YouTubers Need To Stop Queer-Baiting

10 February 2016, 15:04 | Updated: 6 November 2017, 09:33

We the Unicorns

By Benedict Townsend

Are Dan and Phil, Joe Sugg and others guilty of this?

This week, YouTuber Ricky Dillon released a video announcing his upcoming book. The thumbnail of the video was ... interesting. Instead of mentioning the book or giving any hints about the project, he went with this image and video title:

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Does this image and title invoke anything for you? Any kind of particular video? If you don't know what I mean, let's take a look at some of the top comments on the video:


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Yes, the serious nature of the thumbnail (where he is looking coy and pensive), combined with the ominous but vague title 'My Secret...' could very much give the impression that this is a 'coming out' video - that is, a video where someone tells their audience for the first time that they are LGBTQ+. Now, this may well just be a misreading of the situation. It may be that it is just coincidental that this resembles a coming out video - but the problem is that Ricky has done this before. In 2013 video he released this video:


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The 'secret' in question was that Ricky had 'multiple personalities' - which were in fact just characters he played. Once again though, that is not what the audience expected when they saw the video thumbnail and title. Here is the top comment on the video:

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Here are some of the replies:


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As you can see: it was pretty decisive. You may ask: why would Ricky do this? Why would Ricky imply that his video is a coming out video? The answer is queer-baiting.


What Is Queer-Baiting?

Queer-baiting is a recent phenomenon that can be described as the deliberate act of implying that you or someone else might be LGBTQ+ in order to generate interest from a liberal/LGBT+ audience. The reason it is 'baiting' is because you never actually give a satisfying answer following your hints. and effectively use the intrigue of the audience as a way to keep them hooked. Shows like Sherlock and Supernatural have long been accused of this: deliberately leaving vague hints that characters may be gay, in order to attract liberal audiences - but then never actually seeing those hints through to the end.



Why Would YouTubers Do This?

'Coming Out' videos have seen huge traction in recent years. Audiences appreciate the rawness and honesty of a creator being outspoken about who they are. They also attract liberal-minded and LGBTQ+ viewers, who are delighted to see sexuality being spoken about in a frank and mature way. They also ... get a lot of views. That's an uncomfortable thing to say, but it's true. Coming Out videos are very popular. I'm not saying that people make Coming Out videos to get views - not at all, that would be monstrous. Coming Out videos are incredibly brave and we should be nothing but supportive of people who make them.


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But what if there was way to give your video the viral popularity of a coming out video, without actually coming out? What if there was a way to attract those curious liberal and LGBTQ+ viewers, without just fully lying to them? That's queer-baiting.


Do YouTubers Actually Do This?

Sadly, yes. About exactly a year ago, there was notable outrage after Joe Sugg decided to announce his new book 'Username: Evie' using this video:


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While it may be possible to give Ricky Dillon some benefit of the doubt regarding his possible queer baiting - this is clear cut. Joe has even used (fan-made) photos of him and Caspar kissing. For the record, his book has exactly zero to do with his sexuality, let alone a possible relationship with Caspar Lee. Also - Caspar isn't even in the video AND the kissing pictures aren't real - they were edited together by shippers. This is both blatant clickbait and blatant queer-bait. The audience noticed this and was not happy. In fact, there was enough backlash that Joe both apologised and changed the video thumbnail (to something actually vaguely relevant to the book):


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The change of thumbnail is significant, because it implies, at the very least, an awareness that the nature of the picture was troubling to his audience. Here is one voice in the LGBTQ+ community, who expressed disappointment:



There Was Also The Curious Case Of Cutforth

In October 2014, Luke Cutforth released a video called 'Coming Out' which - shockingly - lead people to believe he was coming out. In fact, the video revealed that he was 'coming out' as in a straight relationship with fellow YouTuber Emma Blackery. Many lambasted Luke for applying gay-bait to what would have otherwise still been an otherwise lovely video:



Luke also eventually changed the title of the video, though the new title he chose still has arguably queer-baiting overtones:


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Let's Talk About Dan And Phil

Dan and Phil are lovely people and I am not here to try and drag their names through the mud, but the issue of to what degree (if any), Dan and Phil could be accused of queer-baiting has been one that has raged since they first appeared online. It is known that they are widely shipped (sometimes excessively so), but they have been accused of fuelling the fires of this ship, while also deliberately never confirming or denying the existence of 'Phan'.


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It's a complicated matter but one of the best assessments of the situation can be found in this tumblr post. The author, a member of Phandom, argues that Dan and Phil are not acting maliciously, but that they have in fact become trapped by gay-baiting. The argument, which seems very likely, is that in the beginning, they were shipped together and they playfully went along with it, not thinking there would be any negative consequences. They noticed that their audience liked it so they played into it. But as they became bigger than they could have ever expected, and as shippers became such a huge and influential power within their fan base, they became stuck, as they now could neither confirm nor deny the ship, without alienating some of their audience.

(update: I'd like to stress that this is intended to be an example of just oneview on the matter. We are not saying that any particular scenario regarding Dan and Phan is true - that is left for you, the reader to decide. Nor are we accusing Dan and Phil - who champion LGBTQ+ rights - of being overtly malicious. We're just laying things out so that we can start a discussion.)


Moving Forward

The actual 'guilt' of YouTubers with regard to queer-baiting is something that is up to you to decide, but I think we can all agree that sexuality and coming out are not something to be treated lightly or flippantly. In a world where countries still have the death penalty for being gay and where LGTBQ+ rights are troubled at best even in supposedly progressive nations, it is hard to have sympathy for straight people who exploit the intrigue surrounding coming out as a way to get YouTube views.


What do you think of this issue on the whole? Let us know in the comments below, on our facebook page and you can also take our poll: