Queerbaiting: what is it and what it means to LGBTQ+ people

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Everyday Queeries | 0 comments

In November 2022, Kit Connor, who plays Nick Nelson in the hit Netflix series ‘Heartstopper’, was forced to come out following accusations of him Queerbaiting in the show. After weeks of online abuse, he tweeted on X “I’m bi, congrats on forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show.” Some fans of ‘Heartstopper’ began to believe he has been performing his queerness, and they weren’t happy about it. But were these feeling founded in truth, or fan-fiction?

He had been spotted holding hands with Maia Reficco, his co-star at the time, when scrutiny turned into thousands of accusations of queerbaiting. Connor’s public statement sparked a conversation about how, since the early 2000’s, the growth of social media has meant queerbaiting doesn’t just apply to a character in a movie, but the lives of public figures. 

The Urban Dictionary defines queerbaiting as “a marketing technique used to attract queer viewers involving romance between two same-sex characters with no evolution of the storyline,” like we saw with Sherlock and Supernatural. But Queerbaiting can also apply to the individual. Straight people can be accused of pretending to be gay and flirting with same sex people as a joke. Along with Connor, actors, singers and other celebrities have been added to the ‘queerbaiting’ list: Shawn Mendes, Taylor Swift, Timothee Chalamet and Yungblud, who recently spoke to journalist Louis Theroux in a BBC interview saying, “how dare you question my sexuality?”

Harry Styles has always been a major name in this conversation, facing backlash for wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue Magazine, for painting his nails fun colours and for adopting a more feminine tone to his tour wardrobe. Along with Styles, Billie Eilish has also been accused of queerbaiting, having posted a picture on her Instagram with other women captioned “I love girls.” 

Whether it be discussing celebrities’ dress sense, or calling out films for their almost-but-not-quite queer characters, queerbaiting is something which has grown in prominence over the last few years. TV shows such as Supernatural and Sherlock have been accused of having queer undertones between leading characters without outwardly acknowledging that it could be an LGBTQ+ relationship. This in turn gives the queer community the idea of representation without being fully prepared to have a queer couple on our screens. It wasn’t until 2018 when ‘Love, Simon’ was produced, that a major Hollywood Studio released a film with a leading gay narrative.

But what once targeted real concerns surrounding the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community has turned into what many believe as a way to police an individual’s identity. Styles, who is perhaps one of the most influential celebrities accused of queerbaiting, has declined comment on his private life, stating that he doesn’t wish to portray himself as queer or straight, which has contributed to the queerbaiting accusations. He has often come under fire for his fashion choices – choosing to sport a glittery jumpsuit or bright red tights on stage. But gender non-conforming fashion isn’t new, and has a rich history amongst the queer community. So to suggest that queerness is only found within clothing or that it is inherently feminine feels somewhat outdated to the times we live in.

Queerbaiting – hinting, teasing and taunting the queer community with ideas of representation – only continues to weaponise the term when it was intended to protect the LGBTQ+ community. Queerness should not be used as a marketing ploy by popular brands to raise viewership and financial gain. It should have a proper place in the media whereby it can be explored and seen in its truth and authenticity, championing LGBTQ+ people.

To be clear, there is a valid debate surrounding queerbaiting which seeks to protect the queer individuals and groups. However, what I’m sure we can all agree on is that calling out someone’s sexuality or the sexuality you believe they are is something which isn’t fair to anyone’s identity. Their identity should be something they share when and if they want too.