Dean Winchester is a character on Supernatural, a show in its ninth season on the CW. Along with his brother Sam, he hunts demons, kills monsters, and fends off the apocalypse. He's strong, brave, and a man's man.
And in the sound opinion of many fans, he's also bisexual.
I'm not interested in getting bogged down in an attempt to show why that's likely true. Working from the perspective that it's a legitimate interpretation of his character, I'm more interested in asking if the producers and other network executives are willing to let him come out. What would it mean for queer representation in media if they did? What would it say to queer fans if they didn't?
Context is important here, and luckily this show has nearly a decade of it. Speculation about Dean's sexuality has been growing since season four, when the angel Castiel was introduced. The duo's "profound bond" (Castiel's words, not mine) grew steadily through season eight as even casual viewers who may not have been keeping an eye out for it started to notice that there was something more between the boys than simply friendship or a sense of brotherhood.
But this also caused a lot of anxiety for fans because if Dean was interested in men and, by extension, Castiel, then why, after four years, had nothing happened to make it official yet? One logical response is to say that Dean actually isn't bisexual after all.
But it's not that simple.
If he's not bisexual, then why is there at least four seasons worth of story that pretty convincingly suggest that he is?
When a TV show, or other form of media, allows its audience to think one or more of their characters might be queer; when they hook an audience along (an audience already desperate for representation) by teasing the possibility; when they benefit from the ratings boost and the free publicity, but then end up never following through, what they've done is called queerbaiting.
Then Tuesday's episode, "I'm No Angel," caused a mixed reaction from fans, prompting a lot of discussion. Everything really blew up over a series of tweets from Chad Kennedy, a WB executive who works on Supernatural as a script supervisor:
To many fans, myself included, this was a pretty clear admission of queerbaiting and the back-peddling only made it worse. You can't say that Dean won't ever come out and then say, "Well, anything could happen," when you're afraid that fans might stop watching. That's queerbaiting by the book.
But what bothered me the most was the idea that a character could only be queer if it would somehow "serve the story." What the hell does that even mean? You would never say that to a real person.
A show shouldn't have queer characters because they "serve the storyline." A show should have queer characters because some people are queer.
The fact is that it would make sense for Dean Winchester to be bisexual. This is based on the collective decisions of the writers, actors, producers, directors, and editors over the past eight seasons. This isn't about some fan fantasy that Dean is into guys. This is about choices that have been made, interpretations that have been allowed to develop, and the time that has been put into both.
Queer people deserve to see representations of themselves on TV. Dean Winchester, a masculine guy in his mid-30s who loves whiskey, classic rock, and his '67 Chevy Impala; who was raised by an abusive father; who has been hunting since he could hold a shotgun; and who is a lead character on an urban fantasy drama popular with a male audience would be such an important and ground-breaking representation of bisexuality on TV.
But will Dean ever come out?