Queerbaiting hasn’t left TV in 2019, but it has changed


Let’s talk about queerbaiting. What is it, why are LGBTQ+ audiences fed up with it in 2019, and how has it changed?

Though the past couple of years have made way for a rise in LGBTQ+ representation in the media, there are still many issues with the way queer people are often depicted on television. One particular issue with this kind of representation (or rather, the lack thereof) is the popularity of using “queerbaiting” as a marketing strategy in popular TV shows. Queerbaiting is a term which refers to the act of hinting at queer romance without its explicit depiction. For instance, if a character in a TV show has attributes of a queer person, or two same-gender characters have some form of romantic chemistry, but their sexuality is never explicitly confirmed, this is queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting has a long history in television and film, but is especially prevalent in contemporary media, and has most notably been featured in TV shows with younger audiences such as Glee, Riverdale, and Once Upon a Time. Glee did this with the implied chemistry between its characters Quinn and Rachel, and Once Upon a Time with Emma and Regina. Riverdale made headlines with the kiss between Veronica and Betty in the show’s first trailer. The problem with using queerbaiting on television is that it acts as a facade of acceptance without actually taking any real steps towards representing LGBTQ+ people in an authentic way.

Riverdale — “Chapter Forty-One: Manhunter” — Image Number: RVD306b_0265.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Camila Mendes as Veronica and Lili Reinhart as Betty — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

In 2019, queerbaiting is still a problem on TV, and it’s becoming more and more common in women-led TV series. Although I am always excited to see stories about the complexities of friendship between two women, I think a line must be drawn between platonic chemistry and queerness.

A recent example of a series which has utilized elements of queerbaiting is Netflix’s Dead to Me. The series follows Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini), a pair of grieving women who become unlikely friends after meeting in a support group for those who have lost loved ones. Dead to Me isn’t an obvious example of queerbaiting, but rather, it represents the nuance of same-gender chemistry on television.

The creator of the show, Liz Feldman, identifies as a lesbian and has explained that she wanted to explore the “romance” that exists in female friendships. However, the show’s trailer seems to put extra emphasis on the queer-coded aspects of the women’s flirtatious relationship, perhaps leaving queer audience members to feel misled in their introduction to the show. Similarly, Killing Eve also sparked controversy recently when, despite some obvious sexual chemistry between its main female characters, cast member Sandra Oh dismissed speculation of a romance between them.

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, Jodie Comer as Villanelle – Killing Eve _ Season 2, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

These are only two examples of queerbaiting in women-led TV series, but there are so many more. Shows like Grace and Frankie and Rizzoli and Isles have also been accused of queerbaiting in the past. So what is the problem with these common types of queerbaiting? Is this trend actually harmful to LGBTQIA+ audiences?

The thing is, LGBTQIA+ representation is already so hard to come by, which is why queer fans often take issue with this kind of depiction of queer-coded friendship in TV shows. Most queer women spend a lot of their life feeling like they need to “prove” their queerness, and depicting romantic chemistry between women without actually taking the step towards representation just isn’t helpful.

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Representation really does matter, which has been proven by some of the LGBTQIA+ storylines we’ve seen on TV this past year on shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Schitt’s Creek, and Pose. In the coming TV season, I would like to less queerbaiting and more actual queer representation. There is definitely a place for exploring female friendship on TV, but I would also love to see same-gender couples represented on those same TV shows, because LGBTQIA+ people deserve to see themselves on TV.