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 1042 articles for us.

102 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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)

  7. ‘Xena was never queer-baiting. When they decided to go with having Xena and Gabrielle be soulmates (and lovers) they did everything they possibly could to make it a clearly illustrated love story between two women, but they were forced to make it subtext by the censors and the networks. Despite all this they still succeeded, over the course of the series, with having Xena and Gabs explicitly declare their love for one another, having more than one entire episode dedicated to the strength of their love and their willingness to fight and die for one another in any world or time, literally saying over and over that they were soulmates, showing them married (in a roundabout way) in a future life, and having them kiss more than once. They didn’t dangle the illusion of a romance in front of our eyes and then undercut it, they didn’t play with our feelings just to rob us of any real love between these two women. And, despite Xena’s death in the end, they not only showed her soul remaining with Gabrielle but they had already done several episodes that assured the audience that Xena and Gabrielle’s souls would be reincarnated together for all of eternity. Yes, there were the obligatory male romances thrown in here and there, but they became less and less frequent over the years until they were all but gone by seasons 5 and 6, and in the end not a single one of those romances proved more important than the bond between Xena and Gabrielle.’

  8. On Xena and Gabby again: ‘Lastly, from the very moment the idea of this relationship was presented to the cast they supported it. Lucy and Renee were happy to be seen this way, they never mocked their shippers, they never shied away from it in fear of what it could do to their reputations or careers. They treated questions about Xena and Gabrielle’s romance with honesty and respect at conventions (though Lucy is often a sarcastic ass-and I love her for that- so sometimes she can be interrupted as being snarky), and they acknowledged the importance of showing love like this on tv. Even Lucy Lawless said in one of the conventions for the show while hosting with Renee on stage that she does frequently make jokes but she’s never trying to be mean or snarky or anything like that. She just loves laughing about it because it’s something they succeeded with at the time when it really wasn’t appropriate to.‘

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