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HomeOpinionColumns“Queerbaiting” Harms the LGBTQ+ Community, but Not for the Reason You’d Think

“Queerbaiting” Harms the LGBTQ+ Community, but Not for the Reason You’d Think

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Expression used as a means to cultivate a greater sense of self is integral to everyone in any stage of life, and should be encouraged. This could be in the form of clothing, makeup, art forms and the like. However, recently “queerbaiting” accusations have been levied against individuals thought to be capitalizing on LGBTQ+ culture for self-expression without actually identifying as such. These accusations reinforce the notion that sexuality is something that can be narrowed to superficial aspects, including distinct clothing and mannerisms. 

While these aspects are important to queer individuals’ sense of self-expression, they are not what defines it. Aspects of the “queerbaiting” accusations thrust upon others only enforces stereotypes of queer people, while posing a severe threat to individuals contemplating their sexuality.

The term “queerbaiting” arose in the early 2010s as a means to address social media outlets’ and TV shows’ tendencies to capitalize on the appearance of characters in a show as appearing to be in LGBTQ+ relationships. This is done without actually having the desire to expand on its meaning to the plot. 

For instance, consider Dean Winchester and Castiel from the hit television show “Supernatural.” Their purported platonic relationship over the span of an eleven-season period was full of homoerotic innuendos and romantic tropes. It breadcrumbed faithful viewers into believing it would evolve into something more — hence their canonical ship name Destiel

Both actors – Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins – have expressed criticism and blatant annoyance when fans bring up the prospect of Destiel. While this could be a sign of exhaustion of putting up with a variation of the same questions for over a decade, it does not reflect well on their interpretation of their characters’ implied queer relationship.

However, what began as an application to solely fictional characters has been extended to address real people that act or look queer without having officially come out as such. This is why queerbaiting poses a threat to individuals — especially those questioning their sexuality. Queerbaiting accusations are performative in that they’re based on the way that others present themselves and how we interpret that. 

While it can be argued that this is merely the inherent “price” of being a public figure, the reasons behind queerbaiting accusations are made to negatively define LGBTQ+ individuals. Grammy-nominated singer Omar Apollo was accused of queerbaiting for simply wearing cropped shirts and painting his nails despite having written numerous songs recounting his experiences with men, such as “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)” and “Pretty Boy.” The evidence used to support this queerbaiting claim limits these two modes of self-expression to solely queer men, which demonstrates inaccurate ideas of the diverse ways queerness can manifest itself from person to person.  

These limitations – also known as stereotypes – put queer people into distinct boxes primarily based on their historical depictions in the media. Examples include, but are not limited to gay men as only feminine, lesbians as only women with masculine demeanors or tendencies, bisexual people as merely confused or invalidated for being in heterosexual relationships and trans women as drag queens. These distorted notions further skew non-LGBTQ+ community member’s perception of queer individuals which is another obstacle to the community’s overall progression. 

Consider for instance Billie Eilish, who after years of being both sexualized and scrutinized for her sexuality while underage made headlines when she announced her physical attraction to women in an interview. Because of the public’s inability to respect celebrities’ appearances, what should be a mere facet to Eilish’s existence is now a spectacle, a defining feature to her public presence. This is a demonstration of how streamlining stereotypes of queer identities negatively shapes public perception of an LGBTQ+ individual. 

Kit Connor, leading co-star in Netflix’s openly queer “Heartstopper” series, was forced to come out as bisexual when paparazzi revealed him holding hands with a female co-star. It’s important to note that Connor is only eighteen years old. Public speculation of one’s sexuality is troublesome especially to those at the peak age of self-exploration and discovery as it pressures them to prematurely put a label to their preferences. Queerbaiting views self-expression as a performance, one up for interpretation of the general public. This inherent transaction overpowers human decency to respect the accused’s decision to experiment with different means of self-expression without clearly identifying it for the rest of the world. Furthermore, this calls to attention the alleged need – or lack thereof – for one to have a definitive answer on what their sexuality is in the first place. 

As long as people, regardless of their sexuality, are clear with one another on what they expect from any given romantic interaction, there is no need to accuse individuals of “queerbaiting” for merely expressing themselves in whatever way they see fit. Doing so only harms one’s ever-evolving perception of the self and serves as negative reinforcements to stereotypes that have oppressed the LGBTQ+ community for decades. It’s vital and constructive to the queer community that both media outlets and consumers refrain from engaging in queerbaiting behaviors. In this, we normalize providing individuals a safe space to express themselves and explore the various, meaningful facets of what it is to do so.

Trista Lara is a 2023-2024 Opinion Editor. She can be reached at tlara@uci.edu.

Edited by Jacob Ramos and Annabelle Aguirre.