Ever watched a show where there are two characters of the same sex whose bond seems to suggest a romantic relationship, but it’s never confirmed? We all have! Everyone who watches TV is familiar with this trend, but I hadn’t actually learned it had a name until recently: queerbaiting.
In the real world, this word defines when an individual tries to use someone in the LGBTQ community’s sexuality to denounce their character and invoke homophobia. In the pop culture world, as I mentioned before, queerbaiting is when a work of fiction suggests a romantic relationship between two of its characters, but never actually confirms this relationship. From Stiles and Derek in “Teen Wolf” to Ariana Grande’s “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” music video, we’ve seen our fair share of queerbaiting in pop culture over the years.
But somehow it seems more popular now than ever, especially in entertainment marketed to young adults, and one has to wonder why? Why has this trend not faded out of pop culture yet?
It’s hard to find the most definitive reason why queerbaiting is being practiced. Everyone seems to have a different reason for why they think TV and film do it – if they even really believe it’s happening at all – but there are two reasons that come up repetitively in the conversation.
One commonly heard reason is that writers queerbait because it seems sexually taboo or edgy. Upon hearing this, it sounds strange but if you think about it, it makes sense. The LGBTQ community is not at all a taboo thing, and should not be treated as such, but same-sex relationships are constantly being oversexualized, especially relationships between women. TV and film writers might be using queerbait for the sex appeal of it all.
The most obvious example of this can be seen between Betty and Veronica from CW’s hit show “Riverdale.” In the first episode of the show, the girls are told to be more “edgy” during cheerleading tryouts, and Veronica decides kissing Betty would be edgy enough to get the duo on the squad. This, of course, does not get them on the squad, but it definitely established a precedent for the relationship between Betty and Veronica for the rest of the series. Although they both have boyfriends, the two girls have a relationship that feels very sexually charged and are placed in a lot of sexual situations with each other. There’s even an ad for the show where the two girls are laying in bed together in their cheerleading practice gear, speaking in sultry voices about watching the premiere episode of a new season of “Riverdale.”
The problem with this is it hypersexualizes an already hypersexualized community, and makes their affinity with each other seem more trendy than actual relationships. No one’s relationship should be treated trivially solely because of the sex of their partners, and sexy queerbaiting shouldn’t be the go-to method of marketing your show.
The second reason commonly heard to explain the practice of queerbaiting is to draw in fans who are members of the LGBTQ community. Writers lure people into watching their new show by giving its fans the idea that flirting between the two male best friends could develop into something more.
There are cases where the writers actually do give the fans what they wanted, such as “Legend of Korra” when Korra and Asami are established as a couple in the very final episode of the season.
However, more often than not, fans are left high and dry with these scenarios. Producers will tease and hint at a relationship between a same-sex pair to appeal to their LGBTQ audience, but they won’t actually give their queer audience the satisfaction of an actual romance. Their goal is to avoid potentially losing fans who aren’t interested in seeing something like that play out. Maybe they’ll even have some gay background characters who are basically characterized by their sexuality, but they won’t make a fan-favorite character a member of the LGBTQ community out of fear of it driving off parts of its audience. Shows like “Supergirl,” “Teen Wolf,” and “Once Upon a Time” are some great examples of this more inclusive mediascape. All of these shows have same-sex characters that have crazy amounts of sexual tension between them, but we never get to see that tension released. Queerbaiting is used so that they can draw in an LGBTQ audience without potentially pushing away anyone else who might oppose their bold moves.
Not only is this cowardly, but it’s wrong. “Love Simon,” “Queer Eye,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Moonlight,” and “Pose” were (and continue to be) huge hits for a reason. People want to see diversity in the things they watch. We like seeing a world that looks similar to our own, with different races, cultures, and sexualities. By practicing queerbaiting, you’re driving members of your audience away, both LGBTQ and plenty of people who aren’t queer that still like seeing those kinds of relationships.
The cycle of queerbait culture has gone on for long enough. It won’t help someone get viewers if it’s not going to ultimately become something more. The cycle might not end anytime soon, but in this day and age, there’s plenty of diverse entertainment to search through, and more will arrive in the years to come.