More and more frequently I am seeing posts online about an issue called queer baiting. What is queer baiting, exactly? Here's a video I originally saw on Tumblr that explains it rather well. Queer baiting, or slash baiting, as the video defines, is when two same sex characters on a show have a lot of erotic subtext between them but they never have a canon relationship. They are also commonly in a show that has little to none LGBT representation. This can be problematic. As the video narrator described, it gives the idea that here is something naughty or wrong with these expressions of sexuality while choosing to include this sidelong suggestions and insinuations instead of actually representing LGBT characters. You can understand why people are frustrated by this.
This blog post does a great job at expressing why I seem to privilege friendship over romance. I'll quote the main bit that I like here:
Heteronormativity isn’t just about the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. The expectation that boys woo girls feeds into your mind the expectation that relationships are necessary for fulfillment, and you are less than if you are not having particular kinds of sex with a particular, and a particular kind of, person at particular intervals. It’s about what Lauren Berlant calls the love plot, in which love is produced as a generic text enabling society to interpret your life as following certain conventions. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you’re supposed to want. You’re not encouraged to think about what you want in relationships, if anything, so much as you are encouraged to fit a script. Heteronormativity messes things up for everyone, straight people included.While I love seeing romantic relationships of any kind expressed, I continue to see them through this lens of skepticism as a heterosexual woman who continues to wonder why everything has to be about sex. "What's wrong with portraying romance, or non-sexual relationships?" I've often wondered. "Why are OTPs privileged over BroTPs?"
We're also lacking in representations of asexuality. I go back and forth between feeling like a somewhat sexual person to not having any interest in sex at all, so the representation of asexuality is something I care very much about. Which then complicates the issue of how characters are represented. When it comes down to it, fans are going to have different feelings about how certain characters are going to interact. Some are going to want more focus on friendship, some on romantic and sexual relationships, some on intimacy and romantic relationships. However, it also has a lot to do with writing and portrayal. When you set up a lot of erotic subtext and have a lot of insinuation of a certain kind of relationship but no follow through with it, there's a lot of built-up desire on the part of the viewer and perhaps even a sense of betrayal when it's never followed through. While I'm not a regular viewer of the shows where these issues are the most prominent - Supernatural and Once Upon a Time are the first I think of - I've seen enough to know that there does seem to be a lot of build up to nothing. Hell, I saw the pilot of Xena: Warrior Princess and, knowing very little about the show, already thought that Xena and Gabrielle were totally a couple. Writing is important. And while it may be dangerous for fans to always see things in terms of ships, it's far more dangerous I think to suggest ships and make them integral to the storyline and then never do anything with them.
Finally, while I may not be much of a shipper, there is something kind of wonderful about it. I saw a post going around Tumblr a week or so ago how someone who had just been told what shipping was described it as choosing to see the possibility of love everywhere. This is beautiful, really. Love and all its complicated forms is really underrepresented, when you think about it. And given all the multitudes of relationships that could be shown, we kind of get the same boxed up idea of what love is over and over again. So, how do we get more love diversity? Make more things. We have to understand that we likely won't be able to express all relationships in everything we write and we don't want to write in things just to have a token relationship or because we feel we have to represent them. But when I look at the world around me and see how complex it is, I wonder how we ever got to the point where so many shows represent the same things. When did we decide to have twenty cop shows and few shows about teachers or farmers or dieticians or something? Why did it take so long to represent people complexly? Why is Two and a Half Men still on?
The point is, the world is a complicated place. And we should create things that represent it in all its complexity. We've got fanfiction, yes, but I think mainstream media should represent the same diversity represented by fanfic writers.
One last (slightly unrelated) note: In my past post, I mentioned the struggle with the LGBT acronym: somehow, letters always get left out. You'll note in this post I used LGBT, simply for convenience's sake. However, since the acronym seems to be getting longer and longer and causes the issue of labeling people who perhaps don't want labels, my roommate Sarah and I came up with an alternative name: queer pi(e). Yes, queer pi(e). Why? Because of the definition for the mathematical pi: