Let’s talk about queer baiting and how it is harmful. It is very harmful, and I don’t think many people realise that. Especially if you aren’t really involved in the queer community (I’m saying queer throughout this, and when I say queer, I mean LGBT*QIA) or familiar with queer theory. Queer theory is something I’m just now really starting to study, on my own time, but that’s a story for another day.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be represented in literature, films, TV shows. This is healthy. We all have stories, and we want to see ourselves there on the big screen, or in our favourite books. This is where queer baiting comes in. A lack of representation in the media is a serious problem for us. We are often completely left out, or show up to make little appearances, often just to teach the main character a lesson about diversity, or something similar. Or, we are the butt of every joke. Or we are completely stereotyped. And when we are portrayed, it is often cis gay males. There is nothing wrong with being cis gay male. I’m saying that look at that acronym. And that doesn’t even include all the umbrellas within that acronym. There is a lot of room for diversity in our community, and in our TV shows, or films, or books. But by often leaving us to minor appearances, or not at all, or as the comedy, we are told we are not worthy of being the main character, or even being invited to the table. Or just laugh at us, because we can’t really be taken seriously anyway.
So queer baiting comes in. We are denied many characters so we latch on to any character we can find that might be queer. The media knows this. So what happens is, they put a bunch of subtext in between characters, and you can read them as queer. Often this happens for several seasons, if you are watching a TV show, and then the character is given a love interest, usually just when other people are starting to catch on. Oh, this person could be considered queer. I need to stop watching. Not every person is like that, but there are people like that. John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who, and on Torchwood, has said that people were more upset there were two men kissing over him being killed multiple times. People are more okay with violence than two adults in love.
So the character is given a love interest, usually making them appear as canonically straight. Canon, for those of you not familiar with literary terms, is basically whatever the TV show/Film/Book says happen. So, an example of this is that canonically, Harry Potter has green eyes. What this also does is tell the queer community, oh, you were just making it all up, or reading too much into it.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. I consider myself a writer. I’m working on novels and I write poetry. I have never once thought, I really hope people just take this at face value, and don’t interact and interpret my literature. That is what you are supposed to do with literature. People, if you ever read one of my books someday, for Pete’s sake, please interact with my words and think about it and read for all the subtext and subtlety there is, and I promise, there will be queer characters, and you won’t have to just read for subtext there.
This is a harmful thing though, telling people, oh, you made it all up. Oh, they’re not canonically queer. This erases us, but also tells others that our stories don’t really matter, and it’s okay to lead us on. It isn’t. But the media does it again and again. Or, when queers are portrayed, it’s not in a nice light. But some say, at least we are being shown.
Is it so wrong for me to want to have a trans* person portrayed, and in a healthy way? Is it so wrong of me to want a bisexual character? Or a non-binary person? Or a lesbian or a gay man without stereotypes? Is it wrong of me to want to see myself in my favourite books? No. And not just on a LOGO channel, either. I love LOGO. But I think that just giving us one little channel doesn’t erase the massive amount of us missing from every day culture. I can’t remember who said, it, but someone said, how do you know you are a minority? If you have a shelf just for you at Barnes and Noble. I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but that’s generally what was said.
Some people have asked me why I’m so upset about this. Oh, that author isn’t homophobic, they just didn’t see him as queer. That might be the case. Again, I’m working on novels, and I don’t see every character as queer. But when there is a blatant lack of representation, it hurts. Let’s look at Harry Potter. Someone did the numbers, and this is what they found. There were about 120 recurring characters throughout the books. There were about 8 POCs, and only 1 queer character, Dumbledore, and even Dumbledore, was technically canonically queer because he was outed in an interview. This is Harry Potter. This is a huge book that shaped my childhood. I will read it probably until the day I die. There were huge chances for representation there. Plus, there is a lot of subtext between characters, and recently JKR came out on Pottermore and said, oh, I never intended these characters to be queer, here’s a heteronormative narrative and sorry I queer baited you for at least 2 books.
I’m allowed to be upset about this. This doesn’t make me a bad fan. This makes me a person that doesn’t just blindly accept things as gospel, but thinks for themselves. This is important. This makes you a better reader and a better person.
Does this mean I love Harry Potter any less? No. Does this mean I hate JKR? Of course not. I don’t think she’s homophobic. I think that she created childrens books, and a lot of times, if you want to be published, you cut out the queer characters, or put them in the background. I read the Casual Vacancy, and it is a very adult book. There is a lesbian couple in it. I don’t think she is homophobic, but I can be a little bit let down in the way that she revealed authorial intent six years after the books ended, and how she slapped us over the head with it.
I can find faults in her works. Just as if I’m ever published, you can find fault in mine. But queer erasure and queer baiting isn’t cool. It is harmful, and damaging. I was 9 when Prisoner of Azakaban came out and I will admit, I read Remus and Sirius as queer, and I thought, look at all this subtext. Especially when I got older, and understood things a lot more. I could count on one hand the amount of childrens books I had read that showed a queer character. 0.
That is my point. Don’t give people false hope in representation. Don’t just give us subtext. If you are cis and straight, you are lucky because you are represented every day. But don’t take that away from us.
Also, check out this really well done video. It’s about 5 minutes long, about queer relationships in books and why they are important.