Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Queer Baiting

I meant to write this post immediately after writing about complicated queer community but clearly that didn't happen. So, harken back to that discussion a little bit as I begin to lay out a my grasping of a somewhat related topic.

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.

I'm very interested in this issue, but given that I'm not a member of the LGBT community, it doesn't really affect me in the same way that it does someone who is part of that community. In fact, given my dubious nature of fangirling, it affects me in a very limited yet complicated way. As I've mentioned here in the past, I'm not much of a shipper. I often care very deeply about romantic relationships in books, films, and shows, and other times I'm less interested and prefer to see friendship or other forms of love expressed instead. I admit that when I first heard about queer or slash baiting, I struggled to understand it beyond initial understanding of the lack of representation of LGBT people because I failed to understand the need to have romantic relationships expressed canonically. For example, I like the show Sherlock but really enjoy the Sherlock and John as BroTP. It's not that I'd have a problem with them being an OTP (one true pairing, or romantic coupledom) it's that I really like watching friendships expressed too and I find myself caught between wanting to see both expressed. Again, I'm not a LGBT member so I watch their relationship far differently. But I think I know why.

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?"

I, of course, am making a grievous mistake. The problem is, of course, that there have been hundreds and hundreds of same-sex friendships expressed on television. There have been very few same-sex relationships and those are often not portrayed very well. I can't think of any bi- or trans- relationships (my television history is kind of rusty, so I'm not saying there aren't any; I just can't think of any off the top of my head). It's a big issue when an entire group of people are not being represented in culture - it's a certain kind of silence that's frightening. After seeing people rant and write about queer baiting, I understand it better. Comparing it to the lack of BroTPs for opposite sex friends on TV helps me get a grasp on how important it is to show these differing relationships. Because it's just as important to have opposite sex BroTPs as it is to have same-sex OTPs, since we've got this stupid idea that men and women can't be friends without sex being an issue. Fortunately, we've got some really good BroTPs - Elementary for one, and I'm hopeful for the new show Sleepy Hollow (and both have women of color too WOOT). But we're still severely lacking in the GLBT relationship category.

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.

I'd also like to briefly approach the issue of slash and fangirls, but that could be a thesis paper, not a paragraph. So I'll be brief. I think there is a tendency to fetishize LGBT ships just as there is a tendency to do so with other aspects of culture. Generally, I think there is less fetishism and more of a celebratory nature towards sexuality. However, there is a tendency to desire relationships with gay men simply because it would be sexy, not because of wanting representation for those people. So, it's important to recognize that some fans out there are more focused on this, but not all fangirls are this way. Some people just really want Dean and Castiel to get together because there's a lot of richness in their relationship. And yes, they are attractive human beings, but the focus is on more than just that. At least, that's the feeling I get from my Tumblr dash.

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:

Pi is infinite, non-repeating. There are numerous amounts of combinations - just as there is a numerous amount of diversity among LGBT people. But, like pie (the food), they are all part of a larger, wonderful whole. Also, pie is delicious.

So that's my suggestion: queer pi(e). Your move, internet.
Lastly, some blog business to attend to. You'll notice that, once again, I failed to post this Saturday and that I'm posting on a Tuesday, not a Wednesday. I've decided that given my new work schedule and general upcoming insanity that will be my life once school starts in October, I'm going to try a different posting schedule for the time being: on Tuesdays and Fridays. Those are days (I think) that will work better for me. However, I maybe be moving that around, but hopefully I'll be able to settle on something consistent. So look for another post this Friday!

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