In Defence of Kit Connor: The Danger of Misunderstanding Queerbaiting

Ed Farley

On Halloween, Heartstopper breakout star Kit Connor took to Twitter to come out as bisexual. In the tweet, he blames his fans for forcing him to come out, before he was necessarily ready. In this article, Ed Farley rejects the accusation that Kit Connor was queerbaiting and looks at why this accusation is dangerous to young actors. 

It had Twitter users engaging in debates about the nature of the tweet. Many spoke about how actors are finding it hard to have autonomy over their personal lives when viewers are increasingly interweaving them into their professional ones. In a media climate where inclusivity matters, with TV shows and movies finally making up for the lapse of representation, there has been an increasing trend that has undone the good that these moves are trying to create.

The backlash against Connor started when he was spotted holding hands with a woman. Some users reacted negatively, speaking up that because Connor played a character in a same sex relationship – he was “queerbaiting” in real life. Queerbaiting is a media term used for when shows or companies use the implication of queerness to engage with an audience, without directly stating it is actually queer. For example, characters written to have an extremely close relationship for users to create ships, without doing the work to make them canonically together. Many shows do this to hook audiences. They tune in each week, providing viewership numbers to see if these narratives are acted upon. They’re not, because creatives keep it just conservative enough to keep a wider audience, shying away from queer discourse that might turn some viewers off.  It keeps a project financially viable, at the expense of a community that is rightfully in need of more representation.

This term is necessary, yet the issue with this term isn’t its definition, but the way it’s been weaponised in discourses where it isn’t necessarily fitting. Social media has given invested users a platform where now – actors are being held to the same standards as these large corporations – often facing backlash if they don’t align with the writing or journeys their characters have.

Connor, who plays a bi character in the show, had to go to the platform that harassed this issue, to come out against his will at a time where he wasn’t ready. Twitter users so enthralled in the show used the term to make him out to be an agent of these companies, using queerness as a ploy for popularity, when this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, Connor being forced to come out is directly at odds with the need to point out queerbaiting; because like the term itself, certain people used the idea sexuality to fulfil their own needs, opposed to the (LGBTQIA+ identifying) individual’s needs. It also brings the legitimate argument of biphobia, where for many people, they’re denounced by some for having same-sex relationships, but in the same breath, denounced for having opposite sex relationships as well.

“Queerbaiting” being seen as a term for real life people opposed to corporations that actively hurt the community is an issue. It removes the need to focus the energy on people who make big media decisions, instead turning to the people that the practise actually harms. It’s a bigger issue when it is used to attack individuals who are queer but aren’t in a space to come out yet.

It reduces sexuality as a cut-and-dry thing, giving the misguided opinion that it’s easy to accept queerness, and the social ramifications that lead after coming out. Kit Connor has a network, a community – and social privilege to be able to survive this, even though it’s understandably traumatising and upsetting. But for many in social situations where there isn’t that safety, forcing someone when they’re not ready to come out has very serious implications. If someone who on the surface is in a “good” position suffers this, who knows what could happen to someone who hasn’t got such security.

Celebrities should be treated as sensitively as those who aren’t in the public eye

Regardless of background, it’s dangerous. Sexuality is a fluid and delicate thing, it’s extremely personal and often hurtful to the individual that’s involved. There shouldn’t be shame attached to attraction, or to any way one chooses to love. Celebrities should be treated as sensitively as those who aren’t in the public eye. Fandom and media ownership has become so intense that people associate actors with the fictional world of the show. Because they see them in their living rooms every day, they think they have agency to control and mediate the actors own personal lives.

Just like a regular person, celebrities don’t owe you definitions of their sexuality. A TV show praised for its inclusivity shouldn’t be jeopardised by the toxic rhetoric that it actively tries to eliminate. Heartstopper was met with widespread acclaim, showing the joys and beauty of queerness, something that for many shows, has been the opposite. People from the LGBTQIA+ community have been used to seeing shows cover topics fuelled with pain, doubling down, and reinforcing the issues that plague the social climate we’re navigating.

It’s a relief to see the happiness provided by being unashamedly out of the closet – something that Kit Connor unfortunately hasn’t been afforded.  His existence wasn’t hurting anyone, he wasn’t making money from it, he was simply a target. It’s also ironic that the actor came back to Twitter for this, after leaving the platform for witnessing vitriol along the same vein just a month ago.

Attaching biases over characters and confusing them with their real-life counter parts means there’s never the space to create real change in the industry

As someone who doesn’t align with heterosexuality myself, it’s disheartening and upsetting to see a show that’s provided so much joy turned into something that it is trying to move away from. Its also a slap in the face to its creators, cast and crew. It’s amazing there’s protective feelings over these shows, put it should never come at the behest of the good they do. Heartstopper is made up from a majority queer cast anyway, and by reducing them to social media optics, opposed to humans with their own feelings, isn’t acceptable. Attaching biases over characters and confusing them with their real-life counter parts means there’s never the space to create real change in the industry.

Sometimes it’s important to realise how the fictional is helpful by being just that. Series like Heartstopper are stories that inform the real world, but it’s the real world that must also do the heavy lifting and respond to the powerful imagery that these shows create. The film and TV industry needs to carry a new responsibility and have a conversation within itself about creating a safe space for everyone involved, and perhaps fans must also.

Ed Farley

Featured image courtesy of mcdexx via Flickr under Creative Commons license. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article tweet 1 courtesy of kit_connor via Twitter. No changes were made to this tweet. 

In article trailer courtesy of Netflix via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video. 

In article tweet 2 courtesy of taIesofbasingse via Twitter. No changes were made to this tweet. 

In article tweet 3 courtesy of EDDIEBEGINS via Twitter. No changes were made to this tweet. 

In article tweet 4 courtesy of eddiesbegin via Twitter. No changes were made to this tweet. 

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