A couple of weeks ago the young actor Kit Connor – who became famous this year for playing the role of Nick Nelson, star of the series Heartstoppers who discovers he is bisexual by falling in love with a schoolmate – is back on Twitter after weeks of absence to make an announcement: «I’m bisexual. Congratulations on forcing an 18 year old to do coming out. I think many of you are missing the point [di Heartstopper]. Hello.”
In the previous months, Connor had left a few flirtatious comments under the posts of some male colleagues and had attended with the rest of the cast at Pride in London, but had never publicly discussed his sexual orientation. After a paparazzi shared a photo of Connor holding hands with actress Maia Reficco, with whom he’s working on a new film, he was accused by several online fans of “queerbaiting,” or pretending to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to gain attention and acclaim, while actually being heterosexual. In the end, in short, the pressure and criticism on his behalf prompted him to do coming outthat is, to reveal not being heterosexual: a type of announcement that should eventually derive from one’s own free choice, and with the preferred times and methods.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which introduced a modern definition of the term just last year, queerbaiting is “the practice of trying to attract and capitalize on LGBTQ audiences or customers in a deceptive or superficial way.” It has been talked about for a long time online only to describe those entertainment products such as films and TV series that aimed to retain LGBTQ+ viewers by inserting characters who have a very strong and evident transport towards other characters of the same sex, without however ever going beyond allusions or platonic love.
In many of these cases the same writers, creators or actors involved in the series have fueled the viewers’ theories regarding these hypothetical homosexual attractions, convincing people to continue following the story in the hope of finally seeing together characters so much in love with each other. of the other.
“Queerbaiting is disabling. It perpetuates the idea that people queer can’t have a happy ending. It reinforces the idea that TV producers are too afraid to include overtly queer characters for fear of audience reactions (as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when the directors turned a steamy, romantic kiss between Buffy and Faith into a forehead kiss). It raises the hopes of queer viewers, who are looking for authentic representation, only to then destroy them in a poor attempt to gain exposure.” critic Isabel Harder commented in the Canadian magazine Capital Current.
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Discussions on the subject began to multiply online in the early 1910s, especially on platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter, which bring together large communities of particularly attentive fans and often belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Many famous products have been accused, rightly or wrongly, of queerbaiting over time, including the Marvel films in which Captain America and Bucky Barnes appear and the series Supernatural, in which the protagonists Dean and Castiel took fifteen seasons before saying “I love you”. Another very famous example is that of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in the BBC series aired between 2010 and 2017, in which the intimacy and fidelity between the two protagonists are not only evident but are also commented in a winked by various characters within the series itself.
In other cases there has been talk of queerbaiting when an upcoming film or series has been defined as “inclusive” by the people who worked on it, only to include barely one or two scenes that showed, very quickly, same-sex relationships. That’s what happened with Thor: Love and Thunder of Marvel, which actress Natalie Portman he described as “very gay” but which, in the end, contained just a single scene in which two aliens of the same sex, not particularly relevant to the story, get married. Or with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which according to director JJ Abrams included “queer representation,” but which it only had one scene in which two unnamed women kissed in the background.
Disney, in particular, has received this kind of criticism for some time: according to the professor Kodi Maier of the University of Hull, the company “is willing to create animated films and television programs that allude to queer content, but only on condition that they do not damage its conservative image”. We talked about it by analyzing the very intense friendship between Luca and Alberto, protagonists of the 2021 animated film Luca, which talks about the difficulty of being accepted by one’s family as different. But also in reference to the many strong and independent female characters who refuse to be with a man who have been seen in Disney films in recent years, such as Queen Elsa in frozen or the protagonist of Raya and the last dragon.
In some cases, especially when it comes to cartoons, the ban on making a character’s homosexuality explicit comes from above: the creators of The Legend of Korraone of the first cartoons to have a queer protagonist, have for example confirmed rumors that Korra and Asami’s relationship is romantic, but they admitted that they left some ambiguity about it in the series to ensure that the broadcaster would still air it. More recently, the authors of Scooby-Doo they said they have known for more than a decade that one of the protagonists of the cartoon, Velma, is a lesbian, but that it has long been impossible for them to include this side of her identity in the episodes. «In the initial script of the 2001 film, Velma was explicitly a lesbian. But the studio kept watering it down, and eventually they gave her a male boyfriend.” said one of the authorsJames Gunn.
In recent years, however, the accusations of queerbaiting have begun to be applied not only to entertainment products and fictitious characters, but also to real celebrities, guilty according to some fans of posing as if they were part of the LGBTQ+ community without being really, to attract the support of queer fans, or not having the courage to come out and expose yourself to possible criticism in a world where homotransphobia is still a problem.
In addition to Kit Connor, celebrities such as singers Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish and actor Andrew Garfield have often found themselves having to ignore or dodge very persistent rumors asking them to clarify their sexual orientation. Undoubtedly what most often attracts this kind of criticism, however, is Harry Styleswho focuses heavily on an aesthetic that overturns the expectations one normally has for a straight man – often wearing nail polish, but also pearl earrings, blouses with ruffles, flowing dresses and sequins – and who recently interpreted the role of a gay cop in My Policeman.
Several commentators, after Connor’s forced coming out, have begun to examine and criticize the practice of accusing celebrities of queerbaiting, pointing out that it is unfair to insist on people to discuss their sexuality in public even when they are not ready to do so. whether it’s for privacy reasons, security reasons, or just because they’re still thinking about it.
Questioning whether Harry Styles is ‘allowed’ to wear a green feather boa on stage, or whether Billie Eilish may include Sapphic references in her music videos, or whether Kit Connor may play a bisexual teenager without explicitly confirming that he is a teenager himself bisexual, let’s create a hierarchy of queernessas if there was a right or wrong way to actually be queer.” wrote Patrick Lenton on Vice.
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Explicitly discussing the case of Harry Styles, the writer Otamere Guobadia su ID explains that, in the eyes of those who criticize him, it would be easy and convenient for the singer to appear transgressive and nonconformist by wearing clothes that do not conform to his gender, while non-famous people who dress like this on the street risk violent reactions. The subtext is that some queer people find it undeserved that Styles gets so much attention by dressing in a gender non-conforming way, even more so because the singer has always refused to publicly define his sexual identity and has always only been seen with partners women.
Those who hold this position realize that there is a real injustice, which is that many queer people fight for their lives and livelihoods on a daily basis and are desperate for mates to fight alongside them, while stars heap self-righteous praise when they do own the aesthetics created by marginalized people. But focusing one’s attention on this kind of criticism, which stops at the symbolic level, means not addressing the actual structural factors that prevent gay and queer people from accessing rights and resources. (…)
In short, we must stop making accusations of queerbaiting against public figures, because it does not have a liberating effect for people and the queer community, but a deleterious consequence: it leads to seeing certain aesthetic qualities or behaviors as intrinsically queer. And it forces celebrities to choose words to define, or in some cases confine, their experience of gender and sexuality in ways that are satisfying and recognizable to us, their audience.