I want your sex: the angel edition
So I was thinking about angel sex today. Actually, that’s something I do every day. Today I was specifically thinking about Dean’s comment in 7x23, when he told Kevin Tran that Castiel was junkless. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that Dean probably believes Cas has no interest in sex.
And maybe he doesn’t, certainly we have evidence to support as much, but even if he did, would Dean know that?
I mean, think about it. Dean comments as early as 4x10 that angels are ken dolls. And when he sleeps with Anna, it’s because she’s human at the time, sex being one of her reasons for having cut out her grace. Then there’s the time he took Cas to a brothel, only to have Castiel try to engage the prostitute in deep, meaningful conversation about her father. In fact, the only time Dean’s seen Cas show even the slightest interest in sex was in end!verse, when Cas was fully human. So why wouldn’t Dean assume Cas wasn’t interested? Cas isn’t exactly the touchy-feely type. He’s not exactly well versed in human body language, and he certainly hasn’t brought up the topic, so at this point I’m pretty sure Dean has just written off the idea of a physical relationship with Cas.
Which begs the question: what does this mean for Dean and his growing awareness re his feelings for Cas. It’s pretty obvious watching season 8 (standard disclaimer about subjectivity) that Dean’s caught the clue train. I get the firm impression that he’s finally figured out he’s in love with Cas. He just hasn’t figured out what to do about it. And that makes sense, because Dean’s a pretty physical guy (well, not so much lately, but Dean still sees sex as an expression of love, so I can guarantee you sex is something he would both think about and want with the person he was in love with). If he takes sex out of the equation, where does that leave him?
Because I think the show’s been pretty good about showing Dean’s attraction to Cas (again, subjectivity disclaimer), and we’re getting hints in S8 that Dean’s not only aware of it, but coming to terms with it. One of my favourite scenes from 8x07 isn’t the “boner" scene, but rather this one:
Not because of the once over Dean gives Cas, but because of what happens after. After this Dean glances away and down, and then gives his head a little shake, as though berating himself for the way he just looked at Cas; for the thought that crossed his mind while he was looking at Cas. I don’t actually think this scene had anything to do with sex. I think Dean was just surprised by Cas’ presence and wanted to reassure himself that Cas was there, that Cas was safe. The thing is, that alone shouldn’t warrant a head shake. It’s perfectly acceptable for friends and family to seek comfort with visual confirmation after a traumatic event. So why the head shake? The only reason I can think of is that Dean knows fully well he’s in love with Cas, knows fully well what that would mean for him, and doesn’t think he’s allowed.
So the question then becomes: is he?
And this is where we need to leave off with Dean and start talking about angels, because in order to answer the above question, we kind of need to look at things like angel genders, angel sexuality, their interpretation of love and sex, their perception of homo sapiens, and angel-vessel consent issues.
Also, clearly I am incapable of brevity.
But it’s important, because from what I’ve seen of fandom people either treat Castiel as human (he’s not), hence avoiding the issue, or they use the above list as reasons for a) why the relationship wouldn’t work, b) why the relationship would without it being a same-sex pairing, and c) why the relationship would with it being a same-sex pairing. And to be honest, the issue is a hell of lot more complicated than that.
Angels and their perceived genders, gender identities, sexuality and sexual orientation
So nothing like starting us off with a mouthful, but I think it’s fairly important to understand just how complicated this issue is, and just how over-simplified the average person’s understanding of gender and gender identity is (not to mention how this ties into a person’s sexuality and sexual orientation). There’s a tendency to make this a black and white issue, which is never a good idea, but we, as humans, like boxes and labels, so we attach some significance to being able to label people according to their physical genders, the genders they identify with, their interest in sex, and their preferred orientation. Anyone’s who’s been around longer than a few decades knows how limiting this is (especially for those of us who don’t fit in anyone’s box) and so I think it important to preface this whole thing with the following disclaimer:
I do not believe we can define angels using human concepts or terminology. I think when dealing with angels we need to take human ideas of gender, gender identity, sexuality and sexual orientation, and throw them out the window. But, I also think it’s both acceptable and reasonable to ruminate on how angels might fit within these ideas, especially when we are concerning ourselves with human-angel interactions and relationships, so long as we understand their limitations.
So if you’re still with me…
In the SPN verse we see angels referring to each other with human pronouns/labels that indicate they might have a concept of gender. They call each other “brother" or “sister". They use the pronoun “him" or “her". So there is the impression that angels do have gender. But, it is also mentioned several times that human perception of angels (even outside the earthly plane) is limited to human comprehension, and so it is entirely possible that angels use human terminology because humans are incapable of understanding anything beyond this. Angels are, after all, an entirely different species.
[This is a good point to remind everyone that in their true form they are the size of the Chrysler building, with six sets of wings and four faces. This is also a good point to remind everyone that humans are incapable of seeing an angel’s true form (or even hearing an angel’s true voice) all of which will become relevant when we discuss angel perception of humans as a species, but is also important in understanding that differences exist and that these differences may well extend to gender—aka for all we know angels may have no genders or 20 genders.]
So we have the perception that angels have gender, and yet, they do not seem to care about the gender of their vessels. They choose vessels based on bloodline and piousness (at least in Jimmy’s case). So yes, Castiel’s vessel belongs to a human male, but we have also seen him occupying a vessel that belonged to a female child. Furthermore, we have seen Raphael occupying both a male and female vessel, seemingly without difficulty or discomfort. So there is ample evidence to suggest the angel concept of gender (if such a thing exists) is not the same as the human concept of gender. We also have evidence to suggest that angels are not bound by gender identity, or at least the human concept of it.
I mentioned above that I think it important to ponder how angels might fit within the human spectrum, and I say this because humans have such limiting views of gender, gender identity, sexuality and orientation, and Dean is no exception. And since we are interested in what this means for Dean and Cas, it is fairly important to frame this from Dean’s perspective. Cas’ gender and his sexuality are undoubtedly things that Dean would question, especially now that he’s starting to come to terms with his feelings for Cas.
I think it fairly safe to say that Dean views Castiel as male. He may logically know that Cas is something other, but in his eyes Castiel is male and so for Dean entering into a romantic and/or sexual relationship with Castiel would mean entering into a same-sex relationship. I think this is something that’s still tripping Dean up, even though I’m convinced he is now fully aware that his feelings for Cas extend beyond brotherhood or friendship. I have faith we’ll eventually see this resolved, but scenes like Dean asking Cas to get his own room in 8x08 suggest he’s not yet comfortable with his not-quite as repressed as it was bisexuality. The good news is, at least he’s acknowledging it.
Unfortunately, none of this is as cut and dry for Castiel.
We’ve already established that angels do not share the human understanding of gender and gender identity, so while I am certain Castiel knows his vessel belongs to a male, I do not believe it in any way dictates how he interacts with and experiences life on earth. To be quite frank, I don’t think Castiel cares. I think the same can be said of his views on sexual orientation, because if Cas considers gender irrelevant, a person’s sexual preference with respect to gender is also irrelevant. He states at one point (though as Godstiel, so take what you will from it) that he is utterly indifferent to sexual orientation, and I believe this to be true in the most pure sense. I believe telling Castiel you are gay or straight would be, for him, the equivalent of saying, “I like oranges, or I like apples". He understands the concept from a literal place, but doesn’t ascribe emotion to it.
So if we agree that angels probably don’t have genders in the same way that humans do, and that they don’t care about sexual orientation, are they even interested in sex?
In SPN verse there is plenty of evidence to suggest an angel’s interest in sex is non-existent. I commented on this above, but it bears repeating. Very early into meeting the angels (4x10), Dean comments that they’re built like ken dolls, something that isn’t refuted. There is the perceived notion that angels are emotionless, non-sexual creatures whose only purpose is obedience. We also meet a fallen angel (Anna) who specifically cuts out her grace and falls in order to experience what it means to be human. One of the things she lists in her reasons for doing so is sex. Castiel himself comments that he finds the concept of sex boring:
"We were assigned to watch the earth. Often, it was boring. The wars were very boring and the sex - you know, the repetition."
There is also a good deal of evidence to suggest Castiel is slightly oblivious to Dean’s sexual interest. Clearly he doesn’t understand Dean’s discomfort with personal space invasion, and in the above mentioned scene in 8x08, Castiel seems oblivious as to why Dean would be uncomfortable having him “watch over" Dean. This is to say nothing of his direct discomfort at the thought of having sex in 5x03.
None of this is to say that angels are incapable of sex. We certainly know it is possible for vessels to feel arousal (Cas’ erection in Caged Heat comes to mind), so sex, while in vessel-form at least, is certainly something that is possible. The question then becomes: If angels are capable of having sex, and an occasion arose where they were interested in having sex, would they be interested in having that sex with humans?
Angels, their perceptions of sex, and the idea of humans as potential sexual partners
One of the arguments I’ve seen against canon Dean/Cas (and we’ll talk later about the limitations of using sex as a milestone for determining the validity of romantic relationships) is their interspeciesness. The argument usually goes as follows:
Would you have sex with a monkey?
Which is not only a gross over-simplification, but rather contrary to the evidence suggested so far. Certainly we have canon evidence for both Gabriel and Balthazar having had sex with human females (Gabriel stared in his own porno flick, and Balthazar made reference to licking champagne from a woman’s navel).
There’s evidence outside the SPN canon, too. In Christian mythology, which seems to be the foundation for much of the show’s myth-arc, the nephilim are often considered to be the offspring of mating between God’s children (aka angels) and the children of men (aka humans).
In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities are often said to have been destroyed because of the practice of homosexuality, but a lot of modern scholars think the passage was misinterpreted, that in reality they were destroyed because humans were having (or trying to have) sex with angels. If this is the case, clearly God’s not okay with the whole human-angel hook up, but since SPN God is just another in the long line of SPN deadbeat dads, well, his opinion hardly counts now, does it? Either way the point still remains: angels don’t seem to be saying no to a little human on angel action. Certainly Anna was interested enough to cut out her grace, not exactly a decision I suspect an angel makes lightly.
This doesn’t negate that some angels (certainly Lucifer and Uriel) think humans are beneath them. The term mud-monkey comes up often, and regularly humans are dismissed as being something lesser than angels. Even Cas, on several occasions, demotes Dean to the position of lesser species (you’re only a man, you were my favourite pets, the whole Neanderthal vs Homo Sapiens conversation in 7x21). So there is certainly evidence on both sides of the fence.
I’ve read commentary that speculates Dean and Cas’ relationship won’t become physical until Castiel fully falls and becomes human, and this may be, but I’m not entirely convinced this is necessary.
I mentioned above about the limitations of using sex as a milestone for romantic relationships, and this is important. Doing so negates the experiences of every single non sexual person who has ever fallen in love and entered into a romantic relationship. Asexual does not equal aromantic. And it is entirely possible (difficult, but possible) for a sexual person to enter into a romantic relationship with a nonsexual person. I’m not saying this is something I see happening with Dean and Cas, but certainly it can’t be discounted.
The thing is, I think Castiel sees sex as an abstract, human activity. Again, it’s something he understands in a literal sense, but from an emotional perspective, the idea is still relatively new. I am certain he sees sex as an act of love (his comments regarding the pizza man loving the babysitter in Caged Heat suggest this) and while I’m not sure sex is something he would seek on his own (certainly he didn’t jump at the chance in Free to be You and Me), I do believe it is something he would participate in as an expression of love, especially if it was something he thought his partner desired.
Now please, don’t misinterpret me. I do not believe Castiel is asexual. Again, he is an angel, something other than human, so we cannot use human terms and terminology to label him. I am in no way suggesting asexuals should engage in sexual activity with their sexual partners as expressions of love. For a human that is ridiculous. For an angel, however…
And this is where things get tricky, and why it’s so important to remember that Castiel isn’t human. Sex is something I believe Castiel would want because it made Dean happy. It is also something (if end!verse is any indication) that I think his vessel would enjoy. I simply don’t think angels are capable of the same impulses as humans. I’m not sure the human act of sex is necessarily something they desire, but I do think it is something they could enjoy if done with the right person. And there should be little doubt in anyone’s mind that Castiel is ridiculously in love with Dean.
Which pretty much only leaves the things standing in their way.
Angels, angel-vessel consent issues, and angel perception of aberrant behavior
I’m going to say right off the bat that I believe Jimmy Novak is dead. I think the show has given us ample evidence to suggest as much (Castiel’s stint as a human comes to mind, having been found brain dead before his admission to the hospital). That being said, were Jimmy Novak still alive, then this entire conversation would be pointless, because without Jimmy’s consent it would be impossible for Dean and Castiel to engage in a physical relationship that wasn’t tantamount to rape.
In fact, it raises some really interesting questions about Balthazar and Gabriel, none of which I particularly feel like examining at the moment.
So if we assume Jimmy’s dead, that Castiel is alone in his vessel, then the only other possible obstacle is how other angels might interpret Castiel’s relationship with Dean.
I suspect having sex with a human is rather frowned upon. That other angels look down on that sort of thing. They probably even find it a little disturbing; undoubtedly some of them view the entire thing as some odd form of bestiality. And I think early Castiel would have cared about that. I think the opinions of heaven would have mattered to him. I think by the time we reach S8 that Castiel is so far fallen, that he is so far removed from what he once was, that the other angels no longer see him as a true angel. More importantly, I don’t think Castiel sees himself as a true angel. I think he adopted the term fallen angel a long time ago. I think that happened the moment he lost faith in God, to be honest.
So I don’t think that would stop him. I think he’d be more worried about what Dean would think, or how Dean would be perceived. Cas isn’t completely oblivious. He obviously sees how important Dean’s masculine, macho identity is to him. He’s no doubt completely aware of Dean’s repressed bisexuality. And while I believe S8 Dean is actually coming to accept that aspect of himself, I don’t think Castiel would ask for anything more than he thought Dean was willing to give. And since I also don’t think sex is something Castiel is necessarily seeking, at this point I think it would be entirely up to Dean to make the first move.
The problem with all of this is that neither one of them are talking about it. So until Dean figures all this out, they’re rather destined to remain locked in stalemate.