Is Queerbaiting a Relevant Criticism or Is It Turning into Gatekeeping?

 In recent years, ‘queerbaiting’ has become more relevant in our media. It is when a show will hint at the potential for a queer relationship between characters, however they never allow it to play out on screens. They use it as an attempt to garner publicity or attract an LGBTQ+ audience; it is a cruel deception from the media, exploiting the desire for representation to boost viewership. 

However, like most parts of our mediated society, people have developed their own meaning. In 2022, Netflix released a new show, Heartstopper, based off Alice Oseman’s graphic novel series. The show was heavily praised for showing the reality of young trans, asexual and queer youth navigate them coming into young adulthood whilst discovering their sexualities and finding new romances. The show mainly follows the development of a relationship between Nick and Charlie, and the troubles they face as young gay men.

However, Kit Connor, the lead in the LGBTQ+ hit show, was accused of queerbaiting after being pictured holding hands with a female co-star. Subsequently, Connor quit twitter on 12 September, where he stated that he is “getting a bit bored now”. Since the show’s release, Connor’s popularity has left questions surrounding his sexuality. In May, he took to twitter to respond to people labelling his sexuality on his behalf: 

He did an interview on a podcast, Reign with Josh Smith, where he further discusses his stance on expressing sexuality.

“In the cast, I’m 18 and we have a few people in their early 20s… we’re all so young, and to start speculating about our sexualities and maybe pressuring us to come out when maybe we’re not ready.” 

“I mean, for me, I just feel like I’m perfectly confident and comfortable in my sexuality, but I’m not too big on labels and things like that. I’m not massive about that. And I don’t feel like I need to label myself, especially not publicly.” 

He is well within his right to refuse to disclose and, while celebrities may serve as inspiration to us, they do not owe us their personal information and it does not invalidate the impact Heartstopper made in terms of representation.

In real life, there is a danger of pushing people to come out so they can be put into a box, which puts them more at risk. It could be as extreme as difficulties within families, creating an unsafe environment for them, or labelling themselves incorrectly leading to mental distress from feeling like an imposter in their own identities.  

Who knows? But that is also the point: we do not know people’s personal lives, nor do we have a right to know or accuse anyone of queerbaiting for identifying as queer but refusing to label it. The problem with labels is that, if you don’t fit into a category, it runs the risk of feeling ostracised from the community.

In these instances, this behaviour can be seen as a form of gatekeeping the LGBTQ+ community, which Urban Dictionary defines as “when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity”. Although I understand the need to defend and protect our community from people who pretend to relate to the struggles of queer people, accusing people of queerbaiting because they haven’t labelled themselves will create a form of exclusion.  

We are shifting into a generation where young people are more confident in themselves; when I look at myself at 18, people tried to label me as ‘bisexual’ because of characteristics that I displayed, when I did not understand it yet myself.  

Now I have accepted it, there are times where I feel like I do not belong because I may not be ‘queer’ enough. I have been asked inappropriate questions about my personal life or told that I need to date a woman. I am bisexual in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship. Will I ever be accused of queerbaiting too? Will having a straight cis boyfriend just add a few points to my license or will I have it revoked? 

I don’t believe that it is right to push for people to expose their identity or sexuality, just to satisfy someone’s curiosity. We strive for a more open and accepting future that is safe for all.  

Update: Kit Connor has forcibly come out as bisexual. He returned to Twitter with the following tweet:

After this announcement, I think we need to be more aware of how queerbaiting is more dangerous to the LGBTQ+ community than as a form of protection. We can gatekeep Media but we do not have the right to gatekeep people which is exactly what happened here. This whole controversy shows how Bisexuality is completely invalidated by the community we are actually a part of. All Kit Connor did was refuse to label himself while he was still figuring out his sexuality. What happens in a few years if his sexuality changes, what is he going to be accused of then? What happened to the idea of sexual fluidity? No, once you are in a box, there you must stay.

Sophie is a second-year student studying BA Media and Communication from Birmingham. Her biggest areas of interest in media and journalism are breaking down stigmas surrounding feminism, mental health issues and sex positivity. She also enjoys writing and painting. Find her on Instagram: @soph_mouzakitis and on her blog, The Periodical:  

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