Brock Willard managing editor
Recently, “Heartstopper” star Kit Connor announced that he was bisexual on Twitter, much like the character he plays in the show. Normally, this would be a wonderful celebration of queer joy, but the 18-year-old actor said he felt pressured and forced to come out because supposed fans of the show harassed him after media photos came out of him vacationing with actress Maia Reficco. This incident has caused many on the show’s creative team to come out in support of Connor and condemn the way he has been treated. But therein lies the question: what is queerbaiting and how do we recognize it?
Traditionally, queerbaiting is the practice in the entertainment industry to suggest the presence of an LGBTQ relationship without planning on such representation to attract a straight ally or an LGBTQ audience to their product. This typically happens in film and television, but it can just as easily occur in books, music, video games, etc. By the traditional definition, Kit Connor would not have been queerbaiting by expressing affection for a female friend, because he is neither an entertainment company nor a creator of media. So why did fans suggest that he was queerbaiting?
The reason is that some people have tried to shift the definition to include celebrities who intentionally suggest queer themes in their work to garner a larger audience. A famous example is Nick Jonas who has become something of an LGBTQ sex symbol, and especially after his portrayal of a closeted MMA fighter in the show, “Kingdom.” There have been numerous other examples of this throughout the modern era as entertainment companies and truly individual artists want to seem progressive or LGBTQ-friendly without turning off a more socially conservative audience. However, this approach to queerbaiting has some problems.
Firstly, people need to understand that you are talking to individuals here with this approach. As Connor noted in his tweet, some missed the point of the show by assuming Connor was queerbaiting. It turned out of course that the fans were wrong and that Connor himself is queer, and that is where the trouble lies. You do not have any idea what someone else is going through and it is completely immoral to try and force someone to label themselves when they do not want to. Especially for actors, coming out can have extreme consequences. Once an actor comes out, they are often blacklisted from or pigeonholed into certain types of roles. That is not to say what this means for people who do not have some measure of fame.
The point of all of this is that you need to take a step back and understand that some people simply do not want to be labeled or they feel like the labels we have for different sexual orientations and gender identities are too limiting. Examining that idea would take another piece but the initial point stands: do not assume someone’s sexuality. If you want to know, you need to develop a relationship with that person and then they will tell you. Do not straight up ask them unless you are in a situation where that would be appropriate. Use some common sense in this matter and you will find the world is a lot more queer than you thought it was.