Queerbaiting and the fight for queer rights

Queerbaiting has brought a dangerous precedent

PHOTO: Markus Spiske / Unsplash

By: Daniel Salcedo Rubio, Features Editor

Queerbaiting is when a show leaves a character’s sexuality ambiguous while implying the possibility of non-heterosexual relationships or attraction, without ever confirming or denying it. It’s easy to speculate it as a marketing strategy to appeal to the LGBTQIA2S+ community without the possible repercussions of a more conservative audience.

The term queerbaiting, at its core, used to only refer to fictional characters, but as of late, some have broadened it to include real people. Billie Eilish was accused of queerbaiting back in 2021 after releasing the video for her song “Lost Cause” and posting a series of photos on Instagram with the caption “i love girls.” Another recent example comes from actor Kit Connor, who played bisexual character Nick Nelson in Netflix’s Heartstopper. Connor, at the time of the release of the series, hadn’t officially revealed his sexuality to the public, which caused speculation about his sexuality and queerbaiting accusations in social media, eventually causing Connor to tweet “I’m bi, congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.”  While we have to fight to ensure actors of the LGBTQIA2S+ community have access to equal opportunities, we shouldn’t be bullying others to come out before they are ready to do so.

I’d like to think queer-coding characters without actually delivering queerness is something we should all be against. The LGBTQIA2S+ community is not a trend a studio can simply take advantage of: accurate and significant representation of queer identities is a necessity that should be taken seriously and not just see as a marketing strategy. This, however, should not be directly expanded onto real people. Sexuality is a spectrum and discovering where one stands is a personal journey that should only be questioned by the one traveling it. 

I understand the pain that is behind queerbaiting accusations. Some people might think it’s unfair that Noah Beck and Darren Criss, who both have denied being gay, are able to express themselves wearing fish nets and heeled black boots, while those same outfits have been historically demonized when worn by out members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. For some, it might feel as if queerness is only accepted by the mainstream media whenever it is portrayed by straight people or for straight consumption. I understand that some people might feel like straight people are taking advantage of our historical and ongoing fight for our rights. I understand that coming out is and has always been an act of social and political activism. However, this same historical fight and years of activism has brought all of us — not only members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community — the freedom to express our identities in less conventional ways. For some, coming out might be a part of their journey, and thus, staying in the closet might feel counter-progressive — but one’s queer identity isn’t bound to public knowledge.

Generations of LGBTQIA2S+ people have fought for the type of visibility and freedom we are seeing today. I’m not sure what Marsh P. Johnson would think of Rupaul’s Drag Race and the show’s host, but I’m confident she would rejoice in knowing that a drag queen-lead program has broken into mainstream media and is consistently nominated to the Emmys. Younger generations identify as increasingly queerer. In 2012 only 3.5% of Americans identified as members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, and in 2020, that number increased to 5.6%, with Gen Z being the highest with 15.9% identifying as queer or transgender. Queer visibility and acceptance have steadily increased: in 1999 only 35% of the U.S. population supported same-sex marriage, 22 years later that number has doubled. And thus, for reasons like these, queerbaiting allegations against celebrities fall in a gray area. To some people, coming out no longer holds the same historical socio-political activism as it did in the past. Many actors and media personalities are setting up barriers between their work and private lives. 19-year-old Billie Eilish made it clear that “her sexuality is no one’s business but her own.” This is a valid approach to sexuality. Celebrities have just as much a right to decide for themselves when and if to come out of the closet, and queer people who remain in the closet are just as valid as those who are out.    

This is not to say that coming out is a thing of the past or that LGBTQIA2S+ people are finally free to be whoever they want to be. Drag Story Hour has been systematically attacked by protestor groups all across the US, LGBTQIA2S+ hate crimes in Canada are on the rise, with a 41% increase in 2019 over the previous year. And these statistics only account for western countries. LGBTQIA2S+ Activists in the Middle East and North Africa are still facing state-sponsored repression and social stigma. We are still fighting, but as with any other movement, our fight is evolving along with society, and as such we have to stop, think, and reassess how to move forward from here. Speculating about someone’s sexuality has never been acceptable, and alleging someone is queer or not queer based on stereotypes is not only counterproductive, but plain wrong. Someone’s queerness has never and will never be in direct relation with any mannerisms: we are a diverse community, and reducing our queerness to stereotypes minimizes our identity.