pick of the twitter

Twitter users debate what queerbaiting is—and isn’t

Harry Styles

Especially now that they’ve kissed other men in public venues in the past two weeks—Exhibits A and B—singer-turned-actor Harry Styles and Latin trap star Bad Bunny have stoked accusations of “queerbaiting,” in that critics suspect that the two men are pandering to queer audiences without identifying as queer themselves. But are these accusations fair, given that neither Bad Bunny nor Styles have put definite boundaries around their sexualities? And can celebrities even queer-bait to begin with?

On Twitter, there’s a raging debate about whether queerbaiting even exists—and whether it’s the domain of real people or just fictional storylines, as you’ll see below. And definitions found around the web seem to split the difference. Dictionary.com, for example, says queerbaiting “refers to the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction (in a TV show, for example) to engage or attract an LGBTQ audience or otherwise generate interest without ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions.” But the site also notes that the term also “is used to criticize the practice as an attempt to take advantage of and capitalize on the appearance or implication of LGBTQ+ relationships without actually having real LGBTQ+ representation.”

Related: Guys call out queerbaiting OnlyFans creators: “Low-effort cash flow and ego boost”

Filmmaker Leo Herrera also cited both usages of the term in an interview with Rolling Stone last year, saying that queerbaiting is when a celebrity “capitalizes on the suspicion that they may be romantically involved with another same-sex person for the sake of publicity, promotion, or a capitalistic gain” and when content creators “play with our lack of representation and desires to get us in the theaters or get us to watch.”

(Also important to note: Queerbaiting had a different, more pernicious definition in the 1950s, as Julia Himberg, director and associate professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University, told the magazine. In those days, queerbaiting “was about drawing out ‘suspected homosexuals’ using various tactics including entrapment, blackmail, affiliations with various organizations, and artistic traditions.”)

Nowadays, many young celebrities are refusing to label their sexualities, even to fend off queerbaiting accusations, as we’ve previously covered at Queerty. Ariana Grande, notably, said on Twitter that she doesn’t feel the need to label herself after singing that she likes “women and men” in “Monopoly,” her song with the openly-bisexual Victoria Monét.

Such refusals “in some ways … can feel like an erasure of LGBTQ identities,” Eve Ng, professor of media and women and gender studies at Ohio University, told BBC News in 2019. “People fought for the right to call themselves lesbian and gay.”

But as Ng explained, we demand better from celebrities and content creators because we’re seeing better representation of LGBTQ identities in pop culture and society in general. “It’s only because LGBTQ representation has improved that people would accuse producers of queerbaiting,” Ng said. “It’s progress. Ten to fifteen years ago, the majority of female fans would have been super psyched if an artist like Grande or someone of her stature said something like that.”

Here’s what Twitter users say about queerbaiting and its alleged perpetrators…

Related: Thirst trap TikTokers called out for running separate gay and straight accounts