Queer · TV & Movies

Shipping LGBT+ Couples on TV: Why I Simultaneously Ship and Do Not Ship K/S, Johnlock, and Destiel

Quick dictionary:
Ship is shorthand for wanting two characters to be in a relationship. More on this later.
Canon is what’s really happened on the show in question, as opposed to fan stories and hypotheses.
Slash is a fan term for shipping two gay characters. K/S, Johnlock, and Destiel are very popular examples of slash couples.
K/S is Kirk and Spock on Star Trek (mainly the originals, also the characters from the new movies)
Johnlock is Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (mainly on the show Sherlock, also in general)
Destiel is Dean Winchester and Castiel on Supernatural (I’m currently watching the show from the beginning, am somewhere in season 4, and only know Castiel a bit, so just a few mentions here)

I Don’t Ship It…

I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, but I’ve only recently joined the Sherlock fandom. It’s a newer show with a relatively young fandom, so there’s a huge contingent of John/Sherlock shippers. Knowing that I ship various slash couples, people often as if I ship Johnlock. The answer is: Sort of, in the same way that I ship K/S.

Johnlock

There are a number of possible meanings and usages for the term “ship.” Some people ship friendships. Some people mean they enjoy a canon couple. Often, it means wanting a particular couple to actually occur on the show. Some people mean they think two characters are “actually” having a relationship off camera. (It’s worth noting that this does happen for dramatic purposes, there may be a reveal that two characters have been sleeping together for ages). Many K/S shippers are in this last category. One popular theory has it that Kirk and Spock were flirting all through the original Star Trek series and consummated the relationship between TOS and The Motion Picture. Others think they were a secret couple all through the show and movies.

The point is, nobody knows. I don’t have to know. In these cases, especially K/S, I’m not sure I want to know. I ship Kirk/Spock and Sherlock/Watson, but for who and what they are. They’re best friends. They love each other. We see that time and time again. I love seeing them onscreen together, I root for their relationships, I want to see them express how they feel, and I eat it up when they do. But none of that has anything to do with whether or not they’re “boyfriends” or “in a relationship.” They clearly love each other, and I don’t care in what way they do it, and I like to see non-romantic intimate friendships on TV too. I basically feel like K/S and Johnlock are the same either way. So I guess in some sense I’m the type of shipper who’s just enjoying a couple that’s already there onscreen, but in another sense, I don’t ship them at all.

Kirk and Spock cartoon
 http://gingerhaze.tumblr.com/

…Except I Totally Ship It

 

Can we talk about how awesome it would be if Sherlock and John got together in season three?! If there was an “I love you,” or the season ended with a kiss? That would be two awesome male characters together on a mainstream show, one that’s not a “gay show” or a trendy teen drama. Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t know Dean/Castiel that well yet, but from what I’ve seen it would be believable too, and another pair of strong characters. (Shout-out to the Lady Geek Girl and Friends post “It’s totally canon now!” for the info that apparently Dean was supposed to tell Castiel he loves him in season eight, but the line was removed, and also for helping me put the following into words).

Of the three couples I’ve mentioned, Johnlock on Sherlock is the one I can totally get behind right now. As with the other two, but more so: the way their relationship has been portrayed up to now, I can believe its entirely platonic, but if one professed his love for the other, I would completely believe that too. Therein lies the problem. If the relationship is such that we don’t actually know if it’s a romance or not, the shippers will claim it is while everyone else can legitimately claim there are no gay people on TV.

Something might be “practically canon,” but people who don’t ship it have no idea it’s there. The Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies tease that ship so much that in my mind it was “basically canon,” but people who aren’t plugged into the slash shipping scene have no idea, or just ignore it or think it’s a funny joke if they do notice. If we act as if something like that is canon, act like it’s good enough, then creators and networks will assume it is. They can have their cake and eat it too, make the shippers happy and not run the risk of having real, actual gaiety in their shows.

Johnlock at the movies
somachiou on DeviantArt

I’m not a huge fan of just “turning characters gay,” and I’m not just asking for more same-sex makeout scenes. I want it to be done well. I want it to be true to the characters, and to be a lovely, positive relationship for those involved, just like I would want for any other characters. But I do want it to happen, with Johnlock or Destiel or some other couple, or ANYONE on ANY Star Trek, for goodness sake. A shiptease, making it look sort of relationshippy and having characters joke about it without actually doing it — that’s not queer representation and it’s not good enough.

What do you think? What are the chances of a ship becoming canon, and are they different for LGBT ships?

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9 thoughts on “Shipping LGBT+ Couples on TV: Why I Simultaneously Ship and Do Not Ship K/S, Johnlock, and Destiel

  1. For me the gender of a couple never makes a difference. The so called “slash-scene” bothers me because I’ve had heterosexual women tell me “I think straight relationships on TV are boring.” So they always look for guys to ship. Mainly because they think the idea of two guys in bed is hot. That’s a completely different thing from having legitimate representation of a LGBT romance on TV.

    I don’t follow SPN or Sherlock, so I can’t comment. The K/S thing. I never read them as romantic couple. I love them. I LOVE that they’re best friends and that, as best friends, they move HEAVEN AND EARTH for each other over and over. I do agree that nobody knows, because we don’t, but…refer to http://rosebfischer.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/100-things-i-learned-by-writing-fanfic-6-give-me-the-background/ where I talk talk about why you have to establish a relationship before you can explore it.

    I have a couple of ships that aren’t canon or aren’t explicitly canon. That part of the reason that I create fanfiction, because I’m usually not satisfied with the way they’re shown on the show OR with the majority of fan-created stuff. (Like there’s a lot of Obi-Wan/Padme stuff that works around a love triangle that’s even MORE unhealthy than the canon relationship.) I ship Steve/Danny on Hawaii 5-0, and in some small corner of my mind that hadn’t gone completely cynical yet, I actually THOUGHT the relationship might become canon instead of a shiptease until the most recent season. Now I also ship Steve/Cath, but I’m INCREDIBLY disapointed and I feel betrayed.

    I used to watch The Good Wife for a while, and one of the main characters, Kalinda, is openly bi. I had some hope that the show might explore that as something other than a way to get sex on the screen, but it hasn’t happeened. That’s partly because Kalinda is relationship-phobic, but still. They’ve talked several times about bringing a serious love interest for her and it never amounts to anything (except a stupid plot with her ex-husband which was why I quit watching.)

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    1. Yeah, that’s why I mentioned I don’t just want more gay makeout scenes, and it’s not a defense of any particular ship. Just in the process of writing out why I don’t really ship these ships, I realized that I really wanted one I could ship, and despite the few noncanon ships I hold dearly, I really prefer canon, all of which led to the realizations mentioned in the second part of the post… It seems like every show wants an LGBT character now to be appropriately risqué, but nobody’s willing to have a pair of central characters as a couple.

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      1. (Clarification: If I had my way, K/S would not be canon, Johnlock would become canon this season, and I don’t know about Destiel. I never really read romance in K/S either and love it for the same reasons you do. Internet evidence has convinced me Gene Roddenberry shipped them and K/S was slang for a slash couple in general at one point, so I figured it too big not to mention, and I still really want a same-sex couple on some Star Trek show. It’s a glaring omission.)

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        1. (I agree about K/S and Star Trek in general. It’s ridiculous to say that in the 24th century all our prejudices are passe and yet NEVER show a couple who isn’t straight. If and when there’s a new ST show, I’d like there to be a same-sex couple, but I want–like you said–I don’t just want it for the sake of having a same-sex couple. I want both characters to have important roles in the show APART from the relationship, as with Worf and Jadzia or Chief O’Brien and Keiko or whoever else.)

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          1. I don’t know if O’Brien and Keiko count as “central” characters. I liked the relationship and I don’t really care about any of the established couples on Voyager so they were the main example I thought of besides Worf and Jadzia or Riker/Troi (and that was never really on screen as more than a tease.)

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      2. I think it would be awesome if there were more diverse couples of all types. I agree with you, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. I don’t see very many healthy relationships on TV at all anymore, unless it’s a sitcom that centers on a straight married couple, and even then.

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