Celebrities like Harry Styles, Nick Jonas, Charlie Puth and Billie have been accused by many of “queerbaiting,” which is exploiting queer aesthetics for fame and fortune without identifying as a member of the community.
Let’s delve deeper into the definition and why it matters.
What is queerbaiting?
“Queerbaiting is a strategy used by content creators and media producers to attract queer audiences – via homoeroticism, suggestive marketing and storylines and other symbolisms – and to insinuate queer identities and relationships between media characters and viewers,” said Melvin Williams, associate professor of communication and media studies at Pace University, according to Yahoo News.
Though that’s the current meaning of the term, it’s shifted over time. It use to mean baiting in the literal sense, as fear of queerness lingered for decades.
“It used to be that 20 years ago, you were either in the closet or you were out of the closet, and if you were in the closet or you were straight, you had nothing to do with queer culture,” said Michael Bronski, professor of the practice in media and activism in studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University. “And if you were gay, you dealt with it in a very circumspect way.”
But popular reality shows and legalized same-sex marriage has further cemented queer culture as simply culture. With that visibility comes problems, leading fans to call out celebrities when a cisgender person seemingly cashes in on LGBTQ fashion, music acting roles, etc.
Why does it matter?
Many pay a high price for living “outside gender and sexuality, and for those appearances to be used as clickbait, they should understand that people are going to feel offended and often betrayed by that,” said Nadine Hubbs, professor of women’s and gender studies and music at the University of Michigan.
That’s why she suggests alleged queerbaiting celebrities to be very careful.
“If they aren’t going to declare themselves as LGBTQ, don’t make things worse for those who are,” she said.
Celebrities should consider their platform and what their image actually promotes. Is it an authentic one?
“Does this event or act help to create acceptance of LGBTQ people and lives?” asked Hubbs. “That’s what queer critics of the queerbaiting phenomenon and accusers (are) asking and demanding.”