If you try to look up the definition of Queerbait on Google, there will be many different answers alluding to the same, either the implication of a non-heterosexual link between two characters or simply building up a character’s story to make the viewer believe that they are part of the LGTBQ+ community without actually expressing it but rather give subtle hints to, as the word says, bait them into the storyline when in reality, the creators have no intent on making this character queer.
We have all seen two male best friends characters that were too close on and off-screen, creating the fake narrative of something lying beneath the surface or perhaps a male character acting slightly more feminine than the rest or simply being out of the norm. It all encloses the same concept as it’s to create some fake representation and bring publicity and views to their content. These could be found on TV shows, Movies, Tiktok, Instagram even, if you look close enough.
Our favorite characters lied to us
Some of us grew up with High School Musical being the big thing, how an average yet, quite attractive male who is both sporty and interested in theatre finds himself wanting to join the school musical but is troubled by what his group of friends, the basketball team, might think and his father as well. Our first hint of some queer representation in this movie was provided by the appearance of a side character, Ryan Evans, the co-president of the drama club along with his just as fabulous sister Sharpay.
Ryan is shown as having some feminine mannerisms and flamboyance similar to his sister’s and the acceptance of the other characters of him gave us, the ones that found some similarities in this character, hope to find the same environment in high school and the belief after seeing someone acting like that on-screen to a massive audience, perhaps, it would be possible for one to slowly do the same.
Yet, our dreams were crushed when in a later movie he was given a girlfriend to break any possibilities of him being a gay character. But you might think, he could have been pansexual, bisexual, still part of the LGBTQ+ community but this simple fact of giving him a girlfriend in a later movie, it broke our frail hope for some representation.
Years later, the director of the movies spoke up about the matter and explained his vision of the character, how he was supposed to find his own color rather than coming out but we still have to figure out how we fit a girlfriend into all of this.
Teen wolf would be next in my obvious list of characters. A duo that has been shipped all over the internet yet debunked to ever have had a romantic interest. Stiles Stilinski and Derek Hale.
How these two characters presented some strong tension between them on and off-screen, creating some mild homoerotic moments when the two were close enough that their noses would touch, causing the audience to hold their breath waiting for a kiss. Even as an advertisement for an award where Teen wolf had been nominated, we see the two of them being intimately close, making us believe that their romance could be possible in later episodes, but as expected, both characters were given opposite gender relationships, breaking the remaining hopes of the audience.
Changing the narrative
Fandoms often don’t settle with what they are given by the screentime, digging deeper for a more realistic truth. The craving of finding some representation on-screen caused the need to explore the character’s stories further, nit-picking their actions and relationships throughout the show as most of the time, the character’s sexuality is left open for the viewer to interpret in their own way.
Online you can find many theories of how your favorite characters belong to our community, how they were badly represented and given a partner to avoid any repercussion from angry viewers who might be against same-sex relationships and go the safe way which allows for the queer viewers to explore beyond the canon and for the average viewer to settle with the norm.
Finding characters which are openly part of the LGBTQ+ community is not for the faint of heart, only those who have experienced first-hand the misrepresentation in the media and growing up having to dig deeper into a character to be able to relate to it can properly achieve the pleasure of knowing something that the average viewer doesn’t. Hints, commentary, mannerism, it all adds to a possible openness of the character which we all are desperate for.
Using the community for clout
Haven’t we all at least seen one video of a straight man wearing a skirt online? Perhaps a group of male friends showing some mild homoerotic actions which cause the viewers to ship them?
Maybe the most common one is simply heterosexual cis male creators wearing feminine clothing proclaiming that they don’t see gender in a piece of fabric or simply do it to fit their style.
Why is it that it’s only made trendy when a heterosexual man does it?
Queer people have been doing so for decades now, being subjected to the mistreatment of society, and living in fear of being physically and verbally abused for living their truth.
The frustration of seeing a heterosexual man do what the queer community has fought so hard to be able to do in a safe environment, exists and is prominent and seen in some of the comments made in these types of content.
Many of us have been too afraid to wear certain clothes or act certain ways in fear of repercussions or prior experiences which have forced us to act in a straight manner to remain safe and to see someone on the internet getting attention for something we have feared in our off-line lives, can be understandably frustrating.
Can queerbait actually be helpful?
We have experienced many misrepresentations in the media along with making the community fall into a hole of stereotypes creating fear of being another character made by big companies and compared to the faulty storylines.
How many series and movies in popular media have failed to portray a true coming out story or romantic relationships by falling into said stereotypes.
I believe it’s not truly a black and white situation as many of these subjects have managed to start a conversation, making people wonder about these different situations that are being shown on screen and how truly different each individual is.
Even if I hate to admit it, straight men making money off queerbait have allowed many people from the queer community to venture into their own fashion style, from wearing skirts, pearl necklaces, the color pink, blouses, shorter shorts, even dresses, we have found these strange allies helping us in ways they could never imagine, normalizing fashion trends and ways of expressing oneself.
Now, let’s not take away from the importance of having queer creators and activists who have given their time and lives to make a better future for everyone to express themselves properly.
And as Oscar Wilde once said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. We can apply this to the many trends which have surfaced and how toxic masculinity is slowly being taken down as more and more attention is being brought to the community through self-expression of those who have power by means of big numbers of followers.
So, don’t stay silent. It’s the worst thing you could do for us, for yourself. Start a conversation.
Call out a show for misinterpreting a character, for killing LGBTQ+ characters, for queerbaiting, it’s the only way the media will know that they are doing something wrong, speak up for ones that lost their voice and were silenced, don’t let your favorite characters be destroyed only for monetary reasons and keep possible backlash at bay.