The question of queerbaiting

Róisín Maguire

Credit: Vogue

Celebrities such as Harry Styles and Rita Ora have often been accused of queerbaiting, whether it be for comments they’ve made or the way they dress. While queerbaiting is known to be harmful to the LGBT+ community, what really counts as queerbaiting?

The Urban Dictionary refers to queerbaiting as “When an author/director/etc. gives hints, and clever twists to paint a character as possibly being queer, to satisfy queer audiences, but never outright says they are so they can keep their heterosexual audience.”

To put it simply, queerbaiting is pretending that two same-sex people will get together or there is a possibility that someone is queer.  However, this is just to entice the LGBT+ community into watching as they don’t actually follow through.

They do this by adding sexual tension between characters, and making homoerotic hints and references throughout.

It is not only found in movies and TV series, but also in music. Ariana Grande was accused of queerbaiting when she said she likes “women and men” in her single “Monopoly”. Many of Grande’s fans have said that it is just her hinting that she is bisexual but others have accused her of using these lyrics to appeal to LGBT+ audiences.

In the singer’s music video for “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored”, she also hints at her bisexuality, but some critics are still not convinced that she is, in fact, bisexual, as she has not explicitly said so.

Tyler Posey was also accused of queerbaiting when he posted a photo on Snapchat and said: “This is me. I am this and this is me. I’ve never felt more alive. I’m gay!”. His publicist cleared up the issue by saying that he was referring to being happy by using the word “gay”.

James Franco also came under scrutiny when he stated that he was “gay up to the point of intercourse”, and that he believes that he is straight in life but gay in his art.

In film and television, Riverdale, Harry Potter, Glee, and Supernatural were also accused of queerbaiting. In the very popular Riverdale, the characters of Betty and Veronica shared a kiss which led viewers to falsely believe they would get together.

Harry Potter is a popular movie which is infamous for queerbaiting. J.K. Rowling said that Dumbledore previously had a relationship with his close friend Grindelwald who then turned out to be his enemy. However, there was no reference to any of Dumbledore’s relationships in the books, which has led fans to question Rowling on if Dumbledore was gay; which prompted her response.

However, it is known that J.K. Rowling replies to many of her fans’ tweets in this manner. For example, when one Twitter user asked if there were any Jewish wizards in Hogwarts, she replied: “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard”. She also suggested that Hermione might not have been white and that she just never specified this detail. Therefore, it is difficult to accuse Rowling of queerbaiting as she reveals so many new things that were never mentioned in the books in order to please some Twitter fans.

Dr Michele Aaron said in an interview with Metro.co.uk that “the queer community’s interest is courted for commercial purposes” but that “it is important to remember that stars and films, as key examples, have always enjoyed titillating audiences and allowing a brief frisson of sexual suggestiveness for [queer] audiences.”

There are a few examples of queerbaiting in Glee. The characters of Quinn and Rachel are very close (despite Quinn hating Rachel for most of the show’s existence), and Rachel once tells Quinn that she is the “prettiest girl” that she had ever met. Another example of this is when Rachel is helping her dance teacher (Cassandra) stretch, Rachel seems to enjoy the many sexualised angles and Cassandra seems to want Rachel to pick up on them.

In Supernatural, there is a very strong and unrequited bond between the characters of Dean and his friend Castiel with fans shipping them as “Destiel”. In season eight and nine, as their relationship was made more obvious by producers, the ratings increased and this is an example of where queerbaiting was profited from.

While television producers and music may profit from queerbaiting, it shows that they may not really want to represent the LGBT+ community. And, while there are some actual same-sex relationships seen in some of these shows, this begs the questions as to why producers need to hint at other same-sex relationships but not actually mean it.

It is harmful because it is similar to teasing. If you put two straight characters together and provide lots of sexual tension, it almost seems like mocking. Coming out as gay or bisexual is a difficult challenge in a person’s life and if young people see this, they are less likely to come out.

Queerbaiting is similar to what happens during pride month, for example. Lots of department stores and corporate businesses take part in pride marches. However, in the other 11 months of the year, they don’t fight for LGBT+ rights. When companies can profit from it, they are interested. They sell their pride merchandise in the weeks leading up to the pride marches and as soon as this is over, it is back to normality.

While queerbaiting is a relatively new term, it dates back to Britney Spears and Madonna kissing at the MTV awards in 2003, but people never understood back then what this phenomenon would become. British Airways were criticised for supporting pride as their planes deport LGBT+ migrants from the UK.

When it comes to celebrities who want to reach the LGBT+ fanbase, they must make sure they have built up this fanbase over a long period of time before they drop music videos that are homoerotic. Lady Gaga is an example of a celebrity ally who has done it right.

Celebrities can’t decide to be an ally and expect the LGBT+ community to back them up overnight. It takes time and understanding of the issues that the community face to be able to call yourself an ally. Perhaps celebrities could be using their fame to highlight issues within different communities instead of using their reach for profit.

Speaking to Tadgh Jenkins, an Ordinary Member of the LGBTA society in DCU, he said: “Queerbaiting is very harmful to the community… it presents typically stereotypical queer behavior in a way that is palatable to cishet [cisgendered heterosexual] people and is kind of modified for their consumption,”

“…When they encounter queerness outside of that form of media, it’s always kind of met with disgust because it’s not the kind of palatable queerness that they’ve been introduced to.”

Róisín Maguire

Image credit:Vogue