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Queerbaiting is a term coined for a relatively recent socio-cultural phenomenon in which people in the media (usually television and films) add or play up homoerotic tension between two same-sex characters to attract queer viewers and others interested in seeing more LGBT representation with no intention of ever giving the characters a romantic or sexual relationship in canon. Queerbaiting can also occur in fandoms with a lot of real person ships, such as boy bands.

In many cases, a queer relationship or character is hinted at to attract/appeal to the queer market, and then is denied, either by modifying the behavior of the characters (i.e. making one or both enter a heterosexual relationship), playing it off as a joke, or denying the assumptions in interviews or other platforms without modifying the behavior of the character or characters.

Fan attitudes toward queerbaiting have changed as openly LGBT characters and relationships have become increasingly common in media. Fan Jae Bailey, writing in Fan/Fic Magazine, explains:

Not even a decade ago, fans were largely content with gay subtext in the media since they didn't expect queer relationships to be portrayed in most movies or shows they watched. The subtext made them feel like the creators would have loved to portray the characters as queer—if not for the evil studio and movie execs. Writers and producers would therefore be lauded for secretly inserting queer characters into canon. [...] But times have changed. Now there are a number of successful shows and movies with openly queer characters—but not nearly enough to balance the books and in many television and movie franchises, queer relationships are still treated as absolutely taboo. However, the increasing number of on-screen queer romances sends the clear message that we can and should expect more. Subtext is no longer enough for today's queer community—how can it be, when we could be enjoying the real deal instead? And because some shows have given us queer romances, subtext is also viewed in a new light: it's viewed as a promise.[1]

When that promise is denied, fans are increasingly reacting with anger and disillusionment.

In an article entitled "How To Kill Your Slash Fandom In Five Steps," fan Aja Romano describes a typical pattern[2], with examples from Teen Wolf, Supernatural, Once Upon a Time, Sherlock, and more:

  1. Introduce two characters (or bandmates) with especially compelling chemistry. Once you've realized that fans are really enjoying their character/bandmate interaction, film them interacting even more to generate interest.
  2. Recognizing that you're sitting on a goldmine of potential fans for this one pairing, court the fandom by both acknowledging the existence of the ship and embracing the fans who ship it. (As a bonus, make in-show references to the ship for funsies)
  3. Once you realize that fans have latched on to the ship as the primary reason they're watching the show or band, start to distance yourself from the pairing and issue denials.
  4. Desperate to quash the interest in the pairing, split up the two people in it, hoping that by giving them other romantic interests, the shipping enthusiasm will die down. When this tactic of separation only seems to make the shippers in the fandom that much more united in opposition to the narrative, introduce a new, blindingly heteronormative romantic relationship for one or both members of the gay ship in question. Have the narrative insist that this new person is the real OTP of that person, the one true soulmate they were meant to be with.
  5. Watch a sizable chunk of the fandom you once tried to court walk away in droves.

Related Links


  1. https://fanslashfic.com/2016/04/08/why-you-should-be-aware-of-queerbaiting-tactics/
  2. http://www.dailydot.com/geek/how-to-kill-your-fandom-sterek-queerbaiting/

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