You have just fallen for the writer’s trope Queerbaiting – a term which refers to writers or showrunners attempting to attract an LGBTQIA audience with a queer representation couple or character, but then never having the guts to go through and confirm it.
This trope has been going on for decades across all different media for the simple reason to bait an LGBTQIA audience to watch their media, without alienating any previous homophobic audience who would not bare to watch a show and/or movie with queer representation.
While queer representation has been growing the past years, it still has not reached a mainstream expectation, where accessibility can be found anywhere in varied storylines. Still now in 2020, when a waft of a queer character or couple appears in a hit show, the queer audience rush to it like blood to a shark. But time and time again, hopes and expectations of well rounded, genuine and relatable queer characters are tossed aside, leading to plenty of mediocre and predictable stories to take place that we’ve seen hundreds of times already.
The repercussions of constant queerbaiting are very damaging to the LGBTQIA community. This is because queerbaiting uses an LGBTQIA audience to exploit the show’s popularity and viewing figures. It strings the community along with hopes for on-screen romance and displays of equality and yet the media is never willing to give the community what it wants.
Let’s look at some of the most well-known examples of queerbaiting.
Sherlock and John from Sherlock
Writer Steven Moffat completely milked fans dry with queerbaiting. Right off in the first episode does John (Martin Freeman) ask Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) if he has a girlfriend, which he immediately denies, stating they’re “not really in my area”. John then asks if he has a boyfriend instead, which Sherlock doesn’t give an answer.
Sherlock not answering was a clear indicator for fans to question also if this newly written modern Sherlock could be part of the LGBTQIA community. But this was not the case. It would have really set this version of Sherlock apart from the other previous incarnations of the character.
The pairing began to be known to fans as Johnlock, referring to their romantic and sexual relationship. Despite many, many scenes of other characters mistaking John and Sherlock’s relationship to be romantic, or John constantly defending himself that he is not to be gay. What most likely started off as jokey scenes of him convincing others he is straight, now today look very insulting and offensive.
Dean and Castiel from Supernatural
Shipping, fanfiction and fanart have been a part of Supernatural since it’s first airing. But while this was originally a taboo nod to Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), fans never expected anything to come of this relationship as the two are brothers. However, when homoerotic cues began to apply to Dean and the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) who joined the show on its 4th season in 2008, there was a realistic possibility that this pairing, known to fans as Destiel, could be canon. (canon, by the way, refers to material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story).
Supernatural is filled with so many queer references and jokes based on the idea that Dean is bisexual, and his relationship with Castiel is more than friends. Some of these are quite blatant, with Dean being told “he was your boyfriend first!”, and others are more subtle. The show writers are very aware of the Destiel fandom and even encourage this further in the show, with very meta moments where the characters meet their fans who support Destiel. The show in addition to these references uses very common rom-com tropes and visual cues to create a romantic tension in Dean and Castiel. Actor Misha even admitted that he was instructed to play Cas like a “jilted lover” with Dean, further showing the writers exploiting the fans’ love of the pairing.
Valkyrie from Thor Ragnarok
Asgardian warrior Valkyrie is now officially the first LGBTQIA superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe, but it was actress Tessa Thompson who played the character who confirmed on Twitter that the character was bisexual. She told fans that there was a scene cut from the final movie which alluded to Valkyrie’s love for another woman. Cutting this scene robs the character of her representation (as she is bisexual in the comics) and robs fans of yet another on-screen queer representation in a Disney movie.
Disney has always had trouble with representing LGBTQIA characters, walking a fine line between representation and tokenism. Showing the tiniest amount to say they did it when really doing little to nothing at all. There is hope for Valkyrie’s sexuality will be explored in the Thor sequels, fans already guessing for her on-screen girlfriend to be Thor’s ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster. Cross your fingers for luck!
There are plenty other examples out there of blatant queerbaiting, including Finn and Poe from Star Wars, Okoye and Aya from Black Panther, Grindelwald and Dumbledore from Fantastic Beasts, Kara and Lena from Supergirl, and Beca and Chloe from Pitch Perfect.
Fortunately, one does not need to look too far to see that established queer representation can actually elevate a show or movie to a higher standard.
Some of these examples of these are:
Lorraine and Delphine in Atomic Blonde
Will and Hannibal in Hannibal
Todd in Bojack Horseman
David and Patrick in Schitt’s Creek
Eve and Villanelle in Killing Eve
Jack, John, Ianto, Owen and Toshiko in Torchwood
Emily in Handmaid’s Tale
Oberyn and Ellaria in Game of Thrones
I would highly recommend any of these shows, not just for their queer representation, but how they include them into the story without it being a self congratulative pat on the back from the writers. It’s easier than it looks to create diverse characters such as these, and hopefully in the future studios will not hesitate to give LGBTQIA characters some devoted attention.