When watching television you may notice that your favorite TV show has one minority in it. Whether it’s a Hispanic person next door or the gay uncle who shows up once every five episodes just know that those characters are there for a reason. They are there to draw in the community they represent. When television and movies have a ‘token gay person’ this is called queerbaiting. There is a lot to queerbaiting and it’s something that has been happening more as the queer community is becoming larger and more open.
Episode One: Fake relationships
The first part of queerbaiting is the homo-romantic undertones. In some television shows writers will hint at two same sex characters who could be dating. They will flirt a little, maybe hug, maybe even kiss; but they will never say out loud that they are dating. Then after drawing in audiences with gay undertones they will put one of the characters into a heterosexual relationship to reassure their straightness. The TV show Sherlock was guilty of this with their characters Sherlock and John Watson. They would often flirt and do stereotypical couple things but they would never address being a couple. People who watched the show lived for when they would interact with each other, but were always left disappointed when what they think is representation is just bait to watch the show. When queer kids look for their representation they will see this on TV. Gay is seen as bad; the writers draw in the audience but snatch the relationship from under our noses because being gay ‘is the worst thing someone could be.’
Episode Two: That one gay character
The next part of queerbaiting is the token queer person; usually a gay male because that’s the easiest thing to understand. They wouldn’t dare put a lesbian or bisexual person in it because it would confuse the audience and make them stop watching (or so they think). Anyway who doesn’t like Neil Patrick Harris? Sometimes this gay person is the comic relief, often making jokes based around their sexuality. The best example I know is Danny from MTV’s Teen Wolf. He comes in every other episode with one liners but he’s still a fan favorite, so much so that there was a petition going around to make him a series regular. But they took him out after season three ended. On the show, one of the main characters Stiles was stressed because the monster wreaking havoc was kidnapping virgins.
I need to have sex right now! I need someone to sex me right now!
Alright I’ll do it.
Come to my place at nine. Plan to stay the night, I like to cuddle.
That was so sweet are you kidding?
Yes, I’m kidding!
You don’t toy with a guy’s emotions like that Danny.
After this scene we don’t see Danny until the next episode, ready with that one liner. This is dangerous because people will only see queer people as sex, which is an image that’s hard to get out of. When we associate a certain group of people with sex that means they are something we have to keep hidden in the bedroom and can’t bring out in public. This sets up queer people as not being able to show PDA in public or even hold their partner’s hands because “the kids may see”.
Episode Three: Personality Traits. Being gay is not a personality trait; even though media will tell audiences otherwise. Being gay is a part of someone but it isn’t how they act or should be used to describe. There is a movie called GBF (gay best friend) that does a great job of pointing out how people are quick to stereotype and at the start of the movie, you’d think it’s going to be a movie full of queerbaiting but they turn it around to teach people a lesson. In it, three popular girls are fighting over the gay teen who was forced out of the closet. The new trend is to have a gay best friend and whoever can win him over will be the most popular kid in school. What this movie does right is pointing out that he should be your best friend, not your GBF. Gay people are not arm candy; they aren’t there to make you look good.
One of the promotional pictures taken for the film:
This part of queerbaiting is the most common. In media the only thing you learn about the queer person is their sexuality and when people get in the real world that is then all they see. When a celebrity comes out they become more popular, and that’s because people make such a big deal out of it and I think part of that is reflected from what we watch on television. I can’t wait for the day when people won’t have to come out anymore, they can just be. Kids can bring their partner home from school and no one will blink or make a big deal. Where’s that TV show?
Episode Four: Pulling Queerbaiting Apart. So, how can we break queerbaiting apart? Let’s start with a few examples of shows that did it right. The 100 is controversial on this subject but they did it half right, so the writers deserve some credit. In season one we assumed the main character Clarke was straight. We had never seen her with anyone but men so when the big kissing scene with the rival commander Lexa came, the fans were in for a pleasant surprise. I remember sitting with people in my Gay Straight Alliance and crossing our fingers that this wasn’t just another queer bait. Not much else happened that season except for the homo-romantic undertones. Then the first episode of season three premiered and the opening scene with Clarke had her in bed with another woman. After that we got lots of scenes with her and Lexa, them falling in love and fighting a war together, actually saying they are in a relationship. But then the show took a turn for the worst, they killed off Lexa for dramatic effect and to set up the Clark and Bellamy (the leading male) relationship. Because of this the queer audience stopped watching. They were tired of seeing what little relationships that were on TV killed off. This was the biggest queer bait I’ve ever witnessed.
Episode Five: The Light in a Bad Situation. The next show that does it right is Freeform’s “Shadow Hunters”. This series is loosely based off a book. There are two queer characters in this show, they are both main characters and crucial to the story line. First is Alec, who is trying to figure out his sexuality and worry about the future his parents want for him. Alec is a complex character with personality traits and has a unique story line so it’s very refreshing. The only thing better is Magnus, the confident, Asian bisexual warlock. He is Alec’s love interest but there is more to him, he cares deeply for the people close to him and fights in a war alongside Alec and his family. I also mention Magnus as Asian because most queer characters on television are white. This is very damaging to the way we think. For example, in the black community there is a stigma to being black and gay. According to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) in 2010 there were 27 anti-LGBT documented murders and 70% of those murders were people of color and 44% of them were transgender. And this past summer there was a shooting in Orlando at a gay night club; on Latino night. This is why queer people of color representation is so important.
Episode Six: Grab your Hammer and Get to Work. So, how can we change this? First off, writers can start writing characters instead of card board cut outs. Making characters’ dynamic and interesting should be the first thing writers are thinking about. It could help to hire queer writers. A lot of the time there are straight writers writing queer people and someone can’t write about an experience they’ve never had. Maybe even consider hiring gay actors to portray gay characters. Chris Colfer from Glee is the perfect example of this. He is a gay male playing a gay male. He was able to do the character justice and the audience could rely on him better because he knew the experience his character Kurt went through on a daily basis.
Episode Seven: What We’ve Learned. We need to think before we write. How will this affect our audience? How will it affect the people who are uneducated about this subject? According to Paw Research Center Millennials are the most diverse generation ever; and all the shows I mentioned here are geared towards them. Yet, we are still writing as if everyone is a straight, white man. I think it’s time to change the way we write and represent minorities on television. It’s at the point where most people are minorities in some way, whether they are a person of color, queer, or a woman. It’s time to put the diversity we are so proud of in America, on our television.
H., & H. (n.d.). It’s Still Dangerous to Be Gay in America. Here Are the Statistics That Prove It. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://fusion.net/story/313047/lgbt-violence-statistics/
- (n.d.). Millennials: Most Racially Diverse Generation in U.S. History – NBC News. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/millennials-most-racially-diverse-generation-u-s-history-n46361
Script taken from Teen Wolf; season three-episode four: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1nrCbW-ROM