What is Queerbaiting and why we need to talk about it?

hey tribe!

we are about to enter a month of celebrating self-love and freedom to love any human being on this planet, regardless of their gender, identity, or sexual orientation. but while we seen a lot of progress in representation of LGBTQ+ relationships, we still have a long way to go, especially in the media. one of the biggest complaints by the LGBTQ community when it comes to representation is the practice of queerbaiting. what is that? let’s find out.

what is queerbaiting?

queerbaiting is a deliberate technique used by TV production houses to bait the LGBTQ community to start watching a show. it is a marketing tool that has been seen to be very effective even if it garners negative publicity.

you would think, “why would anyone start watching a show only because there could be a potential, very slight at that, of a queer relationship in the show?”. that is a fair question but what we don’t imagine is that when you have lost decades watching television that shows only one kind of love story that opposes all imagination of being with someone other than the opposite gender then finding even a small hint of representation is exciting. it’s a small acknowledgement that many in the LGBTQ community are still looking for and waiting for ardently.

there are reasons why even a single subtext between two handsome guys can generate a fandom that will last decades (ahem…supernatural). so why is queerbaiting so harmful?

why is queerbaiting harmful?

imagine a young person who is struggling with their own feelings about someone who belongs to the same sex as them and then they happen to see something similar on TV. it can be very empowering for a young person to see that. they might even feel strong enough to tell their loved ones and find support thinking that what they are feeling is perfectly normal.

but it has an opposite effect in a queerbaiting scenario.

now imagine the same young person looking at this relationship on TV with tonnes of subtext and romantic musical cues but there is never any acknowledgement. not by the characters at least even if the actors playing the characters very easily acknowledge the love angle between the two heterosexual characters. they remain friends till the end of the show with other romantic partners with whom they have much less chemistry and/or story development. this can be incredibly damaging as it sends a message that such relationships/feelings, even if they exist, will never see the light of the day, and will never find acceptance.

now that we have talked about queerbaiting, let's see some examples for the same.

Supernatural - Dean and Castiel

if you do not know about the fandom surrounding destiel, the ship name used to refer to Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins), then you really don’t know about the biggest queerbait- one that last for more than a decade. Supernatural is a story of two brothers fighting evil monsters and trying to keep their family together. over their journey, one of the brothers, dean, is rescued by an angel- Castiel, and that is the beginning of a relationship full of subtext and meta narratives that kept the LGBTQ community hopeful for some acknowledgement. The acknowledgement came but it was too late and too little. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the show! as the angel says goodbye to dean in the penultimate episode of the series, he says, “I love you.” but dean doesn’t say it back. and that’s that. did he feel the same? maybe. maybe not. who knows? stay in limbo forever LGBTQ community because that is all you get. that is the message and that is truly disappointing.

There have been many other shows that have been accused of queer baiting like How to Get Away with Murder, Hannibal, Supergirl, and many other.

What is the alternative?

While people hate non-acknowledged queer relationships that exist only in subtext, people also hate shows like Riverdale (another CW gift) that introduce plenty of potential queer characters but end up being nothing but set pieces that serve no purpose except random sex scenes. Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz on the show are the biggest examples of that. Even Kevin Keller, who is ironically introduced as the “gay best friend”, ends up having no impact on the storyline.

Change is coming

While all these frustrations are true, we can find some shows that are truly trying to elevate the representation of queer relationships to genuine complex narratives as it should be. some of the best we can think about are Sex Education, Never Have I Ever, Orphan Black and of course the best of them all Sense8. that is the kind of unapologetic content that we need and we hope we get that in every show.

here's to hoping. you have a great time.

what do you think about queer baiting? have you ever seen a relationship like this on TV? tell us your thoughts about it on Instagram @liveaastey.

until next time, live aastey.