Queerbaiting: How Influencers Profit Off of the LGBTQ+ Community
By Zara Rawoof
There has never been a better time to be queer in history. While the road to equality for the LGBTQ+ community is not complete, the progress made over the decades is worth noting. Apps like Instagram and Twitter have also made it easier for queer youth to come out and talk about their sexuality while maintaining a certain level of anonymity by being online. The world’s favorite celebrities and brands do their part when it comes to Pride and allyship. Artists like Charli XCX and Lady Gaga, who recognize their gay audience, have embraced all fans with open arms. Traditional homophobia and transphobia are still very much alive, especially in foreign countries, but there is a new issue created in the midst of all of the LGBTQ+ pride we see.
Being out and under the spotlight has never been simple. Many actors and singers have stayed quiet about their sexual and gender identity to avoid shame and criticism from the world. In recent years, this fear is still present, but online communities and the media have become much more accepting. Celebrities such as Lil Nas X faced tremendous amounts of support when he came out as gay. More recently, Elliot Page was met with acceptance by millions of happy fans when he announced he was transgender. Not everything about coming out is rainbows and butterflies, but those who have made similar announcements always earn a name for themselves in the media for the following weeks. Things take a turn for the worst when people who aren’t actually part of the LGBTQ+ community attempt to “come out” in order to gain the attention of the media. Cruel marketing routines, such as clickbait-type thumbnails and purposely mysterious tweets, have led many to coin the term “queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is faking a queer identity in some form for profit. While this is obviously wrong, what are the lasting effects of queerbaiting on the LGBTQ+ community?
Many see queerbaiting as a silly marketing technique, but it actually harms the queer community tremendously. 9.1% of mainstream television’s recurring characters are LGBTQ+, a drop from 2019’s 10.2%. With a minuscule amount of genuine representation, false narratives about sexuality and gender identity take up media real estate that should be used to promote talented queer artists. Fake coming-out stories and misleading messages capitalize off of an experience that is often traumatic for queer youth and should not be normalized. Other examples of queerbaiting are the faux lesbian kisses that were popular in the early 2000s. This fetishization of woman-loving-woman relationships objectifies the concept of being lesbian. For many celebrities, these actions are brief publicity stunts, but the LGBTQ+ community feels the repercussions much longer. The media starts to cater to those who will read into the ingenuine nature of the stunts and leads people to associate these thoughts with the gay community.
The boundaries that have kept us in gender roles since the dawn of time are gradually becoming less and less confining. Navigating through the world of androgynous or nontraditional styles can be difficult with a concept like queerbaiting running rampant. In 2017, Vogue featured Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid on their cover. The couple discussed the closet shopping that goes on between them, and Vogue called it a “gender-bending” approach to fashion. While fashion has become more unisex, this cisgendered, heterosexual couple were not the people the esteemed magazine should have turned to for this topic. Wearing your boyfriend’s shirt does not mean you are gender fluid. This is not an accurate representation of a community of people who are genuinely non-binary/androgynous.
In the same breath, the feminine approaches to fashion mainstream media men have had, such as Harry Styles or ASAP Rocky, in conventionally women’s clothing is something entirely different. Styles received backlash after last December’s Vogue cover featured him in a dress. But this wasn’t a big statement the singer was making. Styles has not acted like his fashion has something to do with his sexuality. The heartthrob has often been depicted as a serial dater going out to L.A’s hottest restaurants with a wide array of Victoria’s Secret models who never fail to meet the eurocentric beauty standards loved by news outlets everywhere. Contrary to this narrative, his unreleased song called “Medicine” explores a different side to the singer. On tour, Styles was heard belting, “The boys and the girls are here, I mess around with them, and I’m okay with it.” Styes separates himself from others with his intent. The former boy-band member has never tried to mislead fans with his clothes or lyrics. His support for the LGBTQ+ community has nothing to do with his personal preferences. The media has wrongly analyzed Styles’ sexuality.
So what does this all translate to? Queerbaiting is the active intent of misleading your audience in order to garner more attention using fake sexuality or gender identity. Whether you are part of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, spotting misleading behaviors will help to give actual queer people the roles and spotlights they deserve.