If you’re a cisgender heterosexual person, you don’t have to look far to see your own relationship portrayed in the media. Straight couples are quite literally everywhere. If you’re queer, representation is harder to come by.
So, imagine you’re a young queer person. You’re not out to your friends or family—or even yourself, really. Now imagine your favorite TV show suggests that two queer characters are more than friends. Finally! Someone who looks like you! But wait—not so fast: The relationship never materializes, and you’re left bummed and confused.
That’s what they call queerbaiting, y’all. Urban Dictionary defines queerbaiting as, “A marketing technique used to attract queer viewers that involves creating romantic or sexual tension between two same-sex characters but never making it canon or evolving on it.”
“But isn’t that just drumming up interest in the show?” you might ask. That’s where it gets tricky. Because of the relative scarcity of queer relationships onscreen, the bait and switch can be especially harmful. Seeing queer representation on TV can be incredibly affirming to queer viewers. When that representation ends up being just for show, it can make you feel like your story isn’t important enough to be told—or even that it doesn’t exist. It’s also a way for media to appeal to potential queer consumers without alienating the parts of their audience that might be uncomfortable with queerness. (Which, what? It’s 2020—get over yourself.)