The use of the word queerbaiting arises from a very real concern. People are worried. Individuals and corporations are exploiting the Queer community. They are using Queer identities which they do not have to market themselves.
The entertainment industry’s long history of queerbaiting
While the term queerbaiting is new, the entertainment industry has a long history of exploiting Queerness for profit. On February 10, 1972, David Bowie debuted his iconic Ziggy Stardust persona. Inspiration for this alter ego came from the wild and hedonistic lifestyle of drag queens Bowie had encountered in New York.
“I‘m gay and always have been,” a newly androgynous David Bowie proclaimed on the front page of British music paper Melody Maker in 1972. In the 1980s he cast doubt over the fact he ever had been. “The biggest mistake I ever made,” he informed Rolling Stone in 1983, “was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting.” Many close to Bowie, noting his taste for women, questioned if he ever had been bisexual.
Bowie is not alone in invoking a Queer identity for commercial gain. Many of music’s most popular artists have accompanied their rise to fame in a similar fashion. Like politicians, famous musicians possess an uncanny ability to link the advancement of their careers to popular social movements. In this regard, Kurt Cobain, Prince, Madonna also bear notable mention for invoking Queerness to capture public attention.
When Bowie turned himself into Ziggy Stardust in 1971, homosexuality had only recently been decriminalized in England. The difference in 2021 is that the Queer community is more visible than it ever has been. A greater variety of voices now enter the media conversation. As they have a new generation of artists has fallen under scrutiny.
Why Billie Eilish is not queerbaiting
Billie Eilish released the music video for the single in ‘Lost Cause’ in June. She accompanied news of the clip with an Instagram post. “I love girls,” she wrote.
These three words caused a sizeable backlash. Many commentators leveled charges of queerbaiting against Eilish. The pop star, who dated men and had at one time been a devout Christian during her childhood, was not publicly lesbian or bisexual. It was argued she used the statement to make a non-genuine expression of Queer identity.
Which leads to the problem with queerbaiting. The term is loaded with prejudgement. As Billie Eilish later explained she was expressing a feeling of non-sexual love and affection toward other women. The viral wave of criticism had assumed her intent without looking at the facts. It was a communication error. A poor choice of words and nothing more.
Billie Eilish poses for a ‘Happier Than Ever’ promotional image
Why Cardi B is not queerbaiting
In February, Cardi B kissed women in the music video for ‘Up‘. In another video for the recent Normani collaboration ‘Wild Side’, she gyrates against her fellow rapper. The move unquestionably simulates two women having sex. Cardi B performed a similar routine performing hit single ‘WAP’ earlier this year at the 2021 Grammys.
The rapper, pregnant with her second child to husband Offset, was been to a viral wave of criticism. What she assumed was an expression of feminine freedom was offensive. Cardi B has reacted with a loosely reasoned barrage of words. She maintained she was bisexual. In past, she had engaged in many, implicitly sexual, interactions with women.
Again critics were quick to judge Cardi B without knowing the facts. The tension giving rise to queerbaiting is genuine. The real problem is those who use the term fail to pick their fights.
In George Orwell‘s popular novel 1984 the British author, who had worked in government propaganda during the Second World War, highlighted the problem of political terms such as queerbaiting. In 1984 he described them as ‘Newspeak.’ These are simple phrases which to stop individuals from thinking for themselves and challenging power. Newspeak, Orwell contended, encourages people to articulate from the throat without involving the higher brain.
Normani and Cardi B on the cover of ‘Wild Side’
Jargon is an ineffective solution
Queerbaiting is exactly this. It is a word that feels like it explains everything while saying very little at all. The issue with Queerbaiting, and words such as ‘industry plant‘, is that they mask opinion and personal biases without examing facts. They incriminate without saying why. It freezes the conversation rather than fixes problems. Casting things in black and white is not useful.
There are very real problems. Society tells many of us we are defective because of very natural thoughts and feelings. Millions of LGBTQI+ people across the world live in fear. Their basic human dignity is denied. They face real, and often violent, persecution as a result of their sexuality. What is more, corporations and individuals, unmoved by moral concerns amidst a deafening whirlwind of greed, continue to exploit Queer identity for selfish gain.
As a response to these problems, the term queerbaiting is an ineffective solution. Solving issues requires us properly articulate them first. We must also focus on what we can change and stop trying to control what we cannot. A more useful course of action to do would be to take the focus away from the lives Cardi B and Billie Eilish ask ourselves, “How can we create more resources for the Queer artists and communities?” And also, “How can we overcome our own biases and insecurities to help others?”
Let’s move forward. The best way to do this is to begin to express ourselves clearly. Not to hide behind jargon and empty expressions.