This is going to be a very queer week!
Today I want to talk about queer coding and queerbaiting. This is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while on my channel, because it’s still a thing that happens today, unfortunately. There are a few great videos that discuss this in-depth, so I won’t be going into great detail here, but I will be linking them at the end of this post. Let’s start with queer coding.
Queer coding definition – Feminist Disney
- A character that is given certain characteristics that are likely to reference “queerness” in the audience’s subconscious. Queer coding doesn’t mean a character necessarily is gay—or that their evilness is based in being queer—it means that the character is evil and queer because society associates queer with bad.
For this, let’s focus on the male villains, since it’s typically them that get queer coded. Have you noticed that nearly all of them have a very particular set of traits? Flamboyant movements, overflowing with sass, physically weak, well dressed. Do those set off bells? They should, since they’re commonly used stereotypes of gay men. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these characteristics. But it is an issue when it’s the primary representation of the queer community. And when it comes to villains, these characteristics are almost exclusively used. The videos I mentioned touch on some well-known and obvious examples, like Hades, Scar, and Ursula. The last one is probably the most obvious since she was literally based on a drag queen, Divine. Other examples include Jafar, Governor Ratcliffe, King Candy. Of course, there are some exceptions, like Gaston, but they’re very few. Queer coding isn’t limited to Disney or animated movies, it appears in every form of media. Using Disney as an example is the easiest, and perhaps the most important, since it’s often the first entry into media for children. If the only portrayals of queer coded people are villains, what message are children getting? These coded villains are sending the message that queer equals bad, being feminine equals bad and it’s even worse when it’s a man, and subverting gender norms is unacceptable.
The videos I’ve linked about queer coding still hold today, but they were made in 2015 and 2016, so I want to mention some Disney films since then that have queer coding. At first glance, Zootopia doesn’t have any. But when you look carefully, you’ll find a queer coded character (albeit on the good side). That character would be Clawhauser, the front desk cheetah. Out of context, it’s harmless. But compare Clawhauser with pretty much every other cop in the film. They’re all in shape, very masculine (even the women). While Clawhauser is the adorable not-in-shape cheetah, very in touch with his feelings, and more feminine than the other officers. Another recent example is Moana. There are several villains in it, but the one that jumps out is Tamatoa. I mean, look at him! His mannerisms aren’t very explicit, but they’re there. Some of his lines also imply queer coding. I’m discussing only Disney here, so there are no more recent examples, but queer coding still crops up in a lot of other media, especially TV. Let’s move onto queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting definition – Wikipedia
- Queerbaiting is the practice to hint at, but then to not actually depict, a same-sex romantic relationship between characters in a work of fiction, mainly in film or television. The potential romance may be ignored, explicitly rejected or made fun of.
Really quick, the difference between queer coding and queerbaiting: coding has very negative connotation, and is usually associated with villains only. Basically, coding says a person with queer attributes is going to be the bad guy or at least not the hero. (Think LeFou.) Baiting focuses on the homoromantic tension between two characters, regardless of their actual sexuality. Queerbaiting is essentially a tactic to attract queer audiences with the promise of the potential of representation, and ultimately ends in disappointment. This is done to avoid backlash from audiences that aren’t okay with queer characters (re: queerphobic people). This is just as bad as queer coding, but it might not be as obvious. Rowan has another video talking about this, again, linked below. She talks about two different ways it can manifest – explicit and implicit. Explicit queerbaiting would be things like “no homo” humor, which is used often in BBC’s Sherlock, between him and Watson when people think or ask if they’re a couple. It can be problematic, because it can very quickly seem like you’re laughing at queer people, thus you’re laughing at the viewers who are queer. Implicit queerbaiting is when the way two characters interact or the way a scene is shot suggests that they’re queer, or that the scene is queer. The lines will be ambiguous, suggesting that their sexuality or attraction might not be entirely straight. Or the scene might be shot in the exact same way as an explicitly romantic scene between heterosexual people, but is passed off as platonic. This can be harmful, because while we do have hints at representation, we’re robbed of true representation that is good and accurate. Queerbaiting often either plays queerness as a joke or treats platonic friendships as misunderstood. With media these days, writers and showrunners are more easily held accountable for their decisions. Often, how they deal with this is simply avoiding the question or not technically answering them directly. This happened with Supernatural, with the relationship between Dean and Castiel. One of the writers insisted that it wasn’t his place to define them, and that they mean many things to fans so why limit them? [make a face] Another, less pleasant, example is Supergirl. There was a panel where they talked about the pairing of Kara and Lena, and they just laughed at the idea, mocking it a bit. I’ll link a video from the Princess and the Scrivener where Sarah talks about this situation more in-depth. Queerbaiting is frustrating because it plays with the idea of straight couples doing “will they, won’t they?” but we all know that queer couples are always “won’t they.” It is a pleasant surprise when it does become a canon pairing, but that’s very rare, and we often see it coming because the characters have already been confirmed to be queer.
So that’s queer coding and queerbaiting. I hope you learned something today. Please be sure to check out all the links I’ve left at the end of this post, a lot of great content there. Let me know what you think of this. Maybe some queerbaited couples, or examples of queer relationships that were done really well. And that’s it for me today.
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Links I mentioned
- Queer coding
- Definition: http://feministdisney.tumblr.com/post/15078286135/how-do-you-define-a-queer-coded-character-ex
- Rowan Why are Disney Villains Gay/Queer?: https://youtu.be/S8pDYbPSKlU
- P&S Queer Coding Disney’s Male Villains: https://youtu.be/sAJ-mqepq3I
- Queer baiting