We can now add “queerbaiting” to the list of terms that social media has murdered. RIP, you will be missed along with your fellow victims “gaslighting,” “sociopath” and “narcissist” to name a few.
Queerbaiting is a term used to describe the practice of pretending to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community for attention in general or to attract an LGBTQ+ audience specifically. The term used to be relegated to instances where a work of fiction (a movie, a book, a show) hints at the fact that some of their characters may be gay in order to rake in LGBTQ+ dollars without actually having to provide them with proper representation in film, likely avoiding a storm of homophobic backlash.
When used properly, the term can describe a genuinely harmful practice. I think that attempting to exploit the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in film for profit by doing the bare minimum is a cheap and lazy pander at best and homophobic at worst. However, the internet has now managed to sink its slimy claws into the term “queerbaiting” to expand its reach and of course, absolve it of any worthwhile meaning whatsoever.
Recently, 19-year-old singer Billie Eilish has found herself in a “queerbaiting” scandal on the internet. The controversy was caused by her Instagram post with a handful of girls with a caption that read “i love girls.” Eilish quickly got inundated with queerbaiting accusations, with many angered fans asking if she is even gay and some even saying that she was using the shock of hinting at possible queerness to market her new song “Lost Cause.”
I do not think that Eilish’s recent behaviours are an account of queerbaiting. In fact, I think that the real harmful practice is coming from fans who are effectively demanding that Eilish out herself as queer or at least provide a label on her sexuality in order to be acquitted of her queer baiting charges in the court of public opinion.
Sexuality can be a very intricate thing. Eilish’s actions shouldn’t count as queerbaiting because, just like the rest of us, she is a human being and a young one at that. She’s learning the landscape of her own sexual identity. While I certainly have no proof that Eilish considers herself on the brink of queerness, I also have no proof that she doesn’t. Unlike a fictional character who may have been designed to perfectly tow the line between gay and straight to maximize profit, Eilish is a real person with a real sexual identity. Demanding that any real person out themselves or publicly label themselves so that others can feel more comfortable is not only wrong but violates the principle of safe spaces for sexual minorities that the LGBTQIA+ community has historically upheld. Not to mention the fact that there is nothing explicitly gay about a caption reading “i love girls.”
I thnk that this whole ordeal speaks to a bigger issue that the internet has of getting lost in doing mental geometry for its own sake and using terminology to no real end. The word “queerbaiting” being used in this instance to try to force people to out themselves in the name of LGBTQ+ activism is part of this weird internet doublespeak similar to how we also use the term “empath” to justify narcissistic tendencies and use the term “gaslight” to gaslight others, etc.
My point is that the internet is severely out of touch with reality. This may not be shocking to you, but I think that even a well intentioned rational agent could get lost in complicated internet rhetoric that only serves to flex moral or mental muscles without providing any practical value to the world. So, here is a reminder to go outside and touch grass. Maybe even take your shoes off and wiggle your toes around in there a little. Do whatever you have to do to remember that Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are not real.
Julia Leb is a rising senior writing about philosophy, pop culture and politics. She is also the summer Opinion editor at the Daily Trojan