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Queer or Queerbaiting: Why You Shouldn’t Expect Celebrities to Come Out

Why accusations of queerbaiting are more harmful than you think.

Credit: Shutterstock/Ink Drop

Accusations of queerbaiting have been rampant for celebrities in the public eye, from Billie Eilish to, most famously, Harry Styles, and perhaps the most recent allegation against Heartstopper actor Kit Connor.

What is Queerbaiting?

But what is Queerbaiting? It first came into common use to describe fictional media- movies, tv shows, and books, which hinted at queer romance as a marketing technique, but never actually depicted them. Maybe such accusations are fair, and the argument that an author can capitalize off queer fans without giving tangible representation is warranted. Shows previously accused of queerbaiting include Riverdale, for the relationship of Betty and Veronica, to name but one. To quote Cheryl Blossom: “Check your sell-by date, ladies. Faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.”

Kiss between Betty and Veronica in Riverdale
Credit: Riverdale/ Berlanti Productions

But to accuse real people of queerbaiting seems inappropriate, to say the least. Perhaps the most persisting allegation is the one that has been following Harry Styles around for several years now. Continuously wearing queer flags on stage, his post- One Direction ‘feminine’ aesthetic, and his statement to BHG claiming that his ambiguous sexuality “doesn’t matter, and it’s about not having to label everything, not having to clarify what boxes you’re checking,” have all led to a backlash by queer fans for teasing at his sexuality without outright stating what it is. The consensus by many seems to be that he is straight and uses queer iconography to profit off his unlabelled sexuality. 

More recently, accusations of queerbaiting were directed at eighteen-year-old Heartstopper actor Kit Connor, prompting him to tweet the following:

Many fans were quick to defend him, stating that those accusing him missed the point of the show, neglecting the themes from the graphic novels by Alice Oseman, where the author stresses that sexuality is not something you can assume by someone’s appearance.

Nick and Charlie kissing, from Heartstopper Netflix show
Credit: Heartstopper/See-Saw Films

So is it too much to ask them to come out

Well, yes…actually it is.

To ask a stranger to disclose their sexuality, yes, even a celebrity, is too much. If the only way for a celebrity to disprove queerbaiting is by coming out, then that person is coming out by coercion. Furthermore, putting pressure on people to reveal their sexuality omits a seemingly unforgettable truth about queerness- that coming out is not only scary to some but dangerous. In recent months, attacks such as that at Oslo’s LGBTQ+ pride event, and the death of two gay men in Ireland in April, Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt, prove that even in seemingly LGBT+ safe countries, being out is dangerous and should be your own decision… isn’t that obvious?

More harm than good

These accusations of queerbaiting arguably cause more harm than good for queer communities. They also reinforce heteronormative ideas within mainstream society, perpetuating the notion that you are straight until proven otherwise. It encourages the idea that remaining “unlabelled” is somehow a synonym for straight – but why does being unlabelled exclude you from queerness? Why do the clothes you wear somehow indicate your sexual orientation? Assumptions of sexuality based on a person wearing dresses or other typically ‘feminine’ clothing reinforce the stereotypical and supposed femininity of gay men and disregard the fact that clothes do not have inherent sexuality. Clothes should not be the indicator we assume them to be.

All this is to say, maybe the term “queerbaiting” should stay in the realm of fiction. Maybe it’s not applicable to real people. The damage that allegations of queerbaiting could cause outweighs it’s perceived damage.

To read more about queer characters in fiction, check out this article about Deadpool and bisexuality.

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