I'm for wine and the embrace of questionable women (missyjack) wrote,
I'm for wine and the embrace of questionable women

Wincest: transgressive taboo or conservative construct?


We like to think of Wincest, a same-sex incestuous relationship, as pretty naughty, shocking even. But when you squint sideways and look at it in a certain light, the genre as a whole portrays a quite traditional, conservative even, view of relationships and sexuality.

Most Wincest can be summed up with the immortal line "we soul-bonded when he caem in my butt".In finding each other, Sam and Dean find something for which there is no substitute. No other relationship, no one else's love, can compare. Of course you could argue that this is pretty much canon as the Show presents it – minus the butt sex. And of course the relationship is for life – as I remember one fanfic beautifully put it "you can't break-up with your brother." (let me know if you know who this was!)

There is very much a Romantic ideal at work here – that we each have one soul mate who will complete us. There are many views on whether promotion of this ideal is good or bad. Does it give us unreal expectations because real relationships are rarely this transcendent? Or does it make us strive for authentic emotional connections, rather than settling for something less?

SamandDean are certainly a unit very akin to the nuclear family (a construct which arose to support both patriarchy and capitalism). No other relationship can be valued on a par with theirs. Interestingly canon counters this - as Bobby contests that 'family don't end with blood' but rarely in Wincest do we see the boys having any other relationships or friendships.

Almost exclusively, Sam and Dean are shown to be well, exclusive. Theirs is a monogamous relationship, fiercely patrolled and any hints at straying curtailed with a dose of jealous!Sam or jealous!Dean and some hot makeup sex. Now I am not suggesting that monogamy is always traditional – it can be enacted in many ways – but on planet Wincest no other model of relationship is tolerated. And that is oppressive. No casual sex, no polyamorous relationships, no open relationships.

Sex and love are strongly linked in most Wincest. It's rare to see Sam and Dean have sex with each other just for fun, without it being part of a soul-bonded relationship. Wincest might be sex-positive – but only within tight boundaries of a loving relationship. They certainly are not having sex with other people – except for the odd threesome, those times when Dean has to be a hooker in order to buy Sam a new Blackberry or non-consensual encounters with angels, demons or John Winchester.

Okay you say. BUT ITS INCEST. Surely that’s transgressive? Well yes and no. For all that Wincest is ABOUT incest it is rarely actually addressed. The incest is usually normalized within fic. There may be a token "oh we shouldn't we're brothers…" out of one of the boys mouths, but pretty soon it's replaced by cock and the issue is handwaved away. My point is that in Wincest, incest is like the tree falling in the forest when there is no-one there (bear with me with this analogy!). If the taboo nature of incest is removed within the world of the fic, if no-one in the fic is shocked/appalled/ashamed/confused/scandalized by it, then is it transgressive?

Yes but – they are having BUTTSEX!!! They are two men enjoying pleasures of each others flesh and GAY SEX is still a bit naughty isn't it? Well yes, if you do it right ;). But let's face it, Sam and Dean aren't having gay sex, they are, in the parlance of social theory "men who have sex with men". Their sex might be gay by practice, but they are certainly not gay by identity. Overwhelming Wincest presents Sam and Dean's attraction to each other as being a 'special case' they are not generally same-sex attracted, they are Sam or Dean attracted – they are only gay for each other. Occasionally one or the other may admit to being bi, although is usually as that at least one of them has some idea about using lube appropriately.

This is certainly a conservative approach to sexuality. It's part of the paradigm that says "don't ask, don't tell", its removing the confronting and political component that is present when someone claims a gay identity. It's saying that having samesame sex is just about the sex, and it doesn't have a broader cultural context.

Now you could argue that, given the boys situation this is understandable. There probably isn't a gay bar opposite Starbucks in the small Mid-Western towns through which they travel. And they are generally too busy fighting the apocalypse, or whatever has prompted the current bout of angst, to be leafleting against Proposition 8, or decking out the Impala as a float for the next pride March. That the boys are outsiders from society in general – gay as well as straight. Fair enough.

However it is a characteristic generally of slash – that it’s about same sex attraction and sex within one particular relationship. It less common for the characters to be portrayed as seeing their identity as gay. In doing so all that is associated for most people with being samesex attracted is never explored – the prejudice, the oppression, coming out, connection to a queer subculture, how it changes your relationship to individuals and your society. Pleaseeee note, I am not saying slash should do things any differently. I'm observing what it is. And if I want to read about being lesbian or trans or gay or whatever there are plenty of stories out there that do that.

There you go. Wincest is, by this reading, presenting the ideal of a soul mates for life and that other forms of relationships are not acceptable. It reinforces that sex should only be enjoyed within a loving relationship. It stuffs the things that are threatening to traditional values – incest, gay sex – down the back of the couch.

My point? Well obviously I never really got enough of writing those English Lit essays in high school. I think it's fascinating in any body of writing to look at how conventions and themes develop, especially when they dominate a genre. We could write Wincest in a million different ways, but generally we are all following very similar lines with the elements I've discussed here.

And on that note here are some Wincest rimming recs I did at spn_themes.

Disclaimers: I love Wincest. I think our fandom has brilliant writers, and much of what I have read here will stay with me for many years. I think our stories can reveal so much about life, and love and what it is to be human. And the porn is scorching hot. Mostly. This is not a call for people to write different stories. The comments here are reflection on tropes in fanfic and not a criticism of individual stories. There are many hasty generalizations and yes I am sure you can point me to fics that contradict my whole thesis. Just remember - the lurkers support me in email. Also, my next post will be a 17 part post-colonialist deconstruction of yaoi. With pie charts.
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