On October 31, Heartstopper star Kit Connor came out as bisexual on Twitter after continuously being accused of queerbaiting since the airing of the show. “Back for a minute. I’m bi,” Connor tweeted. “Congrats for forcing an 18-year-old to out himself. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Bye.” His announcement came after he was bullied online for holding hands with Maia Reficco, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow co-star. Some also claimed that being queer is required to play a bisexual character in the show. But what exactly is queerbaiting, and what is it not?
Queerbaiting has become a common word on social media since the previous decade. Although it has no official meaning (just like any other social-media-driven word), it was first used to refer to fictional characters that led the audience to think that they were queer. It is “the practice of subtly portraying queerness while still maintaining plausible deniability”, as Them defines it. However, the meaning of the term has evolved over time. Today, queerbaiting primarily refers to a situation in which a non-queer person acts queer to grasp attention– mostly from queer people. The term gained popularity as LGBTQ+ representation in media has increased in the past few years. However, it has now reached a point of being misused, targeting queer people for acting queer. This was simply the case with Kit Connor. Every queer person deserves to decide their terms of coming out, and Kit Connor was denied his.
Ironically, Kit Connor plays the bisexual rugby player Nick Nelson in Heartsopper, who is trying to figure out his sexuality, how, and when to come out. Putting pressure on an 18-year-old to come out is simply abusive, and it is even more concerning when it is done by fans of a romantic queer show.
On the other hand, as his long-awaited new movies, Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman, are released, Harry Styles once again became a topic of our daily discussions. In My Policeman, Harry Styles plays a character pursuing a same-sex affair despite the illegality of homosexuality in 1950s England. Gay characters played by straight (?) males have always been a topic of heated debate, and Harry Styles is a name that often pops up when we talk about queerbaiting. His case is completely different from Kit Connor’s, though. Since the release of his second album “Fine Line,” Harry Styles is in the spotlight for his new style. Although it is problematic to portray Harry Styles as a “norm-breaker” for wearing colorful dresses and skirts, as queer people have done this for decades, the way he expresses himself is not necessarily related to his sexuality.
In an interview, while talking about his new movie My Policeman, Harry reflected on the sex scenes: “So much of gay sex in the film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it…” This comment left many fans baffled, what does he even mean? He was then accused of homophobia and queerbaiting. Even Grindr, a gay dating app, posted a meme on Twitter making fun of Harry.
To address allegations pointed at him, Harry Styles once said in an interview, “Sometimes people say, ‘You’ve only publicly been with women,’ and I don’t think I’ve publicly been with anyone,”, despite having a very much public relationship with Olivia Wilde. “If someone takes a picture of you with someone, it doesn’t mean you’re choosing to have a public relationship or something.”
Harry Styles is a 28-year-old who brags about having a safe social environment. He is a world-known artist with a solid fan base, which comes with privileges most of us don’t have. When this is the case, people questioning his sexuality while the media portrays Harry as a boundary-breaking social justice warrior shouldn’t sound abnormal. Of course, not all people have to label or be open about their sexuality; however, it is a very different situation when one makes millions of dollars from the attention of the queer community that sees Harry as one of themselves.
It seems the term “queerbaiting” will stay in our lives for a while, but it is important to think twice before accusing someone of it. Kit Connor is an unfortunate example of how we lost the narrative on queerbaiting, but I cannot say the same thing about Harry Styles–at least for now.