Queerness in 2010s

Discrimination and prejudice regarding the LGBT+ community have always existed and still do today. Throughout the years, there have been achievements by pioneers and leaders of the movement.

Being gay carries a stigma and is even considered taboo by some. There are many hate crimes and discrimination worldwide. Linguistically, ‘gay’ was considered a dirty word. Some people even wrongly assumed it is a mental or pathological disease.

Let´s discuss queer coding

A notable aspect of discrimination that is reflected in storytelling is queer coding. That is when there is the use of LGBT+ stereotypes and tropes that allude to a character’s sexuality without explicitly confirming it in the text. For example, masculine presentations of female characters and effeminate presentations of males characters-specifically their style of dress, mannerisms or niche phrases.

Queer Coding In 2010s Hits: Invisibility Era | Rock & Art
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959):

Queer coding has existed in Hollywood since its early days with the Hays Code, where ‘sex perversion’ was not allowed. At that time, it could be considered a resistance act, when the writers and directors used to subvert and evade the studio’s strict rules. It was included in a space that excluded many as well as made media palatable for the straight audience.

However, it eventually became limited as, over time, stories kept reducing gayness to the same tired clichés: the sissy, artiste, sadist or sycophantic servant. Most of them are usually associated with a negative stock type. This is problematic as they associate being gay with being evil, or reduces them to tragedy, such as death as a punishment for their sexual orientation.

The growing influence of the gay rights movement did not end stereotypes sadly. However, it targeted a new market audience. It became easier for modern viewers to recognise these signs. Occasionally some of these characters come out. However, when this is not the case, it can be even more problematic in terms of forcing a sexuality or gender identity on a certain character where it does not necessarily follow the creators’ intent.

It could be classified as another form of discrimination, a contrast to Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author theory. In this theory, he argues briefly that the author’s aim matters less than the audience’s experience or interpretation of the final textual product.

In the present day, queer coding can turn into queer-baiting. It is a pink money strategy that implies queer characters or hints at a future queer romance through gestures and symbols. It attempts to secure a queer audience without delivering anything explicit, enough to alienate a homophobic audience. It can be fuelled by the cast or marketing outside the actual text too.

The text delivers jokes and subtextual tension but does not progress toward explicit romance. Sometimes, it even includes a queer moment, however, clearly aimed at fetishism and entertainment value without any follow-up in the story.

In contrast, queer coding could be evolutionary, for instance when a character’s sexuality is not the main storyline. However, there are not enough LGBT+ narratives in the media as it is. There is still a lot to cover.

Queer coding is not limited to storytelling. The narrative device is also evident in the music universe, and it is not so old-fashioned, as many 2010s hits used it. It is relevant to discuss especially in the present day where the old taboo constantly breaks debates in favour of LGBT+ rights.

To mention a few: In “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry, the lyrics suggest biphobia and the music video portrays sexual orientation as a fetish. In “Ur So Gay” by the same artist, the chorus is homophobic ‘You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys.’ This reinforces a negative stereotype that is also present in the first song mentioned. In “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas, the music video depicts lesbianism as a male’s amusement, and an experiment after being altered on a night out.

“Picture to Burn” by Taylor Swift has a homophobic and negative undertone like Perry’s songs as mentioned earlier. “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” by Ariana Grande implies bisexuality is a hobby rather than a sexual orientation, and the music video is constantly criticised for queerbaiting. Hip-hop diva Nicki Minaj and her constant queerbaiting in her music videos and prejudiced lyrics, such as her song Queen. In “Stronger Than Me” by Amy Winehouse, the lyrics describe a man with feminine qualities as gay, reinforcing another stereotype. “Grow a Pear” by Kesha has strong transphobic lyrics.

Last but not least, an example that does not involve music videos or lyrics. The 2003 VMA kiss between Britney Spears, Madonna and Christina Aguilera was purely for entertainment purposes, and another case of queer-baiting.

It is important to address the artists who embrace the community, address LGBT+ issues openly and give them visibility. For example, Lady Gaga, who is a patron saint for the LGBT+ community and gifted them a classic gay anthem “Born This Way.” The song highlights that sexual orientation is not a choice, in contrast to a popular misconception. Besides that, there is a proper representation of LGBT+love in music videos such as “Raise Your Glass”(P!nk), “Não Perco o Meu Tempo” (Anitta), and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”(Lil Nas X), as well as proper gender identity with artists like Sam Smith, Harry Styles and Pabllo Vittar.

Some honourable mentions of artists prior to the 2010s that took the risk of addressing the matter subtly and between the lines regarding the hate the community suffered. “John, I’m Only Dancing” by David Bowie, “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, “YMCA” by Village People, and “That’s the Way I Like It” by Dead or Alive). Their representation is a resistance mark in pop culture, and it paved the way for many other LGBT+ contemporary artists to be born, accepted in the industry and embraced by the community. These artists can even break social bubbles and barriers when they conquer traditional members of society because of past pioneers.