If you don’t live in the same corners of the social media world as I do, you may not know that there was even a first Great Gay Migration, so here’s a really potted history.
On US TV there’s a fairly long history, usually in May when on-going shows are up for renewal, of an apparently random woman suddenly developing a crush on another woman, kissing her and then everyone forgetting all about it. This was teased for ages, mainly to get the straight men to watch, but the choice of characters wasn’t that random - it was often couples that the lesbian fans wrote fanfic about, because May was the time of year when networks made decisions about which shows were cancelled or renewed and a sudden surge in numbers might save your show if it was ‘on the bubble’ as they call it.
Queerbaiting, as it became called, became more sophisticated when shows could more openly have LGBT+ characters. In the UK, if you’re of the right age, you might remember discussions of the Pink Pound - the spending revenue of what was called the Gay Economy but we’d now call the LGBT+ community. Obviously LGBT+ people watch TV too and representation isn’t great (although in the UK it’s doing quite a bit better than in the US). Queerbaiting refers to a show that hints at, or promises, a couple, often Lesbians, but fails to deliver or delivers them lazily and just kills one off. Xena: Warrior Princess really ought to be one of the first shows here but escapes that tag - the show runners never said Xena and Gabrielle were a couple but let the subtext shine through (which ought to get it labelled that way) but they kept on letting it shine through. Xena did die (and is counted in the Bury Your Gays count) but in the very last episode of the show. However, Rizzoli and Isles is counted as queerbaiting because all the publicity (and a lot of the shooting) suggests the titular Detective Rizzoli and Dr. Isles are in a relationship with each other in the subtext while canonically they’re both straight. Every season they tease and hint in the publicity, and in some of the shows but fail to deliver. It’s not only the lesbians fans that feel this, Sherlock is felt to tease its gay fans. I don’t see it myself - I know there’s lots of gay fanfic for John and Sherlock (Johnlock) or (less) for Moriaty and Sherlock and there has been some pandering to them but that’s not the same as baiting them in my opinion - but it’s not my fandom in that way so perhaps my opinion shouldn’t matter.
The 100, a dystopian SciFi YA show, did the other sort of queerbaiting. Clarke and Lexa, female leaders of two factions had chemistry and the show runners created social media accounts to promise they would get together, that they would treat the fans with respect and so on. The relationship built and built and was finally consummated. And boom, Lexa gets killed, despite the promises. The viewing figures fall by over 20% by the next week and continue to fall. 12 months later ClexaCon (after their ‘ship name from running together Clarke and Lexa) is held to discuss female-female relationships in the media and lots of other things and in some sectors it’s a great hit. By this point viewing figures for The 100 are struggling to reach 50% of their pre-death of Lexa levels. That decline in viewers, particularly that instant big hit, is called The Great Gay Migration.
This weekend was San Diego Comic Con. Supergirl has a canon lesbian relationship, Sanvers, (Maggie Sawyer and Alex Danvers) but also a non-canon popular one with the fans, SuperCorp, between Supergirl and Lena Luthor. The cast of Supergirl were asked about it and most (but not all) mocked it and mocked the fans for thinking it was even possible. One of those involved in this has since apologised and although his first apology was poor his second apology was much better and seems to have been generally accepted. Everyone makes mistakes after all. However, one of the others has threatened to sue one of the (former) fans of the show…
Unsurprisingly the fans have reacted with online protests and it seems likely they’re going to react come September with their remotes. The situation was exacerbated by another show popular with the same sort of demographic where the cast go out of their way to be accessible and supportive of their fans, including the lesbian and transgender fans, who were also at SDCC and seemed to not put a foot wrong, never let their smiles slip and made extra time for people. It was also worsened by a new show that is aimed squarely at the young female audience that some are worried are queerbaiting but the week before SDCC trailed a lesbian kiss and the next week has one of the leads who is confused about her sexuality (which has been building over the first three episodes) finally being brave enough to kiss the woman that makes her wonder this week, in episode four. So all those fans who were thinking “I need something else” are suddenly being shown a new show where they’re getting strong positive messages and cute women kissing without any issues AND an established show where the cast seem to get it. The second great gay migration is underway. Supergirl is not currently airing but it will be interesting to see just how poor its viewing figures for the new season are.
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