Top 25 Most Egregious Acts of Queerbaiting on TV

Ah, queerbaiting! An age-old rite of passage of watching women share the same space — often right on top of each other or wrapped in each other’s arms! — on teevee. It’s ubiquitous! But it’s also very hard to define! In large part because as more and more LGBTQ characters have graced our screens these last several years, and as more and more real life people come out without really, well, coming out (or assigning themselves a label), it’s hard to know if you’re being a victim of queerbaiting or if you’re just shipping! But dammit, we know when it’s happening to us and so we decided to make a list about it.

Our TV Team defined queerbaiting like this:

The act of playing into the chemistry, often even with established romantic tropes, between two women characters (at least one of whom has not declared her sexuality in such a way that your dad watching at home would know for absolute sure she’s gay) with no intention of ever putting those characters together, romantically or sexually;

or:

Refusing to put two women characters together (at least one of whom, again, has an ambiguous sexuality that might escape your aunt Jan’s notice) when it’s very obvious the characters would have their relationship explored, romantically or sexually, if one of them was a dude.

And so here are the top 25 most egregious acts of queerbaiting of all time.


Tegan and Michaela, How to Get Away With Murder

Sure, Tegan is a mentor to Michaela, but why does the camera always zoom in on Michaela’s longing, devastated face when Tegan blows past her to hang out with Annalise? And that’s just for starters.

Emma and Regina, Once Upon a Time

Mortal enemies turned fierce companions who refuse to stand more than six inches apart at all times while raising their son together? Sure, that’s straight.

Jane and Maura, Rizzoli & Isles

🤨

Kara and Lena, Supergirl

If this show was called Superman and Kara Danvers was Clark Kent and these two actors had this kind of chemistry and were experiencing this kind of intimacy and soul-destroying — maybe even literally earth-shattering — fights about their relationship, there is NO WAY anyone would consider them just friends.

Myka and HG, Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13‘s fifth season was maybe the biggest roundhouse kick to a collective fandom’s teeth I have ever seen in my life. You could close out a blossoming, electric, series-long romantic arc that actually caused queer fans to successfully secure a final season, or you could send Myka off into the sunset with the guy who was basically her brother? And you did that second thing?

Rachel and Quinn, Glee

The thing that doesn’t make sense about Rachel and Quinn never exploring their feelings for each other was that by the time Glee was over Ryan Murphy could have made everyone on Fox gay and it would have been fine with the network. And Quinn even ultimately did quench her thirst (twice!) with Santana!

Watson and Moriarty, Elementary

I’m not just saying this because Natalie Dormer looks like she has a bisexual secret at all times always, like that’s the way her face was made. I’m not just saying it because of that. If I was saying it just because of that, Sansa and Margery would also be on this list.

Spencer and Aria, Pretty Little Liars

When you’re saying the name of your ship out loud on the show — #TeamSparia — put your mouths together and prove it.

Emily and JJ, Criminal Minds

If either one of these women was a man, this would have been a procedural love story as epic as Castle or Bones and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

Skye and Simmons, Agents of Shield

The beginning of an issue Marvel and Disney still haven’t had the guts to fix.

Peggy and Angie, Agent Carter

Phase two of that same issue.

Bonnie and Annalise, How to Get Away With Murder

Sometimes you’re just a woman standing in front of another woman, loving her enough to murder someone for her.

Janeway and Seven, Star Trek

You don’t get 700 fanfics written about you if you’re on a TV show from 1995 if you’re straight and that’s just a fact.

Buffy and Faith, Buffy

They wrote their enemies-to-gal pals kiss into the script and then chickened out and made it a forehead kiss which actually makes it more gay, if you think about it.

Jo and Blair, The Facts of Life

The Facts of Life writers better be glad Twitter didn’t exist when this show was on the air, or they would have never had a peaceful night’s sleep in their lives.

Alex and Olivia, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Come on.

Laurel and Nyssa, Arrow

Your ex-dead, ex-girlfriend’s sister who is also the ex-girlfriend of the show’s main character? That’s such classic comic book and CW fodder it’s like catnip!

Cara and Kahlan, Legend of the Seeker

Xena HD tbh.

Betty and Gladys, Bomb Girls

I know it was all Betty and Kate for most people, but Betty and Gladys had sizzling chemistry, came from opposite sides of the tracks, were frenemies-to-gal pals, and also Gladys would have relished this particular fuck you to her family. It makes too much sense to be platonic.

Daenerys and Missandei, Game of Thrones

It would have turned out better for both of them if they’d just admitted what was going on here and flown off together on Drogon.

Betty and Veronica, Riverdale

“Check your sell-by date, ladies. Faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” — Cheryl Blossom

Grace and Frankie, Grace and Frankie

They’re honestly almost out of rom-com tropes to explore with these two loves of each other’s lives and if they don’t end this show together, it’s a goddamn lie.

Xena and Gabrielle, Xena

The Originals.

Laverne and Shirley, Laverne and Shirley

Just a couple of bosom buddies sharing a job, a home, a life, a bowling league, and a secret choreographed dance.

Eve and Villanelle, Killing Eve

Drew Gregory: They murdered someone together which was sex
I don’t understand what’s confusing here
Carmen: Drew… you are describing….queer baiting
“they murdered someone together which is sex”
is the new “they did magic together which is sex”
Drew: Villanelle is so explicitly queer though
She called another woman Eve as role play
If anything it’s unrequited love, not baiting
Carmen: Right, no one’s arguing that Villanelle isn’t queer
Is it unrequited in canon or is it baiting the audience?
That’s the fine line we’re working with here.
Drew Gregory: Killing Eve is the epic story of a woman who falls in love with her straight best friend*
*the government agent hunting her

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 956 articles for us.

99 Comments

  1. First of all, love the two-fold definition of queerbaiting. “If one of them was a dude their relationship would be explored” is everlasting. Great list, got all the highlights.

    Secondly, my Faberry heart.

    Third, that mini discussion about Killing Eve was great lol, because that’s how I go back and forth about it in my own head lol. Is is unrequited, is it baiting the audience, is that valid in some cases, what stereotypes/stigma’s does it lean into in order to do that (predatory queer femme fatale, etc) and what does it subvert, but damn if it isn’t entertaining in the meantime, and more of that stuff! Definitely makes it noteworthy on a list like this.

    Fourth, I raise you Tegan/Annalise if the show doesn’t go there. Yes they’re both canon queer and female friendship is valid (is it though?) but the constant hints of Tegan pining over Annalise and the hints of flirtation… a requiem for my blood pressure. (If they go there, catch me coming back here to celebrate.)
    But yes nothing is as queerbaity as Bonnie literally kissing Annalise on the mouth and declaring her love for her after running in the rain (with montage) and then the showrunner writing it off as “platonic ambiguous maternal love takes many forms”.

    Fifth, speaking of Liza Weil, pouring one out for Rory/Paris on Gilmore Girls. (Was that just shipping? No they literally kissed, I was a victim.)

    Sixth, speaking of ASP, still have a bone to pick with Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

    Seventh, Here’s How Grace And Frankie Can Still Be Endgame.

  2. I would like to add Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins to this list. There is no universe that exists where Leslie isn’t a lesbian or bisexual. She literally told Ann, in almost every episode, that she was beautiful. They were rumored to be a couple in several episodes. She didn’t have any chemistry with the guys they paired her with (see Louis CK.) She could rock a pant suit. And she was a boss.

    • “She didn’t have any chemistry with the guys they paired her with”

      Umm big ole false. I’d love to see a alt universe where Ann and Leslie are lovers, but Leslie and Ben were so beautiful together. They were probably the last white hetero couple that actually made me believe in love.

    • Sorry but Leslie/Ben is one of the only heterosexual pairings I will fight for!!!

      IMO Leslie is that kind of straight where she has some intimate female friendships with women she calls “her girlfriends” but she is like a Kinsey 0.

    • Yeess! I mean I liked Leslie and Ben together. They were cute, their lovey-dovey-funny relationship strangely did not bother my one bit and I am happy that they ended up together. But phuuu… during those first seasons the moments between Leslie and Ann glued me to the screen. When Rashida Jones and Amy Poehler sang “tonight I celebrate my love to you” to each other (live on Jimmy Fallon) I played that clip on repeat thinking “that should have been a scene between Anne and Leslie on the show”. So the twenty-year old not yet out baby gay I was back then shipped them and had definitely gotten her hopes up. But I’m more than fine with the fact that Leslie ended up with Ben. They are one of my favourite tv couples.

  3. I am surprised Emma and Regina are mentioned, but no Mulan and aurora. Emma and Regina could have been written as queer. Mulan and aurora was an obvious bait and switch. They were obviously queer and the writers were just chicken to follow through on a “family” show (that had lots of other questionable content)

    • I remember that being a canon “Mulan was in love with Aurora, went to confess it but didn’t when she found out Aurora was having a baby with Philip”. I didn’t read that as queerbaiting but as a sad love story.

    • I with Owl. It was an unrequited love from Mulan. Now why didn’t Mulan found love with someone else that’s a mystery.

      I have to say, though, I dropped the show in season 3 or 4 but Robin and Alice from s7 were super cute and actually nicely done. A great youtube watch. I really liked them.

  4. I submit Misty Day and Cordelia on AHS Coven, Emily and Jolene on Heartstrings, And I know these are movies/books but Anna Kendrick/Brittany Snow on pitch Perfect and Johanna/Katniss in hunger games

      • Warehouse 13 was my first experience with fanfiction and queer shipping. And I got my heart broken because I made the mistake of watching that last unnecessary episode/season. Since then I still haven’t fully processed. Instead I continuously work hard at my denial and supression skills, so in my mind those two ended up together and don’t you dare tell me otherwise.

    • I started my tumblr fandom life with that tv show and still haven’t recovered from that show. I’m really convinced that if it had aired today instead of back then, we could’ve had it all. They had everything going for Bering and Wells. They gave the name for their own ship, they had the chemistry, they had most of the writing, I mean, there’s so much an actress can do to make it feel so real. Oh well. Maybe one day the actresses will get together in some other tv show or movie. Their latest Q&A was an okay closure for me. At least we have that.

  5. i read this list out to my partner and she got confused at myka and hg–“but they ended up together!”

    i had to remind her how the last season actually went, which was apparently so traumatizing the first time through that her brain rejected it and made its own version.

  6. Okay, so I know that Xena and Gabrielle are pretty much the ship that started the kerfuffle about queerbaiting, but Jo and Blair were breaking hearts two decades before the Warrior Princess and her “friend” the bard appeared. What I’m saying is, for queer ladies of a certain age (myself included) Jo and Blair are the Original Originals.

  7. 70% of this list is essentially my fave ships.

    I may or may not have a not great relationship with TV shows and shipping, where I tend to ship things more if they are not canon…
    Warehouse 13 is definitely the root for those feelings, someone help me!!!

  8. I have a lot of feelings about this list. About this article,too.
    A lot of it feels like a list of exes that were your world,once upon a time,but then left a taste of ash in your mouth.
    Some are that girl,that friend, that you’re in love with now, who says she is straight, but will put her hand on yours during dinner,will look into your eyes too long, will stand too close, feel too close,”coffee” will feel like a date,when she’s drunk, her hand will rest on your thigh and then you walk into a room at a party and you will watch her make out with a guy.Some guy, whoever, really.

    • Ugh that’s why these tropes are so popular, because they know they can rope viewers in forever. I spent an actual literal decade pining over someone for the reasons you describe. But in the end it helped me become IMMUNE to straight crushes, like some kind of excruciatingly drawn-out booster shot

    • Another submission – I’ve been marathoning Victorious and the fact that Jade and Tori would have ended up together if this was a CW show that premiered in like 2018 haunts me.

      If a girl turns down the hot boy character because of her male friend, she and the male friend are dating by the end of the series. . .

  9. Most of these I can understand. But Xena and Gabrielle? They were soulmates, partners for life, Gabrielle was referenced as the father of Xena’s baby, Xena commissioned a poem for Gabrielle from Sappho, the creative team even said they were a couple and that they did as much as they could within the constraints of a network and censors, etc. It’s absolutely insane to me that you’ve included them on this list.

  10. Thanks for reopening all of these old wounds, Autostraddle!

    Several of these shows could even have multiple couples on this list. On Agents of SHIELD, there was a (very) brief period of time where I thought they might actually make Jemma and Bobbi happen instead of doing the most predictable, most boring thing which is what that show has always chosen to do with romantic relationships. Oh, and all those sparring sessions between Daisy and May are clearly sex as well.

    Oh, and on Arrow, alternate universe ex-evil Laurel also has more chemistry with her alternate universe boyfriend’s wife, Felicity, than he does (partially because Oliver has chemistry with no one). And she also has quite a bit of chemistry with Dinah so basically what I’m saying is let Laurel kiss a woman, damn it.

  11. Don’t think it’s unrequited on Eve’s end like did anybody else see the scene where she’s describing Villanelle to the sketch artist in Season 1? That is not how a straight person describes a member of their same gender.

  12. Actual conversation between me and my very sweet, extremely straight sister-in-law:
    Me: I stopped watching Once Upon A Time because I couldn’t take the queerbaiting anymore.
    SIL: What? Who?
    Me: Emma and Regina! Their relationship was the most interesting and well-developed on that show, the growing trust and intimacy, the push-and-pull, not to mention that they are coparenting a child together already, and they FINALLY got rid of their respective boring male love interests and I was like THIS IS IT and then they literally went to hell to get the dumb dude back, so I quit watching.
    SIL: I think you’re reading too much into it.
    Me: Emma gives Regina the dagger! That’s so much trust! They care about each other so much!
    SIL: I think it’s just you.
    Me: There are literally thousands of fanfics about them, they are the most popular ship in the fandom, I promise it is not just me.
    SIL: Huh. I don’t see it.
    Me, texting my queer sib: Straight people omg. Hopeless.

    Anyway thanks for validating me on that. This list is why I read so much fanfic, honestly.

  13. “Xena HD tbh.” I snorted very hard at that.

    Even if HG wasn’t in the picture, Myka ending with Pete was an absolute treachery. Myka describe Pete as the ‘brother she never had’word for word, how romantic ! And I loved Pete and Myka relationship and having them ending like that was wrong on soooo many level. It really was like watching sibling get together. Ugh. Help.
    And I’d say it’s unrelated to the Myka and HG queer baiting but I am also like 95% sure the Myka/Pete decision was a power play from the showrunners/writers because people shipped Myka and HG.

    • I was at the comic con in SD that year and the director jokingly, as we all thought, called out who shipped Pyka. There were two hands going up in the packed ballroom and general, good natured laughter. The shipping name alone was cause for amusement.
      I always had the impression that the director was in love with Pete and didn’t want him ending up alone.

      • I mean, he could have fallen for someone else or met someone new or something else, lots of possibilities. Claudia and computers were a more romantic pairing that Myka and Pete were to each other. They referred each other as siblings more than once. Also fudge the notion that not having a romantic partner means you’re alone. The warehouse ship was a tight family, romance involved or not. Pete and Myka really didn’t need to be romantically involved to have each other.

        When I say ‘power play’ I don’t mean that in a necessarily malevolent way. Simply, how fans
        interpret and react to a show will have an impact on the writing or the writer and it’s not just a matter of ‘do as the fan say or not do as the fan say’. You’ve heard people comments so the you that will write the rest of the story is a you that will have heard the people comments. The particularity with the fan’s interpretation is that it’s something you can have very little control over that and I think that, consciously or not, some writer will write in a way that denote of wanting to take back control over their narrative. In a ‘I decide not you’ way, which in a way fair, but also a paradox because fan will still be the reason you’ll have chosen this ending and not another.
        I don’t know if I am very clear. I don’t mean that just for warehouse 13, but in general. But maybe, as you said, they just wanted someone for Pete.

  14. My VOY ship is Janeway/Torres. When they get talking about engineering and science together, being all brilliant and sexy…. To me, that’s when the sparks fly. Janeway was too much of a mentor/mother to Seven. That’s too tricky of a power dynamic for a relationship.

  15. That description of Myka and HG made me almost high five the screen, that’s how accurate it is.

    And when I thought, well, after that colossal low point in my shipping history, what other almost forgotten (but not quite) emotional pain could this list make resurface, there came the Rizzles drizzle, the Agent Carter audacity (although I have to say I was on both “Team Peggy & Ang” as well as Team “Dottie & Pegs” on that one… I suspect it’s the effect of Bridget Regan’s face when she plays evil but charming), The Mother Confessor and the Mord’Sith (I mean these two had the whole “magical counterparts” and frenemie-development going for them), ELEMENTARY where I patiently and fruitlessly waited years for Moriarty’s return, and Criminal Minds. With Kara&Lena as well as Grace&Frankie I am just enjoying the subtext as long as possible.

  16. I learned recently that there is a show CURRENTLY on Disney Channel in which Raven and Chelsea from That’s So Raven live in an apartment together so they can co-parent their 3 kids. Ya know, like totally platonic best friends usually do!

  17. AND the original Cagney and Lacey , where they dumped Meg Foster because she was ”too likely” to be perceived as a lesbian by viewers ( what’s the scale? what’s it measured in?) which backfired GLORIOUSLY when they replaced her.. with Sharon Gless :D

  18. Queer baiting can be an important conversation. But I feel like articles like this remove all nuance to the point that in the year 2020 people are writing articles attacking Noelle Stephenson/She-Ra for queer-baiting for heaven’s sake. Just because the specific relationship they want to see hasn’t been made romantic in a show with multiple other canon queer relationships.

    What I mean to say is that I’d enjoy an article that attempted to explain why queer baiting is (or used to be) important to conversations about representation. And also didn’t give short shrift to complex intimate relationships between women on screen (which have also been practically as scarce as queer relationships).

    • I created an account just so I could agree with this comment!

      I have strong feelings about queer shipping and queer baiting in shows and was very excited to click on this link, but this post was extremely low effort. It’s bizarre to include certain pairs, like Xena and Gabrielle, which would have been IMPOSSIBLE to make any more canon than they already did given when it aired. Villanelle and Eve are explicitly canonically stated as sexually attracted to each other, and the whole point of the relationship *is* the endless chase between them; is the operating definition of “queerbaiting” here that they’re never going to end up in a stable happily ever after relationship?

      I’m glad you named She-Ra specifically, because it baffles me that people insist that it would be egregious for Catra and Adora not to end up together. I don’t need my ships to be emotionally healthy (see, Eve/Villanelle), but that kind of emotional complexity and messiness — while fascinating to explore — is not exactly a foundation for a happy, healthy romantic relationship. It doesn’t make sense for the characters or the show.

      And while I’m so glad to see a shout-out for my Bomb Girls OTP, Betty and Gladys, sizzling chemistry between two character is not what “queerbaiting” is. There was nothing “bait and switch” about that relationship, or the relationship between Watson and Moriarty on Elementary. I’d classify those as more, ‘missed opportunities’ than anything.

  19. I didn’t get around to watching Rizzoli and Isles until 2019, when I wasn’t so starved for cannon queer ships, and boy is that show utterly perplexing. They could have just ignored the chemistry like most pre-20gayteen and 20biteen show writers did but instead insist on needlessly toeing the line every episode and then screaming “no homo!” I had to take a break from watching because the whiplash and internalized homophobia was getting to me.

    Also I would add another throwback, to Alicia and Kalinda from the Good Wife, aka the ship so strong it may have broken a real life professional working relationship (has this drama ever been leaked??? because it was the TV mystery of the decade)

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