How Do We Solve A Problem Like “Queerbaiting”?: On TV’s Not-So-Subtle Gay Subtext

We’re at an interesting moment in history for LGBTQ media representation. We’re long past the days when queer characters and romances were limited to gay-oriented shows buried in the premium channel listings; now, there are plenty of mainstream shows, even those aimed at teenagers, that represent people like us and our love and sex lives. And as our political equality goes further and further, and it’s clearer and clearer that the majority of Americans support marriage equality and other LGBTQ political issues, we’re likely to see even more of us on our screens, big and small, as writers cue into the notion that their audiences are not necessarily threatened by characters of different sexual orientations or gender identities.

Which, of course, means that fans demand more accountability from writers that get us wrong – or just don’t give us enough. Hence, the debate that’s been flaring across the queer and pro-queer Internet about the notion of “queerbaiting” – when they give us just enough to keep us interested, but not enough to satisfy us and make us truly represented. But what does that mean exactly? What is “queerbaiting”?

It’s hard to find anything about where exactly the term “queerbaiting” in this context originated, but it seems to have entered the popular lexicon on fan-heavy sites like Tumblr and Livejournal as a result of several controversies involving “queerbaiting” with male TV characters – namely, in Tumblr favorites like Supernatural and Teen Wolf. In the case of the former, actor Misha Collins used the term at a convention, stating: “First of all, I think the term ‘queerbaiting’ is not accurate. It pissed me off, because I feel like a real champion of that community with all those letters [LGBTQ] – you know, I’ve officiated gay weddings. Also, I don’t understand what the term means.”

Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) from the BBC series, via The Mary Sue

Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) from the BBC series, via The Mary Sue

Tumblr, predictably, erupted over these comments (even though, in context, they come off quite differently). But Collins is right that the Internet can’t seem to agree on a definition for the word. Some interpret “queerbaiting” as just about any subtext; others say that it has to include some sort of “no homo” joke, a clear acknowledgement that, despite the obvious chemistry, it’s never going to happen and the characters are straight. In Emerson College’s online Isis Magazine, Rebekah Bailey gives an example of the latter in action in BBC’s Sherlock:

Queer-baiting, for those who do not know, is the practice of television shows and movies putting in a little gay subtext, stirring up interest with queer fans, and then pulling a NO HOMO, MAN on the viewers. If you’ve watched Sherlock, this is a major “subplot” of the first episode, and it continues as a running joke throughout the series. John and Sherlock are mistaken as a gay couple, one of them (usually John) goes, “no way, of course not, we’re not even gay,” and it’s played off as a joke. The mere speculation that a character could be gay is played for laughs, and if you don’t see something wrong there, then there’s something wrong.

Indeed, the idea behind “no homo” is both that homosexuality is little more than a gag, and also that it’s deviant and wrong some way – “of course we’re not gay, how could you even think that” is the underlying assumption behind the joke.

As for examples with women, “queerbaiting” for lesbians tends to run in different directions – mostly, in terms of actually giving the characters some physical girl-on-girl action, but making sure it never turns into anything long-term or meaningful or contradicts the characters’ previous heterosexuality. In other words, the Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss. We’ve seen this in so many places – teased with a lesbian kiss only to have the character go back to being 100% straight next week, or for it to be a dream sequence or some other weird context that makes it meaningless – that it would take forever to list. But there are still shows with women that follow the Sherlock model for queerbaiting; the most prominent these days is probably Rizzoli & Isles. That show’s actors recently admitted that at least some of that unresolved chemistry between the title characters was a deliberate play to their lesbian viewers:

[Angie] Harmon admits they do play up the tension sometimes. A poster for the new season features the women languidly stretched out together on a picnic blanket, for example. ‘Sometimes we’ll do a take for that demo,’ Harmon admits. “I’ll brush by [Maura’s] blouse or maybe linger for a moment. As long as we’re not being accused of being homophobic, which is not in any way true and completely infuriating, I’m OK with it.”

When it’s that deliberate as in the cases of Sherlock or Rizzoli & Isles, there is a distinct feeling that the creators are playing with LGBTQ – and invested-in-LGBTQ-relationships (since the core of the “Johnlock” fanbase is slash-fanfiction-writing straight women) – dollars, but don’t care enough about us that they’d risk actually offending homophobes with explicit queer representation. Actors or writers may insist it’s not homophobic, but there is a distinct feeling that we’re being taken advantage of, that we’re second-class fans who they don’t care if they do a disservice to so as long as we still watch. It’s similar to the feeling a lot of queer women have about Glee – but Glee does at least have several canonical queer characters, and the writers listened when fans wanted Brittany and Santana’s relationship to become more than subtext. (And hopefully that’s the last time I’ll be forced to defend Glee‘s treatment of its queer female characters.)

Yet, expanding the “queerbaiting” debate to include subtext in general makes it a bit troubling. First of all, there’s the question of just how “overt” is overt. Maybe those two same-gender characters’ eyes lingered on each other for a little longer than was necessary, but was that necessarily intended by the show creators, or is it just being interpreted that way by shippers in the fanbase? Fan interpretations are, of course, perfectly legitimate, but intention should be considered if one is going to accuse the show creators of homophobia for including subtext. Some fans, for better or for worse, do see subtext wherever they go.

It’s also important to understand subtext in the context of its past. Historically, gay or lesbian subtext has been seen as a positive for the LGBTQ community – a way to get around rigid censors or unfriendly audiences. A way to throw us a bone when we normally wouldn’t have anything, to acknowledge that we’re there in the audience when the powers that be would prefer to ignore us. A lot of older generations of LGBTQ people have fond memories of classic films with wink-wink-nudge-nudge bits of potential queerness designed to fly under the radar of the Hays Code. (For more on this, check out The Celluloid Closet.) And even after it ended, both the new MPAA rating system and worries about audience reactions meant that filmmakers had to still be cautious. TV was no better; if it took until the late 1960s to get the first scripted interracial kiss on mainstream US television, is it any surprise that homosexuality was so hard to find there until the past decade?

As such, those using the broader definition of “queerbaiting” to dismiss any and all overt subtext should at least consider the concept’s progressive history; too often, the conversations in fan spaces about this seem to be ignoring this context when it comes to older works. As one Tumblr user put it: “The original Star Trek series didn’t queerbait. At the time, nobody knew that there was an audience for male/male romance stories, so any romantic tension between Kirk and Spock was accidental. But my God, there was loads of it.” However, the writers of today’s television shows may be too caught up in this history. Because, with the exception of certain genres, like children’s shows, the times where subtext is far as one could go are long past. The point is about expectation; if we are expecting nothing, the occasional nod our way is a pleasant surprise. But when we’re given reason to hope for real representation, having it never go beyond hints – hints that not every viewer is going to pick up on – is mostly just infuriating.

Great Moments in Subtext History: Some Like It Hot (1959) - image via

Great Moments in Subtext History: Some Like It Hot (1959) – image via

And increasingly, the TV landscape is moving toward the latter set of expectations. From Glee to Skins to Pretty Little Liars, same-sex couples are now found all over television. And there’s more than a little proof out there that media representation of LGBTQ characters and their relationships helps move forward public opinion on LGBTQ political equality. So there is a feeling that TV writers who want to keep our representation on the down-low – enough that we see it, and maybe some straight people also looking for it see it, but nobody else does – are wimping out, and are refusing to engage in an important national conversation.

And does LGBTQ representation even need to be about a national conversation? Is it too much to ask that we simply have our romantic and sexual lives treated like anyone else’s, as worthy of epic fictional romances as heterosexuals’ are?

And that comes to the real issue with queerbaiting. Indeed, it may not be homophobia per se – which, besides being a (necessarily) loaded term, implies fear or malice toward homosexuality. What it is is heterosexism, the unchecked assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and anything else is the Other. It’s this attitude that, for example, causes romance advice columns like the ones I’d read in magazines as a frustrated teenager to assume everyone is interested in the opposite sex – not out of hate for gay people, but out of a refusal to check their own privilege or acknowledge the experiences of those who are different from them. Likewise, the problem here is the idea that heterosexual romance is for a general audience, but having a same-sex romance is either specifically for a gay audience or for making a soapbox statement about homophobia.

Subtext in general is unlikely to ever be a lost art. After all, even heterosexual subtext is a thing; sometimes writers don’t want any romance to be explicit, but want to focus on other things or leave the fans to draw their own conclusions. Or sometimes the reason for leaving a particular coupling at the subtextual level while others get clear acknowledgement has little to do with the genders involved. But there’s a clear double standard for a lot of these shows: as Baker writes, “Many times, the shows that have the most queerbaiting also have few to no actual queer characters. Sherlock, for example, has one lesbian character (Irene Adler), but she gets “fixed” because she falls for Sherlock.”

When we’re only getting crumbs while heterosexual characters run the full gamut of romantic storylines, viewers should definitely hold writers accountable and ask why this is the case – “no homo” jokes or not.

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Rose is a 25-year-old Detroit native currently living in Austin, TX, where she is working on her Ph.D. in musicology. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime News Network.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Thank you for writing this article. I’m not sure I have any answers to these important questions though

    I’m a Rizzoli & Isles subtext fan. And I means subtext fan. The show itself is terrible in my opinion, and I once tried to watch an episode with my straight best friend, who yelled at me for making her watch something so terrible.

    • Completely agree with how the subtext is really the only [somewhat] decent part of the show. I started watching because I’m really into crime shows, and I eventually lost interest, but I still watch because part of me is like “they might finally confess their love to each other in this episode!” Which obviously is never going to happen.
      I’ve pretty much given up on this show, but at times it’s nice to just sit down, drink, and watch two attractive women flirt with eachother

    • Yeah I started watching Rizzoli & Isles for the subtext. I stopped watching it because of everything else in the show. lol

  2. Rizzoli & Isles is one of my favorite tv shows and I definitely second the idea that there’s some subtext going on. I remember there being a ton of subtext and queer baiting in Xena, too. From several of the Rizzoli fan bases, there are quite a few of them that would love to see Jane and Maura become a couple, and as a more recent queer baiting show, I hope that might have a chance of happening, but doubt it will until being gay stops being treated as a joke.

  3. I think it’s hard to separate misogyny with queerbaiting for much of this, Sherlock being the prime example. I didn’t mind the subtext with Xena because they were always so close to actually being, and the whole thing was about as campy as it could get anyway. But Rizzoli & Isles I have much less patience for, because the subtext is treated humorously, with a wink. That just doesn’t cut it anymore. In real life, they’d at least have had a discussion about it, if not an actual intimate relationship. I’m not in the least bit interested in watching anymore of it than I already have. And Glee… ugh.

    • I think for Xena as well, it’s easy to forget that it started in 1995, and I really don’t think an overtly lesbian couple would have been acceptable on TV then as it would be now. In fact, I know it wouldn’t, and especially not as the main characters rather than a couple on the periphery.

  4. yeah, also a Rizzoli and Isles fan. But this “queerbaiting” is really really frustrating. also, the Some Like It Hot pic!!! If only Monroe didn’t play such a ditzy character in that movie.

  5. *sobbing eternally* Faberry

    Thank you for this article. On one hand, it’s fun to partake in certain fandoms based around this, but when TV shows are blatantly aware of the subtext and insisting on kipping around the subject because their characters are still by default straight…it’s disheartening and maddening.

    • Faberry actually started to make me feel like I was losing my mind, because I couldn’t tell if it was Tumblr and my English major subtextual readings of every piece of fiction ever that was making me see it, or if it was actually being played up.

    • As some one in the middle of a glee rewatch, I see more connection between quinn and mercedes. I don’t really see it between Fayberry.

  6. Wow, there’s an actual word for that background radiation

    “We totally want gay people to watch this show (because money!), but we’re totally freaked out that if we put too much gay stuff in it that straight people won’t watch it, so we’re just going to write in ridic amounts of subtext… cool? Cool.

    And also you’re going to have to watch heterosexual people have so much sex it will make your head explode.”

    • I guess that’s one thing that keeps me watching Rizzoli & Isles… None of the hetero relationships work (so far). The healthiest ‘relationship’ on the whole show is between Jane and Maura.

      But I also feel like just because two women can get along and not fight over men doesn’t mean they’re gay…

      …so conflicted.

      • yeah I feel this feel. Like every time it fails or gets complicated with random guy and Maura and Jane spend half the episode giggling or looking for stressful reasons to hug each other…I’m like this! exactly this! but what does that say about me because I’m clearly ignoring the straight orientation for my own benefit.

      • This kind of reminds me when I casually brought up the potential gay subtext with Timon and Pumba with some of my close friends (whom I would say would be allies, except for this?), and the absolutely furor of indignant outrage at my attempts at placing my political projections on their beloved childhood characters was…quite painful, actually. I remember my ex claiming that “just because two guys are good friends doesn’t mean they have to be gay!” and went on a rant about that, which I countered with “okay, that’s fair, but it shouldn’t be OFFENSIVE to speculate on whether two guys are just friends who are looking after a “kid brother” or are co-foster-parents” which really gets to me.

        It’s one thing to depict healthy same-sex friendships without finding the notion of it being misinterpreted as offensive or “political”.

        Sorry, this Disney conversation happened 2 years ago and I’m still not over it.

        • “I remember my ex claiming that ‘just because two guys are good friends doesn’t mean they have to be gay!’ and went on a rant about that, which I countered with ‘okay, that’s fair, but it shouldn’t be OFFENSIVE to speculate on whether two guys are just friends who are looking after a “kid brother” or are co-foster-parents’ which really gets to me.”

          I really hate this argument when applied to slash fans or others who speculate on characters having non-heterosexual orientations. Like close male-male friendships have some lack of representation in media and they need protecting from the horrible queers who want to interpret them as romantic! COME ON. They are EVERYWHERE and always has been; hell, “bromance” is basically a genre of bad movies these days.

          And these are often the same people who will interpret every close relationship between a man and a woman in fiction as potentially romantic.

        • “If two people of opposite genders are close, they MUST be together! If two people of the same gender are close, they CAN’T POSSIBLY be together!”

          Very simplistic, and they don’t seem to have much faith in honest friendship if the mere possibility of attraction is enough to invalidate it. Bisexuality greatly confuses these people.

        • This kind of reaction also reeks of the attitude that same-sex relationships are not appropriate for children to see and therefore should not exist in children’s entertainment. I would LOVE for there to be a show or movie my 4-year-old could watch that depicts a family like hers, but I feel like that’s still a long way off.

  7. I guess I have mixed emotions here, but mostly because I consider myself involved with Rizzoli and Isles at this point. In interviews both Sasha Alexander and Angie Harmon have expressed gratitude for the hearts of millions including my own wanting them to just hook up already. Is it crappy that they are mindful of presenting the illusion with no intention of making it happen? Maybe, but I guess I just don’t care. I don’t claim to be any authority on worthy television, but if something can keep my attention and provide intentional softcore homoerotic gifs for tumblr I’m down. Also the interaction in question, the deep emotional relationship between women isn’t so exploitative. Serena and Blair, Summer and Marissa, even Angela and Rayanne had “besties that could be lezzies” moments. I don’t know if writers have the obligation to engage in a national conversation, I quit watching Glee because it got unrealistically gay. What I mean is that Ryan Murphy isn’t doing it very well. I don’t think I want Rizzles to go the way of Brittana.

  8. OMFG, I’m still pissed about the latest episode of Rizzoli and Isles. There’s this insufferable male character called Casey that they just throw into the mix anytime the show starts to seem a little “too gay.” He’s such and asshole, he keeps waltzing in and out of Jane’s life whenever he wants, and the worst part is that she always welcomes him with open arms. Also, can we talk about the fucking lack of continuity on the show. What happened to Jane’s scar? How can Casey just magically walk again? Ugh

    • I hate Casey with a fiery passion xD. He’s such a boring, bland character with hardly any personality. What pisses me off the most is that he comes back from war to tell Jane that he’s going back to war… But he’ll prolly waltz back in a third time…and then go back. *facepalm*

  9. I feel like if Xena had been made ten years later they would have gone past subtext. Times are a-changing. Also, great article.

  10. *flashes back to the 90’s*

    Xena was all about the subtext, which became deliberate. But it had to be. And later, people from all levels of the show acknowledged the relationship between the characters.

    I agree that it is way past that now, and there needs to be great shows with great, out characters. Like Lost Girl. That show makes me super happy.

  11. I’ve become really anti-“Rizzoli and Isles,” simply because I’ve been under the impression that any subtext is agreed to pretty begrudgingly by Angie Harmon, notorious Republican and “But I can’t be homophobic, I have gay friends!” touter. She just seems really prickly on the subject, and then it seemingly became something they can’t ignore and it’s obvious that this is what a huge chunk of their fanbase is there for, that’s when they decide to play it up. There’s almost an exact mirror of this situation on “Warehouse 13,” but that one doesn’t really piss me off like “Rizzoli and Isles” does. On “Warehouse 13,” it was basically a choice made by the actresses – and they stand completely by the choice in interviews – to play their characters as if they fell in love, because that’s what made sense to them, and seemingly not for ratings (although I know that queer fandom ladies are a huge part of their viewership now). I guess intent is the difference? Because both things are subtext – we’ve never seen either Rizzoli and Isles or Myka and H.G. make out or anything. But I also don’t see the people behind “Warehouse 13” trying adamantly to make everyone understand that these are straight characters (or in H.G.’s case, bisexual, another reason why the queerbaiting criticisms apply a little less to that show) and instead, their argument for not including it is that the show doesn’t focus on romantic relationships very much (which is infuriating, but at least pretty true and believable). On the other hand, “Rizzoli and Isles” always seemed to shuffle the ladies from one heterosexual relationship to another as if they were trying too hard to prove a point. I don’t know. It’s a really delicate, thin line to walk, and it’s even further complicated by the fact that male/male slash fans like in the “Supernatural” or “Sherlock” fandoms are straight women who just want to see two hot dudes make out, whereas “femslash” fans tend to be actually queer women, and a good chunk of their interest in said pairings is simply in seeing representation of themselves on their televisions.

    • “It’s a really delicate, thin line to walk, and it’s even further complicated by the fact that male/male slash fans like in the “Supernatural” or “Sherlock” fandoms are straight women who just want to see two hot dudes make out, whereas “femslash” fans tend to be actually queer women, and a good chunk of their interest in said pairings is simply in seeing representation of themselves on their televisions.”

      This actually isn’t entirely true. When people have crunched the numbers on slash fans from what I’ve seen, most of them are some form of LGBTQ. In the fandoms I’ve seen where there’s a lot of slash (I don’t really follow Supernatural or Sherlock because neither of those shows interest me, but I follow a lot of anime fandoms that are like this) a lot of the slash fans are queer women who would probably ship femslash if there were more significant female characters with relationships with each other. In their minds, queer representation of any kind is better than none, and more relatable to them, so they’re invested in the male slash couples who have some sort of subtext behind them in the show.

      Also I think it’s kind of dismissive to assume even straight slash fans “just want to see hot guys make out”? A lot of the slash fiction I’ve read is every bit as deep and heartfelt as any other good romance, even when it’s written by straight women; it’s as much about romance and feelings as it is about hot guys having sex/making out. Overall, slash has a long history that’s a lot more complicated than just straight women fetishizing gay men, though there’s still plenty of that (and I’ve heard the Sherlock fandom in particular is rife with that).

      • As a lesbian woman who’s been heavily into slash fanfic since middle school, I want to marry this comment.

      • Also, as a Rizzles shipper on tumblr I’ve met several straight women who not only ship them with a passion, but also write some of the most amazing fic for them.

      • Sorry, I should’ve left a little grey area in my comment but was in a bit of a hurry. I didn’t at all intend to dismiss queer women slash fans, because I know they exist. My experience comes almost entirely from seeing Supernatural and Sherlock shippers on Tumblr who are incredibly toxic towards the female characters on their shows because they get in the way of the “true love” between the two male characters. This is the impression I’ve gotten, so I didn’t mean to base an entire black and white argument on a handful of rabid fans on Tumblr, but I also wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s not some validity to the argument that some slash shippers are really shitty towards female characters and femslash fans and that a good majority of femslash fans are queer women who mostly just want to see representation of themselves in media.

        • Oh, I know it is very very present. There are plenty of people who hate Meg because Cas was close to her or hate Lisa because she was with Dean for awhile etc. The same goes for Sherlock, and it’s ridiculous, but I think the vast majority of people in the fandoms are actually less extreme about it. It seems that those minority are just really vocal.

        • Yeah, I totally understand what you’re saying. I have cringed in secondhand embarrassment over the way some straight women in my fandoms talk about their ships. I’ve luckily never run into a lot of female hate, but I know it exists. I’m just very good at staying away from those circles, I think.

        • Yeah, I mean, it’s true there is a lot of misogyny in slash fandom, but honestly, I’ve seen just as much from heterosexual shippers directed at the woman who gets in the way of their preferred man/woman pairing. This could be partly because of my own experiences in fandom-y spaces like Tumblr, too; I’ve seen a lot of people try to say “but slash fans are misogynists!” and act like they’re “better feminists” for preferring het or whatever.

          Basically my feeling is that the problematic aspects of slash fanfiction get excessive scrutiny for something that is mostly usually young girls (you’ll find a lot in slash that the older the writer, the less of the icky stuff there is) who are just hurting themselves with their internalized misogyny – it’s a horse of a different color from, like, the fetishization of queer women in the mass media created by people with actual power. But it still grosses me out whenever I see it; I can’t tell you how many otherwise-good slash fiction I had to stop reading because I was sick of the character assassinations of the guys’ female love interests. And if they’re keeping actual queer people from being able to participate in it, that’s something that should definitely be addressed, no matter what.

      • I am a gay lady who is pretty invested in shows like Supernatural, Sherlock, and Star Trek and I have adored both fem!slash and male!slash for ages. I just enjoy seeing non-traditional love. Yes there is fetishizing involved at times, but there is actually less of this than you would imagine.

        Yes, I would read more fem!slash, but the truth is most of the characters in the shows I watch are male so I just have to read what’s out there.

        • Same here. One of the best things I’ve seen on Tumblr about queerbaiting was that it’s wrong to dismiss slash, particulary m/m, as just a “silly het girl” trend because it marginalises the Queer presence in the community and also shifts the blame for the baiting away from the writers, which is where it should go. As intensely irritating as queerbaiting is to put up with, I find I still get something out of participating in the fandoms. I don’t think I would go as far a boycott – I’m not overly wild about the Internet (my one truly safe space) becoming so politicised that I can’t derive any enjoyment from it.

          Plus, a fanfic (or indeed, any work of fiction) can include sex without it deteriorating into fetishisation. It’s possible to write a character as a sexual being and still have them be a whole person too. I’m not saying that fetishisation doesn’t happen, just that it isn’t mutually inclusive with a sexual component to a narrative.

          What’s particularly frustrating for me about Sherlock is that the BBC is probably the best candidate as a network that one could hope to find for turning subtext to text in a mainstream show: it doesn’t have any advertisers to fret over and it aims to serve the public interest, and representing minorities is part of that.

        • Not a Superwholock fan, but I’m also a lesbian who ships a lot of guy/guy couples. I think the most important thing in being a slash fangirl is to remember that love between guys is a real thing, not some cute twee phenomenon created for our pleasure. My heart sinks every time I see some fangirl posting about “her faggots” or extolling EVERY guy/guy relationship as beautiful and romantic. We queer slash fans just have to remember not to fetishize queer guys ourselves.

      • Oh how I wish this were true. (also where are these numbers, I would love to see statistical evidence! :D ) In my anecdotal experience, femslash is marginalized heavily by the same people who extol the virtues of m/m slash. There are some very strange patriarchal elements going on in the background in a lot of these fandoms, up to the point sometimes where femslash is seen as a place of malegaze and patriarchy itself and m/m held up as a shining alternative. Like I say, strange and disheartening place.

        • A lot of our different takes on this may depend a lot on the specific fandom or corners of it, as it seems in these comments we all have wildly different experiences with this. When a lot of us are telling personal anecdotes, comments like “Oh how I wish that were true” come off to me as a bit condescending.

          I agree that there are a lot of slash fans who are homophobic and misogynistic, definitely; I haven’t been active with the fanbases where there’s a lot of both slash and femslash (most of the series I like trend toward one or the other), but what you’re saying about that doesn’t surprise me. But that vice can very much be versa, as I detailed here: A lot of straight male fans who find lesbians “hot” have very condescending attitudes toward slash that are wrapped up in homophobia and a misogynistic fear of female sexuality (since most slash writers are women), and while they may not be writing fanfiction as much as women, they still participate in fan spaces in other ways and make their views known. I don’t think either group gets off scot-free, but when it comes to where we’re going to point fingers, I’d sooner direct them at the lesbian fetishization that is all over and encouraged by the mainstream media, than any gay male fetishization that is mostly perpetuated by a small subculture of women and girls with little to no real power or influence. Slash is basically a subculture within a subculture.

          Also, I don’t really see how any subculture that is primarily women-run can be truly “patriarchal”? The word “patriarchy” to me, implies that it’s men behind it all, and that’s just not what you get with something like slash that is so heavily female. Plenty of its fans are full of misogyny, but it’s internalized misogyny – and it’s not like it isn’t present in other parts of fan culture, too. The sexism and homophobia I’ve seen from heterosexual shippers far outweighs anything I’ve found in either slash or femslash corners of fandom – but again, that could be just the fan spaces with which I’m most familiar.

          Lastly, when I can find the post again with those numbers about how most slash fans are queer (slaps self for not bookmarking these things when I find them), I’ll cite it.

          (sorry I edited this like 100000 times, maybe I was reading too much into it but I felt like my first attempt here came off as overly defensive and dismissive and I didn’t want you to think that’s what I meant)

      • Yeah, I remember someone in one of the fandoms I’m in on tumblr trying to lecture some queer slash fans that “just because you’re queer doesn’t excuse the fetishizing of gay men in your slash!”

        First of all, none of these people wrote the kind of slash that engages in that stuff, and they call it out when other slash fans do. But even so I just wanted to be like, “girl, you’re not in a position where you have any right to tell queer people how to be queer.”

        And plus I know I keep saying this OVER AND OVER AGAIN but really with the way lesbians are fetishized by the media at large, I feel very “cry me a river” about how gay men are supposedly hurt by slash fangirls who fetishize their sexuality. No one should have to deal with that crap, but at most you’re dealing with it a weekend or two a year at some anime convention from, like, a clique of 15-year-old girls. Lesbian and bi women have their sexuality dismissed and fetishized ALL THE TIME. Often from people with much more power to hurt us.

        Also, a lot of the shows where slash is really popular are VERY male-centered. If people have the option of coming up with really contrived relationships between female characters or making up their own because the thing is so bad at woman-woman relationships that it barely passes the Bechdel Test across 50 episodes, OR working with the already-established bonds between men, of course they’re going to go with the latter. It’s yet another case where people really need to point the fingers at those who are truly to blame – the writers, for giving us so few significant relationships between women and making everything all about the dudes. You can’t be surprised that fans are only trying to make the best with what the writers gave them.

        • When it comes to straights women slash shipping it’s far more complex. At first not everybody knows that for example yaoi was created by Japanese feminists in 60’s as a sort of subversive strategy against men domination on women. And it was mostly dedicated for straight girls which were abused by extremely patriarchal Japanese society during the time. Basically it was all about changing the subject and object in the narrative structure of the story, to finally get rid of dominant aspect of men presence, by literally “changing the roles”.
          When it comes to modern slash, based on the TV show – the phenomena, at least for me, started to be more clearly.
          So during my research I could describe at least some important aspects.
          1. Writers using romantic tropes in TV shows, so the audience just interpreted the theme
          2. As someone noticed – it’s about female “problematic body”. This “body” was always a subject or the object in visual code . Women body get rape, get hurt , being fetishized, judged and so on. When it comes to the erotic/porn scenes – is even worst. But if you “get rid” of the female body from the theme it’s literally “won’t get hurt” which makes women can fully enjoyed “sexual spectacle”
          3. So if when woman is not part of the scene – it’s much easier for the writers/readers for projecting their own fears or traumas on imaginary characters ( like violence, rape and so on). It’s most like a drama therapy and no one should minimize needs like these.

          4. It’s about an idea of perfect partnership and most of all – about looking for the “female” aspect in males nature.
          a) TV male character are also created on some “androgynous model”
          b) in traditional relationship man and women are not belong to the same “level”. They experiences are different, they expectation for each other are different, they society position is different. It’s totally opposite when it comes to slash fiction.

          5. It’s not in fact about fetishizing gay sex – it’s more about fetishizing male body in general. And it’s still is not very appropriate for women to being in the position when she could “judging” the man – including the way he looks.
          a)there is no a lot of stuff in the mainstream visual code which shown a women point of view when it comes to men – film industry is basically run by male society. More or less – they show us how one straight guy describe another straight guy. It’s no how women in fact seeing men (including male sexuality or what they find atractive). But slash do that and in that way it’s the strategy that could help you fill this lack.
          b) women don’t look at gay relationships in slash fiction from perspective of someone who has power
          c) sorry, but you can’t blame straight women for being attractive to the guys. In fact – we all should feel free to admire whoever we want – man/women, in the way that we mostly appreciate. As long as it’s something that we’re doing with a full respect to the other human being it’s not the thing that we should argue at. And I don’t find slash writing as being insulting for tha gay society in general.

          6. Oh, and there is a tragic, romantically aspect. Slash shippers create the perfect, utopian relationship between non stereotypical mens within they never will be a part of – because it’s impossible. For me it’s kind of dramatic way of screaming that they are still not fully respect part of the society, because they are not men.

          A lot of straights women identify with queer community because they feel they don’t fit to the society, they don’t fit any pattern traditionally reserved for the women and just feel that they are different.
          there is a lot of hatred that female straight slash shippers gets from men because of their activity. But it’s even getting more sad when they’re being insulting by LGBTQ community – it just puts these women in the worst position, on the lowest level, because they started to being reject from society like at all. And the reason is only that not everyone understand what m/m is about for real. Just think about it before you starting to judge someone based on stereotype.

        • ” I feel very “cry me a river” about how gay men are supposedly hurt by slash fangirls who fetishize their sexuality.”

          For example “Single man” movie is something what’s fetishzise gay relationship much more than any slash fiction and it’s doing it in a lot of way. That was queer movie, ok, I know, but made for the mainstream audience as well. And straight people watch it (including straight women), and they probably read it in a lot of way. Some of them maybe even fetishize it.
          So in that context, if someone describe admiring not hetero normative relationship by the straight audience as a huge issue – I’m sorry to said that but this is like back to the closet again. Because what next? Making the movie only for your own community? Whole film industry is based on visual pleasure, because it’s based on picture. And visual code is huge part of our sexuality. This is , in fact, the point I actually never agreed with Mulvey strategy – because in my opinion erotic fascination which comes from “watching” it’s not something you can easily avoid ( and female are still learning what they like when it comes to their sexuality). For me the solution is not to reject the “pleasure” – but to find balance between showing male and women body in mainstream visual code by using relative discurs in movie visual language.

    • THIS! I was just talking about the difference between ‘queerbaiting’ in W13 and Rizzoli and Isles (which i would never watch because I don’t find either of them attractive enough to doom!ship) and the difference is the intense respect the W13 actors have for the relationship between Myka and H.G. I mean, they flat out said the two are in love, and disagreed with their own producer who said the characters are ‘just friends’. Now that is not queerbaiting, that is queer struggling to break out of the boxes mainstream tv puts it in, and it’s so disappointing given that the same network shows Lost Girl and Defiance, both of which have queer characters (and Jenny Schecter, ffs).

      • In regards to Warehouse 13, I WOULD agree with you except for the most recent episode in which (Spoiler!) we find out that HG is now living with a man and his daughter, leaving Myka alone and looking back from the car window as it drives off.

        After reading the article you linked, I was so pumped about the upcoming Myka/HG episode only to find out that by their ‘special episode directed by a woman that they had such fun shooting the scenes etc etc’ they literally meant that it was a goodbye episode. I still really hope that HG will realize that Myka was right and that lame civilian life isn’t for her, but idk… it DID feel like Jack Kenny (the producer) was basically saying to the fans, “Give it up already!”
        Only time will tell… I guess you can’t say it’s queerbating in the sense that Jack Kenny has been very clear how he felt about it all along… but it still broke my heart just the same. Damn Jaime Murray and her sexual chemistry with every woman ever!

    • Also I agree with your assessment of Harmon, which is why the accolades she’s received from the lesbian community for being in that show bug me. And why I was hesitant to compare Collins’s comments about potential “queerbaiting” in SPN to hers about R&I, because Misha Collins seems like a pretty cool, supportive dude? (I mean, I don’t watch SPN myself, but I follow a lot of people on Tumblr who do and that’s the impression I get.) Collins seems honestly confused and trying to tread a careful line, while Harmon just seems defensive – which is pretty par for the course for when she’s asked to speak on the topic. Ugh.

      • Oh yeah, I saw her on “Chelsea Lately” once and the extent to which she tried to distance herself from rumors that she was homophobic by referring to, “I have gay friends!” bullshit was kind of shocking and icky. And I would also give Misha Collins the benefit of the doubt because, a.) I’ve been on Tumblr for years now and that shit still confuses me/makes me give that fandom the side-eye sometimes, so I can understand his confusion, and b.) I think he and his wife were in a polyamorous relationship with another woman for a really long time? I’m pretty sure that I saw that she wrote a book about polyamory or something but I could be confusing my “spouses of minor TV stars.” But if so, I think he would generally have a decent grasp on the ins-and-outs of a queer/queer adjacent community.

        • No, you’re right. She wrote “The Threesome Handbook” (and the Jet Sex, about which just came out) Which makes for an especially interesting rps community, lemme tell you, when his wife literally wrote the book on threesomes.

          She’s bisexual. He’s never stated his orientation, so I’m not gonna guess. But one of my favorite quotes from him is when he’s flirting with this guy in an interview, and the guy’s like “my wife right over there,” and misha says “that doesn’t make you straight.” Misha’s just awesome, dude.

    • I don’t think it’s particularly fair to light up Angie Harmon. Yes, she is a Republican, but there are many different types of Republicans. I get what you’re saying about her Chelsea Lately interview, but the “I have (insert demographic here) friends” defense is typically sighted as being offensive when used to defend previously offensive actions or statements. For example, “I don’t support marriage equality because the bible says x, but it’s not like I hate gay people because I have gay friends…see?” In Harmon’s case, she isn’t on record saying anything derogatory about the LGBTQ community (that I’ve found/know of). I could be wrong about her social political beliefs, but honestly she hasn’t been public about where she stands on those issues. And until she does, I’m uncomfortable with saying that she’s a reluctant participant (have you seen the bloopers??).

      Regardless, of Angie Harmon’s political views, I think it would be weird if they ended up together. For me, the subtext has become part of the viewing experience. I think it’s also important to consider that much of the subtext growth was because of the chemistry between Harmon and Alexander. I also think an important question to ask is does a “romantic” friendship between two women need to evolve into a relationship or can we embrace this other sort of queerness?

      • I’m pretty sure she’s expressed support for the likes of Sarah Palin in the past. Yeah, there are Republicans who are less bigoted than others, but she’s clearly not as uncomfortable with those segments of the party as she should be for me, at least, to let her off the hook.

        Anyway, I don’t know if she’s “reluctant” or not, or what her personal feelings would be about possibly playing a queer character. It’s just that her comments have a certain degree of defensiveness about them, and wanting to deflect any change of homophobia on her as her first and foremost concern, that make me uncomfortable.

    • “it’s even further complicated by the fact that male/male slash fans like in the “Supernatural” or “Sherlock” fandoms are straight women who just want to see two hot dudes make out”
      Are you serious? Don’t you think that what did you just say is kind of discrimination? Like for women in general? There is a lot of reason why girls shipping guys, and to see “hot male-male” action is the least important.
      Maybe just scroll down and see my other comment about this situation. Or just read something on the subject. Just please, stop writing this kind of opinion, because you probably forgot that the women’s rights are still something that we need to fight for. So don’t treat straight – women – shipping like being something less important – because it isn’t. Never forget that the TV or cinema industry is still dominated by men and for that reason there is still not much of women’s point of view within mainstream visual code. It’s still MEN, straight men, way of thinking, way of watching, way of describe another man in movie or TV series. Not the women one ( no matter straight or gay). Straight women slash is one of the subversive strategy – even if they not really conscious about it yet.
      So remember of that, and never disrespectful people if you want respect for your own rights.
      (and I’m sure a lot of straight women are very supportive for f/f shipping as well).

  12. Batshit Supernatural Fan (TM), reporting for duty.

    It’s headed into it’s ninth season, so it’s probably the most jaded fandom in existence. We are in fact so jaded that all the effort and craftsmanship, along with the more tortured efforts, in the last season (by a new showrunner) put into establishing the groundwork for Dean and Castiel to potentially actually get together was pretty much completely disregarded by the majority of fandom as queer-baiting. And this wasn’t anything like the actual queer-baiting of seasons past. There were, in fact, zero jokes about Dean and Cas’s relationship in the entire season. The work they put in last season was not only respectful text in which Dean started trying to speak to Cas about how he feels, but they dealt with it in my favorite ways, like parallels with the sideplots involving romances between humans and creatures (Dean and Cas being a human and an angel).

    But the fandom has such low expectations of any actual representations that most not only deny the parallels even exist but came to despise the word parallel being brought up at all. (Because there were so many!)

    The subtext is undeniably purposeful (and as Misha kind of put it, artful), the question is whether it’s going anywhere or whether it will stay where it would have if it was written thirty years ago. Either way, it’s a gorgeous love story, in my opinion.

    • I agree. I think it is a beautiful love story even if they don’t actually get together in the canon, but I would love to see it happen.

      I am also a batshit crazy supernatural fan! =D

      • Yeah, me too. And I’m an optimistic person generally, so I think it will.

        (and hi!)

    • Batshit Supernatural fans of Autostraddle unite!

      I think for me, the most frustrating aspect of queerbaiting on Supernatural is that I’ve read Dean as bisexual since season one, and I’ve reached the point where I just want the character to be openly bi more than I want pretty much everything short of every female character back.

      But it’s definitely a fandom where the crazy vocal minority make the rest of us look bad, especially when it comes to shipping.

      • PREACH.

        And the fact that there is so much evidence towards Dean being queer and so many still deny even the possibility because he doesn’t confine to stereotypes and because he would potentially be coming out in his mid thirties (which happens! and is entirely normal and especially understandable given his history)

        Honestly if I somehow had to choose between onscreen Dean/Cas like a one-off dream kiss or something and Dean accepting his bisexuality, I’d pick the latter. I’d be far more affected, I’ve watched him grow into his own since I was… 13 I guess? Before I had any idea of my own queerness, certainly. And having such a well-rounded queer character, a character I’ve always found especially interesting for the way he fits into so many female tropes, the caretaker role or being sexually threatened by men, when he kind of started as just another straight male character who saves women, that’d be something special, I think.

      • AHHHH Supernatural fans!!! I only just saw this article, somehow, and got really excited because of the subject matter of queerbaiting, and then got REALLY excited when Supernatural got mentioned, and now I’m practically levitating from excitement at finding this pocket of SPN people on Autostraddle! Worlds colliding!!!

        Also I completely agree that Dean’s bi, whether or not the writers ever make it explicit (I just feel like it’s pretty much already explicit, so whatever). And I’m a huge DeanCas shipper, of course. Also Dean has pretty much become my spirit animal since I started watching Supernatural (and marathoned it in a month) in spring of this year. God I love Dean. And I would definitely rather have him come to terms with his bisexuality on screen rather than have a Dean/Cas kiss or whatever. It would be such a wonderful thing for so many reasons, primarily of which is that Dean is such a well-rounded, complex character, and making him explicitly queer after such a long time would be a first in queer tv characters. It would make his queerness just another facet of who he is (and coming out one more step in his journey into his own), instead of a main focal point. Anyway, yes, I am very happy that this is being discussed here. :D

  13. I was just complaining about this phenomenon to my sister earlier today, but I didn’t have the word for it. I caught an episode of Rizzoli and Isles last night, and I was debating whether to actually start watching it or not because I don’t know if the subtext is going to make me giggle or just piss me off. I used to be all about the queer subtext in TV and films, but now I find it tiresome. What I’d love is for those same types of characters to just be queer. Why can’t we have incidentally gay characters who fight crime/ solve mysteries/ explore space/ do something else interesting without being completely defined by their sexual orientation?

  14. I was pretty into subtext couples when I was younger but lately I just have no patience for them, unless there are other significant queer characters on the show.

    I know a lot of people like Rizzoli and Isles, I just can’t see it as anything but queer baiting (Warehouse 13 also veered into this territory lately). I guess having them play it up just bugs me more than two women happening to have good chemistry.

    Thankfully there are a decent number of lesbian characters out there.

  15. First of all, I agree that Sherlock is the prime example here, imo.

    I think queerbaiting isn’t merely subtext. It’s when they deliberately draws that line “in the show”. Showrunners have been known to not acknowledge making subtext into maintext (cough, WH13, cough), but they haven’t actually directly addressed this issue in the show so far. Then in Sherlock, they have John (repeatedly) deny they are gay or a couple in the show, thus making their closeness or intimacy into a joke. Or in Glee, when they just have two characters of the same-sex act OOC and suddenly hook up, then never bring it up again.
    It’s one thing to have characters show potential for romantic relationship, and another to play it off for laughs or disregard the character developments.

    • I do think that the fact that Glee has had actual “canon” gay romances with a major focus, though, means it’s not quite in the same boat as Sherlock. A lot of the problem is when there is a double standard that clearly communicates that heterosexuality is for actual, acknowledged, developed romance while homosexuality is just for subtext and/or gags. I mean, there are heterosexual pairings in TV that never get beyond subtext, so I have trouble seeing, say, Faberry, in the same light as the subtexty stuff on some of these shows that lack for actual queer characters, because I don’t think there’s a double standard based on gay vs. straight in Glee‘s case.

      Glee‘s problem is, from my vantage point, more of a “women” problem than a “gay characters” problem. They’ve done a good job at least in a relative sense and in terms of being respectful, with their gay male characters and their relationships. (This is basically my roundabout way of saying that I think Glee is not a well-written show, but hey, at least the way the gay guys are treated isn’t, like, hateful or something.) Where they screwed up is with the queer female characters and their relationships, and to me, that’s part of a larger pattern of Glee writers having trouble writing their female characters well when they aren’t defined around a man.

      • yeah, the women are all somewhat cartoon’ish / fit specific stereotypes. Or at least it was that way – I gave up on glee a while ago.

        • I stopped watching it sometime during Season 3. I just read the recaps here and at The A.V. Club now, though, because I spent enough time with that stupid show to appreciate complaining about it.

    • I’m clearly in the minority here, but I actually love Sherlock/John and thought the subtext was well done and respectful. I’m familiar with Stephen Moffat’s work on Doctor Who, and I appreciate the way he adds lots of queer characters in casually, without making their sexuality a plot point (an example from Sherlock is that John’s sister is gay). To me, the humor is in the fact that so many people see a side to their relationship that they are unable, or unwilling, to recognize.

      That said, the show is far from perfect. For example, I have mixed feelings about how he handled Irene Adler’s character. On the one hand, I feel like he was trying to make a point that sexuality is complicated. Irene tells John that he loves Sherlock, and that they truly are a couple. When he answers that he isn’t gay, she says that she is, suggesting that if she IDs as gay, yet fell for Sherlock, John may have done so as well. I love when shows explore non-monosexuality, especially in men (since it’s so rarely presented). However, the “lesbian who falls for a man” is a trope I’d really like to see die. Why couldn’t she have identified as bi/pan/queer?

      In addition, I found the episode “The Blind Banker” somewhat racist, and it made me very uncomfortable. I always skip that one.

      • Yeah, I don’t have a problem with sexual fluidity in general, but the time is long since over for lesbians to always be the go-to examples – since so many painful stereotypes about lesbians and the way they get treated by men are based on this fiction that no woman is 100% gay. Why can’t we have straight people or gay men go through the “sexual fluidity” storyline for once? Skins did it with Tony Stonem, it’s not like it can’t be done. But even that show had to change the storyline to one involving a lesbian when it crossed the pond to its awful MTV adaptation.

      • Considering Irene Adler services male as well as female clients, I assumed she was bisexual and was using “gay” to mean “not straight” rather than “monosexual” in that scene.

        • Sex workers are generally willing to sleep with people they aren’t personally attracted to. Also, the scene doesn’t really make sense unless she identifies as gay. I’d love for her to have identified as bi or pan, but I don’t think that was intended. I thought the episode was otherwise great, but I was definitely bothered by the use of such of overused trope. Assuming sexual fluidity in women (especially suggesting that they are just waiting for the right guy) is just as offensive as ignoring its existence all together.

  16. i am coming out as a super secret femslash writer in a number of fandoms

    and that’s all i have to say about that

    • It’s okay, I’m kind of embarrassed of how much slash and femslash fanfiction I’ve read and written, too.

    • barring any ridiculous coincidences i’m 99% certain i’ve read some of this super secret femslash and it is some of the best fic i’ve read in a long time okay bye~

    • *raises hand* guilty of being a reader/ writer too. Ugh, mass effect…why must your characters be so hot?

    • Not so secretly volunteers to read all the fem!slash. (I can never find any good femslash, it’s always m/m pairings.)

      • Does anyone remember Femslash February on Tumblr? That was a fun month to be a femslash fan.

      • It really depends on the show. Some stuff is just going to be more slashy because it’s full of dudes, but if you check out shows that are mostly ladies – I’m an anime fan, and Sailor Moon and Puella Magi Madoka Magica and hell, pretty much every magical girl show come to mind – there is a lot more femslash than slash.

    • I’ve probably super secretly read most of your femslash in most of the fandoms.
      Please keep writing it !!

  17. Still mad about XWP. Yeah yeah, move on dot org. But still, the massive subtext, hell, TEXT text at times gave me hope for Xena and Gab to ride off into the sunset together, happily polishing each other’s armor and patching up their leathers into their golden years.

    I’m not bitter or anything.

  18. Because queerbaiting should totally be defined by the whims of the heterosexism that creates it? Bleh, I never understood how you couldn’t know it was a thing even if you didn’t have the right word to describe it. All my examples would be anime, but hell do I have a lot of em.

    I’d have sympathy for Sherlock if it was trying to be subversive, but I know it just is not well written enough for that. Haven’t watched the second season though it seems like the whole Irene thing mentioned in the comments will piss me off as much as the second episode did.

    • Yeah, a lot of the conversations I’ve had about this lately on tumblr were about anime, but I tried to avoid discussing anime in this article since I think the context of media and societal expectations is important here, and I really don’t feel like I know enough about the LGBTQ community in Japan to make that kind of judgment for anime. Obviously, anime has its own yaoi and yuri genres that include homosexual content, but it’s not always the best representation of actual LGBTQ people and their lives (albeit, for usually different reasons than Western media with LGBTQ characters). And the fact that yaoi and yuri are things doesn’t mean the expectations are the same in other types of anime.

    • The Irene thing pissed me off so much that I didn’t even finish out the season. And the way the Sherlock fandom behaves in general ensures that I will never come back. I was well and truly done when they showed their asses over the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson on Elementary. So much racism and misogyny in their tumblr rants. It would have been funny if it weren’t so sad.

      • Elementary sounds like an actually interesting show. Is it worth checking out? A lot of people I know on tumblr who are pretty meh on Sherlock seem to enjoy it, and I love that they cast a woman of color for Watson and that the Irene character seems far more interesting. It sounds like a much more honest attempt to really “update” the Sherlock Holmes stories than what the BBC is doing.

        (but honestly, the fact that people seem to think it was inspired by a British show and therefore MUST BE NOT AS GOOD boggles my mind. Like American adaptations have never surpassed their British inspirations EVER. The Office, Queer as Folk, what are those?)

        • “Is it worth checking out?”



          – Lucy Liu
          – diverse cast (POC, trans* woman portrayed by actual trans* actress Candis Cayne)
          – multidimensional female characters
          – female characters have a “life” beyond the male lead
          – Irene Adler’s storyline (+Natalie Dormer)
          – no sexual/romantic tension between Joan and Sherlocke
          – but friendship and respect for each other
          – Sherlocke’s weird BS gets called out
          – also Lucy Liu
          – and Lucy Liu’s perfect face & perfect everything!

        • It is worth checking out. It doesn’t rely on the canon as much as Sherlock does, but it’s quite good. There are fantastic female characters, they actually make Joan Watson smart (in Sherlock it always seemed like John was a bumbling idiot) and she is sassy and calls Sherlock’s misogyny and junk out.

          I like Sherlock, but I honestly like Elementary a bit better. It’s just a lot more socially conscious.

        • I left the Sherlock fandom (and got obsessed with Elementary for that reason)
          And Bhan: she wasn’t struck off, she killed a patient during a surgery and resigned. Not that makes it seem much better on paper but if you watch the show, she uses her medical knowledge a lot and she’s by no means incompetent.

  19. I am too gay to function on matters of subtext because “everyone is gay/queer” until proven otherwise because of a thing called “inapropro defense against the suffocating heterosexism” I have to deal with in real life.

    Point: I LIVE, LIIIIIIIIIIVE for the subtext.

    Ask me anything and I’ll show you a ridiculous reach/major projection on queering the characters because queer people can be happy in heterosexual relationship, right? Until the right homosexy/bisexy situation comes along, television (and the fandom) will serve as the gateway. My sister would *jokingly* say to me, “we are watching the same show…are you under the very gay influence? Ugh, AGAIN!??!”

    I’m trying to figure out the root of it and I’m pretty sure it was Xena.

  20. I love Rizzoli & Isles and I watch it with my mother haha. I remember at the beginning I was so confused because the lesbian subtext seemed SO SO BLATANT, but I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining it because I wanted it to be true…

  21. I guess where I’d draw the line is deliberately creating subtext, and then having the characters in-universe, treat the possibility of the subtext being a real as a joke. (This is probably why I’ll never watch Sherlock, because I’m completely over characters with homoerotic tension going “srsly, no homo”. That, and the Irene Adler thing.)That’s what pisses people off, when the affection between two characters suddenly becomes a punchline.

    Take Pretty Little Liars, for instance. Anyone and their grandma would be able to point out a bunch of Hanna/Mona subtext, some of it deliberate (“To think we almost had out first kiss”, heh), but I don’t think anyone would call it queerbaiting. I think a huge part of that is that none of the characters in the show go “eeek, no homo”, so queer viewers don’t feel like we’ve become the butt end of a joke. (Obvs, having a gay main character helps in that regard too.)

    Completely unrelated to this wall of text, as soon I saw the title of this article, my brain starting singing “How do we solve a problem like Mariaaaa”, so there’s that.

    • Don’t think it wasn’t 100% intentional. This is what happens when you’re listening to Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals on Spotify while writing this kind of stuff.

      • Oh, that’s good to know. I was starting to wonder if I was just reading musical lyrics into everything I hear/read.

        • “She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee, her dress has got a tear”

          Maria was a total tomboy, and that haircut? Hmm.

          I’d like to say a word on her behalf, knowwhatimsayin?

  22. I’ve seen this discussion on Tumblr many times, but one new thing came up the most recent go-round– an asexual person said she got a bit tired of “queerbaiting” cries, because she reads her own romantic experiences into some of these relationships, and obviously, love ≠ sex.
    I know that’s not usually (ever) what the showwriters are going for (Moffat, for instance, explicitly stated that Sherlock wasn’t asexual because “if he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that”, but fuck him)
    Maybe that’s where the question of intent comes in.

  23. I seem to have gotten a different interpretation of Sherlock/John than most people here (though I definitely agree with the problematic portrayal of Irene Adler. I mean, she becomes the fucking damsel in distress. Even if she were presented as bi/pan/fluid, that alone enrages me. I digress). I always interpreted John’s kneejerk “no homo” comments to be purposely ridiculous, especially with the juxtapose of Sherlock’s calm nonchalance or oblivious nature to the assumptions. i.e. John’s reactions are silly and childish, and Sherlock doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the misinterpretation of their relationship.

    • Just to clarify because I feel like I’m rambling: I’ve always seen John’s Homophobia Lite as the joke in those situations rather than the idea of them being a couple as a joke.

      • Yeah I definitely agree. It always felt clear to me that John’s embarrassment was the funny part, not the assumption of gayness. But also that might be because that WOULD be what’s funny to me, even if that wasn’t the intent of the writers.

  24. Awesome article- I so much agree with all of this.

    I’ve felt the frustration over queerbaiting grow in the Rizzoli and Isles fandom for the last few seasons, and I think the ‘heterosexism’ called out here accounts for a lot of it.

    Also, from what I understand, showrunner Janet Tamaro started writing the show based on the books, but also on her relationship with her best friend who had just died (I’ve heard comparisons between Tamaro’s personality and Jane, so presumably her friend was more like Maura?). Tamaro and her friend presumably had a platonic relationship, and writing that relationship into these characters and having it brought [back] to life clearly involves some strong emotions and investment in those characters developing in a certain [straight] way.

    So it seems to me that the pushback against the Rizzles pairing whenever it’s called out or when accusations of queerbaiting come up, comes from the heterosexism of the actors- particularly Harmon, Alexander has generally seemed to be more queer-friendly- and an inability on the part of the showrunner to allow her characters to evolve beyond the path she had mapped out for them. Which is a damn shame. Althoguh I sometimes think that the resulting slash more than makes up for it.

  25. I kind of really disagree with the idea that subtext readings have been a lifeline of queer representation – I guess this applies more to books than to tv shows but subtext readings a) privilege canonical white straight male authored narratives by focusing attention on how subversive / revolutionary / queer etc these types of narratives are – instead of promoting the works of actual queer artists (especially women and people of colour) and b) privilege male / male couple not just because it’s unlikely to find a lot of female characters in mainstream male authored media, but because we have different standards for reading queer subtext in men and women, and male queerness is a lot more legible / valid.

    • “male queerness is a lot more legible / valid.”

      Perhaps the reason it’s more legible is often because it’s portrayed in a cruder fashion and is used more frequently as the target of dehumanizing humor. Yes, for more male writers, queer men (and we’re really talking about femme-expressing queer men) are used for ridicule as a way of masculinizing other characters. It’s much the same way as boys (and gym teachers) make fun of femme boys in gym class to make themselves feel better and get a cheap laugh for group brownie points and easy approval of their own masculinity. Most portrayals of queer women are sexually exploitive whereas most portrayals of queer men are ridiculing their gender expression. I don’t think that’s validity, any more than trans women being ridiculed and exploited in media more than trans men means we’re more valid… we’re just considered easier and more impactful targets.

  26. Great article.

    I enjoy Rizzoli and Isles but am sort of on-the-fence about whether I want to keep watching it. On the one hand, the subtext can be fun and even if they’re not actually gay it’s just nice to see a show with two female leads who do things other than obsess about men (though the show seems to be trying to awkwardly insert love interests with greater frequency). On the other hand, the interviews where they talk about playing up the subtext make me uncomfortable because it feels as though they’re treating same-sex relationships like a joke.

    I also enjoyed Sherlock in general, but hated what they did with Irene Adler’s character and was rubbed up the wrong way by all of John’s ‘no homo’ moments. I wish the writers didn’t feel the need to shoehorn those moments into nearly every episode.

  27. While I agree with you about the “queerbaiting” tactics used by certain tv shows, I truly dislike your use of LGBTQ in this post because trans person’s experiences on tv are nothing like non-trans GLB’s experiences. What’s being advertised on tv for this summer—a Showtime detective series with Liev Schreiber where the ad says “there’s a dead tranny in the bed with an adam’s apple the size of a fist.” So, yeah, I’m sorry you have to deal with queerbaiting but, honestly, in this day and age white cis queer people have no idea what it means to be marginalized, ridiculed and objectified in the media.

    • “…in this day and age white cis queer people have no idea what it means to be marginalized, ridiculed and objectified in the media.”

      This is just false.

      • So I suppose you can mention current shows where lesbians only exist as murder victims who kind of deserve it simply for existing in a way society does not approve of? Or as deceptive perverts? Generally both? Because that is the standard for trans women. Tacitly approving subtext is a major step up from victimhood and villainy.

        • “Tacitly approving subtext is a major step up from victimhood and villainy.”

          You’re so right. It’s a HUGE and profound step up. And until you’re stuck in the ‘completely ignored, everything about you is creepy/sleazy/better off dead’ step, it’s hard to imagine what a big step it is. Not that tacit approval is something any group should accept as enough.

      • Brittani…

        Yes, you’re right, it was false. It was intended as a frustrated overstatement about how most cis queer people now have so little understanding of what it was like 20-30-40 years ago and still too often don’t really much bother how other people in the LGBTQ community are portrayed. That was my point, but it clearly came off as dismissive. Where I do think trans and cis queer people sometimes overlap in modern media portrayals is that we’re both thrown into the mix whenever producers want token ‘hipster quotient.’ I would say that’s exactly what Candis Cayne’s ‘character(?)’ on Elementary was. The mention of her being trans had zip to do with the storyline or even the rest of the episode (and she was a pretty inconsequential character who, oddly, was given the name of Holmes & Watson’s landlady… maybe a queer/trans baiting as well?). The queerbaiting equivalent of having a club scene, and showing one of the attractive women characters kissing another woman at the club, except, well, more exploitive of her gender identity and getting hipster points by revealing her as trans. It’s no different than having CIS characters dress up punky to make the show seem more modern. And no less dismissive.

  28. This is a great article, especially in light of the seemingly uncritical general lesbian following of shows like Rizzoli.
    While I wholeheartedly agree, i’d also like to raise the lesbian-specific issue that queerbaiting is in many instances actually lesbian subtext placed in the story specifically for straight males, and any queer fans attracted to the show as a result is viewed as secondarily beneficial to the show. This is of course closely related to hetersexism and not wanting to scare away the larger straight audience. Its also another reason to be skeptical and actively critical of subtext.

  29. The thing that really bugs me with queerbaiting is that it makes queer readers/fans look ‘weird’. For example, (while this isn’t queerbaiting and eventually became Word of God canon), I know I’m not the only one who saw the subtext with Dumbledore/Grindelwald in the last Harry Potter books, but pointing that out got a lot of “God, do you have to make -everything- gay? Like, people want to go back and say that Shakespeare was gay too. Like, just leave it out.” And yeah, you got a bit of in “in your FACE” moment when Dumbledore’s queerness became canon – but when they put in all this subtext and then go “OH LOOK AT THEIR TOTALLY HET SIGNIFICANT OTHER BECAUSE THEY’RE SO HET” then all the people going “God, stop reading so much into it” get supported. And that sucks. It may not be in and of itself homophobic, but it definitely gives tools to homophobes.

    • I actually heard somewhere that Rowling had planned to make Sirius/Remus a thing, but her editors were not fans of the idea. She did clearly put a lot of subtext in there though (and I’ll insist to anyone that Remus is bisexual) and she’s also stated that she meant for Remus’s lycanthropy to be a metaphor for the social stigma associated with HIV in the real world. And I do think it’s notable that Remus didn’t really get together with Tonks until after Sirius died.

      I still don’t think that excuses her not making Dumbledore’s sexuality and relationship with Grindelwald explicit in the text, though. I’m sure by Deathly Hallows (when Dumbledore gets all his post-mortem character development and his past acquaintance with Grindelwald is revealed) Rowling could do pretty much anything she wanted in that regard; they knew it would still sell like hotcakes. When she was writing Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter wasn’t quite a global phenomenon yet.

    • Oh man, I will forever be pissed about the missed potential with both Remus/Sirius and Remus/Tonks. If pairing him with Tonks HAD to happen, they could have had the most interesting relationship dynamic
      (I MEAN SHE’S A METAMORPHMAGUS FFS! How is that not interesting and potentially genderqueer?) but instead we got misery and to be honest, it all felt very forced to me. But as far as I’m concerned, Remus and Sirus WERE a thing. Or maybe that’s just me clinging to the impression teenage!me got when I read the books. :p

      • Yeah, to this day, I still don’t understand how Remus and Tonks got together…

      • I feel the same. I always felt like Tonks would have been better suited elsewhere too, if she was going to pair up with anyone at all. Fleur, maybe? I suppose you could argue that both wars would have meant that there would have been a strong pressure in Wizard society that would persist through into the trio’s adult years to repopulate, so Queer relationships would be more frowned upon in addition to any other previous negative attitudes surrounding them.

      • This comment thread made me realize that I’ll really never be over Remus & Sirius. If you need me, I’ll be crying over my copy of Prisoner of Azkaban.

      • Seriously though! Voluntary shapeshifting is one of the most potentially interesting superpowers! Like she could replicate the effects of a Polyjuice Potion without having to use one and it could last for longer than an hour! Why did they never take greater advantage of this (or at least, why didn’t we get to read more about it)?

      • RIGHT??? I felt like Tonks, both in her relationship with Remus, and just generally, really got the short end of the stick development-wise. And also death-wise. All the sadness and deaths in the 7th book always seemed stupid and forced to me, and extremely pointless.

        And yeah, Remus and Sirius will always be canon, regardless. <3

    • Late to reply, but yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with this. I hate with say, some of the anime same-sex couples that are HEAVILY HEAVILY implied to be romantic but don’t QUITE go there, if you go anywhere outside of shipping-heavy or LGBTQ/”yaoi fangirl” parts of fandom, people act like you’re “OUT OF YOUR MIND” for thinking that, say, Kaworu and Shinji in Evangelion saying they love each other MIGHT possibly mean they are attracted to each other.

      It’s particularly annoying when people act like you’re “missing the point” in a way that suggests you didn’t understand the entire rest of the show – AND implies that queer storylines are somehow lesser than other kinds. Because they certainly never do this with viewers who focus only on HET romance rather than philosophical or political themes or w/e.

  30. I’m embarassed I still DVR Rizzoli and Isles. I check the message boards before I watch and usually fast forward most of it, if not skip the whole thing. It’s gotten worse and worse. I watched the S4 premier last night and it was awful. The chemistry between the leads is gone.

    But damn, S1 was totally hot. I urge everyone to watch it. It actually looked like a cop show with unresolved sexual tension (UST) between two women. I will shamelessly plug a fanvid I made so you can get an idea-

    I used to think that if all the lesbians stopped watching the show would get cancelled. But I think a lot of us have stopped watching and the S4 premiere had over 6 million viewers. Apparently, all of the posts on the show’s Facebook page are about how much they love the leads with men and how it’s appauling people think there could be anything between the two women. So I think this show will go and on which is really sad because it’s been a trainwreck and an illustration of how not to deal with chemistry between two female leads on a TV show.

    The show has become self-conscious, boring and insulting. Not to mention a complete waste of some of the hottest chemistry I’ve seen between 2 women on my TV screen. Seriously, watch my vid or any others from S1. That shit was hot.

  31. “What it is is heterosexism, the unchecked assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and anything else is the Other.”

    Yes yes yes, a thousand times yes! This is the most thoughtful, complex and elegantly articulated piece I’ve yet read on queerbaiting, and it’s helped me to solidify a few of my views on the subject as well. Fantastic job! I’ll be using this as a reference when my friends and family inevitably “don’t get it” when I’m getting annoyed by YET ANOTHER no-homo-not-queer-but-kinda couple in the media. <3

  32. As much as I love Sherlock (and oh my goodness do I ever), the relationship bit is always what makes me shake my head a little bit at it. I think especially because Moffat ended up saying that having Sherlock be asexual would be too boring, and then threw in the lesbian Irene, only to have her turn straight for Sherlock and ugh Moffat. Stop.

    And I just watched the premier of the newest season of Rizzoli & Isles and it hit me smack dab in the face that I’m not here for the show (though I do have a fondness for some of the characters) but hot damn, that lead chemistry. Timely article ftw.

  33. Alex/Olivia (SVU) forever.

    I read an essay by someone about them before I ever saw Loss and thought it was ridiculous. Months later I saw Loss and went digging through the Internet to find that essay because suddenly IT ALL MADE SENSE. I will also reluctantly admit that I have written fanfiction about them. Neal Baer did an article with a San Francisco paper in which he admitted to queerbaiting with the episode “Ghost” (having Olivia as the detective spending the night with Alex and putting her jacket on the bag, lots of teary looks, only to have Alex “casually” drop some lines about being in bed with her boyfriend in her Witness Protection life). Mariska Hargitay is another one of those actresses who seems to have some discomfort with queer subtext (the pinking of Liv, more makeup, longer hair, etc.) but the woman just has unbeatable chemistry with some of her fellow actresses (see also Tracy Pollan’s guest turn as Harper Anderson in Seasons 1 and 2 – they constantly look like they’re about to start ripping each other’s clothes off).

    And a thousand amens to the Moffat critiques. I want to steal River Song and write her a bad-ass show instead of leaving her in Moffat “I don’t know how to write male and female characters interacting with each other unless it’s in a romantic/flirtatious way”‘s hands. It’s kind of killed my love for (new) Doctor Who before I could get to into it.

  34. Rose, I think you overlooked something in the discussion of subtext. The anagram of subtext is butt sex. So really, even the word wants to be trangressive.

    (Not that butt sex is just for queers, obvi, but I thought it was funny…)

    Also, I’m in the “I thought Irene Adler was bi/pan/queer” boat, and now that I know that she was intended as a lesbian who fell for a man, I’m rather ticked off. MOFFAT, WHY DO YOU LIVE TO TRAMPLE ON MY HEART.

  35. Just going to slide in with my usual defense of Glee here…I really don’t understand why the female relationships are seen as messed up. Having Brittany S. Pierce, a disabled(!)queer, handling her relationships the way she does is deeply meaningful to me.

    Teen Wolf on the other hand… I mean, I love Teen Wolf even if it doesn’t love me, but. 3/5 disabled characters are apparently so burdened by their disability that their only recourse is to become cartoonishly evil, one has to be cured before she can join the story, and one is Stiles. And the lesbian couple appeared only so one of them could be murdered. Thanks, Jeff Davis. (Though the Danny-Stiles interactions may be leading up to something this season, which makes this Sterek-hater very happy. Plus the…thing that Scott, Isaac, and Allison have going on.)

  36. Three words: Final Fantasy Thirteen
    It has 2 girls who for the entirety of the game are pretty much together, its a non issue etc.
    then all of a sudden the writers started becoming absolute dicks when asked etc etc neither confirming or denying and stringing along the large lgbtq fanbase this game has managed to get from those two so they refuse to confirm their relationship or make a statement but continue stringing everyone along it feels like that part of the fanbase is being used just to sell their increasingly bad games and are being taken for a ride frankly i wouldn’t be surprised if they just went ‘then all of a sudden they both married men, the end’ its frustrating, sad and insulting

  37. There is a difference between subtext and queerbaiting. There are shows like adventure time that subtext and not a full on lgbtq relationship is justified. The writers wanted a homosexual relationship; but couldn’t because threats of canceling the show, so they did their best to hint at the relationship without actually saying it. Then there are shows like supernatural, doctor who, and sherlock, that have the freedom to have lgbtq characters but instead choose to use the lgbtq community as a punchline.

  38. This article is great and of course the practice within “gay or bi characters need to have a reason to lead the show” should not exist. We are the part of society and that’s the huge and only reason why some of the main characters in TV shows and cinema don’t need to be straight.

    “since the core of the “Johnlock” fan base is slash-fanfiction-writing straight women”
    Maybe, but if you look at this from the distance – TV Show fan bases are build on women audience
    ( in general, not only straight once). In that case I find another issue in that. As far as same sex shipping hitting mainstream ( at least it started to be visible for a mainstream audience and TV producers) , as long it leaves women (and LGBTQ society also) open to a charge of being crazy or hysterical. And it happens a lot – both from TV Producers and from the other, “more mainstream” audience. There is a lot of society’s behaviour based on stereotypes that insulting women shippers of being delusional ( especially when it comes to m/m or f/f shipping with is find for some reason “more pervert”). This is one of the popular opinions:
    * women want our TV Show to become a romantic soap opera – because this is what probably women ONLY want to watch. So simple as that.
    No mention that melodrama patterns has also a huge influence on the straight – male audience but they just seems not to recognize that or just don’t want to admit it because “it’s a such girly thing”, a lot of women, in my opinion, are much more sensitive when it comes to read cultural text based on romantic tropes. Not because we are women per se – the reason is that this is the pattern, which TV or cinema been “used on us” since we were kids – so for girls to find melodrama cliché seems to be more easy, even intuitional. The true is that read the TEXT (not the famous SUBTEXT) properly, in the way they wrote it originally – but in the results we’ve only got that answer, for example from showrunners, that we are “reading to much into it”, being a pervert or overly emotional (because we are women, so being emotional and misinterpreted the signs are so obvious).
    For me, someone who has professional academic background and had some experience with the movie industry and visual communication I found a lot of these as very offensive for a women fandom in general . I mean – I watch these shows, you know? I watch Supernatural, Sherlock , Hannibal or R&I. And all of them in fact using a lot of romantic tropes in the narrative structure when it comes to m/m or f/f “friendship” on screen. That makes the m/m or f/f interpretation very accurate and legit – because mostly it’s something that you totally can read from the text of original source. And women and LGBTQ people (whom always been forced for reading “between the lines”) can easily find these patterns – don’t let them tell you another way.

  39. This is an interesting topic. As a lesbian, I don’t see anything wrong with two men being mistaken as gay but then denying it or two women sharing a kiss only later deciding it was a mistake. I find that to be pretty accurate. How many of us have had women pull that on us in our lives? That pretty much sums up my entire college experience as an out lesbian. People experiment and realize they can’t see themselves in a same sex relationship. I also commend Sherlock. If you think about it, the people around them appear to be incredibly accepting of their possible same sex romance. I also don’t agree that they are portraying homosexuality as a joke or as deviant. If that was the case, there would be a gay character incredibly stereotyped that everyone considers outlandish. Or, a gay villian with all kinds of psychological issues. Being gay isn’t taboo on these shows, the characters are simply straight. Let’s commend them for including questions of sexuality in modern day television, instead of being butthurt (giggity) because it reminds us of being rejected. I’ll tell you what show actually gay baited the hell out of me though, Xena: Warrior Princess. They could have at least come out in the finale!

  40. Friendly reminder that ‘Sherlock’ is not yet finished – there is still time for Johnlock to become canon! And if it does, that means all of this ‘queerbaiting’ was actually FORESHADOWING all along! Right?

  41. I honestly think that in Sherlock, the reason John denies being gay so often is because he loses girlfriends or doesn’t get laid over the mistaken (in my view) assumption that he’s gay for Sherlock.

    Being ace myself, I truly tend to view the Sherlock Holmes character in most incarnations as being just that, asexual, with his main meaningful relationship as his friendship with John.

    Sherlock is, for me, one of the few fandoms where I can’t read the slash because I truly don’t see those people together.

    Honestly, for the Holmes fandom, it takes all of the magic out of the friendship when Holmes/Watson gets slashed, at least in my opinion. The real relationship gets replaced with sex, which… is a bad relationship to begin with, and not my cup of tea in general =).

    However! I definitely agree that more shows should have regular people with regular relationships that just happen to be LGBT as well. Too many shows show them as temporary couples who are waiting for their “real” partners to come along, ugh. Maybe someday stuff like Girls With Slingshots will get some airtime and we’ll have a great show for all walks of life!

  42. I know it’s a bit late, but for those who think Sherlock is full of queerbaiting… I recommend checking out a Youtube channel called “Rebekah TJLC Explained”. Though I might disagree with some of those readings, I think that the overall deduction from all the subtext in the series (and there is A LOT) is quite interesting. Also, there are a lot more queer characters and relationships than just Irene Adler (who could be bisexual, by the way): John’s sister Harriet was actually married, the men that run the inn at Hound of Baskerville are a couple, a girl from a case you can read about in John’s blog… When Moriarty first appeared, Sherlock deduced he was gay, and Gatiss commented about it that “it’s not just a gay joke”, in a mysterious voice. John only denies he’s gay (not bisexual, and that’s something Irene pointed out) twice, but Sherlock didn’t say ANYTHING (and I’m going to quote Jonh: “Sherlock always replies – to everything. He’s Mr. Punchline. He will outlive God trying to have the last word.”. John’s jealoudy over Irene and Janine.

    Aaand I could go on and on about it for a reaaally long time. As Cloackstone69 said, the series isn’t finished yet: they could be just building up a slow-burn romance and wait for the climax to be open about it. I really hope Sherlock doesn’t fall into “another queerbaiting series”.

    All in all, this has been an interesting reading :) It’s a good thing that we are even talking about something like “queerbaiting” because that means we are more than ready to have more LGTB+ representation on mass media -in fact, we NEED it. We couldn’t be talking about queerbaiting 50 years ago, and that means we have made progress. That’s allways great. We are living in a time full of social changes, so everything isn’t settled yet. All we have to do is keep going and ask for more fair representation, right?

    Also, sorry if I made grammar mistakes. English is not my mother tongue. Have a nice day! :)

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