An issue that has plagued media for quite some time is “queer-baiting,” which is a term that, unfortunately, does not mean fishing with gay people. Queer-baiting is when media (mostly t.v. shows) adds romantic tensions between two characters of the same gender in order to grab the attention of lgbtq+ viewers, with zero intention of actually making the relationship official within the cannon of the show. Now, some may argue that writes and show runners do not do this on purpose, and that they were just trying to create a strong friendship and all romantic undertones are unintentional. However, when the characters arch has the same tropes and romantic cues as straight couples that can be a bit hard to believe. Think BBC’s Sherlock or even Supernatural, which are two shows that encapsulate what it means to queer-bait. I won’t go into too much detail why queer-bating is harmful and problematic, but it boils down to this: queer-baiting allows show runners to attract an lgbtq+ audience who are starved for media representation, drag them along from season to season with obvious homo romantic subtext, and deliver no actual lgbtq+ romance.
Now that we have the basics down I want to discuss a new type of queer baiting that I have seen popping up recently. And to my horror this type of queer-baiting has been showing up in media that is explicitly made for a lgbtq+ audience, with cannon lgbtq+ characters! I’m going to call this new trend the “bait and switch queer-baiting.” Mild spoilers ahead for the books: High Illogical Behavior and More Happy Than Not and for the film, Closet Monster. In all of these, we have a gay, male protagonist who are going through a coming of age journey and dealing with a wide range of issues from mental health, abusive parents and of course, sexuality. And in all of these, our protagonist have a male friend who is generally queer coded, and seems to be flirting and genuinely romantically/sexually interested in the gay protagonist. But there’s a twist! The male friend was actually straight all along! All the romantic subtext was just them trying to be close friends. Hence why I chose to call this bait and switch. This type of queer-baiting is even more frustrating to me than traditional type, because the author/writer is intentionally setting it up to look like there is going to be this great lgbtq+ romance, and then pulling the rug out from under the readers. And the reveal of this twist, at least in these three pieces of media, relies on the embarrassment of the gay protagonist. In all three situations the main protagonist, convinced that their friend is into them, builds up the courage to finally kiss them, and then the friend responds by essentially saying, “Omg bro, I’m not gay! I may have just been swimming with you naked/sleeping in bed with you without a shirt/just told you how much a I love being around, but you totally misread the situation!” And the protagonist, of course, has to apologize for misreading the situation, and is then afraid they ruined the friendship.
My biggest issue to this is that lgbtq+ representation is still very low, and it would be so helpful to have media explore lgbtq+ relationships, especially with young adult characters for a young adult audience. I’m not saying it has to be some fairy tale romance, it should be complex and explore difficult themes. But how can a lgbtq+ relationship explore these themes if we can’t even get to the point where the relationship starts? And I’m not even saying that every book/movie/tv show with an lgbtq+ lead needs to have a romance, I just wish they wouldn’t tease the audience with a possibility of one when they don’t have intentions of making that happen. There are millions of young adult books that explore every aspect of a straight romance, and lgbtq+ characters deserve the same treatment! Plus isn’t the trope of the gay character falling hopelessly in love the straight character over done enough, without putting in romantic subtext to intentionally try to trick the reader? If you want to have the angst of being rejected, why not just have the other character also be lgbtq+ and just not interested in the protagonist? That way you still get all the heartbreak, without the queer-bait. I hope this trend doesn’t stay much longer, because the only thing I want more represented in media than lgbtq+ characters, is some lgbtq+ relationships!