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Queerbaiting in media is not representation

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There is nothing quite as validating for myself as a bisexual woman than seeing another bisexual woman properly represented on television. Her love is treated as seriously as any other character on the show and doesn’t have to be discerned in the name of subtext. She’s there, she’s queer, and there is no question about it.

Characters written like this, however, can be difficult to come by, even in today’s modern media.

Queerbaiting in media is not representation

It can be frustrating to see a character written to only be queer to an extent — only enough to draw in viewers from a target audience, enough to keep them watching and waiting for the “aha” moment. But it never comes. The character feels like a cheap trick, a bone thrown to viewers as if to say, “There’s your representation.”

Yet, the character is only tolerably queer for the public.

This is queerbaiting, a ploy used by writers of books and television shows to only hint at a queer relationship in order to draw in queer people. The writers have no intention of depicting any sort of relationship or queer identity.

It’s like biting into a cookie that looks like it’s chocolate chip but instead getting dried up bits of prunes. Sad, sad prunes.

Writer Natasha Langfielder of AfterEllen.com cites a prime example of queerbaiting in television, two women on the show Rizzoli & Isles. Rizzoli & Isles is commonly brought up when discussing queerbaiting, notably because of the lesbian subtext between the characters Rizzoli and Isles.

Langfielder writes that the women partake in intimate activities, however, the behavior between the two women is never expanded upon. Showrunner of Rizzoli & Isles Janet Tomaro dismissed such intimacies as merely an amusing theory and nothing more.

The baiting doesn’t end there. If only hinting at queer relationships wasn’t frustrating enough, there is also the phenomenon of killing off characters who are queer in both context and subtext. It is such a prevalent theme that TV Tropes has aptly named it, “Bury Your Gays.”

According to TV Tropes, “Gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple … has to die in the end.”

The description becomes increasingly morbid, stating, “The problem isn't merely that gay characters are killed off: The problem is the tendency that gay characters are killed off in a story full of mostly straight characters, or when the characters are killed off because they are gay." 

It’s incredibly infuriating, especially in situations where the cast and creators of the show stoke their queer audience to support a certain relationship or pair only to kill off either one person or the couple itself. This was the case with the pairing of Clarke and Lexa in the show The 100.

Dorothy Snarker wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that fans of the couple were “encouraged and engaged” by the creator of the series Jason Rothenberg. As a result, many fans felt cheated, angry and used for publicity when the show’s openly queer relationship was ended.

If I have to dig for my queer characters and construct elaborate theories in order to justify their hinted-at queerness, the character or relationship can’t be aptly labeled as ‘positive queer representation.’

If a show is going to have queer people in it, it’s bizarre to simply dance around the elephant in the room as if it is some sort of ongoing joke. If there is a queer person in the show, and they are killed off for shock value or to further the plot, I can’t confidently label that representation either.

Let’s stop applauding media creators for doing the bare minimum, for dangling a little gay puppet in front of their audience like some sort of trick pony. It’s time to be more critical with media and not settle for theories, subtext or queer character deaths.