For many of us television lovers, fangirls, fanboys, and Netflix bingers, the characters in our favourite shows are very important to us. We love them, admire them, and obsess over them without shame. We also see our favourite characters develop romantic same-sex relationships, and we support them wholeheartedly. Love is love! Ah, the excitement running through our veins because our characters are queer! But, then all of a sudden, these characters we have come to love and worship are ripped away from each other. The same-sex relationship never happens. As we wipe the tears from our eyes, yell, and scream, the realization hits us. Oh boy, we’ve become the next target of queerbaiting, haven’t we?
According to Urban Dictionary, queerbaiting is defined as “when an author/director/etc. gives hints, and clever twists to paint a character as possibly being queer, to satisfy queer audiences, but never outright says they are so they can keep their heterosexual audience.” Yuck. So, our beloved characters were never queer and were never going to be in that same-sex relationship we shipped so hard. Here come the tears again.
There are various television shows that are guilty of queerbaiting. Some are super obvious while others leave a trail of subtle hints in the form of lingering glances and hands. Let’s start with the obvious one. Rizzoli & Isles. Rizzoli & Isles aired from 2010-2016. This show encompassed drama, murder, justice, friendship, and the love between the main characters Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander). Some would argue that Jane and Maura were simply good friends; the best of friends. However, their chemistry was that of girlfriends in love.
Jane and Maura had sleepovers which consisted of them sleeping in the same bed. We observed lingering glances, touches, and the two spending all of their time together. Let’s not forget that sometimes they would share clothes, and they would always playfully bicker with one another like the cutest of wives. The couple we should have had, but never got. Big sigh.
The next show that’s guilty of queerbaiting is very popular and for various reasons (one of them being the goddess that is Sarah Paulson). Yup, American Horror Story: Coven and American Horror Story: Apocalypse. Both of these seasons had fans drooling over Cordelia Foxx, later Cordelia Goode (Sarah Paulson), and Misty Day (Lily Rabe). In AHS: Coven, these two gorgeous witches made a great team… that had a thing for loving glances and absolutely no personal space. The queerbaiting only increased in AHS: Apocalypse. Cordelia cradles Misty’s face in her hands (what a loving embrace!), holds her, and plays with her hair. How cute! More importantly, they were totally about to kiss. They could have been the perfect witch couple, but never were. Big, big sigh.
The third television show that utilizes queerbaiting is Once Upon A Time. Once Upon A Time aired from 2011-2014. Although the storybook characters and fairytale legends turned ordinary people, seem inherently straight, the possibility of queer characters come in the form of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla). There are various scenes in which the sexual tension between Emma and Regina is, quite frankly, obvious. Emma’s body language and desire to invade Regina’s personal space, oozes an “I want you,” message- loud and clear. Additionally, Emma is the queen of full body glances. Oh yes, she checks out Regina constantly. Someone’s in love! However, Regina also shows that the two have found true love with one another. Her dialogue such as, “How to get the savior to taste my forbidden fruit,” is rich in sexual innuendos. This was the fairytale couple we needed. Did we get it? No, there was no happily ever after.
The next guilty party is one that many people may find less obvious. Law & Order: SVU. Law & Order: SVU queerbaited us with the characters Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Alexandra “Alex” Cabot (Stephanie March). Viewers of this renowned show eagerly awaited the stolen looks and smiles between the two powerful female characters. Not to mention, Stephanie March stated, “I’m not saying we’re not in love,” when discussing Olivia and Alex. Yet again, another powerful, beautiful couple that never actually became a couple. This still makes me sad.
Last but not least is Supernatural. Oh, fans of the show know how they were done wrong! Enter, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins). Dedicated fans of the show saw the chemistry between handsome Dean and the angel Castiel. It was more than just a bromance. But, alas, they were never meant to be. They were simply dangled in front of viewers as queerbait.
After these many shows used queerbaiting as a strategy to keep or gain a queer audience, are we seeing more shows utilize the same technique? Or have we seen the last of queerbaiting? Shows such as Gentleman Jack, Schitt’s Creek, Sex Education, Atypical, Madam Secretary, This Is Us- and many, more focus on queer characters, and not for the purpose of queerbaiting. But, rather, for the purpose of representation, inclusion, validity, and to show viewers that love is love. Perhaps we have seen the last of the toxic, harmful queerbaiting strategy. I sure hope so. But, only time will tell.
Happy Pride Month!