Maybe we’re still basking in the true love story that was WandaVision, but Disney+’s new Marvel show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has us thinking about heroes kissing. Again. TFATWS comes with a spark of hope that Marvel will continue its trend of , but this time with a twist: It’s another in a long line of hints that Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, is bisexual.
In the March 19 premiere of TFATWS, Bucky goes on a date with a woman. He hasn’t been dating much since the Blip (or since World War II), but he says he’s used dating apps. He finds them weird, and not just because Bucky grew up in a world where advanced technology was the phonograph — no, he finds dating apps weird because of the tiger pictures.
Come again, Buck?
“It’s crazy,” he tells her, before looking confused and shrugging it off with a sip of beer. It must be said that Sebastian Stan excels at this exact brand of Bucky humor, the combination of man-out-of-time, reformed mercenary, and just a young dude trying to go about his day. But in this moment, there’s something else at work. Bucky may have just revealed a personal detail that has nothing to do with his vibranium arm or history of violent crime.
Anyone who’s been on a dating app in the past decade knows that tiger pictures, which Tinder cracked down on because of the unethical conditions most selfie-ready tigers live in, are primarily found on men’s profiles. They were part of the when every guy wanted to look like a traveling adventurer and took all his profile pics in a rainforest, or wearing a backpack on a mountain, or yes, hugging a heavily sedated tiger. Very few women have tiger selfies, so the odds of Bucky noticing enough of them to comment on it are low. Unless, of course, Bucky is looking at men’s profiles.
TFATWS is nothing if not a show about a bunch of people who all kissed Captain America and really miss him, okay?
And yet, the fact that it’s Bucky saying he keeps seeing tiger pics on dating profiles fits in with the MCU’s 10-year history of writing his character with a soupçon of queer subtext. Bucky’s initial fascination with Captain America’s body, his meta-role in Steve’s narrative as the damaged and distressed object of desire, and the fact that his relationship with Cap was strong enough to wake him after decades of brainwashing (the no homo equivalent of true love’s kiss), are only some of the queer character kernels Bucky’s fans have treasured as potential truth. There are entire blogs dedicated not only to the pairing of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes together, but also to celebrating the potential depths in Bucky’s one-sided bisexual longing for connection (and also that time ).
Every once in a while Marvel throws a bone at fans who want to see more queer representation in the MCU, and in the past those bones have frequently been Bucky’s. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War director Joe Russo referring to the tension and desire for reconciliation in Bucky and Cap’s relationship. A love story, Russo clarified, with “the same emotional connection to each other as brothers would.” Sure. There were more comments like these, which always put the onus of interpretation on the audience, and they were never intended to lead to representation at the time they were made.
Also, remember Sharon Carter? Of course you don’t. She’s back for TFATWS after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War struggled to force her chemistry with Steve because he was too busy chasing Bucky. TFATWS is nothing if not a show about a bunch of people who all kissed Captain America and really miss him, okay?
All this to say The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is probably not going to make Bucky canonically queer. Disney is notoriously inadequate when it comes to LGBTQIA representation, at best doling out suggestions and scraps across its various properties. Add in the MCU’s (are Cap and Peggy perfect? Or are they just all we had?) and we’ll be lucky to see Bucky so much as flirt with another human for the show’s remainder.
Later this year, Marvel’s Eternals will feature the first out gay superhero in the MCU pantheon with Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos. It’s a step, maybe the only step towards Marvel being corporately comfortable with queer people in their franchise (Joe Russo’s cameo as a sad gay survivor in Avengers: Endgame notwithstanding, because that was ridiculous). Bucky’s fan-projected bisexuality would be a bigger deal, and so all the aforementioned history and potential willingness to get a little bit gayer leads us back to: the tiger pictures.
The reference is too specific to be unintentional. It’s possible that the line was written by someone who knows the common mistakes men make in their dating app profiles and forgot to reframe the joke for a straight man. Including it in a scene otherwise intended to tell us that Bucky is interested in women feels like a helluva wink, now immortalized on screen whether it was intended to taunt or encourage. Bucky is canonically swiping on tiger pics and you can judge for yourself what that means about the humans posing for them.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is streaming on Disney+.