Real People Can’t Queerbait

Abi Hilden, features editor

Queerbaiting. Most of us have heard this term in one context or another, but what does it really mean? The term queerbaiting, according to Wikipedia, is a marketing term that rose to fame in fandom spaces in the early 2010s as part of the ongoing discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ representation in media. At its core, the term is used to bait audiences into believing that one or more characters in any piece of media are part of the queer community without actually making it part of the canon.

However, in recent years, the term has taken on a new meaning: Anything, let it be a TV show to a living, breathing human, can queerbait. Most often applied to celebrities, the two ways people can queerbait within this modern context are: 1) acting stereotypically queer (feminine men, masculine women, etc.) or 2) playing a queer character in a movie, TV show or otherwise without explicitly stating why you are allowed to play that character. 

With this in mind, the modern definition of queerbaiting has been weaponized and translated in a way that anyone interacting with queer media in any form has to be queer and owes us the labels that they identify with. However, if they don’t give the public those labels, then people use this term to target and harass them until they are forced to come out. For example, Kit Connor, star of “Heartstopper,” was harassed by so-called fans until he came out as bisexual at the end of October. Starting to see the problems? No? Let me explain.

First of all, ignoring the fact that the literal definition of queerbaiting explicitly applies the term to fictional characters and media, applying this new meaning to people is extremely homophobic. Many people accuse Harry Styles of queerbaiting because of his clothing and other traits typically seen in stereotypical depictions of gay men. By saying that Styles is queerbaiting just for expressing himself in a way that is typically feminine is inherently homophobic — based in the same rhetoric that homophobes have been using against gay people since the beginning of time.

Secondly, celebrities owe us absolutely nothing about their personal lives. I know, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. Like I mentioned earlier, Kit Connor was ruthlessly harassed by people for months following the release of “Heartstopper” because he preferred not to label himself publicly. That should have been the end of it, but after seeing him hold hands with a fellow actor who is a woman, people attacked him in hordes claiming that he shouldn’t be allowed to play a queer character since he’s straight. Eventually, this forced him to come out of the closet just to get the harassment to stop, a position nobody should ever be forced into.

This whole situation could have been avoided if people would just mind their own business and realize that we are entitled to absolutely nothing from anyone. Would you go and harass a random person on the street that you think is gay but hasn’t explicitly told you that they are? Why is it okay when that person is a celebrity? It isn’t.

Now, I could get into other issues that this topic raises like how this contributes to the erasure of bisexuality, parasocial relationships and just how terrible it is to force someone out of the closet when they clearly don’t want to be, but I will just leave you with the fact that we need to do better. We need to collectively learn how to shut up and mind our own businesses because if we don’t, people will continue to be hurt. I am so proud of Kit Connor and every other individual who has been outed or forced to come out, and I hope that it never happens again.