Billie Eilish Deserves Space To Navigate Her Sexual Agency Without Being Cancelled For ‘Queerbaiting’

Billie Eilish is only 19-years-old, why would we expect her to have defined her sexuality in stone at this age, asks Georgia Aspinall.

Billie Eilish

by Georgia Aspinall |

When I was 19, I would’ve sworn I was straight if asked. I was asked, actually, by my boyfriend at the time who was curious why I always kissed my female friends on nights out. ‘Bisexual?’ I laughed, my stomach clenching with nerves. ‘Of course not, it’s just a bit of fun!’

Two years later, I would have a very different answer to that question – and consequently, a very long wrap list of cheating, according to him. In actual fact, those kisses with friends we’re just a bit of fun, I wasn’t physically attracted to any of them – but that didn’t change the fact I was definitely queer, closeted despite my very accepting friends and family.

Confused? Well, you can imagine how I felt. Navigating queerness, female sexual agency and the male gaze as a teenager – it made my brain murky and took years of self-reflection to unpick. That’s why I wasn’t offended at all by Billie Eilish’s music video for ‘Lost Cause’, in which she’s surrounded by what appears to be her female friends in various sexualised scenarios.

In fact, I was more offended by the intense, negative reaction she’s received for it by fans accusing her of queerbaiting. Billie has said, in the past, that she’s ‘straight’. A video taken from her social media in 2019 (when she was 17) shows this. Some people then, have rushed to the accusation that her being tactile and suggestive with female friends is textbook queerbaiting – and she’s facing immense backlash for that on TikTok and beyond. They haven’t stopped to think that she may no longer identify as straight, nor that their obsession with her sexuality in a generation where so many are fluid is problematic in and of itself.

Don’t get me wrong, the video absolutely comes across, at least to me, as sexual. Some are defending Billie with the narrative that ‘it’s just friends having fun at a sleepover’. Maybe in some weird, old man’s fantasy that’s true, but in the real world, this is not how straight women act at sleepovers.

It’s absolutely true that queerbaiting perpetuates the narrative that bisexuality, pansexuality and queerness at large for women are ‘just a phase’. It reduces same sex relationships in women to a fetish for straight men, with tangible damage to queer women who have to deal with their relationships disrespected, as well as harassment and abuse when loudly presenting as queer in public.

But as a queer woman, I didn’t watch that video and feel offended by Billie’s interactions with other women. First of all, because I saw it as a celebration of women who love women - my immediate reaction was one of warmth that young fans would see this and feel seen should they too interact with women in this way. Given that none of the women in the video were explicitly labelled straight, my impression from the art was that they weren’t – Billie included.

Maybe it’s my queerness, or the fact I’m on the cusp of gen-z, but I very rarely assume someone is 100% straight anymore – particularly if I’m watching a woman being tactile with other women. That video, to me, expressed sexual fluidity, but in fairness I didn’t realise before watching it that Billie had explicitly stated that she’s heterosexual.

Even knowing that now, I don’t hold any anger toward her. Why? Because she’s 19-years-old. She may still identify as straight - it’s certainly not for me to assume queerness on her behalf – but why would we expect her to have defined her sexuality in stone at this age?

Billie Eilish has this power to her that by the same token, can easily be used against her. She says bold, powerful statements that make her seem wiser than her years. Her music speaks to many generations, with wise messages about drugs and love that teens her age wouldn’t be expected to understand. With that, she’s held to this high standard of being ‘unproblematic’– the phrase ‘unproblematic queen’ comes to mind – where fans seem to think of her as this all-knowing oracle.

I look back on all the times I kissed my friends in front of men and cringe.

But the thing is, she’s still a teenager, capable of making all the same mistakes we did at 19. No one should bear the burden of being ‘unproblematic’ as a teen in the public eye, because not one of us could claim that’s been our own experience as we grow into women.

I look back on all the times I kissed my friends for ‘a bit of fun’ in front of men and cringe. Having spent the last seven years understanding my sexuality - the way internalised homophobia and the patriarchy informed and suppressed it - I understand now that I was absolutely seeking male validation by doing that. I can’t say it was blatant queer-baiting, because I was also exploring elements of my queerness I had yet to even uncover, but I definitely didn’t see those kisses as romantic or sexual in nature (platonic kissing is a debate for another day, though).

In doing that on nights out though, and telling people I was straight, I was fetishizing my own true sexuality without even realising. It’s only in growing and understanding the real damage that has on people’s perceptions of women’s same sex relationships that I can and do regret my actions. But also, in talking to friends and peers, it’s appears to be phase many of us go through – seeking male validation that is – and one I wouldn’t be who I am today without.

Billie may well be going through that now, discovering her sexual agency through the male gaze as so many of us do. To expect her to be bigger or better than that is to discount the very pervasive ways the male gaze rules women’s lives, and how insidiously the patriarchy guides our perception of womanhood as we become adults. She may be famous, she may write wise-sounding music, but she’s still a 19-year-old woman in a world ruled by men.

And let's not rule out the possibility that Billie may be queer, knowing or unknowing, and this video is her just beginning to explore those parts of herself without much thought or intention behind it.

Ultimately though, none of that should matter when it comes to what we do or don’t expect of her as a 19-year-old teenager who has barely scratched the surface of who she is or wants to be – in a world built against her in various ways, all in front of the public, I might add.

The same people cancelling Billie are those that would decry the way Britney Spears faced unbound pressures as a teen star.

We have to give her room to grow on her own terms, to not pressure her into identifying her sexuality one way or the other, to make mistakes as she learns of her own sexual agency. Looking at all of the viral TikTok’s damning Billie for queerbaiting, I wondered ‘Have we learned nothing from the way in which musical icons from the past were treated?’ The same people cancelling Billie for this video are those that would decry the way Britney Spears faced unbound pressures as a teen star.

Billie has a platform and with that comes responsibility, that’s true. But experiencing fame as a young woman should not put heron a pedestal that many of us could barely aspire to on our best day. If we want to move beyond the way stars like Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes or Britney became victims of infamy, we must allow young women in the public eye to grow up and show us who they are as an adult before they fall foul to thousands of viral videos and tweets calling them out for something so many of us have done.

I say that because, despite her platform, choosing to ‘cancel’ a teenager who is just as victim to the male gaze as all women are, instead of discussing the way in which men are responsible for fetishizing women’s queerness and the damage that comes from that, feels wildly misguided regardless of whether Billie is straight or not.

It might be queer, or it might be queer-baiting – either way, in memory of Chris Crocker’s blessed words, leave Billie alone.

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