‘Queerbaiting’ explained: What is it, and why is everyone talking about it right now?

Billie Eilish is the latest celeb to get wrapped up in queerbaiting accusations

If you’ve been online a lot recently, you will have probably come across the word queerbaiting at the centre of several discussions.

It’s not a new term, but it is one that has become more prominent over the last few years as societal shifts have occurred and we hold artists, brands and visual media to different standards than we used to. But if you’re not familiar with queerbaiting, it can be hard to really understand what does or what doesn’t fall under the problematic bracket.

Queerbaiting boils down to being a marketing ploy, where brands or characters in fiction allude to LGBTQ+ representation or same-sex relationships without actually outright depicting them. This can be problematic, as it feels like an attempt to appease or appeal to LGBTQ+ people without fully committing to the representation and potentially alienating a heterosexual mainstream audience in the process.

It’s slightly different to queer coded, which is where a character has traits stereotypical to LGBTQ+ culture and behaviours but it’s just a neutral part of the show and narrative, and not done to attract new audiences.

Relationships between characters on TV are sometimes discussed as queerbaiting. Buffy and Faith’s relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a good example. The two aren’t explicitly romantic, but their arguments and physical fights imply a sexual tension. Sherlock and John Watson on Sherlock are another duo that fans believe is implied to be romantic, despite the production team denying that it’s intentional. Recently, Joanne and Kate on Line of Duty’s relationship has been branded as queerbaiting.

It occurs a lot in the music world, too. Katy Perry’s megahit I Kissed A Girl is a widely discussed queerbaiting example, as the queer curious lyrics exist solely to shock and get attention. Harry Styles gets accused of queerbaiting frequently due to his style of dress and, more recently, playing a gay policeman in an upcoming film.

Billie Eilish is the latest to be called out for it, after her new music video for Lost Cause featured her twerking and cuddling with girls at a sleepover and then she posted an Instagram picture captioned “I love girls.”

But queerbaiting can be problematic in itself. It doesn’t leave much room for experimentation and fluidity, and focusses heavily on labels when sometimes people are not ready to give themselves a label, or perhaps there isn’t a label there to give.

In regards to I Kissed A Girl, Katy Perry said in 2017 that she’d “done more than just kiss a girl” and that she is attracted to women, but never really labelled herself as bisexual. This makes the critique she got when releasing I Kissed A Girl in 2008 seem particularly unfair.

With the current Billie Eilish conversation, branding it as queerbaiting takes away any exploration she may be having with her sexuality as a young woman and builds pressure for her to explain something that potentially doesn’t even need to be explained.

Queerbaiting from brands or TV shows certainly can be problematic, but when it comes to celebrities and their personal lives, it’s not really down to fans or the media to declare it either way – and it can cause more damage than good.

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