Kit Connor in “Heartstopper”Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
heart stopper Star Kit Connor was forced to come out as bisexual after a spate of queerbaiting allegations from alleged fans of the show. Connor, who plays bisexual character Nick Nelson in the Netflix series, came out on Twitter after he was harassed on social media for not publicly revealing his sexual orientation. “Back a moment. I’m bi”, Connor tweeted on October 31st. “Congratulations on forcing an 18 year old to come out. I think some of you missed the point of the show. Goodbye.”
For months, many fans have speculated about the actor’s sexual orientation heart stopper was first dropped in April, accusing him of being intentionally vague about his identity in order to queerbait. Before coming out, Connor had said he didn’t feel the need to label his sexuality immediately and said he was uncomfortable that so many people were trying to pressure him and his co-star Joe Locke Teens coming out publicly ‘when maybe we’re not ready’ However, that scrutiny only intensified after he was spotted holding hands with actress Maia Reficco in September.
Use of the hashtag #kitconnorgoawayfromheartstopper, these so-called fans jumped to conclusions. They took to Twitter to allegedly berate him ruin the show and accused him of apparently cashing in on LGBTQ people by playing a queer character despite appearing to be straight. This prompted Connor to leave the platform for almost a month before finally feeling compelled to reactivate his account and come out as bi.
This type of harassment not only misses the core point of the series, which is that everyone deserves to speak out on their own terms, but also shows how toxic and misguided the internet’s obsession with queerbaiting is and how the discourse surrounding queerbaiting is out of control devices.
Queerbaiting is not a term that even applies to real people. Queerbaiting is essentially a marketing tool that appeals to a queer audience by suggesting that certain characters in books, movies, or TV shows could be queer without ever coming to fruition. It is “the practice of implying non-heterosexual relationships or attraction (e.g. in a television show) in order to appeal to or attract an LGBTQ audience or otherwise generate interest without ever actually depicting such relationships or sexual interactions. “
One of the most glaring examples of queerbaiting is the police case Rizzoli & Islands, in which the series’ two main characters, Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles, have quite a sapphic chemistry despite being portrayed as just friends. The show’s actors and creators even admitted to deliberately playing up the lesbian subtext between the two in order to attract a queer audience. Another glaring example of queerbaiting can be found in the BBC series sherlockin which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s romantically ambiguous relationship inspired many viewers to write their own explicitly gay fanfic to fill in the blanks the show didn’t address.
In recent years, however, some have chosen to co-opt the term and use it to pressure celebrities and actors into publicly disclosing their sexual identities because of either embracing certain aesthetics and behaviors related to queerness or themselves simply refusing to label themselves. Harry Styles has often been at the forefront of this discussion due to his fashion choices and his penchant for playing coy when the subject of his sexuality comes up.
Allegations of queerbaiting have also sparked an ongoing debate over whether straight actors should be allowed to play queer roles, which has proven quite difficult to maneuver considering such a hard and fast rule would force closed actors to do so come out prematurely or miss an opportunity to play a character they can identify with without feeling pressured to publicly declare their sexual orientation.
While queerbaiting has always been an accusatory term, it’s meant to point out how characters are portrayed in the media, not force people to come out because the internet has a right to know if someone is queer or not. As such, queerbaiting doesn’t exist in real life—and with good reason. Real people deserve to be able to choose when, where and how to come out without being accused of queerbaiting if they don’t do it fast enough. Dealing with your sexual orientation can take time, especially for young people like Connor, and pressuring someone to come out before they’re ready is incredibly damaging and regressive. It’s also quite biphobic, at least in Connor’s case. Last time I checked, bi guys can date girls and still be gay.
No one should feel compelled to come out or show their queerness to others in order to be valid. Coming out should be a liberating and empowering experience. It shouldn’t be used to force people to prove they’re not straight. The internet’s insane obsession with verifying people’s queerness through unsubstantiated accusations of queerbaiting is more than just a desire for LGBTQ visibility and representation. It’s a performatively just and moralistic witch hunt that’s now being used to prevent queerness and actively harm people who are still figuring things out.
As a community and as a society, our first instinct should be to protect people who are not yet out and not push them to come out before they are ready. heart stopper has shown viewers that coming out is a personal journey that everyone should experience on their own terms and in their own time. Connor should have had the same opportunity as all of us.