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See also: Fan Casting, Clone, Queercoding, Race-coding, Neurodivergent-coded, Gender-coding
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Coded is a term which has seen various different uses over the years within fandom spaces, some uses of the word seem to be unique to fandom (see: For Original Characters) while other uses are fan uses or interpretations of the media and literacy concept of character coding.

The semantic drift of the media/literacy concept within fan spaces has at times led to heated discourse and discussion.

For original characters

As an older fannish term, it referred to basing one's original characters upon real people. It was often a form of RPF with the lines blurred just enough in hopes of evading possible legal recriminations.

For example, the pairing of Tris/Alex (Tristram Lindsay and Alexander Logan) is from the Led Zeppelin RPF fandom, using OCs as stand ins for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, both as an in-fandom decision to show respect for the real people and to avoid possible legal issues. The names came from a pair of writers in the fandom — Nancy Arena and Pam Rose — and caught on throughout the fandom. In discussions of the pairing or characters, they would be referred to as "Led Zeppelin coded".

The Starsky & Hutch zine, Bird of Paradise, which had original characters feature alongside characters from the show was strongly suspected to be Led Zeppelin coded OCs, though the author claimed they were actually OCs based off of a lesser known band.

Coded differs from cloning in that cloning is on someone else's established characters, and coding is basing one's characters on real people.

As character coding

A more common use of coded or coding in more recent years in fandom is the literary or media analysis concept, which primarily focuses on characters and how characters may be indicated to be from a particularly demographic or group via subtext or other indications without being explicitly stated.

One of the most commonly discussed forms of character coding is queer-coding, which was likely born out of the Hays Code in the 1930s. According to the code, there were a number of restrictions on what films were or were not allowed to portray and how; most notably that "any inference of sex perversion" was prohibited. At the time, homosexuality fell within the scope of this phrase. As a result, subtext or implications were used to hint that a character might be LGBT+, using character coding that a queer audience was likely to pick up on but that would make it past censorship.

Other forms of coding have also been discussed in terms of mainstream media, though the coding in these cases is typically not as a mean to bypass censorship. For example, a fantasy race within a Sci-Fi or Fantasy book might be analysed as an example of race coding.

Within fan spaces, the concept of a character being (insert term)-coded appears regularly in discussions about a character's sexuality or gender identity, whether they could be neurodivergent and/or Disabled, or whether a fantasy or non-human character is being portrayed as being from a particular race. Some other concepts such as "minor coded" or "family coded" have also began to appear with increasing regularity and are further removed from the original literary or media concept.

One of the main discussion points, which is often tied up in controversy, is where the line is between coding and a headcanon. Authorial intent is often considered to be a deciding factor in whether coding is an appropriate concept to apply to a character, while other fans argue that an author could code a character in a certain way by basing them off of people from a demographic without realising it.

Additionally, some uses, particularly sibling-coded or minor-coded are considered by many to not be coding at all due to the absence of audience or societal push-back that would require a character to be coded in this way. Whereas, for example, an audience may theoretically react badly to the presence of a queer character or an autistic character, leading to creators using coding to avoid certain reactions, it is difficult to imagine a situation where there would be similar backlash for two characters being related or one of them being a child.

Examples of coding in fan discussions

  • Queer-coding - One of the most discussed forms of character coding. Fans may discuss that a character is coded as queer broadly or they may use specific sexual orientations or gender identities such as bisexual-coded, lesbian-coded, aroace-coded, non-binary coded etc.
  • Race-coding - Discussions of race-coding more often appear around fantasy or supernatural characters or mechanical humanoids or robots, though there are adjacent discussions, such as those about coding that intersects morality and race (such as happened with Twilight). Fans may use the term race-coding or be more specific, for example, Black-coded or Indigenous-coded.
  • Disability-coding - Disability-coding, including neurodivergence and mental health conditions, discussions are common in many fandoms. The umbrella term of disability-coding may be used, or specific conditions, impairments, or disabilities may be mentioned, such as chronic-illness-coded.
  • Neurodivergence-coding - While also falling under the above mentioned Disability-coding, neurodivergence seems to be discussed much more often than other non-visible disabilities. The broader term of neurodivergent-coded may be used, or more specific terms like autistic-coded, dyslexic-coded, ADHD-coded and others may be used.
  • Familial-coding - Where fans discuss that characters have been implicitly written as being related in some way. The use of sibling-coded is arguably the most common use of this group, but parent-coded and other family member terminology may be used as well.
  • Minor-coding - Also called child-coding, this is where some fans claim that a character is being implied via subtext and coding to be a minor. This may overlap with familial-coding, if the claim is that a character is coded as another character's child specifically.
  • Masculine/feminine coding - May also be called male/female coded. Discussions of these seem less common (though some variations may be tied into gender idenity and queer-coding), but do appear in some fandoms. Discussions around coding as masculine or feminine appeared occasionally in the Teen Wolf fandom, for example[1] and the essay Tony Stark as the most female-coded superhero has been widely discussed.
  • Religion-coding - May also use more specific terms like Muslim-coded or Jewish-coded. Religion-coding is discussed around characters or groups of character or imagery created in visual media.


Stereotypes and bigotry

In some discussions around whether a character is being coded in a certain way or is being read as (insert term)-coded by fans, some people argue that the concept of coding can loop back around to being offensive and stereotyping.

Coding vs headcanon

As semantic drift leads to broader uses of the concept of coding, which may have much less canonical evidence than would be expected from the original character coding analysis, some fans are finding that people are using the idea of coding to justify or gatekeep their headcanons.

I've noticed an uptick in the use of the term 'coded' and honestly I feel like it's a way for people to gatekeep or bully other people about their interpretations. Like, "Come on, this is so obviously coded in X way, if you can't see that then you're clearly wrong/uneducated/homophobic/racist."

Like no you're just coming up with an interpretation/headcanon like anyone else.


As a result, a point of contention that often comes up in discussions about coded characters is what is coding and what is a headcanon. Much like other terms that have become common in fan spaces, such as queerbaiting, over time the use of the concept of coding seems to have broadened. As these broader definitions or misunderstandings of the original concept of coding are then shared in social media spaces, more people will become familiar with the term via the lens that their particular social media space uses. For example, this Reddit post outlines a discussion on TikTok that the poster had where there were misunderstandings over queercoding versus queerbaiting versus headcanons[3].

This expansion of the concept has blurred the lines between a headcanon and coding, including suggestions that some people use the word coding when they are talking about a headcanon just to try and claim that their headcanon is correct. Headcanons, when considering characters, are a individual fan's personal interpretation of the character and they can range from directly and definitely contradicting canon through to interpretations born out of subtext. It is this subtextual analysis end of headcanons which can overlap with coding.

In the original concept of coding, author intent was a key aspect. Given coding's prevalence in portrayals of queer characters during the time of the Hay's Code, the hints or subtext that a character was queer had to be deliberated added in by the author with the intent of signalling to an audience, primarily queer members of an audience, that the character was coded as queer. Some fans follow this same authorial intent in discussions around modern day coding, whereas other fans are unsure whether intention is always the case, particularly when considering discussions such as those around race-coding.

If an author creates fantasy races and there are indications that the antagonists are all being coded as Black and the protagonists are all coded as white, intention as is present in queer-coding may not apply. Societal racism can lead to creators taking on racist ideas and stereotypes which, if those biases and bigotries are unexamined, can then be perpetuated in works they create. In considering this, discussions around how deliberate the author's intention is for something to be considered coding is less clear-cut.

This is totally just my opinion, but I believe a lot of coding arguments come from 1) people misunderstanding/misreading the source material. Lack of media literacy becomes more and more of a problem as years go on despite readily available access to media and information. And 2) people reading too much into a story or 3) people placing their own biases on media. Those aren't problems, per se; that's just human perception in a nutshell. People are gonna glean from situations what they're gonna glean based on history, personality, education level, life experience, etc.

battling_murdock [4]

As a means of denying a pairing or claiming they are problematic

Particularly prevalent in the uses of "family-coded", "sibling-coded" or "minor-coded", some fans will use these terms to claim that a familiar relationship is somehow coded into the canon material or a character is being canonically coded as a child as a means of claiming that a pairing is toxic or problematic. The use of coding in these fan-developed terms are often used to denigrate rival ships in a ship war.

However, discussions about a character being queer-coded, neurodivergent-coded, or other types of coding can also be used as a weapon for arguing that a pairing are problematic. When fans argue that coding dictates what kinds of relationships are character should be written in, this can lead to repeated arguments over what authors "should" write about certain characters. These arguments can take place in the comments sections of fanworks, in meta essay comments, or in fan spaces on social media.

"This reminds me of my blorbo/OTP" use

In the 2020s, the previous character coding use in fandom seemed to influence the increase of a more casual use, which could primarily be summed up as the sentiment "This thing (often a song or album) reminds me of my blorbo or my OTP".

For example, someone would make reference to a song or song lyrics and say, "this song is so Destiel coded" or "this whole album is Supercorp coded". Given that the media analysis, concepts, and reasons for using coding discussed in the previous section are not applicable within these kinds of usages, it is generally considered to be a different way of saying "this thing reminds me of the characters or pairing I love".

I’ve listened to so much of The Cure while drawing this, they’re literally so Steddie-coded istg—

cholvoq Tumblr post, March 2023 [5]

"While everyone else is running and screaming
I just love being with you
I guess they don't see all the things that I'm seein'
That make you so uniquely you, you, you, you
What do you get when you meet Godzilla and fall in love?"

This ENTIRE section is so Wenclair coded and I will NOT hear any arguments. I mean COME ON, "I just love being with you" is literally every scene where Enid is with Wednesday.

u-look-beautiful-today Tumblr post, January 2023 [6]

It may also be used to draw parallels between an actor and a character or between two characters with the same general concept of "This person reminds me of this character" or "these two characters are so similar".

MG is so Miles Morales coded and there’s no way no one else hasn’t thought of this. Please tell me I’m not crazy for this.

lunaslogs Tumblr post, January 2024 [7]

Further Reading