It’s 2021 and (almost) everyone is gay. According to the Washington Post, more people, especially Gen Zers, are actively embracing their queer identity. As the LGBTQ+ community expands, so does visibility. More Tiktoks featuring same sex partners dancing, vibing, and sharing vignettes of their life have hit the For Your Page normalizing what is already normal to many queer people.
With this liberation, however, a resurgence in queer propaganda has dug up an age-old stereotype that’s toxic within the queer community: The “hot” lesbian.
Queer baiting has been a hot button topic in media for generations. Katy Perry, upon releasing “I Kissed a Girl,” faced a good amount of backlash for relegating lesbian relationships to a fun, naughty affair. Charli XCX apologized for her lighthearted song “Girls,” not realizing the song indicated kissing women as a hobby more than a legitimate lifestyle. Now, as the torch is passed to a new generation of artists, Billie Eilish is the most recent to come under fire. Her music video “Lost Cause” caught waves for perpetuating the “group of girlfriends at a slumber party” fantasy. Later, Eilish doubled down with her “I love girls” Instagram post in lieu of an apology, but behavior surrounding kissing women for male validation invalidates women-love-women (wlw) relationships.
And it’s not just celebrities continuing this trope. The stigma surrounding lesbian relationships is everywhere on social media, where trending challenges like “best friends kissing” have become wildly popular. The trend, which has over 1.2 million videos attributed to it, builds tension over whether two people will kiss and typically, they don’t. It seems innocent enough, not all that different from a game of spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven. However, given Tiktoks censorship of queer people, this de-legitimization of queer relationships as anything other than “fun” not only furthers the idea that being a lesbian is just a “phase,” but it also silences queer creators speaking about their experiences. In fact, videos of female best friends following this trend have already been censored by TikTok.
But the latest, worrying trend contributing to queerbaiting’s resurgence is actually happening on Snapchat. Women take a photo while pretending to be kissing, and then send that photo to their male friends. After that, they post their friends’ reactions as a “gotcha” prank video, a move that gives men permission to include themselves in lesbian and bisexual relationships. This continued narrative centers male validation at the expense of queer relationships, promoting dishonest stereotypes in exchange for attention.
Given how “lesbian” is the most searched term in porn, it is telling how harmful this continued portrayal of queer relationships can be for those who are actually gay. I spent years unlearning the queer experience as a “fun experiment.” I still have to fend off men in bars who ask my girlfriend and me for threesomes. I’ve done the work to center queer love in my life as something solely for myself, and not for anyone else to point, gawk, or make a TikTok video out of.
As more people come out, the queer experience becomes more readily available to understand, easier to package and purpose for one’s own means of creation. To create, talk, and write about being gay is a step forward for gay people. But when that lived experience is diminished in an online trend by those who are not gay as something sexy, naughty, or taboo, it’s not only a complete reversal of progress, it is a means of censorship on its own.