Brothers As Lovers: Shipping Wincest in Supernatural

Curator's Note

The act of shipping slash couples was once considered taboo, but now has become commonplace. The gender pairing of couples is no longer limiting on what is deemed acceptable for the purpose of shipping. However, there are still lines that are being crossed in the name of shipping, and one of those is within incestuous pairings. Breaking free of the societal boundary of familial love in order to explore physical love might be frowned upon in reality, but it has not stopped fans from taking their favorite sibling characters and adding a new element to their relationship.

A noted representation of this act of familial shipping is in the Supernatural fandom, where Wincest became the prominent slash relationship that permeated the community for many years. The canon representation of two characters, who were as close as brothers because they were actual brothers, only served to fuel the exploration of slash potential among fans. Because these two characters had been kept separate from normal social interactions growing up, only able to depend on each other for many of their basic needs, it was not a far leap to contemplate that they had sought each other out for physical needs as well.

In time, there was canon acknowledgment of fandom’s incestuous interest, which both noted the taboo nature of the pairing and also withheld a condemnation of such exploration. And so the fandom exploration continued. But what pushes fans to want to introduce a sexual aspect to family relationships in general? Is it that emotional exploration of two male characters does not fit into what society deems as platonic, and therefore must move into the realm of lovers? Perhaps it’s the draw of being involved in a forbidden area of fandom, thereby making it more appealing? Or is it that the television writers are borrowing from a romantic storyline, and the components of such interactions are clearly seen through the brotherly interplay?

Maybe it’s all of these reasons, or none. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that it’s the Winchesters, and their situation naturally lends itself to this kind of relationship. For whatever reason, Dean and Sam Winchester as brothers has easily slipped into Dean and Sam as lovers. Incest might be a societal taboo, but Wincest no longer is.

Comments

Evelyn Deshane's picture

I’m so glad someone is

I’m so glad someone is examining this pairing for this shipping week! It definitely needs more attention, because I still don’t know what’s going on here, and I don’t think many people do (as your several questions point to—“maybe it’s all of these reasons or none”). I’m not primarily in the SPN fandom, but I’ve watched the show, read a few critical articles on it, and proofread some fanfics a friend wrote. And I do think that Sam/Dean actually is taboo—even in the fandom itself. From what I’ve seen (knowing primarily Destiel shippers), there is a line drawn in the sand between what is accepted and what’s not, and Wincest is on the other side of that line, in the “not” category. It may be okay to like it, to write about it, to make videos even, but I feel as if there is this veil of silence around it.

But perhaps that’s my perspective from my limited interaction. What I find so interesting about this pairing is the trauma that binds them together. There could be so many interesting psychoanalytic readings of them (and maybe the fans that ship wincest?) that I’m not capable of doing, but would totally read.

Kimberly Workman's picture

Different Sides of Fandom

And I do think that Sam/Dean actually is taboo—even in the fandom itself. From what I’ve seen (knowing primarily Destiel shippers), there is a line drawn in the sand between what is accepted and what’s not, and Wincest is on the other side of that line, in the “not” category. It may be okay to like it, to write about it, to make videos even, but I feel as if there is this veil of silence around it.”

I think this is where the different sides of fandom come into play. The secrecy of aligning with shipping the brothers just isn’t present from my interactions with fans. It’s more a “like what you like” mindset. And as it’s the longest-running slash ship in the fandom, it’s not something that can be put in the corner and ignored. Canon has acknowledged it, fans have acknowledged it. I like that we can all celebrate our loves without feeling like we have to hide it. It’s quite refreshing.

There could be so many interesting psychoanalytic readings of them (and maybe the fans that ship wincest?) that I’m not capable of doing, but would totally read.”

The traumatic binding between Dean and Sam have definitely been explored and used in meta essays to look at why they’re so completely dependent on one another for all needs. It’s an interesting aspect to consider in shipping, because while the relationship may not be healthy, it’s ever-lasting. No one else can come between them, which is both bad and good. After all, they’re soul mates, both metaphorically and canonically.

Liza-Anne Cabral's picture

The shipper in me has always

The shipper in me has always been both disgusted and fascinated by Wincest, and continues to be even as my interest in the series has waned. My fascination primarily comes from something that you mention briefly in your post: the series has acknowledged it. In fact, the series is so meta now that it has acknowledged almost EVERY ship out there in the fandom in a big way and, in fact, has kind of played into these fan desires even as they condemn them. I think an argument could certainly be made that the writers of Supernatural are ship baiters for this very reason. And while all of the questions you posited as to the reasons fans ship Wincest are intriguing I wonder if it might be better to think of Supernatural as something of an ouroboros: the fans ship Wincest, the writers play it up in the series, more fans ship Wincest, repeat, repeat, repeat…?

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