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Supergirl is arguably the most queer-friendly superhero show on TV. Season 2 saw Supergirl’s sister Alex come out as gay, a relatively rare occurrence in a mainstream family drama. Alex’s role was praised by fans and critics, but she had nothing to do with the recent Comic-Con controversy. This was all about Supergirl herself.
At an interview with MTV, the Supergirl cast improvised a musical recap of season 2, riffing about major events like the arrival of Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). As Lex Luthor’s sister, Lena was introduced as a potential villain, but later becomes Supergirl’s best friend. In a similar vein to all the Lex Luthor/Clark Kent fanfiction in Smallville fandom, Lena and Supergirl are a popular romantic pairing.
Shipping is a major driving force in most TV fandoms, so this isn’t exactly surprising. Lena and Supergirl may not be an official couple, but their relationship has plenty of romantic subtext. But during that MTV interview, actor Jeremy Jordan (Winn Scott), went out of his way to shout that the two characters were “only friends.”
Jordan went on to say he’d “debunked” the idea of a Lena/Supergirl romance, joking that fans would be mad at him for saying so. And oh boy, were they mad. Jordan’s comments provoked immediate backlash on social media and YouTube, and were picked up by the gossip blog Oh No They Didn’t.
It’s not as if Jordan made a homophobic comment, but fans can be sensitive about shipping. Actors rarely understand the nuances of fan culture, and in this case, Jordan appeared to be mocking fans for interpreting Supergirl the “wrong” way. He didn’t understand that to most Lena/Supergirl shippers, there’s no expectation that the relationship will become canon. They just want respect from the cast and showrunners.
With Supergirl, fans have higher expectations because the show is perceived as a queer-friendly space. For obvious reasons it has a lot of LGBTQ fans, inspiring one of the biggest femslash fandoms alongside The 100 and Once Upon A Time, with regular recaps on the LGBTQ women’s site Autostraddle.
Jeremy Jordan’s response didn’t help matters. After Comic-Con, he shared an Instagram post defending his support of the LGBTQ community, describing the MTV interview as a “silly joke,” and criticizing some fans for “spewing SO MUCH HATE” and posting “shitty comments.”
A post shared by Jeremy Jordan (@jeremymjordan) on
This evidently didn’t go down well, because he then followed it up with a second, more heartfelt message.
“All your comments are breaking my heart,” he wrote. “I realize the issue of homophobia is bigger than any note I could ever write and many of you will never be satisfied. I didn’t do anything in that interview to champion the cause.”
In all likelihood, Jordan meant nothing mean spirited in that interview. He just didn’t understand the complexity of fandom culture, and the decades of discussion about queer subtext on TV. Sometimes, shipping provides an outlet for people to explore their own sexuality, or it taps into their desire for LGBTQ representation. It’s entertainment, but it can also be a very personal thing.
Tellingly, Katie McGrath (Lena Luthor) was the one actor who dealt with the issue gracefully during the MTV interview. She spoke about working on other shows where there was a “very obvious undertone” to her character, and said that Supergirl was open to interpretation. In other words, a supportive yet thoughtfully open-ended answer. McGrath’s breakout role was on Merlin, a show with a passionate fandom and plenty of gay subtext between its two male leads. That must have been a crash course in handling awkward questions from fans, a skill that only comes with experience.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor