Femslash Fandoms and Queer-baiting: Another Perspective

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Title: Femslash Fandoms and Queer-baiting: Another Perspective
Creator: reversatility
Date(s): Jul. 9th, 2013
Medium: online
Fandom: femslash
Topic: Queer baiting
External Links: Femslash Fandoms and Queer-baiting: Another Perspective; archive link
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Femslash Fandoms and Queer-baiting: Another Perspective is an essay by reversatility.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

Oh, femslash fandom, I wish I could quit you. Well, not exactly, but the thing about hanging around for as long as I have – and I’m talking about watching Xena: Warrior Princess when it first aired – is that certain unresolved debates have a frustrating tendency to recur. Right now many of these are raging around the concept of queer-baiting, or more generally, the relationship between, on the one hand, what TPTB (the powers that be, i.e. show-runners, actors, network promotion departments) do to court LGBTQ interest, and what the show canonically delivers. In this regard, I’ve been thinking about four of the biggest femslash pairings right now on North American television, which I list from most to least canonical: Bo/Lauren (Doccubus) on Lost Girl; H.G./Myka (Bering and Wells) on Warehouse 13; and, essentially in a tie for third place, Emma and Regina (Swan Queen) on Once Upon a Time and Jane/Maura (Rizzles) on Rizzoli & Isles. But the ease of deciding whether there’s queer-baiting going on doesn’t follow in the same order.
The main point I want to make here is that Rizzoli & Isles is the most egregious queer-baiting offender I know. Rose at Autostraddle wrote thoughtfully about queer-baiting a couple of weeks ago (On Queerbaiting and Misha’s Comments at NJCon) and I agree with the gist of that piece that queer-baiting isn’t simply the presence of homoerotic subtext in a show, but the intentional courting of queer viewers coupled with a “No Homo, Man!” disclaimer when questioned about the same-sex romantic possibilities. I can’t catalog all the ways that R&I has indulged in these tactics, but the show's marketing – the speed-dating promo for Season 2 and the Season 4 Bound for Life poster where Jane and Maura are cuffed together – are two examples which clearly tease a romantic/sexual relationship, yet we have showrunner Janet Tamaro and both actors repeatedly declaring that the characters are straight. As for how they address R&I’s significant queer female following, the tone nowadays comes across as less respectful than it did initially, and a whole lot more like “We find it hilarious, but sure, go for it, you naughty horny lesbians!”
The Doccubus relationship on Lost Girl is in many ways diametrically opposite to Swan Queen. It involves a canonically bisexual character, Bo the succubus, and another canonically queer (most likely lesbian) female character, Lauren the doctor. They were canonically attracted to each other, canonically had sex with each other, canonically fell in love with each other, and were canonically in a relationship with each other. Yay, canon! While many fans were unhappy with how Doccubus played out last season, Lost Girl is also a show that I don’t believe can be accused of queer-baiting. Queer-baiting, from my perspective, isn’t simply not giving queer viewers what they want, or doing a poor job writing or portraying queer relationships (in which case, hello, many seasons of The L Word), but doing a bait and switch, i.e. “Look here, gay stuff – maybe! Or no, not really. But keep watching!”
That said, there is a gap between what TPTB have said and what we have gotten on the show itself. Heather Hogan argues that H.G. and Myka constitute a new kind of maintext, because the combination of how Kelly and Murray have characterized the love between the two characters and the epic storylines of connection and sacrifice between H.G. and Myka are sufficient to demonstrate that these are two characters in love, like, for example, Mulder and Scully on The X Files even before they got together canonically. While I am absolutely delighted that Kelly and Murray have validated queer readings of H.G. and Myka's relationship, it’s important not to equate paratexts – what is expressed about and around a show through interviews and promos – with the text itself. However Kelly and Murray played H.G. and Myka’s final scene in Instinct – and they certainly did a heartbreakingly great job at portraying pain on both sides – the text of the episode said that H.G. had chosen to live with a man and his child, and the text had Myka wishing H.G. well in that new life. While fans of heterosexual pairings get teased all the time without pay-off, there are so few potential same-sex pairings on American television that the tease can be particularly cruel in a case like W13, where the fans want it, the actors want it, the showrunner wrote one character as canonically bisexual and has recently acknowledged that the other is open to a same-sex relationship – only to be told that there will be no such happy ending.

Some Comments

[theagonyofblank]:

Nicely put, and I agree - especially with what you've said about Warehouse 13.

While I'd obviously love for Myka and Helena to walk off into the sunset together, it simply isn't what the show's about. Which of the Warehouse gang has managed to sustain a long-term relationship? None of them, and I think Myka's relationship with HG comes closest to that.

Of course, like you've said, it's important to realize that paratext does not equal text. And though they'll never get their happy ending, I enjoyed watching their relationship develop, and think it was much better done than other shows that queer-bait with no real follow-through. (I guess I'm trying to say that they never once actually claimed that the characters themselves would end up together, and we got this wonderful relationship out of it.)
[reversatility]:

Yeah, I agree with you (and Heather Hogan) about Helena and Myka's relationship having greater depth and intensity than many canonically lesbian/queer relationships or hook-ups we've seen on other shows; there's definitely value in what we've gotten on W13. But without rising (sinking?) to the level of queer-baiting, the tantalizing possibilities for Bering and Wells that have been presented to us is, to me, in a way more painful than a show like, say, Once Upon a Time, where I also see the possibility of an epic love story for Swan Queen, but have never believed it would even happen in canon.

As for the lack of sustained relationships, I'm curious to see how things will play out for the other W13 characters, particularly Pete.
[theagonyoftheblank]:

Swan Queen would be amazing for the show - but as you've pointed out, the writers/producers/head honchos are never going to make it happen. (And that's another thing about OUAT - there's so much potential in the show, and I feel like it's all wasted on crappy writing and one-dimensional characters.)

I guess I never really believed Myka/HG would happen in canon either. Yes, we got a very believable relationship out of it, but for some reason - maybe previous experience with networks lol - I haven't thought they would actually go there.

I did check out the post and the comments on that site - I do agree with a lot of it having to do with the characters themselves and what their definition of a happy ending is. I would honestly just be happy with Pete having the possibility of a relationship with Kelly (I don't think they're going to get married anytime soon after what happened between them, especially if she only comes back for one episode - it needs time to develop), and Helena coming back to work for the Warehouse in some form. While I think her relationship with Nate and Adelaide makes sense and is in part true to her character, I think it's also a bit of a disservice to her - I can't fathom her not being involved in the Warehouse at all. She's bound to get bored with her work as a forensic scientist in the police department.
[mayireadtoday]:

Really insightful.

I stopped watching Rizzoli & Isles after the second-to-last episode of Season 3. I just couldn't take it anymore. The show turned into "The Mrs. Rizzoli Show."

As for Warehouse 13, I'm unhappy about the sudden emergence of canon Pete/Myka subtext. How did we go from Pete and Myka screaming when they woke up in bed together to Pete wishing Myka was pregnant?.
[relaxovision]:

About Once: Jennifer Morrison said she's down for any storyline for Emma, as long as it gets her a boyfriend.

She then put up a status on Facebook, pulling the victim card, and saying that she feels insulted by the accusation of her not supporting homosexual relationships.

Lana Parrilla said Regina's love interest should be very manly.

While I don't see queerbaiting, either, it is noteworthy that the cast and crew of OUaT are the most outstanding example of homophobia and heterosexism I've come across in a very long time. I'm willing to cut Lana a bit of slack, because along with Jaime Chung she's the only one who's constantly showing support to the LGBTQ* community. But the show as an entity has become quite gross.

I don't recall any other example in which a show writer told a gay person (in this case: me) that gays are fairies. .
[reversatility]:

I'm not sure that I'd call the cast and crew of OUaT homophobic, but I agree that not only have several of them expressed heterosexist comments, they also do not understand that critique when people have tried to explain it to them (hence, JMo's indignation on Facebook, which to me only showed her ignorance of what heteronormativity is and why it is hurtful and harmful).

They seem to be attempting some damage control this season (with JMo posting a photo of her and Lana Parrilla that she titled "Swan Queen," for example) but that's what it comes across as to me: damage control rather than genuine regard or comprehension of the issues..

References