Homoerotic Subtext and TPTB

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The attitudes of showrunners toward homoerotic subtext in their television shows has evolved considerably since the inception of slash fandom, from shocked denials to deliberate fan service.

In films, subtext was sometimes employed deliberately as a way to avoid censorship. Spartacus (1960) and Ben-Hur (1959) were examples of films with deliberate subtext (and necessary for at least one plot point), where one actor known to be homophobic was kept in the dark, but another actor was told to play it gay. See also The_Celluloid_Closet. However, for many TV slash fandoms up through the 1990s, the canon subtext appears to have been largely accidental.


Gay Panic

Gay Panic is used fannishly to describe cases where TPTB makes a change in a show or other source material because of a fear that too many fans and consumers will see something as "too gay." The fear usually relates to demographics and money, or just plain out-and-out homophobia. The term originates from a legal defense formerly used to acquit gay bashers.

See also the TV Tropes entry.

Some Examples

  • Many fans felt that the third season of The Sentinel toned down the domestic scenes, those with Jim in an apron, Jim and Blair cooking together, and the flirtatious comments. [1]
  • The interaction, including the shared lunches between Julian Bashir and Garak, were greatly diminished. [2]
  • Some fans felt that the sixth season of Simon and Simon suffered from gay panic when Rick moved his boat out of the backyard, and he and AJ didn't share some of the same living quarters anymore.
  • other examples?

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Giving Fans the Finger

The anti-fanservice: When TPTB specifically address the subject of homoeroticism and fans, and not in a good way.

Dean: There's Sam Girls and Dean Girls and... What's a slash fan?
Sam: As in Sam slash Dean. Together.
Dean: Like together, together? They do know we're brothers, right?
Sam: Doesn't seem to matter.
Dean: Oh, come on, that... that's just sick!
(from Supernatural)


Slashwink was a term used in an After Elton article to describe TPTB's off-hand acknowledgment of a possible same sex relationship in canon. It is a way to create interest in a show without officially committing to that pairing. The concept of slashwink is similar to Queer Baiting, but with a more positive spin.

Some fans enjoy the slashwink and its nudge, nudge connotations and see it as a sort of fan service.

Others don't think it matters all that much:
I guess I'm not that upset with the slashwink, since up until this point, I never was under any illusion that it would amount to anything resembling canon. So, I never had any expectation that any of my slash musings would become a reality. It just was an unspoken understanding and accepted territory you assumed as a slash fan. [3]

Other fans find it insulting that a same sex relationship has to remain a joke, and used simply as a tease to garner more ratings.

The problem with Slashwink is that it differs from Queerbaiting not at all. Possibly in terms of intent. I wouldn't mind if these shows were actually intending to give us some actual gay characters, or to be subversive or interesting. But if they're just milking the big Queer cash-cow, then I kind of resent it. When the creators of the shows spend assloads of media time being actively hostile to the fanbase for shipping a pair which has been explicitly teased as a potential slash pairing (I'm looking at you Moff, you dickhead), that's beyond disrespectful. It's actively hostile to Queer viewers. I don't think this is what Jeff Davis is doing on Teen Wolf. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, which he can live up to by giving Danny more than six lines next season and by actually going somewhere with Sterek besides cheap UST teasing. But it isn't subversive or clever or political to tease a minority community for commercial gain. That's fucking oppressive. [4]
The problem with "slashwink" (as cute as that sounds) is that it's essentially queerbaiting. It's manipulation of the queer community in order get ratings, and that? Not okay. Not okay at all. Queerbaiting, or slashwinking, makes queer relationships a joke, and the queer community a punchline. And you know what? After nearly a decade of being in fandom, I'm really tired of being punched. [5]
It actually hurts me when all instances that can be construed in a romantic manner between men or women on TV are labelled "slashwink" or queerbaiting. Not because I don't think it happens (I agree it does), but because if every scene with such content is immediately palmed off as such how can it break that mould? Fans want it but deride it, fans that want it and are optimistic are sometimes labelled dumb, and those that don't want it and don't like it call it fanservice. How about a day it will be nothing but character development? It depresses me than any hint at fluidity in a characters sexuality unless outright stated is automatically thrown under the queerbaiting bus. [6]
Some fans don't enjoy the slashwink as it brings attention to what they feel should remain underground and subversive:
Should I be annoyed, a the fact that we are finally getiing what we want undermines the original point of slash, namely a subversive re-reading of the original text by the fandom, a way for the female (and gay) viewership to re-interpret the text created by the male (and straight) dominated media industry for a male (and straight) audience and completely ignoring the female/gay viewers to give us what we want. Or should I be happy because the media industry is finally no longer ignoring us and giving us what we want. [7]
I definitely view any wink as one more opportunity for slash to thrive, but then, my fandoms are usually chronically unlikely. Even when m/m pairings become common, I'm just as likely to be following the unspoken, unacknowledged pairing as the canon ones. After all, if you give it to me in canon, why would I be searching for resolution on fanfic sites? I love Klaine, but don't read the fanfic. I read Luke/Reid more after the train than before. Fanfic, in many ways, is about fixing the text for yourself and fellow travelers. [8]

Queer Baiting

In a fannish context, queer baiting (or queerbaiting) is a term used to describe the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual. The term encompasses the disappointment and betrayal felt by fans when the canon retreats from that early perceived position of queer inclusion, and clearly marks the sexually ambiguous character as straight.


  1. ^ "... like, Starsky & Hutch and The Sentinel -- I don't think, at the start, TPTB behind those shows were aware of how homoerotic it was, because there was just less awareness of homoeroticism in general (of course, the TS PTB got hip to it...) Whereas SGA's PTB are more aware of that, perhaps, and can make things less homoerotic, intentionally? Not that I think they're standing there going, "You two! Too gay! Back it up!" :) -- a comment by wemblee (August 17, 2006), in response to The Hth Field Guide to Slash & Other Assorted Strange Attractors, posted August 16, 2006
  2. ^ for some fannish discussion of this, see the December 1998 issue of Multi-Species Medicine
  3. ^ Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by Pocky, August 21, 2012
  4. ^ Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by homoeroticismforthewin, posted August 20, 2012
  5. ^ Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by Thistleraven, August 20, 2012
  6. ^ Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by poptart, August 23, 2012
  7. ^ Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by Teacosy, August 20, 2012
  8. ^ from Slashwink. It's a Thing, post by Alicia Masters, September 8, 2012

External Resources