers multiple sexual identities framed within queer discourses, for the purposes of this essay we have focused on an example in which heteronormativity is evident.

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