Queerbaiting is a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then do not actually depict, same-sex romance or other LGBTQ representation. They do so to attract ("bait") a queer or straight ally audience with the suggestion of relationships or characters that appeal to them, while at the same time attempting to avoid alienating other consumers.
Queerbaiting has been observed in popular fiction such as films and television series, as well as in celebrities who convey an ambiguous sexual identity through their works and statements. It arose in and has been popularized through discussions in Internet fandom since the early 2010s.
Queer audience concerns
Queer fans have reacted with concern and anger to an identity they consider defining being used as a mere marketing ploy, a plaything for creatives, a mark of "edginess", or a commodity.
Fans have derided, for instance, queer characters being used as plot devices rather than as characters for their own sake. For instance, Glee, a series with many queer series regulars, was criticized by fans for presenting "superficial stereotypes of queerness for dramatic effect".
Queer fans consider queerbaiting as "a way to throw us a bone when we normally wouldn't have anything, to acknowledge that we're there in the audience when the powers that be would prefer to ignore us". Emmet Scout wrote that "queerbaiting works on its audience because it offers the suggestion that queer people do have a vital place in these stories, that they might even be the defining figures, the heroes. The suggestion—but not the reality." Rose Bridges summarized the practice's effect on queer fans as receiving "just enough [representation] to keep us interested, but not enough to satisfy us and make us truly represented."
According to media scholars, the perceived increase in queerbaiting reflects a shift towards a more positive perception of queer relationships in modern societies—and therefore, in a sense, societal progress. However, the same societal shift has also increased expectations by queer fans as to the quality and authenticity of queer representation—they demand not just any representation at all, but rather "respectful and meaningful depictions" of their relationships. That is why, according to media researcher Eve Ng, the ambiguous sexuality projected by twentieth century entertainers such as David Bowie, Elton John and Madonna was not scrutinized to the same degree as that of their successors.
Various businesses and corporations, such as Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Tylenol have showcased queer people and queer families in advertisements, helping to normalize and increase awareness surrounding the queer community. Although greater awareness for queer people is a positive side effect of queerbaiting, typical depictions of the queer community within advertisements include homogenous white middle-class individuals/couples.
Queerbaiting has brought the spending power of the queer community to light, and businesses make economic decisions that promote and support the queer community and its representation that ultimately entices the pink dollar. Terms associated with the queer community, like pink money, have shown the importance of queer people within an economy and a society.
May 2020, a reviewer, Sophie Perry, writing for a lesbian lifestyle magazine, Curve, noted how queerbaiting has long endured in LGBTQ+ representation, noting how She-Ra and Harley Quinn both had same-sex kisses, happening within stories which could have turned out to be "typical queerbaiting" but did not. Perry added that the "queer conclusion" of the show is thanks to Noelle Stevenson, describing it as very different from the conclusion of The Legend of Korra which confirmed Korra and Asami's relationship but left it "purposefully ambiguous" so it could air on a children's network. She concluded by calling She-Ra culturally significant, and added that as more creative queer people come to the fore, inevitably queerbaiting will "become a thing of the past."
In March 2021, a writer for Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson asked when "queer coding" veers into the territory of "queer baiting," with Dana Terrace saying it happens a "lot in modern anime," with Robinson saying this is also seen in shows like the end of Supernatural or the "hubbub around Finn and Poe in The Rise of Skywalker."
In fiction, the following characters, or relationships between characters of the same sex, have been interpreted as examples of queerbaiting by at least some reliable media sources. This interpretation is not necessarily shared by all critics or fans.
- 9-1-1: Evan "Buck" Buckley and Edmundo "Eddie" Diaz.
- Agent Carter: Peggy Carter and Angie. 
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Skye and Simmons. 
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy Summers and Faith.
- Criminal Minds: Jennifer Jareau and Emily Prentiss. 
- Elementary: Dr. Watson and Jamie Moriarty. 
- Game of Thrones: Daenerys Targaryen and Missandei. 
- Glee: Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray.
- Grace and Frankie: Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein. 
- How to Get Away with Murder: Michaela Pratt and Tegan Price, and Bonnie Winterbottom and Annalise Keating. 
- Laverne & Shirley: Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney. 
- Merlin: Arthur Pendragon and Merlin.
- Once Upon a Time: Regina Mills and Emma Swan.
- Pretty Little Liars: Spencer Hastings and Aria Montgomery. 
- Riverdale: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, and Archie Andrews and Joaquin DeSantos.
- Rizzoli & Isles: Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles.
- Sherlock: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Cast and crew of Sherlock have consistently denied that the relationship is intended to be seen as romantic, to the dismay of many fans.
- Star Trek: Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine. 
- Supergirl: Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor.
- Teen Wolf: Derek Hale and Stiles Stilinski.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender: Shiro and Adam.
- Warehouse 13: Myka Bering and Helena G. Wells.
Some series did portray a same-sex relationship after being criticized for queerbaiting:
- Killing Eve: The series was criticized for queerbaiting with the relationship of the main characters Eve and Villanelle in seasons 1 and 2. After they kissed in season 3, critics reassessed the series's approach to their relationship.
- Supernatural: The relationship between Castiel and Dean Winchester was seen as queerbaiting by fans. In the fifteenth season (2020), Castiel confessed his love to Winchester, and promptly died.
- Black Panther: Okoye and Ayo.
- Beauty and the Beast (2017): LeFou and Gaston.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald: Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald.
- Pitch Perfect: Beca and Chloe.
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Finn and Poe.
- Thor: Ragnarok: Valkyrie.
- Captain America: Civil War: Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers.
In music, Katy Perry's 2008 song "I Kissed a Girl" raised concerns because, according to one reviewer, "its appropriation of the gay lifestyle exists for the sole purpose of garnering attention". Perry said in 2017 that she has done "more than [kissing a girl]" and is attracted to women, without specifying or labeling her sexuality. The singers Ariana Grande (in 2019) and Rita Ora (in 2018) were also criticized by fans for queerbaiting after their lyrics contained references to bisexual love. In response to these concerns, Ora came out as bisexual to her fans.
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