Let’s stop treating sexuality as a conspiracy theory

By Sophia Katherine Sarmiento

Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

I’ve once heard of a metaphor as simple as that of a flashlight.

When you turn it on, its brightness permeates a certain field of vision. Turn it off, and you get a darker perspective of what you’re seeing. If I were the person holding this flashlight, then it means I am in full control of it as my hands continue gripping it.

As random as that metaphor was, it was also just recent news — and just another engrossing headline for the starlit media; that Kit Connor, popularly known as one of the main stars of the Netflix original TV series Heartstopper, has revealed the truth about his sexuality over on Twitter last November.

Unfortunately, he didn’t reveal it voluntarily. He was forced to do it.

And this raised the issue of the now-commonly-used term of queerbaiting, which was one of the sole reasons the 18-year-old star decided to come out-not for himself, but for the sake of media presence and fans’ unavoidable rage and accusatory tweets.

While the topic of sexuality, gender roles, identities, and conformities to heteronormative policies are heated and controversial, it remains an open topic for discussion in which people should be given a safe space to talk about, and not gossip.

A day in the life of the queerbaiting saga

Photo from Elle

There are a number of reasons why queerbaiting was never a permanent term in the official dictionaries nor in the sacred texts; it’s not a reinforced concept nor ideology to make someone act a certain way but rather, it’s a term meant for media literacy.

Queerbaiting is a form of “suggestive marketing” used by showrunners and creators of entertainment media in order to charm or lure its audience — specifically those part of the LGBTQIA+ community into consuming the content they’re producing because of a predictable homosexual pairing. But unfortunately, the audience ends up getting the wrong turn instead with a heterosexual couple.

I’ve seen a lot of these in mainstream media that are also coupled with several problems but mainly two that are explicit: one is the producers’ inability to the legitimate representation of same-sex couples; and the second, is that it might be a good marketing strategy–but it’s never deemed as a good way to promote and relish the concept within the realm of reality itself and real-life people.

Queerbaiting might have gone beyond the limitations of media when fans started to speculate a lot about their artists’ way of clothing or way of speaking. Similarly, with Connor, several artists are also induced into this queerbaiting nonsense due to their eccentricities or fans’ misinterpretations. The number would include Harry Styles who was also accused because of his vibrant clothing and pride flags during concerts; Taylor Swift who was likewise blamed for queerbait lyrics and invoking fan theories; and several others.

But here’s where we clarify the misconceptions to the core. Not everyone and not every actor nor artist is intentionally doing this for clout or total superiority; they are like that for a reason, and that is to steer an ounce of importance to their nuanced identity or breathe a sense of representation into mainstream culture.

When there’s an engine to fill up, there’s gas to fuel it — but for a hefty price. Looking further into the issue, there are reasons why queerbaiting is still at large.

First is the stereotypical nature and stigmatized appearances of looking and acting like a man or a woman that fuel this queerbaiting drivel and is still unmistakably existing. Second, there seems to be an array of branding and labeling that is continuously happening to actual people — including celebrities regarding their identities.

And with identity comes another recurring but problematic theme that raised itself up as I researched through the webbed intricacies of queerbaiting and with fans’ backlash. As the issue of queerbaiting is still at large especially on social media nowadays, there is also an underlying problem that is yet to be perceived fully by the common folk and the closed-off minds of conservative groups of people.

That is: if you’re of a different sexuality or gender identity, you have this invisible norm of pressure to come out of your closeted zone in this genre of “what ifs.”

Coming out as a byproduct of queerbaiting

Photo from The Guardian

In Heartstopper, we knew of Nick Nelson’s (Kit Connor) dilemma with his sexuality as the episodes went by, with Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) ultimately crushing on him. Eventually, by the end of the series, Nick came to terms with his sexuality and decided to confess to his mother that he was bisexual.

To be in an ironic situation is as tiring as it could get. Queerbaiting can pressure someone to come out; and instead of shedding these narratives in a positive light of gender expression and personal interpretation, it becomes threatening and disheartening.

Aside from the distorted parallels of queerbaiting, there also seemed to be a recurring notion that’s happening here; not just in mainstream media but in real-life contexts as well.

Why is straight the default?

Love, Simon was also posed with this scrutinous challenge that the characters themselves responded to by portraying through a humorous scene where the cast played out scenarios of them coming out to their parents — and the responses were exaggerated, so to speak.

And if it isn’t apparent enough, the message was emphasized by how weirdly realistic people think the ideal “coming out” to be is. The general theme is that when I’m of a different sexual orientation, I turn out to have some sort of residual obligation to come out and reassure everyone as if my identity solely depends on their reactive behavior.

While there’s nothing wrong with finally acknowledging ourselves and our preferences, the issue becomes much more problematic when people–or queerbaiting in itself, meddle in our own affairs of self-realization and formation. Connor is just 18 years old along with Locke, his onscreen partner; and the former even said that he’s not ‘big on labels’.

If products have labels, then sadly, people also started to have theirs too.

It feels as if this impenetrable nature of producing some sort of branding about ourselves had become second nature–not just with sexual orientation, gender, social class, or race; but with our identities as well, just to reassure everyone that “Hi, it’s really me!” and then go on with our life living that ideal description of ourselves. When a person comes out, a label thus exists. This label that if someone’s gay or bisexual–or of another sexuality, they are more so obligated to prove to everyone else that they’re not necessarily a part of a heteronormative community. Or else, they can likewise be branded as ‘not queer enough’ by some within their communities.

But labels are still good, in a way, to distinguish ourselves from different entities of being and feeling. It just gives this atmosphere of segregation and possible misrepresentation that likewise diminishes the line between inclusivity and queerbaiting.

Queer bait is not real, but it could be fictional

We’re not fishes in the sea waiting for bait that can lead us to our demise.

The premise of queerbaiting from fandoms’ explicit theories and accusations has strongly shown us that it can definitely transcend even through reality’s biggest artists and celebrities; and not just in content creation and media literacy. Social media is a big driver, but it’s not the end of the world if stepping on the brakes is an option.

Unfortunately, this mess is as big as it could be if queerbaiting continues to be tolerated by swarms of fans or the common person standing on the street, scrolling through their phones. But in fact, on the other side of the color spectrum, it’s quite enlightening to see that more people are becoming aware of this, even if it had to involve an unfavorable revelation from someone who was just starting to go through the exploits of adulthood.

Can’t sexuality be a normalized thing to process in our lifetime?

Maybe yes or maybe not, but it’s definitely not a phase. It’s a lifelong process of knowing and understanding the options we choose to bring ourselves with; not the options people pressure us to choose from. Coming out is an option — not a requirement, and you don’t have to do anything until you’re ready.

And in a stigmatized world of branding by all walks of life and intentional queerbaiting, it’s never too late to avoid assuming and refrain from ostracizing; because when it comes to the flashlight earlier, we are the ones in control of the lighting.

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