The Issue With Queerbaiting

Queerbaiting arose in the early 2010s, and is defined as “The practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction (in a TV show, for example) to engage or attract an LGBTQIA+ audience or otherwise generate interest without ever actually depicting such relationships.” While more LGBTQIA+ representation has been introduced into the media, with it, follows queerbaiting. It’s most commonly seen when series or movies are advertised that they have queer characters and/or relationships, but there aren’t actually any. Queerbaiting can also be seen with “queer-coded” relationships, which aren’t canonically queer, but have romantic undertones. This is a huge issue, as it derails proper representation and erases the struggles LGBTQIA+ people face.


To understand the issue with queerbaiting, it’s important to first understand why representation is important. TV shows, movies, social platforms, and more have an impact on social norms, whether it be good or bad. For example, many actresses in the 2000s started the trend of very thin eyebrows, and that became a social norm of the era for women. The way something is portrayed in popular media has a huge impact as to how people react to it, and when inaccurate depictions of queer characters and their struggles are introduced, false stereotypes are created. Excluding large groups of people from the media either erases them from what’s considered normal, or inaccurate stereotypes are born. Proper representation is needed to further normalize being queer; it’s important to be seen.


But why is it harmful? It dismisses the fact that LGBTQIA+ people are equally as important as any other people, and instead uses them as a marketing technique. Using them only as such can also create “straight-coded” queer relationships. This means that a same-sex relationship is written to appeal to the heteronormative gaze. This could mean toning down the romantic parts of these relationships, so as not to make a homophoic audience “uncomfortable.” 


To understand this further, let’s look at some examples of good representation vs. queerbaiting. The recent remake of the 80s TV show She-ra, is a show with very good queer repersentation. There are multiple characters who are queer and/or in a same-sex relationships. Instead of glossing over the characters, or focusing only on their sexualities/gender identities, the characters are explored in a manner that doesn’t stray from the plot, while fitting everyone in. The relationships aren’t randomly thrown in, rather, we can see them develop throughout the series as characters’ opinions and interests change. While the series has many queer characters, the company doesn’t expoilte that for marketing. This show has good representation, and is treated as any other show.


On the other hand, let’s look at BBC’s Sherlock. While it is an incredibly popular and well done show, it does queerbait. Both Sherlock and Watson ARE canonically heterosexual, their friendship is written with queer undertones. There are two types of queerbaiting, inexplicit and explicit; Sherlock has the latter. This explicit queerbaiting entertains the idea of a gay relationship between the two by having other characters assume they’re dating. It’s meant to be humorous, but it feels as though the show is laughing in our faces, entertaining the idea of representation, but not actually giving it. Using relationships like this as a trope


In conclusion, queerbaiting not only erases LGBTQIA+ people and the struggles they face in society, but dehumanizes them by using them as a marketing tool. Yes, modern television has evolved into having more representation, but not all representation is good.


By Emma Assad


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