The term queerbaiting, coined in 2010, is used in media criticism to refer to narratives (such as a film or tv series) that have queer-coded characters or implied queer romance. The reason it’s called queerbaiting is that the narrative appeals to a queer audience, while not making anything explicit so as to not alienate a queer-phobic audience.
It’s eating your queer cake and having it too. Previously, queer-coding characters was the only way to have even a shred of representation, such as Xena and Gabriel in the 1990s TV series Xena: Warrior Princess. However, nowadays it’s simply a cop-out — if you want queer characters just write explicitly queer characters.
Nevertheless, queerbaiting cannot be applied to an individual person; a person cannot queerbait their fans or audience. Real-life people are not characters in a story; they have agency and privacy (a fundamental human right). For example, when Ariana Grande’s song Monopoly was released, she was accused of queerbaiting due to the lyric “I like women and men”. However, Ariana Grande doesn’t owe anyone an explanation beyond that, and she wasn’t queerbaiting anyone, she was simply expressing herself through a song.
Accusing people like this has created unnecessary pressure for people to come out if they are LGBTQI or to clarify if they aren’t, leaving no room for a person to explore without labels. The most recent example of this has been with Kit Connor from the Heartstopper series.
When people come out, it is a cause for celebration; when people are forced to come out, it is time to reflect on our values. Why do we feel entitled to know about anyone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics?
If you want more people to be out, then make it safer for people to come out should they choose to.
IGLYO Executive Director