Jhis week, Kit Connor, the young star of Netflix’s dreamy LGBTQ romance Heartstopper, came out as bisexual — but not by his own choice. “back a minute“, he tweeted, referring to his voluntary breakup with Twitter due to prior harassment. “I’m bi. Congratulations on forcing an 18 year old out of it. I think some of you missed the point of the show. goodbye”
A feverish entitlement to details of celebrity sexuality has been growing online for years, with celebrities increasingly being called out by fans and the media to ‘come out’ and confirm rabid speculation. Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Jameela Jamil, Rita Ora, Billie Eilish, Yungblud, Shawn Mendes and most recently Connor have all been hounded to confirm their sexuality amid obsessions over the most spurious clues – a paparazzi photo, a music video video, a choice of role. Connor faced a storm of scrutiny when footage emerged of him holding hands with Maia Reficco, a costar in a new film. For touching a woman, after playing a bisexual character in Heartstoppper, Connor was accused of “queerbaiting”, a criticism aimed at stars who are supposed to “play” homosexuality for weight.
It’s that same kind of thinking that leads to arguments that Harry Styles shouldn’t be allowed to wear a green feather boa until he confirms how he identifies himself, or Billie Eilish slammed for scenes slightly Sapphic in a music video, followed by demands that she “come out” to justify them.
Queerbaiting was originally a criticism directed at films and shows that would hint at LGBTQ+ representation without actually representing it, in order to appeal to LGBTQ+ audiences without having to lose straight people. Think about when the directors of Avengers: Endgame spoke publicly and loudly about having queer representation in the film, only to have it turn out to be a single line uttered by a character. unnamed secondary.
But the extremely media-savvy youngsters who make up the online fandoms have weaponized and debased the term, leveling it off on all the celebrities they believe are engaging in homosexuality to curry favor with them and earn the “pink dollar.”
Unlike in the past, when public scrutiny of sexuality was primarily motivated by homophobia, this new right seems to be primarily framed not just in acceptance, but in intense support for queer identities. While that sounds nice, the problem is that celebrities have no say in whether or not they want this “support.” It also perpetuates regressive attitudes around performative queerness for straight audiences, where certain “types” of identity are seen as more valid or real than others. It also fails to recognize the very real dangers that still exist for people who make the choice to come out publicly. In the end, it all just becomes happier for us to measure, judge and consume.
The “pressure” Connor talks about isn’t a few scattered trolls or some weird piece of thinking. We’re talking about giant, engaged fandoms across multiple social media networks that might be invisible to you, but are of real and urgent concern to everyone in those spaces. Heartstopper’s surprise success was due to the support of a passionate fandom, which he couldn’t really afford to ignore. These fandoms have a terrifying ability to exert pressure online: they are numerous and vocal, and everyone working in the culture right now, from executives to actors, knows that courting them can mean success.
While Connor and fellow Heartstopper Joe Locke have deactivated their social media accounts, the fact that Connor felt “forced” to come back and out shows that the pressure is both toxic and real. Connor’s character Nick is also coming to terms with his sexuality, which is treated with incredibly moving respect and love on the show – but it’s something that many of the show’s fans have clearly misunderstood.
Coming out is a personal journey, but it has been controlled by people inside and outside the queer community for a long time. Rebel Wilson recently said she also felt “forced” to come out when a gay gossip columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald threatened to write about his new relationship with a woman. “There are levels to tell people,” she said. “You tell your close family and friends and not everyone. In both of our families, not everyone is as accepting as you’d hope, and we were trying to be respectful to those people and tell them in our own way.
Connor is a young man, bullied to accommodate all the complications, joys and confusions of his sexuality in the public eye. Even if you don’t care about celebrities, such entitlement among the public is emblematic of a larger problem. – celebrities aren’t the only ones suffering. Such binary attitudes have made their way into the queer community, where there are arguments about who is “allowed” to march in pride or enter queer spaces. All of this leads to a situation where there is a “right” or a “wrong” way to be queer, where going out and playing is expected, rather than a choice. No one’s sexuality or gender identity should be offered for the consumption of others – no, not even that of a celebrity.