Queerbaiting and The Problem With LGBTQIA+ Misrepresentation in 21st-Century Pop-Culture

The term ‘queerbaiting’ defines what is generally regarded as a cheap marketing tool to entice queer viewers into watching films, reading books, or enjoying songs that never explicitly market themselves as queer, primarily to ensure maximised financial gain. Queerbaiting tends to manifest in the form of suggestive subtext between gay or bisexual characters which teases the excited audience, who are then left disappointed when the narrative fails to follow through with the implied queer storyline.

Hollywood film directors and television executives are notorious for queerbaiting. They manipulate plot-lines so that they appear just queer enough to reel in the representation-deprived LGBTQIA+ community, before almost instantly adjusting the storyline (that definitely wasn’t queer in the first place), to be sure not to alienate their majority cishet audience, who, of course, bring their highest profits. In turn, us dissatisfied queers are stuck holding on to and obsessing over every shred of representation that we can find. This representation tends to be excruciatingly limited and stereotyped; not all of us can relate to the skinny, bitchy, cisgender gay best friend or the abrupt token lesbian side-character that will most likely be killed off, but we try, because we have no better option. This kind of LGBTQIA+ misrepresentation is rife in 21st-century pop-culture and declares itself as ‘education’ to consumers. This declaration is entirely counterproductive; it aids in pushing queer folks further into the margins of a society in which we have been fighting for an equal place for centuries.

As awareness surrounding LGBTQIA+ identities increases, queer representation in the media is undeniably on the rise; albeit painfully slowly. Of course, this is positive and imperative to a progression in societal understanding and acceptance of the community. However, this representation is often tangibly fetishised, hyper-sexualised, and infested with a misogynistic dehumanisation of queer people similar to that utilised by the porn industry.

Non-LGBTQIA+ folks– perhaps you still don’t quite understand why we’re demanding better. Well, let me put the consequences of queerbaiting into perspective…

Imagine being thirteen years old again, and coming home after a long day at school, where you heard the word ‘hetero’ used as an insult countless times. You pray to a god that you probably don’t believe in for the tenth time this week, begging her to make your opposite-sex attraction disappear. You question if your family love you unconditionally, and plan for the possibility that they do not. To take your mind off of this utter heartache, you turn on the television. An advert for a new Netflix film comes on, and your jaw drops when you see a 0.5 second clip of what looks like a boy and a girl holding hands. You rewind it six times, and dream about it for the next month. When the release date finally arrives, you hide in your bedroom in the dark to watch it with a tab open for some mainstream queer magazine that you can easily switch to if somebody walks in. The action starts, and you sit through an hour of the same lesbian love story featured in every other film you’ve watched in your life. One girl is in Old Skool vans, the other in vegan Dr Martens, they move in together after the fourth date… blah blah blah. You’ve seen it all a million times before.

Oh, wait! The one that wears makeup is flirting with a boy! Oh my god. Their hands just touched. You can hear your own heart beating. He puts an out-of-place strand of her hair behind her ear, and she giggles. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. She looks at his lips, he leans in as if to kiss her… But then his boyfriend arrives, and he jumps back. You watch the rest of the film with your fingers crossed, but nothing even remotely heterosexual happens again– the boy and the girl don’t even reappear in a scene together. You should have known. Bet you wish you hadn’t saved up your lunch money for the past week to pay £7.99 for a Netflix subscription now.

The discourse surrounding queerbaiting often considers its intentions to aid in the historical, sociopolitical ‘othering’ of the LGBTQIA+ community through its borderline mockery, lack of empathy and exploitative nature; and so it should. If our society is going to become a place of equality, freedom of expression and ultimate justness, all genders and sexualities must be accurately depicted in the media and minorities must be involved in the fabrication of their own representation.

So, where do we start? We need representation in the form of fat, black, bisexual trans women. We need to see asexuals and aromantics and trans kids. We need to see lesbians who do more than scissor in films directed by cis men. We need to see hairy, non-binary femmes and polyamorous, genderqueer lovers. We need to see intersex adults and pansexual elders and queer people of colour. We need bisexual Disney characters and same-sex marriages on kids’ cartoons. We need to see queer experiences from queer standpoints, not from the perspective of middle-class, cishet white men. We need to see butch-on-butch gay boys shamelessly holding hands and hanging out with football lads who couldn’t care less about changing beside them in the locker room. Fundamentally, we need realistic representation, like the realistic cisgender, heterosexual representation that we have all been drowned in since we were born. We need the media to stop commodifying our culture and lifestyles. We need intersectionality.

[Aischa Daughtery – she/her – @aiiischa]

[Image credit: Tony Webster/flickr.com]

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