Kit Connor’s forced coming out proves ‘queerbaiting’ has gone too far

Kit Connor

Coming out should be a celebration, but there was little jubilation on social media when Heartstopper actor Kit Connor confirmed that he’s bisexual.

The actor, who’s just 18, skyrocketed to fame playing bisexual schoolboy Nick Nelson on the Netflix smash hit – but it wasn’t long before trolls on social media started heaping pressure on him to come out in real life.

Things took a turn for the worse when he was allegedly photographed holding hands with a female actor. Almost immediately, fans rushed to Twitter to accuse Kit Connor of being straight the whole time. It wasn’t long before he was accused of “queerbaiting”.

The argument was simple and ridiculous in equal measure – “fans” accused him of pretending to be queer for Heartstopper, apparently forgetting in the process that bisexuality exists and that actors aren’t obliged to explain their sexuality to the world.

The backlash led to Connor leaving Twitter for weeks before he returned on Monday night (31 October) to come out as bisexual. In a heartbreaking post, he said he had been “forced” to come out by fans who “missed the point” of Heartstopper entirely.

Heartstopper fans have misrepresented what ‘queerbaiting’ means

The fiasco is frustrating for a myriad of reasons, from the bi-erasure to the cruelty of forcing a teenager to come out online to justify his place in a television show – but it’s also enraging because the entire backlash rests on wilful misrepresentation of the word “queerbaiting” and what it’s actually supposed to mean.

The term “queerbaiting” was originally coined to refer to popular media such as TV shows and films that hint at queerness but never explicitly depict it. It’s a device that keeps queer viewers coming back for more, but also allows creators to avoid alienating wider audiences or hampering profits.

More recently, online fandoms have started using the word “queerbaiting” to refer to anybody who appears to be queer but who hasn’t explicitly confirmed it. Victims of the intense queerbaiting debate include Harry Styles and Bad Bunny, two musicians who regularly subvert gender norms in the way they present themselves.

The argument from some “fans” is that somebody like Styles is “queerbaiting” because he wears dresses and stars in queer dramas like My Policeman while refusing to label his sexuality.

Kit Connor and Joe Locke in Heartstopper.

Kit Connor (L) was forced to come out as bisexual following a series of posts on social media. (Netflix)

Those arguments, likely made by young fans, have wider ramifications. The result is that somebody like Connor can’t play a bisexual character on screen unless he explicitly states in real life that he’s bisexual. Only then can he get away from unfounded, nonsensical accusations of “queerbaiting” and get on with the work of playing his character.

What’s also troubling is the malleability of language on social media. Young fans see a word, invent a completely wrong definition, and run with it to aid their own arguments. Language is always evolving – we should embrace that – but it doesn’t help anybody when a word like “queerbaiting” is redefined to police how people present and express themselves.

It’s also worth noting how pointless it is to have any kind of “queerbaiting” debate about a show like Heartstopper. It’s a series that centres gay, bi, lesbian and trans characters. They get to have relationships, they get to be happy, and they also face many of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people in real life have to deal with. At its core, Heartstopper is a reflection of what life is like for young LGBTQ+ people today, with an added dash of euphoric romance.

Simply put, it doesn’t make sense to have any kind of conversation about queerbaiting and Heartstopper because the show is centred around explicit queer representation. There’s no “baiting” about it – it’s just queer.

What’s perhaps most troubling is the fact that the entire “queerbaiting” argument broke out because a bisexual man dared to hold hands with a woman. It speaks to the endless erasure bisexual people have to contend with on a daily basis.

We’ll say this loudly for those at the back – it’s well and truly time we stopped guessing how a person defines their sexuality based on who they’re dating. Bi people are still bi when they’re dating somebody of a different gender.

It’s a shame that Connor’s coming out has been overshadowed by internet trolls and their relentless speculation about his sexuality. We can only hope that, in time, he’ll find space to celebrate – and for his own sake, we hope he takes a long break from Twitter.