When I heard about Nick Jonas speaking at a vigil about Orlando, I just thought “Really? Really? What the fuck?” because I would hardly put him in a crowd of people who actually have stumped for the LGBT community. So, just what is “quuer baiting? According to the Autostraddle article, “How Do We Solve A Problem Like “Queerbaiting”?: On TV’s Not-So-Subtle Gay Subtext“:
In Emerson College’s online Isis Magazine, Rebekah Bailey gives an example of the latter in action in BBC’s Sherlock:
Queer-baiting, for those who do not know, is the practice of television shows and movies putting in a little gay subtext, stirring up interest with queer fans, and then pulling a NO HOMO, MAN on the viewers. If you’ve watched Sherlock, this is a major “subplot” of the first episode, and it continues as a running joke throughout the series. John and Sherlock are mistaken as a gay couple, one of them (usually John) goes, “no way, of course not, we’re not even gay,” and it’s played off as a joke. The mere speculation that a character could be gay is played for laughs, and if you don’t see something wrong there, then there’s something wrong.
Indeed, the idea behind “no homo” is both that homosexuality is little more than a gag, and also that it’s deviant and wrong some way – “of course we’re not gay, how could you even think that” is the underlying assumption behind the joke.
As for examples with women, “queerbaiting” for lesbians tends to run in different directions – mostly, in terms of actually giving the characters some physical girl-on-girl action, but making sure it never turns into anything long-term or meaningful or contradicts the characters’ previous heterosexuality. In other words, the Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss. We’ve seen this in so many places – teased with a lesbian kiss only to have the character go back to being 100% straight next week, or for it to be a dream sequence or some other weird context that makes it meaningless – that it would take forever to list. But there are still shows with women that follow the Sherlock model for queerbaiting; the most prominent these days is probably Rizzoli & Isles. That show’s actors recently admitted that at least some of that unresolved chemistry between the title characters was a deliberate play to their lesbian viewers:
[Angie] Harmon admits they do play up the tension sometimes. A poster for the new season features the women languidly stretched out together on a picnic blanket, for example. ‘Sometimes we’ll do a take for that demo,’ Harmon admits. “I’ll brush by [Maura’s] blouse or maybe linger for a moment. As long as we’re not being accused of being homophobic, which is not in any way true and completely infuriating, I’m OK with it.”
When it’s that deliberate as in the cases of Sherlock orRizzoli & Isles, there is a distinct feeling that the creators are playing with LGBTQ – and invested-in-LGBTQ-relationships (since the core of the “Johnlock” fanbase is slash-fanfiction-writing straight women) – dollars, but don’t care enough about us that they’d risk actually offending homophobes with explicit queer representation. Actors or writers may insist it’s not homophobic, but there is a distinct feeling that we’re being taken advantage of, that we’re second-class fans who they don’t care if they do a disservice to so as long as we still watch. It’s similar to the feeling a lot of queer women have about Glee – but Glee does at least have several canonical queer characters, and the writers listened when fans wanted Brittany and Santana’s relationship to become more than subtext. (And hopefully that’s the last time I’ll be forced to defend Glee‘s treatment of its queer female characters.)
Yet, expanding the “queerbaiting” debate to include subtext in general makes it a bit troubling. First of all, there’s the question of just how “overt” is overt. Maybe those two same-gender characters’ eyes lingered on each other for a little longer than was necessary, but was that necessarily intended by the show creators, or is it just being interpreted that way by shippers in the fanbase? Fan interpretations are, of course, perfectly legitimate, but intention should be considered if one is going to accuse the show creators of homophobia for including subtext. Some fans, for better or for worse, do see subtext wherever they go.
It’s also important to understand subtext in the context of its past. Historically, gay or lesbian subtext has been seen as a positive for the LGBTQ community – a way to get around rigid censors or unfriendly audiences. A way to throw us a bone when we normally wouldn’t have anything, to acknowledge that we’re there in the audience when the powers that be would prefer to ignore us. A lot of older generations of LGBTQ people have fond memories of classic films with wink-wink-nudge-nudge bits of potential queerness designed to fly under the radar of the Hays Code. (For more on this, check out The Celluloid Closet.) And even after it ended, both the new MPAA rating system and worries about audience reactions meant that filmmakers had to still be cautious. TV was no better; if it took until the late 1960s to get the first scripted interracial kiss on mainstream US television, is it any surprise that homosexuality was so hard to find there until the past decade?
As such, those using the broader definition of “queerbaiting” to dismiss any and all overt subtext should at least consider the concept’s progressive history; too often, the conversations in fan spaces about this seem to be ignoring this context when it comes to older works. As one Tumblr user put it: “The original Star Trek series didn’t queerbait. At the time, nobody knew that there was an audience for male/male romance stories, so any romantic tension between Kirk and Spock was accidental. But my God, there was loads of it.” However, the writers of today’s television shows may be too caught up in this history. Because, with the exception of certain genres, like children’s shows, the times where subtext is far as one could go are long past. The point is about expectation; if we are expecting nothing, the occasional nod our way is a pleasant surprise. But when we’re given reason to hope for real representation, having it never go beyond hints – hints that not every viewer is going to pick up on – is mostly just infuriating.
The Huffington Post article, “Dear Nick Jonas, There’s A Way To Be A Straight Ally. That Wasn’t It.” clearly expresses why I personally wouldn’t put him in the crowd of LGBT ally:
For perspective, Jonas and his PR team have spent quite a bit of energy heavily marketing the pop star to gay men. Since the breakup of The Jonas Brothers, Jonas has repeatedly appeared at gay nightclubs and made headlines for exposing his body. He claimed “I can’t say if I have or haven’t“ experimented sexually with other men, he’s insinuated that he has engaged in gay sex because of a role played on television, he’s been “gay and shirtless“ on multiple TV shows, he’s appeared on the cover of Out Magazine alongside an extensive interview, he’s been called “The King of Twinks“ by Vice and claimed he watches Mariah Carey on Home Shopping network “at least once a week.”
This all raises the question: Why is Jonas, a pop artist with a body heavily associated with masculinity and a body typically desired by gay men in the West pandering so heavily to the gay population?
I don’t want to draw too many conclusions about Jonas’ and his team’s intention with this aggressive “queerbaiting.” But one thing is certain: this is not a time for straight allies to take up space — especially if you’re an ally who just dropped an album three days ago.
Now is a time when we, as a community, are mourning the loss of 49 queer and trans brothers and sisters, many of them people of color. The media and public are largely already trying to erase the sexuality and gender identity of the victims. Seeing a straight, white man on stage addressing the mourning queer community only intensified the pain of our grief.
It should be of no surprise I have this post. He is a young attractive guy, but when 49 LGBTQ individuals are massacred, it’s not time for Nick Jonas to speak, it’s time for Nick Jonas to follow with “Step Up, Step Back” and Step Back (like don’t bother stepping up, period). According to Arts.Mic article, “Nick Jonas Spoke at a Vigil for Orlando, and People Are Confused“:
Part of the problem is the ongoing criticism that Jonas is “gaybaiting” the community. He makes continuous appearances on gay magazine covers in place of actual queer people, gives quotes teasing potential sexual interest in men and plays gay characters on Kingdom and Scream Queens.
So Monday night, just days after his latest album dropped, Jonas took the stage at a vigil for dozens of victims after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. What on earth could he say that would resonate? Whatever it was, he didn’t find it — and in the process, he proved a need for more out-and-proud celebrities who could have taken the mic instead.
Jonas, is of course, hardly the only celebrity to be gaybaiting the community lately, as James Franco recently has. Franco has said he is”gay…up to a point,” “a little gay,” wanting to start a conversation on what “gay” should mean which backfired, has taken tons of selfies in bed including one with Keegan Allen, a nearly-nude selfie, and even random crossdressing. But he is certainly not gay. Recently, both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took part in momentary gaybaiting when indicating a gay sex scene was apparently included in an early Good Will Hunting script, before Damon argued gay actors should stay in the closet (was apparently “out of context”) and that lead to some even worse press about him. He is also not gay. So it should be no surprise that when such titles of these of articles crop up about Nick Jonas: Queerty‘s “Nick Jonas Accused Of ‘Queer-Baiting’ At New York Vigil For Orlando,” and Fusion‘s “Why was noted queer baiter Nick Jonas asked to speak at a vigil for the Orlando victims?” Jonas, of course, has already said he thinks these sort of accusations of gaybaiting are “really quite sad.”
Nick Jonas, James Franco, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – I can see right through you!