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October 7, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Queerbaiting

Whether you’ve heard of ‘queerbaiting’ or not, you’ve probably seen it somewhere before. When the writers of a TV show or movie want their product to appeal to the queers in their audience they tease that a character, or a pairing of characters, is/are queer. This queerness isn’t depicted explicitly—same-sex relationships, or even just a character saying they’re queer, are still awfully rare onscreen—but through allusions, and ambiguous interactions between characters (if you’ve ever seen the shower scene in Pitch Perfect you’ll know what I mean). When things are getting a little too queer though, rather than alienate homophobes in their audience, writers will have the character, who has been deliberately implied to be queer, say explicitly that they’re straight, or find themselves in a heterosexual relationship, despite their narrative up until that point.

It’s important that queer stories get told. There are too few queer role models, and too few narratives that explore queer issues. By having decent queer characters on our screens, it allows for important discourse on queer issues, educating everyone. Queerbaiting is erasure. It’s telling queer people that they don’t exist, or that our stories aren’t worth telling, and it’s harmful.

There are many common elements of queer stories that differ from heterosexual experiences, especially growing up. When portrayed onscreen, these experiences help to communicate what queer people go through, and it matters that these stories get told. It’s not just a quirk that queers tend to gravitate to shows that have queer characters, almost regardless of the quality of the show. The L Word is not a great show (go ahead, tell me it didn’t go downhill), but it’s widely watched by queers, because there are so few decent actually queer women characters on TV.

And that’s why they can get away with it—because we’ll take what we can get. Once it’s hinted that a character is queer, or worse still, a pair of same-sex characters is hinted to be queer together, the pairing takes on a life of its own beyond the show. Because, at least in part, queer stories aren’t being properly told onscreen, people write their own. There are blossoming fandoms full of people who latch on to the queer teaser we’re given, and take it far, far beyond the source material. One of the most popular examples is the BBC’s Sherlock, where it’s a running ‘joke’ in the show that John Watson and Sherlock might be in a relationship (this makes me so angry—queerness isn’t a joke), but Watson ends up dating a bunch of women. The fanbase, however, has generated terrifyingly huge numbers of images of John and Sherlock embracing as lovers.

The situation isn’t good.

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