Before I write down my thoughts on queerbaiting, I want to talk about WHY representation is important – representation in the media is crucial in helping minority groups (e.g. people of colour, LGBTQ+ people etc) feel like they belong and they are accepted. Film, T.V. and other media products are supposed to be a reflection of our world and our culture (a constructed one at best), and the world we live in. Even in fiction, everyone should feel as though they are a part of that world – so why is the representation of LGBTQ+ so – lacking?
Well, the first reason as to why this may be is because of queerbaiting. But what IS it? Well, queerbaiting refers to the practice that hints, but not explicitly saying that a character identifies as LGBTQ+ – it can also be applied to hinting that two characters that are in a relationship, but never stating that they are together. This is the often ignored or explicitly rejected by writers and / or cast of a show, film or novel etc. In my opinion, queerbaiting is wrong because it denies us positive, genuine representation, and solely relies on the subtext and interpretations of the fans – and, unfortunately, creates the perfect paradox: writers can attract LGBTQ+ audience members with “representation”, which is implied by the text and writer – but it is never actually explicitly state or show this representation.
So yes, queerbaiting is wrong – this is because it implies that, we, as a marginalized group of people, are not important enough to appear on screen, and that we only exist as fan service. In addition, and quite simply, it implies that we are not worth writing into a show / film/ novel – or any other media product. This has called for better LGBTQ+ representation, rather than implied representation – this is where a writer of a media product will claim that a character is LGBTQ+, but never actually explicitly shows that representation (the writer probably just did this for inclusive points) – this is often employed by creators of popular franchises (e.g. BBC’s Sherlock – the characters are portrayed as straight, but are STILL given homoerotic interactions with each other).
Moreover, for many LGBTQ+ characters, they are either made into side characters, which is problematic because it means both the narrative and plot are made easier for the protagonist, and it shoves us into the background – and then we get a another annoying trope – we get killed for shock value. It then raises the question: is this representation enough? The short answer is no. I definitely agree that portrayals of non-hetero-normative / cis-normative is a massive positive – its the WAY that we are represented that is the problem. We deserve to be explicitly shown on T.V, films etc, just like our cishet counter parts. We NEED positive, explicit and genuine representation because what type of message are we, for example, sending to younger people who are questioning their sexuality and / or gender? We also need this representation because, simply, put, we deserve to be out and proud about our sexuality and / or gender identity.
Worse still, when their is explicit LGBTQ+ representation, it’s problematic because they are based on stereotypical views – for example, lesbians are portrayed as butch, while bisexuals “don’t like to label themselves” and flirt with meaningless relationships – these examples that I’ve mentioned may tick a small part of the representation checklist, doesn’t represent all people who identify with those labels.
Additionally, during 2014, TV Guide argued that Supernatural has a Queerbaiting problem – it stated that, “Supernatural producers have undoubtedly profited from the Destiel ship [characters Dean and Castiel] and encouraging ambiguity in Dean’s sexuality.” The article, which came from Oakridger, also argued that “Supernatural producers do not support canonical Destiel”, “as the 200th episode made abundantly clear.” Furthermore, shows like Sherlock (John Watson and Sherlock Holmes), House (Gregory House and James Wilson), Merlin (Arthur Pendragon and Merlin), are just more shows that have fallen victim to queerbaiting.
But I don’t want to make this seem too negative – because believe it or not, things are beginning to change. Big franchises are beginning to recognize our existence, and are actually putting us at the center of their stories (which is why films like ‘Love, Simon’ are so revolutionary) – but there is still a long way to go.