Social Media Should Hold Back on the Queerbaiting Accusations

by Genevieve Mayle ’23

A number of celebrities have been accused of “queerbaiting.” Most recently, Kit Connor, an 18-year-old star in Netflix’s show Heartstopper (a queer romance), was accused of queerbaiting for not declaring his sexual orientation while playing a queer character. The term “queerbaiting” has evolved over time, but now people should use the term more sparingly and with care. 

The Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code, was established in  1934 to limit specific content in motion pictures like “sexual persuasions,” meaning that explicitly queer characters weren’t allowed to be depicted in movies. Queer coding originally was defined as characters having subtle behaviors/traits to suggest a character is queer without explicitly stating so, allowing filmmakers to bypass the Hays Code. Queerbaiting, which evolved from queer coding, suggests that a character (often from a TV show, movie, etc.) is queer through subtext without explicit confirmation. 

However, queerbaiting is used with the intention of profiting off of LGBTQ+ audience interest or engagement, unlike queer coding. As of the last decade, queerbaiting is also being applied to celebrities. Social media accuse celebrities of queerbaiting if the celebrity does not explicitly come out, and the public believes the celebrity is in a position to benefit from the queer community.  
Becky Albertalli, the author of the book Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, came out as bisexual after facing scrutiny for being a heterosexual who wrote about queer relationships. “Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out,” Albertalli wrote in an article posted to Medium. “This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated.”  

Conner, in response to queerbaiting accusations, came out as bisexual over Twitter, stating, “I’m bi. Congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.” In Heartstopper, the main character, Charlie Spring, faced extreme bullying at school after getting outed, leaving him with severe trauma. Coming out as queer is still a risk, especially for celebrities, for they could face ostracization, online harassment, discrimination, and risks to their careers.

While it’s frustrating to have little to no queer representation among a cast, inquiring about a celebrity’s sexuality is harmful to the celebrity and queer community. As Gigi Engle, author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life, said to Katie Baskerville, a writer for Mashable, “Questioning someone’s sexuality or the way that they arrive at their identity is harmful because it erases their experiences and undermines the struggles that that person may have gone through, or is going through.” 

Despite the general misconception, no one can look queer. Appearances and mannerisms do not equate to sexual orientation. Assuming a celebrity’s sexual orientation based on stereotypical characteristics or behaviors contributes to the harmful narrative that someone can look queer.

Queerbaiting accusations targeted towards fictional characters in movies or television shows don’t force an actor to come out, and instead encourage writers and producers to more explicitly include queer representation instead of only hinting or pretending at it. Queerbaiting accusations targeting celebrities, however, put undisclosed queer celebrities in a difficult position. Taking away someone’s decision to come out by cornering them with queerbaiting accusations before they are prepared to face the ramifications is cruel, immensely inconsiderate, and just plain invasive.