November 5, 2020. An infamous day for fans of Supernatural, the 15-year long CW show about 2 hunters fighting supernatural forces, Sam and Dean Winchester, and their angel companion Castiel. On that day, Castiel, played by Misha Collins, declared his romantic love for Dean Winchester, played by Jensen Ackles, the hunter who thought he didn’t deserve to be saved. The fan-favorite pairing (“ship“) Destiel – or Deancas, for Dean and Castiel, call it what you want – seemed to finally go canon, meaning acknowledged in the show, and not just up to the fans’ interpretation. Enter, Supernatural Destiel fanfiction.
That’s the day many of us in the Supernatural fandom emerged again from the ashes of a love story we had long given up on. Like countless others, I had grown tired of the queerbating and had started obsessing over other queer pairings on other shows who were actually given screen time, such as Malex on the CW’s Roswell New Mexico – barely able to admit to myself that I actually cared about how Dean & Castiel’s story might end after 12 years. But the episode that aired on November 5, 2020, jolted Destiel fans awake. When Castiel confessed his love to Dean, “Destiel” trended above the US election on Twitter. Except Castiel was taken away by The Empty, and we had two episodes left to – hopefully – get our happy ending. Needlesday to say, that didn’t happen. You can listen to the great podcast Fangirl Biz to make sense of that ending and how it traumatized the Supernatural fandom (all ships aside). Let’s just say Game of Thrones left a mild taste in comparison.
So, what is a fan to do? Especially in the middle of a pandemic, stuck at home while winter is coming, single, and NOT ready to mingle?
Falling down the fanfiction rabbit hole is the easiest thing in the world
My fanfiction days were somewhat behind me in 2020 (what a foolish thing to even write) but I was looking for something, anything – to wash the sour taste in my mouth and give me some semblance of hope and resolution for these two characters. When you’ve been investing in a TV show for years, your identity can become somewhat entangled in it (there’s a lot of great research out there on fandom and the construction of identity around the world, in music, sports, you name it) especially when there’s not a lot of good to go around in the middle of a pandemic. So like many other fans, I went right back to fanfiction, which consistently gave me the comfort that the show wouldn’t.
Thanks to the internet fairies, the fanfiction authors who kept me afloat the winter of 2020 and all throughout 2021. One can’t talk about fanfiction without also mentioning the huge efforts by fans to archive, collect, and share so much great work, sometimes deleted or impossible to find (which is especially important when your OTP is 12 years in the making, as Castiel first appeared on the show in 2009). I myself became obsessed with finding and archiving Supernatural Destiel fanfiction. Some days, I would read from 9 pm to 2 am – some weekends I would cancel all appointments just to stay in my room and read all day and night, in a trance. The types of fics one can read range from the very short – “one-shots” around 5-10K words or below, and novel-length, over 500K-words long. The Dean/Cas pairing is now the most popular pairing on fanfiction website Archives of Our Own, with over 100,000 works published by fans, some of whom have incredible talent, their writing surpassing that of “professional” writers (yes, really).
Coping with reality
I want to pause here to clarify a few things. First, reading that much Supernatural Destiel fanfiction is not a particularly noteworthy achievement, as there are some serious readers in all fandoms, and many people can’t read that much for a variety of reasons, so I am not trying to create a hierarchy. Second, I am not implying that reading fanfiction means disappearing entirely from the real world (but if that’s your jam, you do you!). I have tried my whole life to balance my real life with my imaginary one. Growing up, whether it was daydreaming, reading, watching TV shows, something always took me away. Some days, we manage reality more than others. And that’s okay. I have learned that it’s okay to struggle with reality and it’s not a weakness. What matters is finding that balance and knowing yourself.
Not just escapism – dare I say activism
It doesn’t hurt that fandom can lead to real-world activism. The Supernatural fandom actually often rallies to do good deeds, such as raising over $70K for the Trevor Project to channel the despair of Castiel’s ending into real-world impact for LGBTQ youth. Cue the shameless plug for my Creative Distribution podcast, in which I interviewed Shawn Taylor of The Nerds of Color and Katie Bowers of Fandom Forward on fan activism and civic engagement. They explain how fans can be mobilized for good, not for thoughtless escapism but for real-world action, and how fandom and pop culture are such powerful tools to create change because they provide the myths, shared language, and sense of identity and belonging we all crave in a post-modern, post-religious world. (listen here! they’re so brilliant.)
Liking fanfiction doesn’t mean you can’t criticize it
However, I don’t have rose-colored glasses about fandom and fanfiction anymore. Incredible experts such as Stitch, whose Teen Vogue column and personal analysis on racism in fandom are a must-read, scholar and author Rukmini Pande, expert Fangirl Jeanne, and more document toxic and racist fandom in spaces that claim to be progressive, left unchecked including on fanfiction platforms like Archives of Our Own (another thing we’ll explore on the Creative Distribution podcast). I would be remiss not to mention the excellent Fansplaining podcast, which did a few deep dives on race and fandom. Some fans have called for steps for fanfiction platforms like AO3 to become less toxic for fans of color but there’s still a lot of work to do.
The power of creative communities
Being part of a curated community of readers and writers of Supernatural Destiel fanfiction has helped me find comfort in knowing that it’s okay to like certain things passionately, no matter how weird they might seem to the outside. As a filmmaker, it made me question the constant need for monetization. Even if fandom can sometimes feel like the perfect Trojan horse for capitalism and corporate media, the fans who create valuable content and share it for free, whether it be fan art, videos, stories, made me value the communities that riff off of original content and taught me not to be so precious about our film work. As YA/fantasy author Fonda Lee wrote, “I’m so happy you come to play in my sandbox”. On that note, I gotta go read my internet friends’ fics.