Strap in everyone; this is going to be a long one.
Most of you know what queerbaiting is but for those of you who don’t, here’s the basics. Queerbaiting is when writers and directors of a TV show, movie, or other form of media create subtext between two same-sex characters implying they have romantic and/or sexual feelings for each other with no intent to deliver.
This is common in a lot of popular TV shows. Sherlock, Merlin, and Supernatural are only three big examples of a practice that leaves fans extremely frustrated. Though these characters may follow the same romantic tropes as heterosexual ones do (I’m looking at you, Bones), the writers almost never deliver with an actual, real romantic relationship. This is extremely problematic for many reasons.
But I have a strange relationship with queerbaiting, and that’s because it got me a wife.
I “met” my wife on Fanfiction.net roughly a decade ago. We were both into the anime Death Note. Shipping in Death Note was happening long before queerbaiting was a common term. Two of the main male characters are literally handcuffed together for months for part of the series. If that’s not queerbaiting, then I don’t know what is.
But, we were young and didn’t expect to see much queer representation in the media. For us, and for a lot of people, this pairing was practically canon.
Interestingly we didn’t meet because of that pair (L and Light), we met because of a more obscure ship involving two characters that don’t even appear for the first half of the show.
If you know Death Note, you likely know about Mello/Matt. Matt is a character who appears for less than 2 minutes in the anime and only several panels of the manga. But *Spoilers* because Mello (who has no apparent empathy and is probably an actual psychopath) says something nice about him, clearly this meant they were in love.
There wasn’t a lot to work with back in the day.
(I still ship it).
So we both wrote the same pairing and we both liked each other’s work, which meant we reviewed each other’s work a lot. These reviews went from simple reviews to chatting about the show to chatting about each other’s lives. Eventually we added each other on MSN.
Facebook didn’t happen for a while, mostly because all this was happening back when you weren’t supposed to give strangers personal information. We did eventually meet up at an anime convention to chat for a bit, but that was it.
But then, Sherlock happened.
My obsession for Sherlock ran deep. It had everything I loved from a queerbaiting couple; the main characters had been thrown together, worked together despite not being too emotionally open, and grew closer and closer as time went by. It was perfect. I needed someone who was just as obsessed as I was.
Enter: my wife.
We were friends on Facebook by now and I’d seen her posting about Sherlock. A lot. So we started talking. A lot. We exchanged phone numbers and started texting. We started talking about cosplaying John and Sherlock, since we attended the same anime convention every year. This was right after series two, so we spent tons of time discussing theories and obsessing over Sherlock’s final words to John.
And then one day, while walking across my university campus and texting about Sherlock, I ran into a stone bench.
And that bench changed my life.
My future-wife made fun of me, only she did it as Sherlock, texting John. Sherlock mocked John for not paying attention to what he was doing. Soon they were flirting. And it didn’t stop. Our text roleplaying grew longer. We texted in class and while out with friends. We roleplayed at work and home.
We started to roleplay online on a regular basis, the plots getting more complicated. We relied on canon material for the most part, but started to branch out to create alternate universes. We cosplayed John and Sherlock together, so of course, we had to kiss for cosplay photos. It was only natural, right?
I mean I’d never done it before, but it seemed natural.
We spent unholy amounts of hours debating the likelihood of Johnlock happening. We dived into the episodes and analyzed every interaction. We complained about the addition of Mary and discussed how we could work around her getting in the way of our ship. We read interviews from various cast members and writers to get extra perspective.
All the while our conversations became more personal. We started visiting each other on weekends (she was only about a 2 hour drive away). We got jealous of each other’s time. Friends were surprised when I said we weren’t dating.
But we dismissed the signs. The play-acting we did was for conventions. You have to be in character and fans love cosplayers who will cuddle and kiss for a ship. And we had to do it for private photoshoots, too. And eventually you get so comfortable doing it, that doing it when you aren’t in character seems more natural.
She was even dating two different people over the course of this, and neither of them seemed to think it was that strange. It was simply what you did when you were invested in a ship.
Just not to the extent we did it.
We finally started dating and not long after moved in together. Several years later we got engaged. We ended up having a Sherlock themed wedding.
And something else we discovered about each other?
Our favorite pairings aren’t actual canon pairings.
We both love John/Sherlock and Matt/Mello. We’ve shipped multiple things in Supernatural. The tension between Merlin and Arthur is magical (hah). I won’t even get into anime.
But when it comes to characters, queer included, that actually are together? We both agree that they’re cute, but that there’s not much substance to them.
This is because of poor writing, not because the characters are queer. Same-sex couples just don’t seem to get the same buildup that heterosexual couples do.
One of the things that makes queerbaiting so fun is the huge amount of subtext. The relationship between the characters is more complicated. You have to analyze the characters with other members of the fandom. Every bit of evidence supporting your ship is exciting and new.
That’s just not the case for big canon couples. Cecil and Carlos in NightVale? Cute yes, but I don’t need to read fanfiction about them. But Max and Chloe from Life is Strange? That’s mostly subtext. You have to look for it. Rachel and Chloe in Life is Strange Before The Storm simply felt less interesting to me because it was so obvious.
That might just be me, though. We all have our entertainment preferences. I loved Yuri on Ice but it couldn’t keep my interest for very long. Though I guess that was technically queerbaiting…? But it was so obvious I’m not actually sure.
But if you look at Hannibal/Will, that’s a whole different story. Most of their relationship is built on subtext with very little actual confession, but interviews show the pairing is legitimate. This is a couple that has a relationship that builds up over seasons. It’s complex. Now if only they’d stop trying to kill each other, it would be easier for me personally to ship.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that queer representation is extremely important. As a queer woman I desperately want to see more good LGBTQA representation. That’s why the stories I work on all involve LGBTQA characters. I’m certainly not going to queerbait in my work.
I’m working on two different novels right now, and both of them feature queer characters. I’m always looking for media with great queer representation and I’m working on a guide to make it easier for people to find that type of content.
It’s been several years since I really fell into a fandom, and I’ve often speculated as to why. I’m not sure if I’ve just gotten more picky, or if it has to do with the media that is out there right now.
I’m so excited to see more and more queer characters out there, but I have to say queerbaiting has a special place in my heart. Not because it’s right, and not because I even like it, but because I did find my life partner because of it.
Would we have gotten married if these pairings were canon? Maybe. It’s certainly possible, but part of what drew us together to talk as much as we did was because the relationship wasn’t canon, and we always had new hints or bits of evidence to send each other about how Johnlock was clearly meant to be.
But of course, it would have been easy enough for the creators to get these characters together at the end of a series if they didn’t want the plot to focus on the character’s romance. So why didn’t they? Why don’t they? Why do so many shows throw in new female characters, just to remind us that the characters are straight? Why tease fans about a queer relationship if you don’t plan to deliver?
Because it gets viewers. It gets engaged fans. It gets people obsessing over subtext, leading to more posts, fanfictions, and videos. The younger demographic in particular will be drawn to keep watching.
It’s frustrating and brilliant. Because it works. Some people do boycott shows known for queerbaiting, but I’m not going to stop watching a show I love because of it. But there seems to be a little less queerbaiting lately, so who knows? Maybe in the future those same-sex characters that follow typical romantic tropes will actually date.
It would certainly be a welcome change. Maybe it’s happened already and I managed to miss it. Please tell me about any great queer content out there!
Does anyone else have a story like this? My dream was to fall for another geek like myself, and the way it happened almost sounds unbelievable. I was really lucky.
So I guess we can thank queerbaiting for something, right?