As gender roles blur, and sexuality being fluid, there have been allegations around some artists queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting can be defined as the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction, to engage or lure in an LGBTQ+ audience without ever explicitly showing such relationships or sexual interactions. The term queerbaiting is used to critique the practice of queerbaiting as an attempt to capitalize on and take advantage of the appearance of LGBTQ+ relationships when there is no actual real LGBTQ+ representation.

Queerbaiting can be seen in TV shows where interactions between two same-sex characters are suggestive of sexual attraction or relationship, but the characters are never in such a relationship. This is especially so when their sexuality is not depicted or mentioned. For instance, Tegan and Michaela, in the TV series How To Get Away With Murder. Yes, Tegan is a mentor to Michaela, but why do we get a closeup when Michaela expresses a devasted face when Tegan chooses to spend time with Annalise. It is subtleties like these that insinuates that there is more to the relationship of the two characters.

[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
[Image description: Tegan and Michaela holding hands] Via ABC
While the Oxford English Dictionary recently recognized the term in March 2021, it has been used in the cultural lexicon for decades. The use of the term queerbaiting dates to the early 1950s, where it was first referred to as the encouragement of anti-LGBTQIA+ hatred. However, since the 2010s, the use and meaning of the term have changed and, is used in reference to opportunistic acts that aim to appeal to LGBTQIA+ audiences. Although the word “queer” has a history of being used as a slur, it is now used in its reclaimed sense, in the context of LGBTQ+ identities. The word queer is used to describe and refer to things involving people whose gender identity or sexual orientation falls outside the heterosexual mainstream.

In June and towards the month of July 2021, accusations of queerbating surfaced in our pop-cultural discourse at many celebrities, such as Madonna, Billie Eilish and repeat offender Harry Styles. The allegations were that non-queer artists were ‘appropriating’ queer culture and aesthetics in efforts to secure the monetary support and the support of LGBTQ+ fans without having to identify themselves outright openly as queer. This portrayal allows them to brush up alongside the seeming edginess of queer identity, without having to pay the price of openly being themselves in a queerphobic society.

In her music video for the song “Lost Cause”, Billie Eilish is having fun and dancing with other women, in a manner that some see as sexually suggestive. When Eilish shared photos from the video with the message “I love girls”, that was read by some as being indicative of a sexual attraction towards women. Critics, including those of the LGBTQ+ community, defended Eilish and rejected the accusation of queerbaiting and, emphasized that no one should be pressured in having to disclose or clarify their sexuality.

 

The central principle of the queerbaiting critique is targeted at celebrities who are often on the fence about announcing their sexuality. Comments that have brought on widespread criticisms of queerbaiting range from Harry Styles who draws on a feminine and playful ambiguous display of himself to, the comparison made between Madonna’s 2003 VMA kiss with Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera and, Rapper Lil Nas X’s performance at the BET Awards in June 2021 where he kissed one of his male back-up dancers. Several cultural moments that were seen as groundbreaking at the time are now being scrutinized, as real queer representation is being shown on screen.

Much of the criticism can be taken from a celebrity’s queerness being valid only if said explicitly in public spaces and interviews, or if represented to expectation. Ambiguity is seen as a wrongful act. In Harry Style’s case, this displayed itself as frustration that he portrays himself to be bisexual and continues to be winked at rather than explicitly proving or declaring that he does have sexual relations with other men. In as much as it may be seen as queerbaiting, we cannot accuse him of it without specifying that he is in fact not queer. Our assumptions about his relationship with queerness are only just a leap in the dark.

It can be said that the argument around queerbaiting, recognizes a material injustice and that many queer people are in a fight for their lives and livelihoods. While the sour double standard of praise is given to stars such as Styles, those who originate this aesthetic are faced with daily violence and exclusion. However, forcing one to out themselves as queer can also be seen as violent as it takes away the choice to be candid about their sexuality from the get-go. So maybe some people would like to have their queer cake and eat it too!

Not allowing others to self-determine their sexuality and even doing so vaguely falsely assumes that the queer identity or is rigid, contained and dictated when it is not.

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  • Esihle Faltein is a Journalism and Media Studies Honours graduate, who is a lively and passionate writer, and has an appreciation for art, storytelling and photography. She believes in the power of spreading knowledge and awareness to others, through her writing. Esihle's pursuit is to share narratives African both on local and international platforms. When she is not engrossed in this goal, she enjoys attending art galleries, painting and listening to podcasts.

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