Kit Connor Forced to Come out by Fans
Netflix’s Heartstopper marked a before and after in gay media When Kit Connor was forced to come out
Based on Alice Oseman’s beautifully written and illustrated comics, this is a coming-of-age gay romance that doesn’t delve into the plethora of overused “gay angst” tropes that for long haunted gay characters In modern media. Plus, the actors are good, and the story is heartwarming. What’s surprising is that despite its loyal fanbase and major ratings success in the streaming giant, some of the fans didn’t seem to understand the show’s message. Kit Connor, the 18-year-old English actor who played the bisexual Nick Nelson, was accused of queer-baiting. That led to him deleting the app.
Queerbaiting refers to a loosely defined practice by shows, movies, and modern personalities of hinting at an explicitly queer storyline or character, only always to leave it hanging or backtrack at the last minute. For example, Teen Wolf was ripe with queerbaiting. Fans never knew if Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) was bisexual, despite other characters frequently questioning his sexuality, and even himself as a running gag.
Most recently, fans of LGBTQ+ shows or standard shows that include LGBTQ+ characters accuse actors who play queer characters while having a straight-looking lifestyle as queerbaiters. While the definition of a straight-looking lifestyle is arbitrary, in Connor’s case, they accused him of queerbaiting because he had never confirmed to be explicitly bisexual or gay in real life until relentless pressure from fans caused him, an 18-year-old young adult to come out on Twitter.
Kit Connor officially came out as bisexual on November 1: “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.” Reactions to the accusations were varied, breaking the Heartstopper fanbase in several camps.
One camp claims that fans of all LGBT+ shows must stop demanding to know actors’ sexualities, as it’s no one’s business but the person playing the role. On the other hand, the production behind the series made important points about representation, such as Yasmin Finney’s role as Elle Argent, a trans woman playing a trans woman. These fans believe it stands to logic that a bisexual actor should play a bisexual character.
In the end, Connor did come out as bisexual, so their request was more or less fulfilled. The issue lies in that Connor did so against his will to appease angry fans instead of doing it on his own terms, an important message expressed by Heartstopper.
Many straight actors are chosen to play queer characters, but not many queer actors are chosen to do the same for straight roles or even queer roles. It’s a shame that Connor had to disclose his sexuality just to escape an angry internet mob of fans who liked his performance, ironically. Would these fans also request all actors to disclose their sexuality before they audition for a role and be dismissed if they aren’t part of the community?
It’s not the same to accuse companies of pinkwashing as to accuse a human of queerbaiting. Queerbaiting has been turned into the new gaslighting: a buzzword spammed so much that people forgot what it actually means.
On-screen representation is important, regardless of the actors’ private life. While it’s necessary that more LGBTQ+ community members be given acting opportunities across the industry, the gatekeeping and online bullying of their real selves and their sexualities is getting out of hand.