Queer Baiting

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See also: Subtext, Hoyay!, Stage Gay
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In a fannish context, queer baiting (or queerbaiting) is a term used to describe the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans and/or slash fans, but with no intention of actually showing a gay relationship being consummated on screen. This is done either by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual, or by indicating -- be it ever so slightly -- that two same-sex characters might possibly be attracted to each other.

The term was originally used by politicians and had a similar meaning to "race baiting", bringing up details of an opponent's orientation as a way of attacking them. Its current meaning was popularized by Tumblr users starting in the early 20-teens.

A fan describes the initial experience of the queer audience member this way:

They introduce a character that queer people can relate to. They use the details and feelings common to queer people’s lives to make it very obvious to anyone who is queer, that the character is also queer. They know that because there is very little queer representation in media, queer people are going to latch onto this character, and therefore latch onto the series."[1]

Queer baiting may also involve the suggestion of a romantic or sexual interest between two characters of the same gender without making it outright canon. This can backfire against TPTB when queer baiting is paired with "no homo!" moments in canon, where a seemingly intimate exchange between characters is immediately followed by an "of course we're not gay" joke.[2]

The term encompasses the disappointment and betrayal felt by fans when the canon retreats from that early perceived position of queer inclusion, and clearly marks the sexually ambiguous character as straight.

More to the point, this practice meets with strong objections from slash fans who are less interested in political/social justice issues than they are simply in a possible canonization of their favorite slash couple. There is a fine line between "slashwink" or "ship teasing" -- the writers creating lighthearted dialogue or situations acknowledging that such fans exist -- and apparently serious storylines and dialogue indicating a possible homosexual relationship which is then pulled back or never consummated. It can also be argued that some fans see homosexual attraction in character interactions that were not intended that way.

Now that it’s evident girls really like guys who like guys, no matter how misguided it may be, we have come to a unique time in television writing: queer-baiting. The idea of queer-baiting is specifically putting gay/homoerotic subtext in relationships in order to keep girls interested in the show. However, the writers/cast keep just enough out to keep the men interested.[3]

One assumes she means the straight men.

What's worse is when producers and showrunners drop hints in interviews that they will get two male characters together, and it never happens. Slash fans as well as those whose interest is political view this practice as a cynical exploitation of their interest in order to get ratings.[4][5]


Coding, that is, behaviors intended to identify a character as being a particular type, is an integral part of theater worldwide. In Anglo-European drama it goes back to the ancient Greek theater. Nuances in costume, body positions and gestures, and vocal tone serve to tell the audience a character's background and personality. By the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s and '30s, film acting techniques were being developed and what we think of as "homosexual" as a social identity continued to evolve. Male theatrical and film characters who were supposed to be gay were often campy or "flaming". Known as pansy types in those days, t1hey might be fussy, effeminate, use limp-wristed gestures and lace handkerchiefs, and (as sound came in) speak in expressive, often high-pitched voices. Part of this was done so that the audience would understand a character was gay without running afoul of the Legion of Decency.[6][7]

Formerly, characters who seemed "queer" often proved to be straight as a way of sending a message to the audience not to judge queerness solely by appearance and behavior. Another character who seemed to fit all the stereotypes of a "straight" man might then turn out to be gay.[8] As the dominant American culture acknowledges that gay people exist, and with the changing cultural image of who a gay person is, sympathetic gay characters have become more numerous, and are often coded more realistically. Today's viewers have come to expect to see gay people actually having relationships, not merely being identified as gay.

Fan Opinions

Fan artist still-sophistory's famous "No Homo" poster, A mock promo poster for a TV show. Two white men, one in a suit and tie and one wearing a jacket and hoodie face the audience, but are heavily shadowed. The text reads: "NO HOMO. Two white men touch each other. Thursdays 9/8c." Beneath it are the blurb reviews, "'so gay' - fandom" and "'i can’t' - Tumblr".

Fans are divided as to whether queer baiting is better than nothing, as discussed on this FFA thread:

I can't actually get mad at the deliberate wink-wink, nudge-nudge because it's still better than nothing. (Though I can see how it would get tiring and start to feel downright insulting.) Society changes slowly and these are baby steps. They've already made canon queer couples in sitcoms; it will hopefully be just one more step to make a canon queer couple (leads, dare I hope?) in a police/medical/firefighter hourly drama. [...][9]
See, I think it's worse than nothing. Nothing could at least indicate genuine ignorance, but queer-baiting on the scale it's gotten to is saying "We know there's an audience, we know that it's possible for this relationship to go there, but of course that's never going to happen. But we'll add this subtext to get your dollars and maybe give you a vague sense of progress."
Looking at it pragmatically, I think the chance of going from nothing at all to full-on gay couple leads is pretty much nil so it's a hard-to-skip step, no matter how irritating it may be.
And I'm surely not going to attack show leaders - who are at least textually open to it - as being Not Perfect Therefore Evil. I mean hell, the ending of House to me was more than I would have ever expected.[10] (And I'm not even in the fandom. I just watch recreationally.) [11]

Other fans distinguish between queerbaiting and what they call "slashwink" (also referred to as a Ship Tease at TVTropes]:

"For the record, I just want to say right off I don’t like the term slashwink that AfterElton coined - it’s cutesy and feels a little bit demeaning. HOWEVER, it is NOT the equivalent of queerbaiting in my opinion....Slash wink, for want of a better term, is when a showrunner/writers intentionally insert subtext for fans as a favor to fans, but have no intent to go through with it. Queerbaiting is throwing in subtext to slash fans with no intent to do anything either, but it’s also about surrounding the subtext with “no homo" text to make sure that no one actually gets the “wrong" impression. It’s much more homophobic because TPTB obviously feel that if non-slash fans pick up on the subtext it would be bad and so work to ensure that doesn’t happen. Neither gives slash fans the canon ship they want, but queerbaiting is homophobic/malicious whereas slash winking is friendly teasing."[12]

Certain shows attract heavy fan lobbying for canon relationships between male characters. Many of today's fans want to be seen as requesting progressive media portrayals of homosexuals, rather than demanding satisfaction of their personal obsession or kink.

This has particularly been true of Sherlock and Supernatural, where fans have deluged the showrunners with appeals for express, unambiguous portrayals of sexual love between the characters. Steven Moffat, producer of Sherlock, has stated he has no intention of catering to this demand, remarking that even if the two men love one another, it's only in today's "weirdly sexualized world" that we must insist they're having sex as well.[13] In fact, he explained in 2012 that he deliberately chose to retain Holmes' canonical celibacy (not asexuality) from Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.[14] Moffat has been accused of queerbaiting by various reviewers during his time on Doctor Who as well as Sherlock.[15]

In Supernatural, many fans focus on Dean and the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) as a couple. Fans react very badly when any of the characters have romance with women. Chad Kennedy's Twitter account blew up after he said that the producers had not intended for either Dean or Castiel to be bisexual. He clarified that he did not write the show; that no one had pitched him an episode in which the male leads had romance with one another; but that he would not rule it out if such a script did come to him.[16]

Meanwhile, Supernatural's writers engage in a certain amount of references, jokes and teasing about the characters' orientations and relationships. Some fans (and even some professional media critics) dislike this because they want their lobbying to be seen as serious activism supporting gay rights and visibility. To them, these jokes or hints appear as queer baiting, rather than as lighthearted recognition of a well-known fan obsession or kink. [17]

Misha Collins has done his part to fan the flames by making unsubstantiated statements at conventions such as "Destiel is canon and the writers know it,"[18]

Collins does not feel that the Ship tease seen on the show is homophobic. In a recent interview with members of the Organization for Transformative Works, he clarified

I don’t like the characterization of teasing around Destiel or around any kind of homoerotic subtext that might appear around the brothers or whatever as queer baiting. I think that that’s really unfair. Because I don’t think that – well, first of all that’s sort of a new and strange term to me, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I also don’t think that same kind of aspersion would be cast toward someone who is teasing a heterosexual relationship, like the tension that builds between two male and female series regular characters on any given show that’s never consummated. I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s a fair characterization either. [19]

"Queer baiting" can be extremely subjective, and fans may have this reaction even with very inclusive shows. In August 2016, Steven Universe artist Lauren Zuke deleted her Twitter account after suffering massive amounts of harassment from SJW fans over female characters Peridot and Lapis living together. (There are several gay characters in the show and Zuke herself is gay.) Peridot and Lapis are not romantically involved in canon, nor is Peridot involved with Amethyst, who is also female; but a previous episode had shown interaction between Peridot and Amethyst that appeared to fans to have unresolved sexual tension. So, for those who were hoping these two would be together, the Peridot-Amethyst moment was construed as Queer baiting since nothing happened. [20][21]

Gay fans have come to resent the insertion of "subtext" or appealing to fans' Slash goggles without ever presenting an actual gay relationship. We may be told that a supporting character is gay, but we never actually see him with a husband or boyfriend. Slash fans may zerg tumblr threads and forums merely to speculate on "pairings", while ignoring the fact that television and film still have no definitively gay relationships.

...I’ve already fled, spitting blood and bullets, from threads where discussion of, for example, complete GBLT erasure in any and all Disney programmes was derailed by slash fans running in and discussing which characters they thought were the best slash fodder. Or which characters could possibly maybe. Or which characters they’ve always, personally, interpreted as gay in their own head-cannon (sic). Or, y’know, any number of things that are COMPLETELY BLOODY IRRELEVENT to the actual erasure happening. Or how many times do we see people celebrating and leaping all over the slash potential of a show – even calling it GBLT friendly – when it doesn’t have one single GBLT character or relationship? People are CELEBRATING erasure and calling it inclusion because it fits their slash goggles. And we’d be foolish to think that writers, producers et al aren’t seeing this and playing towards it. It’s ideal – they get inclusion cookies without offending the usual suspects on the right.[22]

Canon Examples

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

  • House and Wilson from House, MD: "An episode of House has a neighbor assume that House and Wilson, who have just moved into a condo Wilson bought, are gay. This is rather disconcerting to Wilson, who was attempting to hit on her at the time. House camps it up (for example, he orders a huge A Chorus Line poster and opens it excitedly in the hallway when the neighbor is walking by) to screw with Wilson and also as part of a rather convoluted plot to have sex with the pretty neighbor himself."[23]
  • Rizzoli & Isles: "In Rizzoli & Isles the two main characters pretend to be more than friends to discourage an unwanted suitor of Maura's (he, of course, suggests a threesome). This was so popular with the show's fanbase that the man has since become a recurring character so that Maura and Jane have to pretend to be gay repeatedly."[23]
  • Xena and Gabrielle from Xena, Warrior Princess are soul-mates destined to be together forever, even after death and reincarnation, but the show never admits whether their relationship has a sexual/romantic dimension.
  • Sherlock and John from Sherlock: "Homoerotic Subtext: Ooohhhhh boy. Sherlock and John are constantly Mistaken for Gay, and even when they deny it (John isn't gay, Sherlock is Married to the Job and doesn't discuss his sexuality) it's absolutely through the roof in every single episode. Pretty much everyone involved in creating the show ships John/Sherlock. Moriarty also takes great delight in flirting with Sherlock, despite not being gay either — addressing him as "honey" and "sexy" and getting all up in his personal space."[24]
  • Remus Lupin from Harry Potter. David Thewlis deliberately played Lupin as a gay junkie and that this idea originally came from director Alfonso Cuarón. Creator J.K. Rowling said that she didn't envision Lupin as gay when she wrote about him.[25]
  • In the wake of an ill-advised statement that the creators of Supernatural had not intended for Dean or Castiel to be bisexual, WB exec Chad Kennedy received twitters accusing the producers of queerbaiting.[26] In addition, you have Misha Collins teasing the fans at conventions with unsubstantiated statements like "Destiel is canon and the writers and producers know it", basically quoting slash fans' own logic back at them just to see how they will react.[18]
  • A brief exchange between James Bond and Raoul Silva in Skyfall which seemed designed to appeal to slash fans. "We all know that all James Bond movies are deeply masculine movies, where chicks are things to be banged or killed. So, it should say something about the culture of romance in movies that all the fans attached themselves to the fact that the villain (a man) hits on Bond by caressing him, and suggesting he not knock having sex with a man until he tries it. To this, Bond responds with 'Who says this is my first time?'" Aside from the fact that this is obviously queer-baiting... the need for fans to hang onto this very short conversation and gif it within an hour of the premiere date means that relationships between women and James Bond don’t matter and this is the only possibly meaningful one they can find in the movie."


Meta/Further Reading


  1. An explanation of queer baiting and why it's a problem, tumblr post by Lan. (Accessed 2013 July 11.)
  2. ("No homo" is a slang term used in hip-hop culture and is short for "No homosexual implications intended." Along with the word "pause", it is used to caution listeners that although the speaker may have just given the impression he is gay, he is not. In practice, it is employed almost like the Jewish phrase "God forbid".)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Alison "Boom" Baumgartner, The Downside of Slash Fangirling. In her blog Loving the Alien, August 28, 2013.
  4. "Both shows [Supernatural and Teen Wolf] have courted slash fans in different ways. Supernatural does it through the actual text – including mentions of Wincest (Sam/Dean), having other characters suggest that Dean and Castiel are a couple and employing established romantic tropes. Teen Wolf does this via Social Media – encouraging fans to vote for Teen Wolf with shippy vids and Jeff Davis suggesting that if enough fans demand it he could be persuaded (which should just be no.1 on the list of things showrunners should NEVER say)." UndieGirl, "Baiting the Fandom That Feeds You", The Geekiary, November 6, 2013.
  5. " They are mistaken for gay lovers; they stare longingly into each others eyes for seasons at a time; they are deeply, inescapably important to each other. Yet the audience is never allowed to forget for long that these characters are also deeply, inescapably heterosexual." Emmett Scout, Please Do Not Bait The Queers. In The Next, June 19, 2013.
  6. The excellent documentary Before Stonewall begins with a look at "pansies" and other types of gay characters in film. See also Turner Classic Movies' Screened Out: Gay Images on Film.
  7. Jay Robinson played Troyian ambassador Petri as this character in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Elaan of Troyius". Franklin Pangborn often played this character. Edward Everett Horton played more low-key versions. Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon is a more extreme example as is Jack on Will and Grace. Ed Hibbert's Gil Chesterton on Frasier is a satirical take on "coded gays", as is Frasier himself.
  8. The early All in the Family episode "Judging Books by Covers" is all about this: Archie's "manly" friend is gay, while Michael's girlish-seeming friend is straight.
  9. "They" did. On ER. In 2000 and 2001. There are many amateur videos and a fan fiction archive.
  10. Dr. House fakes his own death and rides off Easy Rider style together with his friend Wilson, who has terminal cancer, on their motorcycles. The writers have occasionally had House speak sarcastically about being homosexuals with Wilson, but also Hugh Laurie, who plays House, has said the character's relationship with Wilson is "not just buddydom".
  11. You're shipping it wrong! (Thread started 2013-01-02. Accessed April 6, 2013)
  12. Fandom evolution and Slashwinking vs queerbaiting a tumblr post dated 2013; reference link.
  13. Alyssa Rosenberg, Steven Moffat on ‘Sherlock’s Return, the Holmes-Watson Love Story, and Updating the First Supervillain. Think Progress, 2012-05-17.
  14. "There's no indication in the original stories that he was asexual or gay. He actually says he declines the attention of women because he doesn't want the distraction. What does that tell you about him? Straightforward deduction. He wouldn't be living with a man if he thought men were interesting.... It's the choice of a monk, not the choice of an asexual. If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it's someone who abstains who's interesting. There's no guarantee that he'll stay that way in the end – maybe he marries Mrs Hudson. I don't know!" There is a clue everybody's missed, interview with Moffat in The Guardian, 2012-01-20.
  15. Kerishma, On Queerbaiting; or, SUBTEXT DOES NOT EQUAL REPRESENTATION. Blogging for HONS 201, 2012-12-03.
  16. Regarding Chad Kennedy at The Fandom Debunker, October 23, 2013.
  17. Supernatural Has a Queerbaiting Problem That Needs to Stop. TV Guide, November 17, 2014.
  18. 18.0 18.1 See tenoko1, Per Misha Collins: Destiel is Canon. October 29, 2012. Collins made these statements at the Supernatural convention in Chicago on that date. Among Collins' statements: "misha confirmed jeremy carver was gonna resolve cas and dean’s relationship later in the season." He didn't.
  19. Fandom, Passion and Supernatural: A Chat With Misha Collins. Fangasm, April 7, 2014.
  20. Beth Elderkin, Steven Universe Artist Quits Twitter Over Fan Harassment. io9, August 13, 2016.
  21. Galveira, LAUREN ZUKE JUST DELETED HER TWITTER Reddit post dated August 12, 2016.
  22. Gay male fan "Sparky", writing in his blog Spark in Darkness, Slash Goggles, Fanservice and No Actual Inclusion, Saturday, 21 July 2012.
  23. 23.0 23.1 TVTropes, entry on Faux Yay, with many other examples.
  24. From the entry on Sherlock at TVTropes, under "Homoerotic Subtext".
  25. Stubby the Rocket, "Every So Often, Remus Lupin Is Gay." on 2011-04-06 at tor.com.
  26. Regarding Chad Kennedy at The Fandom Debunker, October 23, 2013.