116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Opinion / Staff Columnists
Queer allyship over queerbaiting
For those of you that don’t know, queerbaiting is a marketing technique used to make consumers believe the media they’re consuming supports queer culture when in reality, it’s a ruse for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals to spend their money and time on something that only panders to them. I’m actually a big fan of what Autostraddle wrote about queerbaiting in media, which they defined as “The act of playing into the chemistry, often even with established romantic tropes, between two women characters (at least one of whom has not declared her sexuality in such a way that your dad watching at home would know for absolute sure she’s gay) with no intention of ever putting those characters together, romantically or sexually.” This is probably the most common form of queerbaiting that is recognizable to me and y’all as well.
Honestly, I’ll take what I can get as a queer woman, but I shouldn’t have to invent entire storylines out of one scene that clearly baits me with the notion of LGBTQ+ representation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love letting my imagination run wild, picturing these fantastical worlds where queer culture can be seen in media. Imagine watching a film that wasn’t rated R because a same-sex relationship was depicted on screen. Imagine not seeing a disclaimer that says, “watch with viewer discretion for material presented that could be offensive for some audiences.” Imagine seeing real allyship happening in the media, rather than manipulation for profit. What a world that would be — to be seen as normal human beings that don’t threaten a fragile society.
Now, I want to make a quick distinction between queer coding and queerbaiting, because while they seem similar, they are certainly different. Queerbaiting typically connotes there is a relationship in media where queer romance is hinted at through sexual tension or some other capacity, but it is never represented. Queer coding is when a character is given traits or depicts behavior that suggests queerness without outright confirmation or denial.
If we’re talking about queerbaiting in television, a prime example in recent media would be ABCs “Once Upon A Time.” From the first season all the way to the end, there is a continuous female gaze enacted between characters Regina Mills and Emma Swan upon each other through body language. And don’t get me started on the sexual-innuendo power plays in both dialogue and physical interaction. Throughout the series, these characters are just yearning to follow through with the sexual tension that has built between them, but ABC never allows them to because there is no explicit representation of same-sex relations on screen, although queer culture can definitely run wild with their theories and the obvious narrative between the lines of this show’s script. Don’t even get me started on BBC’s “Sherlock.” We would be here a while, and my voice isn’t that interesting.
Now some may argue that queerbaiting is a sign of progress. I understand the appeal in this argument, as we want to do better and encourage representation. However, queerbaiting isn’t new. Queer relationships between characters can be seen dating back to the popular films Marlene Dietrich starred in during the 1900s — and even earlier when in 1895, Edison Short's silent film “The Gay Brothers” premiered and showcased the first depiction of same-sex representation on screen. Thus, no real progress has been made when we consider where we started and where we are now (Hays Code virtually wrecked any character representation that wasn’t conservative, so it is important we have made a lot of progress from the 1930s in that respect), in the context of queerbaiting.
However, if we look at actual queer allyship, there has been definite progress. Take the Netflix show “Heartstopper” as an example. The show is inherently rooted in queer discovery, but it’s not baited — queer culture is not talked about as a grand spectacle or rooted in trauma. Instead, it’s casually queer. I never sat my parents down, had an intense heart-to-heart, and “came out.” It has always been difficult for me to relate to a lot of the queer characters on mainstream television because queerness is often made into a spectacle, or rooted in trauma. If you want to be a queer ally, make room for all queer people to exist.
Yes, I’m queer, but that’s not the end of my story. I am not a prop, the butt-of-the-joke, nor is my life necessarily trauma-filled. Although navigating trauma is something many queer people experience because of certain close-mindedness in this world, it should never the focal point of someone’s identity.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com
Opinion content represents the viewpoint of the author or The Gazette editorial board. You can join the conversation by submitting a letter to the editor or guest column or by suggesting a topic for an editorial to firstname.lastname@example.org