June, in a lot of the world, is Pride month. A month where LGBT+ people celebrate pride in who we are. For some, that means going to their local Pride event. For some, that means vowing to only read books by LGBT+ authors or with LGBT+ characters in the leading role. And some simply spend time a bit more time with their LGBT+ friends if they have any. (Sometimes LGBT+ people end up being the only Queer person in their circle of friends.)
To celebrate Pride, I’m talking about queer baiting. What it is, why it is hurtful and how to avoid it.
What Is Queer Baiting?
Queer baiting is one of my personal media pet peeves as a queer woman. It’s the phenomenon in which characters are hinted to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual etc. in order to gain more LGBT+ and liberal viewers/readers. Which would be perfectly fine if said queerness was ever confirmed. But, and this is a big but, in a bit of media that queer baits, things never are confirmed. It’s just perpetually hinted at.
Why Is Queer Baiting Hurtful?
To put it simply, because it acts as a form of erasure. Erasure being when a bit of media or a person acts in a way that ignores and/or mocks an identity.
A great example of this is the BBC show, Sherlock. In the original short stories, we never learn much about Sherlock’s orientation. Not surprising for the late 19th and early 20th century when the originals were written by A.C. Doyle. And not something that bothers me because of that very reason.
In the BBC show, Sherlock is, in the very first episode, implied to be gay. I’m a fan of the show, I liked the idea of a gay Sherlock when one of the show’s writers is himself a gay man. Representation of a minority group as written by someone in that group is something I enjoy. So it proved to be an interesting idea. I also like the idea of an asexual Sherlock, perhaps romantically interested men or not romantically interested in anyone. However, what could’ve been great representation was repeatedly downplayed as a very epic platonic love between Sherlock and John. This past season even ending with them raising John’s daughter together after his wife dies.
This itself is a shame as increasing the representation of minority groups like Black people or LGBT+ people increases social acceptance for said groups. Treating such characters as normal until they, in the eyes of the general public, become normal.
How To Avoid Queer Baiting
While this is more a TV and film problem than a book problem, there are ways someone writing novels and short stories can avoid it. And thankfully, some of those ways can be accomplished in very few words.
- Write more openly LGBT+ characters.
- If a beta reader says it seems like a character is queer, consider just going with the idea.
That’s it. Two tips. It’s that simple.
You will always want to make sure you’re not stereotyping the characters. A muscular geek who likes sports can be Gay/Bi just as easily as a more effeminate guy. A butch seeming woman can be straight and a really feminine woman can be a Bi/Lesbian. Anyone can be asexual etc.
In my opinion, the definitive book about this is Writing The Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Give it a try and see what you think about it. At the very least, you’ll learn some interesting methods for being more inclusive in your writing.
Have a happy Pride!
Reading: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Listening To: Nightwish| Endless Forms Most Beautiful
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