English actor Kit Connor, known for his portrayal of Nick Nelson in Netflix’s adaptation of "Heartstopper," was recently yanked out of the closet after being accused of queerbaiting.
On October 31, Connor tweeted, "back for a minute. i’m bi. congrats for forcing an 18 year old to out himself. i think some of you missed the point of the show. bye."
Queerbaiting is commonly defined as a marketing strategy utilized by the entertainment industry to deliberately attract an LGBTQ+ audience. Films and television do this by hinting at but never actualizing relationships that defy heteronormative boundaries.
Unlike "Riverdale," "Supergirl," "Teen Wolf" and, yes, even "Stranger Things," Netflix’s "Heartstopper" depicts actual LGBTQ+ teenagers and their relationships (whether it be romantic, platonic or familial) with unprecedented complexity.
Alice Oseman, the show's writer and author of comic series it's adapted from, explains to BuzzFeed UK that she really likes "taking characters through queer discovery in a joyful way." In both the "Heartstopper" webcomics and Netflix adaptation, Connor's character is bisexual, and his coming out journey is filled with that joy.
But with the intensity of the limelight and the overwhelming demands of fans and critics, Connor was not allotted the same privilege of joyful discovery.
An incident with the paparazzi involving Connor’s relationship with his future costar Maia Reficco (who herself is openly bisexual) landed him in the lap of cancel culture. Angered fans and critics claimed he was wrong to accept the role of Nick Nelson, who many LGBTQ+ youths look up to, without identifying (publicly) with the LGBTQ+ community.
To reiterate Connor’s point, these critics missed the point of the show entirely. Within the graphic novel series, Oseman explains that "there’s this idea that if you’re not straight, you have to tell all your family and friends immediately like you owe it to them. But you don’t. You don’t have to do anything until you’re ready."
The only person that's entitled to know your sexuality is you. Those who criticized Connor were under the impression that they were entitled to have an explanation. Instant gratification has only increased curiosity, expanded knowledge and invalidated the virtue of patience.
Have you ever caught yourself googling "who is dating bla bla bla" or "why was bla bla bla canceled?" Because I have. I often forget that the celebrities I idolize are real people. Can you imagine waking up one morning and seeing angry tweets from thousands of people demanding to know your sexuality?
Well, I personally can’t because society doesn’t demand straight cisgender people to come out as a straight, cisgender person. I find this double standard to be frankly exhausting.
Connor is unsurprisingly not the first celebrity to feel pressured to be upfront with their sexuality. Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles are on the list of mainstream artists who have been pressured to "just come out already." Eilish, now 20, has been frequently accused of queerbaiting throughout her years as a popular experimental, indie pop artist.
In an interview with Elle magazine, Eilish vents her frustrations with the public’s demand to know her sexual orientation. She said, "Like, oh yeah, that’s everyone else’s business, right? No. Where’s that energy with men?"
Swift, the songwriter-artist of the decade, has faced similar accusations. Despite her six-year (admirably) private relationship with Joe Alwyn, fans want Swift to go public with her sexuality (at least, as it's perceived by fans).
Rumors surrounding Swift’s sexuality began to circulate back in 2011 when she was seen and photographed regularly with "Glee" star Dianna Agron. Some fans believe that the pair dated until 2013 and have heavily analyzed albums "Red," "1989" and "folklore," in which several songs are believed to be written for Agron.
With the release of Swift’s newest album "Midnights," fans initially believed that the song "Lavender Haze" was an homage to the LGBTQ+ community based on its title. But Swift herself stated the song was about weird rumors regarding her relationship with Alwyn, upsetting fans immensely on social media.
Styles has also been called out for alleged queerbaiting in the past for wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue and declining the offer to publicly label his sexuality. With the release of his new film "My Policeman," where Styles plays a gay character and acts in gay sex scenes, cries of queerbaiting have only increased. Similarly to Eilish, Styles agrees that the public isn’t entitled to know his sexuality, or anyone's for that matter. Simply put by Styles: "Who cares?"
The modern entertainment industry is seemingly indifferent to straight actors and actresses playing queer characters and vice versa. But it comes down to the characters and the actors that portray them. I speak on the behalf of many when I say that queer representation in the industry matters.
Children, teenagers and adults who are struggling to discover and come to terms with their sexual orientation are able to find reassurance in queer actors and actresses who are not only, in reality, successful but also bring to life meaningful and inspirational characters within the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite that benefit, we shouldn’t force the entertainment industry to hire based on sexuality. While representation matters, being conscious of those who prefer to keep their sexual orientation private matters just as much.
Instead of canceling actors and actresses who keep their sexual orientation private, we should focus on giving actors who are comfortable being out opportunities to play both gay and straight characters — and cancel those who demand to bring such personal matters into the eyes of public scrutiny.