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Is your favorite show queer baiting? Here’s how to find out and LGBTQ+ alternatives to fill that void

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Aug 18, 2023

Is your favorite show queer baiting? Here’s how to find out and LGBTQ+ alternatives to fill that void

Tired of being invested in a gay ship that never sails? We’ve all been there – glued to the screen, hyping up our favorite characters to become together, and inevitably, sinking in the water. 

There’s a trend in the world of television and film, even IRL, that’s got us all wondering if our beloved show truly embraces LGBTQIA+ representation or if we are falling victim to a phenomenon known as queer baiting. 

So let us guide you so that you never suffer that secondhand heartbreak again!

What’s the definition of queer baiting?

Imagine you’re watching Netflix or Hulu, and you notice that two characters of the same gender share intense, lingering gazes, engage in playful banter, and even come close to kissing… but then, nothing. 

No romantic payoff, no genuine exploration of their feelings. This, my friends, is the essence of queer baiting. It’s like waving a rainbow flag at a pride event, only to be snatched away before the parade begins.

Uh Huh Wow GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers - Find & Share on GIPHY

Source: Giphy

This happens when showrunners or distributors want to appeal to a queer audience without compromising a conservative one.

Queer baiting also might include “out of the closet” metaphors or the misunderstood character trope on top of the previously mentioned traits, which makes it even more infuriating when you realize that they never intended to show representation, only, well, bait. Recognizing the fine line between tantalizing storytelling and manipulative tactics is essential.

The public debate on queer baiting 

We all hate the “not everything has to be gay!!!” comments. Like, not everything has to be straight either, Karen. Many conservative folks think we try to force representation by shipping characters, but queer bating goes beyond shipping. Fans pair those characters together because the plot makes it look that way.

Happy Walt Disney Animation Studios GIF by Disney - Find & Share on GIPHY

Source: Giphy

All of that leads to the battle of canon vs. fanon, canon is what happens on the show and is confirmed by the creators, and fanon is what the fanbase chooses to believe as a collective.

Another side of the coin is when we take fiction a little too literally. The actors almost never have a say in how others write their characters, and there should never ever be an instance where fans harass them to prove “gayness.” This happened to Kit Connor from ‘Heartstopper,’ who was forced to come out before he was ready because people couldn’t stand the fact that he was playing a bi-teen without talking about sexuality in his daily life.

Top examples of queer baiting in media

In the risk of reviving a frustrating moment, here are some of the most popular and controversial examples of queer baiting. Heads up: this contains spoilers!

Dean and Castiel – Supernatural (2005 – 2020)

Source: Cinemablend 

Destiel was all the rage during the Tumblr days. The show danced around their potential romantic connection for a decade, but it never materialized into anything substantial. In fact, near the finale, they did have a one-sided declaration of love from Castiel to Dean, killing him right afterward with no reciprocation. 

Kara and Lena – Supergirl (2005 – 2021)

Source: Project Fangirl 

With parallels with her Kryptonian cousin Clark and his wife Lois, Kara Sor-El had immense chemistry with CEO Lena Luthor. This relationship took most of the 5th season of the show with all the romantic tropes you can imagine, only to end up on the “challenging friend” zone.

Dumbledore and Grindelwald – The ‘Harry Potter’ franchise

Source: Digital Spy

This one is a doozy. Many of you might be Potterheads, but we know that J.K. Rowling takes every chance she gets to step on minorities. Aside from her transphobic tweets, she decided to be an “ally” and randomly claimed that Dumbledore was gay and in love with Grindelwald, which was never explored in the books and mediocrely portrayed in the last Fantastic Beasts movie.

Buffy and Faith – Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

Source: Digital Spy

Two powerful slayers and a wealth of chemistry, and yet the showrunners chose to keep their relationship largely platonic. Fans hoped for more, but the show shied away from truly acknowledging their potential as a couple. A potential kissing scene was even changed to a kiss on the forehead.

Sherlock and Watson – BBC Sherlock (2010 – 2017)

Source: The Mary Sue

This rendition of the most famous detective had fans seeing signs of a deeper connection between the iconic duo, Sherlock and Watson. The show played with the idea, even joked about it in some scenes, but never took the plunge into affirming their relationship in a romantic sense and had Watson marry somebody else.

Is it queer baiting or queer coding?

Before we jump to conclusions, it’s important to distinguish between queer baiting and queer coding. While queer baiting teases a romantic or sexual relationship without delivering, queer coding involves imbuing characters with usually harmful stereotypes that are often associated with LGBTQIA+ identities without explicitly confirming their orientation.

Source: Slate Magazine

The most notable examples of this are flamboyant Disney villains like Hades, Gaston, Captain Hook, or Governor Radcliffe.

Canon queer love representation we recommend!

From the L Word to Steven Universe, you might think you have consumed every single form of gay media. Still, we have some fairly recent recommendations so that you can keep enjoying the wonderful world of happy, thriving, and real queer representation, maybe to watch with a boo you met on HER. (With some spoilers, BTW).

Harley and Ivy – Harley Quinn (2019 – ongoing)

Source: The Outerhaven

Harley is often associated with her abusive ex, the Joker, even if they aren’t together in the comics anymore. But this show breaks the mold with Harley and Ivy’s blossoming romance. These two antiheroes navigate the chaos of supervillain life while exploring their feelings for each other. A true friends-to-lovers masterpiece.

Crowley and Aziraphale – Good Omens (2019 – 2023)

Source: Pink News

This series introduces us to an angel and a demon who formed an incredibly close bond over centuries. Their quirky relationship is the show’s beating heart and showcases how deep connections transcend labels, mainly because they are technically cosmic genderless beings, but their love is undeniable.

Princess Bubblegum and Marceline – Adventure Time: Distant Lands (2020 – 2021)

Source: Polygon

You might have watched the original adventures with Finn and Jake, but the HBO 4-episode spin-off provided an in-depth exploration of Marceline and PB’s romantic relationship during “Obsidian,” digging into their past, present, and future. If you want to see more about them together, you should also check the comic “Marceline & The Scream Queens.”

Eric and Adam – Sex Education (2019 – ongoing)

Source: Netflix Life

First and foremost, this iconic show has wifey Gillian Anderson in it, and that’s enough reason to watch it. But also because it delves into the trials and tribulations of adolescence, including LGBTQIA+ relationships, like Eric and Adam, an out and proud gay teen that falls in love with his closeted classmate. They are a great example of acceptance, love, and awesome character development.

Blackbeard and Stede Bonet – Our Flag Means Death (2022 – ongoing)

Source: Los Angeles Times

This historical comedy series surprises and delights by portraying a same-sex, slow-burn romance between two pirates. The plot sails uncharted waters with its inclusive storytelling, with even more charming, queer characters. I mean, it’s literally known as “that gay pirate show.”

Ballister and Ambrosius – Nimona (2023)

Source: BLTai

The angst of friends-to-enemies-to-lovers. The film adaptation of this graphic novel explores the longing of these lovers when one is accused of a terrible murder, and the other is loyal to the law. The chase, the thrill, everything about this movie becomes better by the minute, and we can’t recommend it enough.

Almost everyone in Hearstopper (2022 – ongoing)

Source: Netflix

Based on the webcomic by Alice Oseman, it follows the journey of Charlie and Nick as their friendship turns into something more. The series is a heartwarming exploration of young love and self-discovery, including representation of gay and lesbian relationships, bisexuality, trans acceptance, and so much more.

So, whether your favorite show is guilty of queer baiting or you’ve found solace in the warm embrace of genuine representation, it’s clear that the TV and film landscape is evolving. We’re on the brink of a new era where diverse stories take center stage, and characters love who they love without hesitation.

As viewers, we’re the driving force behind this change, demanding better and more authentic portrayals. So, keep watching, advocating, and celebrating the rainbow of love that makes the world a brighter place.

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Renee Fonseca is a bisexual and bilingual writer with experience through multiple digital channels, always embracing her passion for creativity.

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