Thoughts on Queerbaiting

Many different articles stipulate that there is one main question regarding queerbaiting: Is it a social progress in LGBTQ+ acceptance, or is it an exploitative tactic? Queerbaiting is a special marketing tool that can be identified as usage of non-heterosexual relationships in a TV show, a series, or a movie to engage the LGBTQ+ viewers with the content.

by Lera Grebennikova


Directors would create characters who act like queer persons throughout the movie/show, and when the viewer is on the verge of anticipation waiting for the moment of truth when the characters would be revealed as queer… It would be nothing. The characters don't get together. Instead, they end up in some hetero-love relationships. Authors use queerbaiting teasing the viewers first, then never meeting the expectations of queer audiences to see homosexual relationships on screen. Queerbaiting is harmful to those it is baiting, because it is falsely luring in the queer audience without providing real representation.

For the members of sexual minorities, it is essential to be respected and represented in different media. It took a long time to get a chance to openly talk about LGBTQ+ communities in the media, their special relationships, their worldview, their culture. For example, compared with the present day, in late 90s and 00s showing a queer person was really challenging in terms of politics and responsibilities. People were more narrow-minded than nowadays, and acceptance of queer culture was not so widespread as we can see it in the 21st century. It was hard enough to explain, for example, why there is a gay or bisexual character in the TV show. Right now, it is much easier,but instead of creating a comfort zone for the LGBTQ+ community in the media, the producers learned how to use it commercially. Creators started to nod to the LGBTQ+ community when they understood that this move can engage as many queer people as, for example, homophobes. It happened because some could see a gesture of appreciation for their community, and others saw it as some veiled nothing-unacceptable-happened sign, or, in some cases, were left with a negative impression. However, corporations which are in charge of making queerbaiting content are striving to get as much profit as possible. The wider the audience, the bigger the profit. And queerbaiting is a perfect tool to create and develop such a strategy.

There is queerbaiting, and then there is queercoding. Both terms are new and not completely defined. People use queerbaiting rather in commercial initiatives, and they use queercoding in the culture or different media as a subtextual link with queer identity of the character. Queercoding is intended to hide queer characters in plain sight, to create some safe space for them. Though we have some complete definitions, it is still hard to say that queerbaiting is a definitively bad tool or that queercoding is always made for good reason, so it would be more sensible to discuss a few illustrations of queer representation in mainstream cinema.
An interesting example of ambiguous queer representation is Major Grom: Plague Doctor (2021), where you can watch Supercop Grom lightly flirting with Sergey Razumovskiy, the Plague Doctor and antagonist. They are actually tearing clothes from each other, but also they are enemies. Those characters couldn't have any gay relationships on the screen because it is a Russian movie, and in Russia there are a lot of strict rules of unacceptance in terms of LGBTQ+. It is possible that here queerbaiting serves as queercoding, intending to keep in touch with the original comic character personalities rather than trying to get bigger profit from making queerbaiting relationships.

A more famous example is Sherlock (2010-2017), a TV series where the viewer can trace the possible (and desired by the queer community) relationships between Sherlock and John Watson. There are a lot of jokes inside the series and those jokes seem like true fanservice, like some hints for the audience to find gay relationships. But in 2015 the director Steven Moffat said :"[Sherlock's] not interested in [sex]. He's willfully staying away from that to keep his brain pure – a Victorian belief, that. But everyone wants to believe he's gay. He's not gay. And Doctor Watson is very clear that he prefers women. People want to fantasize about it. It's fine. But it's not in the show." So, it's the queer community who made everything up again, isn't it?

In the Hannibal (2013-2015) series you can trace some romantic tension between Will Graham, an FBI profiler, and his psychiatric supervisor Hannibal Lecter. The emotional relationship between Graham and Lecter forms the foundation of the series that is cool and interesting to follow. Moreover, these relationships are coded as queer on the psychological level that makes those characters closer to each other, but in a way that the viewer should understand and look for through real decoding to get to secret information, as a bonus.

A classic case of queercoding with bad connotations is The Little Mermaid (1989), which shows the viewer one queer coded character, definitely antagonistic. This character is named Ursula, a villainous sea witch who offers mermaid Ariel a temporary opportunity to become human. Her look made the viewer feel disgusted by dark make-up, deep baritone and punk haircut (all in one), and there is an opinion that such character was linked with drag-queens, their mannerisms and traits. This is definitely an example of toxic queercoding.
It is necessary to learn, explore and understand different specialties of different cultures, including LGBTQ+ to make it safer and richer for its members. The world will be better when people find out that respecting each other and each other's different ways of life is cool and rational, so that everyone will be safe and appreciated.
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